Does your pushing, coaxing and forcing your teen to clean up after herself fall on deaf ears?
When my son leaves a slue messes in his wake it can be downright maddening!
When you spill milk, wipe up after yourself, who do you thinks going to do it? What’s the dirty laundry doing on the floor? It’s no wonder you can’t find any clean socks, your dirty ones are scattered throughout the house!
Unfortunately these “helpful reminders” do little to change his behavior.
My nagging is driven by two fears…
- the fear that this kid will grow into an unemployed, slovenly 40 year old,
- the fear that I’m raising an entitled kid who thinks, “why should I look for my socks when magically another pair will appear in my drawer?
In today’s story, Tammy, school principal, parenting educator, and parent, shares what she learned as a result of her battles with her perennially messy daughter.
My daughter Natasha has no issue with living in a messy room.
However, I do, so we made an agreement, years ago, that Sunday would be her cleanup day.
I found myself getting upset and refusing to enter her untidy room to say goodnight or even hangout with her.
She’d say, Mom, I’m internally organized so it doesn’t bother me to be a mess externally.
I told her it bothers me, and the rest of the family, so we need a plan to address the group’s desire for organization.
For the past four years, I’d go into Natasha’s room on Sunday mornings and ask her, what’s your plan for cleaning your room today?
Her response was usually, I’ll get to it eventually, or I’m on it. But there’d be no signs of movement.
On a good day I’d say something like, would you like me to help you get started? or I have faith in you to get it done.
She’d respond, I like doing it myself, or thanks for believing in me Mom. Five hours later she’d still be cleaning her room – looking pretty miserable.
On these so called “good” days while I wasn’t effective at motivating her, I wasn’t pushing her away.
On other days – let’s call them the bad days – I’d go into my mommy tirade and say things like, “how can you live in this pigsty?” “It’s disgusting in here!”
Here’s why her messy room was painful for our entire family.
My negative energy put the entire family on edge – they’d slink away into their own worlds for fear of crossing paths with my anger.
The unspoken truth was that my tornado of frustration and anger was far worse then her the physical mess.
One day it struck me that I was the one who needed to change. I couldn’t MAKE her do anything so I backed off as best I could.
Then it happened – one Sunday morning was different. She woke up, had breakfast, cleaned and organized her room in an hour and had the rest of the day to read, play, do homework, paint pumpkins, go with me to the market, etc. I hadn’t said a word to her because by the time I peeked into her room, she was already in motion.
It dawned on me that this is how growth happens – for me it was a slow process – for her it seemed to happen overnight!
First what changed was me and what followed was a chance for Natasha to grow, at her own pace. I would like to think that our positive communication, over the years, those good days, helped to motivate her to finally clean her room on her own but I’ll never know for sure.
Whatever clicked for Natasha wasn’t as important as what clicked for me: I can’t “make her” do anything, but I can certainly encourage her and maintain a respectful way of communicating while she learns. It’s the process in which she learned how to care for her own things that mattered not the urgency for her to learn on my time line.
Back on that day when I saw her room was clean, I was shocked to say the least but tried to play it cool. I looked at her with a knowing, loving smile and said, “I notice you got your room clean today…how’s it feel?”
She looked so proud of herself and said simply, “If feels great!”
When you find yourself freaking out that your teen is a slob and fear they’ll still be one at 64, remember Tammy’s story. Being human, Tammy reacted in anger sometimes AND sometimes she was able, through self-awareness, to step back.
To me, it’s a testament to having faith in our kids.
There’s no magic fairy dust to MAKE them adopt your priorities. Your most powerful tool is CONNECTION.
Recommendations to foster and maintain your connection with your teen:
- Treat her with respect and when you don’t feel respected – as calmly as you can let her know you will speak with her at another time when she can be respectful – leave the room to give yourself breathing room.
- Apologize when you’re off your game, modeling that even you make mistakes so she can more readily admit and take responsibility for her mistakes.
- Take opportunities to connect – even when it feels inconvenient.
- Use light humor to keep power struggles at bay.
Recommendations to survive teen slob years:
- Create boundaries so that the mess is confined to your teens room.
- Allow nature to take it’s course – don’t rescue her when items are lost, dirty, etc.
- Take time to train your adolescent to do her own laundry – this way her entire clothing cycle is her responsibility and even better, you can have empathy when her favorite shirt is dirty.
- Remember that your child has different priorities than you do and that that is a good thing!
When you do your best to model what you value; respect, connection, and in this case, tidiness and communication – you’ll more likely see these qualities bloom, in their own way and time, in your developing adolescent.
What power struggle are you currently having? Share in the comment section below what you learned here that will support you.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.
Thank you for this positive story. My 12-year-old is the dirtiest kid I’ve ever seen at a school — and I’ve been working at one since he was born. I don’t mind his messy room as long as I don’t step on Legos or delicate things. I have him doing his own laundry now, which means he sometimes has sour shirts that he didn’t get dry in time. But it is hard to hold my tongue when his feet, hands, nails, and even his face have dirt in the crevices. He honestly looks like he sleeps outside. Taking lots of deep breaths and trying to stay respectful!
I told my soon, any clothes left on the floor goes to goodwill. I did it once before!