Reader Question:

I have been raising three kids on my own.  Some days it’s like talking to the wall.  Early mornings and evenings you can find me vacuuming and cleaning. When I find their stuff lying around, I put it on the stairs and ask them to put it where it belongs. When I ask if they understand, they say ‘sure’ and then walk over and around the pile.  

When I was a kid, when my mom spoke, we listened.  Why don’t they listen to me? I’ve probably been enabling them, but I have tried to instill values and encourage these basic life skills, yet they blow me off.  How can I get them to be more responsible and do what needs to be done?

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First of all, kudos to you.  Parenting is difficult even when two parents who agree are involved, and you’re doing this alone.

There isn’t a fix for everything, but you can set limits on some things. From what you described, the missing pieces seem to be consequences and boundaries, as in ‘I will do this and no more.’ Remember that people of any age sometimes get away with things because we make it easy for them. We hope they will ‘do the right thing’ and then are disappointed when they don’t.  Some things you can’t leave to chance.

You started with teaching (these things don’t belong here, please put them away). Now that you have a history of them ignoring you, it’s time to do some preparation and implementation. It’s reasonable to say ‘I’m not going to nag anymore and then be resentful when it doesn’t get done. From now on, anything left here for more than x amount of time will be...’ whatever you choose. In the attic, at the curb, donated, whatever. 

You’re not punishing them, you’re preparing them for life! These are natural, real life consequences.  The outside world will not be nearly so forgiving as you are, and you’re not doing them any favors by letting them slide.  You’re teaching important lessons about cause and effect, sticking to your word, and being responsible for themselves and their possessions. You’re also showing them that it’s possible to talk about frustrating situations calmly and rationally.  And always, always, only set a boundary you know you are 100% able to keep.  

It may not feel like warm, fuzzy love, but these are some of the most loving things you will ever do.