Parenting lesson #41: You have to clean up your messes.


Being essentially bedridden (on the couch) with my injury, I’m amazed at how many messes my children make that they don’t clean up, especially when all three are home all day.  Have I not taught them how to clean up after themselves?  No, that’s definitely not it.  I’m certain I’ve shown them millions of times.  They.  Simply.  Don’t.

While sitting here in wonderment about the clean socks strewn all over the couch, I have stumbled upon this two-year-old piece I wrote called “You have to clean up your messes.”  And I am marveling at how much repetition is required for teaching young ones … as well as old ones.  One of the most cyclical parenting lessons is how our kids show us daily how little we know and how much we still haven’t mastered.  Because we are constantly learning and evolving and becoming.  Enjoy!

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January, 2017

Last week, I had to teach Zach a lesson, and it was really painful for both of us.

I asked him if he could take out the trash for me.  I warned him it was heavy and he might not be able to get it up and into the can.  He came back in and said he did it.  I said, “Wow, you didn’t have any trouble?”  He said he didn’t.

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Late that night I was ready to go to bed but the dog had not returned to the door to come in.  Greg was out-of-town and it was 20 degrees.  I was not about to go looking for her.  I turned on the lights in the back; no sign of life.  I checked through the windows to make sure all the gates were closed.  They were.  Since she’s 14 ½-years-old and deaf, I couldn’t call her name and get her to come.  So I waited.  And waited.  Finally, I caught her right out the window, got her attention, and had her come in.

The next morning after I got the kids off to school, I looked out the dining room window and realized why I couldn’t find her.  She had been tearing apart the trash bag that Zach left outside next to the trash can.  There were vegetable and fruit skins, used tissues, and of course, the plastic wrap that had encased a now-consumed bag of rotten fish I had never gotten around to cooking.  (RIP, Abbey.  If you had one, your tombstone would say “stomach of steel.”)

I was fuming, not only because the dog had gotten to the trash, but because Zach had lied.  I decided to leave the mess for him to clean up.

We didn’t get home until just before dark that afternoon, and I told him he had to hurry.  In my unending graciousness, I decided to help him.  As he looked at the trash, he fussed and moaned and groaned and whined.  We got our large dust pan and broom and I began to help him.  As tears streamed down his face, he agonized, “This is SO DISGUSTING! I’m going to BARF!!!” Perhaps the worst part was that I had cleaned out their art supply caddy the day before when they were at school.  What that meant is I threw out some “priceless gems” without telling them (as we have ALL done).  As he choked back tears and bile, he also wondered aloud how I could get rid of his Frankenstein notepad without telling him, and why I would do such a horrible thing in the first place.

***

It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.

***

It was probably the worst 10 minutes of my week.  It made me feel bad about cleaning out their stuff, and it made me feel like I was a bad mom to make him clean up the mess.  It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.  Our kids are so good at making us feel like we’re bad parents when the opposite is true.  There are consequences to lying, and when you make a mess (or are responsible for one), you have to clean it up.  These are life lessons we must teach.  If we do these things for them, we’re doing them a disservice.  College is not the place to learn that your trash goes in the can, you have to put it there, and if you leave it out and a dog noses through it, you have to clean that up, too.

I’ve been called the worst mom in the world.  That happened a few days later when I made two of my three stay home with me for bickering while the other got to go out with friends who were visiting.  And I told my child, “When you say that to me, I know it means that I’m actually a good mom.”  And later that night, I got some of the best cuddles from that very same child.

Everybody lies sometimes.  And we all make messes.  The mess I had to clean was owning up to throwing out Zach’s prized art materials.  I apologized and he forgave me.

I did not promise not to do it in the future because I know I probably will.  If we kept everything the kids brought into this house, we’d be featured on “Hoarders.”  And so, as an adult, I’m capable of making that judgment about some items.  But I have learned, after many tears, that I should check about some items first and give the kids the chance to store things in their rooms if they truly cherish them.

I also know better now that if I’m going to secretly trash a Happy Meal toy, I’d better be the one who takes out the garbage.

***

Learning, growing … becoming.  I can’t wait to do more of these things in 2019!!!

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