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Originally published Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 6:18 AM

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Asking son to do chores isn’t too much to ask

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax says it’s not fair for one son to ignore requests to clean around the house while his brother cooperates and does his share.


Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: My 20-year-old son (Son 1) is a kid who has never given us any trouble with breaking rules, drinking, drugs, etc. He works full time when he’s home from college and is extremely responsible in his job. His money is his own and he tries to save as much as possible.

Son 2 also recently started working full time for the summer. Our expectation is that everyone share the household chores.

We provide Son 1 with a vehicle and insurance, cellphone, plus a roof over his head and meals when he is at home. We are happy to provide these things, but also expect respect and cooperation in return.

Son 1 leaves his clothes and belongings wherever he happens to be — in the kitchen, the bathroom, the hallway, etc. He has never unpacked from coming home and our garage is still full of stuff from the dorm.

We have laid out our expectations, but he seems to feel that he can do the chores whenever he chooses, or apparently not at all. He says I am the only one getting stressed about housework not being done. This is not true because my husband gets angry and frustrated about this also.

Son 2 claims it is not fair that he has consequences when he doesn’t cooperate, although this rarely happens. Son 2 has also mentioned that his brother gets by without doing anything and he’s stuck doing more because he cooperates. We agree: unfair.

I have told Son 1 that if he cannot cooperate without constant reminders and nagging, he will have to make other living arrangements next summer. He claims this would be “kicking me out because I won’t clean a bathroom.” I say that “kicking him out” would be to give him 30 days to find other living arrangements, but we are giving him the opportunity to change his attitude.

At this point, what should we do? We feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

— S.

DEAR S.: He’s a rock, but you’re no hard place.

He thinks he scored points with his “kicking me out because I won’t clean a bathroom” calculation — because you responded by quibbling over the definitions of “kicking out” versus confronting the laugher at the heart of his argument. That validated his whine as legitimate.

The response he deserved to hear instead was this: “When you don’t clean a bathroom, your brother, father and I do it for you. So, yes, you’re being kicked out for not valuing our time and comfort as much as you do your own — your brother’s in particular. But call it what you will. You have X weeks to turn this around.” Don’t remind, nag, warn, badger or argue with him again. If he doesn’t start doing his share on his own, then follow through with the consequence by notifying him of it early next spring.

In the meantime, let him know that any belongings he deposits in common spaces stay right where they fall if you can stand it, or, if you can’t, get moved to a box in the garage. As is. When his last pair of socks ends up in there, he can fish them out — and wash them — himself.

This is as deeply as I recommend engaging. In fact, please think of these steps as calculated disengagement. You are his parents and you clearly have one more important lesson to teach (his future cohabitants beg you), but he’s also the product of many good lessons well-learned: He’s working hard, he’s saving, he’s not self-destructing at a crossroads where too many do. To hold the line on abandoned socks is necessary, but to declare war over them? That risks squandering an apparent 20-year run of goodwill.

DEAR CAROLYN: After we broke up, my ex and I remained friends on Facebook. I think I did it because I’d always hoped we’d get back together and being Facebook friends prevented a formal severing.

Now, I continually see this barrage of photos and status updates of her with someone else, and it really rubs salt in my wounds.

Should I unfriend her now to spare myself the drama, or should I hold off, just in case she breaks off the new relationship someday? I’ve tried to date other people, but she’s still my first choice. If I do unfriend her, should I tell her I did so, or just do it and move on?

— Thinking of Letting Go to Save My Sanity

DEAR THINKING OF LETTING GO TO SAVE MY SANITY: For the love of psychic housecleaning, pull the plug. No explanation.

In the time you won’t be using anymore to watch her status updates, or date people you only measure against her, or strategize the rekindling of your relationship, consider doing this: Be your own first choice.

If you’re not sure what that means, then use the time to figure out what it means for you. Better things come when you do.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living.



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