Care and Feeding

My Daughter Constantly Criticizes Our Messy Home

She’s right.

A messy kitchen with pots and pans everywhere.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kateryna Kukota/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Growing up, my mom channeled her anxiety into obsessively cleaning our home. Though it was spotless, this came at the detriment of our general happiness. We were never allowed to have a pet or even have guests over because it would dirty the house, we were frequently late to events because my mom was cleaning and lost track of time, and she missed out on bonding time with us because she was too anxious to leave the kitchen unclean for an hour after breakfast. I vowed I’d never be like her. Well, fast-forward to now, and my home is a mess. I can’t seem to stay on top of ever-present laundry piles, clutter, and the detritus that comes with having three kids.

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My two younger children seem fine with this. My oldest (she’s 10) has started making comments about the mess, like “Why do we have so much stuff?” and “Mom, can we clean up more?” My heart breaks when I hear this. I’ve tried everything—having a “chore day” (creates more work and leads to a battle with the kids over chores), giving my kids an allowance for doing chores (they started insisting on higher payment), and doing it all myself (I’m burned out and ineffective). I feel like I’m drowning. My husband works long hours and is so fried at the end of the day that he doesn’t really contribute. I only work part time, so why can’t I get a better handle on this? Should I leave things the way they are and hope my 10-year-old doesn’t develop anxiety over living in constant mess? Is there some sort of middle ground between how I grew up and how I’ve been raising my own kids? Please help.

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—Drowning in the Dirt

Dear Drowning,

I completely empathize with you, but I have to call you out on a couple of things first. It would be a cold day in hell before I paid my kids to do something they’re supposed to do, only to be subjected to the unmitigated gall of them demanding more money. That needs to stop, stat. Nobody pays me to clean my house, and I’ll be damned if my kids get paid to do it. Second, I understand that your husband is fried after working long hours, but aren’t you fried, too? Why does he get a pass on contributing when you don’t? That also needs to stop.

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As a fellow parent who is at home 24/7 while my spouse works outside of the home for 11 hours a day, I’m no stranger to dealing with a messy house at times. However, I’ve found a way to make it more manageable.

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A friend of mine told me something so incredibly simple about clutter that it makes me wonder why I didn’t think of it myself. If everyone puts their stuff in its designated spot, it will eliminate close to 80 percent of the mess. Don’t allow your kids to throw their socks on the couch or leave their shoes in the middle of the hallway. If you train them to know where the proper place is for everything, it will alleviate a good amount of your stress. In case you’re wondering what the other 20 percent is attributed to, it’s putting those things away in their proper place neatly. Yes, that’s also a challenge.

You shouldn’t feel like you’re doing a bad job for dealing with messes that pretty much every parent outside of your mom deals with on a daily basis. One thing to remember is your kids probably won’t remember the messes when they’re older because they’ll focus on the good times and fun you had with them. On the flip side, your upbringing is the perfect example of how cleanliness got in the way of an enjoyable childhood, and that’s not OK.

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Things may not be perfect, but that’s because “perfect” doesn’t exist. Cut yourself some slack and know that things will be OK as long as you focus on having a loving home—messy or not.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I was speaking with my dad recently, and our conversation turned to the topic of LGBTQ relationships, sexual orientation, and gender identity in general. My dad is a conservative Christian who believes anything outside of heterosexual relationships is against God’s plan, and that anything outside those parameters are sins and choices that require repentance and forgiveness from God. I told him that his perspective and how that gets expressed to our kids worries my husband and me. For reference, our kids are 2 and 3, with another due in a couple of months. I don’t know what our kids’ sexual orientation or gender identity will be, but I believe how we talk to them about it matters even now (in age-appropriate ways).

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My dad insists he would love them no matter what, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it can be very damaging if someone who says they love you unconditionally also denies part of who you are or believes it is unnatural and requires repentance. If our kids happen to be straight and cisgendered, my husband and I still want them raised knowing that people identify in many different ways, and they are all authentic and valid and love can take many forms. When I told my dad this, he reacted by seemingly turning himself into the victim in the story. He jumped to saying things like “If you want to cut me out of your kids’ lives because of my religious beliefs, then you can do that, and I know other people who have,” “I’ll probably be dead before your kids are teenagers, and this could not even be an issue,” and “Just don’t give them a revisionist history of me.”

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I am frustrated on multiple levels. I have always created space for him when he has wanted to talk about things that matter to him. For example—he worries about not seeing me in heaven because we don’t share the same religious beliefs. This is a topic that isn’t going away and is not hypothetical. How do I set the right boundaries with my dad now? How should I respond to what I see as selfish behavior and an attempt at martyrdom? This is not an abnormal pattern of behavior for him. It is something that I have become better at recognizing and try not to play into by catering to his emotions or trying to talk him down as I have in the past. I know I will have to reengage here, though. Any advice on how best to do that?

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—Dad Issues

Dear Dad Issues,

I’m sorry, but I have zero tolerance for intolerance. Many people use religion to promote inclusivity, but sadly, some of the worst people I’ve come across in my life hide behind their Bibles in an attempt to excuse their bigotry. Does it hurt anyone if two women or two men decide to fall in love? Does it hurt anyone if Samuel decides to become Samantha? The answer is a resounding no. Unless you’re a bigot, of course.

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The conversation with your dad is a simple one. Tell him how you’re planning to raise your children to be open-minded and accepting to people in the LGBTQ community. In doing so, you should also deliver an ultimatum. Tell him that he truly must keep his opinions to himself. No passive-aggressive nonsense about being dead in a few years or any “woe is me” martyrdom. You simply have to tell him that he cannot talk about or make reference to his beliefs in front of your kids or you. If he chooses to still be outspoken, then tell him that he’ll have to love your kids and you from a distance.

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He may believe you’re a sinner destined for the fiery pits of eternal damnation and refuse to see you again. Are you prepared for that? Because that’s what is at stake here. If you’re confident that you’re raising your children the right way—and for the record, I believe you are—then you need to take a deep breath, have a good cry, and don’t look back.

Maybe he’ll decide that his relationship with you and his grandkids is more important than his religious beliefs, and I hope that he’ll come around, but I doubt it. In order to get America back to some semblance of decency, we need to end bigotry in all of its forms, even when it comes from people we love.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a youth sports coach with a few years of experience, and I’m having an issue with one of the players—“Annie”—on my team. (I was assigned this team; I didn’t choose the players.) It’s an eighth grade girls’ team of 13- and 14-year-olds. Our purpose is to be more of a teaching team than a competitive one, though we do have some players who take it very seriously and want to improve and win. At the beginning of the season, Annie’s first priority was definitely to have fun. That was fine, and she played her best. However, the small issues that I noticed at the beginning of the season have turned into large problems. While she never really hustled, now she walks everywhere—even during the games when they should be running. She won’t look at me when I’m talking to her. During individual practice time given to work on their skills, she’ll mess around or intentionally do the skill wrong. Gentle reminders haven’t worked. Trying to have conversations with her only leads to her sitting in silence when I ask questions. Making her run laps and other consequences only lead to her doing them halfheartedly or stopping halfway through. If this were a competitive team, Annie would have been benched or kicked off the team weeks ago. However, this is a teaching team, and as long as her parents keep making her come to practice, she’ll be there. At the same time, I know she has other issues going on in her life. (I overheard the girls talking about their end-of-year assessments in school, which are given on computers, and Annie said, “I just clicked C on every question so I could finish in five minutes and listen to music.”) How should I respond as a coach? I hate that she’s learning the lesson that if she just does something badly enough, she’ll get to stop and won’t have to do anything. But my instinct is that yelling or trying to confront her would only end badly. It kills me that she’s bringing down the team, especially those players who really want to be there and want to win.

