Folks, I need your help

I am sitting here trying to breathe through this iron band around my chest. I lost it with one of the kids this morning. This child is not a neat child by nature. He is the type of kid that makes himself at home wherever he is, takes off his socks and stuffs them in his trouser pocket while reading or watching TV, or under the sofa cushions. He doesn’t notice mess of any sort. Mind you, neither do the rest of them unless I point it out. Is that perhaps a boy thing?

I am not a perfectionist when it comes to the house. I like clean, I like tidy, but I am not OCD about it. My house looks lived in – not immaculate. BUT there are certain standards that I expect everyone to adhere to. Beds need to be made in the morning, there needs to be NO dirty clothes on the floor, clean clothes must be put away and I need to be able to navigate through a bedroom without stepping on Lego.

This morning I asked ALL the boys to neaten up their rooms, make sure all their dirty laundry was brought to my room to be sorted, and I went to investigate. 3 out of 4 had done what I asked. The fourth was doing his thing (lolling around doing nothing) and I asked him why he hadn’t cleaned up. “I cleaned up yesterday”. I pointed out to him that there was mess that was made since yesterday and I wanted it taken care of. At this point I am still calm and rational. “But, Ima…..”. I pointed out to him exactly what I needed him to do, told him it would take him 5 minutes. I got lip and aggravation. “It’s always me that you are nagging to clean up, you never nag the others” – I never nag the others because they always do it straightaway and properly. Begrudgingly he said he’d do it. I went in 5 minutes later and nothing was done.

I reminded him that I asked him to take care of it, and would he please do so. No. He was in a very contrary mood and it seems that I was asking too much of him. He felt very put upon and singled out and refused to do it. Somehow, it just set me off. I am not proud of myself but I told him there was no maid service here, and he needs to learn personal responsibility and I hope that he marries himself a rich wife who can afford to pay someone to clean up after him. Of course I got into the whole “I do so much for you and you take me for granted” business. I hate when that happens. I got so angry with him, and he was mad at me. I shouldn’t have yelled like that, very not like me. He isn’t talking to me now, but his room is clean.

When I ask this child to clean a common area – like the bathroom or living room – for Shabbat he has no problem doing it. In fact, yesterday he and his brother cleaned up my spare bedroom (read “junk room”) together – and it looks awesome and is sparkling clean.

How do I teach this child (one of the older ones, I’m not saying whom) to care about his things? How do I teach him personal responsibility – his brothers seemed to learn it from an early age. I have tried charts and rewards. I even told him that once we move if he cannot keep his room clean (he will have his own room for the first time) he will lose the privilege of not sharing a room and will have to move into shared space. He is a bright kid and understands the consequences of his actions, he just cannot bring himself to care enough to follow through with the right behaviour.

My heart hurts. I lost my temper with a child. I will apologize to him when we have both calmed down. I just hurt so much that I cannot get him to care. Do you have any ideas how I can get him to do what I need for him to do, without it being a battle every single time? Without him telling me I am obsessed with cleanliness?


(I know I am human…..and most parents lose their temper occasionally…..but I hate how I behaved. How will I ever make it up to him??)

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24 responses to “Folks, I need your help

  1. You are way ahead of me… My kids are 6 and 8, and they don’t do half of what your kids do at home. Navigating through their room without stepping on lego is possible once you’ve developed good enough skills.
    Maybe that’s why I decided to stop at 2 kids 😉 Too much work! And don’t beat yourself over losing your temper once in a while. Unless it’s a regular feature, I think it may be healthy for a kid to see a parent angry – we’re only human and they’re allowed to know that.

    • The older kids have grown out of Lego, thank God – never thought it would happen!!

      They rarely see me angry. I rarely raise my voice. Generally when I am upset with them my voice is very quiet and apparently scary. That coupled with the Ima stare of death – they listen. SO me yelling makes a point.

  2. Adolescents will try to assert their independence and try your patience. And they like to assert control over their space. Your kids are reaching the age when they do that. Some are worse than others. If you are both a skilled parent and lucky it will not be about anything more serious or with more lasting effect than how often he picks up his dirty clothes. Do not worry; they are very likely to grow out of this stage. However, with 4 kids, don’t be surprised if at least one of them has you tearing out your hair for a year or so. And they need to see that you have limits beyond which they will see consequences they would rather not.

  3. First, you’re allowed to get angry. You don’t have to “make it up to him.” I think you can make up with him though, and talk about it more.

