Note to Readers: Typically, I would post this letter in the ‘Ask Evelyn’ section of my web page. However, many of you don’t know that I answer individual questions so I’m posting this sample here today. See the web page for more or to ask your own question.
My brother and I are in middle school. We are worried about our 4-year-old sister. While we are neat and pick up after ourselves, our sister is messy and leaves her toys all over the house. By the end of the day the house is a mess. Sometimes, my mother asks my sister to clean up, but then does it with her and does most of the work. Or she asks us to pick up everything, and then my sister doesn’t even help. Mom says since she is happy to pick up after my little sister, we should be too, but I find it annoying that my sister usually gets away with not picking things up. Not only aren’t we happy picking up her mess, but we worry that she is not learning the same kind of responsibilities as other kids her age. Also, there are lots of times when my mom says ‘no’ to my sister (like when mom doesn’t want to carry her or let her have something) but then my sister keeps asking until my mom gives in. We don’t want our sister to be a brat that nobody likes.
That you follow rules and are concerned about your sister shows me that your mom did a good job of raising you. So, it isn’t that she doesn’t know what to do with your sister. What it sounds like to me is that you have a mom who is worn out; she is too tired to be consistent. Fussing at your mom will only add to your mother’s weariness. However, there are ways you two can help.
First, help your mom before she asks. If you see her unloading groceries, get out there and carry some in. When walking with your family, offer your sister a piggy-back ride when she doesn’t want to walk. Set or clear the table as needed. Second, reduce arguing and fussing with your siblings. Practice walking away instead of getting in the last word. Nothing wears a mom out faster than hearing her kids bicker all of the time.
Next, and I know this is asking you to be really mature, assign yourselves a chore or two that you will do regularly without being asked. After all, you will soon leave the house and need to do these things for yourself, so start now. Don’t try to share chores or take turns because that ends up in arguing about who does more. Do something that really makes a difference. For example, one of you could take over all of the laundry (try one or two loads a day) and another might do the dishes every night. Or one might plan meals, cook, and clean up two nights a week while the other does the yard work. This not only frees up your mother’s physical time, but it frees up her mental space and the stress of planning on how she is going to do these things herself.
Last, keep track of your own schedules. You have a lot going on in your lives with school, sports, church, homework and a social life. Right now, your mother needs to mesh all of your schedules and your needs with her work and life. The more you do independently, the more help you are. For example, do your homework without being reminded; arrange to carpool with your teammates when possible. Start using the bus, bike, and feet for transportation when permitted. Set your own alarm and do your morning routine without reminders. These may feel like unrelated little things, but the more you do on your own, the more you do for your family, the more energy your mother has for being consistent for your little sister. And that is exactly what you want.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed