The first time my friend came to visit us in our new home, she was eager to have the grand tour.
“Look around,” I encouraged, “just don’t go into the boys’ room.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“There’s a huge mess in there. I can’t get the boys to keep their bedroom tidy. I’ve given up trying.”
My friend smiled in sympathy and then said, “So you’re not perfect after all!”
Not perfect after all? It’s funny the impression we give some people.
Years later, I am still not perfect. Nor are my children. My boys still live in a mess. I never did train them to keep their room tidy. So what did I do wrong?
I tried everything.
I bribed, I threatened, I yelled, I used consequences…
“If you don’t pick up your toys, I shall confiscate them.” The toy boxes ended up in the garage where they remained until someone stumbled over them a few weeks later. No one really missed them.
“You must have too many toys. If you can’t keep them tidy, I shall take them to Vinnies.” I never could harden my heart enough to give away my children’s favourite toys but we did have lots of pruning sessions.
“I will vacuum up all that Lego if you don’t pick it up,” I’d say as I turned on the vacuum cleaner. The boys would cry and beg me not to, and I‘d feel terrible. What a cruel mother!
“If you don’t pick your clothes up off the floor I shall confiscate them.” I filled garbage bags full of clothes and hid them away, and no one seemed to miss them until they couldn’t find their St John Ambulance uniforms. My too soft heart always relented and the uniforms were returned.
“I’ll give you some pocket money if you clean your rooms.” I didn’t have enough money to keep up with the mess.
I tried everything…
Then one day I got tired of yelling and bribing and threatening and I gave up.
When the girls came along I decided to try something else. Whenever there was a mess, I got up and helped my children clean. And suddenly everyone wanted to help. It was that easy. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?
I guess I just expected my children to obey my commands. I was the parent and they were the children. Shouldn’t they just do as I say?
I discovered a few things:
Children are worthy of respect, and some methods of training don't take this into account.
Children do like to work but... working alone can seem overwhelming to a child.
Working together is fun. It binds a family into a team.
If I want my children to help me, I have to help them.
It takes less effort to get up and help than it does to sit still and nag.
So my girls keep their rooms reasonably clean and tidy. And my boys don’t.
But I’ve just had another thought. Girls? Boys? Perhaps the state of their rooms has nothing to do with my methods of training after all. Maybe it’s all to do with being girls and being boys.
But then again... My mother likes to tell my children what a messy child I was (I wish she wouldn't) and Andy has always been a very tidy, an-everything-in-its-place kind of person.
Has gender got anything to do with it? Or did I just fail with the boys? And does it really matter what children's rooms look like? They are the ones who have to live in them.
Not by a long way.