My parents are away from home for little private holidays on a quite regular basis (once every 2/3 months), where they leave me home alone with my 2 brothers for 2-5 days. I'm a 26-year-old female, my brothers are 22 and 16.

Since I joined IPS, I have seen some questions and answers about 'not enabling bad behavior'. These struck home, as I've basically been doing that every time my parents are away from home, and I'm home alone with one or both of my brothers. I have been enabling their laziness by cleaning up everything their lazy asses leave behind, just to avoid mom's wrath.

When everybody is at home, everybody pitches in to do the chores that need to be done that day. Problem is that my brothers don't show initiative, and have to be reminded of their part of the job by mom and dad. The general rule when mom and dad are away, is that everybody cleans up their own mess, to keep the house in the state it was in before my parents left. I've reminded them of that several times, but because I had been enabling them before, I think they didn't take me seriously this time.

So, my parents have just returned from their weekend off, and my mom exploded at me because apparently, I haven't taken my responsibilities seriously. Even though I warned both my parents and my brothers, that I wouldn't be enabling their laziness anymore, and that I'm done being the little house-maid when my parents are away.

Here's what I did:

  • Not cleaned the kitchen. I used it once, to prep all my meals for the workdays my parents were away so I could take my meals with me to work as I always do due to a long commute. I cleaned it afterward. Although I saw my brothers making it into a bigger mess each day, I didn't clean it.
  • Not cleaning their muddy shoe prints in the entrance hall. I used the backdoor the entire time they were away, so the pawprints weren't mine. Thus, they were not my problem. If necessary, I can pretty easily prove they were from them, because we differ a lot in shoe sizes and the pattern matches their soles.
  • Usually, when my parents are out of town, I shower last. When done, I make sure I dry off the shower cabin glass, the showerhead and faucet, to prevent them from getting stained with limescale. These days, I didn't wait for my brothers to shower first, after all, they are old enough to dry off these things themselves.
  • Didn't empty the trash can when it was full, or throw away any of the trash accumulating on the kitchen counter. Okay, so the trash can may have been a bit petty of me, but trust me when I say that if 3 things in there were mine, I'm exaggerating. Same goes for the kitchen counter, I had already prepped my meals and wasn't home these days, so nothing there was mine.

So basically, mom just returned to a kitchen, hallway, and bathroom that are a total mess, and she takes it out on me by saying that I'm the oldest, that I should feel responsible and that the mess, therefore, is my fault. I basically told her:

We talked about this before when you returned from previous trips, I told you that I was always the one cleaning when you were out of town. You always told me it couldn't be that bad. So, before you left, I warned you that this time, I wouldn't be cleaning up any messes my brothers made, if I didn't have a hand in that mess as well. Now you've returned, you can see the chaos and mess they made, and you're still blaming me?

Her answer was yes, she's blaming me for not taking responsibility. I'm usually great at talking with my mom and getting her to understand me, but this time, she's being very irrational and nothing I say or any of the tricks I know that she usually responds well to are working.

I'd like my mom to understand that I'm not responsible for the mess she found when she came home. I'd like her to understand that the boys accountable for their actions/mess. I'd like to reach a point where at their next little holiday, the boys clean up their own mess (because mom told them to, I'm not expecting them to show initiative) and we don't have to go through this again. How do I follow up on setting this boundary and asserting it?


For everybody that thinks it strange that a 26-year-old female and 22-year-old male are still living at their parents home:

I moved out when I went to university. After graduation, I couldn't find a job at my education level for a long time and was forced to work retail. That was only a part-time job, I was unable to get a fulltime one due to being 'too educated'. Since then, I've started going back to school and I have been working as a software developer for the last 1,5 years. Except for the last 1,5 years, there has been a few years where living on my own and paying my own rent/mortgage simply wasn't possible. Now that I'm sure I like my new job, I'm currently looking to buy an apartment and move out.

For my eldest brother, he was living in his own apartment until about 3 months ago, when he landed his dream job: zoo-keeper. He quit his old job and apartment since they were farther away than our parents' house, and was invited to move back by my parents. He did and will be looking for a new apartment once he passed his probationary period.

That said, our parents don't go out for more than a day if there isn't at least one of us home/near that the 16-year-old can contact in case of emergency.

