Here's the scene: We have three children, one out of college, one in college and a junior in high school. Our older two were home for the weekend and I made a big dinner to celebrate. Each child invited a friend to join us. We ate fresh corn, fried zucchini and marinated steak. Little did I know that I had more to celebrate. After dinner, I discovered a new parenting trick -- one I had never read in any article or book.
I have 22 years of parenting experience. I've read hundreds of articles on how to parent. Often, I do find suggestions and insights that help, but parenting has a way of leaving me feeling humble, human and in need of more -- and so my quest for tools and tricks continues.
The dinner pattern in our house is this: After dinner, the kids blast music and clean the kitchen and I go in another room. I usually find the music offensive, and if I'm near the kitchen and say something, they tell me to move father away. We started this policy over a decade ago when they fought about who was cleaning and who was goofing around and I was yelling too much. I found that if I left, they worked it out amongst themselves and I stopped micromanaging (which I'm very good at).
After dinner, I left the kitchen with five teenagers and one 20-something cleaning up. I wanted to join their party with every once of my being. They were laughing and having the usual fight about who was dancing too much and who was working more. I could hear the sink running, rap music blaring and dishes clanking. Even the dog was in the kitchen partying with the kids. What could I say? I wanted to be with them. I missed bossing them around, and I was feeling like they were growing out of needing me. And so I decided to enter the kitchen (which was forbidden years ago in the family kids-do-dishes pact) and remind them to take out the trash.
There was something about the beat of the music that called to me. I entered the kitchen dancing. Yes, that's right dancing. I had my own bounce and groove going. (In truth, I love to dance and would have made a career as a dancer, but God didn't agree and gave me a different body, so instead I dance around the house when no one's home.)
Turns out, Mom dancing in the kitchen was not cool. Picture someone turning down the music slowly or scratching a needle on a record (do I show my age?) or running fingernails down a chalkboard. With a few hips shakes and shoulder bobs, I single-handedly killed the party buzz.
"Uh," I stumbled feeling wildly self-conscious, "Could you please remember to take out the trash?"
They were covering their eyes. They were laughing uncomfortably. They were all united and the horror on their faces said, Anything, we will do anything you ask, just don't dance.
One grabbed the trash and headed outside. They didn't waste time. The consensus was clear: Take out the trash so Mom will a) not dance and b) leave the kitchen.
Like many great inventions, my discovery of the Dancing Mom Trick was an accident, but its potency was noteworthy. It was a showstopper. In all of my lectures I've given and questioning sessions I've had with my teens, I have never found something more effective at getting their complete attention and immediate action.
My suggestion to parents struggling to get a teenager to hang up a towel, clean a room, write grandma a thank-you note or take out the trash is this: When you want something done quickly, without discussion or push back, shake your booty and dance, dance, dance.
At the end of the day, even if it doesn't work, you will have danced and enjoyed yourself, which is a small miracle in itself.
Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of two books that celebrate life and motherhood:Mother Advice To Take With You To College, a collection of hilarious drawings and wise sayings, and The Tiffany Box: A Memoir, an International Best Book Awards Finalist, a true story told through emails and letters about the last two years of Kathleen's mother's life.