    If he is one of the older ones, then you probably need to sit down and actually talk about this, not when you’re trying to get him to go and do it right then, but at a point when you can just talk about together – maybe at KoD’s house now, so that it’s something that’s in another country. It depends what your ultimate goal is, though.

    Also, is it really about personal responsibility? My mom and I had a very different opinion about what counts as a messy room when I was growing up. In her opinion, my room had to be as spotless as the rest of the house, but especially as I got older, my room felt like “my” part of the house, and it felt like an intrusion on my very small area of relative privacy.

    Not sure if any of that was helpful, but good luck!!

    • we have talked it through. He knows he needs to work on things, and I apologized for going totally crazy. I need to allow him some room for personal expression in HIS space, but he shares it with a brother who is very neat. it’s a tough balance.

  4. I agre with the other commenters. I don’t think that you were very off base to scold him harshly. Sometimes, a child needs to hear things in a harsh way. It is a way of showing the child that this issue is very important to you.

  5. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I do have a bit of realistic insight here: I’m just like your son. My mother does keep a gorgeous house. Everything in its place, everything neat, cleaned up. Nothing in the floors, beds made, etc. However, my general tendency in housekeeping has something to do with my attention span: if a mess does not directly inconvenience me at that moment, I don’t even SEE it. I wash dishes a lot because I am in the kitchen a lot and dirty dishes inconvenience me. Now ask me how long it takes me to put away clean laundry. WHOOOOA yeah. A long time. When I can’t find that shirt I want? That’s when I remember to put the laundry away.

    My whole childhood, my mother nagged & begged & threatened, and it never did any good. Not until I was grown and nearly 10 years married did I find out that those tendencies come straight from my dad. I never noticed he was like me because my mother cleaned up after him. The fact is, Momma could never make me the way she is. It just isn’t possible; I have tried my hardest to be “good” and follow through and keep a neat house. It just doesn’t happen for me, no matter how good my intentions. I don’t like it about myself, but I have come to accept it.

    • wow – that really made me look at this in a whole new light. I am trying to make him be neat like me. I am trying to mould him into a little HSM and it isn’t working. Thank you so much for that perspective!!

  6. i know nothing about parenting, but you aren’t supposed to be his friend – you are his mother. Its ok to lose it, as long as it isn’t abusive language (as i am sure knowing you, it isn’t). I think having a talk with him after will be nice, especiallly if you apologize for losing it.

    I think the responsibility talk might be appropriate for an older child. If they want respect then they are going to have to show it. By not listening to your request, he is disrespecting you – maybe he doesn’t see it that way. Maybe he just wants his space to be as he likes it, but if you ask him to do something and he says he will, and doesn’t, AND gets away with it (like if you dropped it) that isn’t good either.

    Ok, i’m no help…but i am interested in the answers!

    • Shorty – I use that line with my kids often, I am NOT their friend but their mother. Sometimes they need reminding. Sometimes I need reminding.

      It is about respect…to some degree

  7. Just wanted to send some ((((hugs)))) and say that imho you are being too hard on yourself. Yelling at your kids may be a mistake, but we all make mistakes. You have every right to demand his obedience and respect.

  8. I feel for you because what you described is something I can totally relate to. I hope you will let me share with you my thoughts about the whole predicament.

    To give some perspective on my opinion, I may need to say that I have two boys, am single raising both of them (14.5 and 12.7 yo) and that the elder boy has severe autism which is a developmental disorder affecting social and communicative capabilities. I also am personally affected by severe clinical depressive and anxiety disorders which have a serious impact on my own abilities to be organized, tidy and efficient. It also can impact very negatively on my mood swings if I hadn’t worked on them for years, and I always dread when I am pushed beyond the point I may explode in anger.

    What I see in your issue, is your attempts to teach this child to care about his things and to teach him personal responsibility, which in my eyes are two totally different topics that you don’t tackle in the same move.

    One deals with his own rapport to belongings, and the other deals with social responsibility, with the world and his role in it.

    One will affect only himself, the other one is part of what raising a mensh is. Only the second is actually our work as mothers, I guess… The first one is none of our business, and is a controlling attempt, something that we will always stumble upon: we would like someone to be a certain way, to look a certain way, to think a certain, how will we ever be able to have that power?