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    @Tinkeringbell : please don't tell us that, as the girl of the family, it's of your responsibility to watch over your brothers' behavior... please... :(
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 17:51
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    @OldPadawan No. It is the fact that I'm oldest (and thus considered wisest). When mom and dad are home, the boys have to clean kitchens, bathrooms and do laundry just as often as I have to help doing it. So I refuse to believe mom would think of those chores as a girl thing when she's out ;)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 17:58
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    @OldPadawan Yes :) I have complained before about my brothers' behavior and asked her if I was supposed to do everything since I was oldest. Her reply was to repeat the rule that everybody is responsible for cleaning up their own mess when they are away, just like everybody is responsible to help with chores when they are home... So apparently she doesn't believe my role is to take care of them, that they are capable of taking care of their own....
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 18:18
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    So what does your mother expect to happen once you move out? With 26 that is no longer just hypothetical. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 11:26
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    Next time, you go somewhere for a few days too.
    – crobar
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 16:00

18 Answers 18


You handled your end perfectly, and I mean, perfectly. Kudos on setting and keeping a boundary.

How can I get my mom to understand that I'm not responsible for the mess she found when she came home?

Repeat the story you told here, exactly as you told it. Your mom isn't thinking with logic, she's reacting to your assertion of your rights (it's called independence.) Keep repeating your story, keeping in mind that she may never agree.

I don't know what kind of a relationship you have with your mother, but you can try this (or some variation.)

Drop an egg on the floor. Don't clean it up; instead, call your mother down to the kitchen and ask her to clean it up. If she tells you to take a hike or says something about your sanity, tell her,

Mom, this is exactly what you expect me to do with (brother x and brother y)'s messes. Their messes are their responsibility. Yell at them; please don't yell at me about it.

You ask,

How can I make her hold the boys accountable for their actions/mess... [so] we don't have to go through this again?

You can't make anyone do anything. You can only set your own boundaries. However, here's something you can try: next time your mom & dad go on vacation, tell them you're staying with a friend the entire time. If she yells at you, telling you they aren't old enough to stay by themselves, offer to help her find a housesitter she can pay to monitor the boys. Help her by suggesting placing an add in Craigslist, or looking at the classifieds, etc.

If she becomes angry with you, there's an issue she needs to work out with you. You are not your brothers' babysitter, and you're not responsible for their messes. Remind her how she treated you the last time she came home to their mess. Tell her it's not right, and you won't let her blame you again for someone else's behavior.

Worst case scenario, they can't go away on vacation, and your mom blames you again for something that is not your fault.

Best case scenario, your mother realizes what a gift she has in a built-in 'monitor', that you're happy to keep them out of trouble, but not happy to be their servant, and accepts your terms (you will not clean up after the boys.)

Setting boundaries is tough. Hang in there.

  • It's true that I can't make her do something :). I misphrased that a little, and have edited the question to ask: "How can I make her understand that the boys are accountable for their actions/mess". To me, once she understands that, according to logic she will hold the boys accountable for it ;)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 18:00
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    @Cronax "I've reminded them of that several times, but because I had been enabling them before, I think they didn't take me seriously this time." I did try to bully my brothers into cleaning, within the confines of what I thought was reasonable ;)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 9:56
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    I'm not at all a fan of the egg on the floor idea - but the staying with a friend (or motel, B&B) idea is fantastic - and should be moved to a position of prominence in the answer, to get my upvote. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 12:09
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    @Tinkeringbell - It just needs to make a point, it doesn't matter at all what it is. The point is, your mother didn't make the mess, and most likely she'll see that it's ridiculous to ask her to clean it up. Then apply that to what she did to you about your brothers' messes. It's just kind of a jolt to get her thinking about her expectations. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 13:40
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    You can do the egg idea without actually making a mess, too. Just tell your mom "If I dropped this on the floor and told you to clean it up, how would that make you feel?" Should get the point across without making her (or you!) clean up anything at all. :)
    – Mage Xy
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 20:13


The boys know how to keep things clean, they do help when parents are at home, but are lazy when the cats are away, and don't listen to Sis.

There are two problems here...

  • The boys

  • Mom

Let's focus on Mom. I'd sit her down and ask to go through what she expects of you. Specifically, ask her straight out: "If the boys will not clean up, are you expecting that I clean up everything for them?" Oftentimes, people who are holding a ridiculous position realize it once they have to say it out loud. You might continue the conversation... If Mom does expect this, and is willing to say so to your face, follow up: "I understand your position. The boys understand it too, and are taking advantage. Can you help me with this?" Update: It really helps, when you have a problem with someone, to enlist that someone in the solution

Really, I think the principle "Parents want quiet, not justice" applies here, just in terms of wanting a clean house, not equity in splitting the chores.

I'm hoping that putting it out on the table will encourage your mother to dog out the boys -- they deserve it.

Failing that, there are two options:

  • Train the boys. Tell them you're setting a timer for 9pm (or some specific time) every day; at that time, we all drop everything, and repair the day's damage. Get Mom to endorse this approach to the boys before she & Pop leave.

