First a short history lesson:

When I was born, my parents built a house in Georgia. For some reason they decided to move, and I don't remember the house at all. Fast-forward a few years, we're living in City A fixing up the second story of a house. Most of it was fine, but we had to do everything but frame the upstairs so they could sell it. My parents gave me about $100 for helping after selling. Immediately after, we moved to City B and bought a horrible house. We had to gut it and build it from the walls up, doing a major remodeling. That took about two-three years while we lived there. Parents gave me $1000 for helping at the end after selling, all went straight to college savings. After that, I ended up here in City C in yet another fixer-upper with a barn. Still ongoing renovations.

And now the current situation:

At this point, I'm fed up with fixing a house and moving as soon as it's done and barely seeing any of the money. I know that I'm not really entitled to any part of it, but I'm doing a good chunk of the work since I'm the oldest kid. Now that we're living with a barn, my parents are starting to get all sorts of animals and that means we constantly have to fix up/modify the barn. They always say that I'll be glad once it's done and that I'm learning valuable skills, but at the current pace I'll be halfway through college by the time the house/barn here is finished and I've had enough of houses that I'm never going into another Lowe's again. On each of these houses I've had to do some of pretty much everything from insulation to drywall to electrical to framing.

Since I'm having to work a lot on this house, I try to get my parents to pay me some and have tried this on the past houses but every time I bring it up they always pull the 'sure we'll pay you...once you start paying for your own groceries, renting your room, blahblahblahblah' card, which is really annoying because they would never give me enough money to pay for all that and (despite applying to practically every local business) I don't have my own job. Since I'm having to work half the time I'm home with free time, I feel like I'm really being taken advantage of. I know that I'm just getting older and am able to do more, but now I am having to do more and more work on our house/barn, taking up more of my free time.

Since I'm getting no money from home/barn work, I'm left to take the rather rare job from my grandparents as they build their house. Even though they offer those jobs, my dad will only take me over to do them after I've worked on the house/barn. My free time has been reduced quite a lot, for example right now I'm on day three of building a model plane that should've taken three hours. Most days I get home from school at 2:30, get a half hour for homework, then am sent up to the barn until 5-6 when we come down for dinner and then after that my parents grill me about school until bedtime at 8 when I get 1 to 1-1/2 hours of free time until I have to sleep.

So, question(s):

Is it wrong of me to feel taken advantage of since I'm basically doing free labor? Should I bring up the question of getting paid and keep pushing until they start paying me? (They've already made it clear they're not paying for college, just giving me a small instant pot for cooking. Hooray.) Am I supposed to be glad for all the skills I'm learning and animals we have? (Just to be clear, I don't like the animals and the only skill I'm glad they taught me is electrical and common sense.)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 11:48

11 Answers 11


TL:DR: Life isn't fair; someday soon, you will be the one supporting yourself and deciding how to spend your time. Until then, try to negotiate the best deal you can for yourself while meeting some of your parents' needs. If you end up in a win-lose situation, analyze your options and how best to bide your time.

First, let's get one issue out of the way:

Is it wrong of me to feel taken advantage of since I'm basically doing free labor?

Feelings are just reactive emotions; there is no right or wrong "feeling", as opposed to an action. Assigning a moral value to them - either yourself or your parents - is anxiogenic if judged to be negative and doesn't really help anyone. It deflects focus on the issue to an indefensible position.*

So, you feel taken advantage of, full stop. It's fine to stop there and live with it for a while. It's also true of for your parents' feelings about things. Feelings aren't facts. You can argue with facts but you can't argue about what someone should feel.

Am I supposed to be glad for all the skills I'm learning and animals we have?

Irrelevant; see above.

When you disagree with a someone, analyze the situation rationally first, then discuss concretes. Analysis also helps to modulate emotions.

In the US, a handyman earns anywhere from $45 to $80 an hour. The more valuable the skill (an electrician makes more money than someone doing lawn maintenance), the higher the wage. In your situation, you are saving your parents x dollars an hour depending on the service you are providing. This is something concrete that you (plural) can verify easily.

It's also a verifiable fact that you are costing your parents money. You can figure out roughly what you cost them in (your share of the) food, clothing, housing, education (public education is supported in part by school taxes), utilities (electricity, water/sewer, gas) and sundries (computer, phone, internet, gasoline/transportation, actual parental educational tutoring [i.e. homework help], meal prep, "allowance", etc.) Be thorough, logical, and ethical in your approach; suspend entitlement ** to anything for this exercise. Weighing the value of your monthly service against the cost of your physical existence is a helpful fact to hold.

Then, having facts in hand, approach your parents for a calm, reasonable, respectful discussion. This only works if respect goes both ways. If your parents think you "owe" them 75% of your free time without discussion or agreement, that's neither reasonable/supportable nor respectful.

The rest is negotiation; aim for win-win outcomes.

