Girl Gone Authentic: Maybe I Need to Use the "C" Word with My Daughters

When I started having kids over 27 years ago (man I’m old), I wanted to be the best mom for them. I wanted to instill values in them, provide guidance, love, and all the things a parent is “supposed” to do. I wanted to be involved in their schooling and lives, but not to the point of being a helicopter mom.

For the most part, I think I’m a decent parent. I joke with people that if I ever wrote a book about my parenting efforts, I would call it The Good Enough Mom. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve done my absolute best to raise happy, well-adjusted, productive members of society.

When my three adult children were kids, I worked in their classrooms and chaperoned field trips, even with a full-time job. I volunteered to be “team mom” on my sons’ sports teams, I served on a board of directors for a football/cheer organization, and I even spent a couple of years coaching my older daughter’s cheer team (I am NOT the cheerleader type!). I celebrated their birthdays with homemade cakes, parties, etc. I provided help with homework when they needed it.

When I got together with David, I extended my “momming” to his two children from previous relationships. I didn’t do so much of this for his son since that “child” was almost 18 when I met him, but I did agree to let him live with us for several months, and I’ve always done my best to make him feel like part of our family.

I really did throw myself into raising his daughter, who I’ve talked about in previous blog posts (“Elizabeth”). I did the same things for her that I did for my adult children – working in her classroom, chaperoning field trips, serving as a “team mom” for her softball team, helping her with homework, etc. I host birthday parties for her, allow her to have her BFF over on a regular basis, and pursue mutual hobbies with her (e.g., we both love to go thrift store shopping). I signed her up for dance lessons, Girl Scouts, and other activities she wanted to try. In fact, my older daughter says that I seem to do even more for Elizabeth than I did for my biological kids when they were growing up (and she might be correct, because Elizabeth needs more from me than my bio kids needed).

I make sure we have fun as well. I spent/spend one-on-one time with each child, take them on occasional outings/vacations, etc. In short, I have modeled my parenting style on examples from my own mom and my step-mom, both of whom I think are good moms.

There is one aspect of parenting, however, where I am a gigantic failure. I failed at it when my adult children were kids, and I’m failing at it now. One thing my own mom did with us growing up was that she used the “C” word around us kids. My sisters and I had to live with the “C” word on a regular basis. It’s a word I rarely, if ever, use with my own kids, including the two daughters who still live at home. I hated the word as a child, and to be honest, I really don’t love it now.

No, not THAT “C” word. My mom didn’t call us “c u next Tuesday” when we were growing up. The “C” word I’m referring to is CHORES.

When I was growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. This did not equate into her being a family slave. My two younger sisters and I had chores. Well, I should say that the chores were done primarily by me and my middle sister. The youngest sister didn’t have too many chores, but I digress.

We had the daily chore of dishes. We had to take turns after dinner washing and drying the dishes. We actually had two dishwashers in our home when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s – they were called “Denise” and “Brenda” (my middle sister). After dinner, I would wash and Brenda would dry/put away. The next night, she would wash and I would dry/put away.

Each morning, we were required to make our beds. We had to keep our rooms tidy, we had to make sure our dirty clothes were put in the hamper, and we had to keep the bathroom sink free of toothpaste globs, make-up, etc.

Each Saturday morning, after we ate breakfast and watched some Saturday morning cartoons, it was “weekly chore time.” Along with our mom, Brenda and I vacuumed, dusted, mopped floors, scrubbed toilets and bathtubs, etc. It would take the three of us a couple of hours to do everything. The rest of the weekend was “fun time” for us. Sometimes we did nothing, sometimes our mom took us somewhere. Chores, though, came first.

I always thought that I’d follow the same pattern with my kids. I did virtually everything else in a similar fashion, so why wouldn’t I have my kids do chores when they were old enough?

I started out along a similar vein. When my kids were little, they did have to put away their own toys. They had to put their dirty clothes in the hamper, they couldn’t leave clothes in the bathroom, etc.

Somewhere along the way, though, I failed. When my kids started reaching the age where they could do significant chores (laundry, dishes, vacuuming/mopping, laundry, dusting), I didn’t make these tasks their responsibility. I kept doing virtually everything myself, while also holding down a full-time job outside of the home.

