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Chores and Cooperation in the Blended Family

A recent topic on the Stepparenting forum was about the frustration of getting children to help around the house. Chores and personal responsibility issues within the family can be a big source of conflict particularly if they are assigned by the stepmother. Children may be reluctant to undertake obligations in a home they have yet to accept as their own.

Stepmoms eager to please often take on too much of the day to day responsibilities in the beginning and then find it difficult to make a change. What started out as a gesture to gain affirmation has now become a point of contention. Frustration builds, anger rises, blame starts… and so on. If the matter goes unresolved it festers into resentment and withdrawal. Many of the forum moms are already at that place. Their spouse is no help because he fears loss of love or approval if he dares to set boundaries with his kids. His passiveness makes him an ally of their behavior and an adversary to his wife.

Problems of responsibility are primarily problems of relationship. Good relationships require good communication. Family communication revolves around articulating responsibility, setting limits and defining consequences for performing poorly. Nagging and confrontation will not cause an irresponsible person to change their behavior. Hollow threats reinforce negative patterns as does rescuing someone from correctional consequences.

One stepmom on the forum has made it clear to her teenage stepson that he will not have dinner waiting for him if he arrives home after an agreed upon time. I didn’t get the impression she would keep him from eating, but the family meal was served and the kitchen closed at a designated time. I found this to be a good example of defining expectations and reasonable consequences. As it turned out, the boy insisted on pushing the limits and then dad came to his defense adding a whole new dimension to the problem.

Teaching responsibility in the home prepares a young person for the demands he will face in the world. Coordinating tasks and chores is not about acquiring cheap labor or exerting control. It provides the opportunity for membership and shared ownership. It fosters respect for possessions and relationships. Time management, teamwork and goal orientation are just a few of the by-products of taking out the trash or observing a curfew. Accountability to others makes us feel more secure in our environment.

If you are the parent of a young person who is not accepting their role in the family by ignoring rules and responsibility, it may be a good time to:

• Clarify your expectations
• Reiterate the penalties for minor and more severe infractions
• Be certain the child fully understands
• Consider a system of reward to encourage better choices

Where appropriate ask for feedback, suggestions or ideas on how things can improve and never allow the withdrawal of love to be a consequence.

I believe the following quote is attributable to Ann Landers. It speaks to our job as parents to instill accountability in our children.

“If you want your child to keep his feet on the ground, put some responsibility on his shoulders”.

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