I have 2 sons (both 15+), one of them always does his own dishes after meal and the other one don't. Alot of time I come home with a mess in the sink from him. I was thinking of anytime I go out to get food take out/grocery store etc, to exclude getting food for the son that doesn't do his dishes as a way to incentivize him to start.

He is saying that I didn't do dishes when I was young which is true but I don't this this is a valid excuse at all. Is this a good parenting tactic?

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    My answer will be no, but to get a grip on how emphatically, I am curious how you're thinking about this. Are you talking about depriving one of your kids of food until they comply with your demands, or just have them go to the grocery store themselves? Pay for the food with their own money?
    – user36162
    Oct 23, 2020 at 13:14
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    You haven't described a single loving approach to getting what you want, only demands and tricks. How have you tried kindness or small requests? I found that with an unfocused kid it was better to ask "Please take two minutes to pick up anything on your floor" than "Clean up your room." Oct 23, 2020 at 13:56
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    I agree with dxh. I have the same situation with my two boys--one does things immediately and enthusiastically, the other is like pulling teeth. Our success comes with taking 5-10 minutes to talk with him about what he's feeling, and then let him know how we are feeling ("Hey, kiddo, I love you, and I need you to help me with this because I am having a difficult time with this other stuff and can't do it"). It truly works wonders for nearly all situations.
    – Jeff.Clark
    Oct 23, 2020 at 16:59
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    If he did go out and get his own food and then left the messy dishes he uses in the sink, would that satisfy your concerns then? You'd still be coming to a sink with messy dishes. Because if he's bold enough to argue that you never did dishes when you were young, then he might also be bold enough to not clean the dishes for the dinners he gets for himself (he's going to eat. It's going to happen one way or another) and then you can forget ever trying to get him to do the dishes at that point.
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 24, 2020 at 4:59

4 Answers 4


Generally, connecting food to other things (punishmend or praise) can cause issues that influence eating-habits that can last for all of life.

Since your boys are 15 or older, you likely will not cause any serious psychological harm. But even then you might not want to cause things like "eating more just in case" or "eating in secret" or "eating spoiled leftovers".

Perhaps just not buy the food that the boy prefers (but do buy food that is sufficient and healthy).

Or send the boy to do the shopping - if he did not want to spend 15 minutes to clean the dishes, you can send him to spend an hour to buy the things on the shopping list.

Perhaps you both will find that he actually prefers that (or any other) chore. There is nothing wrong about giving certain chores to the family member that enjoys them most ;-)

  • I was sexually victimised at age 17, long past this 15-year threshold you claim exists, and it still haunts me to this day. Don’t underestimate the damage abuse can do the teenage mind just because you think it’s past the age of plasticity (which is wrong; the brain continues growing into your 20s and even then is malleable to an extent). Oct 25, 2020 at 4:45
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    @gen-ℤreadytoperish : I would claim that sexual victimisation can be traumatizing at any age. It is one of the harshest violitation of autonomy known. I would not compare it to having someone skip a meal. Aside from that, please let us know if there is a way to support you. I know the ways to communicate on this platform are limited, but I would gladly support you.
    – Rororo
    Oct 26, 2020 at 17:01
  • That is very kind of you. To be honest I recovered from it with relative ease because I was psychologically and emotionally abused relentlessly for the first 13 years of my life by my sole caretaker who is afflicted with borderline personality disorder, so I already had experience overcoming PTSD. I still don’t think you should give this parent a false sense of impunity; everything else I like about your answer though. Oct 26, 2020 at 17:05

It’s either he understands the need to help or doesn’t ie does he understand but not help or he doesn’t understand hence doesn’t help.

You said his reason is that you didn’t help when you were young. This implies that he doesn’t understand why he should help.

Ask him what you as his mother do that not doing it would make him unhappy. Then ask him how’d he feel if you didn’t do such. Have a clear and simple discussion. It isn’t rocket science.

Then ask him if it’s ok if you don’t do such.

^^ isn’t a complete solution. But just that my point is that you should be able to have such a discussion and follow where it goes...

Last but not least admit that you were wrong and you feel ashamed for not helping and people don’t like others that are not good team players. Tell him that ultimately such a trait will alienate him from his friends. People want friends who share responsibilities.


If you have a small household, with few plates and utencils with restrained meals and, a passive-aggressive way to do it is to get everyone personal plate and utencils and undergo a war of attrition. People who clean their own should have no problems. People who don't clean their own will eventually have to dig into the "common" pool of utencils and plates, and if it is not very large and and no one is cleaning anything but their own, this person will eventually run out of plates. That's one way to force an appreciation of it. That's certainly how it works for roomates.

And of course, if the person who isn't doing any cleaning and has exhaused the common pool of plates and utencils starts taking and using other peoples' personalized ones, well that's when you can really bring down the hammer, because now they're stealing and making a mess with other people's stuff.

Of course, since spite is a thing, there is no guarantees this will actually cause the child to change their behaviour, at least while they are still living at home. But they will have an understanding and appreciation of why, though they may keep it hidden and not act on it. Because spite.


I think punishing him with something that doesn't seem immediately connected to the chore will simply feel unfair. If you want to go down the punitive route, it may be better to simply leave his unfinished dishes and not allow anybody else to do them for him. That way he may feel the consequences much more directly - dirty dishes stacking up, flies, bad smells, the rest of the family getting angry with him etc. Please note, I'm not saying that I recommend it, though; punishment should only be the very last resort in my opinion, when you have run out of options.

The down to earth aspect is that being able to do chores is a useful and important life-skill. You may argue that cleaning dishes or keeping your room tidy is incredibly simply (and it is), but the real skill lies in being able to simply get started on a necessary, but unattractive task. In years to come, this will be things like starting on assignments in a job - even in the most interesting job, there will a large majority of boring and/or daunting tasks, and very often the difference between success and failure hangs on simply getting started and keeping going till you finish.

Handled well, this situation can be turned around to something good, I think. You may think in terms of 'discipline' and 'have to!' and so on - and as any who knows teen-agers will tell you, that doesn't wash at all. Teen-agers are very ready for conflict, but they are also eager to learn, so if you can on their side instead of opposing them, you can work wonders.

So, find a way to get on his side, maybe get him to understand that you hate cleaning, washing and all the other necessary tasks just as much as he does, and that being a parent is not actually a job, since you don't get paid for it. You do it because you care about your family and friends - that is what caring means. This should be his motivation: that he cares, and his contributions are appreciated.

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