I can’t pinpoint any specific reason why this happened. Maybe I felt guilty for working outside of the home, so I made up for it by not having my kids help out. Maybe I had so little time at home that I didn’t want to spend a chunk of it teaching kids how to do chores. Maybe I figured I’d be faster at cleaning and it would be easier to just do it myself. Most likely, though, my ex-husband always talked about how his mom did EVERYTHING around the house (cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids), so I got into this mindset that to make him happy, I needed to become the family slave/martyr.

This failure at getting my kids to do chores has caused multiple problems. For one, I was/am always exhausted. After going to my job, volunteering on the PTA, and then getting some housework done, I’m spent. It doesn’t help that I have fibromyalgia, which also contributes to my fatigue.

For another, my house is never as clean as I want it to be since I rarely have any of the kids contribute to keeping up the household. With my health problems, sometimes I can’t get up the energy to do anything around the house. I’m currently living in a house that is much more cluttered/messy than what I usually tolerate. I can walk around right now and see numerous things that would normally be very clean but are not. It is very depressing, which further drains my energy.

The girls not cleaning up around the house also causes more than the occasional argument between me and David. It drives him bat-shit crazy that the girls are so fucking lazy around the house, and I’m the one he tells about it. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but I know that he holds me responsible for the girls being so lazy. He tells me how his mom never lifted a finger around the house because household chores were his job. Her job was to provide a roof over his head and food on the table. My response to him is to play the martyr and say that I know I’m a fucking failure as a mom, which drives him nuts (understandably). Not a very productive argument, and the cure is so easy – make my kids do some fucking chores.

They have both been on summer vacation (from college and middle school) since late May/mid-June. During this time, each of them has done dishes MAYBE five or six times, and only when I rant at them. I think they’ve each cleaned their bathroom ONCE, and that was after I pitched a fit over the nasty toilet and sink. Their rooms are disgusting and only get cleaned when I yell at them. My mom NEVER had to yell at me and my sister to clean stuff, and according to David, his mom never had to yell at him to do his chores. We just did chores because we knew they were our responsibility.

But beyond that, I am doing a great disservice to my children. I have not/am not raising them to tidy up after themselves. I’m raising otherwise “healthy” kids who don’t know how to properly do dishes, mop a floor, dust, scrub a toilet, etc. These are skills that you really need in adult life, unless you either a) are a slob or b) are well-off enough to hire a full-time maid.

I have decided to do something about this. On Friday, I let my older daughter know that between her and Elizabeth, they were required to clean the kitchen, dining room, and family room. I told her that they needed to clean as if I was the one cleaning, not their usual half-assed job of “cleaning” thin gs. I gave a consequence of not getting to come with me and David to the amusement park the next day. That seemed to motivate them because I came home from work to a (relatively) clean kitchen, dining room, and family room. Not *quite* how it would look if I did the work, but to be honest, it was better than I was expecting.

I also made the decision that Elizabeth can do her own laundry. I came home from work to her hamper sitting in the entryway, even though I never said anything about doing her laundry. Such a sense of entitlement, and I'm developing this sense! I went to her and told her that I would no longer be doing her laundry. I told her that she’s almost 13 years old and plenty grown enough to clean, dry, fold, and put away her own clothes. You should have seen the look on her face when I told her – complete, utter shock. Not anger, but total shock. It was like I'd just grown a third eyeball in the middle of my forehead.

You might think that I’ve turned a new leaf with my girls. Maybe, maybe not. My M/O is to let the kids be lazy for weeks. David and I have an argument about it, I turn into a hard-ass for about a day, the girls clean a couple of things, and then I go back to my usual “no chore” mode.

I do know that I need to make a change around this house. I really do need to ALLOW my girls to have some responsibility. Not only for my own well being and to improve the relationship between me and David, but for their own sake

. I want to raise daughters who know how to clean a fucking house. Not because they are girls, but because they will be on their own some day and need to know how to clean things. It’s too late for me to fix this with my sons or else they’d be just as much a part of chores as my daughters.

I will start using the “C” word around here!