Holding tight and letting go

By Mir
July 21, 2008

The children are home! The children are home! The children are DONE TRAVELING for the summer! AND ALL GOD’S PEOPLE SAID AMEN!

Hey, it’s nice that I don’t have any strong feelings about whether or not the kids are around, dontcha think? It really enables me to just go with the flow and relax. I can just totally enjoy the time while the kids are gone…

… biting my nails down to the knuckle and crying on their pillows.

Anyway! They’re home! They appear to be more or less in one piece! They are quite huggable and kissable and—as we discovered last night in the pool—throwable! And very little says “I love you so much” like tossing someone into the deep end. I’m just sayin’. (Dude. They were both wearing their goggles with the strap so low that their ears were all folded over like elves, and it was nibble said ears right off their heads or toss them. I tried to choose wisely.)

Anyway, school starts in less than three weeks (!!!!) and the idea now is to get into a routine, get back to normal life, and make stability the watchword. This summer was… erm… a bit scattered. (See how diplomatic I am?) Before the kids left this last time, we proposed a change upon their routine: Weekly family meetings.

Last night, we had our first meeting.

First item on the agenda: Allowance. Somehow, I got out of the habit of giving the kids allowance. I mean, really, what do they need money for? To pay for hookers and drugs? Despite my general level of meanness, I do pretty much provide everything they need. Food, clothing, shelter, the occasional popsicle; they’re living in the lap of luxury! But I believe in allowance like I believe in chocolate and bacon—it’s absolutely necessary. This is how the kids learn to manage money. So we renegotiated their rate and what percentages need to be set aside for donating and putting in the bank, and everyone was happy as I whipped out a stack of dollar bills. (And by “whipped out a stack of dollar bills,” I of course mean “looked in my wallet, realized I only had twenties, and asked Otto to please give me some ones.”)

All good. Happy happy!

Next up: Chores. We had a good family discussion about regular chores which are part of living in this house and contributing to the family, and how allowance is NOT payment for chores. You do chores because you want to help out. (And because I yell when you don’t. Whatever.) We had some discussion about what would constitute “extra” and ways they could make more money, if they wanted to go above and beyond.

All good. Happy happy!

And then: The most dreaded of topics. The elephant in the room (and under the bed, and all over the furniture)! I know that if you read here, you’ve come to adore my children (they ARE adorable), but… I have to tell you something. THEY ARE PIGS. I know, that’s hard to imagine. Because they’re so perfect, and all. But MY GOD. They are slobs. We had started to set up some rules, before they left, about when common areas of the house need to be tidied of their things. But last night was the formal declaration of something new we’re going to try, and it just about killed me.

After some soul-searching, and some pointed memories of being a slobby youngster and finding it HORRIBLY UNFAIR that I had to keep MY room to my PARENTS’ standards, last night we made it official: Their bedrooms need only be tidied twice a month. TWICE A MONTH! That’s 28 days out of 30 that I can’t say ONE WORD about the crap all over the floor. 28 days out of 30 that I need to ignore piles of books, mounds of dirty laundry, and toys left to be stepped on and broken.

On designated days, their rooms must pass inspection (and that means we can walk through without hurting ourselves). The rest of the time—I need to zip my lips and close my eyes.

Hold me.

Now, the corollary to this new rule is that I don’t help find lost items, I don’t say a word about clothes that haven’t made it to the hamper (and if I do laundry and your stuff isn’t in there, OH WELL), and common areas must still meet household standards of cleanliness every night.

They agreed, cheerfully. I think I’m the only one freaking out.

“What if my room ends up completely filled with GARBAGE?” Monkey asked me as I tucked him in, last night. “What if between cleaning days it gets REALLY BAD?”

“Well, I guess then you’d have to decide if you liked living like that,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. Then: “I think I’ll probably keep it pretty clean. I like to do extra chores!” This child sweats sugar. It was all I could do not to lick him.

Chickadee hugged me long and hard at bedtime. “I am glad to be home but it’s hard,” she said. We talked about the trip, the good things, the hard things, the things we’re looking forward to. “I don’t know if twice a month is enough to help me keep my room clean,” she said. “I think maybe you should make me do it more often.”

“I think that maybe YOU should make you do it more often, if you feel that way,” I responded (lightly, I hoped). We hugged each other, in the dark, my chin resting on her head, her breath warm on my neck, my arms wrapped around her wiry frame.

There’s no question that I lucked into a couple of great kids. Know that I say this with abundant love and gratitude in my heart: Please send Valium and a blindfold.


