My College:
Dear Adina

What Should I Do About My Smelly Son?

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

We have a 20 and a 22 year old. This season has been so much more challenging than I ever knew to prepare myself for. A friend recently shared your resources with me and they have been incredibly helpful! So first of all, thank you!

Secondly, I would love any advice as to how to deal/not deal with our young adult whose hygiene is very lacking. We raised our sons to shower regularly (with soap lol), pick up their belongings, etc. Since one of our sons has entered young adult age, WOW, his hygiene habits are almost nonexistent. Any tips from your experts about this?


Dear Parent,

Yes, stinky offspring, no matter how much they warm our hearts, are nasally offensive. Enforcing basic requirements of hygiene are no different from enforcing any other basic requirements of having him live in your home. Your rules are your rules, and the nose knows what the nose wants.

If this is more of a "how do I tell him without hurting his feelings?" situation, being direct takes the least amount of time (and requires the least amount of nose-holding) and leaves no room for interpretation.

I would suggest something like, "I love you with all my mama/papa-bear heart, but that beautiful man body I gave life to smells bad bad bad. Go take a shower. Every day." He also may need some education around how and how often to wash clothes and sheets.

If this is more of a "how do I get him to follow through on bathing, etc." situation, then it's an issue of boundary and limit-setting. Personal boundaries are about protecting one's physical space and sense of safety and comfort.

An assault to the nostrils is just as unsettling as a body slam, and your nose is entitled to the same protection as the rest of you. You have a right to hold your son responsible for the invisible odor that extends past his personal space and into yours. Just because it's not visible doesn't mean he can pretend it's not there (even if he has gone nose-deaf to his own unique scent).

If his odor were a big neon sign that blared like a fog horn, you'd have every right to tell him to quiet that fog horn and turn off the neon while you're in the house. Identify the successful ways you've set limits and replicate those. Removal of privileges works for some parents, and finding incentives to help motivate developing a new habit works for others.

As a young adult, it doesn't have to be a secret that you're looking for a solution, and it's fine to recruit him to help solve it with you. It can also help to remind him that his ability to succeed in life will rely heavily on how he engages with other humans, and not repelling them with unclean body smells is one of the few things he can control.

Picking up one's room is a little less clear. The rule I enforced with my kids was that their rooms were their rooms, but they couldn't be death traps. No science experiments that used to be a sandwich growing under the bed, no sharp objects hiding under dirty towels. And when untidiness morphs into smelliness that wafts through the house, the same rules apply: you (the parent) get to call the shots on how smelly your house is allowed to be.

I do want to put a word in for staying alert as to whether your son's decline in hygiene is paired with other more worrisome things like being more withdrawn or feeling hopeless, which could mean he's struggling with some depression. It's not uncommon, when one feels immobilized by depression, to simply not have the energy to take a shower. He may even be aware of needing to improve his hygiene but feel too stuck to improve it. A good therapist will be able to help him with that.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    1 week ago
    CollegiateParent

    “Stop acting like a girl!”

    Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…

    Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.

    As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?

    It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.

    Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.

    I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.

    You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.

    Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.

    Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.

    I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.

    By Dr. Lulu
    ... See MoreSee Less

    “Stop acting like a girl!”  Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…  Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.  As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?  It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.  Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.  I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.  You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.  Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.  Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.  I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.  By Dr. Lulu

    Comment on Facebook

    Your daughter’s smile in this picture is everything!

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