I'm fairly certain that your cost of living is less than the cost of your labor. Knowing by how much is a valuable negotiating tool.

One of the many wrenches which can derail negotiation will be ethical, and as such, subject to cultural influences. Do you owe your parents/family unit anything? Do they owe you compensation for "pain and suffering" (frequently moving you around, affecting friendship/social structure)? (Ideally these have been discussed and agreed upon beforehand.)

If negotiations are unproductive or, worse, nonexistent, what options do you have, and how do you feel about them? Could you move in with your grandparents/would you want to? Can you strike out on your own now? Face possibilities as facts, not impossibilities.

Good luck with all this; you're in a difficult situation. Use this as practice for adulthood. I know that sounds trite, but your very posting here is you flexing your adulthood muscles.

Edited to add: If the feelings thing sounds dismissive, it's not intended to. You feel what you feel; it's somewhat like feeling hunger. If you're hungry three hours after a meal and you tell someone you're hungry, it's silly for them to say, "You just ate three hours ago. You are wrong to feel hungry." As an adult, you'll need to examine issues and decide for yourself - without external validation - what is a reasonable position to take when you feel something. It takes experience, mistakes, and reflection to learn to trust yourself enough to sit with your actual feelings. I hope that makes sense.

*Instead of arguing the merits of an issue - e.g. if you have a right to fair compensation for your work - you're wasting time and emotional energy on a something basic and instinctual.

**In reality, as @dxh correctly points out you, are legally and morally entitled to certain things, but arguing from that vantage point becomes more subjective and less helpful.

I was born into a "difficult" family, one parent (violent) with mental illness and alcoholism, the other with major depression. It wasn't fair, but that didn't alter my reality. I found a way to get through it and learned to take care of myself. Aim for the best you can for now.

  • 5
    Handymen make 45$ an average at a minimum? Reference needed.
    – Behacad
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:19
  • 2
    @Behacad seems reasonable to me, assuming they're actually skilled. I'd personally be surprised to find one that cheap that was good. Do you have experience to the contrary?
    – Kat
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 4:03
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    Surely parents are legally obliged to feed, clothe, house, and educate their children in the US, aren't they? In how far is it fair, then, to balance the free workload of their child against these expenses that the parents simply have to pay because it's their parental duty?
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 7:05
  • 6
    @Behacad - I'm a physician who homeschooled my kids, designed and had a house built, had a farmette, and recently divorced and own a different home. I've relied on handymen for decades! But if you need a reference, here it is. N.B.: I was on the low side. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 12:40
  • 2
    All good points, and does provide a sensible starting point. But kids working for their parents are not in a position to demand market rates. Their outgoings are lower (They pay no taxes. They have no dependents, etc) and their work is of objectively lower quality (They have no insurance if things go wrong. They are not qualified. They have relatively little experience. They need teaching everything you require them to do, etc). How much would the market pay a handyperson with those attributes? Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:48

You are not an employee in your family, working to earn basic shelter and food. Your parents have an obligation to provide for you. These are your rights.

The UN convention on the rights of the child has the following to say about food and shelter (articles 24 and 27):

Children have the right to the best health care possible, clean water to drink, healthy food and a clean and safe environment to live in. All adults and children should have information about how to stay safe and healthy.

Children have the right to food, clothing and a safe place to live so they can develop in the best possible way. The government should help families and children who cannot afford this.

... and the following about work (articles 31 and 32, my emphasis):

Every child has the right to rest, relax, play and to take part in cultural and creative activities.

Children have the right to be protected from doing work that is dangerous or bad for their education, health or development. If children work, they have the right to be safe and paid fairly.

Now, this is not to say that a child should always be remunerated for every task they've been asked by their parents to perform, or that they should claim their human rights. It sounds like you do have the right to rest and recreation, and your parents do provide for you in a manner that's well beyond the threshold of violating your human rights.

I'm citing your rights because I think it is important that you know that shopping for groceries or providing you with a room is not part of your parents' bargaining power. Again, they are obliged.

In a family, we need to strike a balance, and find a way to coexist. I think it is reasonable for parents to expect some degree of assistance with basic household chores, and I don't think it is obvious that parents should have to pay their children for it. There are things that need to be done for daily life to work out, and I think it's fair to expect that children - increasingly, with age - help out with that.

That being said, what your parents are expecting of you (by your estimate, half your free time) is far beyond what I personally would consider reasonable, and the type of work you describe sounds like more than what I'd call basic household chores. I think you are indeed working for your parents, and should be compensated for this. More importantly than compensation, though, I think you should have the option to refrain from this work.

It seems to me like your parents are making business of renovating homes and selling with profit, which is fair, some people do that, but you are a part of their family, not of their business. You should have the right not to take part in that work, and if you do, you should be compensated. The compensation should be such that you feel it's worth your while (this follows from your right to opt out). In negotiating your compensation, you should not accept basic food and housing to be part of the deal, as this is something your parents have to provide for you even if you don't join the family business. They could strike an agreement with you where you are not remunerated for the work, but get an agreed upon share of the profit once they sell, if you think this is acceptable.

