Teenagers and Dinner Cleanup

Having adolescents clean up after themselves is a real challenge for many adults. Here is a question I received:

Last night I requested my 14-year-old daughter to assist me with work in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher and loading it again with dirty dishes. She said she would do it but had her own timetable as to when she was going to do it. She said in five minutes and continued to watch television. By then I had already requested her help four or five times. Suddenly, out of sheer fatigue and irritation (I am diabetic and sometimes I express myself this way out of exhaustion!), I yelled at her that I needed it to be done “right now.” She yelled back at me!

Upon reflecting, I thought maybe I could have handled it more calmly. But I am unable to impress upon both my daughter and husband that I need help in the household chores because I am unable to cope with the stress. I do explain this need to them very calmly and they listen to me, but when it actually comes to action, we all lose it. I would appreciate any insight you can shed on my situation and advice you can give me on handling this.

My response follows:

First, a word needs to be said about “losing it” (becoming emotionally hijacked). Review the traffic signal example in Chapter 7 of Parenting Without Stress. Practice the impulse management technique visualizing a traffic light with the red on top (stop and take a deep gasp), yellow in the middle (think of your options), and green at the bottom (go with your choice). Practice it a few times a day. Then when a situation arises when you may become emotionally hijacked, the neural connections to stop it from happening will already have been partially established. The more you practice this, the easier it will be for you to prevent yourself from “losing it.”

Ask your daughter what she suggests. Be willing to listen to her ideas. If you can live with her suggestions, give them a try. Remember that the key to changing someone else’s behavior very often starts with a change in our own. Assuming that you shop for dinner, prepare the meal, serve the meal, and clean up after the meal, other members can share some of what you are doing.

The following may be very difficult for you, but offer it anyway. Let others know that you will continue to shop, prepare, and serve, but you will only clean your own dishes. Have a family discussion explaining the procedure you have established. Of course, another approach is to elicit which part of the meal others prefer to participate in—aside from the eating.