Will Work For Food: 2e & The Clean-Up Battle


I would rather have an argument with a brick wall.  I might actually win that one.  With the Engineer and the Princess?  No way.

Yesterday we had a full-out war for clean-up time.  I had been trying for a week to get the mess of toys picked up and put away, and every day we ran out of time.  Bedtime trumps clean-up.  Every night I would look at the mess and grumble, but I refused to do it for them.  Their mess, their responsibility.  Pick up your damn toys!

The thing is, it doesn’t actually take that long.  It’s not a huge mess.  Everything has an assigned spot and they all know where that spot is.  If I do it myself it takes about 30 minutes to pick it up, sort it, and store it.  Not a big deal.

By yesterday, I had it.  It was past time to clean up, and by golly, they were going to do it themselves.  I had important things to do, like fix the bookshelf the aquarium sits on.  Somehow I neglected to put six screws into one side.  Thank goodness for the IKEA pegs holding that sucker together, or there would have been shrimp all over the floor!

We had 2 hours before dinner, and I figured that was plenty of time to get the mess unscrambled and put away.  Wrong!

Because I know from experience that they look at the mess and freeze into anxiety-ridden mush, I assigned tasks.  Engineer: pick up all the toy cars.  Princess: pick up all the books.  Destroyer: put the stuffed animal in the toy bin.  Once they finish one task, they get another.  If we all work together it’s done quickly.  And then we can play tickle monster – something they ask for every night, but we can’t do it if toys are in the way.

Yesterday, I heard every excuse under the sun.  “I’m tired,” melodramatically collapsing on the sofa.  “I don’t know where this goes…”  but somehow, you knew where to get it when you wanted to play with it.  “I got it all picked up!”  No, picking up one doesn’t mean all of them.  You can count better than that, son.

The Princess’ trick is to stall.  “Pick up the books!”  So she picks up one of them and sits there reading the thing, hoping that I won’t notice.

2 hours.  2 HOURS of this.  Nothing I said worked.  Threats had no effect.  So, finally, I did something I know better than to do – make a threat I can’t enforce.  “Pick up the toys or you won’t eat dinner!”  Like they cared.  They know that no matter how much I yell, I won’t take food away from them.

Dinnertime.  No noticeable dent on the toy mess.  “Mommy, I’m hungry!” one of them said.  “I know.”  I finished putting together my salad.  “When are we going to eat?”  they whined.  I pointed to the toys, “is the mess cleaned up?  Not until then.”  Then came the tears.  The whimpering.  The pouting.  The frustrated toy throwing and yelling “I hate you mommy!”

So I ate my salad, and the Destroyer, who actually obeyed and put things away when I told him to, ate his dinner.  The Engineer and Princess ate bread.  The Engineer picked more toys up and earned some cheese.  Then he picked up more and earned some fruit.  By bedtime, he had a decent meal out of it, but no treat.  That rankled.  He felt unfairly treated: more melodrama.

I’m not sure if this is a gifted thing or a parenting thing.  Gifted comes into play when trying to weasel out of the task.  The bargaining, the threats, the melodrama – that’s all the intensities kicking in when the strong emotions flow.  The responsibility thing – probably just normal parenting.

I’m not sure how to encourage more responsibility.  Somehow, they’ve gotten the idea that doing nothing is ok.  That parents exist to serve them.  I know they’re little, but we’ve tried to train them to pick up after themselves.  If they can put their shoes away correctly, then they can put the car away when they’re done.  If they know better than to throw their coats on the floor, then they should know not to dump an entire box of toys and leave it there.  It’s not translating.  And it’s not like they haven’t heard it 20 zillion times before.  This is not a new concept.

I have no words of wisdom.  No tips, tricks, or magic solutions.  Just us, our struggle, and our kids.  Mommy fail.  Parenting fail.  #tiredandfrustrated

On the plus side, I managed to get the carpets cleaned today with the glorious toy-free expanse.   Tomorrow…I will mop the floor.  Woo hoo!  The joys of being a stay-at-home parent.


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