We have people coming over this weekend for my daughter’s birthday party. The kids know what that means–time to really tidy up the house. BK (Before-Kids), I used to be a very meticulous neat-freak. Everything had its place–except dust–dust had no place anywhere in my life. Clean clean clean…all the time. Then Baby #2 came along, and Baby #2 got bigger and mobile, and Mommy got more tired and overwhelmed. Mommy threw her hands up one day and accepted that the house would not always be tidy and clean….just when people came over.
Baby #2 is now my almost-7-year-old daughter. She too has her own vision of how everything has its place. Unfortunately for me, we don’t agree on where those places are. We fight over many things–picking up after herself and cleaning her room were big ones. Her room, and the path left in her wake, were always a mess. I sighed several times a day, every day, with accompanying eye rolls, asking her, “How many times do I have to tell you to put this away??”
The clutter. The lack of organization. The haphazard placement of random toys, Pokemon cards, bracelets, lip gloss, socks, light-up shoes, purses, books…all. over. the. house. “I just cannot live like this,” I’d say, as I would feel the anxiety and agita creep up inside me as I eyeballed what looked like a junkyard to me.
And she would look at me with a pained look on her face and say, “But Mommy I tried my best. And look, I put this here because….and I put that there because….. and this, this is my masterpiece, look!…”
And in her world it made sense to her. And in her world she was so proud of how she arranged her surroundings so she was comfortable. Her room is symbolic of our relationship and how we view the world so differently. I cannot live like that, I literally get anxious when I walk past her room. She is at home in it.
She places a quilt in the middle of her room as a rug. She lines up ALL her slippers and dress-up shoes so she can easily see how pretty they all are. She places headbands all over her room to make the room prettier because she loves headbands so much. I am a broken record constantly telling her to put this up, put that away, don’t leave that there…
Until one day a couple months ago, when I looked down at her and saw the pain in her eyes when she realized I was disappointed once again. The sadness was palpable. The room, still a mess. That day, I said “OK. Good job, thanks!” And I hugged her. I realized I had been measuring her worth by how much she agreed to the way I organized my world. And I realized she felt she wasn’t worthy because my eye rolls and sighs told her she wasn’t. I don’t want to do that to my kid. I don’t want to do that to anyone.
And her room’s been a mess since then–to me. It’s clean and tidy–to her. Let me be clear–there isn’t any food or spilled beverages in her room–it’s not dirty. Just unkempt. And I do remind her to put things back in their place–towels and clothes off the floor, backpack by the door, drumsticks back with the drum kit. I try to remind her gently with kindness instead of frustration. I am trying to love and accept her just the way she is, and let go of my embarrassment when friends come over and just stare at her room and masterpieces with their mouths wide open. I tell them, “That’s the way she likes it, and in the end it really doesn’t matter.”
I will pick my battles with her. But more importantly, I will love her for who she is and how she expresses herself. I will love her without conditions. And I will stop making her feel badly about my own values of what makes sense organizationally.
People may say “Who’s the parent here? You tell your kids to clean their room. You don’t give them the option.” Or people may judge us for our decisions or organizational skills (or lack thereof) or our priorities. I get that. But my priority these days is to try to give my children a solid sense of self-worth. How a bedroom is organized and where certain toys are placed should not factor into the valuation of one’s character. I don’t understand her world, and she clearly doesn’t endorse my world. But we love each other deeply. And if we’re going to have a rift, it won’t be for whether the toys are on a floor or shelf. I want it to be for a good old-fashioned knock down, drag out fight over something like a full back tattoo or something that involves a bail bondsman…make it mean something, you know?