As parents, on a good day, we try to model positive behaviors, core values, a strong work ethic. We know the kids are watching. But there are those days when I seriously wonder... once they're grown and out of the house, is it all going to come together? Are the little ways we try to work in the big life lessons for our kids seeping in somewhere between "Why me?" and "It's not fair!?" Like, for instance, on "family cleaning day, " which I've recently instituted as part of my plan to get more help around the house.
I gave them each one job. One. Clean your bathroom.
There were no specific requirements or "hard-knock-life" demands (they're 6 and 9). Just a rag and a bottle of (natural) cleaner. Go to town. Do your best. I thought my son might even find it slightly amusing (you know, pretend it's zombie spray or something).
You would have thought I asked them for a candy-free Halloween next year... especially when I handed my 9-year-old the toilet bowl brush.
You want me to actually do the TOILET? You mean the toilet where I put my own butt and where I like to leave you little "presents" because I have better things to do with my time than stop and flush? That toilet? Oh yeah, OK, Mom.
So ensued a string of moaning and gagging-like noises, followed by my instinctual "lecture" on pitching in as a family, the pride in a job well done, the luck of not being one of six kids like Mom who had to do her own laundry and make her own lunches, blah, blah, blah. They weren't buying it. And my poo jokes didn't go over so well, either.
But as kids have a way of doing, they were helping me see the bigger picture here. Mounting mommy workload aside, this was not about the wad of wet toilet paper wedged into the tile floor. And clearly I could do the job better myself, in half the time, without the bitching and moaning. I'm passing on lifelong habits here, kids.
And I know my hardworking dad, rest his soul, was somewhere up there cheering me on. My dad, who would usually awaken us bright and early on Saturday mornings for the project of the day (or just because he didn't believe in sleeping in), would understand the value of this little task in my kids' otherwise cushy little lives. Their increasingly automated, push-of-the-button lives that I wonder, as I do even about my own life at times, will churn out a slothful generation who is further and further removed from the do-it-yourself, survival instincts of their ancestors (who of course had to walk a mile to school, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways). A generation who can complete more and more of life's functions from a stationary spot behind a digital screen, and who has come to expect a long list of conveniences. Just the other day, my 6-year-old wanted to know why the school bus couldn't drop him off right in front of the house like it did last year. I guess the walking less than a block from the corner really throws off his play schedule.
Maybe I'm just feeling guilty about overindulging my kids in other areas of their lives. Sure, I have them set and clear the table, tidy up their rooms, vacuum here and there, and I'm sure there are those who would argue that toilets should be left to the older kids, or that there are plenty of other ways to teach the value of hard work. But while I'm certainly no taskmaster, I do think something like a little toilet cleaning (at the ripe young age of 9) has a way of really bringing the message home ...
It's not all pretty. And sometimes, we just have to get past the stinky stuff.
Or maybe it's my borderline obsessive-compulsive streak. I was one of those weird kids who actually offered to clean, and still get a deep satisfaction and sense of calm from it. But I've let go over the years as a mom. And certainly I don't expect my kids to light up over a shiny sink faucet or live up to my spotless standards, but my goodness, dear whiny children, it's a bathroom. Filthy though it may be, it's one... little... bathroom.
After about a three-minute discussion/demonstration on how to unhinge a half-inch mound of dried toothpaste from the sink, I'd about had it. Still, somehow, the cleaning got done, and I somehow overlooked the still spit-spotted mirror and moldy tub mat, trying to keep in mind that it's not so much about the result as it is the practice. And patted myself on the back for keeping my kids on task and not succumbing to a maid service (today). A service that should they decide to start one day, it appears, will surely leave them unemployed and living back at home with me. "Cleaning" for their keep.
You can see more from Susan and her KidPrints blog at www.handprintcommunications.com.