Experts say the key to successful parenting is consistency. And while I’m good about early-ish bedtimes and stubbornly insist on family dinners, I am horrible about consistently enforcing household chores.
I don’t have unrealistic expectations for my kids. The general rule is not to leave an area worse than you found it. This simply means clearing plates, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, and rinsing the gross toothpaste spit down the sink.
Sadly, even this level of maintenance proves challenging for my teenagers. But since I don’t want every interaction I have with them to be a nagging direct order (clean your room, rinse the dishes) I tend to ignore the mess, hoping that as it accumulates, the kids will finally snap into action.
Admittedly, this is a horrible idea. I will never win a game of filth chicken with teenagers since they can tolerate a mind-boggling amount of mess. I always blink first, usually after a paper pile sinkhole eats someone’s homework or a missing shoe causes someone to be late to class.
“It’s impossible to think in this mess,” I mutter to absolutely no one and then sheepishly make a bed, pick a wet towel up off the floor and wrangle musky-smelling clothes back into the hamper using only two fingers.
My inconsistent approach to mess management was making me crazy and my kids entitled, but I think I may have stumbled upon a solution.
Last week, I received a text from my son asking if a new friend could come over after school. I said yes and then peeked into his room just to make sure a family of raccoons hadn’t taken residence in the jumble of sweaty clothes piled in the corner. Ok fine, I also made his bed.
The room was in decent shape by the time my son got home from school. He introduced me to his friend and then the boys headed upstairs to his room. It was only a few minutes before I hear this: “Uh, mom? Were you in my room? You accidentally left your mug in here.”
This wouldn’t have been a big deal except this is the mug:
I don’t know how to explain the mug’s existence other than to say it was from my brother and sister-in-law, masters of the bizarre gift. I believe my birthday package that year contained the mug, a box of Lee Press-On toenails since I had just lost the nail on my big toe (a tragic story for another time), and a custom-made baseball cap that said “car dancing is my thing.” Every year, the random gifts from those two magically soften the sting of aging.
But this was a lot to explain to my mortified son and his red-faced new friend who, tragically, was probably wondering if I had left the mug behind in a mad rush to the bathroom.
I mumbled something about a crazy younger brother and gag gifts, took the mug from my son, looked at him and said, “I won’t go in your room and accidentally leave stuff behind if you keep it clean.”
He nodded solemnly, we had a deal. Buoyed by this new development, I immediately started making a mental list of things I could leave behind in my daughter’s room. One kid down, one to go.