When I was cleaning this morning, the girls were not at all interested in helping me. I was feeling overwhelmed at waking up to a big mess since I got busy last night and didn't clean up, but I made a conscious effort to own my own feelings. *I* wanted it cleaned, *I* thought it should be done right then and I wanted them to help! But they were busy with things that were just as important to them as cleaning was to me. I did tell them, "I'm feeling frustrated that I am cleaning up all this mess by myself and I would appreciate if you would help," but they didn't. So I sucked it up and cleaned the house because I wanted it clean and I knew I would feel better when it was done, and they did put a few toys away at the end. Then we went about the rest of our day and I hardly thought anything more of it. This evening it was time for me to do my normal evening clean up time. The girls jumped right in, as they often do, and cleaned up their room and took turns vacuuming it with only minimal help from me. And L helped me bring clothes in from the line and hang more clothes out to dry.
It was a good reminder that one moment, one incident, one day is just never worth making a big deal about- things change so quickly. FEAR almost got the best of me this morning- fear that them saying no to cleaning was going to become a new habit, fear that my house would be a disaster forever, fear that I had just been talking about my kids being awesome helpers the other day and now they were making me out to be a liar! But I didn't let it get me! It's hard sometimes to own your own feelings about things when you know you can use your size and power to force little people to comply. It's hard enough to accept a polite no from an adult, but from a kid.... it sets all those ingrained messages what "has to" be done and who should be doing it into overdrive.
It was a good reminder to just take a deep breath and wait.
A few months ago, I took a deep breath and have been waiting ever since for another situation to resolve itself. The outcome today was interesting:
Earlier today I was emailing with a friend about getting rid of kids' broken or never played with toys. I wrote to her "In principle- it is their belongings and it's not right for me to throw away or give away someone else's stuff. In reality, it's my job to keep the house reasonably sanitary, I need to keep my own sanity, it's a small house and they have a lot of crap that they don't even play with. Whenever I clean their room, I throw away broken things and so far they haven't missed any of it. I have talked to them about donating some things, but suddenly everything becomes "special." I have done the toy rotation thing and I'm actually about to do that again. Take half the toys and put them away in the shed until they get bored with the ones they have and then swap them out. I do like them having access to a lot of things though because they play so creatively, but sometimes it's just too much."
I really struggle with this one, because I really believe that their things should be respected and it's not my right to throw them out or get rid of them, but for crying out loud, how many broken dollar store toys does one kid need?! The last time I suggested to E that we give some things away, she put a few things in a box and then cried and took them back out. I didn't push it and haven't mentioned it since. That made the timing really interesting today, after I had just been emailing with my friend about this, out of the blue E brought me two toys and said she wanted to give them to her friend and her cousin. Ok, great! Then I suggested that she could get rid of a few more things that she never plays with and she did!
I gave her a plastic bag and didn't say another word. She sat quietly in her room for a few minutes looking at her toys while I put away laundry. Then she said she needed to be alone because she was sad and she left the room. When she came back, she picked out about 10 toys to give away, gave me the bag and sat on the recliner and cried for a minute. I said "that's very generous," and left it at that. I thought it was so cool that she did something that was difficult and sad for her without being guilted or bribed or forced into it. She was able to make her own choice, own her decision, work through her emotions about that choice, and move on. She hasn't mentioned it again at all tonight.
If it was up to me, a lot more toys would go away, but it's not my stuff. I am going to do the toy rotation, if the kids are willing, to help keep it more manageable. But I will wait until they are ready to actually get rid of things. It won't be this way forever. They won't want these same things when they are 8 or 12 or 15. So I'll just take a deep breath and wait.