  • You're a grown woman with, apparently, dainty feet. Use those feet and stay with friends the next time parents go away. Make sure everyone knows that you are going to do this. Come back slightly after parents. Let the boys face the mom-wrath.

  • 4
    "with, apparently, dainty feet" I'm not sure how this is relevant to the answer, but it earned a chuckle. Thanks for lightening up the answer with a joke
    – anon
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 4:47
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    @QPaysTaxes It's in relation to the muddy footproints—she mentioned that her feet are significantly different in size from her brothers' feet. :) Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 11:58

The one thing you need to understand here is that your mom isn't blaming you for not cleaning up after your brothers. She is blaming you for not making your brothers clean after themselves. That's what she does when she is the eldest female in the house, that's what she expects you to do when you are the eldest female in the house, that's what she'll expect any good wife they'll eventually may or may not marry to do when they are the eldest female in the house. Lack of such performance will make her consider the woman in question deficient in her natural duties of baby-sitting any male in the house.

It's likely been drilled into her. It apparently hasn't into you, which is a start. Unfortunately, this realization did not go far enough to actually drill your brothers to clean up after themselves, and both are more than old enough for that. And she isn't planning to, either: that's why you are the one getting the heat rather than them.

This is unlikely to see any significant change. My recommendation would be to move out. Temporarily, as one answer suggests, or terminally. In that case your mother will fall back to blaming herself again for the mess your brothers make when she is away, or alternatively you. And she'll be cleaning up after them or calling them out on their mess until she manages to marry them off.

Cleaning up messed-up thinking like that takes generations. You are on a good path, but it's a lot more work than cleaning up after the mess of a few days.

I am afraid that while you are at home, the current scenario will need a number of repetitions before something sinks in with your mother. Is it worth doing so? I don't know. You'll get more payback with your own children. Just don't let your mother sabotage your progress there.

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    Also, you need explicit authority over them -- including the power to punish for non-compliance -- in order to be able to do anything at all. Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 19:25
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    This doesn't like Dutch culture at all. Maybe if the question was posted 60 years ago, though.
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 20:11
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    @Erik "Maybe if the question was posted 60 years ago" - how old is Mom? She could be a late bloomer and still hold on to "old ways"? If she was 30 when she had kids, she'd be in her 60's and within that "range"...
    – WernerCD
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 6:18

I think it's a mistake to lump "the boys" together, they represent separate situations. One really is a boy, the other is a man (even if he is not acting like it).

The 22 year old is an adult. Sit him down, with your mother, or in separate talks, and explain it is ridiculous, sexist, patronizing, and ultimately not to his own benefit for you to keep cleaning up after him OR even to take responsibility for him cleaning up after himself. Insist that he bear the responsibility for his own actions in the future. If your mother or your brother disagree, ask them to share their reasons.

The 16 year old is still a child. Rightly or wrongly, your mother seems to expect --as a condition of your living under their roof --that you help raise him when they are away. Therefore, do not clean up after him, but do put pressure on him to clean up after himself. With that said, this should not be just on you, the 22 year old should share equally in helping you do this. If they have a good relationship, maybe this can even become mostly the 22 year old's responsibility (especially if you are fulfilling other household duties).

  • 1
    Why would the 22 year old even agree to sit down and talk with OP, though? Reasoning and pressuring him seems to be what OP did before, and it clearly didn't work. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 14:54
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    @AndréParamés I think the key is tying the conversation to the fact that he is an adult, theoretically equal now to big sis. As long as he's being treated like a child he will keep acting like one. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 16:59
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    I cannot imagine a scenario (barring medical issues) where a 16 year old is too much of a child to clean up after themselves. 16 year olds are regularly charged as adults in crimes because they know the difference between right and wrong. The 16 year old can do his own damned dishes.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 17:44
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    @corsiKa Please note I stressed that she should NOT clean up after the 16 year old. However, it does seem that her mom expects her to at least keep after him if he isn't taking initiative. I do think her older brother should share equally in that task, however. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 18:01

In addition to all the excellent advice everyone else has given, it may be appropriate to ask your father for help in communicating with your mother.

I don't mean going around your mother - this is a conflict between the two of you, and thus needs to be resolved between the two of you. But if your father sees your side of the argument he may be able to act as a moderator between you. The goal would be for him to convince your mother that you have valid points as well and convince her to listen to you.

Even if he doesn't want to be involved directly he may be able to give you advice on how to get your mother to listen to you.


A good argument you didn't seem to bring up was, that your brothers are not just old enough to take care of themselves, but that they will have to live on their own sooner or later (the 22 year old rather sooner than later, I guess).

