I’ve talked before about my tendencies to be a control freak. I do things myself because it’s just faster that way. I die a little on the inside each preschool drop off as my three year old takes about 12 years to move her backpack from the floor in front of her cubby to inside the cubby itself. I live life in a hurry, and I try my best to move as quickly as possible from one task to the next.
I never considered how my need to rush was actually making my stress level even higher. Logically, I know I’m probably too stressed all the time, especially considering the fact that I work part time from home. What is there to be stressed about, actually? But there it is, creeping down my spine and tightening at my temples. I’m weighed down by my own task list.
I was lamenting to a friend about how hard it is to be the person who does everything. Like most kids, my children believe that each toy belongs on the floor in the exact spot they lost interest in it. Meaning, some days you can’t see the color of my carpet throughout the entire house because toys are littered everywhere. I can’t even vacuum because I can’t possibly get to the floor in the first place!
I wake up. Start the coffee. Make breakfast for the kids. Pull out the lunches I packed the night before and add ice packs. Fill water bottles for each child and set them out. Pull put the kid’s backpacks and set them near the lunch boxes, double checking that their agendas have been signed and homework folders are accounted for. Wake them up. Shower. Wake them up again. Threaten them a few times to get out of bed. Finish getting ready in time to come downstairs and remind them to stop playing and eat. At this point, I’ve been awake for an hour and I’m already tired.
Nights are worse. The kids get home from school and I help with homework, cook dinner, try to get the kids to eat dinner, clean up the dinner, clean up the kitchen, and by the time I’m done sweeping the floor it’s time to start the bath time routine. All the while they’ve been playing and leaving toys all over the house. I’m irritable and tired and most of all, tired of doing it all myself.
My husband gently reminded me that the kids don’t help because I don’t let them. I’m the one that trained them to leave the mess to me because it’s faster to do it myself. My own impatience to get things done was preventing me from ever having downtime, because I had to do all the things myself.
I started with a chore chart. I picked little things they could do to help me stop feeling so overwhelmed with keeping up in housework. Boo can vacuum a room, MM can wipe down a toilet. It kind of worked.
I tried my best not to hover, and I tried to bite my tongue when I realized that to a kid, vacuuming a room meant just pushing the vacuum to the center of the room and then turning it off.
Our activity schedule picked up and the chores fell by the wayside. I ended up re-discovering Fly Lady and their chores weren’t actually helping anymore as I followed my modified version of her routine, so I didn’t make much of an effort to reinstate them. The house was starting to run like a well-oiled machine, but I was still irritable at doing it all.
It dawned on me, however, that not enforcing chores and personal responsibility was doing a disservice to them. As a mother, it’s my job to prepare them for the world, and I’m certainly not going to follow them around to make sure they remember their water bottles in college.
So we are now starting again. I still set out the lunch boxes, because MM can’t reach the top shelf easily. But they make their own breakfasts now (and also make breakfast for Little Bear). Most of the week, they pack their own lunches. I don’t touch their backpacks; if they forgot to pack something in it, that’s on them. Natural consequences. I manage the actual cleaning, but they are in charge of picking up their own rooms and picking up the toys each night. We all work together to get the house reset each night. And of course, they complain the whole time, but I wouldn’t expect anything else. Picking up toys is boring, who actually wants to do it?
It’s not my job to make every moment of their lives fun, it’s my job to raise them into responsible, compassionate adults.
So yes, in the beginning it makes me crazy. Trying not to hover as they s-l-o-w-l-y empty the dishwasher together can be a painful experience for me. But this isn’t just about me not wanting to do all the work– when they grow up and move out, they are going to need to know how to clean a toilet. Mama’s not coming over to do that for you!