  • 10
    I think this is a good answer, but it misses the most important part of the question. How should the child address this with their parents such that they are able to convince them?
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 18:51
  • 30
    The emphasis on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is overstating things. Let's be honest; the minimums there are pretty darn low. Your parents may owe you food, but they don't owe you pizza. They may owe you shelter, but they don't owe you your own room/bed. Unless you're willing to subsist on the equivalent of a UNICEF refugee care package, throwing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into your parents' face here seems petulant.
    – R.M.
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 21:03
  • 4
    @R.M. I agree it wouldn't be constructive to throw the convention in the parents face, I think I wrote something to that effect, too. You're missing my point. Let's continue to be honest: priding yourself for providing your child with food is terrible parenting. I think the UN stating that children who have to work should be paid fairly sets a clear lower bar. As parents, don't you agree we should strive to be with good margin above basic human right?
    – user36162
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 21:22
  • 2
    Sorry, but did you mean to say `I'm citing your rights because I think it is important that you know that shopping for groceries or providing you with a room is not part of your parents' bargaining power." ???
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 1:48
  • 2
    I have to laugh at this UN convention that applies mostly in Fantasyland. For a country in famine or in poorly governed countries, it means nothing. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 11:51

It's probably not fair: you're doing skilled labor, specifically to put money in your parents' pockets, while earning very little yourself

There are a lot of factors which we don't know about that could make your situation seem worse, or better. This portion of your youth does seem unpleasant and irritating, but that those things are front and center for you doesn't necessarily define the whole situation well.

That's the biggest piece of my answer: while I definitely believe that work deserves compensation, I have also observed that young adults who have not lived on their own often have lopsided views about work, compensation, and free time. None if this is meant to be a criticism of you-- from your question, you sound like a hardworking person that is honestly upset about a real issue. So the following are just things to think about, not indictments of you in any way. And from what you describe, I do think that your parents should be paying you, or at least setting a portion of their earnings aside for you to get later (all else being equal).

1. Life is often unfair, and people that are not legally adults have less agency

Unfair things happen all the time. Even if something is universally acknowledged as unfair, that alone doesn't change anything. Sometimes unfair things can be changed, or avoided. In other cases, they just have to be endured.

2. It can be hard to evaluate work value in an informal setting

Again, this is not pointed at you specifically. But I have known many teenagers who, despite nominally working for a few hours, get very little done in that time-- they aren't necessarily working hard or well. Professional workers also often have extra expenses, requiring them to charge more, which informal workers do not. Examples include taxes, union dues, insurance of various kinds, fees associated with operating a business, etc. All of those need to be paid before the worker can actually earn a profit that they can use to pay their living expenses. You, as an under-the-table worker, have none of those expenses, and your living expenses are covered by your parents.

It could easily be the case that you are being unfairly exploited, but unless you've worked out the math on the cost of maintaining yourself at your current standard of living and the work value of your labor it might be helpful to be open to the idea that you are not (necessarily) getting such a bad deal. Worse than other people your age in your community, maybe, but that's a different matter. And young adults often think of things in... less than objective ways. That doesn't sound like you in this case, but I would always advise an adolescent to reflect on whether or not they, themselves, are being as fair as they could be when unhappy about what they feel they are owed.

It's almost certainly the case that your parents are getting a deal. If having you do the work cost them more money than doing it themselves or hiring out, they wouldn't put you to work. But if, all things considered, you are being cheated of $0.50 per hour for 100 hours' work, that is a very different story from being cheated out of $50,000 in profits resulting from your work on each house. Both are unfair, but one is a bigger deal than the other.

3. Free time is common for young adults, but not a guarantee

Some of your frustrations seem based in the fact that this work cuts into your free time. I can sympathize with that! But "free time" is a tenuous concept for a lot of non-adults. If, for example, your parents didn't demand that you do this construction work but instead insisted that you study for several hours per day, you could find yourself with less free time than you have now and no work that anyone would expect compensation for. If your parents did all the construction work themselves but demanded that you supervise your younger siblings, you might find yourself with no more free time and no more money (even though the alternative might be hiring a nanny, or similar).

Before I had to live on my own, I really, really underestimated how much time and effort it takes to be a functional adult in society, and that same misestimation has been common in others I've spoken with. I had an unrealistic conception of how much free time a typical person can expect out of life, and while I often felt that I was deprived of free time as a child and young adult, I typically have less free time now than I did then, despite being in full control of my own schedule and activities. There have been periods of my adult life when getting a reliable 90 minutes of free time per day seemed like an impossibly sweet dream.

