Fine! Don’t put your things away! I’m NOT doing it for you! You can just sleep on top of your Lego and UNO cards! See if I care!”
Every evening, I relay some version of this message to the occupants of our home and a few pigeons on the balcony. This is usually preceded or succeeded by a diatribe on homework assignments, eating dinner and abdomen guards that have mysteriously turned up in the dishwasher.
The yelling, stomping and arm-waving has varying effects on the listeners. The startled pigeons wait guardedly on the floor above for me to disappear before returning to their perch. The children play dead like possums.
There are some days when it all gets too much, and I just go and lie down with a book. The children, sensing the oppressive air of their mother’s defeat, are somehow galvanised into action. They push everything under the bed (which is what ‘put things away’ means to them), bathe and diligently solve long division sums. They keep checking in on me to make sure I’m alright. To be honest, I have done this two times in ten years of parenting. It’s clearly effective, so I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.
But my question is, why do we (and by that mean I) keep doing things for our kids? Is it because as adults we know that if things aren’t done in a certain way in a certain time frame there will be consequences? Is it because we’re worried that people will judge us, the parents, for our children’s poorly executed homework, untidy rooms and missing (but washed) abdomen guards? Or, does parenting turn us all into paranoid, control freaks?
Despite everything I read about how important it is to give children a sense of agency and that to take it away from them is to diminish their self worth, I do things for them. Not happily with a smile on my face, which might just make it mildly ok. But like a crazy woman, stomping around so much that I could make a bottle of Merlot if there were grapes under my feet. Despite all the parenting columns I read, where writers extol the virtues of backing off and allowing children to make their own decisions, I am rendered incapable of doing the same. When I do try, its like I’m on pins and needles. Anxious. Irritated. Scared.
Over the weekend I watched my son try to solve sums involving bulbs, cartons, six digit numbers and long division, I snapped and said “Let me write it out neatly for you.” He snapped right back “Let me make my own mistakes.”
And there you have it. Something that should be printed on t-shirts, coasters and posters. It can be an entire range, “Let me make and clean up my own mess. Literally and figuratively.” “Let me explain my way out of this situation.” “LET ME BE!”
I realise how much I need to loosen the grip on the steering wheel, relax those hunched shoulders and turn the music up to drown that nagging voice in my head that’s telling me impending doom is around that left turn, if I don’t take over. The kids will be alight. The pigeons will be grateful too.
The writer’s philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me