On teenagers’ role in the household

Wow, this draft was last touched in 2011.  I have a teenager now– I think I will finish this post using italics so you can see what has changed in the past 10 years now that I’m less ignorant!  I bet I know less!

Disclaimer:  we don’t have any yet.  Update:  We have one teenager and one almost-9 year old.

Often it is said that your teenagers need you more as a SAHP than they did as toddlers.  This was maybe a bit true last year– the transition from doing nothing academically in middle-school to all of a sudden having AP classes and homework in every class and being expected to know things that weren’t taught in middle-school was pretty traumatic for everyone.  There was also just a ton of hir needing to remember things.  Last year turning in English assignments (last period of the day) was the WORST, and zie kept making the exact same MLA citation mistake on every single paper and getting Cs because of it.  THE SAME MISTAKE.  But this year has been a lot better.  I don’t know if it’s getting more sleep, having everything set with deadlines electronically, the more flexibility that the pandemic has brought or what, but oddly having DC1 home 24/7 has been less stressful and less time for us than hir going to school.  (The same is not true for DC2!)  [Though to be fair, they have never needed me as a SAHP.  I guess technically DH is a SAHP right now, but looking for work and doing unemployment training stuff is kind of a part-time job, so…]

I sure hope that’s not true.

I hope my DC is mature enough at that point to make good decisions on hir own.  I hope I’m mature enough to trust DC to make those decisions, even if they end up becoming learning experiences.  For the most part DC1 is mature and makes good decisions.  Zie just needs to do some kind of extra-curricular and also there are some things zie can work on in terms of project management, but those aren’t bad decisions so much as small mistakes.

Working mom from generations of working moms…  This is still true– the point I wanted to make here was that I had friends/acquaintances whose moms were SAHM and who basically catered to their every whim and made sure they met deadlines and helped them with their art projects and science fair projects and so on.  I was expected to figure this stuff out myself– my mom had work, and school was my work.  So starting in 5th grade or so she stopped going through my back-pack and just expected me to get good grades, which I did.  (In 5th grade we also got school planners and they had to be signed every night– my mom ended up telling me just to forge her signature, which I did.  I still can!  She better not let me near her checkbooks!)

if my mom is to be believed, she cleaned the entire house and got her younger siblings to school every morning..  I never had to do anything like that, but I was expected to be responsible for myself. 

I wasn’t quite that much of a superwoman, but I started helping with hardcore chores by age 7 and was cooking dinner several nights a week by the time I was a teenager…  This is true!  I could cook many things by heart.  Oh hey, it looks like I say what I wanted to say here a couple sentences lower.  I just the patterns of my brain haven’t changed much in the past 10 years.

I was more helpful as a teen than as a younger kid.

This benefited me as well… by the time I was on my own I knew how to cook and grocery shop and do basic cleaning.  I’d been taught.  I had years of practice.  Just because I choose not to do many of these things now doesn’t mean I don’t know how.

As the kid gets older, zie waits on the parents rather than the other way around.  That’s how I was brought up.  I had kind of hoped for this, but alas, DC1 has to be cajoled to empty the dishwasher or make hir one meal a week etc.  The cajoling often takes both parents (zie only does it, with grumbling, when the SECOND parent, usually DH, says zie has to).  DC2 has been pretty helpful on the days that school assignments get done super early.  I think zie gets bored. 

Sure, I went through normal stages of teenage angst… and was treated with sympathetic but amused indulgence that it probably deserved.  DC1 had some rebel-ly angst last year, but sometime last year zie  found out that one of hir friends has a terrible homelife (zie was telling us this this year while in pandemic, not last year when it actually happened– zie hasn’t kept in touch with the kid, otherwise I’d have suggested zie bring the kid home sometimes) and that made hir grateful for us.  And then this year there’s just been no angst at all, which I attribute to being able to get up at 8 instead of 6.  Sleep is important!