4. Your parents' finances are an important part of the story, about which we know nothing

However they may appear to you, it's possible that your parents have a Scrooge McDuck-style vault filled with riches which they never, ever give you access to out of greed. It's also possible that they are struggling to make ends meet and have little to no money to pay you, regardless of how much you deserve it. House flipping isn't cheap, but it also ties up a lot of money for extended periods, often requires financial leverage, and is subject to some risk. If they simply can't afford to pay you more than they have, or to hire a professional in your place, that doesn't make matters more fair to you but does change the perspective a bit. If your labor has a real chance of being the decisive factor between your family being homed and being homeless (maybe not that likely for you, but a reality for some), the perspective is even more different.

5. Many people resent aspects of their childhoods

That doesn't make anything more fair, of course, but know at least that you aren't alone in not liking elements of how your parents have structured your life to this point. I hated many things about how I was raised, but that changed nothing, and I never saw a dime in compensation for them. That's just how things go sometimes.

6. You're getting a bit more than you probably think, even if it's less than you deserve

This might be a reach, since I don't know much about how you have been thinking about these issues. But practical knowledge about how to build, renovate, and maintain a house is pretty valuable, and many people don't have it. If you want to get a job in a construction trade, even just during the summers, you have a lot of skills that will put you in contention for one. You'll have a more diverse array of tasks you can do for money than many people have, and at a younger age.

It also gives you nice options for your own home someday, should you choose to own one. You don't have to flip houses to get the benefits-- if a renovation you'd really like would cost $90,000 to hire out, but you could do it yourself for $40,000, that's money right back in your pocket. And the capability to do so is only there because of this work in your youth, unfair though it might be. And you might be surprised at how little skill average people have with this sort of work-- you might find lots of opportunities for side work, and the ability to put a bit more cash into your pocket is really nice. Many teenager jobs don't teach any marketable skills you can take with you.

7. Even if you're not getting what you really deserve, you're getting a lot more than nothing

This is more a peace-of-mind, quality-of-life thing, but it may be worth thinking more on the things that you do get rather than the things you don't get but feel you deserve. An Instant Pot is a pretty nice gift. They are nice, versatile appliances, and it's certainly more than the battered saucepan I took to college.

No matter how strong the case is that you should have gotten more, fixating on it is very unlikely to make your life better in any way.

  • 8
    I'd say #4 is really important. You complain about not having free time. What does your dad do? If he has loads of time to relax and do extravagant things, then that's a strong indicator that he should be shouldering more load or paying you. Is he always stressed and working long hours? This might be a case where your parents are just trying to succeed at being a family. That's not always easy, and its' not always pretty.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 22:00
  • 3
    @Cort: it factors in, sure, but I don't think it's the entire picture. If this does indeed consume all of the father's time, it's still a vocation that the father has chosen for himself and is betting on making a profit of. This is not true for OP. Decisions about how to dispose a child's free time should be made with the child's best interest in mind, which is not clearly the case here, in the same way as extensive studies may well be.
    – user36162
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:21
  • 4
    @dxh This is where "choice" gets to be complicated. I know nothing about the OP's father's actual situation, but its trivial to set up situations where this "choice" is really the last choice the father has before making some rather undesirable decisions about how to provide for a family. A father in that sort of struggling situation rarely makes it easy for his children to see what is actually going on. Looking for it may bring a great deal of clarity, one way or the other.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:40
  • (lacking a concrete father image to tie that argument to, I'd point to the opening of The Greatest Showman for what such a father might look like, although in that case the children were much younger than the OP implies they are, so the situation isn't exactly one-to-one)
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:41
  • 1
    @d-b If it were truly that easy, we would have much better childhoods as a whole.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 2:42

Your age is an issue here. Are you old enough that you could be getting part-time work in town? And are your parents actually stopping you getting that part-time work because they want you to fix up the house instead?

Household chores are normally fair to insist on, of course. Even perhaps looking after animals if you're living on a farm. 3 hours of that every day is certainly not normal though, not unless they (and you) see you following them into farming as a living.

I'm also concerned about your schoolwork. If you're old enough to consider getting a part-time job, my memories of that part of my time at school are that I'd consider myself lucky if I only had an hour's homework an evening.

They do seem to be missing a key part of having family working for you, which is that if you aren't paying someone then their presence there must be voluntary. Maybe they'll say you won't get your allowance if you don't help - in which case your allowance is your pay, right? It's your choice whether to work for that pay or not. If you could get a job in town instead for those 3 hours, that's also your choice. Or if you'd rather have those 3 hours to yourself, that's also your choice.