  1. Megan

    HALLELUJAH! Thank you for outing your children’s pigginess. My own delightful, beautiful, intelligent, fabulous offspring would happily wallow in their own filth and it makes me feel like I’ve done something terribly wrong somehow. Now at least I can feel there’s come company in this misery. [feel obliged to admit that all three for three different reasons have begun very slightly to keep their respective rooms clean. That’s two weeks out of the last… oh these many years]

  2. Melisa

    Wow, that sounds perfectly reasonable. I may just steal your ideas. Thanks for putting all the thought and soul-searching into it.

  3. Leandra

    Dude, can I send this to my husband? As a “Let’s try this?” because he is a little OCD when it comes to Bubba’s room. I mean, the kid has to take out some toys to PLAY, right? I mean, how can you play without the room getting a little messy?

    So glad the kids are home!

  4. Jenni

    In addition to the cleaning rule, you should also make a statement of if there is not a path from the door to the bed, you will not be able to come in their room to say good night or to wake them up. We had to do that with Red because the rest of her room would be clean, but the area between the door and the bed would to littered with everything that she brought up to her room from anywhere else in the else. She’d basically just set it down as soon as she walked in the room.

  5. RuthWells

    Oh yes, the rooms. We are on something like a twice-per-month cleaning schedule as well, but I reserve the right to make them clean up in between if necessary. ‘Cause I’m the mommy.

  6. Randi

    I agree with you that the kiddos room should be “their domain” – and that as long as the common areas are clean, its all good. My husband, however, was raised by older parents, who felt that having your room clean was a necessity.

    We constantly argue over this…

  7. shannon in oregon

    you know, my parents had this thing they called the “saturday box” for when my sister and i failed to pick things up in the common areas. if we left it out and had moved on to other things, boom, in the box it went until the following saturday. if it was saturday, we had to wait a whole week.

    it worked. even now i threaten my husband with the damn thing. :)

  8. suburbancorrespondent

    I would have gone with once a week – and make it before something really special, like the Saturday family outing or some such thing so they have incentive. If you go too long and it gets really messy, the child gets overwhelmed. Plus, you can get killed running in there at night to see about a bad dream or whatever…

  9. Em

    I don’t think its ALL luck that they are wonderful.

    I like the clean room idea but I think my lawyer-to-be daughter would find some loophole that involved the 30 days hath September poem. Or some other loophole I am not smart enough to anticipate.

    I too insist on the path from the door to the bed in case of emergency. Because I like to fill my children’s heads with visions of firemen at bedtime.

  10. Jess

    Thank goodness they’re home!!

    I always had the “I never have any ones” problem which is why my kid never gets her allowance. ;) I need to just stock up on ones or something. But she, too, is a piggie, and we work really hard on keeping her room clean. She has a difficulty with seeing the mess, I think.

  11. susie

    I have tears as I read this. No one prepared me for the sweet heartache that comes with parenthood, how growth is as much pain as it is joy, that letting go is required – especially when you want to desperately want to hang on…

  12. Jan

    When my kids get to allowance age, I’m making them accept Bill Pay.


    Sort of.

    I so badly want to be possessed of the tidy gene. Do they sell that at Target?

  13. elizabeth

    so glad for you the traveling summer is over. now back to your regularly scheduled insanity, right?
    I love the way you describe your kids. with all the love and frustration and reality, but mostly love. I’d send Valium, if I had any, sorry…

  14. Jennifer

    If their bedrooms hurt your eyes tooo much, you can go pet your new plaster! And stroke your wood! (No, I’m fairly certain I did not just type that last sentance out loud.)

  15. jennielynn

    It’s on its way. In my experience, there comes a tipping point, where they decide that cleaning up a little every night isn’t such a bad idea. Here’s hoping!

  16. Lady M

    I need to figure out a toy storage strategy. Right now, we just have piles and larger piles, and a few too-small bins. Maybe a shelving unit? Large bins? Sending it all to the Salvation Army? The little dude is only 3, so we’ve got a long way to go.

  17. Burgh Baby

    Three weeks?!?!?!? Oh.my.hell. What happened to summer?

  18. MomCat

    Very enlightened, in more ways than one. They’ll love you for it!

  19. kim

    Good lord, this is brilliant. My kids are three and one, but I am saving this post for a few years. Evernoting it, in fact. I dread having to be responsible for locating lost items. Keeping the bedroom doors closed for 28 days a month would be worth it for me. I hope my kids got the neat gene from their dad but I am not betting on it. I’ve been a bad influence on him anyway.

