Did You Say Something, Mom?

Dear Mr. Dad: I hate to admit it, but my children won’t listen to me—especially when I ask them to help around the house. As a result I end up doing everything myself. The other day, I asked them to help me wash the car, which was filthy. I waited, asked again, and nothing. So I went outside and did it myself. A few weeks before, I told them to take the dog for a walk, they ignored me and the dog ended up pooping on the carpet (you gave this as an example a few months ago—I can’t believe it actually happened), so I had to clean it up. I’ve tried giving them more warnings and have even threated to take away some of their privileges, but they just say things like, “Why should we wash the car? It’s not ours” or “He’s your dog—you’re the one who adopted him.” I’m getting angrier and angrier at them. Something has to change, but what?

A: You have every right to be angry, but you should direct that anger toward yourself. In a word, what needs to change is you. Or, more accurately, the way you allow your kids to treat you. By giving them endless warnings, making empty threats, and then doing yourself what you asked them to do, you’ve taught them several important lessons: (a) They don’t need to respect you, (b) If they ignore you long enough, you’ll eventually give up, (c) it’s okay to not be a team player.

Over the years, my kids went through phases when they’ve pulled the same stuff on me that yours are pulling on you. And I’ve developed a simple (but not easy) four-step solution.

  1. Give them a taste of their own medicine, which means ignore them. Completely. If they ask what’s for dinner, you’re silent; if they ask you to give them a ride to the mall, more silence; if they ask you why you’re not responding, even more silence. This may seem a little childish, but within 10 minutes, your children will be begging you to speak to them. Guaranteed. They know exactly why you’re ignoring them and they’ll start apologizing or, perhaps even do some of the chores you’ve asked them to do in the past.

  2. (Which can take place 20-30 minutes or so after you start Step 1): Give them a blunt lesson in the consequences of acting like they don’t live in a family. If they want dinner, tell them to make it themselves. But they’ll have to get to the store on their own, buy the food with their own money, and then give you some money so they can prepare it. Why? Because by their definition of “ours,” the house they’re living in isn’t theirs and neither is the food in the fridge—you pay for all of that with money you earned. Why should you give it to them for free? The car is yours and so is the gas inside it; Why should they get, literally, a free ride? The same goes for using their phones (which you bought), watching your TV, and everything else. You get the point. More importantly, so will they.
  3. Stand your ground. Do not give in, no matter how much they beg. If you do, you’ll be worse off than when you started.
  4. Sit down with them and talk about being in a family and how important it is for everyone to contribute. Ready to start? The sooner you do, the better.