I had friends who went through more abnormal stages of teenage angst.  Mostly coinciding with parents divorcing.  Some with SAHM (I’m not sure what I meant by this or who I was thinking about).  My mom bought a pregnancy test for a friend of mine…(huh, was her mom a SAHM?  I have lost that memory!)  Some angst caused by parents, abuse… (There’s a reason kids go away to boarding school…)  When we were residence assistants in graduate school we had a student who was an only child with a very overbearing mom… he was a stress case.  One nice thing about being busy with work is that it’s really hard to cause too much damage through overparenting– there just isn’t *time*!  I mean, maybe if you’re that law professor at Yale who is super messed up (apparently she hosted inappropriate parties this past year in exchange for clerkship recommendations and her husband is not supposed to be alone with law students and it sounds like there’s a lot going on besides the Tiger Mom stuff).  But most of us don’t have that kind of energy! 

So… I wonder how to end this.  Maybe just with a series of questions for Grumpy Nation.

Obligatory update:  A commenter reminded me that the mommy wars exist and I forgot to put a disclaimer #NotAllSAHP.  You do you, bro.  Empirical evidence says it DOESN’T MATTER (low SES kids do better in high quality preschool, bad preschools are worse than educated moms… and nothing else makes a lick of difference). That’s another nice thing about having a teenager instead of a toddler– all this stupid stuff people get angry about is years and years away.  I’ve completely forgotten all the stuff that the patriarchy forces women to fight about as if it matters instead of fighting a common enemy.  And I was just reminded the other day when a friend of mine mentioned a facebook war she was watching about whether or not it was ok to call your pets your children and yourself your pets’ mom.  Maybe now that Trump is out of office, we’re back to our own stupidities?  Guys, voter suppression is going on in a huge number of states.  Figure out what your state is doing and make phonecalls.  Also call your federal MOC and ask them to pass HR1.  

What do you think teenagers’ role in the household is?  Were you a help or a hindrance to your parents as a teenager?  If applicable:  Do your kids wait on you or the other way around?  What should they be doing?


23 Responses to “On teenagers’ role in the household”

  1. Steph Says:

    My parents never managed a consistent chore/househelp schedule for us growing up, except that they were constantly trying to get me to clean my room. I regularly mowed the lawn for spending money as a teenager, and sometimes did dishes, but that was about it. (We had a push mower, and my dad did say that if we got a ride-on mower it would become my chore.) We frequently had a house cleaner, except for the year that my Mom was unemployed, and my Dad did a lot of the remaining chores (dishes, trash, laundry, yardwork). My Mom tried repeatedly to have my sibling and I doing our own laundry, but Saturday would roll around and Dad would have collected our clothes before we could get to them.

    In hindsight, I think I would have appreciated some kind of regular chore work around the house in exchange for minimal oversight on my room. I’m now an UfYH devotee and that type of mentality around cleaning and organizing would have helped me immensely as a teenager. (Maybe it would help DC1?) I also would have liked to know more about how to cook or clean certain things, but my parents weren’t great about teaching them. I think if you teach a kid how to cook some things and do basic cleaning, it’s reasonable to expect them to contribute around the house.

    • Steph Says:

      Oh, and I guess I should add that both my parents worked full time, except for the year my Mom was out of work. And that year she spent a lot of time helping take care of my cousins, because my Aunt was deployed overseas.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Just looked up UfYH– we do something similar, where DC2 has to clean hir room for 15 min every weekend day. Doesn’t have to get actually clean, just has to have some of encroachment set back. DC1 does very little in hir room so there’s not much to get messy. They also both have to unload the dishwasher (DC2 silverware, DC1 everything else) and DC1 washes/dries laundry and they both fold their own laundry. This happens when they run out of towels, apparently. DC1 has asked for more towels for Christmas.

