Room Cleaning: My Efforts At a Balanced Approach

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Somewhere, at this very moment, my dad is laughing hysterically that I have been given an assignment to write about room cleaning.  Cosmic irony, and all that. 

It was the single best source of conflict between my dad and me during my teen years (certainly I could've caused him much worse trouble, as I pointed out often).  He is orderly; I am not, and my bedroom reflected this, generally remaining a cesspool of clothes, cassette tapes and (very blue) eyeshadow.  The results of our conflict often ended in a whole host of creative punishments, including the day he grounded me from all electricity.  Because it was the '80's, and a smokin' hot curling iron was a critical ingredient in The Great Bang Tease, I felt my self-esteem would surely never recover.  Before I went to bed that night, I made a list of Things I Would Never Do When I Was A Parent (oh yes, I did), and at the top of the list was "I will never punish my kids for having a messy room."

How much money would I give to have a copy of that list today? 

The fact is, I understand now, that my dad was not unkind or unreasonable.  He was trying to teach me some self-discipline, and he wanted me to learn to organize my stuff before I left home.  He wanted to help me become a neater, tidier person--a lost cause, I'm afraid, but he did his best.

I'm a parent of four now, and I understand my dad’s frustration.  I am still not a spectacular housekeeper, but I keep things generally moving forward (the Health Department has never had to intervene, as I remember my dad once cautioning).  Two of my children, however, are naturally inclined to keep rooms that I completely deserve for them to keep, considering the grief I caused my dad.  The messiness level gives me a run for my money. 

Truthfully, though I consider myself a strict parent with high standards, I don’t know that a constantly-tidy room is a hill worth dying on.  I understand the idea of teaching them self-discipline, and I do that in plenty areas, but I’m inclined to give a little freedom about their own space.  We’ve worked out a good set compromises with the kids (and my husband, who, speaking of cosmic irony, is also a neat freak):

Once a week the room gets a good cleaning.  Between cleaning days, they can keep it however they’d like (though they’re learning if they stay on top of the mess, they don’t spend as much time cleaning it on the big Cleaning Day.)

No food in their room.  Seriously.  I realize the teen years will be here in about ten minutes, and I may have to compromise here, but for now, I stand my ground.

They’re responsible for their own dusting, vacuuming, sheet-changing, etc.  I don’t require it weekly, but when I do, it’s their job, not mine.

Regardless of whether or not it’s room cleaning day, they CANNOT have guests over if their room is a dump.  It’s a great motivator when they want to have a sleepover.

I listen to their reasoning.  My oldest child is very artistic.  He actually keeps a pretty neat room on his own, but the top of his drawing table is a disaster.  He insists that he knows where everything is and he needs that mess to think best.  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, especially since he’s so responsible with the rest of this room.

So far, we have not been bitten by any small animals or lost any children, so I’m pleased.  Thus far, (and I say this with fear and trembling), we’ve not had any major head-butting over the issue of room-cleaning.  I hope that balancing reasonable standards with personal freedom will help us avoid the tear-filled fights I shared with my dad.  Ask me in a few years how it’s going—or, better yet, ask my dad.  You can be sure he’ll watching closely, with a grin on his face.

Shannon Lowe writes at Rocks In My Dryer and the Parenting Post.

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