Mutual Expectations

Q: I feel that my children could be doing more to help around the house. Not only are they not participating, but they expect that everything will continue as usual, no matter how busy I am. This includes having a full supper served at the customary hour and their mother (me!) paying full attention to the myriad details of their daily lives.

But what they expect is totally unrealistic!

Besides being a homemaker, I work part-time — yet my family wants me to always be available for them! They don’t think about my needs at all. When I go to the gym at night, they resent it. And when it comes to attending simchos, I have to think twice before going, to be sure I won’t be assailed by complaints when I return.

(My husband works until late at night and makes time to learn whenever he can, so he is not in this picture.)

The older children complain that their friends don’t work so hard and “advise” me to get more cleaning help. Everyone gets less homework these days, so I don’t know what their problem is.

Even the little ones could be more helpful. I just don’t seem to have the tools to guide them.

A: Teaching compassion is constructive. If children have limited consideration towards their parents while growing up, it often does not change when they are older.

Human beings have needs, and acknowledging that all people (including parents) have physical and emotional boundaries is a wake-up call to reality. Your children’s expectations seem overly high, and no human being can live up to such continuous unrealistic expectations.

It is best to have a family meeting to discuss what needs to be done and what each person, according to age and ability, can do to assist in the household chores. Present your requirements in a non-emotional way, laying out what it would take for you to function properly. Include items such as adequate sleep and exercise.

Mention each child’s helpful contributions in the past and stress how they were so helpful to you. Sometimes using humor can help avoid power struggles with children and lighten a stressful situation (as assigning household chores and expecting compliance can be stressful).

Your children need to learn to spell out their requests in advance. Before you attend a simchah, mention exactly when you plan to leave the house and when and for how long you will be available to assist them beforehand. This helps your children clarify their expectations rather than submitting you to a litany of incessant demands. Teaching them that parents have their own parameters of time is not selfish; this knowledge is a learning tool that helps children be more aware that life also has demands on others.

It is true that you will probably still hear “But Ma, I forgot that I have math homework!” or “I can’t find my uniform skirt for tomorrow!” However, the actual amount of time you are “on call” will likely be shortened. Your pleasantly articulated reminder that “I need to leave at 7:40, as I mentioned before” does not show a lack of kindness. You are not saying, “Here you go again, bothering me at the last minute,” or “I’ve had it with your being so disorganized!”

People work more efficiently when motivated, and parents usually know what motivates their children to be more compliant. Rewards for helping around the house vary according to each household.

Hatzlachah in this most important endeavor!