When you are doing all the work, or your mom expects you to do it, they will not learn it. But they have to, e g. when living together with other people (students, maybe a girl-/boyfriend) who won't take it well. And if they are living alone (from the beginning, or after having been thrown out by the others), they need to keep their apartment clean.

This is a vital skill to possess - not just a social one, but also think of hygiene or repair costs etc. - and a good way to learn some discipline. So make clear, that it is in your brothers' own best interest that they also do take care of it.

As a compromise, you could suggest to your mom (and your brothers), that you clearly distribute the work, e. g. one of you is responsible for the kitchen and one for the bathroom or some other way, so that the workload for everyone is roughly the same (as a sign of goodwill, you may take the greater share upon you) - the point is: The responsibilities are clear and you have a much better position at arguing if, for example, the kitchen was a mess but your brothers were resonsible. Maybe even make a list of responsibilities (as a reminder to everyone, but with the additional benefit of leaving a paper trail).

Your mom probably knows that you didn't cause the mess (alone), so she is not holding you accountable for that. She just expects of you to clean up and that's why she is right, that it was your responsibility (from her point of view) - the problem is: It shouldn't be your responsibility (alone).

So don't try to deflect the guilt and play the blame game. Try to change her point of view - it's in your brothers' best interest and therefore also in hers. Focus on the positive effects it has, if they learn to do it. That way, you can have a constructive discussion.


I fully agree with many of the points here, with an addendum. You will need to sit down and have a chat with your mother. This will not lead to an immediate change, however - she has an idea of how the women of the house should behave and that the young men are not expected to clean up. You may need to work at this over a longer period. Be prepared - you may not change her "ladies of the house must look after the men" attitude, but you may get some movement on how much the brothers do.

One of the most important points here is that you made yourself available this time to "oversee" the two man-children who live with you. Don't make that mistake again anytime soon.

I realised quite early on in my later teenage years that if I was in the house to oversee my younger siblings and something went awry (through no fault of mine) blame would be laid at my door. So I started leaving when I knew stuff was going to go down.

My primary memory of this is expecting to have a nice new years eve in on my own with a few beers as my brother had declared that he was going out. After the parents left, some friends of his turned up and started moving delicate items out of the way. Smelling a rat, I left pretty much immediately (grabbing my beers on the way out!) and called around my friends to see where I could go. Came back at 1am after a nice evening to find him morosely mopping the floor, as parents had come home and caught him mid-party at 1230. I made some "Oh Joe invited me round, I had no idea" excuse as to why I hadn't been in.

I have no doubt that had I been there I would have been blamed for the party and mess, despite the fact the partygoers were not my guests.

I implore you - do the same. "Accidentally" book a holiday. "Coincidentally" have a friend invite you over for a week. Just don't be in the house and let the chickens come home to roost where they should. Also, go away for a longer period when they are home, as it'll also reveal how much you do without prompting when they are there.

The two will likely work well in conjunction. Slowly changing your mother's (and potentially father's) perceptions of how much work they expect you to do in comparison with your siblings will be reinforced by how much mess they're having to clean up when you're not around.


I don't like it when (a) younger sibs are told their older sib is in charge and must be obeyed, and (b) older sibs become answerable for the misdeeds of their younger sibs. Yet, this is exactly what's happening here (at least the second part).

After reading all this, it seems your mom expects you to manage your brothers and make them do their share, rather than do everything yourself.

Does your mom believe a female is automatically in charge of managing household chores? Look at it this way: she chewed you out, not your father.

Is moving out a solution? I don't think so. There are probably a dozen reasons why you are living at home, and something like this is not a big enough reason to leave.

Your mom isn't interested in who's to blame as much as she simply wants to keep the place clean -- at least clean enough on the day she gets back.

Your brothers have become very skilled at shirking their responsibilities and letting you take the fall for it.

Ask your mother if she explicitly wants you to manage your brothers, and if so, ask her how to do that. (Maybe talk to your father first.) If you are to be a manager, you need management skills.

Part of management is the power to punish. But if you ground one of your brothers, will he just laugh as he walks out the door?

I wish I had a better answer for you, but the above is a framework that you can start with.


Shift the Blame

You need to put the blame where it belongs, which is on your brothers. You are not their mother.

Your oldest brother is, at 22, not a child any more. He is an adult and should be able to take care of himself, without you supervising him.

Your youngest brother is, at 16, still a child, but one that is nearing adulthood. He may still need supervision by his adult siblings. However, you aren't the only adult sibling available — your other brother is one too.

