Dear Carolyn: My husband and I disagree, and I hope you can be the tie-breaker. I have two teenagers, ages 15 and 17. All their lives, I have felt they should tidy their rooms. My husband thinks they should do what they want in their own rooms. Because there are many things we don't agree on, I chose to let this one go and only ask that they pick things up off the floor so I can vacuum.
After 10 years of this, their rooms are filled with trash and food wrappers, old school papers, outgrown clothes, books they have read, and various gadgets, toys, art supplies, the occasional dirty dish. They have shelves and bins stuffed with junk in no particular order. I ask them occasionally to clean out closets or old school papers. They make a halfhearted attempt and then ignore me. My husband says just let it be. So I do.
The new school year is coming up, and they want more clothes, more school supplies, etc. They have difficulty locating the things they already own due to the chaos.
Should I just go along with the rest of the family and ignore their rooms? Would it be unfair of me to give them a deadline, and if they are not cleaned out by then, I will go in and do it for them? I know they are busy kids and might not have the time, so I don't mind doing it. But my husband says they should be able to live in the trash if they want to, and if I clean out their rooms, I am invading their privacy. Do you agree? Am I being unreasonable to want a cleaning once in a while? — C.
Answer: Oh these poor poor busy privacy-challenged teenagers. (Forehead to keyboard, uncushioned by stray dirty socks.) Please tell me they share responsibility for common spaces?
You've apparently gotten nowhere with your husband's bizarre notion of having no say in property you control legally and financially, so I won't even try. (For the record, I believe in a system where parents are CEOs and children regional managers of bedroom space, and you create a system from there.)
Instead work with, not against, your husband's overdeveloped sense of their entitlement. Their stuff, their business, fine. New stuff? Your business. You will buy only what they can prove they don't already have — by clearing the shelves, drawers, hangers, boxes, bins, bags, piles. No old purge, no new purchases.
Ever heard the term "shop your closet"? They can shop their filth for back-to-school supplies.
Bonuses available if they donate outgrown clothes.
Parents can raise good kids by drawing lines in a whole range of places. However, I don't think it's possible to get the job done responsibly while drawing weak lines and absorbing the consequences thereof.
Squalor has consequences, not least of which is the constant, pointless waste of not using and, worse, rebuying things you already have.
Memo to your husband: The adult world they're about to enter begs you, let them feel that cost.
Memo to you: No cleaning for them except dishes for vermin control, especially if your husband denies you even this bit of parental authority. (One word: counseling.) Don't save money by trashing what little authority you have left.
Email Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her online at noon each Friday at Washingtonpost.com.
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