Building a Relationship? Or Tearing it Down?

Joyce Fetteroll, Sandra Dodd and others

Someone in a discussion wrote, and
Joyce Fetteroll responded:

**Just one other question... How do the rest of you handle teens whose rooms should be condemned, and who won't lift a finger to help around the house, even to rinse out their dishes? Whenever I try to force them, or bring their father into it, he gets mad and everything gets worse. Is this just a phase, like terrible twos, that will eventually pass? Any suggestions?**

Rethink what you’re trying to do rather than how you’re trying to do it. Get a new perspective on it so you can see things in a new way.

The way you’re looking at it now, that their rooms and helping a bit around the house is their responsibility and they’re shirking it, makes sense. 95% of parents would agree with you. But looking at it that way isn’t working! Turning it around and look at it from a different direction will help.

What if your husband wanted your spices kept in alphabetical order, and every time they were out of order he tried to force you to do it? What if he brought the kids into it as back up and they got mad and it turned into a big argument? Would you feel more like alphabetizing the spices? How would you feel about your husband and your relationship?

That’s how your kids feel. If something belongs to someone, then they get to make the decisions about it. (As long as they’re within the law!) They know that they have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

Just as you own your home. You get to decide what standards to keep it at. You don’t have the house police swooping in criticizing your standards and making you keep them up to house police standards.

First you need to accept ownership of the home. It’s your responsibility.

Then if you want help, you can ask. But you need to treat it as help rather than expect it or treat it as conscripted labor.

Think about how you’d want a friend to ask for your help fixing a car or doing something you didn’t really enjoy. You could probably think of dozens of other things you’d rather do with your time. And that’s something your friend should realize and appreciate.

So how could your friend ask for help? And how should she treat you while you helped? And how should she treat you after, to acknowledge that she really appreciated you giving her some of your valuable time to do something she knew you really didn't want to do?

What if she asked you to keep her company and you spent a couple hours of pleasant conversation. What if she asked for you to hand her things and hold things while she worked? What if when you made a mistake or didn’t do something the way she wanted it done, she apologized for asking you to do something that wasn’t as easy or interesting for you as she thought it would be? What if she thanked you sincerely when she was done? And then invited you in for some tea and conversation or let you return to what you wanted to do or whatever she felt she could do as a sign of her appreciation? Would you feel like helping her again if she asked?

Now turn that around. What if you had another friend who demanded that you help her work on her car. You’re her friend and you have certain responsibilities. And what if you couldn’t help to her standards and she got angry with you when you failed? What if you really hated working on cars and wanted it over and done? And you felt like doing as little as possible so you could get out of there sooner? What if when she was done she was angry with you and said “You should be helping more and I shouldn’t even need to ask.”

Which friend would you be likely to help next time?

Which friend is building a relationship with you and which is tearing it down?

It’s the same with the house. If you’d appreciate help you can ask but you can’t expect it and you need to appreciate that you’ve imposed on someone else’s time to help you with something that’s your responsibility.

The rooms belong to them. They can keep them to their own standards. If the standards bother you, you can ask if they wouldn’t mind if you clean it. But your cleaning needs to be for *you* not for them. Don’t expect them to appreciate it. Don’t expect them not to appreciate it, either! And don’t expect them to maintain it. You’re doing it for yourself. There should be no expectations on them. Expect *yourself* to appreciate having turned chaos into order. 🙂

With that change in attitude will come a change in theirs. It won’t be magical. If they’ve been coerced for years they’re going to think your new attitude is a new way of making them do what you want them to. But they will change if your change is about changing you, not about changing them.

As for helping around the house, ask them to keep you company. Ask them to do you a favor and then express appreciation for them giving up something they’d rather be doing in order to do something for you. Model how you’d want them to ask you to interrupt something important that you’re doing (even if they don’t see it as important) to do them a favor. Model how you’d want them to express appreciation for you going out of your way to help them out.


By Meridy on Thursday, February 5, 2004 - 01:18 pm:

You people are an inspiration. Please pray, or think of me as I try to change me. I woke up this morning with a new hope and determination to enjoy my kids before they grow up and move out. I'm so glad I found this site before it was too late. 🙂
Thank you thank you thank you!!!!

(The site to which she referred, a message board, is sadly closed now.).

Nancy B. quoted this on the UnschoolingDiscussion list, and Melissa responded (below):

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
For children grow up, we've learned to our sorrow,
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby, cause babies don't keep.

Melissa wrote:

I love this...I think it struck a cord with me because, earlier today my daughter asked me to play a computer game with her and I told her that I "had" to clean the kitchen first. I got halfway between the computer and the kitchen, stopped, turned around, went back, told her I was sorry that the kitchen could wait, and played her game with her. She was so happy that I didn't care if the dishes rotted in the sink! :) She only played for about five minutes but, I know that it will stick with her, that I found HER more important than the housework.