  2. abinghammathgmailcom Says:

    I love following this here..but, really, anecdotal evidence that having a SAHP is so wrong? Are we still that defensive.
    Also…I’m glad you updated it. But I want to be sure we are being kind to parents of teenagers. I have 4 kids — all now fully functioning adults. But the teen years were a wild ride. One that included academic scholarships, awards, severe medical issues, drug abuse, severe depressions.. It was hell. And I was the same mom through it — I parented the ones who did amazingly well and the ones who didn’t. I was the same mom. Please don’t pretend that parents determine the outcome.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      Some SAHM have vibrant lives outside their kids.

      Sorry, it’s been so long since I’ve been on a mommy forum that I forgot I was supposed to put that disclaimer.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “Please don’t pretend that parents determine the outcome.”

      … I didn’t?

      I mean, in theory the Tiger Mom’s kids turned out ok, even though she sounds like a terrible person. Not so sure about the women her husband harassed though.

      You can argue that they do or don’t, but my philosophy has always been that short of actual abuse/complete neglect, at some point kids are responsible for themselves. I also understand that people disagree and it’s not really a topic I care that much about (since… my underlying belief is it doesn’t matter and kids should be responsible for themselves, so people who do whatever without actual abuse aren’t actually harming their kids even if they think I’m harming mine).

      Hoo boy, I had forgotten how fraught mentioning these things are. Maybe that’s why this post sat in drafts for 10 years. It took that long to forget how much people read their own fights into whatever it is that you write.

      I remember Cloud complaining about how every time she posted about kids or chores that she had to put sentences of sentences of disclaimers to fend off all the complaints she got from people thinking she was wading into some argument she wasn’t making.

      In case it wasn’t clear: The topic of this debatable (but not deliberately controversial) post is whether kids need more attention as teens than they did as toddlers. It starts with a tacit (not explicitly stated) understanding that toddlers need a lot of attention, and then talks about whether teens need as much. The focus is on the teens’ needs. In 2011, I was hoping that I would eventually get a break.

  3. Ali Says:

    I’m interested in your DC1’s transition from middle to high school. Our kid 1 aces school while being somewhat lazy. We’re wondering if it’s worth investing in private middle school where zie will actually need to try (and learn hard things) – instead of skating through middle school & being unprepared for the fact that actual work is needed in high school. On the other hand, wondering whether we are being helicopter-y and kid 1 will figure it out. Recognize that all kids are different etc etc, but… Is there anything you think would have made DC1’s transition easier?
    Glad this year is better!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If I had had that option, I would have taken it! (Private middle schools in our town are worse academically!) We did 5th grade in a blue state (still elementary school there) and it was worlds above 6/7/8. I wish zie could have gotten more experience just remembering to *turn in* multiple assignments for multiple classes and time management and so on before grades actually mattered. (Zie would do them, but they would end up crumpled in the bottom of hir backpack.)

      I would far rather 8th grade have been the dramatic learning experience on these fronts and not freshman year where there was the additional stress of colleges seeing the scores. Zie has been learning all this stuff, but it’s been much harder to shrug off as a learning experience than it would have been in middle school. I also really really wish middle school English had taught writing instead of having them do stupid time consuming arts and crafts. I’m still trying to figure out how we can supplement both my kids on that front. Oddly DC2 is getting really good writing instruction this year, but hir 4th grade virtual teacher is AMAZING. I hope zie doesn’t lose it.

      Having been a residential counselor at a top university, high school is a much better place to learn this stuff than college. (The kids who had struggled more in high school and had learned good study skills because of it did had much better freshman years than those who were used to coasting.) So there’s that…

      • Ali Says:

        Thanks for that perspective. super helpful.
        with you on the random arts projects in English! It must be for kids who don’t like to read? actually learning to write would be more useful, though :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think the middle-school English teachers just scan through crafty projects on pinterest and buy them wholesale. I literally believe this. Somewhere I have posts from the time complaining about how their example pictures on the assignments are literally from pinterest.

