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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 29-Jun-15 15:09:55

Guest post: "My sons refuse to help with chores - and I know it's my fault"

Lottie Lomas' teenagers don't do housework - here, she considers why, and resolves to insist on more help

Lottie Lomas

The Secret Divorcee

Posted on: Mon 29-Jun-15 15:09:55


Lead photo

"As Mr Miyagi says, there's no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher."

I have often thought that I should be doing more to coax my boys – aged 12 and 14 – into doing chores, but when I read this thread, I was cast into a fug of despair. Six-year-olds emptying the dishwasher? That's absolutely right and proper, of course, but at home when I ask "So - who's helping me with the washing up, then?" in an artificially bright voice, I am met with a wall of testosterone-fuelled silence.

I used to be better at it. Aged 7-10, the boys were trained in tidying up their own toys; they actually liked mopping the floors ("ME! ME! ME!") and occasionally enjoyed scaring the cat with the hoover. But then, their descent into tweendom - coupled with me and their Dad divorcing - meant that the domestic momentum came to a sudden halt.

I became a single mum, and initially, I was consumed by guilt at what I had 'done' to my family. I desperately wanted to make things feel settled for my children – and in my head, that meant comfortable and homely.

This manifested itself in me treating them like toddlers, doing everything for them short of offering to help them go to the toilet. I didn't want them to feel more loved at their Dad's house, so I went completely overboard and smothered them with affection. A clean and tidy home plus lovingly prepared (read: labour intensive) meals was my way of showing them this was still a solid family unit, and they got used to me catering for their every need.

After my divorce, I desperately wanted to make things feel settled for my children – and in my head, that meant comfortable and homely. This manifested itself in me treating them like toddlers.

It's me who is at fault. I should have trained them properly from the start. As Mr Miyagi says, there's no such thing as a bad student, just a bad teacher, and since then, I've had to find pathways out of my own stupidity – offering pocket money in exchange for chores, for example. The difficulty here is that the boys are motivated by different things. Tween likes money, and happily drew up a huge list of tiny tasks ('draw the living room curtains', 'turn off the TV,' 'take off shoes and put on rack') with dollar signs spinning in his eyes. Teen is motivated by… well, frankly, nothing. "I don't need money," he muttered, in a rare breather from his iPad. Oh.

In desperation, I asked some of my friends what their children, all of a similar age, do around the house. It seems that none of us are doing very well on the chore-training front. Erin, mother of two girls, said "I am weedy when it comes to insisting on help, and listening to the whining is generally worse than doing it myself. I have to make myself make them help for character building purposes and then clear up after them anyway." Another friend said, "I come home from a full day's work on Wednesdays and fly around the house vacuuming and doing the bathrooms whilst swearing at everyone. They all just shut themselves in the front room so I don't disrupt their gaming. I'm getting depressed at the thought of it."

Only one of my friends was having any real success, having somehow convinced her 12-year-old daughter that 'putting the bins out' was a fun thing to do. That woman is a bloody magician.

Apart from Bin Girl, there didn't seem to be any difference between boys and girls; they were both equally bad at helping. However, I do worry that my sons see me, a woman, as their domestic slave. What if I am - inadvertently - bringing them up to be misogynists? Which is, ironically, one of the reasons I left their father some years ago. I have dug this hole for myself and, although I recognise it, I am finding it quite hard to climb out of.

I have to remember why helping at home is valuable, to children and parents, and strengthen my resolve. It helps them with all sorts of things: to stand on their own two feet, to learn the importance and value of hard work, and of helping others – as well as making them feel that they've made a contribution to the family unit. Research also suggests that children who participate in household chores are more socialised, or 'pro-social', than those who don't.

And of course, it's rather lovely not having to do every last little thing yourself. So, I am taking a leaf from the Book of Mumsnetters and hopping back onto the chore train. It will be bloody difficult; no doubt there will be tears (mine, probably) and an awful lot of hard cash being passed into the sticky, cunning fingers of not-so-small boys, but it will be worth it.

By Lottie Lomas

Twitter: @secretdivorcee

balancingfigure Mon 29-Jun-15 15:29:36

Please sort your boys out - if not for you, for their future partners!

