A while back, I wrote an article about having teenagers in your house (I advised against).  But you can’t help it.  They keep getting in.  They started off as these cute, little, helpless creatures who napped at random times of the day and got fussy for reasons they did not share with you and made huge, explained messes without warning, and you let them live with you, but now they’re big, helpless creatures who nap at random times of the day and get fussy for reasons they don’t share with you and make huge, explained messes without warning.  And they know where you hide your spare key. 

And it’s not like they contribute financially.  At best, they do some work on the side so that they don’t have to ask you for money as often.  And only because fighting you for money is more of a hassle than just working for money, which is part of the reason you ever give them money when they ask.

But there are actually pros to having a teenager.  You can pressure them to help around the house.  “You’re living in my house,” you can point out, whenever necessary, until your child resolves that he’s going to move out the first chance he gets, so he can live on his own, and then he’ll never have to do all the stuff you’re telling him to do, like clean up and bring down the laundry, and so on, once he lives in his own house.  With a wife.  So I say let them move out.  That’ll show ‘em.

One thing your kids can do is clear the table between courses on Shabbos. 

Take my kids, for example.  It used to be that every Shabbos, my wife and I would clear the courses.  And then one day we said, “This is an easy enough job for them to do.  Plus, if we do it, when exactly are the parsha questions happening?  Between courses, when we’re away from the table, or during courses, when we’re eating?”   

So we decided that the kids would clear the courses together, which in theory would save time, but then we found that no one would pick up a single item unless everyone else picked up exactly the same number of items.  You’d think that the kitchen is ten miles away from our dining room, uphill in the snow.  It’s the very next room.  You could just throw the dishes into the kitchen, if you weren’t afraid of repercussions.  And also, if all the kids were up, who were we asking the parsha questions to?  Each other? 

So we started a system wherein each kid does a different course, and then the next week, they switch it around.  And thanks to this system, the conversation every week after the fish, instead of a d’var Torah, is about #1, who did the fish course last week, and #2, whose turn it is to do the next course.  This devolves into an argument every single week, since no one can write anything down.  It’s extremely enjoyable and an enhancement to our Shabbos. 

Every week, they all claim that it’s not their week to do the fish course.  Or the soup course.  Or the main course.  It’s never anybody’s week to do anything. 

At this point, my wife and I want to just get up and do it ourselves, but we can’t, for chinuch reasons.

And then there are addendums, like what if one person goes away for Shabbos?  Who cleans that course?  Do we wait around until he comes back?  What if we all go away for Shabbos? 

And yes, clearing the table is very much a non-job, and yes, it might be easier if we had a house full of teenage girls, but we do have one girl, and while she actually realizes that there are harder jobs in the world than clearing the table, there’s no way she’s going to do it by herself every single week just because her brothers would rather argue about it until it the job does itself.

And if we have guests, one of the guests will get up to help clear the fish course, and we have to tell them to stop, because otherwise, the next week the other kids will say, “Yeah, but the guests helped you last week, so now you have to help us with our courses,” and it will start a whole thing, and we’d have to make more addendums, and it’s not worth it.  And as we explain this, the guest is standing there, halfway up, going, “Oh.  I’m sorry I offered.” 

And my kids think we’re the ones who embarrass them.  We don’t get a lot of repeat guests.  But our regular guests know: Don’t offer to help in our house.  You will start a war. 

Do kids ever age out of this turn thing?  I don’t know.  My wife and I take turns cleaning the bathroom.  (This is the upstairs bathroom.  The basement bathroom gets cleaned for Pesach.)  And if a guest offers to clean the bathroom one week, it’s awkward as well.

Another helpful thing teenagers can do around the house is lie about whether their room is clean. 

You know what clean means, right? 

“Yeah, no mess visible from the hallway.” 

I’m at a point where I like cleaning the house better when the kids aren’t home, because I can get it cleaner.  I don’t have to deal with finding a place for all the stuff they throw down when they come home.  When my kids are home, the entranceway is either knapsacks all over the floor, or a mostly clean with a massive pile of knapsacks in the corner.  Until the kid with the bottom knapsack needs to get out his d’var Torah.

And no one ever wants to vacuum on Fridays.  It’s the worst job in the world.  They’re all scared of the vacuum cleaner, I think, and no one wants to admit it.  I have a son who will sooner mow the lawn than vacuum the carpet. 

But at least they pretty much remember to clean themselves, right?  Because speaking of turns, every Friday, there’s a fight about the showering order.  Everyone wants to go last.  More time to get dirty or something; I don’t know.  So we made a rule that whoever showers last has to vacuum.  We thought that was smart when we came up with it, because that way no one would want to be that last shower, but now everyone hopes to be the second to last shower, so the last person doesn’t find out he’s last until pretty close to Shabbos, at which point he doesn’t have time to vacuum.  He has to shower. 

At least teenagers can help you cook, though.  But only to an extent.  Unless your kid cooks as a hobby, each one will only make certain foods and will not b’shum ofen make others.  For example, my daughter will cheerfully make potato kugel, my oldest son makes fried chicken, and my next son makes cake.  I think they’re trying to kill me. But my thing is that if I convince them to make those things, I consider it a victory and reward myself with whatever it is they make.  In fact, the only time I ever eat fried chicken these days is if someone else makes it, because it’s only polite.  And I eat it even if I’m the one who told the person to make fried chicken.  Especially if I’m the one who told them to make fried chicken.

Another thing teenagers can do around the house is helpfully point out how helpful they would be if they got their license. 

“Well, if you let me get a license, I could go on errands!” they say.

Really.  If I ask you to walk something down the block right now, you’d give me an argument, but if you have to walk down the block to get to the car so you can drive somewhere for me, you’d say yes? 

But all these helpful things that I’m saying teenagers can do are all purely theoretical.  You have to know how to work around their moods.  For example, sometimes, your teenager is mad at you.  And you don’t know whyHe doesn’t even know why.  Either he thinks he knows everything, or he realizes that he doesn’t, and it’s your fault, because you raised him, and you couldn’t make sure he knew everything by this point?  His friends all know everything.

And you’re going to say, “Wait, why are you having issues?  You’re a high school teacher!  Don’t you to force teenagers to do stuff they don’t want to do -- for a living?” 

Yeah, but in that case, my threat boils down to, “I’m going to tell your parents.”  In this case, I am the parents.  It’s too late.  Now what?  I don’t know what the next step is. 

I guess the other threat we use in school is, “I’m going to tell the rosh hayeshiva.”  Should I do that with my kids? 

“If you don’t do what you’re told, I’m going to tell the menahel!  Of your school!”

The third threat I have in school is that it’s going on their report card, and it will affect their future.  So what do I say at home? 

“If you don’t do these chores, I’m going to put it on your shidduch resume!” 

Actually, that’s a good idea.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.