Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: Should kids who live with you part-time do full-time chores? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
I’m a mom of two young kids, and I have a 14-year-old ‘bonus’ daughter. She is with us every other weekend, and (sometimes) one night per week. I love her and we have a good relationship, but there’s one point of contention between my husband and I. I think she should have assigned chores and contribute to the household while she is here, and he thinks because her time with us is limited (more limited than he’d like) we shouldn’t assign ‘extras’ and let her enjoy herself. She keeps her room pretty tidy, but doesn’t help with sweeping, vacuuming or other general household duties. My husband said he would be happy to do the chores in her place (and he’s actually very helpful), but that’s not really the point. I think SHE needs to contribute while she is here beyond keeping her bedroom cleaned up. I think this is an expectation that needs to be set. He has asked me to stop “nagging her” and says he will resent me if she ends up hating it at our house. I would love for someone else to weigh in here!
I definitely see where you’re coming from, but I’m siding with your husband on this one. Hear me out.
First of all, it’s not like she’s coming in and trashing the joint. You even said she keeps her room tidy — which is a far cry from most teenagers (especially the two who live in my house, whose rooms are a regular science experiment, but I digress). So clearly she’s doing something while she’s there – she is being responsible for her personal space. As long as she does that in the rest of the house too — i.e., putting her own dishes in the sink or dishwasher, replacing things she’s used, throwing away her trash, etc — that should be enough. Now if she were just coming in and leaving a trail of detritus in her wake and not giving a fuck who cleans it up, then yes, that would be an issue. But I don’t get that impression from your letter.
Your stepdaughter’s lack of “real” chores isn’t putting any extra burden on you, since your husband (who is helpful anyway! High five!) has volunteered to pick up any slack.
If you’re worried about the precedent it will set for your younger kids, don’t. I can virtually guarantee they aren’t enviously keeping track of how many chores their sister does around the house, especially if there’s a big age gap — they’re likely just happy to have her there when they can.
If your main concern is the principle of the thing — it’s about discipline, teaching her responsibility, etc. — that’s understandable too. But she can learn those lessons in other ways, like by following your other house rules while she’s there. It’s very likely that while she’s at her other parent’s home, she’s doing all the chores she isn’t doing at your house. So the lessons are being learned, it’s just that you’re not necessarily seeing them in action.
The biggest reason to just let her be is that it’s important to your husband. Obviously he feels he doesn’t get enough time with her and wants to maximize every moment that he can, and that’s admirable. As anyone who’s ever been married knows, even when you don’t agree on something, sometimes you just have to pick your battles … and this is one that, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t necessarily that big of a deal.
When you’re at a hotel, no matter how long you stay there, you aren’t expected to help clean the lobby just because you may have gotten some coffee down there or lounged on the communal couch for a little bit. Your house may not be a hotel, but hopefully you get what I’m saying here. Your bonus daughter isn’t there enough to contribute much to the mess, so she shouldn’t have to contribute to much of the upkeep … especially not when it matters so much to her dad.