Dear Carolyn: I live in a home with two indoor house cats with a litter box. My eighth-grade daughter is supposed to be responsible for sweeping and scooping litter but does a terrible, lackadaisical job. It’s in my laundry room, where I smell and step all over scattered litter. Half the time the litter appears untouched despite my constant pleas.

I’m sick of constantly reminding and chiding her to clean. I secretly want the cats gone, as the litter stinks and also they shed everywhere, and I hate my clean laundry being near filthy cat litter. She just laughs and says I’m too picky.

What can I do? I am ready to move out rather than continue being ignored.

Carolyn says: You can please, please be the parent.

As the adult and head or co-head of the household, you decide how “picky” you are. Right now, by letting your daughter blow off her chores and laugh at you, you are deciding instead to take orders from a middle-schooler. And eventually, quite possibly, launch an entitled and disrespectful person into the citizenry.

The older she gets, the less effective these measures will be, so apply them now:

Presumably your daughter has friends? Hobbies? A phone? A favorite restaurant? Presumably you take her back to school on a Friday or Saturday for a game or a dance or a play her friends are in? Presumably she wants you to buy her things beyond basic sustenance?

These are privileges. Access to every single one of them needs to be, and has needed to be since she was old enough to understand, behind a door she can unlock only through satisfactory completion of her assigned chores.

Households are micro-communities and communities run on the respectful participation of every capable person. This is the social contract we would all appreciate your teaching her now, while you can, with the simple expectation of a fair contribution.

First, you define what is satisfactory: “The cats are your responsibility. That includes cleaning the litter box daily, sweeping the floor around it, and vacuuming once a week.”

Next, you supply or set up the necessary tools. Good litter box, broom, dustpan, trash bin, accessible vacuum.

Next, you attach clear consequences for a “terrible job.” Fold them in to your daily life without shouting or drama, and do not cave:

“Sure, I’ll take you to Kate’s house — as soon as you clean up the litter box. For real this time.” “Hey, everybody, we’re going out to the Fat Fry — we’ll leave at 7 as long as everyone’s done with homework and chores.” “Yes, I realize ‘everyone’ has a phone. In this house, it’s everyone who does his or her share.”

If her entitlement has already ripened to the point of defiance and she laughs her way out the door to do whatever she wants, then that’s when you talk to a good family therapist for serious remedial action.

When — not if — she pushes back against the new sheriff, make one clear statement: “You’re not a little kid anymore. You’re old enough to be more accountable.” It can be our secret that she’s been old enough for years.

PEP — the Parent Encouragement Program — is an excellent resource that offers quick, inexpensive courses online at pepparent.org. I suggest you start with, “Why Don’t My Kids Listen to Me?”

 

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.