      • teresa Says:

        Having been the somewhat lazy kid who academically coasted through high school, I say if that’s a realistic option, take it. Every kid is different, there were mitigating/complicating factors, etc, but I didn’t really figure it out and properly learn to study and organize myself until halfway through medical school. I *think* having had to struggle academically earlier and where the consequences felt smaller would have helped.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My sister BLOSSOMED when we sent her to a fancy private high school. She was so good at doing the minimum to get an A, and kept doing that when the standards were higher. I suspect it helped a lot in a demanding engineering program later. (Also all her friends from middle school ended up getting caught underage drinking on a school trip a couple years later.)

        I really do believe that getting used to failure and how to recover and try again when the stakes are low is helpful for life, and the earlier it happens the less traumatic it is because it’s easier to realize it’s a learning experience and not proof that a person doesn’t have what it takes.

        Granted, I still need a day to recover from paper rejections when I think my paper should have gotten into that journal (I need less time when the journal was a long-shot). But that’s more of a bowl of ice cream thing than a long-term depression.

  4. CG Says:

    Oh my goodness teenagers are so much easier. So far. Our oldest is 14 and so self-sufficient and helpful. Toddlers are just nonstop, at least mine were. Sure, we need to drive him places, but even then he gets around a lot on his own by bike when that’s possible. He arranges his own social activities. He gets his homework and practicing done without intervention from us. He helps with dishwasher unloading, dinner cleanup, lawn-mowing, and vacuuming. He babysits his younger siblings. It’s so nice to just enjoy him as a human (most of the time) instead of having to manage him. His younger siblings (11 and 8) still need us more often, usually to make them do stuff they’re supposed to do. I’d say oldest is definitely a net contributor to the household, middle and youngest are approaching break even.

    Personality-wise, I expect to be playing a more active role with our middle kid later but he may surprise me. I’m looking forward to him going to middle school this fall where he’ll have to manage a bunch of stuff. Our oldest was temporarily stressed by that and then his capacity expanded and he did fine. It will be interesting to see how that process works with a child who is less interested in pleasing authority figures.

    Oldest goes to high school in the fall and I’m so excited for him to have all those opportunities. I think it’s going to be a time management challenge at first because of all the classes/music/sports he wants to do, but I’m confident he’ll figure it out.

    It’s already feeling like way too soon that he’s going to be leaving us and I can’t believe how fast it’s gone and how much the time has seemed to speed up as they’ve gotten older. Each toddler year felt like five, and each teenage year feels like 6 months.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I like that phrase, “net contributer”! I’m not sure my 14 year old is there yet because we have to remind hir of hir chores, but zie did put away the milk for cereal without being asked this morning. So we’re approaching break even…

      DC2 seems to be embracing organization and routine and responsibility– zie emailed hir GT teacher without us saying anything to let hir know that zie had standardized testing today and wouldn’t be at the meeting if it hadn’t been cancelled. I’m like that is AMAZING. (DC2 was like, am I more amazing than DC1? I said, no comment, I do not compare my children. DC2 gave me a wolfish grin in response.) DC2 is also really into hir new planner.

      I know how you feel about too soon– we’re thinking about maybe having DC1 (then age 16) go to our uni and live at home for the first year before transferring to a “real” college. We’ll have to see what happens and what zie wants to do in a couple of years. I’m starting more and more to think that zie might be better off at a SLAC than a big engineering school. But zie will get a copy of the Fiske guide this summer and will make hir own decisions.

      • CG Says:

        Apparently being married to homo economicus has rubbed off on me.

        Having a kid go off to college at 16 sounds tough (on both kid and parents!) (I was 17, almost 18 when I went, so on the young side but not by 2 years). But if ze has been on that path all along and kept up socially, etc., it will probably be fine. Keeping hir close to home the first year seems potentially like a good compromise strategy. I will be very interested to hear about the college choice process from your perspective as you go through it a couple of years ahead of us since it sounds like our kids may be interested in similar types of institutions.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Right now DC1 is thinking computer science as a major, but we’ll see if that changes or becomes stronger after taking C++ from Georgetown this summer. All the career tests have suggested EE/CS, and engineering would limit the college choice set to a greater extent than CS would (I think just Swarthmore and Harvey Mudd for SLACs, neither of which DC1 has much chance of getting into at this point, though that may change).

