Never too late

One of my dearest childhood friends sent me the message below. I told her I was equally inspired by her story and asked if I could share it here. Her kids are teenagers—it’s never too late to shift and shake things up!

I get it now. You inspired me. So I get home Sunday night and all is well. Kids and husband happy from the weekend. I note that Sarah’s prom dress is hanging on the kitchen chair and some hair styling tools are on the floor in the TV room. Backpacks are strewn around and books and papers about—homework day. Nothing unusual, but what follows is. So Monday I am in school all day helping with a project. I come home and rather than asking the kids questions about their day and homework situation, I go for a run. I come home and make dinner and am feeling very relaxed from our weekend away. That evening I download the Parenting On Track book and I start reading your blog. So enjoyable by the way! I spend most of Tuesday reading the book. Three chapters into it I decide to quit being the maid and I commit to not picking up after the kids and to do an abbreviated version of do nothing say nothing without telling them. Such a simple decision, and immediately the weight lifted off my shoulders. If I only had to clean up after myself, my whole day opened up—how freeing!

After school, Justin had two friends over and the kitchen quickly piled up with dirty dishes, pans and all sorts of debris from the boys making nachos and chocolate milk and not putting away one single thing. The empty bag of chips and bag of cheese sat on the counter instead of in the trash, the chocolate syrup bottle lay on its side and glasses and plates and utensils were all over the kitchen. The Tasmanian teenagers ate a ton and made a huge mess within minutes. Rather than cringing I was silently cheering inside—I wanted more mess to see how the kids would respond. After I made dinner for everyone I cleaned up my mess, including the pots I used to make dinner, but I left everything else. The friends did not clear their plates, the kitchen remained a war zone and we left for basketball. The next morning Justin made himself breakfast and left out the milk, his bowl and the cereal and went to school. Perfect. Sarah doesn’t eat breakfast, but she does leave her clothes and hair brushes strewn about the main floor. Perfect. A friend comes over and asks why I am living in a frat house. I explain and we have a good laugh. She is curious about this experiment and wants to try it at her house, but says that the dishes with the caked on food makes her “too nervous.”

By Wednesday evening Justin comes home and is visibly curious and somewhat disturbed that the house is still a mess. Sarah is oblivious, enjoying her snack surrounded by stale food and dirty dishes. I am sitting on the couch, feet propped up, reading. We chat about their day and Justin says, “This kitchen is a mess, I am going to clean it up.” I say nothing. He looks around, throws one thing away and then makes himself a banana with peanut butter. He comes back to me and we talk some more. Sarah leaves for PT. Justin asks what I did that day and I told him I went for a long run, did some stuff around the house, and went to lunch with a friend. Under his breath he says, “Well you didn’t clean the kitchen.” Secretly smiling inside I said as a matter of fact, “No, I didn’t.” He said, “It’s a mess.” I said, “I am well aware.” Then he looked confused. You could see his brain trying to process what was going on. After a few minutes, I gave in and said, “Justin, everything you see is either your mess or Sarah’s mess.” He paused, looked around the room for evidence to counter my claim, and then not finding any, he laughed in disbelief. He stood up, took an inventory of what was his, and cleaned up the kitchen. After he was done he said, “Wow, a lot of that mess was mine.” Music to my ears. First step achieved—awareness.

We talked and I explained that for the past few days I have been quietly observing him to see what would happen if I did nothing and said nothing. Then I proceeded to tell him all of the things that I noticed, including lots of great things that they do on their own, and how they enjoy each others company, and are responsible with their time etc. Thanks to Vicki, I then explained that dad and I have not done a good job teaching them how to pick up after themselves. We had good intentions, but now we know that we have deprived them of many opportunities to help out and contribute to our family.

An important lesson for me through all of this was my shift in thinking. In the past I would go through the cycle of trying to “get them” to pay attention to their messes, get frustrated when they did not clean up, then I would clean up and be resentful. While I sat quietly and watched them I understood that their lack of awareness was simply due to a lack of training and if I really wanted things to change, first I would have to be willing to change. I would have to be willing to commit to not saving them, to tolerate disorder, and to teach them to be self sufficient. I also came to realize that my children have different tolerances for mess. When I view it this way there is no judgement. Neither one is good or bad depending on their tolerance, just different. My daughter can tolerate a lot of mess, but she is also a calm, content, drama-free teenager. My son has a lower tolerance for mess, and he prefers order.

Justin is now “in on the game” and we are waiting for Sarah to realize that her stuff is all over the house and we have a bet on when she will make the effort to pick up on her own. My guess is that it will be a while. In the meantime I have explained to Justin that I will no longer pick up after him or Sarah. Their rooms and bathrooms are theirs to clean or not clean and it does not matter to me what they choose. I have asked Justin to think about ways we can keep the main living area clean without me or dad reminding or nagging.

This has been really fun! Last night he made a milkshake and cleaned up the mess. I know things won’t change overnight but this has been a great start. Thought you would appreciate the story.

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Miscellaneous

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