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Arbitrary Points

By the time the school year rolled around at the end of last summer I couldn't get the boys out of the house fast enough. They were complete slobs. Cups. Wrappers. Dishes on the counter. Clothes on the floor, not in the hamper. I was fighting a losing battle and boy was I annoyed. I needed them out of the house so I could keep it clean. At 14, 16, and 18 years old at the time, these weren't young kids who were incapable of cleaning up after themselves, for me this fact made it doubly frustrating.

This summer I knew I needed to get out in front of the mess, I needed to 'set the expectation' that I am the Mama, not the Maid. They need to clean up after themselves, always. We all know if we don't set the expectation, it's easy for our kids to claim ignorance:

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you wanted us to take the trash out when it's over-flowing."

"You mean my clothes don't belong in the middle of my bedroom floor?"

Summer Rules

Okay, I exaggerate, but there needed to be rules, so I wrote them out, on poster board, and hung them up. When they got home from their other house for the week, I made sure they looked them over. These weren't a list of daily chores by any means, they were basic 'clean-up-after-yourself' things.

Several years ago Jimmy, the oldest, had a Cross Country coach at the high school that claimed to have a point system for whether or not runners would earn an athletic letter.

Jimmy would come home and tell stories of what really had to be just an arbitrary method of giving and taking away points.

•How many points did one need to even earn a letter?

No one knows.

•Did anyone who ever ran not get an athletic letter?


•How did you earn points?

Not sure, they'd get points for something one day, do the same thing the next and earn nothing.

•How did you lose points?

Basically when you got on the coach's nerves, you lost points. Except for a kid named Liam. I can't remember what he did that was so bad, I can just remember Jimmy at the dinner table, imitating the coach with hilarity, "Liam! You lose all your points!!!" Whatever Liam did, it must've been bad, which is funny, because Liam never did anything bad and I'm sure he didn't that day either.

Totally arbitrary.

When I got up the first morning after the rule implementation the only evidence that the boys had eaten a pizza the night before was the box in the recycle bin. Yee-haw! I've always been a big fan of catching kids doing the right thing, so I hung a note on the fridge that said, "Pizza-maker from Friday night: +50pts".

The next morning I wasn't so lucky. I woke up to find empty cups, candy wrappers and popcorn on the floor in the front room. Under the dining table was a t-shirt one of them had worn the day before. The boys were still sleeping and I had somewhere to go.

Point deductions

I grabbed a pad of post it notes and stuck one on to each item in violation: empty can -10 points, popcorn on floor (-20 points), and so on. It took all of 2 minutes and I felt zero stress.

Before I left I wrote the boys a note reminding them where I was going and when I'd be back, then I added a p.s., "Much like test corrections in school, you can earn half-credit for fixing errors."

I returned home to a magical wonderland: everything was cleaned up. Eddie did argue the point deduction for leaving his toothbrush lying on the vanity instead of in its holder, and I held my ground: 'Because it's gross, it's just sitting in bacteria.' You caught that though, didn't you? That Eddie was arguing over these points...that mean...nothing!

There is no total to aspire to, there is no prize at the end. Much like many things, it That said, it effectively gets them to be more aware and to take responsibility. The best part is I don't have to be a nag or curmudgeon. You think they don't like hearing me nag? You know who likes hearing me less? Myself. You know how many words I said to get them to clean up? Not a single one.

While it is saving my summer, I think it's preparation for the work world as well. In their future jobs there will be performance expectations. Hopefully they will get feedback, and that information will allow them to course correct as needed. I guess in that example the prize is they get to keep their job. So maybe my prize is I let them keep being my sons...:)

This morning there were only 2 minor violations. I think this silly system is working. I'll keep you posted though.

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