At our house, we have a girl dorm. 3 daughters aged 9, 11 and 15 sharing a room. Calling it a room can be a stretch: some days it amounts to a pit, also known as a dump. This post is not an attempt to shame my daughters into cleanliness — well, maybe a little — but rather a reflection on what it takes to raise children who pick-up after themselves. Caveat: I have no clue (yet).
You may think that this room has not been cleaned in 6 months but it was picked-up three days ago. You will also notice by the large cushion on the floor that a large dog sleeps there too, although she has recently taken to sleeping in the hallway. She was probably concerned that her sleeping accommodations violated about half a dozen animal welfare laws in 9 provinces.
I can hear you object: “But Vero, have you thought that taking dirty laundry to the laundry room might place an onerous burden on a young person’s time?” To this I reply with exhibit A, a picture of the laundry room taken from the doorway of the girls’ dorm. They don’t even have to pick-up their clothes; they can just kick it over. Heck, what do you think I do?
Anyway, I have a friend who has a large family and keeps a very clean house. My question, when I look at my house is “would I be embarrassed if she came over now?” The answer is always yes because she cleans her baseboards weekly. I like to hold myself to unattainable standards, it keeps me out of trouble.
So I set out on a mission to sort out the girls’ room. But here’s the rub: they don’t give a crap. No, let me rephrase that. They like it when it’s tidy… But not enough to do it themselves . And the biggest offender — the older sister– she really doesn’t give a rat’s ass. She’s 15. What have you done for her lately?
I need a solution that will not only assuage my need for a tidy home but also teach a thing or two to my daughters. Because really, I don’t want my children to learn that their shit will get picked-up if only they wait long enough. Seriously: after the twins were born I waited for quite a while for the en-suite bathroom to clean itself. It didn’t. In fact, it almost picked itself up and walked away but it did not clean itself!
I toyed with the idea of putting all the girls’ clothes in my bedroom. They would need to apply for a piece of clothing upon which application I would determine whether the requested item was in fact needed. But how much more drama do I need on a weekday morning? In the end, I decided to cut them off their clothes intervention-style. They now have 3 pyjamas, 3 pairs of pants, their school uniforms, 2 hoodies and a reduced selection of t-shirts and sweatshirts. There.
How is reducing the clothes offering helping my children learn to pick-up after themselves? It has to do with the cardinal rule of parenting — no, not bribery — expectations management. Cutting things down to bite-sized pieces increases the likelihood that your children will be able to handle them. Giving my children 3 pjs to fold and put away sets them up for success and sets me up for satisfaction. I call this a win-win. We form the habit of picking-up with tasks that can be performed reliably and completely before taking them up a notch. We also set them up for success by avoiding pitfalls. For example, a neatly folded pile of 15 pyjamas asks to be knocked-over when the child wants to wear the pair at the bottom of the pile.
As for the room, I cleaned it myself.