Six or seven years ago, my friend Michael and I had a conversation about kids and their rooms. Michael is a Scientologist, and though we have never had discussions about origin stories that involve aliens colonizing earth, we’ve had lots of talks about relationships of all kinds – spousal, work, friends and kids. His study of Scientology informs pretty much all of our conversations, which is why I mention it. Mostly what I hear from him sounds less like religion and more like common sense stuff that many people have forgotten, or never knew in the first place. No hocus pocus, brainwashing or other cult-like behavior in sight.
So anyway, one day when Maya was 5 or so we were talking about kids’ rooms. Maybe she was even younger than that – I can’t remember exactly. Maya is a lot like Joshua in many ways, except when it comes to keeping her room in order. Meaning basically she doesn’t. And for a long time it was the bane of Joshua’s existence. I asked Michael what he thought, because to me battling with my kid over cleaning her room was a waste of time and energy. (Like shoveling snow in a blizzard.) His answer was that when a child is given a room and told ‘this is your room’, then it should be their room in every way. Barring a fire or health hazard, they should be allowed to do whatever they want with it, including drawing on the walls and being messy. (Maya loves her crayon and marker covered walls – it’s like a scrapbook of the last 7 years) If a parent walks in and demands that everything be put away, neat and perfect, then it is no longer the child’s room and the parent has reneged on the promise implicit in saying ‘this is yours’. Which then causes conflict and distrust on the part of the child. Same goes for giving a kid a toy and then proceeding to tell them when and how they can use it. It’s THEIR toy and not the parent’s. It is perfectly acceptable to make them aware that if they choose to break the toy and use the parts for something else, they cannot then come back and ask for a new unbroken one, but other than that, once the toy is given it should be hands off on the part of the parent. (Again, barring safety issues like eating magnets or using parts to injure someone… in other words, use common sense.)
Michael also made me a promise. “If you don’t dictate what she does with her room beyond basic safety measures, I GUARANTEE you that at some point she will voluntarily choose to organize the room and get rid of all the junk. And she’ll probably stick to it because it was her choice. It’ll happen when friends start to mention how messy it is, or she becomes aware of it on her own because she has no place to put things, etc.”
Last week Maya and I had a talk about her room, because the dust was starting to bother both of us. But, she pointed out, she has no place to put things and so they just pile up. We agreed that we would buy drawers or storage containers so that together we could organize the room over the weekend.
But we didn’t. We spent most of our time with friends. And then last night she mentioned it again, and asked if we could organize her room today. Sure!
We started just before 10am this morning. We went to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought several sets of drawers, and then we sat in her room for almost 8 hours. Every drawer was emptied, every piece of paper scrutinized. At least 10 bags of trash were taken out of the room, every item approved as trash by Maya. She said several times how much fun it was to organize everything. How her friends probably think her room is such a mess and how nice it will be once we finish. How it was driving her crazy not to have a place to put things and to have everything covered in dust.
The whole time, Michael’s words echoed through my head.
Tonight it’s all done, except for the upper shelves in her closet, which we plan to do in the morning. Everything has a place, is dust free and she even has an empty shelf to spare.
Sometimes the biggest life learning lessons are mine. I’m glad I listened to my friend. And thrilled that he was right.