  • 3
    @Ceramicmrno0b Keep applying for jobs, don't give up. Having a paid equivalent of the work you're already doing will make it much easier to transition out of your current situation.
    – Lindsey D
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:56
  • 2
    3 hours a day on a farm seems reasonable to this old timer
    – De Novo
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 7:20
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    @DeNovo If your family is at the point of "you help out or we all don't have food", I guess so. Otherwise it's a bit more questionable, especially if the kid actively doesn't want to do it.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 8:14
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    @Graham in my childhood experience, it's just what living on a farm involves. You contribute to the work of the household that you benefit from. Chores are not reserved for the destitute, and certainly not just for the child who LOVES doing chores. What child does?
    – De Novo
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 8:16
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    @DeNovo 3 hours a day isn't "chores". That's 21 hours a week; or effectively 3 days of full-time work if they were employed. You should not be contributing to the "work" of the household, any more than if you were an accountant you'd be expecting your kids to be running payroll checks and stuff for 3 hours a day. Contributing to general maintenance, tidying and generally keeping the household running, sure. Maybe an hour a day? Contributing 3 hours a day to your parents' major income, unpaid, that's a hard nope. (Unless, like I said, things really are that tight.)
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 12:37

This is less of a direct answer and more of a different perspective on the situation.

I don't know what you want to ultimately do with your life, but your parents are providing you with far more than you currently realize. My school had more than a few kids that were in the same situation. They'd spend a large portion of their afternoons and weekends helping their parents work on the farm/ranch/whatever. Just like you, every single one of them hated it and felt taken advantage of. At least they did at first.

At some point, they each realized that this extra work they were doing taught them valuable real-world skills that most adults don't have. It was a kind of career education that gave them a jump start of 5-6 years over their peers. When their peers were working typical teenager part-time jobs in the summers, they were making twice the wage as farmhands or assistants to tradesmen and working far more hours. One guy in my class leveraged what he knew (and his certification to operate light machinery) and started a small company that did landscaping and dirt work. By his senior year in high school, he had 3 other people working with him and was making enough money to buy himself a fishing boat plus a truck to tow it with. You have the temporary advantage of having parents take care of your living expenses, so you can undercut your competition's prices to win more work while still earning good money.

The specific construction-related skills that you're learning are particularly valuable. Some of the kids I knew that had electrical/plumbing/HVAC/welding skills were working as trade assistants over the summers. Literally as soon as they graduated, they either got hired full-time or went straight into a trade school (paid for by the company) or apprenticeship program. Many were industry certified and earning a good solid income before they turned 21, and with zero college debt and a job that will always be in demand. Training programs like this are competitive - just like getting into college - but you'll have the experience to put you at the top of the pack. Plus, the company already knows you and your quality of work.

You didn't mention how old you are but you mentioned your dad taking you somewhere so I'm assuming you're too young to drive. It's hard to get any job if you can't get yourself there. My recommendation is to use the time you currently have to try new tools and techniques, and to build up your skills as much as possible. There's a wealth of information online to learn from and you're in a situation where it's safe to make mistakes while learning (your parents won't fire you). Take advantage of it. Once you're old enough to take yourself places, look for non-traditional jobs. Ask skilled tradesmen if they need an assistant. Advertise yourself as a handyman around the neighborhood (flyers, local Facebook groups, etc) and charge a good bit less than the professionals do. Use the work you've done on past houses as a portfolio. Just make sure you know what sort of work requires a license in your locale and steer clear of that.

Now, all of that doesn't help you much if your goal in life is to become a concert cellist or a public relations agent. But if you have any talent at the work you're doing and even remotely enjoy it, I urge you to look at this work as more than just an annoying chore that you're doing for free. Your parents are essentially handing you a future, if you want to take it.

  • "job that will always be in demand." Until their jobs get automated away by maintenance robots.
    – nick012000
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 6:40

Speaking both as a parent who routinely requires my children to help renovate and as a former child who was required to assist my father renovating, I can say that I feel your pain.

I felt that my time was undervalued and really didn't enjoy working for room and board. I did get a chance to see how things were done, or at least how my father felt they should be done. As time went by, I realized that he really wasn't very good at it. He purchased cheap materials, poor quality tools, and seldom planned out his projects.

After graduating college I picked up the odd construction or renovation job to earn a little extra on the side. I've learned how to do most of things the right way from skilled tradesmen, the value of good tools, and the right materials.

Fast forward to today. On a part-time basis (working full-time at a normal job) I've bought, renovated, and sold many houses. I do the work myself whenever possible, and hire people occasionally. I've made a lot of money, enough to retire early at 52.

Looking back I'd say that while I may not have learned the best way to hang a sheet of drywall or rewire a house from my father, what I did learn was that you can do those things. You didn't have to call a guy, you just needed an idea, the desire to learn, and some gumption. It really helped me raise the standard of living of my family and my community.

As far as my children are concerned, I do not give them an allowance. I pay them when they work on any house other than the one they live in. They get the going rate, minus the cost of tools, transportation, materials, etc. For example, if they are landscaping one of my properties, they get what a landscaper charges, but I supply them with the tools and drive them there. I also train them and work with them, so they're maybe getting $15/hr. I do not pay them to work in or around their home. That's expected, everyone pulls their own weight. The rationale behind this is that knowing what a well-done job looks and feels like will greatly benefit them. If you're hiring someone to work for you, knowing how to do their job ensures you get value for your money. When doing work for someone else, the wider your skill set the more likely you are to be engaged in a profitable endeavor.

