Back to School Battles

Dear Ron:

I am a single mom of 2 young boys, ages 11 and 9. Since school started last month my house has been in total chaos. It seems like everything I ask my boys to do becomes an argument. From keeping their rooms clean to doing homework, everything is a battle. How can I take back control of my home without being the “bad guy?”

— Stressed Mom

Dear Stressed —
You are not alone in this struggle. Many parents find it difficult to balance disciplining their children and maintaining routine and structure.
You stated that you want your rules abided by but you don’t want to feel like a police officer in your own home. My suggestion is to start off by calling a family meeting and explaining to your boys that all three of you need to make changes in order to establish a more comfortable environment. Ask the boys what they think each of you could do to make those arguments fewer and fewer. You might find that coming up with a compromise is easier than you expected.
You mentioned struggling to get your boys to do their homework. Ask them what kind of afternoon routine they would be comfortable with, but also take time to explain to them what the consequences will be if they do not hold up their end of the bargain.
You also mentioned the battle to get them to keep their rooms clean. Help them set up a chore chart with positive reinforcers as the motivation. Stay away from external reinforcers, like money, toys, and material items. Instead have them choose a special activity to do alone with you or with each other.
You will find that you will have established a genuinely safe and comfortable environment when you and your boys work together. As long as each of you hold yourselves accountable for the compromises you have made to one another, you will continue to effortlessly maintain that environment.

So many places… how do I find the time?

Dear Ron:

Holidays are a struggle for me. My boyfriend and I can never agree on where to spend our time. He doesn’t mind splitting the day between my family and his, but I am tired of the rushing and the traveling. Holidays are supposed to be fun and relaxing, and lately I have been feeling just the opposite. He says that we just have to deal with it, but I would like to come up with a different solution. Any thoughts?

Unfortunately, holidays can go from carefree to stressful pretty quickly. I can see the benefits of both your boyfriend’s and your preferences. It really comes down to compromise. There are several major holidays in the course of a year and you may have to sit down with your boyfriend and split up the responsibilities. For example, perhaps you will be in charge of Thanksgiving and ultimately it will be your choice if the day is split between both families or spent with just one. Compromise is typically one of the key features of a healthy and happy relationship and so it is important to come to terms with the fact that you will have to be willing to do things your partner’s way once in a while. It can also be helpful to see the experience in a different way to make it more enjoyable. Instead of anticipating that holidays split between two families will be nothing but a hassle, think about the fun parts! Making two families happy! Double dessert! Your attitude will play a big role in whether the day is a success or a struggle!