Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Maintaining Order

Now that I'm home during the day, I find myself doing something I've studiously avoided for nearly a decade: picking up after my daughter. I do it absent-mindedly, on the way from one room to another as a means of tidying up. But, I must confess, that even when I catch myself, I don't always return the item to its wrongful place. In fact, I sometimes even put it away.

My husband and I have long been at odds about this, and he and I have had hundreds of discussions about how picking up after able-bodied children who are old enough to pick up after themselves teaches them exactly the opposite of what we want them to learn. Still, he has a lower threshold for disorder than I do, and the out-of-place items cause him enough discomfort that he must pick them up. Sometimes, he even puts them where they belong.

When my daughter and I left the house - together - each day, it was easy to ignore the detritus of a hurried morning. I was at work, and couldn't see it, so it was easy to let it go until we returned home. Now that I'm at home for a significant portion of the day, these odds and ends in various locations capture my attention numerous times throughout the day, and it is, indeed, easier to just pick them up than it is to leave them where they are until my daughter comes home to retrieve them.

And it's not just the stuff. Being at home gives me a greater accessibility, but it also makes it easier for me to do things for other people that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. I'm finding it much more difficult to resist that pull than I thought I would. The caretaker in me is at war with the practical parent who knows that independence and self-sufficiency are things to be prized and that these attributes are learned only through practice and experience, by doing day-to-day things like picking up after oneself and making sure clothes that need to be washed go into the hamper, not on the bedroom floor.

Don't get me wrong - I haven't suddenly become Mrs.Clean, or anything resembling the picture of happy domesticity. I'd still much rather make dinner reservations than make dinner, and cleaning is much more of an afterthought than it should be for someone who spends most of each day working at home. I expected some adjustments when I transitioned from working full-time to this next phase, but it never occurred to me that simply maintaining my parental expectations would so rattle my nurturing side. I like doing things for my family, but after 27 years as a school counselor, I firmly believe that self-esteem is earned, not gifted, and arises in part from learning how to do things for oneself.

So, from now on, when I catch myself undermining my daughter's developing self-esteem by moving her junk out of the living room, I'll drop it right where it is.

Most of the time, anyway.

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