Question from Quora: Kid’s Laundry

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My son (13 years old) wants to start doing his own laundry and buying his own detergent. As a parent, what would be your response to this?

My response and even better answers to this question:

My kids started doing their own laundry when they were 12. They also learned how to properly wash dishes, vacuum and mop the floors, dust, take care of the pets, and do other household chores. The message was that this was a household that we all shared in so we all needed to share in the upkeep of it.

Thirty-five years later, my son does most of the housework and cooking at his house because he is good at it, enjoys and because his wife has some physical limitations, just like his father does for the same reasons.

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Please note, I do not mean to be flippant.

My response would be “praise.” THEN I would consider what is really going on.

  1. Is puberty causing stains that he’d like to hide?
  2. Is there tobacco/weed smoke he wants to hide?
  3. Is there another reason? (A girl he’s noticed likes a certain scent, or doesn’t like the scent he’s using?)
  4. Does he have an agenda to ask you for something and wants to prove that he is “mature” and “responsible” first?
  5. Is he sick of being “a kid” and realize that maybe he should get a head start on “adulting?” (Reinventing himself at a time he’s starting to become more self-aware.)
  6. Has he complained about his clothes smelling bad too quickly? (i.e. He’s figured out you are “not doing it right” and has done the research and realizes that trying to get you to do it the most recommended way isn’t going to work.)
  7. Other…8….9…..

In the end you are the one who is “RESPONSIBLE,” and you are also responsible for teaching him to be a functioning adult. This is a teaching/rewarding moment, even if the cause is the first two reasons, and not the fourth possible reason.

This is not the time to be self-righteous about how he or others should be doing “more” since by the age they are 13 what they are doing to help around the house is all on how you’ve trained them. YOU are responsible for how much help he was doing until now, so if he steps up, putting more on his shoulders (which is the classic “no good deed goes unpunished”) is the wrong message.

Males (especially husband type males) really react well to messages of being appreciated. So start with this, and do not use it as a lead-in to put more work on him. Let him know that there are tangible and intangible rewards, such as for starting “adulting” early, and how it will impress the mother/father of any girl he goes out with. (BUT don’t do that if such talk embarrasses him.) He and his peers probably play video games, where their skills and abilities keep “leveling up.” An “Oh my G-d, my son just leveled up in the game of life.” proclamation (said seriously, as a way of connecting with him in “his world” (of video games)) might be a good wink, wink, nod, nod to him.

At a “LATER” time you might consider digging. (After praise, and after seeing if it is fad.) Ask him if he thinks anything has changed about himself since he started. Either he will be secretive, or he will be honest. He could even be a good liar, but that doesn’t matter if you are still using this moment to turn him into a home-skilled and useful member of society.

Photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya on

“That’s wonderful news son, if you want I can show you how the next time I’m doing laundry” (cover stain removal) He’s thirteen give the boy some privacy. Take this as a signal to make sure he knows about condoms and reproduction and when a girl says no,”No means No!” It’s natural for him to have nocturnal ejaculations or to be just plain horny. But he certainly doesn’t want to advertise. So have a talk with him another day casually and matter of fact with no judgement! I raised girls, when they got to puberty I told them that its natural to have those feelings but acting on them can bring consequences, ie pregancy or venerial disease which are a serious things. Then I installed a hand-held shower head and told them, how they shower is nobody’s business. I also put condoms in a drawer and told them they can take one any time. I used the classic banana lesson. I asked if they have any questions, they did and I answered honestly and appropriately. I told them if they get pregnant before they were ready to take on the responsibility, I would not be raising the child if they had one. I told them that sex changes the relationship for girls but not necessarily for boys (not men). Their body is a gift that you decide when to give it and they will do well to care for themselves because they are precious. They may want to save sex for a special man someday, a gift for a serious relationship. I also explained that girls mature faster than boys and teenage boys are not equipped to take on grown-up responsibility until they are about 25yrs. (not impossible before that) and they are not to get married until they are 25yrs old. One has been married for 4 yrs at 31 and the other is engaged at 27. No babies yet, they are finishing their educations. Now I’m not advocating under age sex, but it happens and I didn’t want my girls to be victims of their own ignorance. P.S. they used the condoms as airships but kept one in their purses “just in case” for years, lol.

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I’m wondering why a 13-year-old teenage boy would suddenly offer to do his own laundry — and to even buy his own detergent. I would ask some questions:

  • Does he want more control over his laundry and when it is washed?
  • Why does he suddenly want to buy his own detergent (e.g., smell, allergic reaction to the household brand, effectiveness, cost savings to the household if he buys his own)?
  • Is he trying to help the adult(s) in the household with some of the housework?
  • Does he want to project a different “look,” and those wrinkled shirts aren’t cutting it anymore?
  • Is he trying to hide something?

This last one is important, because clothes can be a silent witness to activity the parents would not like.

That said, my sons were even younger (probably 6 and 8). I was a single parent, and one day they complained they had no underwear, but I had just done all the laundry. Then they showed me their room: underwear all over, but not in the hamper.

Then I showed them how they could gain control of the underwear situation. I marched them down to the laundry room (we lived in an apartment at the time), showed them where I kept the rolls of quarters for the machines, and how to load laundry and add detergent. As I recall, the youngest was just barely tall enough to reach the top of the machine (this was a top loader). Anyway, that’s the day I stopped doing their laundry.

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