If you haven't told your mother already, you may want to emphasise that you did tell your younger brother to clean up his mess. Remind her that your other brother is an adult and shouldn't need any supervision, but that you reminded him nonetheless. Also tell her that he didn't do his job in supervising your younger brother.


You handled this well, but you might need more informations. This depends on your usual relations, so I might be way off the line here. First, you're 26 year old. Even if you went to college, it is over. It is time for you to find a job and move out. Or at least, that's what one of your arguments should be. What will happen to your brothers once you leave?

Second, what was your relationship with your mother before? Were you expected to be obedient, quiet, seen and not heard sort of daughter? Was this the first time you're showing any sign of independence? Were you expected to clean up after your brothers before? The answer to that last question is yes, else there would be no conflict.

Now, here's something to think about. In some cultures, woman is expected to be home-maker, the man is supposed to be breadwinner. As in, woman keeps the house clean, food cooked and kids well behaved, a man works out of the house and brings in the money. In fact, those roles were prevalent 30-60 years ago. Time when your mother was living at the top of her strength, time when your mother was growing up and time when your mother started raising a daughter of her own, with memory of growing up still fresh and grandparents (probably) still alive to help, with their old ways of thinking. We pick up a lot from our parents. Maybe your mother subconsciously thinks she has failed in preparing you for your role in life. Maybe, such a slippery word.

I mean, you were supposed to keep the house clean, you were her right hand, she gave you to hold the fort of her house and home like she did many times before and you abandoned your guard post! "How could you?! How dare you turn to the dark side? I thought you were better than this! And you betrayed me! I can't trust you with anything any more!" etc.

Of course, that's exaggeration. What you should do is, now that she has calmed down, ask your mother what she expected of you and your brothers to get to the bottom why she got angry at you and not your brothers. You need to talk and most importantly, you need to think about your future.


I think the core of the problem is that you're being asked to do a job that you're not being equipped to handle. I've seen fundamentally similar problems in the business world. Siblings are like co-workers, and you're the long-time team member that recently got promoted to group manager. Your brothers require pressure from an authority figure in order to do what they're supposed to do. Even though you're several years older, siblings don't generally have the type of relationship where one sees the other as an authority figure (you're still "one of them"). Your brothers are less inclined to listen to you because you lack any real ability to back up any threats.

It needs to be made clear that when you're telling them what to do, you're merely a mouthpiece; the command ultimately comes from the boss (your parents), and its to them that they'll ultimately be held accountable. This is something that both you and your parents will need to communicate, and that your parents will have to follow through on. They need to effectively delegate to you whatever power/authority is required for you to act in their stead, and then back you up when you use it. Otherwise, they're not giving you the tools necessary to do the job they've asked you to do, and I find it difficult to fault you for that. The specifics are obviously going to change based on the particulars of your situation, so this is something you'll need to discuss with your parents.

One small change you could try is instead of a general rule like "everyone cleans up their own messes", divide the cleaning up into explicit, individual responsibilities. This person is responsible for the kitchen, this person for the bathroom, etc. When your parents return, it will be obvious who has done what they're supposed to do and who hasn't (you can't play the old "that's not my mess" game) and each person can be held accountable for their portion of the work. That keeps the command and accountability directly connected to the parent, and you're merely providing a friendly reminder to help them stay out of trouble. It may encourage a mad scramble to get everything done at the last possible minute, but at least it gets done (progress photos throughout the week might help here).


This is me trying to figure out each one's position in this. Some ideas are from other answers, others are assumptions. You may need to adjust them.

  • Mom thinks her responsibility is to keep the house running and educate her children. There's obviously a gender issue here you will need to address too. She thinks of all of you as children. She has taught you hierarchy, so she gives order to all of you, but failed to taught responsibility, so when she's out the hierarchy breaks things don't get done. You OP are also a child, and get scolded, but probably are also Acting Mom in her eyes. Failing, by not staying to her perceptions of a Mom's responsibility, is not only your failure as Acting Mom, but her failure as Mom who hasn't taught their children properly. Again, she scolds you as if you were a child.

  • Elder sibling is an adult. Knows hierarchy, so when Mom is at home he reverts to Child and does chores. When Mom's out and hierarchy breaks, he becomes Adult again and won't accept you OP as higher in the hierarchy, because he is also an Adult. He knowns no responsibility and won't do chores. More than that, he knows that as a Male Adult he doesn't get involved in house cleaning because Male Adults don't have that as responsibility, or at least that's what he was taught.

  • Younger sibling is a child. Knows hierarchy and does chores when Mom is at home. When Mom's out he doesn't become Adult, but he's growing up and plays Adult, so the results is the same. And won't accept taking responsibility or hiearchy if the elder sibling rejects them.

  • Where is Dad? What does he do?