Melissa Raley

[After someone in another discussion was going on about how children should do chores so they won't grow up to be like her husband, I got a side note, and responded to that as follows. —Sandra]

-=-It's possible that the poster has a husband who doesn't clean up and is an asshole about it. (Not completely uncommon in our culture.) That can certainly color one's perceptions. (Probably color them an angry red color.) I wouldn't want to raise a son to be like that. -=-


Do you think requiring chores will ensure non-asshole-adult-status?

Was your friend's husband required to do chores?
It's completely common in our culture for kids to be forced to do chores, while adults laugh at them, shame them, and tell them they didn't do them well enough. It's a Whole LOT like school. There's a curriculum and there is a schedule, and kids are expected to do things adults don't have to do, and the kids are (in many families) "graded" and either made to do again or given rewards (allowance or money), but the child doesn't have the option to quit.

Is the purpose of chores so that a child will learn to do chores? Learn not to be an asshole? If it's lessons, how does it not fall under the principles of natural learning?

Holly had two disposable cameras with her in England. Her hosts sent her home with a disc with 445 high-quality photos, but still.... So we got those back, each with a disc, and I downloaded one, marking the other while I was doing that. OOPS. The second envelope had Holly's prints and negatives, but the disk was a family's pictures of the Roman colliseum, and some other stuff looked like Italy and Spain. They had a teenaged boy with them. He did not look the last bit happy to be there. He wouldn't pose with the adults, but sullenly on the side. Anyone want to take a bet that he's been made to do chores and was supposed to be extremely grateful to go on vacation with people who had treated him as property (or as a very underprivileged housemate, for anyone who was about to claim that when people share a house they share upkeep)? I'm betting chores and school and shame. There was a harsh face on the boy, and they've captured it in photos (if they ever get their photos, I mean. I did go back and impress upon the photo lab that trying to find them before they come in, pay, go home, and discover they have Holly's pictures of cows on the Thames). . .

Well, we have Holly's now. The difference between Holly's face in her photos and that poor teenaged boy's is like two different worlds. Granted, Holly's younger and was off without her family which probably lit her up some, but she WAS with a family, and she could've been surly, theoretically.


Joyce, another day, made her points again. I never know whether to just refer people to already-written information (links to these pages) or have things be redone over and over. We get some of both. —Sandra

On Jun 30, 2005, at 1:19 PM, jeans5kids wrote:

How do you get your kids to clean?
How could your husband get you to scrub the garage floor?

He could yell or threaten or bribe or beg. But what kind of relationship would that create between you?

What if your child had a tower of collectible soda cans that was always falling over. What if he decided that since you're part of the family that restacking them once a week was part of your job. How could he get you to do that? And how could he get you to stack them in the "proper" (e.g. his) order? And what if you didn't do it to his standards and didn't do as good a job as he knew you were capable of?

Now what if he said once a week "Mom, would you mind keeping me company while I stack these cans? Maybe we could listen to a book on tape together. Or you could tell me about the project your working on." Sometimes you might not be able to join him because you were in the middle of something. Sometimes you might help him stack just because it feels good to help him out. And if he was truly thankful in a way that let you know that he knew there were more interesting things you could be doing, you'd be more likely to help him. On the other hand if he criticized your stacking, or came to expect you to help him you'd be less likely to help and might even be less likely to spend time with him.

So, how can you get your kids to clean?

You could make them. And take withdrawals from your relationship account with them to pay for it. They might be angry with you but you'd have a clean house.

Or, if your relationship with them is important, you can shift your thinking and see the house and all the tasks as belonging to you. And then invite them to help. And acknowledge that you appreciate their help -- no matter how small -- knowing that they could be playing avideo game or watching a favorite show instead and they've chosen to be with you.

(quoting the same mom:) or should I just let it slide like I originally said??

I think creativity flourishes in controlled chaos better than in total chaos or total clean.

Someone expressed cleaning up her kids toys as like providing a fresh canvas for them 🙂

Sometimes when the house gets out of control I look at it and am overwhelmed. There's just too much stuff and I don't know where to begin. I think cleaning is like that always for kids, even when it's a small task. I could see a huge difference in my daughter's attitude towards a mess as she got closer to puberty. Now, though she'd rather do other things! 🙂 , tidying up doesn't seem like an insurmountable mountain to her. Not because i trained her how to put things away! 🙂 But just because she's older.

I think you could keep their playroom from becoming a disaster area and invite them along to help. But accept no as an answer.



other daily considerations


Thinking about "have to"

Rules vs. Principles

Radical Unschooling