Do What I Say, Not What I Do

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Categories Ask the Readers, Balance, Behavior, Discipline, Household and Family Management, Mommy Issues, Organization, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , ,

I’m a big believer in teaching by example.

If I’m going to talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. If I want my children to make healthy food choices, I need to make healthy food choices myself. If I want them to treat others with compassion, I need to do that in my own life. If I want them to be honest and open with me, I need to be honest and open with them. Whether or not my children are watching me, I try to model the things I want them to learn.

The problem is that I am messy. Really, really messy. I am good at many things, but tidying is not one of them. I am so bad at putting things away that two of my friends came over to help me move in and save me from myself. While the husband took all our kids to the nearest park to play, the wife walked me through my home, telling me where to put my things.

I’m great at cleaning, but lousy at tidying. In an hour, I can leave a bathroom sparkling and germ-free. My dirty laundry doesn’t pile up. Dirty dishes in the sink? Forget it! However, my bathroom counter is cluttered. When it comes to folding clean clothes and putting them away, I’m an abject failure. My kitchen counters are covered with mail, kitchen appliances, and spice containers. My dining table has a pile of books on it. My buffet is covered with paper. I moved into my house in August, and half unpacked boxes take up half my garage. The last time my daughters had a friend sleep over, she told me that I should really clean my room.

How can I realistically expect my children to clean their room when I leave the rest of the house, inlcuding my own room, a mess?

The one area of tidiness where I am consistently successful is the containment of dirty laundry. My dirty clothes always make it into the hamper. Therefore, I feel that this is an area in which I can insist the children follow suit. They don’t, though. Their bedroom floor is littered with worn clothes.

A month ago, I laid down the law. My daughters are 6 years old and dress themselves. I think this means that they can take ownership of discarding worn clothes appropriately. I would no longer wash clothes that didn’t make it into the girls’ laundry basket. Over the last several weeks, I have pushed their dirty clothes scattered on the carpet to the side of the room instead of helping them into the basket. I’ve only washed what the girls toss in their basket.

The first thing they ran out of was pajamas. These girls LOVE their pajamas, so imagine their dismay at having to sleep in daytime clothes. (I used to make them sleep in school clothes. I’ll tell you about that another day.) Next, they ran out of sweatpants and tights. They live in sweater dresses and tights or sweatpants and T-shirts during Texas winters, so this was The End of the World.

It worked. Last Thursday, M told me that she had picked up part of the growing pile of worn clothes and moved it to the laundry basket. By the time she woke on Friday, I’d washed and folded every last item she’d taken ownership of. I placed them in the bin from which they are supposed to put their clothes away, and she dressed herself in sweatpants in deep gratitude.

My girls aren’t going to do what I say, unless I do it myself.

Now tell me: How do I teach myself to be neat so I can teach my kids?

Sadia fails to keep house in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is a single mom of 6-year-old twin girls, and works in higher education IT. Her desk at work is disarmingly clutter-free, and her electronic folders well-organized. Her desk at home is another story.

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

3 thoughts on “Do What I Say, Not What I Do”

  1. Obviously, you do have what it takes to keep neat, as evidenced by your professional life and diligence with laundry. I think if you carve out a specific amount of time each day and dedicate it to a particular (small) area of the house, the task wouldn’t seem as daunting.

    Growing up, I never did have this problem, but you couldn’t see the carpet in my brother’s room due too all the stuff he had piling up. My mom was pretty drastic one time and packed everything from the floor into big black trash bags. My brother had to “save” all the items he wanted before the bags were picked up by garbage collectors! Strangely, his house today is very neat and clutter free.

    Me on the other hand, I do tend to leave things around now. Why put it away when I’m just going to need it again? Husband is the one who picks up mostly– and Toddler is pretty good with her OCD! Several areas I do keep clear: eating areas (table, refrigerator) and the sink (dishes go in the dishwasher, bottles and pump pieces clean and drying).

    So I guess it depends on what is important to you. And has quite a bit to do with personality. Don’t worry though, your children are learning plenty of valuable things from you, and this may just be something they’ll pick up from elsewhere!

  2. Since you all struggle with tidiness, maybe you could make it a fun weekly challenge? Who can keep their room the neatest? Declare an incentive for the winner, as well as a group incentive if you all succeed. Might be a fun approach in which you have to hold yourself accountable to go for the individual prize, and help hold each other accountable to achieve the group prize.

  3. One word: Flylady! If you’re already good about having a clean kitchen, clean clothes and that sort of thing, you’re more than halfway there.

    Flylady always talks about doing things in 15-minute increments. She says, “you can do anything for 15 minutes!” She also says that you didn’t get here overnight and it’s not going to disappear overnight.

    She sends an email each day with an outline of what you’re going to do that day. For example, this week might be the kitchen zone, and each day you’ll have a 15-minute mission to complete in there. You also do 5-minute hot-spot cleanups (like mail on the counter) and 15-minute decluttering (you really can do your whole closet 15 minutes at a time!).

    I’ve followed her for years and find it so helpful. I don’t do the missions every day but when I do I always think, “well that wasn’t so hard!”

    My twins are 2 years old and are like hurricanes. We clean up the playroom before bed every night. They help put a few things in bins, but after they go to bed I put everything away. It seems like such a chore, but when I time myself I realize that it takes about 5-10 minutes, never more. As they get older I expect them to help more.

    Anyway – I’m sort of a reformed chronically disorganized person, and have been terrified of passing that on to the boys. At least they will see me actively trying to improve in that area, even if I’m never perfect.

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