Growing Up: an Introspective

Teaching your children responsibility. Good God!

It is easier to be in charge than it is to hand over responsibility and let your children suffer the consequences of their own mistakes. Nowhere is this more obvious than when your children leave home and you can see their unwillingness to take on adult responsibility piling up around them.

Where to begin? Obviously when they are small. My youngest has been the most recalcitrant, the most determined to put in the least amount of effort possible and an absolute refuser of taking responsibility for her own actions. Hasn’t stopped me teaching the lessons but should I be distracted by my work, illness or distress, she will simply take advantage. She wasn’t the only one to do so. Then of course there are the consequences of her own actions. My goodness, I have never heard such a litany of I didn’t know, no-one told me, she said, he was doing it too. Only problem is, she isn’t five.

I have a strong work ethic and whilst I can procrastinate mildly at times, I know the work will get done. If I take a day off to play or rest, that’s okay because I will put nose to the grindstone (and sometimes work like house work is that painful) and get what needs to be done, done.

This child would spend ten minutes hiding clothing in her room and then telling me it was all put away. I would come and check and find it all. Then she would spend 15 minutes re-hiding the clothing she had previously hidden, hiding all the other rubbish I had found while pulling out the other stuff. She would announce that she was finished. I would go and check. She would then spend a further 20 minutes re-re-hiding everything I had found in the previous hiding places and tell me she was finished. I would ask where the rubbish was, come and check, pull everything out and stay there until it was all put away in the correct places, amongst wailing and gnashing of teeth. She did not seem to understand that if she had put everything away the first time, it would not have taken the hour that it eventually took. This happened on many occasions. I tried every trick you are going to suggest. She was always surprised that I persisted, I don’t know why, I have always kept my word.

A few months ago, I told her I was at the end of my rope and when she went on camp, everything on the floor of her room would be bagged and donated. It was really hard bagging some of that stuff. I choose beautiful things for her but there was inches of clothing around her bed that she had been walking on for a couple of weeks. She went to camp. I bagged and donated. She returned from camp to a cleaned floor and was really pleased until she started looking for some of her stuff. More wailing and gnashing of teeth. I don’t know why she was surprised, I have always kept my word.

Same went for the bathroom cupboards that she treated like a rubbish bin. I asked her to clean it out. She did not. I warned her that she was risking my clean out. She did nothing. While she was out one day, I cleared the whole lot out. I kept her toothbrush and toothpaste. She was so shocked. Don’t know why, I have always kept my word. She has mentioned on several occasions since that she didn’t have this or that because I’d thrown it out. You’ve only got yourself to blame for that, I say.

My eldest girl had a similar problem in her room. We had floorboards so every Monday I would rake (yes, literally, it was scary in there), sweep and mop her floor, bagging and binning everything on the floor. I wore gloves. She’s not like that now and keeps a tidy house. I am not an enthusiastic domestic manager but my house is clean and organised. The only piles I ever personally have are clean clothes waiting to be hung up. I get around to them. They certainly don’t ever live on my floor for my feet to feel.

We renovated recently and got rid of all the carpet. This has been a mighty relief for me. Now I can sweep through with my dry mop and cruise through with my steamer and know for that moment, everything is clean and sterilised. Then we walk on the boards again but they still shine. My youngest however has not swept her room since the boards went down. She is a teenager, definitely old enough to do it for herself and knows it’s expected of her.

I have never had a problem with my teenagers managing their own rooms but when the smell of dirty clothes and rotting food is impacting on me, it’s gone too far. I like clean, not OCD clean, just clean. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Talking about responsibility. When does your child understand that taking responsibility results in freedom?

We have had to have the talk again and what I expect every day after school between her return and mine from work. Do I sound tired and exasperated? Once she had it all written up, she got onto the computer and typed up her list. She had agreed that seeing it all written down made it seem far less overwhelming and much more manageable and she could see if she got her homework and jobs done, she would have free time in the evenings. Then she printed it out and let it fall to the floor. It’s still there. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

I know that they don’t mean what their actions say, some of the time, but our actions are the only way others have to interpret us. How she feels is one thing but her actions strongly suggest something else. She has recently lost good caring adult friends because of this. Everything in our lives is about our relationships. Our lives, as I have emphatically stated in KISS: an Introspective, are complicated. That keeps it interesting. Those complications mean however that we must be aware of the impact of our actions upon others. We many not be responsible for how they interpret us but if we only pay lip service and there is not follow through with empathy then the people in our lives (family, friends, school, work) have no choice but to understand us through our behaviour.

Another tough one to teach. I’m onto it.

(C) CLHHarper July 2014

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