As I see it, if you want your parents to pay you more, show them that the skills you are applying for them are worth more by going out and landing some high paying gigs. I'll bet if you could bring home $1,000 on a weekend they'd be happy for you.

  • Good answer. If you separate it into paragraphs it will be easier to read.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 8:06
  • This is a very helpful answer. It's always nice to hear from someone whose been through the same thing. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:03

Context of my answer

This is a perspective from France, which is wildly different from the US as we do not usually expect children to work - at least not in the (rather cosy) environment I grew up in. This is also from a parent of 14 and 16 yo that bring up the matter of pocket money from time to time.

I provide my children everything they need and want (within reason of course), to the point where Christmas becomes complicated because they basically have everything they need and they are not used to have very much (without a specific reason, it is just that this was never a need).

The only money they get is either to cover their spendings (going for a snack with friends for instance), or recently the older one received a nice "bonus" at the end of mid-school because if his results (the second one is now in the starting blocks).

Is it wrong of me to feel taken advantage of since I'm basically doing free labor?

Cleaning up, unloading the dishwasher, loading it, unloading the washing machine, cleaning the kitchen, ... → this is normal labour everyone at home must do. We all need some free time so the chores must be distributed.

Building a house is not. You are not a builder and this may be dangerous. It is less the "free labour" part and more the "danger" one that is a concern for me.

Should I bring up the question of getting paid and keep pushing until they start paying me?

The options you have are limited. You can just say "no" and get in a conflict. They can hardly force you to do the work as retaliation dangerously errs on the side of child harassment (the right word escapes me now - I mean that what they would do by for instance not giving you food or shelter is a danger for you and illegal at least here until the age of 18 or 21)

Am I supposed to be glad for all the skills I'm learning and animals we have? (Just to be clear, I don't like the animals and the only skill I'm glad they taught me is electrical and common sense)

No. These skills are not useful.

You should not be working on electrical installations, this is very dangerous for you and for the installation. If you learn to do electric work in an artisanal fashion this is not something you should do elsewhere.

Knowing other small skills (the light DIY kind) is useful but in your case I am not sure if they are worth the risks.

  • good point being made of some/most of the jobs the OP performs are actually too dangerous for a minor and/or uncertified person. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 22:18

Please check the universal childhood rights: https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention/convention-text

Article 32

  1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Given said that, family members have to help to improve economically and socially and that bring huge values to children to give them the essential life skills but we shouldn't mix things up, one thing is the help from all family members taking in account their age and limitations and a different thing that seems to be still happening is using our children as child free labour as sadly happened in last centuries. You don't describe what your parents do for a living but seems their way of living is refurbishment of old houses and selling them as their main job. If that is correct, you seem to be a part time employed and the other half you are studying with very little time for your homework and our own free time you deserve, and you are entitled to. I know from my experience that life is hard, and it is not what you initially plan for your children but, not intentionally using the children to get profit. I don't know your age but, parents cannot use the word, "I pay for food, clothes and roof for you" because is their responsibility, it is not that a child shouldn't be grateful but they didn't ask to come to this world (but please, never say that to your parents because it really hurts, normally a parent is so happy and selfless when they decide to have children). To wrap up I would say these things to you:

  1. If you have a little time, please create an excel file with all the figures you know about the finances at your home versus the income they have and the family members necessities.
  2. Create a second excel file with all the figures for the business you are helping with, all the costs, including your hour rate if you were paid. If you can, please do the same in a separate excel or sheet for each building you worked in and the profit they’ve got from it.
  3. Search all the colleges you want to attend and check the fees and the admissions requirements. You must become the owner of your life.
  4. Think about your siblings, do they have to work like you? in that case, please solve your situation to save them from a similar one.
  5. Be grateful for all the skills you’ve got in one way or the other have under your belt, at some point on your life you will be happy, and you will used it, believe me.
  6. Please read this book if you can or you can watch some videos if you search for that author: https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/ https://www.cnvc.org/

Please do this before talking to your parents. You must think as a seller, they must see the advantages of retributing for your work (talk about retribution, not payment). You must really plan your speech, don't start any argument, in that case, shout your mouth and plan again how to make them realise your rights (you shouldn’t be forced to work apart of your normal chores at home). Always speak when everyone is calmed. Think about the advantage for example of having a good college title, search the salaries online of what you want to study and show them the advantage they could get if you get that degree, then you can arrived to an agreement. 7. If everything fails, look for scholarships, volunteering jobs around the world (they will pay for your expenses anyway and you will see the world). 8. Look and seriously, write this guy, Elon Musk, despite it seems unreachable, search for him and ask him an employment, he doesn't believe in titles, he does believe in capacities and skills, please write him and expose your case. Do it as a challenge! Show him your skills and your passions. 9. If everything fails get any job you can get and fly away, take a gap year away from your family and try your best to provide for yourself, fly if possible to another country with a very different life style. Life is precious. Be happy under any situation you are, that cannot be steal from you.

