Thursday, August 30, 2012

You can teach an old dog new tricks (me)

Instilling a sense of duty has not come naturally to me as a parent.  I'm all about inspiration and affection, learning to love the world around us, taking time to appreciate "the little things".  But duty?  Not so much.  Duty is "boring".

However, in recent years I have come to realize that duty is a very important part of life.  In it lies the simple building blocks of daily life: respect, patience, perseverance, serving others, care of possessions, maintenance of living spaces, etc.  Without these habits built into life, chaos reigns.  Chaos is worse than boring - it is dreadful.

A habit is "an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary".  Of course we clear our spot when we are done!  X-Y-Z goes back on the shelf after I'm done with it.  And that life-simplifying mantra, "a place for everything and everything in its place". 

Without a doubt, order and cleanliness comes easier to some than others.  Children amplify the need for these life skills, or lack there of, beyond reckoning.  I fall into the second category.  Lack there of.  Doh.

I remember reading encouragement to involve young ones in chores right from the start.  It will often take longer, but it is worth the effort of patience and (sometimes) added work to train them to help.  While I am doing that with Jamie, I never really did with Diego until he was a bit older, perhaps around 3-ish.  Probably because most of the said-chores were not on my radar screen.  The messes seem bigger and more ominous now, but also . . . prior to children, my jobs were to wash the dishes and clean the cat litters.  Squeeze did everything else. 

It has been a slow transition over the years, but I now hold the reigns of household management.  Of course, this also involves cleaning up after three little rascals, but I am floored by the amount of labor that is involved in "just life".  The daily grind.  The endless minutiae of picking up, organizing, cleaning, re-organizing, picking up, cleaning it again, and so on. 

Without daily maintenance, I am toast.  The tsunami-force of the mess monster swallows one whole - mind, spirit and all.  It is like a black-hole of despair.

My recent understanding of all this has initiated a major overhaul this past year.  The boys are becoming more and more responsible in household maintenance.  We all live here, and while I am your mama, I ain't your maid.

It has been a work in progress for several years.  I've spent a goodly amount of time hammering out my own failings . . . developing standards and creating structure in my own daily/weekly routines . . . and while I am not perfect, things have improved drastically.

Through all these inner-workings and sight of tangible results, I've realized that instilling a set of expectations in the daily routine is key.  It used to be the darndest thing to have my boys get dressed every day.  And brushing teeth after breakfast?  Fergettabou'dit.  They hit the ground running for the play table as soon as their breakfast dishes were cleared.

But then it hit me: make it an expectation.  Schedule it in to the routine.  Normalize it into daily reality.  One small example of this is my recent regimentation of "morning chores", which is nothing more than clearing the table, wiping their spot, brushing their teeth, and getting dressed.  But now . . . if they forget, all I need to do is ask sweetly, "What do you need to do next?" and they know exactly what I am talking about.  There is no harassing and the work gets done, in large part because they expect it.

It is embarrassing to know that I am just figuring this out with a seven, four, and one-and-a-half year old, but things change over the years.  Demands and challenges are different, as are the levels of activity and distractedness.  And shoot, I'm an ENFP.  We don't do well with the "trivial drudgery of everyday life".  Heh.

What is best though, is that I've come to realize that I can make ANYTHING into habit.  Whatever portion of the daily grind I need them to take responsibility for . . . I can instill it as habit into their daily routine.  One at a time, slow and steady wins the race, but I can. DO. it.

And that feels very good.


Emily said...

must do as well. I have made Eleanor sit on the couch for 15 minutes if her room isn't clean after her play time. My, my her room has been much cleaner. All the fore thought of parenting. ugh. :)

mschirber said...

I love tihs post. You aren't alone. It was Jackson who ASKED for daily chores this summer, I am sure to help give more structure to his days. We need a revamping now that school is in session, but you are so right - ANYTHING can become a habit - order or, more easily, disorder. Nice work mama!!