Question: I feel like my daughter and I are in this vicious cycle at the moment. I ask my 13-year-old to do something — say, clean up after herself when she makes lunch — she doesn’t do it, I ask her again, and she does it superficially. I ask her again, this time not so nicely, she feels like I am nagging her and gets angry and resentful. Following her attitude change, I start to feel resentful because I have to keep asking her to do these simple things over and over (and over and over) again. I have never been a naggy type person, but she’s turning me into one! Then of course, I can’t help myself, but launch into a big, giant nagfest about if you’d just do this or that, I wouldn’t nag you … blah, blah, blah, which I know is only hurting the situation!
ANSWER: We parents often allow ourselves to be trapped in this cycle with our children. In the end, we find ourselves offering a lecture on responsibility, or being a contributing member of the family, or other things that we are fully aware, in real time, fall on deaf ears. Even worse, we may find ourselves bargaining and compromising on issues we feel ought to be absolute: You’re supposed to clean your room, help with dishes, take out the garbage, and so on. This is part of the agreement.
The problem in many families begins with the fact that there is no agreement, written, oral, tacit, or otherwise. I therefore encourage occasional family meetings where expectations are made abundantly clear. Here is where some compromise or give-and-take might be acceptable. If you have little luck with this, I would suggest a clear written agreement, with consequences for those tasks not performed to Mom and Dad’s satisfaction. It should also be made clear that, when you are asked to do something by Mom or Dad, you do so without debate or argument. Failing that, a reasonable consequence can be laid out.
This way, we can refer to the agreement without unnecessary discussion, argument or debate. But if we end up in a debate in the moment, with no agreement to fall back on, we’ve probably already lost.
Dr. John Duffy, Chicago-based clinical psychologist, is the author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.