When my son Todd was a preschooler, I frequently took him along on business trips. Before he could read, he’d help set up showrooms, screwing wooden legs onto upside down sofas. I’m dating myself here but we’re talking pre-internet and pre-cellphones. Nowadays, if a customer pays for a product with a credit card, you swipe their card through a Square or Paypal Triangle on your smartphone. In those days, a credit card sale involved a phone call from an actual landline. Five-year-old Todd would stand on a chair to reach a pay phone and call a toll-free number, read the credit card number and expiration date aloud to a live human and physically write down an authorization code. I rewarded his work with outings to Sea World, the museums at Golden Gate Park or the San Diego Zoo.
He still recalls standing on the loading dock at Hyatt Kauai stuffing envelopes while I frantically signed paychecks and the Federal Express man impatiently tapped his foot. Todd’s wage for such labor was a snorkel sail or a trip to the whale museum.
As Todd got older and my business changed, he took on other responsibilities. When he was a teenager, I opened a gallery and he built my displays. No longer satisfied to work for legos or trips to the zoo, he was put on payroll and my book keeper filed all the proper taxes and workers’ compensation premiums.
The advantages of putting my son to work were numerous.
- He learned a lot about people and different customs and cultures by traveling with me.
- He understood the value of currency and appreciated the effort that went into earning the money we spent on food,shelter, clothing and education. (and of course books, lincoln logs and airline tickets.)
- He was one of the few kids who actually knew what his parents did for work-not just a job title or company name like most of his peers.
- But the greatest bonus came later. When Todd announced his decision to major in philosophy in college, we didn’t have to convince him to do something “practical” that would result in being employable. We knew that Todd would always be able to support himself because he knew what it took to earn a living and the rewards of being self-employed.
Todd, now 33, supports himself doing work he loves. He builds environmentally safe homes, custom stairways, furniture and office spaces. He handcrafts guitars from exotic woods and plays traditional Bluegrass music. He never worries about job security because he creates his own.
Regardless of what career your children aspire to, it’s a great idea for them to play a roll in your business. If you are just starting out or still fairly small, you may not have a full-time book keeper. So how do you know you are abiding by the child labor laws and keeping the proper records for the work your kids do?