I am a neat person. Well, as neat as a mom of four kids can be.
I wasn’t always considered neat. In fact, my college roommate might read this and laugh hysterically because there was a point in time that you couldn’t even see my bed because of the piles of crap. And the sink full of dishes? Record breaking.
[Top image: Eye Just Shoot on Etsy]
But now there are no piles of crap. Mostly. The dishes are done before I go to bed. (Yay kids, A.K.A. free labor.) And the amount of wiping, and sweeping I do is nearly worthy of an OCD diagnosis.
Which is why my 12-year old daughter’s messy room drives me completely batty.
Piles of crap, part deux.
I’ve tried a ridiculous number of techniques to get her to keep her room clean — so many that my gravestone should read She tried so hard to clean, but in the end, she was buried in training bras and colored pencils.
I took away her gadgets, only to be returned when she had cleaned her room. I gave her gadgets, only to be used if she kept her room clean. I even cleaned it myself. Ah, the fresh scent of enabling and codependence.
But nothing worked.
My daughter’s room was still messy, or would be in another day or two. Then I realized, that all it became this wrench in our relationship that really wasn’t there before.
She felt bad because she knew I hated that her room was messy. I felt bad because I hated that her room was messy. And any argument we had about anything always ended up at “and your room is messy!”
The last thing I wanted was to be at odds with a 12-year old about to enter adolescence.
But everything changed when I started doing a little soul searching, and lot of reading. First there was Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure, then a New York Times article about the topic of messy rooms, and most recently, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.
And with that, I decided to give up the fight.
Here’s why I decided to stop making my daughter clean her room
1. There’s no correlation between keeping a neat room and being a goal-oriented person: This little tidbit in the New York Times article (linked above) was exactly what I needed to read. Messy room doesn’t mean messy person, and this understanding was a huge game changer for me.
2. The messy room didn’t interfere with any aspect of her life. My daughter was doing well in school, completing her homework, and still being the all-around awesome kid that she is. So, really, an untidy room did nothing but interfere with our relationship — not how she was functioning as a (great) human being.
3. When the messy room did interfere with something, she solved it on her own. After reading The Gift of Failure, I’m so much more willing to let my kids figure out solutions to their problems. Got ants in your room because you’ve left food out? Can’t find your favorite skirt for school in the morning? Surprise! My daughter figured out a way to deal with those issues and more — all on her own — which I believe is teaching her lessons she’ll be able to apply in other aspects of her life.
4. Speaking of problem solving, this is what the adolescent brain is equipped to do. So why not let it do its job? I’ve been enjoying Brainstorm, and one of the points that author Daniel Siegel makes is that the adolescent brain is creative and really ripe for out-of-the-box thinking, which can often come out in a not so positive way. So, why not tap into that creativity and give my child the chance to put her tween brain to maximum use?
5. This wasn’t the battle I wanted to have. I know there will continue to be arguments and disagreements with my daughter, because that’s just the nature of a parent-child relationship as they grow older. In the end, I decided that fighting about a messy room was not the fight I wanted to have with her. I also realized that most of my issues with her room had more to do with me; in other words, the clutter was overwhelming me, not her. By shutting her door (something I highly recommend!) and allowing her to have her own space, it’s actually changed our relationship for the better, freeing us up to fight about other, more important things.
Okay, not really, but I know it’s coming.
You can find The Gift of Failure and Brainstorm at your local bookstore, or at our affiliate Amazon.com.