Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Why I’m not blogging this month

November 3, 2013

November is National Novel Writing Month: Write a 50,000 word novel by midnight the 30th. It’s not a contest, just an awesome opportunity to do more than talk about that book you want to write.

Inspired and egged on by my daughter and son (both professional writers) I began the challenge last Friday. Now all I have to do is write 1667 words per day every day for thirty days. And voila a first draft of a novel is born. No guarantee that every word will be brilliant or even spelled correctly, but I’m pushing ahead because a) I’m an overachiever, b) I’ve got a story squirreling around in my head and invading my dreams and c) it’s the only way I’ll ever get a good night’s sleep again.

So I’m plugging away at this novel and won’t post new blogs this month. But I will be treating all you lovely people to some seasonal golden oldies. Starting with:

Need Some Help, Mom?

The following essay is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People

What do you MEAN we have to help?!

Not too long ago I read a letter to Dear Abby from a distraught martyr . . . oops! I mean a mother who signed off as “Alone in the Kitchen.” She plaintively described how her adult daughters arrive for the holidays each year expecting the guest treatment. For some mysterious reason, these two able-bodied young women never think to offer dear old Mumsie any help with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ guests. Their work avoidance goes on for a day or two until Mom, frazzled and frantic, slumps to the linoleum and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses roll their eyes and deign to lift a sponge for a fleeting moment, before disappearing again.

As I read the column, my blood pressure spiked. But my target wasn’t the daughters as much Mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to act like guests at home? How in the world had they reached adulthood totally lacking the common courtesy to pitch in?

Abby called out Mom for overindulging, but I gave her answer a C+ because she neglected to offer the woman any suggestions for fixing the problem. If it had been my column, here’s what I would have said:

Dear Alone in the Kitchen,

Wondering where Drizella and Anastasia picked up their royal sense of entitlement? Look in the mirror because it’s self-reflection time. If you really want to change the dynamic in your family this holiday season and forevermore, start with an apology. I’m serious! You have failed to teach your children the first thing about being helpful. Instead, you’ve taught them that their job is to sit back and let you cater to their needs. You’ve also held them back from developing a cooperative spirit by rewarding them for being self-centered. Admit the ugly truth. Forgive yourself. Apologize. And move forward, quickly, because you’ve got a turkey to stuff!

In friendship,


There are always things that need to be done to make a home livable. (Of course, it’s our living in it that makes it messy, but we can’t get around that, can we?) Whether you’re prepping for a special family event or needing to dive into seasonal household chores, make a master task list. Gather the troops, post the document, and announce to your family, “Here’s what needs to get done. Which tasks are you taking responsibility for?” (Speak as assertively as possible. No shouting, asking, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) If you have no confidence in someone’s promise to help (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, smile, and in your best coach voice say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”

My personal, unscientific research clearly indicates that when we want something done, the chance of compliance drops to less than 20 percent when our request comes in the form of a spineless question like “Can someone please help me?” (“No thanks.”) “Can I ask you a favor?” (“Sure, but I’m not doing it.”) “Do you have a minute?” (“Not now.”) See what I mean? Instead, try this: “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” See? It’s a statement, not a question. Practice it on your own so there is no trace of pleading in your voice.

Breaking patterns isn’t easy, but it’s easier than breaking your back doing all the work with little or no cooperation from anyone. It’s also better for your soon-to-be young adults to learn to notice the needs of others—essential in teaching them to be good people.

As for any male or female martyrs within the sound of my voice, that would be anyone who believes if s/he doesn’t do it all single-handedly, s/he won’t be a “good” parent, nor be loved and appreciated: You are already loved, appreciated, and admired. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, if you do much more than your fair share, you may end up with a sore back and feelings of resentment, and where’s the holiday spirit in that?

So teach your children to help. Otherwise, how can they possibly learn to make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day? And how will they teach your future grandkids to be helpful people at home and out in the world?


You need help, Mom?

November 24, 2008

Ezra Fox makes a pie (from scratch) for Thanksgiving

Ezra Fox makes a pie (from scratch) for Thanksgiving

Just read a cautionary tale in today’s Dear Abby. The letter was from a martyr… I mean a mother describing how her two adult daughters arrive for Thanksgiving each year expecting the guest-treatment. For some mysterious reason, these “girls” never offer to help their mother with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ people. That is, not until Mom, frazzled, frustrated, and fatigued totally loses it, slumps to the kitchen floor in her gravy-stained apron and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses exchange eye-rolls (not nearly as appreciated as Parker House) and deign to lift sponge or dish towel.

As I read about this family situation my blood-pressure escalated to vein-throbbing levels. I too became frustrated and resentful, but I reserved all my exasperation for the mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to blithely ignore household tasks? How in God’s name had they reached adulthood without a modicum of common courtesy and awareness that demands that even if you truly are a dinner guest in the home of someone you’ve never met before, you offer to help. (In addition, as my mom taught me, you are also required to bring bakery goodies in a pink box.)

So, Dear Abby Mom, if you’re wondering where Drizella and Anatasia picked up their entitled attitudes… look in the mirror. But don’t get distracted by the smudges you see there and reach for the Windex. This is a time for self-reflection about the kind of parent you have been. But wait! Fault-finding is a waste of time and you’ve only got 3 days left til Thanksgiving! So here’s how to change the situation this holiday season and forevermore. And for the rest of us who could use some help getting some help around the house these tips are for you too.

1. Apologize to your daughters today. (I’m serious!) You’ve taught them that your job is to serve them throughout eternity. So it’s not their fault that they bought into it. But you were wrong. Your job, as their mom, is to prepare them to be fully functioning adults. By compulsively doing for them that which they should learn to do for themselves, you do them no favors. In fact, you’ve held them back in their development of a cooperative spirit. They’re adults now. They make their own choices, so how they act now is not your doing, but you certainly contributed to their self-centeredness. Admit it. Apologize. And move forward.

2. Make a list of all the things that need to be done between now and the dinner bell on Thursday. Oh, and don’t forget to add one general last item: “Clean up after dinner.”

3. Share the list with your daughters and any other able-bodied family members who will be at dinner. Say, as assertively as possible (no shouting, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) “This is what needs to be done. Which of these tasks are you going to take responsibility for?” If you have no confidence in their offers (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”

4. Make a statement. Get used to saying, whenever necessary (holiday or not) “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” (Notice that it isn’t a question.) There’s a good reason for that. Annie Fox Research shows that when you want something done by your spouse, son or daughter, your chances of compliance drop to a mere 20% when you pose your request in the form of a question that has a “yes” or “no” answer. Dear Abby Mom shouldn’t be asking, “Can I count on you to help?” “Will you please help me?” “Can I ask you a favor?” “Do you have a minute?” No, no, no, not now, Mom. See what I mean?

5. Know that you are loved. You don’t need to do it all to be loved, appreciated, admired. You are already all of those things. And guess what? No one will love you more if they know that you personally crushed each cranberry, and did everything else without help. But you will probably love everyone and your time together as a family much less if you do it all the work.

6. Teach them! If you don’t get the whole family involved in the process, how can they learn to a) make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day and b) teach your future grandkids how to be cooperative members of the family?

Happy Thanksgiving, from our home to yours!

In friendship,


P.S. Want more info on how to stress less this holiday season?  Listen here. to my recent blogtalkradio conversation with innovative parenting coach Joe Bruzzese.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 1:58 pm
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