I think it’s fair to say my job as a parent has gotten harder as my kids have gotten older. Raising future adults requires the constant teaching of life skills that aren’t covered in most parenting books.
Here are four necessary life skills that I’ve been working on lately with my teens:
1. Plunge a toilet
My three teens share a bathroom. There was a bit of a situation a few weeks ago. No one took responsibility, no one wanted to plunge, so there it sat for three days. Their bathroom began smelling like an outhouse. They had to walk down the hall to use mine or go downstairs to relieve themselves. No one wanted to brush their teeth or shower in their bathroom for obvious reasons.
While I can be a bit particular about cleaning the loo, all I did was hand them the plunger. First, they should know how to use it by now and second, I don’t use their bathroom, so I see no reason why I should clean up crap I didn’t create.
There was some gagging, but the three of them pulled it together one afternoon when they were sick of not being able to use their bathroom.
2. Load the dishwasher correctly
There should be a class teaching the proper way to load a dishwasher. Or maybe a buzzer that sounds when you put a bowl in the dishwasher facing up. Of course, the bottom of that bowl will be all sparkly but what about the inside that contained the actual food?
I don’t know why my kids think it’s okay to precariously perch a plate on top of a baking pan and call it good, even though nothing is getting properly cleaned. It’s almost enough to drive me to the brink of giving up on them forever.
I’m learned that setting their places at the table with the dirty dishes works rather well for motivating them to learn to load the dishwasher properly. No, they don’t eat out of them, but I make my point without saying a word when they have to get a clean dish and put the dirty one in the dishwasher correctly.
3. Know when to go to bed
I’ve let my kids dictate their bedtime as they’ve gotten older. I advise them to go to bed when they’re tired, have to be up earlier than usual, or have a big game or test the next day.
When they ignore the signs that they should go to bed, they’re often grouchy and irritated the next day and wonder why they feel like a limp dish rag. I remind them that their case of FOMO isn’t a valid reason to be dragging through the day or taking out their tiredness on the rest of us. The TV show, Snapchat and other distractions can wait until the next day.
I want them to learn to listen to their bodies, but I’m not above forcing the issue if they’re rude or too tired to finish their chores or homework. In those situations, I take away all of their devices and tell them they can go to their room and read until they fall asleep. There’s been improvement in their sleep habits because they want to avoid this consequence at all costs, but it’s still a work in progress.
4. Learn to plan ahead
Teaching teens how to plan ahead is harder than you think. They know their uniforms need to be washed between games, but they forget to take their clothes out of their gym bags and wash them. They’ve also been asked to add what they want to the grocery list prior to a shopping trip, but they end up yelling their requests as I’m pulling out of the driveway.
Their lack of planning has led them to wear smelly uniforms and to miss out on drowning their food in their favorite ranch dressing. Among other teen tragedies. But by not picking up the slack and doing things for them, the consequences are often, but not always, enough to get them to remember to plan ahead.
Sure, there times when they are slammed with obligations and I’ll do a load of laundry if they ask. But I refuse to remember all of the things they need for their life now they are teens. It’s their responsibility to be proactive in planning their week. I don’t want them to grow up expecting things like this to be taken care of or the whole life lesson of learning how to plan and prioritize goes sour. Much like their smelly uniforms.
Teaching life skills is a constant game of tug-of-war and I’m doing my best to teach my kids the hard stuff. Not just so they’ll know how to take care of themselves when they’re on their own, but also because I’d like to enjoy the benefits while they’re still living with me. Fingers crossed.