My daughter is only 8 but often winges at helping, although not always however I just don't give her choice. I know your boys are older but I don't see why they still can't be told what to do. I don't agree with the money thing either. Certain chores are part of being in a family/household, they shouldn't get paid for regular stuff.

redshoeblueshoe Mon 29-Jun-15 15:35:39

Don't read chores threads - read MIL ones, all the DIL's who will be blaming you as your precious son never did chores. You are doing them no favours

DonkeyOaty Mon 29-Jun-15 15:38:33

Great post.

And, this is REALLY important: chores are not the woman's domain, for males to be asked to "help" with.

I have had to retrain self with my own children, to say "Tidy up time, use yer noddle" as opposed to "Chiz chiz washing up machine needs unloading" or "please can you help me pair up sockses"

We can do the downstairs, as a team, in 20 minutes nowadays <fist pump> but it does take time.

I totes understand the over compensating in the past btw. And the trap of catering for your child's every need so beguiling innit.

chippednailvarnish Mon 29-Jun-15 15:55:00

No chores = no pocket money, no wifi and no dinner.

BabyGanoush Mon 29-Jun-15 16:09:58

So who does the chores at dad's house?

His new girlfriend?

Try to expect more of them. Don't care about money? No chores, no i pad time.

Time for some tough love?

AnyoneForTennis Mon 29-Jun-15 16:32:32

Have you tried changing the wifi password?

It works! As does switching off the electricity to their rooms

AnyoneForTennis Mon 29-Jun-15 16:34:20

My lot are pretty good at chores, but doing them properly with no cutting corners is the hard bit

My boys are better than my girls

But my girls,18 and 20,are clean and v v tidy with their own rooms

Bonsoir Mon 29-Jun-15 16:35:53

Stop asking for ad hoc "help" and assign responsibilities instead. Manage your children the same way you manage your team at work - it is very effective.

EarlGreyhamGreene Mon 29-Jun-15 16:37:23

chippednailvarnish agree on no wifi - made me think of this, so inspired

Wordylicious Mon 29-Jun-15 17:00:48

I am a bit divided on whether doing much in the home as a child means that you will do so as an adult.

I grew up with a SAHM, so didn't do much more than drying the dishes, setting the table and occasionally cleaning a sink until I was 18. My main job was to get on with my school work. In fact my first experience of proper housework was working as a chambermaid in a hotel! Pity the residents of those

However, I was a highly motivated and hardworking child and teenager - homework, Saturday jobs and very little slouching around. So when I left home at 19, I started doing my own housework with very few problems. I just worked out how to do it and got on with it.

I think that the characteristics of laziness/slothfulness or being responsible/hard working are of greater importance in being self-sufficient as an adult than whether or not you have had a lot of practice doing chores.

So if you have a hardworking teen who doesn't do much in the house - all is not lost!

TwelveLeggedWalk Mon 29-Jun-15 17:15:15

Rachel Johnson has a column on this exact topic in this month's Red magazine.

puffinrock Mon 29-Jun-15 17:30:09

I usually delegate jobs for my kids to do from the sofa whilst playing on my phone. I am not being lazy it is a life lesson wink

Duckdeamon Mon 29-Jun-15 18:06:26

You see the problem and want to address it, stop the self flagellation and labelling yourself as stupid.

Sounds like your ex hasn't been a great role model - any chance of him (and/or his new partner if he has one) helping address this issue with a consistent approach when the DC are at his?

patterkiller Mon 29-Jun-15 18:18:40

I've just asked my 12 year old to move the mayonnaise bottle from the sofa having been took from the kitchen unauthorized she told me I have unreasonably high expectations. They have allocated jobs which they do but trying to get them to remove their own crap as they go is a nightmare. They just don't seem to see it.

lightgreenglass Mon 29-Jun-15 18:50:11

I did chores from a very young age as my mom had no time for cleaning. I used to be incredulous when my friends got money for chores, £5 for ironing - 15 years ago!

I hated it with a passion but now I realise how valuable it is, you need to be consistent and firm. No money, as it comes across they are doing you a favour instead of contributing to the household.

