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What to Do with Adult Children Who Don't Clean Up
I'm a big believer in helping your children learn to do chores! It's important for character development, for training for independence, and for your own sanity!

Unfortunately, if you haven't inculcated these chores when kids are young, it's harder when they're older. I recently received an email from a woman wondering what to do with a 23-year-old son who is living in their basement. He doesn't clean his bathroom, doesn't change his sheets, and doesn't do much of anything. The husband also expects this woman to clean up after the adult son. What is she to do?

Here's the email I sent her:

That is a tough problem! It sounds like you have several issues:

1. Your children believe it’s your job to clean up after them.
2. Your husband believes it’s your job to clean up after them.
3. You’re worried about your children’s ability to be independent.

I would say that there’s also a fourth issue—your children need to learn to care for others, and not take others for granted, and the best way to do that is to do chores!

It’s hard to get kids to do chores when they’re in their 20s if they haven’t been doing them all along. It’s especially hard if your husband isn’t really on board. But I would suggest that you start presenting this as “Everybody in this house helps out because we all have a lot to do. We all need to learn to clean up after ourselves and look after ourselves.”

Don’t do it because “I’m sick of cleaning up after you all”, but do it because it’s good for THEM. It’s good for them for several reasons: first, they do learn independence and how to care for themselves. Second, their relationships later in life will be stronger, because it’s rare to enter into any long-term marriage relationship today and have the other person willing to bear the entire burden of housework alone. Most people expect it to be shared, and if they marry someone who doesn’t know how to clean, or who assumes that someone else will do everything, that relationship is going to be very strained.

Finally, it’s good for them because it teaches them to be responsible for their own actions, something that is key if anyone is going to develop a strong moral core. If people assume that someone else will always clean up their messes, then after a while they stop noticing their messes. They don’t even see how they are inconveniencing others. They assume someone else will be there to fix the things they don’t like. And that’s not healthy.

Since your son is already well into his twenties, it’s going to be hard to stop this pattern. But you have to try. I would start with having a talk with him and setting new ground rules for what it means to live in your house. He is, after all, an adult, and you are doing him a favour by letting him live there. It’s time for him to start acting like one. Why not set up a chore chart for everyone in the house that they have to follow? I have some free ones you can download here that are helpful. Talk through the expectations you have of him, and explain that you want these chores done every week. I don’t know if you’re charging him rent or not to live in the house, but if you are, I would also tell him that doing chores is part of that deal. And if he can’t live up to the deal, then he needs to find somewhere else to live. It’s not pretty, and you’ll need your husband’s support, but it really does need to be done.

If your husband is undermining you in front of your son, then I would recommend talking with your husband and explaining your reasons for wanting him to pick up after himself and clean up after himself. It isn’t because you’re being selfish; it’s actually because you’re thinking of your son’s future relationships and future independence. Hopefully he will understand. I know it’s hard, because sometimes husbands don’t understand, and then they think that your sole job in life is doing everything for your kids, but I don’t think that’s what God intended. God put us on this earth to raise responsible, independent, godly people, not to pamper our kids. I hope that your husband can understand that, but if not, I would suggest that you just keep talking about it, little by little, because it is important to you.

Ask your husband what he wants for your son. What does he want your son’s relationships to look like? What does he hope for your son in terms of jobs, or independence, or morality? What is he looking for there? And then ask your husband if you think that you’re on the road to leading your son in that direction. If your son is going to lead a family one day, and raise kids of his own, then he needs to start learning to take responsibility now.

I hope that helps! The key is to keep talking with your husband so that you can present a united front. So pray about it, be gentle, and be clear why you want to make the change—for your son’s good, not yours!

Now, for the rest of you, what would you say to this woman? Do you have any thoughts on how to get adult children to start doing chores? I'd love to hear them!

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7 Comments:

At 7:37 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Shiela,

I have to tell you... I hear about situations like that and I get angry!

