Subtitle: Or that time I threw my kids’ stuff all over the family room to prove a point.
One of my biggest “mommy meltdown” triggers is mess. Not so much the mess itself but the attitude that accompanies it. I can live with a bit of clutter, but the lack of concern that the other residents of my house seem to show their personal belongings and our shared space by carelessly leaving everything everywhere, happily stepping over the “stuff” in their paths going about their business drives me batty.
I have a tendency to lecture and of course I’ve found that this is not particularly effective at getting my point across to two hyperactive kiddos. (Read about the last time this happened here). So WHAT THE HECK DO I DO??
Is there anyone out there who can honestly say that they have no trouble getting their kids to pick up after themselves? Who never finds themselves sighing and tidying it all up yet again, deciding it’s just not worth the fight today? Who has found the solution to the age-old problem of their kids (and spouses too…and heck, probably themselves also) always letting the chips, not to mention the Cheerios, markers, Legos, and dress-up, stuff fall where they may?
If there is, for goodness’ sake, please drop me a line and tell me HOW YOU DID IT…but for the rest of you, let us take a moment here to commiserate…
As a parent, it seems like my life is a constant battle against a slowly encroaching mass of clutter. No matter how often we cull our “stuff” and deliver carloads to Value Village – and vow not to buy any more crap to replace it…No matter how many times we lecture Ben and Molly about picking up after themselves….No matter how many times Ian and I both vow to turn over a new leaf ourselves, find a place for everything and everything in its place and THIS TIME WE’RE REALLY SERIOUS.
And by virtue of being the adult who spends the most time in the house, most of the time when something needs doing around here, including picking up the clutter and cleaning up the messes, I’m the one who winds up doing it.
This weekend Ian tackled a “Honey-Do” list of yard work while I took a break from house and kid stuff and concentrated on work stuff. He stepped up and exceeded expectations – the yard looks fantastic, we ate like kings, and the kids even got bathed! He figured he was on a roll, I guess, and while cooking dinner, he directed the kids to tidy up their craft corner.
Ben and Molly are very fortunate to have an incredible craft corner – a table and chairs in the corner of the family room surrounded by shelves and drawers full of craft supplies; heaven for a couple of creative kids like them. The only trouble is that whenever they emerge with the products of their creative process, the corner looks like a battlefield upon which pixies mounted on My Little Ponies waged a war to the death armed with pipecleaners and tapeffiti.
Oh, the humanity…
So when Ian issued his directive, the kids launched into their usual laundry list of complaints: “I don’t FEEL like it!” “I don’t LIKE tidying up!” “I wasn’t the one who MADE the mess!” “It’s TOO MUCH work! There’s TOO MANY things to pick up!”
With much prodding and reminding and at least one time out (Molly, natch), they got on with it, and fifteen minutes later Ben came to tell me they were done.
I went to inspect and found…less chaos, but still chaos – the bulk of the craft supplies had been put away, but the table and floor were still littered with scraps of paper, the odd pencil crayon, and pieces of torn cardboard packaging destined for the recycling box…and I kinda snapped.
In my defense, this is not a new issue. Ben and Molly are now 7 and 4. They have each had years of schooling in a Montessori classroom where they are responsible – from the age of 2 – for putting back every single item they take out before they start another activity. They are both ever-so-slightly nearsighted but I have no reason to believe that they are incapable discerning the difference between construction paper and carpet from a distance of 4 feet.
Cue the mommy tantrum: I ranted. I raved. I lectured. I self-pitied. And then I picked up a handful of papers and yelled, “This is what you guys do. You just toss stuff around, and then you say, ‘Oh well, I don’t want to pick it up…’” and tossed it in the air.
Ben and Molly said, “Hey!”
And then, just as suddenly, I became utterly calm. I slowly and deliberately picked up the rest of the pile of papers and I tossed it as high as I could in the air. Ben and Molly’s jaws dropped as it slowly drifted back down in soft construction-paper flurries.
Ben admonished, “Mommy! We JUST cleaned that all up!”
A slight smile playing at the corner of my lips, I said, “I know.
Ben demanded, “You did that on PURPOSE!! WHY did you do that?”
With a shrug, I said, “I don’t know. I just felt like it.”
Utterly indignant, Ben cried, “But we JUST cleaned it all UP!”
Nodding sagely, I said, “I know. And now you have to do it all again.”
Molly shouted, “NO!” stomping her foot for emphasis.
I smiled. “Yes.”
Ben argued, “But that’s not FAIR! We didn’t make the mess! We JUST finished cleaning it up!”
I agreed cheerfully, “That’s true. You did. Now do it again.
Molly countered, “NO! You do it!”
I grinned broadly and replied, “Nope. I don’t feel like it. I don’t actually like tidying up. It’s too much work. There’s too many things to pick up. You guys can do it for me.
Ben and Molly stared open-mouthed, and I walked away.
As I passed through the kitchen, Ian high-fived me and grinned. “Well played.”
By the time dinner was ready, the craft corner looked great. Over bangers and mash, we discussed why I had done it and how it made them feel. We talked about how we all like the house better when it’s tidy, because it looks nicer and we always know where to find our stuff. We discussed how no-one likes cleaning up messes, especially someone else’s, and about how putting things away as you go prevents messes in the first place. And after dinner we had a family race to put 10 things away each – winner got to choose dessert.
The real problem is, Ian and I are as much to blame as the kids – if not more so. We tell them we expect them to pick up after themselves, but we don’t do a very good job of setting the example. We walk around leaving stuff behind too – the only difference between us and them is that we *really* mean to put it away where it belongs at some point; just not right now.
Admitting we have a problem is the most important part, of course, and we are both trying to reform. It’s a vicious cycle, though – the more we try to pick up after ourselves, the more frustrated we get at the messes that remain, the more discouraged we get, and the more likely we are to backslide.
But we’re all going to work together as a family to keep each other on track, and hopefully it will make the difference.
I’ll keep you posted…