I’ve got two boys and have come to that foretold moment in my parenting. That moment where I go in to their room, when they are not around, to collect every foul smelling t-shirt and pair of shorts that can be found. They know to put their dirty clothes in a basket and they diligently do so. We just seem to disagree on what constitutes “dirty”.
I tried to teach them how to know when something is dirty. Such as, “when there is visible dirt or an odor coming from the clothes”… this means “dirty”. Rookie mistake. They have their own definition and it involves lengths of time.
So, I now regularly hear things like, “But Mom, I’ve only worn it for two weeks!”. There is no other response but to weep with despair when your sons tell you this.
I work at a University and our students live on campus, in community. The staff, with our airs of superiority, bemoan those 20 year old young men that come to us without the basic understanding of cleanliness and hygiene. Dear future leaders of my sons, I’m sorry, I tried. I really did.
I’m pondering what my standard should be for said laundry problem. Is this a battle to fight?
When my sons were younger, I went through a similar battle with shoes. I’m an American but live in South Africa. I grew up in that blessed country of America where hand sanitizer reigns supreme and bleach wipes are at the beck and call of every minor mess. Americans tell me how dirty their kids are and I scoff.
Oh you Americans with your washing machine AND clothes dryer. With your anti-bacterial soap, antibacterial clothing and anti-bacterial hand-shakes. You know nothing of dirt and germs. Your children may have allergies, asthma and blow up like a balloon at the mere contact of a germ but at least you are clean. That seems to be a good trade off for our mutual homeland.
In South Africa, shoes are optional for children (that’s putting it mildly). I judged and criticised quietly in my heart but then I had kids of my own. I tried to put shoes on them, I really did. Alas, my children ran barefoot through shopping malls, to church and everything in between.
On the first week of Kindergarten the teacher told me, “You should really just leave the shoes, they will get lost anyways. It’s so much easier if they just come without”. That was her way of telling this American, “Get with the program, lady”. And so I gave up.
Now American visitors come and I can hear them mumbling under their breath, “No shoes, oh my!”. This is when they see MY children.
One visitor felt a vision to collect shoes for children in South Africa. She was so distraught… so many children had not one pair of shoes to wear! I had visions of those precious shoes, shipped all the way from America, joining a pile of unused shoes in South African homes.
So, shoes have gone by the way-side in my household. I now bookmark every article I can about how Amish kids have less allergies because they walk barefoot through barns and cow pastures. It somehow brings comfort to my shoeless existence.
What are those hills to die on in life? I sometimes I find myself giving 90% of my energy to issues that really aren’t worth it. I’m beginning to think that an inventory of high-priority issues in my parenting and relationships needs to happen regularly. Not a deep soul-searching exercise. More like a spring cleaning with evangelistic zeal. Those times where you tackle your home and throw out the excess like someone on an episode of “Hoarders”.
In this spring-cleaning, I throw out all unnecessary issues that I was obsessing about. The things that really just need less focus, anxiety and intensity. Instead they get laughter and throwing caution to the wind.
Two days ago my boys got in a fight. Now, the context is that my husband is gone for over two weeks… so I’m dealing with EVERY SINGLE THING. (Bless you single parents, there is a Bette Middler song out there just for you).
My youngest son was weeping because his brother hurt him. I went to the guilty brother and asked him what happened. The response?
“Well, he was annoying me. I asked him to stop and he didn’t, sooooo…”.
“So what?”, I said.
“So… I hugged his head.”
Parenting spring cleaning happened right then and there. I laughed until tears were falling down my face then stood up and walked out. Not a hill to die on. Not today, not for me. Tomorrow will be another day.
In the mean time I’m doing my “sneak attack” laundry and packing away the shoes for poor children in America.
What relational spring-cleaning do you need to do? What are you worrying about that just isn’t worth it?