My essay, The Dishes Can Wait and Other Lies has had an inexplicable social media surge over the last few days. Once again, I am seeing a lot of sanctimommious strangers saying, “Just get your kids to help clean!”
When someone is crying that they are overwhelmed and feel like the house is falling apart around them, do not to start your response with words or phrases like, “just” or “all you need to do” or any other statement that implies the word “duh.”
Some of those people were probably truly well-meaning souls with cooperative children who have clearly never been in my house. I imagine their kids wear lederhosen and break into song while they sweep piles of air neatly into the waiting trash bin. A fluttering bluebird dusts the house with a feather duster that I really hope is not made of one of her family members. Then the children sit down to a quiet dinner — the only sound is the occasional polite requests for seconds on the vegetables and suggestions that they skip dessert and go straight to bed.
I’ll let those people off the hook because I assume they are on acid and people on acid aren’t always the most logical. But the rest of you?
At my house, I try to avoid dusting entirely. Dusting means an evening doped up on Benadryl, falling asleep into my dinner of
grilled microwaved cheese sandwich that the kids won’t eat because the crusts (that I cut off) look funny.
No, I don’t want my kids to grow up assuming the magical cleaning fairy swoops down to clean up the crumbs. There are a great many reasons to have your kids help clean the house.
Actually getting the house clean is not one of them.
I start with enthusiasm.
We’re going to clean up before we pull out any more toys!
It quickly devolves from there….
I’m sorry you’re tired and you really don’t want to, but we are going to clean now.
You’re going to lose your TV for today if you do not help clean up.
What do you mean you don’t know what to clean?! LITERALLY CLEAN ANYTHING.
Ok. I’m sorry I yelled. Why don’t you start with your stuffed animals?
THOSE STUFFED ANIMALS RIGHT THERE ON YOUR FLOOR.
I really don’t think your legs are broken.
Around this time she gets Scarlett O’Hara-level hungry. She’ll make herself a sandwich (life skills!), leaving the bread open and the cheese on the counter. I spend ten minutes telling her to put her plate away.
While I am attempting to clean the kitchen, Rowan has pushed a chair over to the shelves to pull down every box of markers and crayons we own and dump them on the floor. I am alerted to this by the shriek of our elderly and decrepit cat who is now being picked up by the fur. I go to put the cat in the bathroom and discover Lorelei standing at the sink making “potions” out of all of our body splashes, soaps, and toothpaste.
Now I am rage sweeping.
Lorelei comes out and dissects the dust pan contents, crying that I was sweeping up this very precious and completely irreplaceable dried-out marker and her very favorite scrap of paper.
Five minutes later I go check on her progress and discover her happily surrounded by all the markers we just put away, drawing makeup on Barbies. I give her the look. She collapses to the floor, wailing that I am ruining her life.
We continue, one step forward and two steps back, until they have finally cleaned enough for me to let them off the hook and finish cleaning for real.
So tell me again how getting my kids to help clean solves the actual cleanliness problem?
I make them help clean because it is a skill they need to know. I teach them that skill because someday they will likely live with another person who will expect them to know the difference between a mop and a broom. They learn despite the protests and meltdowns. I consider it an investment with a very hefty down payment.
In no way does their contribution equal a net gain of things that appear clean in my house.
That is why God invented Netflix.