I was driving Eldest and Middle to town the other day when we drove up the road we use to take to their primary school. I recalled a crappy morning when I had a melt down as I drove them to school. Tired, stressed and no headspace to keep it together. I asked the boys if they remembered that time mummy lost her shit, and Middle cheekily replied, “Which time? There have been a few”. He was right of course but that didn’t stop me from flicking him a dirty look in the revision mirror. I am not proud of the fact but I also won't pretend that I super-mum. I didn’t cope well with young kids and often felt I was THE worse mother in the world. I would wager a lot of us feel like that at some point?
Either the kids wised up to the warning signs, or the situations causing stress have lessened over the years because ‘mummy losing her shit’ has happened less these days. Maybe I am getting soft in my old age? Perhaps I have learnt that teens can be negotiated with without the banshee present. Take for example the following:
The times I have walked into the lounge room that had been converted into the ‘grunge-pit of gaming’ with dirty dishes over the floor and balancing on the arm of the couch; stinky socks kicked off and thrown as weapons of serious harm (the smell of boy socks is in a league of it’s own); curtains drawn as sunlight can impede your ability to see the screen didn’t you know, have resulted in me wondering on these occasions, the best course of action.
There are times when I calmly say, “Hey guys, can you clean up please?” That has been met with sounds that could be interpreted as in the affirmative (or maybe my wishful thinking?) however the lack of action would leave most people in doubt the request had been heard. This method seems to require an element of repetition. The effectiveness is also influenced by increased volume of the request, and tightness in the voice when repeating the request. It normally ends in me saying “Seriously? I have to ask you 20 times?” and stomping around collecting dishes and swiping feet off the couch.
Level of effectiveness: Mostly begrudgingly and clean up done by me not them.
There are times I have joyfully pulled the curtains open and been met with screams similar to those of the Witch Kings from Lord of the Rings. It is an effective method of gaining attention, however the desired results are usually minimal. It encourages activity, but not the type that is conducive to cleaning my lounge. It can lead to waste removal…of the bodily type, not the dirty dishes I wanted removed. It actually often adds to the dishes when they bring more food into the lounge. The ten seconds of joy in opening the curtains is short lived.
Level of effectiveness: Minimal and compounding
There was this one time (that would probably have me reported to child services in many states) when I walked in front of the TV and announced they had three seconds to get off their arses and start cleaning or I would take my top off. The look on their faces when they realised I was serious was priceless and they jumped out of their chairs in a flash! Level of effectiveness: High but not suitable for frequent use…and runs the risk of being reported.
The best way I have managed to get the teens to actually do something without losing my shit is the just talk to them. Yeah right I hear some say, as easy as that? Well yes. It is all a matter of timing: timing and the choice of message.
The best time is when you have his (or her) attention and everyone is in a good mood. These times do happen, and possibly more often than you think. You just have to be conscious of them and use it to your advantage. An unrelated circumstance will avoid the direction route to feeling pressured (by both parties) and less likely to end in drama. Without the ‘beta-blocker’ that emotion can be, the conversation can be explored and possible outcomes can be reached.
Calmly discuss how important it is that the lounge is kept to a certain standard, as it is a communal space. Given that it is the first room you enter when you come in the house, it is really embarrassing for me as an adult to have people see it in that manner. By avoiding wording that directly attributes blame is a good thing. Laced with some emotive (blackmail) wording such as “It makes me feel like I have done a bad job of raising you if you won't do a simple task such as remove dishes from the lounge…” also helps, but use sparingly as to not fully attribute guilt (just a whiff!). Presenting arguments such as “being that you are pretty much adults now, do you REALLY need me to ask you over and over again like I did when you were 5?” can be quite effective with teenagers as they never want to be referred to as children. There is also the gentle threat of ‘let's avoid the unnecessary action of removing the x-box from the lounge …’
Does it work 100% of the time? No of course not, but the energy and stress required to address the problem next time the gaming session takes over the lounge will be reduced and occur less frequently. Remember to reinforce the ‘good behaviour’ when they do clean up. I won’t guarantee they do it without reminders. There is only one guarantee I will make: one day they will be insistent on keeping the lounge clean.
When they have kids.