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Thursday, 14 September 2000

Sloppy Step-Son

Written by  Toby Klein Greenwald

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QDear WholeMom,

I feel it's never too late to train my biological kids to pick up, although I have always taught them to pick up after themselves since they've been little. They usually do what I say. When my 16-year-old non-custodial son stays with me over the weekend, he always cleans his room before he leaves without my asking.

My stepson is a different matter. He must have always been very sloppy and gets away with it, especially at his mother's house. When he comes to stay with us, he brings his sloppy habits with him and when I or his dad ask him to clean up, he usually does not do it.

His room is a disaster area. (Even his mom commented on the mess!) I am at a loss over what to do! I feel as if there are two different standards for my two children and my stepson.

Distraught Neat Step-Mom

ADear Distraught Neat Step-Mom,

Different families have different standards of neatness, different kids have different standards of neatness and in this case the situation may be exacerbated by the fact that your stepson may be exploiting the situation to express his dissatisfaction with the fact that his parents have split up. But, believe me, many teen-agers who come from the original two-parent family are slobs, so he is not unique! (That's why we could write an entire series in the Teen and Parent Centers called "Cleaning Wars;" it's such a universal topic!)

There are different theories about how to get kids to clean. Some parents offer incentives - money, gifts, special vacation activities - while others threaten with withholding privileges if the cleaning is not done. These are two similar but opposite approaches. (Figure out that one!) Here's the scoop: In both of them, the child performs and the parent reacts. There are books on these different approaches (check out our virtual bookstore and your local real bookstore!) and some of them are excellent.

Then there is an additional approach, which says: As long as this is his own room and it affects nobody else: Close the door! I know this is not simple for someone who likes a neat house, but one day he will need his favorite shirt, or a schoolbook, and he won't find them, or a girlfriend will stop by and he'll be embarrassed. (I don't know if he'd be embarrassed in front of a boy friend!) Or he'll go away to college and nobody will want to room with him.

We do what we can and sometimes we just have to ask ourselves 1) Is our nagging succeeding? And 2) Is it worth the aggravation and the distress it is causing in our relationship? So, to summarize, my suggestions: 1) Try rewards 2) Try withholding privileges (without being nasty about it) and if both of those fail, 3) Lock the door from the outside when he's not around and put the key on the highest shelf you can find so you won't be tempted to aggravate yourself by looking at his room! In your particular case of a step-family, the message you are sending to your other children will be clear: This behavior is not acceptable to us.

Good luck,

Last modified on Thursday, 20 September 2012 23:51
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Toby Klein Greenwald

Toby Klein Greenwald

Toby Klein Greenwald, Executive V.P. Creative Development, is a founding partner and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily. Toby is an educator, journalist, photographer, scriptwriter, poet, playwright, lyricist, and theater director, including for populations that have experienced trauma or are at risk. She is a Playback Theater conductor and is the recipient of Israel's Ministry of Education's Egerest Award for Culture, for her work in educational and community theater. She has more than 30 years of teaching experience and has served on numerous educational think tanks. Her specialties include the creation of innovative educational programs, and teaching Creative Writing and Film to AD(H)D and LD high school students, and to senior citizens. Toby is married to Yaakov and they have six children, most of whom have made her a proud mother-in-law and grandmother.

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