I can speak as a parent of two and coming myself from a family of 5 children where I had to do years of child free labour for my older siblings who forced me to wake up in the middle of the night to work long hours as sewing assistant, day and night, in my precious years from 12 to 16 and during my “free time” I had to cook and clean for everyone. They never recognised my work, despite they gave less than 1% of their profits and they called me lazy when I felt asleep at 2 am sometimes. I feel so empathetic with the description of your situation. First, to say that you are becoming stronger despite the difficult situation you seem to be in. Families are far from perfect but there are some childhood universal rights for some reason. As a parent I can say that my children didn't ask to come to this work and sometimes I feel guilty to bringing them to this world full of issues but there are lots of happy moments as family. I didn't have them as child free labour, but we lost absolutely everything during the 2008 crisis and we had to start from scratch in a new country in 2013 with 4 bags of luggage. Since then, we had family crisis, depression, anxiety but, we kept together and we are like a team, all the credits are shared (money included), all the loses are unfortunately shared as well (as we proved with the crisis). My children help a lot at home, but we are not entitled to steal them their childhood and their rights to play and grow in knowledge and experiences. The strategy we follow is opening an account for them where we put money for their college or their plan as adults and we all contribute in the plans like buying things each one need/want and they planned our very first holidays last year after the crisis. We all travelled in a night train and rented and old house where we spent lots of time close to nature. We are planning now a cross country walk. Check these ones: https://britishpilgrimage.org/portfolio/st-james-way/ https://www.csj.org.uk/volunteering


All the best for you! Be strong, cry when necessary and be happy again, the life is worth and the world is wide and wild.

  • Sophie, I upvoted your answer, and I love that you stated "but they didn't ask to come to this world". That's why parents have a moral obligation to their kids - non-reciprocal mathematically - to care for them. Having enjoyed your answer, telling the OP to contact Elon Musk is akin to advising him to buy lottery tickets to get money. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 12:14

One of your biggest problems might be that you are not being given enough time to study and do your homework. (if I understood your question correctly).

In the US (just as elsewhere), future wages are determined to a large extend by your tertiary education. Since your SAT scores (partially) determine what colleges and universities you can realistically apply for, getting a lower SAT score will enormously decrease your expected lifetime earnings (see here: The difference is $1.5 million on average, adjusted for inflation, if you would otherwise have gotten a graduate degree). Probably your lost lifetime earnings are an order of magnitude larger than the money you are saving your parents by working for free.

Part of your deal, should you strike any, should be to bargain for a much larger amount of time dedicated to studying. The amount of time for school should be: Whatever amount of time is needed to master the materials. Moreover, in order to study effectively, you need have free time between ending school and starting your homework.

Getting enough time to study is usually not controversial. Every parent understands that education has great value to their children.

If your parents resist this request, there are any number of bodies and authorities you can appeal to who will have leverage over your parents, such as your mentor at school (if you have one, but if not, you can typically approach any teacher you know well), the board of your school, the local municipal education affairs office (or your local equivalent), and of course other students' parents.

Even if you don't want to bring up the issue of study time, I recommend asking one of these people for advice, and to ask them to be present when you approach your parents, so they can moderate the discussion.

Other answers cover the interpersonal aspect of approaching your parents. I am only suggesting that this is an additional aspect you can bring up.


Get a Competitive Bid

If your Lowe's/Home Depot is like most in America, there is likely a crowd of laborers hanging out in the parking lot offering their services for bargain basement wages. Stop by, chat them up, tell them what you're working on, and ask how much they would expect to get paid for that kind of work. If you're friendly and maybe hint that your parents might be interested in their services, you will probably get a few reasonable answers.

Then go home and tell them you'd be happy to work for 75% of the average bid, given that most of those folks have a lot more experience than you, and also because you are giving them a family discount. And if they don't like that offer, you are going to go hang out at Lowe's, because you have a good idea what the going rate for your services is, and you aren't getting that rate in your "current employment".

Compute Your Costs

I would not include mortgage payments as part of your cost, because most likely, your parents would pay the same mortgage whether you lived there or not. If, on the other hand, you have renters living with you, then you should consider the opportunity cost of your living space (bedroom, etc.). However, you should consider your fair share of utilities (electric, water/sewer, garbage, cable, phone, internet, gas, insurance, and car maintenance if you drive), food, clothing, and any discretionary/entertainment funds your parents provide. All total, my guess would be that utilities and food are your biggest expenses, and that your monthly total is perhaps in the $200-300 range. Let's say $250/mo. x 12 months = $3000/yr.