I think you need to address the gender issue. You have to assert to your parents, specially your mom, that:

  • House cleaning is not her responsibility anymore, it's not Mom's responsibility. It is every adult's responsibility, in every home you OP or your brothers will ever be, and it should also be in your home (or at least keep the pretense of it). This involves your father too.

  • That your brothers don't understand that, and that she needs to set a proper example for them to learn. That relying the house cleaning responsibility in only you OP is not only unfair, but totally opposed to what your brothers need to learn.

  • That you will cooperate to educate them that, but your parents need to collaborate. That if she doesn't scold your brothers when they deserve, or does it but inadequately (focusing in the hierarchy and not in the responsibilities) you'll scold them, and she (and dad of course) must support you. That she must support you even if you have to scold your dad (he must take responsibility too, or at least recognize that your brothers must).

  • That her (and dad) will benefit too. That your brothers taking responsibility will make the house running better and with less effort for her (who still holds the responsibility alone). That they will be better prepared for their future relationships, and will have better homes. That they will be better prepared to care for her (and dad) when they grow older.

  • If all that fails, make sure she knows you OP will only accept your part of responsibility in house cleaning and no more, and by no means the responsibility to educate your brothers, one being already an adult, and the other being a child with so many bad examples of adults. That in the future, she can save her scolds, because you will no longer accept them.


I'm surprised no one mentioned the reason the boys are acting the way they are. The above are nice answers, philosophical or idealistic approaches, but they won't achieve anything.

The reason your brothers listen to your parents and not you is leverage. Now you probably already know this, but your mother is ignoring it; your parents provide the food, shelter and other living expenses for your brothers, if they were to act rebelliously all of a sudden, their lives would take a turn for the worse, so they listen and they do their chores.

They don't need to listen to you though, in fact it's the last thing they want to do after putting up with mom and dad. When your parents are on vacation, it's a vacation for your brothers as well.

I'm going to propose a solution that will not only work from now on, it will also stimulate your parent's imaginations and make them much more agreeable with you if presented right; it will bolster your image in the family and give you outright power over your siblings:

Get your parents somewhere private, maybe have some food, drink and light conversation; tell them you have an interesting proposal for them, since they're so convinced that you're supposed to be the one taking care of your brothers: Tell them to give you control over all of your brothers' expenditures, everything, for at least one month before and one month after their vacation, subject to extension if your brothers' behavior improves and you all get along. If they object or take it as a joke, tell them to at least pretend that's what's happening for the time being, just to see if the experiment can have a positive effect.

I'm more than convinced they'll find this proposal worth a try, and it'll get them thinking about how you can't really get people to do something without some motivation (and fear is the best motivator).

If it works out you'll gain the respect of your entire family for the foreseeable future. If not, at least your mother will be faced with the fact that you CAN'T in fact control what your brothers do without any leverage.

  • 2
    This may or may not work, but it seems to assume OP wants to take responsibility for their brothers. I doubt she actually wants this. Also, this assumes that the mother have authority mainly because they control expenditures - which is possible, but also doubtful. In short: This risks putting OP into the position of a quasi-parent, which she probably neither wants nor can fulfill.
    – sleske
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 13:36

The bold question:

You've made your point. Now, drop it.

I'm starting by focusing on this question which was posted with bold text:

How can I get my mom to understand that I'm not responsible for the mess she found when she came home?

You're living at your parents' home. As such, you have a responsibility of making sure that the place is kept up to at least some standards.

When I rented an apartment along with another person, the "landlord" (a "property management" company who served the owner) made us both responsible for the rent. This means that if my roommate did not pay a dollar of the rent, I was still entirely on the hook. (In fact, I speak from some personal experience. My roommate ended up not getting the job he expected, and decided that a life of crime ended up being more interesting, and he literally did not pay one dollar of rent.) Now, this is entirely unfair. However, the issue of fairness is really my problem. Regardless of how I handle that with the roommate, the agreement I made with the property management company is that I wouldn't let such a situation become their problem. I should live up to the expectations.

Regardless of who made the messes in your house, by nature of you being in the house, the good thing for you to do is to ensure the problem is taken care of, even if that means you being the unhappy hero who takes care of things.

You basically violated that social contract in order to make a point very clear to your mother. Whether that was a good idea, or not, I choose to not render a judgement. However, your main question is about how to handle this next time. And, my answer to you is: don't try to make the same point again. Mom has clearly shown her position. Right or wrong as her position might be, her position does clearly demonstrate something. Doing this again is only going to aggravate mom again. Trying to repeat that scenario is not likely to do you much good, and is likely to build up the negative consequences again.

