She’d said it at least 100 times. “Put your laundry in the hamper.” And most laundry days the kids’ dirty clothes were on the floor. “Really? Again? For the 101st time, put your dirty clothes in the hamper!” This is classic nagging, and a great example of a boundary without consequences. Why do you need a boundary? Take a look at the results you DON’T get when you don’t have one! This mom ordered, wheedled and whined for her kids to help out with their own laundry… and still ended up doing it for them.
Think of it this way: why would your kids do something they don’t like if they don’t have to? If you give up and give in, they can sit back and watch while you do the heavy lifting. And then you nag some more.
How do you get past this cycle?
STEP #1 — Don’t demand, shame or blame.
“Just do it!” “What a mess. It’s no wonder you can’t keep track of anything.” “I do everything for everyone, and I’m just so tired.”
These words won’t get anyone, least of all your children, to be motivated and responsible for themselves. The language and attitude breed anger and resistance.
STEP #2 — Know why you really want your kids to do these things.
What’s in it for them, and what’s in it for you? Consider WIIFM — What’s In It For Me? The bottom line of most decisions, no matter which side you’re on, is WIIFM. Hopefully it’s a productive one.
What’s your motivation? To get some help with the drudgery of housework, for starters. This will reduce your frustration and resentment, which increases your energy, both mental and physical. Then it will be more enjoyable to be around your kids, too, when you don’t feel so resentful. Kids will also learn about the group effort it takes to keep a family going.
Then there is the bigger picture of kids with life skills and independence. We all want this for our kids, to be successfully out on their own one day. So why do we keep doing things that get the opposite results? Keep reading.
What’s their motivation? Initially, your kids’ motivation is to get you off their back! They want you to do what they don’t want to do. As you move through the boundary-setting process their motivation will change, and you will stop that aggravating nagging.
STEP #3 — What is a boundary anyway?
A boundary is something you do to protect yourself in some way, and live in integrity. You clarify how much you are willing to do or not do, tolerate or not tolerate. (As parents, we are always hoping that the decisions we make will have an impact on our children, and that’s okay, too.)
In the case of the laundry, go back to Step #2 and knowing your ‘why’: to relieve your burden, increase your energy and love, and to have peace of mind that you’re doing your best to prepare your children to launch into adulthood.
STEP #4 — What is an effective boundary?
Here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty. An effective boundary is one where:
You follow through! If you have any doubt about implementing the consequence, don’t set the boundary! All your children will learn is that you don’t mean what you say and they are free to do as they wish. Do what you say you’ll do.
You set it respectfully and don’t present it as a punishment. When it sounds like punishment, the battle for control is on. Lose-lose, as in “If your laundry is on the floor it will be thrown out.” Be honest. Have you ever thrown out their clothes?
STEP #5 — What does an effective boundary sound like?
This is the part I love, where change really happens.
Let’s go back to the laundry. Here’s a script that works. (Depending upon your children’s ages and what your established procedure is, you may want to change it up a bit.)
“I’ve been nagging a lot about the laundry and I don’t want to nag anymore. I’m sure you don’t want to hear it either. So here’s what I’ve come up with. Dirty laundry goes in the hamper. If you leave clothing on the floor, hanging off a chair or on your dresser, I will assume that it’s clean and leave it there. I will only wash what’s in the hamper.”
The beauty of this is that you’ve made it about yourself and what you will and won’t do. There is no criticism or shaming. Now your kids have a choice: to put it in the hamper, or leave it around and not have clean clothes… and horror of horrors, to wear dirty, smelly or wrinkled clothes to school. In some families, the last part is harder on the parents than on the kids. Stay strong, moms and dads. You can do this!
This is where we come to natural consequences. If they don’t follow the procedure, you’re not punishing them. They had a choice, a reasonable one. The natural consequences of non-compliance are dirty clothes, and perhaps the ridicule of their friends. Peer pressure can be your friend. All your kids want is to fit in, and their friends can be quite influential here.
STEP #6 — What to say when they choose not to comply.
“Mom! Where are my gym shorts?”
“Did you leave them in the hamper? No? Sorry, honey. Remember that only clothes in the hamper will be washed. I guess you’ll have to do laundry or wear what you’ve got.”
Done. You are not a slave or an on-demand parent. You are not doing for your kids what they can do for themselves. The consequences didn’t come out of the blue with an emotional reaction.
This is a carefully thought-out, reasonable boundary. The message is delivered neutrally (or with love, if you can manage it). It puts responsibility and accountability where they belong — with your kids.
This may be simple, but it isn’t easy, especially if you’ve not done it before. I’m no stranger to not wanting to fight or to confront issues. I’ve learned, though, that the payoff of doing it this way is huge.
It’s empowering for you, the parent, to no longer feel at the mercy of your children and your own emotions. The children learn about routines, responsibility, decision-making, consequences, teamwork, talking about disagreeable topics and more. And you thought it was just about laundry!
Eliminating nagging and getting more cooperation is doable. Remember to:
– Pause before reacting and making decisions. – Understand why this is important enough for a boundary. – Determine if you are 100% committed to enforcing it. If not, drop it. – Script out what you want to say so you don’t meander and go off-track. – Deliver the message in a calm moment, and in a calm tone. – Follow through, follow through, follow through.
Their future and yours look brighter and calmer when you follow these six steps. They’re not magic (although the results may feel magical). This is how the real world works, cause and effect. There are natural consequences everywhere: college, work and relationships. This is how you prepare your kids for success.
Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery. She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.
Learn more about coaching and classes at www.fernweis.com. And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit www.familyrecoverypartners.com.