How to encourage teenagers to participate in household chores?

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Casual scribe

How to encourage teenagers to participate in household chores?

I live with my partner and his two teenage daughters (15 and 17 yrs). We have lived together for over 18 months. The girls are messy and do not help out around the house. More recently it has become and issue and starting to impact on our relationship as a couple. 

 

We discussed how the place was too messy and how we need to get the girls to do more. (They dont make food for themselves (even a sandwich) only bowls of cereal they then leave wherever they ate them, tidy up after themselves, their rooms have dirty clothes, used sanitary products, rotting food and plates etc). It's beyond what you could call a little bit of a mess. So, my partner suggested I ask them to do more, directly. 

 

Last week I asked both girls to put their dirty clothes, clothes etc into a basket I provided and rubbish etc from floor in binbags I provided. In return I'd bought a large bar of chocolate for each of them. The eldest did this the same evening as she wanted the chocolate. She did a pretty good job and it wasnt stressful. 

 

The youngest asked for the chocolate anyway (to her Dad) and sent sad emojis when he said not until you've done what was asked of you etc. Days passed and we get to Sunday when eventually a few items of clothing and rubbish, crockery where brought down. My partner, without checking, handed over the chocolate but, in fact, the room was still a complete mess. Being asked to do the job properly was met with 'I just cant' and then telling her Dad to stop asking as it was making her anxious and depressed. She has a history of depression and anxiety.  

 

That weekend, without me knowing, he also raised with the girls that I was feeling uncomfortable tidying all the time and they needed to help out more. The youngest responded (I'm told) saying she took it personally and felt she was the reason I was going to move out. (I had not said I was thinking of moving out so find this an interesting choice of words.)

 

She rarely goes out although her boyfriend does visit the house. At times this means my partner and I go to our room to give them the lounge space - against my opinion but I go along with it to avoid arguments. 

 

My worry is that we are not instilling any boundaries or consequences which is not healthy. When pushed the younger daughter brings up her anxiety and depression as a way to avoid having to change her behaviour. She is not eating well at the moment (she only really likes chocolate and crisps) and talks of being light headed and not eating during the day - this usually results in being given chocolate by her Dad as he is understandably worried about her. 

 

I am not their Mother so need to be respectful not to overstep and mindful of the pressure I am putting on my boyfriend who frequently feels 'caught in the middle'. He would rather do everything for the girls than have a confrontation and is happy to do as the younger daughter asks rather than upset her. 

 

My job is in mental health although I am not a clinician. I would love us to find a way to show particularly the younger daughter how to take more control in her life and more independence. It feels like it is everyone else's responsibility to keep her well without her thinking about her own behaviour, wellbeing and contributions she can make. She's a very bright, strong willed girl who, until now, has her family walking on egg shells around her. She's fragile and fierce in equal measure.  

 

Help! It's so intense right now as we have not had any time together in months (the girls have only been to their mother's on one occasion due to family illness). I work from home a few days a week so can feel there is no escape from the place. Do I just go against my instincts and let the daughters walk over me? Do I move out? Do I text or email the youngest (I know she wouldnt sit down and talk to me)? 

 

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Casual scribe

Re: How to encourage teenagers to participate in household chores?

I feel you. I had the same concern and issue when I first moved in with my then fiancé and two teens, a boy and a girl. The boy was 13 and generally speaking much neater, whereas the girl (11) was/is messy in general. Wrappers, leftovers etc in her room and clothes & wet bath towels everywhere. Being the soon-to-be stepmom, I didn’t feel I should be the disciplinarian in the home. I felt I needed to develope my relationship with the kids and getting caught up in that role would not be a good start. I spoke with my husbands about it. I considered the fact that he had been doing this on his own since the kids were toddlers (50% custody) and had grown used to doing everything for them and probably hadn’t considered the fact that they’re getting old enough to do things themselves. We always had dinner together (at least they always - my job was still far at the time so I didn’t always make dinner, but they made it a point to sit w me and have dessert while I had dinner). I was glad my husband had kept this tradition. It started with HIM letting them know they’re old enough to help keep the home, as we’re tired from work all day and would really appreciate the help - they are now to take their plates to the sink and rinse them, load them into the dishwasher. Yeah! Baby steps. Once I left my job ad started cooking (more elaborate meals) they became responsible for all of our dishes not just their own and pots that weren’t too caked. Next step - since I’d left my job, we were looking for ways to reduce costs. The house is large and I used to clean my own, but I was not ok cleaning THIS house and handling their laundry. I was still doing some work and started taking on things that were overdue I the home and the kids’ lives. We still had someone come to clean, but reduced the laundry by my husband and I both talking to the kids about reducing costs and we’re going to teach them to do their own laundry. They learned - a few whites ruined, a few jeans shrunk, but they learned not to put the things they loved into the dryer. As for the overdue things — that included a counselor for the girl. It wasn’t easy, she went though several, said she hated it and eventually a psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants ONLY if she continued counseling. Three therapists later we found one she’s slowly making progress with. She is now 17. We have constant challenges, but I (we’re) continuing to learn. I just found this site today based on a new challenge.

It’s very important you don’t become the only enforcer. I suggest encouraging your husband to not put these things on you. After all, wouldn’t HE like the home to be cleaner, wouldn’t he like for her to eat more healthy? My husband is definitely a softy, but he understood how important the dynamic is and that quite frankly, the kids will more likely take rules from him than some that were imposed by me - this new person in their lives, at least while I started to develop my own relationship with the kids. Hopefully, he is receptive. If not, is he open to counseling for you two? Family dynamic is not easy and winging it can make it more difficult for everyone involved — more painful than the thought of counseling. Finally, please have a conversation with her father about getting her some counseling if this is not already happening. Things will become more challenging for her and for you all at home. Professional guidance is so invaluable. You shouldn’t have to do this all on your own and your concern is a valid, loving one.