My kids refuse to help me. I am a 47-year-old single mother, living on disability and child support. Recently, my 20-year-old son moved back into my home. He agreed to buy groceries, pay his portion of the high-speed Internet he needs for school and help maintain the household. (I have ulcers that won’t heal on the soles of my feet because I can’t sit long enough for them to heal.) I’ve put up job lists and asked my three kids repeatedly for help, but nothing works. They argue about whose turn it is, and my house remains a mess. My 20-year-old has not honored our financial arrangement either. I’m afraid to push him, because he is a diabetic and suffers from bipolar disorder. I am exhausted and hopeless.
If you ask your children to help you, it sounds like a choice, so they can opt out. The request for help and the failure to receive it also sets you up to feel depressed, unappreciated and angry, which leads to exhaustion and hopelessness. Another possibility is to sit down with your children and ask them how a household is run. The answer is: like a business. That means you are the president, and they are partners. Their investment in the success of the business affects their success in life because through your guidance they learn skills in time management, organization, cooperation, teamwork, delegation, good communication, conflict resolution, etc. Be clear in your own mind about this before talking with your children. Also, if you have failed as a “boss” by yelling, crying or threatening consequences and not standing by your word, admit it. Then change.
Consistency is vital. You say, “Clean the bathroom, or I’ll take away your Game Boy,” and the bathroom remains a disaster. If you yell or whine but don’t follow through on the consequences, you have told that child you do not tell the truth and cannot be trusted. Take the Game Boy and be specific about how long it will be out of reach. (For example, one hour for every hour that the bathroom remains unclean.)
Now, let’s talk about your adult son. I have friends who are bipolar or diabetic. The only time they cannot keep agreements is when they stop taking medication. If your son is on medication, there is no reason to coddle him. Doing so only makes it harder for him to do well in the world.
So, take action. Type up the original agreement, stating specific responsibilities (he buys groceries, and you provide a room). Print out two copies. Go over the contract with him, explaining that he has 30 days to fulfill the terms, or he moves out. At the end of the 30 days, if he has not held to his part of the agreement, cut the high-speed Internet and tell him he has two weeks to move. Hold your boundary. On moving day, have a friend with you if you need support, but do not cave. If he asks for another chance, ask for back pay upfront, along with one month’s expenses in advance and a one-month “deposit.” If he doesn’t have it, support him in selling his CDs or other items to earn a portion of it and then create an arrangement that allows him, that day, to begin working it off at home.
Another option, of course, is to live in a mess. That way, you do not have to confront your fear of your children not liking you, and they can continue to be in charge of the household. Whichever path you choose, be certain to give your children plenty of verbal support for what they are doing right at home and at school.