A few months ago Jimmie wrote What My (Messy) Artist Daughter Has Taught Me. I totally got that post as I had been thinking about the idea of being a neat freak when your child isn’t. It sounds like my Caroline and Jimmie’s Emma are a lot alike. Creative, empathetic and funny describe Caroline for sure.
But Emma is not bothered by messes. In fact, she says she likes to have all of her possessions visible (on the desk or on the floor) so she can know where everything is.
That sound you hear? That’s my head exploding because I cannot relate to this way of thinking at all. But I see it in my home on a daily basis.
Although “Neat Freak” is a bit too strong to describe me, quasi-obsessively orderly would not be. I am relentless about picking up each day. I cannot go to bed if there are messes in every room. I find it depressing to get up to things left undone from the day before. Motherhood, with its endless array of paraphernalia, has been a tough go for me in that respect.
One area where I failed time and again as a mother was voicing my frustration, displeasure and otherwise crankiness regarding Caroline’s messy room. She didn’t see it as messy, but it drove me nuts. Worse yet, I would be especially frustrated when it was time for her to go to bed and somehow we hadn’t gotten it picked up earlier in the evening. Far too many times **I** put a damper on bedtime because I was frustrated with the state of her room. Part of my frustration was felt toward myself for not getting on it earlier and part of it was directed at Caroline for not being naturally wired to be neat in the way I am.
At some point, I realized that this was my problem, not hers. This became especially true when she expressed the idea that I expected perfection in her room. I had never said that or even implied it. Even when her room was picked up, it never approached what I would consider anything close to perfection. But somehow that was the expectation she was carrying in her mind. What seems “normal” and “picked up” to me somehow became an expectation of “perfection” to her. This was especially grievous to me because I AM a recovering perfectionist. The last thing I want to do is burden her with those kinds of expectations whether they were accurate or not.
My standard line now each evening is, “Would you please make sure no one will trip over anything in the night?” I’ve boiled it down to a safety issue and that’s it. There has been no pushback since then and she obligingly complies almost all of the time.
Caroline’s combination of being artistic and not naturally wired to organize means her room can be, um, very busy. So once a week or so, David and I do a fifteen minute “room rescue” with her to keep it under control. We don’t make her pick everything up or put everything away. We respect he preferences. But we make sure any spots that are simply getting to be too much get dealt with.
Letting Her Be Herself
I’ve read other bloggers say that if your kids can’t keep their room picked up on their own each day that they have too much stuff and the answer is to give away or get rid of 75% of it. I don’t agree. We’re not going to give away all her toys or punish her for having a room that isn’t picked up all the time to my preference. It’s her room and she’s old enough to be allowed some say in what it looks like. If she wants the contents of her room on display so she can easily find them, then that’s really her choice. As long as it doesn’t pose a health or safety risk, I choose to let her be herself.