Why Wash Dishes?

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This is a frequent conversation I have with my adolescent clients.

Phil: Mom tells me that you refuse to wash dishes.  Is that right?

Steve:  Yah

Phil:  Why don’t you like to wash dishes?

Steve:  Not fun

Phil:   Really . . . I washed dishes this morning . . . I’ve always hated washing dishes. . . 

Steve: why did you wash them then?

Phil: Well, first of all I don’t wash dishes because it’s fun.  Not! But there’s lots of things we need to do that are not fun. There’s two reasons why I wash dishes.

Steve:  What are they?

Phil:  We eat on dishes.  Dishes need to be washed before they’re used again.  Same goes for your clothes. Before you wear these clothes again they need to be washed.

Steve:  Okay . . .

Phil:   It’s not a matter if washing dishes is fun.  For me, it’s not.  They need to be washed.

Steve: understand. . . 

Me: Second, if I wash dishes my wife doesn’t need to wash them.

Steve: [confused look on his face, like I said something really stupid.]

Me:  You know, my wife is likely more tired than I am. It’s a matter of serving.  I’m serving my wife when I wash dishes. You’re serving your parents and siblings when you wash dishes.

Steve: [utters something. Sounds like, “weird”]

Phil:  See, life isn’t all about you. You’re on a team. Members of a team work together. They serve each other.

The point of this conversation is that life’s not all about me and doing what is fun. Life is about being responsible and serving others.  Some kids get this.  Others . . . well, call them slow learners.

This conversation involves a whole lot more than specific behaviors.  Such as, washing dishes or doing the laundry.  It involves establishing a mindset, a way of thinking and doing things. The high value of being responsible and serving others provides the motivation. 

Now, it is good when an activity is fun or enjoyable. But the reality is that fun and enjoyment cannot be the primary motivations to want to do things. Having a strong sense of responsibility and desire to serve others provide a deeper and more persistent motivation.

Another thing. this mindset (Be responsible and serve others) can be applied to other areas of life:

  • Why do my homework?
  • Why work hard to get really good in doing things?
  • Why do I want to work?

I find this conversation to be potentially pivotal to get the adolescent to start thinking that life, after all, is not just about them. It’s also about serving others at home, school and work. 

Give it a try, but you’ll likely need to have this conversation with them several times.

Phil Nienhuis | LMSW

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