Q: How can I motivate my two lazy teenagers? They won't help me around the house. As a single mom, I don't have the energy to make them get to work. Is there a way to break this negative pattern?
Jim: Being a single parent is tough. (My own mom would have attested to this!) Especially when the kids are being uncooperative. Unfortunately, even though you're exhausted, you need to establish clear rules and guidelines for your teens -- and then be prepared to enforce them.
You might start by employing what psychologists call "Premack's principle," which states that preferred behaviors can be used to reinforce unpreferred behaviors. For example, explain to your kids that leisure activities (TV, Xbox, going out with friends, etc.) will be off-limits until homework and household chores are completed. Sit down with them before implementing this system, and explain your love for them and your desire for them to learn responsibility. Let them know that, as members of the household, they need to contribute to the overall functionality of your home.
Once you've established these rules, it's imperative that you follow through. Stick with it, even when you don't feel like being tough. Don't allow yourself to get sucked into arguments about the finer points of the new standards. To avoid this, we'd suggest that you put everything in writing. Draw up a contract that clearly spells out both the rules and the rewards. Each of you should sign your names to the contract and post it on the refrigerator.
If you stick to the plan faithfully for a few weeks, you should start to see some positive changes in your teenagers' behavior.
Q: How can I keep marriage a priority when it takes everything I've got to keep the household running? Being a stay-at-home mom of small children isn't easy, but I don't want to neglect my husband.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President of Family Ministries: There are many women who can relate to your frustrations. For all its joys, keeping up with young kids can be a daunting challenge, too. No one could fault you for being physically and emotionally spent by the time your husband arrives home at the end of the day.
Nevertheless, as you know, your marriage is vitally important. It's the foundation on which your children's welfare depends. Here are a few suggestions for keeping romance alive in spite of the stresses of parenthood:
When your husband comes home from work, let him know that you're happy to see him. Don't greet him with a laundry list of complaints or "honey-do's" before he's crossed the threshold. Demonstrate your love with a heartfelt embrace. Don't allow the kids or the family dog to be the most excited ones to see him.
Give him a few moments to unwind if possible. And even when you're exhausted, make an effort to show interest in his world. Do you know what's happening at his workplace? He'll feel affirmed if you're as interested in his day's events as you would like him to be in yours.
Also, schedule some uninterrupted "couple time." Take the initiative to clear a night, arrange childcare and make some plans. You don't have to wait for your husband to get the ball rolling. Regular "date nights" are critical.
Finally, remember that men are affirmed by a positive sexual response from their wives, just as women are by thoughtful gestures from their husbands. Your husband will feel loved and honored when you initiate sex, especially if he realizes that you've had to plan carefully for intimate time with him at the end of a busy, tiring day.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.