Dear Ms. Meniscus,
I have rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. I can’t clean and don’t have the money to hire someone. My two teenage children (14 and 17) are slobs. How can I get them to help without their getting all mad? I’m tired of fighting with them to pick up after themselves.
Mother Going Crazy
Don’t go crazy: go insistent (nicely). What Madame means is that you’re going to have to rein these kids in and motivate them so that they want to help. Now that isn’t as impossible as it sounds even with teens who seem oblivious to the sight of clothes heaped on beds, dressers, or worse, the floor, and then wonder: “where are my jeans, you know the ones I’m talking about?”
Before you can clean up this debacle, you need a strategy. This means you choose your battles. You’re dealing with adolescents-humans in the middle of growth, both physical and psychological.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to snap your fingers on Saturday morning (that is if the kids were awake) and say: “We need this place spotless or nobody goes anywhere this weekend!” Perhaps threats work for some parents but it never builds a willing cooperation, and most importantly, you don’t need a tug-of-war when you have one with your immune system.
So, for now, tolerate the messy rooms and focus on the shared living spaces: kitchen, living or family room, bathroom and foyer. Tell the kids that you know that they’d rather be texting than cleaning, but the truth of the matter is that your body is in a violent upheaval and you need their help. You must appeal to their sense of fairness; it’s something they will understand. You can say that you wish you could physically do it but now you can’t and what’s strange (but true) about that is when you lose the ability to do something, suddenly it doesn’t seem so awful after all. Give them the facts: your body hurts like heck, but together if they can each give you fifteen minutes to straighten up, you would all feel a lot better.
There are legitimate studies that say disorganized surroundings cause stress. Look them in the eye; explain that living in a mess is depressing. It makes you feel as if life is out of control, and this is key. Your kids may already be more worried about your illness than you know, so their cooperation is even more important. Working together is your way of teaching them to cope with a challenge, and life will offer plenty of those.
Here’s what to do: keep the discussion as short as possible. Do not be afraid that these big kids will be angry with you. Do you hear Madame? Usually by kindergarten kids know how to put things away (don’t say this!) but somehow this skill gets lost in their memory bank. (1) You are asking for their assistance. (2) Their rooms are their personal territory (within reason). (3) Divide up the jobs you need help with and give them a choice, keep the tasks short. (4)
Do something together, even if it’s folding clothes together as you discuss their day. Remember, you can gain their cooperation by understanding that housework is a drag but a necessity. You are teaching self-discipline, even if it’s only taking care of the dishes or the trash.
When they help, even if it is half of what you requested, thank your child and reinforce the behavior by saying how much you appreciate the effort and that it really means something to have their help.
Get to it Momma! Those kids need you to take control of the household through your leadership and example. Maybe you can’t do it all but you sure as heck can set standards in the home you share together. One day, when they are living as grown-ups they will thank you. Giving your kids responsibilities makes better citizens. That’s a Madame promise. Good luck.