      • CG Says:

        DH says all our kids have to be CS majors and then they can decide on whatever [high earning] career they want. I am trying to push back on that…gently. Oldest will want to do it anyway, since he genuinely likes coding and does it for fun. The other two may want to take a different path.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        ROFL. I mean, if someone doesn’t like coding that’s not really going to work out.

        It’s so funny because my generation we were told not to major in CS because we would pick up programming on our own. Plenty of people we know dropped out of college to become programmers! (DH was one course away from a CS minor, but already had a double-major in two engineering disciplines so… and at his second-to-last job interview they were like, would you be interested in a programming position instead of the engineering position you applied for because you did really well on the programming screen).

  5. SP Says:

    As a parent of a toddler, I expect the teenage years to be challenging, but in very different ways. Unless we win the teenager lottery and don’t have any of the major issues people worry about… I was probably a minor hindrance to my parents as a teen. I didn’t cause them too much trouble, I took care of my own school stuff, etc. But I wasn’t particularly helpful in terms of cooking or chores, so I added to the overall household work load. I’m sure my parents could have imposed chores, but I did keep pretty busy with extracurriculars and worked part time jobs. Mostly in the summer, but I know I worked at least some during the school year, if I wasn’t in a sport. (I’m honestly not sure why, I made almost no money and no one cared if I saved or spent it. Maybe it was because I didn’t mind it, and it just carried over from summer job?)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We do think schoolwork should come first– once DC1 is back on the bus and finally doing some sort of extracurricular, zie will likely no longer have to cook once a week. We’ll see! This summer, though, I am looking forward to hir doing a week of menu planning + grocery shopping. (Another thing DH came into our marriage not knowing how to do…)

  6. First Gen American Says:

    #1 is easier as a teenager. Things got a lot better once he found a sport he enjoyed and a friend group that he can geek out with without judgment. During D&D, I hear them talking about politics, current events and even investing. He just needed to hang with a grade up from his current classmates.

    Priorities. 1). Learn and get good grades. This is their only “job”2) contribute to the running of the house. (Garbage, dishes, laundry, mowing, some cooking). 3) one team sport 4) non-gaming hobbies and the general pursuit of learning for the sake of the fun of it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yay! And I get that needing to hang out with kids a grade up. I always got along fabulously with kids a couple years older. DC1 seems to get along with older kids and younger kids.

      We don’t make our kids do the team sport, and DH considers gaming not only to be an ok hobby, but one of the main reasons he wanted children(!) But they have non-gaming hobbies in spite of that. :)

  7. Natka Says:

    You have the best topics ever! It’s really interesting how some expectations change over time, as we (the parents) grow and adjust to our kids personalities and needs. I don’t have any teenagers yet – but will soon (our oldest will be 13 in the fall). He was a super easy toddler (honestly, I believed that his lack of tantrums and “terrible twos” was all because of my excellent parenting skills – ha – and then we had 2 more kids….) – I feel like it could go either way with his teenage years.

    I was an easy teenager (minimal problems for my parents, did well in school, did not date, did not lie, did not drink or do drugs) – but I was pretty lazy and didn’t contribute much in terms of chores.

    With our kids… we’ll see. I think there will be personality clashes and some power struggles – how difficult it is going to get will depend on how wise we the parents will manage to become by that time…

    Role of teenager in the household… Ideally – they would pitch in, as needed, instead of being told to do chores (I like the concept of net contributor from another comment)? Maybe too much to hope for… we’ll see. Right now, we make kids do chores because there are many things I really don’t have time to do (fold their laundry, vacuum around the house), or really don’t want to do (clean their rooms or their bathroom) – but that only works if the kids choose to be obedient – it’s not like we can really force them to do anything…

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