Kids’ Rooms in the Step-Dynamic


One of the reasons I wanted to contribute a lifestyle section to Stepparent magazine was because there are so many nuances and subtleties to stepfamily life that aren’t covered by conventional lifestyle advice. One of these is kids’ rooms, especially kids who aren’t full time in your home. How do we manage our expectations around kids who are only there for part of the time versus our expectations of kids who spend the bulk of their time there? Should part-time kids have the same level of resource as full-time kids? Should full-time kids have to share a room because the other room is being used a couple of times a month by a sibling? I can’t answer all of those questions in one article, and more importantly there is no one answer! What I am going to do in this article is share how we manage bedrooms for our kids.

This month has been an unusually busy one. I’ve taken on extra projects, my husband has been on call more, and we have both been sick and then taken the kids away for a long weekend. Our house is showing the lack of love. One thing I have noticed is that if the house is not showing the love, the state of tidiness deteriorates rapidly. A case in point is our bathroom. It had not been given a good scrub down for a few weeks, Dirty clothes were being left in there, towels on the floor. This past weekend I gave it a good spring clean. Miraculously this week the bathroom is so much tidier. Care is being taken not to leave stuff around and to keep it clean.

Kids take their lead from us. So, if the rest of our house is showing signs of neglect, you can bet your bottom dollar their rooms will reflect it. I went into the kids’ rooms the other day and took stock. It was not pleasant. It wasn’t over the top gross. It was just a general lack of care and respect for their things. It was a total reflection of the rest of the house. We had been away for the weekend and they then rushed off to school and back to their mum’s the next day, but there have been other times this happened and their rooms were left immaculate.

Sometimes I will decide to clean for them. Not because I think it’s my job or because they aren’t capable, but because I feel the mess is a reflection of me not setting boundaries and asking them to participate in cleaning their rooms. This time it’s not the case. This time they had been asked repeatedly, and chosen not to comply, and I had been too busy to follow through. So, this time, they will sort their rooms out. It’s not a punishment. There won’t be a telling off or shaming around the mess. The conversation will go ‘Hey guys, this has all got a bit out of control, we need to have a sort out and make it a bit more manageable for you.’

One thing I have learned in 20 odd years of parenting is that telling kids to clean their room is rarely effective. If we get overwhelmed looking at a mess, you can guarantee that overwhelm is almost paralysing for a child. I break it down into tasks.

Hey kiddo, just go through your drawers and make sure they are all sorted out before you try and put the clean washing away.

Have a look in your wardrobe and pick up any clothes that have fallen down, sort out the shoes, and then hang up the clean washing.

Make your bed and then have a look under it for any randoms, then it will be easy to vacuum.

And so on…

The standards between their mum’s house and mine are very different. There is no right or wrong, there is just different. So how is it for kids who have to deal with different expectations between their homes? Is it ok to have different expectations and expect kids to follow them?

My answer to that is YES! Kids have different school teachers most years. Each teacher has different standards and expectations. Kids manage those quite adequately. They know – Mrs X expects me to do this, Mr Y wants it done this way. Kids also know grandparents have different rules and expectations and manage accordingly. It’s no different for them switching between homes.

Our kids will hear ‘Is it to my standard?’ when they tell me they have made their bed. Usually the response will be ‘Yes’, when I answer ‘Cool, I’m coming to check, do you need a minute?’ the answer will also often be yes. This is key, I follow through. If I ask for something to be done, I know the chances are it won’t be. Three kids versus one mum means they have learned they can fly under the radar and get away with not doing things. Of course they are going to try that here! They aren’t being naughty or disrespectful, they are being kids.

So to wrap up – it’s ok to have different standards and expectations. It’s ok to expect part-time kids to manage their rooms, they may also need some help sometimes. We set the standards, so if we let things slip, it’s going to be reflected in our kids spaces too. Make specific requests and follow through. This is more important with part-time kids, because they don’t have the patterning set to immediately mesh with your expectations. They need reminders.

Anita InglisAnita is the Lifestyle Editor at Stepparent Magazine and is a step/mum to 7, ranging from tweens to adults. As a child of divorce and a divorced mum, she was completely unprepared for life married to a man in a high conflict relationship with his ex. This led to her current career, helping others deal with complex step-family dynamics. She lives in New Zealand but works with clients in the US and Australasia. Her passion is mentoring divorced and step-mums to step into their power and couples to navigate the challenging waters of step-family life. She is a certified step-family coach, with graduate and post-graduate qualifications in psychology.

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