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.