So, if you can come up with a really good excuse, like "I wasn't even in the house, so I didn't see how bad it was, so I wasn't in a position to be taking care of it", then, great. If not, and you're at mom's, then consider the unfairness aspect to be a potential cost of the benefits of living at mom's and doing so with peace. In fact, now that your point has been made, she may be even more appreciative when you show that you're willing to make sacrifices in order to let her be happy. (Showing concern for her happiness is always appropriate, but especially when she's actively doing you favor regarding housing.)

The title question:

This question's title is, “How can I stop enabling my brothers without my mom exploding?”

That's a very different question. That focuses on your brothers, and doesn't focus on your mother.

The advice I gave above, about cleaning the house, is the most noble course of action. It requires more effort. Because of that, it does require a sacrifice on your part. Sometimes, the best course of action requires additional effort. I'm pretty guilty (aren't we all) of sometimes not choosing the best course of action. In the interest of living a more leisurely life, maybe you actually want to do something other than the sacrificial "best" course of action. Where you draw the line, as to how much effort you want to invest in order to strive for the noblest of positions, is an individual choice, and sometimes there aren't clear answers about the exact consequences if you decide to pursue some position in the middle of the spectrum.

The best way to try to stop enabling your brothers' behavior is... exactly what you did. To keep your mother from exploding, you might need to intervene a little bit, but you would want to minimize your intervention, so that your mother is brought right up to the boiling point without brewing over, so that she is incensed but not exploding. Doing anything more to appease your mother would harm the goal of focusing on your brothers. So, if focusing on your brothers is your primary goal, that may lead to a bit of a different answer.

The XY question:

I know what you really want, is to stop enabling your brothers' behavior while not irritating your mom at all. Well, if you want to simultaneously pursue two goals (appeasing mom well, and achieving maximum sibling fairness), that seem to require opposite things, then striking a perfect balance, and getting success in all goals, will significantly complicate the situation. The best path to success in striking the most perfect possible balance may greatly vary from other people in similar situations, based on individual family culture and the specific people involved. So there may not be one universal answer that can successfully tell you how to achieve all of your desirable goals at the same time.

However, if you want just one simple answer about how to appease mom, the first part of this answer is it. People do tend to further mature throughout their late teens and twenties and early thirties. So there is still hope for your brothers yet. Whatever grief a younger person does is more likely to be forgiven over the years as that person matures. Whatever grief an adult causes is more likely to be remembered throughout the decades. She's cooperating with you by providing some nice living arrangements. In the long run, you taking a hard stance is likely to have the longer lasting impact.

My advice: Prioritize a good relationship with mom, as over the coming decades your mom's feelings (and even your feelings) about the unpleasantness of a full garbage can will reduce in importance when your brothers start acting more mature (which is still likely to happen in coming decades), while your mom's feelings about a more mature adult failing (along with the less mature people) to take care of the garbage problem will likely be more prone to be remembered. So, to have the most significant long term impact on an important relationship, my recommendation is this: make mom happy.


The first step I'd do is consider the possibility that I actually was responsible for what my brothers did. It sounds strange, right? Backwards? But if you can consider that possibility, you can start to use it to take control from your mother.

Let's start with the question of whether you are responsible or not as an unknown. We're not going to assume either way. We're going to explore each side and find a consistent solution.

The first possibility is that you are not responsible, in which case all of your arguments are well founded. I clearly don't need to give you an advice on how to handle that possibility. You've got it down pat. So let's focus on the second possibility: that you are responsible.

Responsibility it not always "fair." You can be held responsible for things that you don't feel you had any control over. This is the reality of the world. However, in any rational discussion of responsibility it is accepted that responsibility and authority must go hand in hand. There are, of course, plenty of irrational people who will assign responsibility without authority. For all I know your mom may be one of them. But for there to be hope that you can live up to the responsibility your mother puts on you, you must be given the authority to make that a reality.

What do you need to do the job? Do you need the ability to ground your siblings? Dock their allowance? Assign them additional chores that will be done when mom is home again? What sort of authority do you need to be given (by your mother) in order to live up to the responsibility (from your mother).

Then, once you are comfortable with both these outcomes, approach your mother. Let her know that you don't feel you should be responsible for your brothers, but if you are held responsible for the entire household then you need her to delegate the authority needed to make it a reality. Then you can let her decide if she wants to hold you responsible for the household or not.

The resulting responsibility may still call for you clean up messes. If you were the supervisor at a fast food restaurant, and your employees failed at cleaning the bathroom, you clean it. It is your responsibility. It's not pretty. However, if you have sufficient authority then you can also begin the process of changing the situation. Obviously, unlike a supervisor, you can't fire your brothers. But hopefully you can identify the specific authority you need from your parents to balance responsibility with authority.


