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A Slob and a Deliberately Unhelpful Daughter

Dr. Catherine Pearlman on

Dear Family Coach: My teen son is a slob, and it drives me insane. The other day I decided to help him clean up. It took us four hours, but everything had a place and the room was spotless. Not a day later, it was back to a disaster area. I was hurt and felt that he was disrespectful to me by not trying to keep his room clean. Am I wrong? -- Tidy Mom

Dear Tidy: Yep, you are wrong. Your son didn't mess up his room to spite you. He's just a slob. It's what comes naturally to him. He likely doesn't even see his room as messy. You see a disorganized mess. I assure you sees it differently.

You cleaned your son's room because you thought you were being helpful. But did he ask for help? If he did but seems incapable of keeping it clean, talk to him about it. Drop the hurt, and focus on solutions that would work for him.

If your son didn't ask for your assistance and isn't having trouble finding his belongings, then leave it alone. Let his room be his haven, and let him keep it as he wishes. But tell him that if he chooses to be messy, he will have to clean his room and do his laundry by himself. This entails vacuuming, using the washer and dryer, and wiping down surfaces. He may suddenly become a neat freak.

Dear Family Coach: My 14-year-old daughter saw on social media that an old friend of mine and her teen son were visiting the same city as us for the day. I asked my daughter to reach out to the boy to give his mother my phone number. But my daughter refused to help me. She said she felt weird. I told her I didn't appreciate the fact that she didn't help me. She said she didn't care. I was furious. How could I have required her to help me in that scenario? -- Stuck

Dear Stuck: Clearly, you don't understand the universal social rules of awkward teenagers. I bet your daughter did feel weird. I'm guessing she doesn't know this boy well, although it probably wouldn't have mattered if she did. At her age, it's incredibly stressful conversing with boys. There's too much subtext, hormones and overzealous introspection. Your daughter wasn't trying to spite you. She simply went into survival mode.

You certainly had every right to be disappointed. But did you take the time to ask your daughter more about why it would be weird? Did you put yourself in her shoes? Or did you get frustrated and angry? I don't think a lecture or a consequence would have changed much in this scenario. In fact, if you had pushed too hard, your daughter would lose all motivation to help you out.

All you could have done was show empathy. Imagine what it feels like to be a teen girl contacting a boy on social media. Instead of demanding her help, you could have asked her more about why she couldn't do it. And then you could have tried to find a way for her to save face but also get you in contact with your long-lost friend. Maybe there was another potential creative solution. That's really all you could have done. If after all of that she still refused to help, then you would have no choice but to respect her decision.


Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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