Family LIfe

Hey Mom, Need Some Help?
by Annie Fox, M.Ed.,

Recently read a cautionary tale from Dear Abby. The letter writer was a martyr . . . ahem, a mother describing how her two adult daughters arrive for Thanksgiving each year expecting guest-treatment. For some mysterious reason, these "girls" never offer to help their mother with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ people. That is, not until Mom, frazzled and frustrated slumps to the kitchen floor in her gravy-stained apron and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses exchange eye-rolls and deign to lift sponge or dish towel.

My blood pressure climbed and I too became frustrated and resentful . . . at the mom! I mean, really, where does she think her lovelies learned to blithely ignore household tasks? How in the world had they reached adulthood without a pinch of common courtesy that demands that even if you truly are a dinner guest you offer to help. (You are also, as my mom taught me, required to bring bakery goodies in a pink box.)

So, Dear Abby Mom, if you're wondering where Drizella and Anastasia acquired their unattractive attitudes, look in the mirror. Do not get distracted by smudges and reach for the Windex! It's time for serious self-reflection about the kind of parent you are. But wait! Fault finding is a waste of time and Thanksgiving's around the corner. Here are some quick tips for changing the family dynamic this holiday season and forevermore. And for anyone else needing help getting help around the house, these are for you too:

1. Apologize to your daughters and/or sons today. (I'm serious!) You've taught them that your job is to serve them throughout eternity. So it's not their fault they bought into it. But you were wrong. Your job, as their parent, is to prepare them to be fully functioning independent adults. By compulsively doing for them that which they should learn to do for themselves, you do them no favors. In fact, you've held them back in their development of a cooperative spirit. How they act now, as young adults, is not your doing, but you certainly contributed to their self-centeredness. Admit it. Apologize. Move forward.

2. Make a list of all the things that need to be done between now and the dinner bell on Thursday. Oh, and don't forget to add one general last item: "Clean up after dinner."

3. Share the list with your kids and any other able-bodied family members who will be attending. Say, as assertively as possible (no shouting, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.), "This is what needs to be done. Which of these tasks are you going to take responsibility for?" If you have no confidence in their promises (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, say, "Thanks. We're all counting on you."

4. Make a statement. Get used to saying, whenever necessary (holiday or not), "Hey guys, I need some help in here." Notice that it's a statement, not a question as in: "Will you please help me?" There's a good reason for that. Annie Fox Research shows that when you want something done by your spouse or your children, your chances of compliance drop to a mere 20% when you pose your request in the form of a question that has a "yes" or "no" answer. Dear Abby Mom shouldn't be asking, "Can I count on you to help?" "Can I ask you a favor?" "Do you have a minute?" No, no, not now, Mom. See what I mean? Make a statement.

5. Know that you are loved. You don't need to do it all to be loved and admired by your family. You already are loved and admired. And guess what? No one will love you less if they know that you didn't personally crush each cranberry and do everything else without help. But you will probably appreciate everyone more if you all work together.

6. Teach them! If you don't get the whole family involved in the process, how will they ever learn to a) make a killer feast on their own some day at which you will be an honored guest and b) teach your future grandkids how to be cooperative members of the family? And you want them to learn all that, right? Right!

So good luck with the new program and Happy Thanksgiving, from our home to yours!

About the Author:
Annie FoxAnnie Fox, M.Ed. ia an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens, Read excerpts from her books: Too Stressed to Think? And the new Middle School ConfidentialTM series. Download (free) her entire Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating, Listen to her podcast series "Family Confidential: Secrets of Successful Parenting."

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