Childrearing

My 5-Year-Old Will Never Pick Up After Herself, Unless I Stop Doing It

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messy bedroomI was a supremely messy child. I shoved crap into the bottom of my closet instead of putting it away. I let broken pencils and old homework assignments pile up in my desk until it had to be dumped on the floor and sorted. Every once in a while, my mom would find an ice cream bowl and a spoon under my bed. Seriously. I was really messy. And my messiness caused more fights between my mother and me than I would care to count.

As I got older, I learned how to clean up after myself. I learned why it was important. But the entire time I lived with my parents, my messy room was my single point of childhood defiance. I just really hated being told what I had to do with all of my stuff. (Yes, I know my parents bought all of that stuff. Whatever. I was a kid.) To this day, I have an odd messy pile of nonsense and sweaters that don’t really need to go in the laundry because I only wore them for a few minutes next to my bed. It’s my little spot of rebellion.

Now, as just another piece of evidence that karma exists, I have my own messy daughter. I have a little girl who has to be ordered, cajoled, and bribed into cleaning up her room. No matter how many labels bins I stuff in her room, she doesn’t ever want to bother putting things away. No matter how much I nag, she shovels things into her closet or scoots them under the bed, just like I used to.

For the first few years of my daughter’s life, I replayed the same routine that my mother and I had. I tried over and over again to my daughter to clean up. I felt personally offended that she didn’t “appreciate” all of her toys, since she didn’t bother to take care of them. I spent hours sitting on the floor with her, trying to help her see why picking up her mess was so important.

And you know what? None of those systems worked. No amount of guilting or demanding or chastising made my daughter more inclined to pick up her toys without a parent demanding it. Just like those arguments never worked for my mother and me.

So I’m decided to change tactics. I’m going to attempt to break the cycle. And I’m going to stop ordering that my daughter clean up her room. It’s time to let messy kids be messy kids, and let them figure out their own ways to deal with it.

Do I want to raise a child who is a slob? Of course not. And will my daughter be allowed to leave a mess in the shared spaces of our house? Not at all. She will continue to do chores and put her dishes in the sink and keep the living room tidy. But really, these things have never been our problem. It’s all about her bedroom, and that’s the place that I’m going to step back from.

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