One morning, I entered my 15-year-old son's room.
"Jacob," I said. I waited for eye contact.
"Yes, Mom?" His eyes darted between the screen and my face.
"I'm heading out on an errand. Please bring the trash cans in before I get home in an hour."
Now, I've learned two things about Jacob. First, I must say his name and make eye contact. Second, I need to make him repeat what I've said. Both are helpful in the "But I Didn't Hear You" battle.
"What will you do?"
"Bring in the trash cans."
"Before you get home."
"Which will be when?"
"In one hour."
"Good. See you in an hour."
I left with a spring in my step. He's growing into a responsible young man. An hour later when I came home, however, the cans were still at the end of the driveway.Goodbye, June Cleaver. Hello, Mommy Dearest.
I fumed as I pulled into the garage. "Why do I even bother?" I stomped to the end of the driveway, jerked the cans off the ground and wheeled them to the garage. My blood pressure soared, and my heart thumped wildly.
I knew Jacob needed a consequence for his inaction, but all I could think about were the chores that awaited me, and here I was doing his simple chore on top of it!
Suddenly, I smiled. If I'm doing his chores, he can do mine. The simple brilliance of the plan filled me with hope.
I whispered fervently, "God, please let this work!"
Upstairs, I stopped by my son's room. "Hi, Jacob!" I was pleased with my friendly tone.
"Hi, Mom!" He flashed a quick smile and continued his game.
"You left the trash cans at the curb, so I brought them in."
"Oh . . . I'm sorry," he said, grimacing. He looked at me, but his fingers continued tapping.
In the past, I would have made a smart remark like " 'Sorry' doesn't change things." This time I said, "That's all right. You can do one of my chores. The laundry needs folding."
Jacob froze. He knew he'd been had. While he hung shirts and folded socks, I read a few pages of a novel. I thought about what just happened. Bringing in trash cans: One minute. Folding laundry: Six minutes. Five extra minutes reading with my feet propped up. I could get used to this.
I whispered a prayer of thanks.
Trading duties is effective
Two days later, I asked 9-year-old Rebekah to put her shoes away before lunch. I went through the "Say Her Name and Make Her Repeat My Instructions" deal. She passed with flying colors. Lunch came and went, but the shoes didn't. So I put them away myself, without saying a word or sighing like a martyr. I was planning my next five-minute escape.
After lunch, I said, "Rebekah, you didn't put your shoes away, so I did it."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mom," came the usual reply.
"That's OK. I need to vacuum the den, so you can do that for me."
Rebekah looked as if I'd slapped her. "That's not fair!" she wailed, eyes wide with shock.
"Well, it's certainly not fair for me to do my chores and yours. Since I did yours, you can do one of mine."
Her face fell. She hates vacuuming, so she didn't do it with the best attitude. But it was done, and I got my five-minute reading date.
Over the next several days, I assembled my to-do list with glee, calculating how many chapters I might finish if all went well. I asked the kids to help more, and they did with improved attitudes. I started to feel less like the Lone Ranger and more like Mom.