Something shifted in me as a parent about a year ago. My four kids, all between 15-1/2 and 18, are smack in the crossfire. Or maybe better put, resting comfortably. Here’s what happened: I stopped feeling the need to scurry behind them, being all parenty and stuff. I reached the point where I was satisfied that they understood the importance of cleaning their rooms, doing their chores, and picking up their own stuff. In other words, it would be someone else’s problem soon enough, and that lucky person can pick up where I left off. Tag, someone, somewhere out there: You’re about to be “it.”
You see, I saw the light—not the one in the bathroom that no one can seem to shut off—but the one at the end of the proverbial parenting tunnel. I had an epiphany and I liked it! All those annoying admonitions by people whose kids are already grown and gone, to “enjoy every moment, it doesn’t last forever,” when I complained out loud about my kids, finally lit up my brain like a fourth-of-July sparkler. All those times when my husband sang, “You’re gonna miss this,” to me as I lay curled up in the fetal position while the kids hollered “MOM!” at varying intervals on a Sunday morning, finally made sense.
And the sense it made was this: It’s almost time to start missing them. The clock is seriously ticking on our time together. A few years ago, when my junior high school-inspired PTSD was in full bloom, I fantasized about being the only mother in history to have four kids skip high school and go straight to college; I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Now, it’s different. I don’t want to spend our last months and years together driving the nag wagon.
Plus, I seem to have run out of clever ideas to get them excited about doing the chores without me asking them to. I’m talking about simple stuff that shows they are good stewards of the household—any household. Things like setting the table, doing the dishes, feeding the animals, picking up poop, putting it back into the toilet, etc. They pick up most of their stuff, most of the time, and I’m good with that. And they help me when I ask them to. We’ve never been a household where things pile up for too long, mainly because I can’t stand living in someone else’s filth. I’m fine living in my own, but in the common areas like the family room, kitchen and Scotch room, it’s a no-go. So they pick up their stuff on the way up to their rooms at the end of the day because we spent a lot of time and energy drilling it into them during their early formative years, when all I had to say was, “pick it up, or it goes into the box in my closet.”
Ahh, the good ol’ days.
So, back to the epiphany. It felt good. Not like completing a crossword puzzle good, but more like “I think I need a cigarette” good. There was both a physical and emotional component to the relief I felt. I stopped updating the giant chalkboard in the kitchen, which for so many years was filled with a weekly grid of initials and check marks next to lists of assigned chores. Now, it’s just a smattering of random notes to myself about sporting events and AA meetings, so I know where to go (or not) on a particular night.
Since my epiphany, I have less desire to tell my kids what they should do around the house or when they should do it. Kind of like how I treat my husband. Suffice to say that because he is a peer, and therefore has the legal right to nag me right back and point out all my crap, I tend to leave him alone except for when I really can’t help myself. (I don’t see my kids as peers, so don’t send hate mail.) I see them as roommates who I can boss around, and who I really, really, really like; soon, I won’t get to make their lives any easier in all the little ways that actually make me feel good, because the end is near.
I have every confidence that this feeling will pass and I’ll be back to nagging them in no time at all. But for now…
When my kids go off to college, it will all come roaring back to them the first time one of their roommates freaks out because they aren’t pulling their giant hairballs out of the drain after they shower, or they’ve left a plate of spaghetti on the counter for so long it’s grown a crutch and is limping away. All the years of training will snap front and center for whoever is lucky enough to cohabitate with them when I’m done.
One last thing: Not only did I give up pestering them to do chores; I have even stopped refereeing fights. After all these years, I’ve finally figured out when to step in and when to definitely stay out of it. To see how well YOU know the difference, try taking this one-question quiz:
Identify which ONE of the following statements is serious enough to require parental intervention:
a. “You are disgusting.”
b. “I hate you.”
c. “I will cut you if you don’t get out of my way.”
That’s right—NONE! They’re ALL jokey jokes in our house, and therefore, require no intervention!
Yep, there is a new disruptive technology on the horizon, and it’s going to be a game changer. It’s called moving out.