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—Tired Coach

Dear Tired Coach,

I’m also a youth sports coach, and I have to challenge you on the teaching team vs. competitive team thing. I assume you’re referring to the skill level of the players, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference between the two. The kids are constantly learning the game, and they’re playing the game to win. Yes, I understand that youth sports are also about having fun, but the fun has to come within the framework of the team experience.

Your job as coach is to create ground rules for the team. I coach second grade girls basketball, so my kids are a lot younger than yours, but here are my rules for them:

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They cannot talk when I’m talking. They have to show up to practice and games on time. They have to have a good attitude. They must put forth their best effort. And they have to display good sportsmanship in victory and defeat. I even printed out the rules and had the parents and players sign them as if it were a contract.

I’ve coached kids like Annie before who failed to follow my rules, and it never devolves into yelling at them. I start with a verbal warning. If it happens again in the same practice, then I make them leave and sit with their parents. You mentioned that Annie would’ve been kicked off of the team if this happened on a competitive squad, but as I said earlier, I don’t understand why she’s held to a different standard because she’s on a so-called teaching team. Rules are rules. If anything, you need to teach her that actions have consequences. You also need to teach the other players that that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated or excused.

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The main thing here that caught my attention was the comment about the assessment. That’s a huge red flag, and you may want to bring that up to her parents. Clearly she’s going through something, and it will only get worse if it’s not addressed.

My suggestion to you is to print your team rules and have every parent and player sign them. That way, whenever Annie fails to hustle or follow directions, you can hold her and her parents accountable. If you want to be proactive, you can schedule time to meet with Annie and her parents after you create the rules to address your concerns and expectations going forward. You have to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a white single mom who moved to a new city. I made a new mom friend (let’s call her Brenda) who seemed to be really nice, and our 11-year-old daughters get along well, but lately I’ve learned some disturbing things about her. She’s white and constantly says somewhat racist things about Black people in front of me. This ranges from the N-word to calling them monkeys, and she once said, “Blacks should only be allowed to sing, dance, and play sports” in front of our kids. I obviously don’t feel the same way, and I don’t want my daughter to have these beliefs, but I also enjoy Brenda’s company. It’s lonely being a single mom, and I crave adult interaction, but I don’t agree with the racism. She says she feels this way about Black people because she dated a Black man in college who cheated on her. What should I do?

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—Hurt in Houston

Dear Hurt,

If using the N-word, equating Black people to animals, and saying that Black people are only good for entertainment qualifies as “somewhat racist” to you, I’d hate to see what your definition of overt racism is.

And by the way, there’s never a good reason to be a racist, but her reason is about as absurd as they come. She was cheated on by a Black man and hates all Black people because of it? I once ate a pizza that gave me horrendous food poisoning, but that doesn’t mean I hate all pizza. Give me a break.

I’m sure that being a single parent can be extremely lonely, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for hanging out in bad company. You can tell her that you don’t condone that behavior, but quite frankly, I would cut ties altogether. She’s not a family member or someone you’ve known for years—she’s a new friend. Anyone who says those things out loud isn’t a person I would want in my inner circle and certainly isn’t someone I would want around my kids.

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Chalk it up to a bad decision and find some nonracist friends, please. Trust me, there are plenty of them out there.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

Pay Dirt is Slate’s new advice column examining money and relationships. Every week, columnists Elizabeth Spiers and Athena Valentine will tackle your thorny financial questions. Have a money question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

My grandmother has been harassing me nonstop about having children for years, and now that I have a steady boyfriend, she’s been ramping up the comments, begging, crying, and even talking to my boyfriend, saying, “I need to carry on the family line.” I’m 36 and have known for many years I don’t want children, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that we have extensive medical problems on both sides that I don’t wish to pass on. She’s now threatening to pull financial help that she very occasionally provides if I don’t have a child ASAP. I’m now at the point where I’m considering forging a doctor’s letter saying I’m barren to get her off my case, even if it means losing the small amount of help I get from her. Is it ethically wrong?

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