Easiest way to make your brothers comply is by snitching, so:

Get everybody's number into a family group chat.

If you don't mind handling the mental management of the tasks (looking into what needs to be done, reminding your brothers to do their parts), and the only objective is to get them to work their share, create a family group chat with everybody in.

Make sure mom and dad are there, even if they can't read the messages immediately. Now every time something needs to be done you let the responsible person know verbally and right afterwards you send a message to the group, along the lines: "Asked Jamie to clean the kitchen". Then attach a pic of the messy kitchen.

If your brothers try to lie saying they have done it already, you ask them to send pictures of the clean kitchen. If they do a crappy job, take a picture yourself and post it.

You can also add your own tasks being done (with the optional before/after picture).

That way your mom will see that you're doing the task she expects of you -- which seems to be making others comply instead of doing it yourself -- and if the boys don't carry out the tasks they're supposed to you will have a log to prove. Because of that it also does not matter if your mom get the messages right away. The log is what's important.

If there is a lot of complain noise on the group chat, it will also serve to prove that your struggle with your brother's behaviour is real when mom is away.

You can then use those events to ask your mom for help with establishing your authority when she's away. After all if she expects you to do the same bidding as she does, you need at least the same resources.

Then after a while of that they will probably start doing things as soon as you ask them and you can always have the group to snitch if they don't.


You're fighting the wrong battle

I've read every answer so far and even if it got approved and has so many upvotes I don't get how @anongoodnurse 's anwer can be thought to be good. As you said you're usually good to talk with your mother and you didn't give any clue about troubles in your relationship with our mother. Confronting your mother like that may lead you to win this fight, but to be honest you'll be fighting the wrong battle and it may cost you a lot regarding your relationship with your mom.

The facts :

  1. You were left in charge
  2. Your brothers did nothing

I don't get why everyone is taking your side here, even though I can understand how bad it feels, YOU WERE LEFT IN CHARGE. This means that if you can't get your brothers to do their chores, you have to find a solution but the chores need to be done. So far you've done it yourself which is a bad solution. Your mistake here and what's making your mom angry is that she TRUSTED YOU to do whatever was necessary to keep her house clean while she was away and you failed to do so in order to demonstrate a point. The point you tried to demonstrate is actually something, but the main point is that you had to make your brothers do their job as the adult in charge, and you didn't. Her behaviour, even if it's a little excessive, is still right. It's your mistake before anything else.

Fault vs Responsibility

If it can help you to picture this case in a different way imagine being at work. The team and you have a software to develop, the lead manager has to monitor everything to make all of you work together so the project will meet the deadline. If (for any possible reason) the project is late, it will be the manager's responsibility. It may not be his fault, but it will be his responsibility and theese two are quite different things.


  1. Find a way to make your brothers do their job (maybe shut the power of if they're watching tv all day, or anything like that).
  2. Find a way to cope with your brothers not doing their job (do it yourself, pay for a cleaning lady and threaten your brothers to pay her with their savings, etc..).
  3. Find a way to not be the one in charge next time (tell your mother you'll leave too this week-end and there's no possible negotiation).
  • She leaves under her parents roof, in this case as an adult you often have to make concessions. Being the one in charge as the first kid is often one of them.
    – Rolexel
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 12:31

Could you arrange to be out of the house for some or all of the time when your parents are away?

You'd need your mom to agree to this before doing it though. When you all get home and the place is a mess, you can't be held accountable, and can say something along the lines of "I told you so", but maybe phrased more like "this is the kind of thing I have to deal with when I'm here - I'm pretty sure they can clear up their own mess, but they prefer to leave it to me".

Of course, you may find that this 'backfires' and your brothers make the place spotless 10 minutes before your parents get home. However, in that case, you can say "oh wow - they really can clean up after themselves, and they don't need me to nag them to do it. Well, roll-on next time you're away, as I should have a much easier time of it".

[in response to comment] This approach essentially forces one of two outcomes, either of which are beneficial to you. There's no outcome which doesn't help you, so there's no danger of coming home and having your mom say "I don't know what you were fussing about, your brothers are angels!" (or whatever).

However, it only 'presents' once and so requires mom to be aware of it (or else she may just think it's a 'one off' and not consider it carefully enough). Also, by pre-warning mom, you're highlighting that you perceive a problem that you're struggling to solve directly and that you need her help with it. All of that further reinforces the importance of whatever happens when you all get home after your parents have been away.

  • Yeah, could you add details about why you think this will work? Were you in a similar situation in the past where you successfully use this technic?
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 11:49

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