    Your son was right in pointing out that you were singling him, and that he was the only one to be constantly nagged (that you have your rationale to justify that, does not make it any different, especially from his point of view). I hear that in my home a lot, especially that the elder son does not speak, so he will not vocally complain if I teach him how to do something, and if he does not want me to be after him, he learns the expected behavior in order to be done with it. His sibling will go into talking me out of something rather than do it, so of course, he is the one who will get my nagging constantly!

    Since you have set up consequences for his behavior, the only thing that is left for you is to follow through with them, and he will lose the privilege. The problem is that often, the consequences we set for our sons are bothering us tremendously too, and we so want not to have to implement them (or them to happen), that we lose patience, and blame the “perpetrator” for having failed miserably when it would have been easy not to go there.

    Unfortunately it happens all the time.

    You have to make up your mind on what is more important to you: your keeping your calm, and not losing it in anger, or your looking at some messy bedroom. Why is that other mess that is not ours bother us so much?

    My son with autism learnt very early on to put things where they belong. His brother could not care less, and sometimes a clean bedroom can grow in a field of mess within an hour, and stay messy for weeks. There is a time it needs to be vacuumed, and rather than losing my patience, I very often take everything off the floor myself. It makes me cringe and regret he is not “responsible”, but he doesn’t care about having it cleaned, so he won’t do it. I care, so I do it. And we pick up other fights. My fight is with homework, and I haven’t yet figure out how to swallow the fact that he has lost so many opportunities (the last one beeing that his math teacher can’t recommend him for accelerated just because he doesn’t hand his assignments: how do you *make* someone do their homework?? you simply don’t, but it breaks my heart).

    • thanks for your perspective based on your own experience. You have given me a lot to ponder. this parenting thing is SOOO not easy!

  9. 1) You got what you wanted, the room is cleaned up, so what’s the problem.

    You cannot always get what you want AND be loved. There are tradeoffs, and you are ready to pay them. So I see not problem there.

    2) Do you want to teach him to care for what he cares about or to care for what you care about?

    • 2) Do you want to teach him to care for what he cares about or to care for what you care about?

      when one has kids one raises them to share the same core values. I would hope our individual values are not mutually exclusive.

  10. My experience with boys is they will not care about stuff until..they do. My son was and still is very messy with his room, but the other nagging issues like showering often enough, wearing clean and neat clothing etc. all somehow just ‘happened’ when he hit a certain age. He now cares a great deal about his appearance and personal hygiene, and while his room is still a disaster, I figure that’ll come around too.
    Don’t be too hard on yourself for being human – our kids can push our buttons like no one else can – both in those mushy yummy ways and in the omg I feel like I just lost my mind ways.
    Apologize if you want to – I am a believer in owning up even to our kids when we are wrong, but do so ONLY about what you feel was an overreaction. Don’t let him think that the ASKING to straighten up was something you needed to apologize for!

    • we did sit down and talk not too long after I wrote this. He came to me to apologize. I said I was sorry for yelling like a crazy woman, and that I let myself get carried away. He told me he knows he deserved it. I told him what he did was not so heinous as to deserve such wrath – that i should have controlled my anger. But I also let him know that certain behaviour is just not acceptable. and when Ima asks you to do something even if you don’t want to, you have to show respect.

      Yeah – the showering took a while, but now it’s automatic. Thank God!!

      Taking a chill pill….

      • Good for you – you have a good fellow there…he just proved to you that he still needs his mama and that is actually GOOD news 🙂
        Have a great rest-of-your-day.

  11. The proof that you are a great mom is how you beat yourself up over just yelling. Many parents would do worse in that situation.

    And I too was that child. My preschool teacher (who is a family friend and still tells this story) told me I couldn’t have snack till I cleaned up my space. I told her, “That’s okay, I had snack yesterday.” And yet I manage a household. Not too neat of a household, but clean enough.

  12. H: for mine it seems to have run between about 14 and 22, at least for the 3 who have been through it. It depends how early they start. Only one was really tough–as in the really tear out your hair stage; she really developed some risky behaviors which she has outgrown. My youngest is 12 and hasn’t yet reached that stage. For my youngest brother though, it seems to have been in his 30’s.

  13. I like what said. Along that line I have two recommendations, “Laying Down The Rails” is based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy and has some great recommendations on instilling habits and removing bad habits in a gentle yet effective manner. And “Raising the Spirited Child” which is a great book and has helped me so much in so many ways. It helps one see from the child’s perspective and a parent reach a child who may think and feel in ways that don’t make sense to us.

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