Huge disclaimer: I am feeling tender and sentimental today. This will affect what I write, for sure!
Okay, so here's what got me started on this. As I headed down to the kitchen for a bite to eat this morning, I noticed that my teenage daughter's bed was unmade. Downstairs I found a wadded up sweatshirt on the kitchen table, a half eaten muffin on the counter, yesterday's lunch box with a smashed sandwich still in it, and tennis shoes blocking the basement door.
A disaster area, right? Some parenting experts might say that I should make her clean up the mess the second she gets home, or make her pay me for cleaning up after her, or make her do other chores for me in return. They might say I need to make a chore chart for her, or ground her until she starts taking responsibility for her things, or call a family meeting and set clear expectations for morning routines.
You know what I did instead? I just smiled, and cleaned it all up. It was obvious she had overslept this morning. If my best friend or husband overslept, I would not punish them or call them irresponsible. I would help them. And it would feel wonderful.
Besides, no one else looking at the scene could interpret the gifts in it. I knew that the half-eaten muffin was left there for me. She's seen me eat her leftovers all her life, and she knew I would probably enjoy those final three bites of our last chocolate muffin. She left the tennis shoes by the door to remind me that she did not have practice this afternoon.
I took great pleasure in making her bed for her, because I know she loves coming home to a neat room. While I was in there, I noticed her laundry piling up. I know she hates doing laundry, so I grabbed it and added it to my own to take care of today. In just a few short years, she will no longer live here with me, and my house will be as neat as I want it to be. Also very predictable, and very quiet. I bet I will look back fondly on these little messes then.
Please don't let any parenting expert, including me if I ever try, tell you that your kids will turn out rotten if you are kind to them or cut them some slack or give them the benefit of the doubt. We all need a helping hand sometimes. Part of loving someone is doing nice things for them. It's okay to extend that same kindness to our children. Never, of course, to the point of resentment! But it's fine to be generous when you can give freely and graciously.
If your child forgets her lunch, you won't be rewarding irresponsibility if you drop it off for her on your way to work. You'll be teaching her by example that no one does everything perfectly all the time, and that people who love each other help each other when they can. I'm okay with those lessons. Very okay with them.
ps: if I found a mess like that in my kitchen every morning, I still wouldn't feel the need to resort to tough love or logical consequences. Instead, I'd talk with her about why I want the kitchen cleaner, listen to what she wants for the kitchen and her morning, and we'd come up with a new plan to experiment with that takes both of our desires and abilities into account. Collaboration can be a very effective replacement for consequences.
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