While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. -- Angela Schwindt
When school is out, many of us find our children hanging around the house more often. Without a strict schedule and a lot of homework, there is more time for them to relax, and make a MESS. For most of this summer, I felt my days were consumed with cleaning dishes, cleaning crumbs off the floor, finding wet towels everywhere and putting things away in each room to find it all out of place again by the end of the day. I was constantly asking the children to clean up after themselves, but unfortunately their talents seem to lie in making a mess.
A few weeks ago, I was telling my friend about this experience with my children and she said, "You should see my house; it is so clean! I would never let my kids get away with what your kids get away with. My kids clean their rooms, put their dishes in the dishwasher and wipe the floor. You need to be harsher with them and let them know their responsibilities and that you are in charge." I thought to myself, she is right. My children need to do their chores and help out more around the house. There is no excuse for this situation. So, for one week I marched around the house, venting irritation about the mess, using a stern voice to make the kids clean up and an angry voice when they did not do it. Instead of cleaning up myself, I spent the entire week reprimanding them and letting them know I was in charge. However, this new mindset just resulted in more yelling and conflict than usual. They cleaned up more but it was so painful for me to feel so frustrated and to keep reminding them what needed to be done. There were more arguments and I felt exhausted, uptight and angry.
The next day, my younger daughter was at day camp and my older daughter was out with a friend. It was so quiet in the house and I missed them both. I looked down on the kitchen floor and I saw muffin crumbs from breakfast that morning. In that moment I smiled. I realized that this is the blessing of having two vibrant children in my house. As I cleaned up the mess, I did not feel angry or upset. Sure I would tell them that they left crumbs all over the floor and still ask them to clean up their messes, but right then my entire perspective shifted. I now see each crumb and each unmade bed as a reminder of how lucky I am to have them in my life. Looking at the crumbs as a blessing couches the frustration with warmth and allows me to make space in the situation. One day they will move away and my house will be very clean, but I will miss them dearly. Sure I keep asking them to help out, but the mess no longer makes me feel angry or uptight. Now a mess works as a reminder to me of the wonder of having these children in my life. Do I like cleaning up? Of course not, but kids are messy and why be miserable over it? I prefer to choose gratitude and joy.
I was out with friends for dinner the next night and my friend was complaining about how his daughter graduated college, moved back in the house and was making a mess. He told us his daughter is loud, doesn't clean her room or help enough with the dishes. It was driving him crazy. I turned to him and said, "I try to see my children's messes as a blessing" He replied, "Allison, you are out of your mind." I responded, "I am happy right now and you are miserable. So which one of us is crazy?" He smiled and said, "MAYBE you have a point. I am not sure I can embrace the blessing of a messy room, but I will try."
So the next time the floors are marked up because your children didn't take off their shoes, or they spill grape juice all over the table, don't make their bed or leave food in their room, try to take a deep breath and see the blessing behind the mess. Of course tell them to clean it up and teach them to help out more around the house, but when you see the blessing behind the mess you won't feel so frustrated and relinquish your joy so easily. Your heart will stay open with gratitude for their presence in your life and you will keep a larger perspective of what is really important. It feels so much better to support them on their journey with more joy and love than to scream and react all the time about the messes they make.
I actually think my children might be cleaning up after themselves more these past few days or MAYBE it is just bothering me less. In any case, seeing it all as a blessing can be a key to less suffering and the path to fully enjoying each day with our children.
Originally Published in Psychology Today