Let’s say your kid wants to play outside with his friends, but you’ve asked him to do his usual chore first: the dishes. He does, but he rushes through the task, and you find food still crusted on several of the things he “washed.” You could do one of two things: finish the job yourself, irritated that he didn’t do it, or call him back to the sink and say, “Sorry, dude, but this isn’t gonna cut it.” The latter is exactly what happens at my house, which occasionally earns me the title of Meanest Mom Ever.
It’s because of one of my most hard-and-fast rules: I don’t allow my kids to half-ass anything.
Whether it’s a halfheartedly scrubbed toilet or a hastily scribbled paragraph for English class, it receives a prompt thumbs-down from me, and I don’t pronounce it passable until they’ve completed it to a standard I know they’re capable of. Sure, I could pick up their slack and finish the job when it comes to things like household chores. But why should I? All that teaches them is that their level of effort doesn’t matter, that someone will be along to complete what they were too hurried or lazy to accomplish. I’m not here to enable them to coast by on minimal effort.
I’m not talking about when they mess up something that’s new to them; there’s always a learning curve, and I make plenty of allowances for inexperience and rookie mistakes. But when they know exactly what’s expected of them, and I know they’re capable of doing it, there’s zero reason it shouldn’t be done to a certain standard. If it isn’t, if they’ve slopped their way through it or clearly taken shortcuts, then guess what? They get the pleasure of doing it again. The right way this time.
This gets tough because kids are totally unmotivated when it comes to chores and homework, and they try to test boundaries a lot. Sometimes — okay, 100% of the time — it makes them angry when I tell them they’ve got to redo something. As a consequence, I have to endure extra whining and pouting and sulking and sour faces. Does it suck? Hell yes! I don’t know any parent who needs more complaining thrown into their day. I could save myself a ton of headaches and arguments if I would just accept their second-best as-is. But as I grit my teeth and stick to my guns, I remind myself that I’m doing it because it’s good for them. If I don’t teach them to require more of themselves, then they won’t…ever. Why work harder when you’re not expected to, right?
One day, when they grow up, someone is going to demand their best efforts. It might be a college professor, or a boss, or a drill sergeant. And if they’re not used to giving it — if they’re accustomed to skating by and getting away with that — they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. If I don’t require their best now, I’m sending the message that it’s okay to slack off, to deliver a subpar performance, to put forth the absolute minimum. That kind of attitude will never serve them well and puts a real damper on the possibility that they’ll ever reach their full potential, and as their mother, that’s not what I want for them. Nobody likes a person who does a poor job and expects others to make up for their deliberate shortcomings.
I know my kids are smart and capable. And by firmly expecting them to prove it, I’m equipping them with a valuable life skill — because doing something properly the first time will actually save them work in the long run. They don’t have to excel, but I damn well expect them to do their personal best. Even if it falls short, I can tell when they’ve tried versus when they’ve just been lazy.
I don’t expect perfection from my kids. But I do expect effort: the best they can do at whatever they do. And they know this from an early age, which is why my 7-year-old proudly informed me that he “used his whole ass” on a school project recently.
Maybe I’ll start using that as my mantra from now on. Because it’s far better to use your whole ass than to be an ass hole.
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