Now, your parents are entitled to claim the Child Tax Credit, which is $2000, unless they make over $400,000 per year. If they make that much income, they are horrible cheapskates and you should be able to guilt trip them into paying you a fair wage. Otherwise, we can say that your "obligation" is in the neighborhood of $1000/yr. Now, Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25/hr. My guess is that if you apply at Starbucks or similar, you can easily get $8/hr. or more, depending on the population density where you're at. For a wage of $8/hr., you only need to work 125 hours to earn $1000. Over about 50 weeks of the year, we are looking at an "obligation" of 2.5 hrs/week. Since you're putting in that time in a single day, it looks like your parents are ripping you off between 5x and 10x (depending on how much you are expected to work weekends).

Employment Options

You mentioned in a comment that you applied to some places and were rejected. My guess is that you did not apply at every place you could have. Perhaps you picked your first options and didn't bother with the rest. If you want to be paid fairly, then you should consider work that you don't prefer by itself; but is definitely preferable to slave labor for your parents. The most important thing is that you want leverage. It will be much harder for your parents to argue that your labor is worth $0 if someone is regularly paying you $7-8/hr. for it.

Obviously, trying to pick up informal labor outside Lowe's/HD is a bit sketchy, and you have to use your judgment to decide whether it's a good idea. If you can get a few buddies from school to do it with you, perhaps you can pick up a few jobs. Even if you get less than legal minimum wage, you can come home from a job, wave around the $5/hr. you earned and say: "Hey, looks like other folks think my labor is worth something. Wanna talk about it?"

Of course, the age-old business for a young teenager is lawn mowing. If your family has one you can use, you can offer to pay your parents a modest usage fee + buy your own gas and charge as much as the market will bear for your services. Since you are just trying to get your parents to price your labor above $0, you can afford to undercut most of the competition. Print up some flyers, post on local FB groups, and get the word out that you're looking for work. If you get snow in your area, switch to plowing during the winter. If the market for all that is dry, you can consider junk hauling or moving services. For these options, it's best to find someone with an existing business that will pick you up as an independent contractor per job. Lots of cities have moving services where the customer provides their own transport, and the mover just provides raw muscle to carry boxes and furniture.

The goal is not to find your life-long career. You don't have to enjoy the job...you just have to enjoy it more than slave labor. Your parents are basically bluffing that your labor is worthless everywhere else, and you need to call their bluff. Once you can prove that your time is more profitably spent elsewhere, I guess they will consider purchasing your labor at a fair discount relative to the rest of the market. Good luck! Oh, and if those Lowe's workers help you get paid by giving you market pricing information, make sure you go back and give them a tip to say thanks.

  • "there is likely a crowd of laborers hanging out in the parking lot offering their services for bargain basement wages" - is it really like that? I thought it was just like that in films that are set during the Depression era or during a dystopian or post-apocalyptic future...
    – Aaron F
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 9:01
  • @AaronF If I said they are predominantly Hispanic, would that change your mind? Have you actually been to a Lowe's or Home Depot lately? Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 16:14
  • I live in Spain, which is predominantly Hispanic, and haven't seen that here. It was a serious question - I didn't realise the USA is like that and thought that it was something only depicted in films.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 17:12
  • @AaronF Ah, sorry. Yes, I am talking from a very American perspective. I'm actually a little surprised that Lowe's and Home Depot have expanded to Spain. Or perhaps you just mean the local equivalent chains? To be honest, films generally don't depict the extent to which this phenomenon exists, just like homelessness and other unpleasant issues are only briefly on display. We are proud of our capitalism, and the costs it imposes on society. :/ Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 17:54
  • 1
    @AaronF well, I didn't want to call it out explicitly, but the majority of these day laborers are undocumented, so this is one of the safer ways for them to obtain work. It's not just about getting paid under the table to avoid taxes. A big box store is a convenient place for them to gather because folks going there are obviously doing some kind of handy work on their house/yard, and they can't just put up flyers saying: "Illegals looking for informal work, cash only". And locals generally know that if they want someone to help them resod the yard, they can find cheap labor there. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 20:25

As a parent myself, I think one should have children because they bring joy in your life, not to have free labor available. If you do twenty hours a week or more of physically demanding work without getting paid, it looks more like the latter. Even if you do a cold business-like calculation (as other answers suggest) all those hours of work certainly cover the basic necessities your parents provide and perhaps even more.

However you are not the employee of your parents, you are their (minor) child, they have a moral and legal duty to (financially) support you. Forcing you to perform twenty or hours a week of unpaid labor for their business is definitely not supporting you. It is quite a step, but if your parents don't want to listen to reason, maybe there are child protection services, labor boards or other institutions available who could help you. I am not familiar with US laws, so I can't help you with the specifics of this step.

As a final advice, you could ask your parents how their house-flipping business is actually doing. Seems to me they can only make it work because they have your free labor available. How would they manage when you move out? Maybe it's time for them to find other jobs themselves.

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