It’s Not About the Deodorant

UnknownWow! What a journey I’ve been on in better understanding the culture in which we all parent! I’m usually a minimal blog reader. I have a couple favorites, but I have never really spent much time leaving comments or getting into discussion groups. UNTIL NOW! (LIKE The Humbled Homemaker on Facebook to better see the name-calling extravaganza on July 2nd and 3rd…YIKES!)

Rather than sharing a little light-hearted parenting blog conducive to laid back summer reading, I witnessed a firestorm of angry parents. Angry at me. My crime? Admitting to not forcing my kids to wear deodorant.

The very concept of not forcing my kids to do something was labeled “ridiculous,” “crazy,” “lazy,” “stupid,” “ignorant,” “weak,” and a thesaurus more.

But is it that ridiculous?

Can you force your toddler to stop crying?

Can you make a five-year-old go to sleep?

Can you make a three-year-old poop on the potty?

Can you make your spouse listen to you more intently or care for you more deeply?

Sometimes it might be wise to recognize where our greater power lies. Unlike the screaming toddler or the insomniac preschooler, I actually could make my kids wear deodorant. And I did for a while–because I agree with the screaming masses: “that’s what good parents do.”

But then reminding got old. And I wanted results faster. I wanted them to wear it without my reminders because it’s good for them—not just for me. I wanted them to “own it.” I wanted to step back and allow their maturing selves to step forward.

And they did–in a matter of weeks. (OK, one outlier took a couple extra months and an added consequence, but he’s drinking the hygiene Kool-Aid now.)

Perhaps many people won’t see success this fast and that’s the reason they return to reminding and punishing and “showing them who’s boss around here.”

One of the reasons backing off encouraged our four boys to step up, is that none of them have a desire to rebel and work against my husband and me. They kind of like us. And respect us—as parents, not friends.

We’ve got some rules and structure and they know those are there for their well-being but not their control. They are free to make mistakes and hopefully learn something in the process. Isn’t that how God treats us?

Biblical principles are good for us, but no one forces us to obey. And there are consequences for disobeying.

Our general house rule with four teenagers is, “Don’t do stupid stuff.” But we don’t micro-manage and get into their business, because they keep making great decisions. To quote Ronald Reagan, we “trust, but verify,” and by doing so we both win.

My 18-year-old recently told me, “I think that you and I have it the best we can. I’m a pretty great kid and you’re a pretty great mom.”

A poor decision is an opportunity to teach not freak. I’m OK with the kids making mistakes. It is not my job as a parent to ensure that they never make a single mistake. 

The Bible is clear that we are to be careful not to “exasperate” our children. Exasperate means infuriate, madden, frustrate, drive mad. Why should we be careful of this? Because when we “drive them mad,” we are wasting the wisdom we have. They’ll want to isolate from us rather than draw close to us.

When we find our relationship with our teens exemplified by yelling, arguing, reminding, complaining and ordering, it might be time to try something new. Or not. Each parent can decide if they enjoy how they are parenting and make changes if they want.

I enjoy helping my boys become men. It’s satisfying and rewarding.

Let’s give our kids credit that they will not allow their teeth to rot out. Having to pay his own money or work to pay off a cavity (that is painful to drill) was a very powerful motivator for one son. If kids would need too many more consequences, something else might be off in the parent/child relationship that they are refusing what is good for them.

Ironically, the child who needed the most “help” figuring out the brushing habit is now the one who actually FLOSSES daily and uses liters of dental rinse annually. :-) 

To those worried about their child being the “stinky kid in class” (a common fear from those who commented), mine figured it out long before being labeled that.

Why wouldn’t they?

I love the reader who suggested that driving would come only after they have shown responsibility in personal hygiene. What a great idea if any of my kids had waited that long to figure it out! That’s the kind of thinking that is useful in helping teens find their way without constant interference until they are out of the house.

Let me address the masses’ fears of having “The Stinky Kid:” sadly, as a middle school teacher, I found that the rare child who smelled regularly was a child who needed adults bringing wisdom and compassion rather than eye-rolling. I was not looking for a parent to blame for the smell. I assumed that their life challenges were so great that getting their child to school was the best they could do. Grace.

Let’s stop scrutinizing other people’s children in hopes of finding the parenting flaw behind them.

We have incredible potential to influence our teens. This was not a blog simply about deodorant or teeth brushing. This was a blog about maximizing our impact on the next generation by strategically using the power we do have to encourage rather than continuing to remind long after it should be needed.

Of course you can remind if you want to.

I was just ready to teach other things like how to treat a girl and how to manage finances and how to repair drywall and how to respect a boss and how to…



It’s Not About the Deodorant


  1. Last year, I gave up on insisting that my preteen brush his teeth each morning. My requests went completely ignored.

    One morning his teacher told him he had dragon breath and needed to use mouth wash.

    From that day forward, he has NEVER left the house without fresh minty breath.

    Sometimes what they won’t learn at home, they learn on the “field trip of life”

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