I am fortunate that my kids have their own bathroom. Just walking in there burns my eyes and makes me wonder how anyone can be relaxed enough to release the hounds in those kinds of conditions.
As I was walking by the other day, I had the joy of seeing dirty clothes and towels on the floor next to a few sheets of toilet paper rolling around on the floor. Then I noticed the roll was empty, and there was toothpaste on the window and shower curtain.
My three precious children were downstairs on the sofa laughing over some show and before I knew it I was at the top of the stairs shouting, “Hey, can you guys do me a favor and come and clean your bathroom? I don’t think these are healthy living conditions.”
As they slowly walked upstairs, looking like they were in severe pain, I realized having my kids keep their bathroom clean as a “favor” to me really didn’t make any sense since I don’t even use it. By asking them to do me a solid and not live like a bunch of, well, teenagers who don’t care if they can see their bathroom floor or have clean towels to use, I was sending the wrong message.
Yes, it makes me feel better when things are clean. My anxiety grows like dust bunnies under a sofa when I see a room, whose purpose is to keep you clean, all fucked up like my kids’ bathroom was that day. My toes are curling just thinking about it.
I do realize my kids are not me and they can concentrate on their video games and homework regardless of the conditions surrounding them. In fact, my youngest can do anything with a pile of toys surrounding his head, a few water glasses and dirty spoons in plain sight. I have no idea where he got this life skill. It certainly wasn’t from me.
It’s not important to them that the towels get hung up. They don’t notice if they’ve left behind sticky sludge from some secret recipe they’ve made in the kitchen that’s sure to have gobs of chocolate syrup and whipped cream in it. They can wade through their belongings on the floor with their heads in their cell phones and step over the shoes and backpack with ease.
You’d think that at least one of my three kids have my cleaning genes, but no such luck.
They are not like me; we are wired differently. Very differently. They ask me to relax about the state of the house just as much as I try to get them to pick up their messes.
But somewhere between teaching them how to tie their shoes and teaching them how to drive, my language around getting them to do things simply because it is basic human decency and cleanliness has been all wrong.
Instead of asking them (or telling them) to put away their dishes, I ask them to “do me a favor” and put their dishes in the dishwasher. When one of them throws something away and the contents of the garbage can fall over because it’s about to bust at the seams, I ask them to “do me a favor” and take out the trash.
In their minds, the only reason to clean up these days is to help their mother out. And there are times when they do it– like when they feel sorry for me after I’ve had a bad day, I’ve lost my shit on them, or I’ve taken away their cell phone.
But I need to change the dialogue here. I need to stop the whole “favor” and “you’re helping me out” act.
My kids live in these four walls too. They make bigger messes than me (or anyone I’ve ever known). I buy them nice shit. And it doesn’t take much effort on their part to pick their shit up — even though, to them, putting coats and phone chargers in the correct place feels like a special kind of torture.
This is what you do when you live together. You do your part because you are taking up space and air and use the heat and hot water.
Having the decency to clean up after yourself and do regular chores without whining and complaining is not a favor to me — or anyone else. I can’t believe how long I’ve been framing my kids cleaning up as a way to make me feel better.
That sounds like I want them to take pity on me, and like they need a reason — other than “it’s the right thing to do” — to do it.
When they leave this house and are living on their own, they can be as messy as they want and not have to clean up after themselves. And I’ll try really hard not to say something like, “Hey, can you do me a favor and clean your pad before I come over?”
But knowing they will one day have a space of their own and how well it’s kept will depend solely on their willingness to clean it scares the living daylights out of me. So I’ll just keep on reminding them to do the right thing and not leave a trail of debris wherever they go.
For the good of everyone, not just me.