Forgetfulness: Irresponsible or Normal

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My question is how responsible can I legitimately expect my 10 yr old stepson to be. I believe he "forgets" to do chores right or brush his teeth etc. because he gets special undivided attention when he is getting in trouble even though it is negative attention. He is a very intelligent boy and has no mental challenges whatsoever. We have issues every single day of him "forgetting" to do everything. He refuses to take any responsibility or accountability for his actions. His regular response is..."uh I forgot". We have tried the special time for him, giving him less responsibility, grounding him, taking his things away etc. My biggest concern is I worry that he may be getting disciplined for things he isn't capable of doing at his age. Should he be able to remember to brush his teeth, make his bed when he cleans the room, put a trash bag in the garbage after it is dumped? These problems occur every single day over and over no matter how many times he is told. These issues are frustrating me so much that I am not being the mother I am capable of being to any of my kids because I am always upset or dealing with this issue. P.S. just to prove I think it is all on purpose he is on the citizenship honor roll at school for his exceptional RESPONSIBILITY! I try not to get upset but it’s been going on for so long.

Sincerely, Frustrated step-mom



Dear Frustrated step-mom,

I appreciate how hard you are trying and that you want so much to be a good mom and step-mom. Much of what you describe is so normal for children of all ages. Later I’ll share some special considerations for step-children.

First let’s discuss what it means to be responsible. Does it mean that children should do what their parents want, how they want it, and when they want it—even if it is very low (or not even on) their priority list? How responsible are you regarding things you don’t care about?

I’m sure there are some things you don’t like to do, but still care about—such as a clean house. But adults often expect children to be “responsible” in areas they don’t like and don’t care about.

I’m not saying your step-son should not have to do things such as brush his teeth, clean his room, and take out the garbage, but you will save yourself a lot of frustration if you stop expecting him to be “responsible” in these areas.

Following are some suggestions that might be more effective:

  1. Accept that you might need to remind him and do it cheerfully. (Beats reminding with frustration.)
  2. Have him create a routine chart that works for him. Let him make a list of all the things he needs to do and the times he will do them. Let him draw pictures or create symbols after each task. Then let the routine chart be the boss. If you find the need to say anything it can be to simply say, “What is next on your routine chart?”
  3. Have regular family meetings where you discuss solutions to problems—over and over. Let the kids keep coming up with ideas that focus on solutions. When a solution doesn’t work, do it again.
  4. Ask for help (for what is important to you) and appreciate it. “I would really appreciate it if you empty the garbage now.” They say thank you. (Isn’t that easier than being continually frustrated because he isn’t “responsible” for things that are important to you.)
  5. You could talk to many parents (including me) who were frustrated by the “need” to constantly remind their children to do things. Those same children are now constantly reminding their children (my grandchildren). Rest assured that it will pass.

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