Angry with the son for being so lazy, disrespectful, and selfish. Angry with the dad for encouraging that kind of foolishness. And angry with the mom that it ever got to that point.

You're so calm and encouraging!

I think I'm more of a drill sergeant. (BTW, I'm assuming that the son is not disabled, or recovering from some horrible illness, or otherwise unable to work or help...)

Frankly, I don't think she's going to make much headway with the boy if the husband isn't on board, and your ideas for ways to approach him are sound. The boy, (because he's clearly not a man, even if he's 23), needs to develop some basic life skills and soon. And - if the dad will allow it - the mom needs to very quickly clear up any misunderstanding about the way things work around the house.

As far as I'm concerned, if you live under someone else's roof, you are obligated to abide by their terms no matter your age. It's their house. It's their rules. And if he doesn't like it, he's perfectly free to go elsewhere.

In my family, we could live at home rent-free as long as we were going to school. And I did. That was my parents' much-appreciated contribution to my education. It was assumed that I would do the things you mentioned - my own laundry, clean the bathroom, vacuum, "tidy", and help around the house. (We could also live at home and work, but then we would pay rent. Cheaper than an apartment, but helped with the bills.) Either way, it was assumed that if we lived in our parents' house, we conformed to their standards - whether that meant house-hold chores, general behavior, guests, or just plain common courtesy. It's their house.

If it were me...

#1 The son pays rent. Immediately and every month.

#2 If he wishes to live under Mom's roof, he will perform certain chores/jobs around the house at a frequency (and a standard) that is satisfactory to Mom.

The real questions are - will the husband get on board? and do they have the strength of will to enforce it?

 

At 7:38 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Aack! And I'm sorry I spelled your name wrong!

I have a good friend that is "Shiela".

 

At 9:55 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Herding Grasshoppers--

You made me laugh!

I probably would be a lot tougher with a kid like this if we were in person, and I certainly would be a drill sergeant with my own family!

But from this woman's story, it was clear that her husband wasn't on board. And in that case, the real question is not "what should be done" but really "what is possible to accomplish to get everybody as close to what "should be" as we can". In other words, it's how it's possible to move in the other direction, not just what "should be done".

You obviously get that, but that's why perhaps I don't sound as harsh as I actually am! I think in most situations like this, getting the husband on board is the #1 priority. And, as in most relationship issues, it's also the hardest!

 

At 12:04 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

You're so right :D

Thanks for your graciousness to my rather... ahem... lengthy response.

Question... in a case like that, would you prefer that people leave a long response, or blog about it on their own space and leave you a link?

Not sure of "blog etiquette",

Julie

 

At 3:54 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Julie--

I LOVE long comments! I think it makes it more interesting! Not sure if that's the "proper" blog etiquette, but I like getting discussions going!

You can always write your own blog post and link up, too, but I sure don't mind people chiming in!

I was thinking about what you said, too, and I think I may write a post soon on "what I wish I could say to the men". Hmmmm......

 

At 6:11 PM , Blogger Diane said…

Loved Herding Grasshoppers comments. Cutting off our anger in its tracks and considering the issue from God's point of view is so much more helpful in the end. My reaction would have been cuff 'em all upside the head. But anger never really helps. It only makes me feel entitled and them defensive. Strong work, Sheila!

 

At 7:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hi Sheila,

I have one of those husbands who expect women to do "woman's work." He's willing to to "man chores," like throwing out the garbage, cutting the lawn, shoveling snow, changing lightbulbs, and such. But do dishes? sweep? cook? shop? No way!

Interestingly, we shared chores up until our eldest was born. Then he went into "man" mode.

For five years I tried to talk with him about it and got almost nowhere, and it didn't matter much to him that I worked parttime earning money or that I cared for our child all day long. He wanted me to do what his mom did. This was his template.

So I had a decision to make: resent him or accept things.

I chose to accept things.

 
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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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