My Greatest Parenting Failure
When the stay-at-home requirement was put in place in my community, I decided I was going to redo my biggest parenting mistake––enforcing household chores. I had visions of my teenage son making his bed every day: folding the top sheet over the blanket, tucking in the sides, fluffing the pillows, and arranging his throw in a perfect rectangle. No longer would I see his dirty laundry scattered on the floor, but rather, placed in his hamper. He’d empty his garbage can, take his evening glass of water and place it in the dishwasher the following morning, and his schoolwork would be piled neatly on his desk. He and his sister would take turns vacuuming the floors in the house, emptying the dishwasher, and wiping the kitchen counters after we eat.
My fantasy remained just that––a fantasy. Unfortunately, my children haven’t helped me with the household chores, and the only person to blame is––me.
On the days when I stay on top of the cleaning, I’m okay with my children’s lack of assistance, but other days, I get fed up and make nasty, backhanded comments to them. But the truth is, I was the one who gave up trying to get them to clean to my standards. Constantly nagging my son to straighten up his room was draining. So I subconsciously picked the lazier route and did it myself. I’m aware that what I’m doing is a disservice to all of us.
My mother-in-law raised my husband the same way. In the early years of our marriage, we would bicker about how messy he was. After work, he’d take his socks off and throw them across the room, leave dishes in the sink, crumbs on the counter, and dirty clothes everywhere but the hamper. I took the lazier route with him, too. Rather than fight, I found it was easier to clean up after him. Over the years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t turn my husband into a neat freak like I wish he would be, and that if I don’t remind him to put his clothes in the hamper, he won’t do it. He is, however, respectful when I go out of town, doing his best to straighten up before I get home. Although his cleaning is not exactly stellar, I, nonetheless, appreciate his efforts, and I’m grateful he tried.
Sometimes I wish I could turn the clock back and start over, teaching my kids, particularly my son, (my daughter is much better about keeping her room tidy) how to make his bed neatly and clean his room properly. I remember when the kids were little, we would sing Barney’s “Clean Up Song” together and pick up their toys and put them back where they belonged. My cute toddlers loved this little game of ours. Back then, they thought cleaning was fun rather than a dreadful chore.
But what happened? Where did I go wrong when they got older?
Most likely, it fell apart when they started school, and we found ourselves rushing in the morning, attempting to arrive on time. Every now and then, usually at the start of a new school year, I would try to get them to make their beds when they woke up, but as the year progressed and the kids got older and needed more sleep, I never forced them to stick to it. Periodically, I would make a chore chart, rewarding them with allowances when they kept up with it. Like everything else, that too fell by the wayside.
Life has taught me that how we think about our circumstances serves as the lens through which we perceive our experiences. In other words, I have the freedom to choose how I want to view my current situation. From a negative standpoint, I can beat myself up for failing to get my kids to help around the house, but other than making myself angry, where is that going to get me? On the other hand, I can let it go and focus on my children’s positive attributes. They’re polite, loving, compassionate, have good values, work hard in school, and are loyal to their friends. At home, they always clear their plates and put them in the dishwasher, and from what I’ve been told, they do the same when they eat at someone else’s house.
Despite my enlightened perspective on this matter, I’m sure I’ll continue to cringe when I walk into my son’s room and find empty soda cans and bags of chips lying around, dirty clothes tossed everywhere, and his bed unmade. But then I’ll need to remind myself that this time is fleeting, and in a few short years, he’ll be graduating from high school and moving out of the house. Somehow, when he’s ready and living on his own, he’ll figure out how to pick up after himself. Maybe he’ll realize that living in a clean environment feels better. Then again, he might not—and if that’s the case, so what, for it will no longer be my problem.