The false charge of "bribery"

I think we were discussing offering an older child money to read to a younger child, or to play with them at their level; kind of an occasional in-house mother's helper situation. Someone asked about bribery; my response follows. —Sandra

How do you go about it without it feeling like/being bribery? I'm guessing it is in attitude and wording, but I can't imagine a way to word it that it doesn't sound like bribery to me...? Thanks for the idea!
How do places of business get people to go to work without "bribery"?
How do you get an auto dealer to give you a car without bribery?

If someone's supposed to do something anyway and holds out on you until you pay them or give them something, that's a bribe. If something is not someone's job or someone's property and they negotiate for an exchange, that's commerce, not bribery.

There are some truisms that are spoken without real examination and I think the very vague rules against bribery of children are right up top there.

In a situation in which a kid is supposed to be absolutely obedient to any spoken whim of the parent, and other parents are advising and encouraging that parent to "demand obedience," then those advisors and watchers would say "Don't bribe your child to cooperate, MAKE him cooperate." MAKE him go to bed at 8:00, brush his teeth the way you told him to, eat spinach, wear shoes that hurt, MAKE him babysit, fold the laundry, do the dishes, read to his brother. Don't pay him to do what he is "supposed" to do, and what he "ought" to do.

The phrases "ought to" and "supposed to" are so old, and have been recited for so many years (hundreds, in the case of "ought to" at least) without conscious thought that people don't even think about—what they literally mean. "Supposed to" is kind of easy; you can deconstruct it, and it loses a lot of power. "Ought" is related to owing and debt. Obligation. No choice except dishonor.

It's not uncommon for families to require children to take care of younger siblings, but it does suggest a situation in which that child is the powerless property of the parent. If a parent decides to respect the child's wishes and freedom and still wants him to sit with a younger child and read or play, the older child should be thought of as a free agent, another human.

If you asked an adult friend to take care of your child, would you say "And I'm not going to bribe you to do this, either, just do it!"? Not a good way to keep friends.

A friend might well *offer* to keep your child sometimes, but if you expected it all the time, or assumed it would be free and at your convenience, that would be asking too much. So if you look at the situation that way, asking your older child to put his needs aside for your benefit, the "ought" is on your end, and you owe him, rather than him owing you.

Then we can come up against another phrase spoken for generations, and that is "I don't owe you anything," which has been spoken by parents to children for a long time, but it's harsh and mean, and in these days of choice, and in the light of compassion, it's just not even true.

With over six billion people on the planet, for a parent to expect a child to say "Thank you SO much that you brought me into the world and gave me life!" is quite a stretch. Life can be harsh and painful. There is some difference when the mother has absolutely no choice whatsoever, but in this culture there are lots of ways and times to say "No" and have it be legal and moral, unlike the life 500 years ago of a 14 year old child bride who was quite literally given to her husband by her father and might have four children before she was (by today's count) grown.

I don't think giving a child something you have in exchange for him doing something he doesn't owe you to be bribery.


Ideas on living by principles rather than by rules Parenting Peacefully More on siblings Saying YES! to children