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Years ago, I borrowed an idea from a friend to teach my three daughters about earning money. I drew squares on a poster board and in each box, I wrote a job with an amount of money: empty the dishwasher, 50 cents; take out the trash, 25 cents; vacuum, 60 cents a room.

During the week, the girls could complete jobs from the list and be paid the assigned amounts on Friday. The lesson was clear: those who work, earn money. You work a lot, you earn a lot. I thought it would be one of my better parenting moments.

Marirose, who was about 7 then, started raking in the bucks. No job was too small – or in her case, too big. She studied the chart to devise a daily plan that would get her the most money at the end of the week. And to top it off, she was happy to do the work.

Maura, who was 9, usually waited ’til mid-week before she started a job. Payday was on Friday, so when she realized on Wednesday that she hadn’t earned any money, she headed for the chart. But unlike Marirose, who took any job, Maura had restrictions. A job could be too small for her, especially if the pay was under one dollar. And a job could be too big, especially if the work was hard. So Maura scouted out the middle-of-the-road jobs: not-all-that-difficult tasks for a decent amount of money, say folding all the laundry for $1.50.

And Klein, a pre-teen then, had no interest in the work or pay – until she saw her sisters were about to have more money than she did. To her, that was wrong. So on Thursdays, she did any job that would help her earn more than the other two.

She would work for hours to make sure she was getting the biggest payday. Week after week, she participated (alone) in this financial contest. She made sure she won. That was her reward, not the money.

So this exercise to teach my children about working and earning taught me about my kids instead – and how different they are. It was a shocking lesson, because I raised them “as a pack” (a phrase my pediatrician once used to describe my parenting). I signed them up for the same sports – swimming and soccer, I dressed them in girly dresses and shoes every day, and the play dates they had after school were with each other. But no matter how I bonded them together, their individual personalities came through. It started with their looks (I have a redhead, blonde and brunette) and extended all the way to their fashion choices, senses of humor, even study habits.

Those academic differences were painfully evident almost every summer in grade school. The girls had summer reading projects; they were assigned anywhere from six to eight books and had to complete some type of small project for each. Here’s how they approached the work: Marirose read her books and finished the projects by mid-July. Maura would draw a beautifully decorated calendar that outlined how she would finish her books and projects before the first day of school. She stuck to the schedule, reading the specified number of pages for each day – never more, never less. Klein picked up the first book in mid-August and finished her last project around 10 pm the night before they were due.

My husband Joe and I have accepted these three unique people living in our house, knowing that someday they will each have their own house. One will probably be a New York loft. Another could be a home in a suburb somewhere and, believe it or not, a third just might be some type of dwelling overseas. And with each home, we will see how their choice is so right for them.

It wasn’t easy to watch them separate from a pack of three to three singular ones, but that is how it should be. And so it is. Life is still good – different, but good.

May 2014
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