Watching my friend's son try to fill the kettle recently was painful. Having been asked by his mum to do the deed, Dan (15) didn't even know how to take the lid off. Once he'd mastered that tricky feat, he then proceeded to overfill the darn thing, so that when it eventually boiled there was scalding water all over the kitchen surface before we knew it.
Hilary and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders . 'Boys,' we said, sheepishly, as she jumped up and crossily cleared away the mess. But it got us thinking – why was an otherwise bright lad so inept at such a simple task, especially since his two sisters (one older, one younger) are so much more domesticated?
'You know what, it's us,' decided my friend after a while. She's right.
How many times have we said in the past to our sons: 'Leave it, I'll do it, you'll make a right mess'? and grabbing the tin of unopened beans, proceeded to make their lunch, or put their laundry away or tell them to leave their dirty crockery in the sink because we would prefer to load the dishwasher ourselves?
Control freak mums (like me) need to look at their own behaviour before assuming teenage boys (or girls) are useless around the home.
Valerie Outram from ParentLine Plus (a national charity providing help and support to anyone caring for children) says more often than not it's the combined personalities of the parent and child which will determine the child's behaviour around the home, not necessarily a gender issue.
'Actually you tend to find boys are the ones who can be a bit obsessive about putting things in order or keeping things tidy,' she says. 'However what might be happening sometimes is that boys can also be more boisterous, charging about and bashing into things, and as they get bigger and noisier, it may be that their mothers shoo them away, because they may find that behaviour annoying.'
Indeed. Before you know it, we've swept our little boys away from the kitchen, out into the garden with a football, as we begin the daily drudgery of tidying up after them and restoring things to our perceived 'norm'. Yet if your child is happy to sit quietly at the kitchen table, drawing or making things, they're more likely to be welcome to stay close by. Before you know it, they're making you a cup of coffee and a wonky jam sandwich. And so what if the kitchen side isn't as immaculately left as it was found in the process – you're so touched you somehow don't mind.
Hannah, mother to Harry, 11, and Lucy, seven, knows all too well the huge impact your own familial experience can have on how you behave – and how your children respond to this. 'I came from a chaotic household where nothing had its place and really we had a pretty free rein. Whilst I then craved order in my own home, I realised pretty early on in motherhood that my expectations for what our children had to do to keep the order I craved were, actually, rather excessive.'
Instead, Hannah has tried to find a middle road, where both her children are expected to pull their weight, and she has tried to consciously resist the urge to allow the child off who doesn't do things to her spec. 'Yes it's tricky – but if you insist on having things done your way or not at all – you just make one hell of a large rod for your already-overburdened back,' she muses.
Valerie Outram offers further timely advice: 'Actually the most effective thing you can do as a parent is develop a positive relationship with your child, setting boundaries but giving lots of love. Listen to your child, encourage them. Once they feel safe and secure the rest usually follows.'
Do your sons help around the house? Or are you guilty of doing it yourself for an 'easy' life?