My best friend moved in with me and learnt everything she knows about cleaning from me - I have very high standards, maybe not always the best thing... My boys will be doing the bogs from an appropriate age and I won't feel guilty about it.

griselda101 Mon 29-Jun-15 18:51:51

if anyone has any tips on getting little ones to help it would be great. DS is 2.5 and flatly refuses my "can you help me tidy up your toys" requests. I do try to make it fun but to no avail. I worry it is setting the tone for future.

Love51 Mon 29-Jun-15 18:53:17

Do you live on a decent bus route? My parents had pretty high expectations of us doing housey stuff, I once asked what would happen if I didn't bother and was told lifts would cease. We lived miles from my mates and boyfriend, so I kept on pitching in!

SayThisOnlyOnce Mon 29-Jun-15 19:04:36

IMO getting Tweens and Teens to do stuff like this is a LOT harder than getting a 6 yo to unload a dishwasher.

They get to an age where they don't give a toss about pleasing their parent. S'all about der mates innit.

Mine are 10 and 8 so I have one still at helpful age and one teetering on the brink of adolescence...

Keep on keeping on OP. wine

wearymum73 Mon 29-Jun-15 19:40:05

OP I'm in a very similar situation to you, but I never realised it before I read your post.
I do everything for DS who is 11, I thought I was giving him a good home as I am a single parent who works full time.
This weekend my eldest DD (19) came home for the weekend, when I asked her to help with the washing up, her response was DS you have to help too, I was shocked I would have never asked him..he grumbled and started complaining, she told him he in a away 19 years olds do with no soft mittens, he had too and he got up. He then asked where everything went in the cupboards!
I learnt a very good lesson this weekend and because of this thread and comments, I have learnt he has to help around the house, or as some of you have said, he will be a appalling DH in the future.

zoemaguire Mon 29-Jun-15 20:07:44

I'm with wordylicious. I did almost nothing chores wise growing up, but extremely tidy as an adult. I was however a ridiculous hard worker as a teen. I think my parents didn't want to interrupt homework with cooking or cleaning! Dh had a chore filled childhood. Hes not bad nowadays, but he is bloody messy by nature.

I'm really really hoping I am right, because I've also failed miserably at getting my kids involved in chores!!! I spend my life tidying up after everyone, and it is a rubbish state of affairs. Just occasionally someone will take their plate back to the kitchen after dinner, and I celebrate. It is that bad blush

measles64 Mon 29-Jun-15 20:13:21

I just unplug the router. Shocked a few friends of mine, but now they do it too. Tis a pain because then I am not online. But it doesn`t take long for them to shape up. Especially if they are in the middle of a game. I do warn first though, you must then follow through. I also took all the controllers, and other gadgets and hid them once.

dansmum Mon 29-Jun-15 20:42:18

Just stop cooking for them washing for them and driving them places. Tell them this will happen in 3 weeks ( beginning of hols) Explain it will take all 3 of you to do the jobs then you will have more time together for stuff. Don't pay them. Tell them they are old enough now to be helping. Be prepared for more mess when they cook, milk left out, crumbs on side. Be prepared to have washing disasters ( or buy colour catchers) Do it along side them. Offer them help. Keep them company while they do is REALLY labour intensive and the end results will not be up to your standard..for ages. BUT when you tell their friends mums how amazing they are ..their attitudes will soften.Encourage them lots telling them how many chores they have saved you doing..use some guilt ! Dont start with a list of things they dont do..start a list of what they already can do..then teach them the rest. Be can do it..and so can theygrin

Spog Mon 29-Jun-15 20:58:29

"As Mr Miyagi says, there's no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher."

that's bollocks. and insulting to teachers.

StephanieDA Mon 29-Jun-15 21:02:07

It's so easy to let this happen when you divorce - don't be hard on yourself, it's just called being human. You can always turn it around. Forget any persuading, convincing or cajoling, and act like it's a done deal, perfect your matter-of-fact goes-without-saying voice and tell them you've realised you're doing too much and feeling like it's not fair, so you're going to stop. Make it about you and your boundaries, not about them and what they ought to be doing. Speak to them human being to human being and don't apologise, justify, explain too much or ask permission (even in your tone of voice or facial expression) Make a decision about yourself and what you will and won't accept and stick with it - and allow yourself to laugh.

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