Anyone with children or who remembers childhood is also likely to recall the perpetual challenge the request “clean up time” regularly comes with.
Fortunate is our society that our children have so many playthings. The bounty also gives us a never-ending conundrum of how many toys is enough, what to do to organize all of them, and how to deal with reluctant children and chaos in the aftermath of building towers, setting up intricate road systems, creating dragon lairs and rescue missions and such.
One of the perpetual missions I find myself on is identifying ways to turn the tides of the power struggle from a battle of wills and rather into an opportunity to explore choices. My ability to run mental gymnastics finding solutions that give Little Boy practice making choices while still maintaining my boundaries sometimes runs out, but more often than not we find a solution.
Like every other parent of children with multiple toys, the time comes when we must announce cleanup time. And like every other parent who announces this, it is not infrequent to hear that your sweet child would prefer someone *else* to clean up the mess on the floor as it has become uninteresting since play has stopped.
Umm. No. Power struggle…imminent.
One day when presented with this innocent declaration that cleanup would be left for someone else, I had an epiphany. In my search to stay calm, since in my experience in winning power struggles is exhausting, I hatched a plan that would be acceptable to both of us.
Little Boy was presented with his choices. We talked about how when you make a mess, you clean it up. Mom cleans up messes in the kitchen when she makes them, Papa cleans up messes in the garage when he’s building things. We talked about all the grownups in his life and the messes they might make and then clean up. Little Boy makes messes too, and part of making the mess is cleaning it up.
So, he was offered his solution. One of the things I do for our family is keep our house cleaned up. I have other responsibilities of things to take care of, just like he takes care of his toys, but we could trade chores and I was okay with that.
So quickly I scooped the jumble of playthings into a basket and stashed it in a high place. We talked about how when he was ready to earn them back, we’d come up with something that Mom was planning on doing to trade. One cleanup for one cleanup.
Deep breath. I didn’t feel taken advantage of, the toys were picked up, and Little Boy had some fairly earned washing coming up that he would *choose* when to do!
The stash that I clean up peacefully grows. Dump trucks, airplanes, random cars, trucks, trains, motorcycles. One basket for each cleanup, ready for trade with one cleanup around the house. Little Boy discovers toys he hasn’t played with in a while since his other toys are in hock and he is unwilling to clean for them yet. The pull to be domestic has not yet grown strong enough to match his desire for the toys cleaned up.
One bin discovered leads to more needed, and our house gets some deep cleaning that’s been waiting just for him.
Toilets, sinks, small sections of floors, stairs, little tables, wooden arm rests…each in it’s own time has been polished and washed too.
And I sigh with satisfaction. One more power struggle to release. That feels good.