"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Peace With The Mess

Late last night, the boys were very involved in a project.  They were shredding some old documents for us (which turned into shredding other things, which turned into cutting faces out of magazines....)  There was paper strewn all over the pantry.  We asked them to clean it up before they went to bed, and they did.  Which meant that quite a few other things did not get picked up.

A little tour of our floor this morning, if I may:

The blood pressure cuff to Tegan's dr kit.  And the chalk that they use on the chalkboard wall.  That's the head of a zebra in there.  Doesn't everyone keep their zebra heads in their chalk buckets?
Someone must have felt the need for some weight training while they were working on legos.
Bathing suit Dora.  One of many, many, Doras who live here.
One of her favorite pieces of the dr's kit.   On the step to the family room.
Really, these tools were spread throughout the entire house.  No bag in sight.
We have more Nerf bullets than we do Doras.
More legos.
And more legos.
Dora's parents.  And a princess.
Sometimes you can't choose what game you want until you've spread them out and touched them all.
A horse.  He was next to the biggest pile of legos.
Remote control General Lee.  I hadn't seen this for a long time, but Spencer's been watching Dukes of Hazzard again, so out it came.
Hey look, the doctor's bag!  And a shoe.

A couple of truths about messes:

1. Kids make them.
2. As parents, we either need to learn to live in them, or find a way to get them picked up.

Pretty basic, right? Yet somehow, parents find a way to complicate it... to screw it all up and let it become not just an issue, but a tremendously huge issue.

I'm so sick of this mess!
Why won't they pick up after themselves?
Do I have to do everything myself?

And it seems to me that too often, people who get really stressed about the mess kids make will do one of two things:

Nag, yell, threaten, complain... and nag some more... until the kids pick it up.  (In his worst moments, my husband would tend towards this option.)


Make a big production of picking it up themselves, huffing and sighing and generally letting everyone around them know what selfless, sacrificing martyrs they are.  (And in my worst moments, I would tend towards this option.)

In every relationship, but particularly in my relationship with my children, my first inclination is to strive for authenticity.  I strive to follow that voice in my heart, and in my gut... that voice that tells me when something doesn't feel right.  But beyond that, when I'm met with a choice, I always try to ask myself if a response is logical.

Do either of the above options make any kind of logical sense?

In option one, the toys get picked up... but the kids feel lousy (none of us likes to get nagged at or yelled at or belittled), the parent feels lousy (it does not feel good, or right, to treat people that we love in that way).  The relationship is damaged, and you get further from the goal of having a peaceful household.

No one wins.

And in option two, the toys get picked up... but the kids feel lousy (no one likes a guilt trip), the parent feels lousy (it does not feel good, or right, to do something out of resentment).  The relationship is damaged, and you get further from the goal of having a peaceful household.

No one wins.

I'd like to present a third option.  In option three, no one yells, no one nags, and no one huffs.  In option three, it is a CHOICE to clean up, by all parties.  It is CHOICE to either live in the mess, or to put it away... together, or by yourself.

If I am bothered by a mess, then I will pick up... happily, and joyfully, because it's something I'm choosing, and because it feels nice - to me - to make things clean again.  Right before I sat down to write this post, I took twenty minutes and put everything pictured above back into their respective places.  Because I wanted to.

If I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messes, then I will ask the kids for their help (and asking, by the way, means that they too have the option to say no)  Nine times out of ten they will pitch in, gladly.  And the 1 percent of the time they don't?  It still gets done.  It just takes a little longer.

Everyone's tolerance level for messes is different.  I've come to the somewhat surprising realization that I am much happier, and calmer, when things are relatively clean and orderly.  (I say relatively because if you've been in my house, you know that even at its very best, it's still not even a notch above "lived in."  And that's okay)  It's taken me a long time to reconcile that truth about myself, because I am, ironically, a huge slob.  But having some sort of routine to keep at least a minimum standard of clean helps me.  I like it when I get to empty the dishwasher first thing in the morning, and fill it throughout the day.  I like it when I keep up with laundry, instead of letting it pile up.  I like it when I wake up to a shiny counter and clean kitchen table.  It feels good to keep up with those things, and to keep the house nice for the rest of the family.

But I don't believe for a second that it's fair to impose that on the kids, whose entire lives are about playing, exploring, learning, experimenting.... and making messes.  When I set an example of keeping things clean and running smoothly, they do tend to follow suit.   We have a good relationship, and when I ask them at the end of the day to pick something up, they do.  But that's not my goal.  My goal is to keep a happy home, and follow my own path, and my own level of comfort, when it comes to housekeeping.

But won't they grow up to live in a pig sty if they're not made to pick up after themselves as kids?

They're going to grow up the way they grow up.  They're going to keep their own houses as messy or as neat as they like, despite what I may or may not do as a parent.   And I feel like it's worth noting:  Some of the messiest adults I know are those who were forced to do chores and clean up as kids.    They're messy adults, and they most likely resent their parents to boot.  

To be honest, I'm not concerned about whether or not my future grown children have dishes piled in their sinks or rings around their tubs or projects strewn all over their desks.  What I'm concerned about is having a peaceful, cohesive, happy household now... one in which we all respect each others' needs, feelings, and space.

If I go to bed happy, and my kids go to bed happy, then I consider my job well-done.

Even if there are still legos on the floor.


Jessica said...

Oh, I love you more for the "mess" pictures!

I, too, am a natural slob, but my brain is much more at peace when thinks are relatively organized and not terribly dirty.

And I'm bad about occasionally resorting to exasperation or nagging.

I think it's better to work along side the kids to help them clean, then to just tell them to do it. Because, at this point, with the ages of mine, they're going to get sidetracked and not do it, which is only going to make me more frustrated.

jen said...

Oh I absolutely agree about working along side them! Especially with four kids, I can tell them - and mean it - that if we all work together we can get it done quickly.

JoAnn said...

Hi, I'm JoAnn and I am a huffing, sighing, selfless cleaning martyr. Of all the shifts we have made in our radical unschooling this one has been the hardest for me and my husband. We are 7 people living in a small space. It gets cluttered quickly and I get overwhelmed easily.I don't get help very often and I have a 15yo and 12yo. I have a lot of repair work to do. I hope that by doing things differently now that it will be better with my younger 3 girls. Right now the only one who willingly helps is the 2yo. LOL

Heather said...

This is awesome, Jennifer-- we basically have had this sort of attitude for a long time (though I usually ask the kids to help do a quick clean up on Fridays since we do Sabbath) but their rooms? Yeah--I will help them clean if they are having issues and can't cope but otherwise I leave them to their own. So far when I have asked them to just help me by putting that toy or those shoes away they are doing it without even thinking (and certainly not arguing) which is a really nice change. :) I am really really wondering if God allowed that mess yesterday to happen so I could feel what my kids were feeling because it really was so similar to how I have been treating them which is horrifying.

Wendy Cooluris said...

I grew up in a messy home and all of my sibling learned a lot of other skills besides cleaning up...like cooking, baking, trying out things we have never done before, crafts, sports...the most important thing my parents taught me...how to acquire skills...and that took a lot of their time...so much time that we just didn't quite get to keeping our house clean enough to compare to another home.

A few times as a teenager I was embarrassed, but as adult I am so grateful for the confidence I have in doing things (cooking/baking without recipes, making toys for my son, building shelves....). The few times I felt awkward have given way to years of being capable. My biggest challenge from being raised that way is seeing that I have to find ways to cope with the mess...because mess it will be.


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