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Ask Amy: Child laborer fed up with demanding parents

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DEAR AMY: I’m a 12-year-old girl with three older siblings, ages 14, 16 and 17. My parents make us clean the house every weekend. Every time we’re done, my mom or dad will yell about how we didn’t do the job right.

I love my parents to death, and they give me a lot, but this is getting tiring. It feels as if they’re never happy with the work we do. It doesn’t matter if it takes me 30 minutes or two hours — they’re still not happy. I try to tell them I’m trying my best, but they just yell.

I’ve been cleaning my house since I was 7 or 8 because, being the youngest, I started earlier than my siblings.

I want to ask you what’s the best way to approach my parents without their yelling at me and saying I’m lying. I feel they see me as a maid sometimes, and I don’t know what to do. Is it just me being lazy, or is it my parents, or both? -- Tired

DEAR TIRED: I’m hardly impartial because I am a parent, and while I seldom raise my voice, my daughter once told me that I “yelled with my eyes.” I’m also a former kid who, at your age, was working with my siblings toting milk pails each night on our dairy farm. I remember the discouraged feeling you describe when you feel nothing you do is “right.”

When you are older, you’ll look back on your childhood labor and in all likelihood be very happy that you worked at home, but for now it might ease your frustration if you asked your parents to write down a chore chart, breaking down your cleaning duties. On the chart they can list step-by-step instructions and goals. As you go through your chores, you can check off each of these as you finish. For instance: “Laundry: Remove clothes from dryer, sort, fold and put away.”

Nothing bugs parents more than a job they consider half-done. Communicate with your folks about what exactly constitutes a finished job, and ask them to recognize it when you do it well. Sometimes we parents are so busy yelling with our eyes that we forget to say “thank you!”

DEAR AMY: You answered a letter from “Worried” about how to help a friend who was being abused by her husband. Your advice was fine, but it didn’t go far enough.

I have been verbally abused by my husband for years. It is very destructive. It is so destructive that until very recently I have been too depressed to leave.

One helpful thing I did was seek out an organization in my local area that helps victims of domestic abuse. It has a 24-hour hotline and advocates listen and provide counsel. They also refer callers to other organizations for additional help.

I attended various support groups for female victims of domestic abuse and started reclaiming myself and my energy. I also spoke with police officers and learned that it is illegal for my husband to keep me in a room if I want to leave that room, and that he could be arrested on that basis. I attended the support groups for three years and learned a lot.

This is a serious situation. Police are not very effective in protecting a woman from a determined and violent abuser. For many women, the verbal abuse does more serious and lasting damage than the physical abuse. -- Survivor

DEAR SURVIVOR: Thank you for courageously offering your story as an example. I hope you have continued healing. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org) is available for counseling and referral 24 hours a day: 800-799-SAFE (7233).

DEAR AMY: Responding to your annual call out for “worst gifts,” I’ve had a few worst gifts, but my perennial favorite is paper plates and used wire coat hangers. -- Recovered Memory

DEAR RECOVERED: Ingrate! Fortunately, laughing about these gifts takes the sting away. Readers can follow my funny Twitter feed on worst gifts: @santahatesme.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

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