  20. Astrogirl426

    I feel you on the pain of the 28 days. I don’t know if I could do it – you’re a better man than me, Charlie Brown. Let us know how that goes.

    I totally support the decision, tho – we’ve found, when we do similar things with Bunker Monkey (change our expectations of him to something that’s do-able, and let go of the rest), it almost always turns out well. And it’s ultimately a relief to be able to stop stressing about it all.

    Oh yeh, those are some good kids. Ain’t it grand when they just surpass all expectations?

    Now good luck with the next three weeks. My recommendations: Lots of chocolate, bacon, and alcoholic libations (preferably in the form of margaritas). Before you know it, September will be here! (If you do it right, you can make the entire rest of the year go by just like THAT!)

  21. Rebecca

    I’m glad that the kids are home! All is right with the world!

  22. Michele

    Oy. I have two boys. One is fairly neat on his own – mainly ’cause he’s anal about his belongings being placed a certain way. The other? TOTAL SLOB. Drives me nuts. But he also, like me, gets completely overwhelmed. I can’t seem to get it through his head that if he cleans along the way, it won’t get to overwhelming levels. So far, my efforts, abysmal.

  23. Hula Doula

    I tell you what…having family meetings ROCK! At least everyone is on the same page. So start the nail biting. Two days a month??!! Are they assigned days that you can freak out? I don’t think I could do this. You are a much braver woman than I

  24. Julie

    This is so sweet! Great ideas. :)

  25. StephLove

    Welcome Home, Chickadee & Monkey! Your mama missed you bunches. Even I missed you and I don’t even know you.

  26. Dawn

    I have one piggy and one preternaturally neat child who nags ME. I guess it works out to normal. But only if you use the new math.

    Welcome back home Chickie and Monkey!

  27. katrin

    Ok, you are a GENIUS at reverse psychology.

    When you “give” (cleaning only twice a month — at first this must seem to kids like heaven on earth!), they feel no defensiveness or conflict. Smart smart smart. And I like that you won’t help them find things or put their dirty laundry into the hamper. This works like a dream in my house, where four out of five of us seem to have ADD!

    co-author, Mothers Need Time Outs, Too

  28. Aimee

    Yay — welcome home, Chickadee and Monkey! And um… the Valium’s on the way, mkay?

  29. andi

    I agree that chores do not equal allowance. Actually, I don’t believe in allowance… no one gives me free money, I have to earn it and so do my kids. Their room, their clothes, their toys are their responsibility (whether it’s in their room or common areas) and they don’t get paid for taking care of those things. If they want to make money then they need to pick up extra chores – things their dad or I normally do. I know another family that does the same thing and they post “job ads” along with the pay rate. Their kids have learned to negotiate to be awarded the job over their sibling.

  30. That Girl

    so glad they’re home again! deep breaths.

  31. Cari

    I was a messy-roomed child, too. My mother’s requirement was that if I wanted to be tucked in at night, she needed a clear path to my bed. I was nice and even made a fork in the road so she could put clean clothes in the closet.

  32. Flea


    My eleven year old (ADHD child and slob) has a list on the back of his door. Have I told you this one? He and dad – dad is organized – spent an afternoon making the list, cleaning the room one step at a time. You know, things like “Pick up all dirty clothes”, “Pick up all Legos”, “Clean off desk”, “Empty trash”. They worked together to clean and create the list and now I simply ask him to clean according to his list. Most of the time it works. Of course, it would probably help if we worked together to create another list with scheduled cleanings. *sigh*

    Sounds like you’re doing it right. :)

  33. Vane

    Welcome Home Chickadee and Monkey!!

    My daughter is also a bit of a slob, but being a full time working mom my house is always a bit messy so as long as it looks more or less tidy, I just let it go, no need for another source of stress.

  34. Carolie

    Hurray, Mir! I’m impressed…that whole control thing is so tough! And I COMPLETELY agree with you about allowance and chores.

    My brother didn’t want to take out the trash one day, and when Mom insisted, he shrugged and said “dock my allowance, I don’t want to do it.” She sat the three of us down and explained (in great detail) that we got allowance because we shared in the bounty and privileges of being part of the family…and that allowance might grow or shrink with the family financial picture, not just “you get more because you’re older.”

    She ALSO explained that chores were necessary because each of us also shared in the responsibilities of being part of the family…and that we had to do those chores even if we got ZERO allowance. Thus, each family member shared in the duties and the benefits of being part of the family.

    In saying this, I respectfully disagree with commenter Andi’s stand on allowance. She said “no one gives me free money.” There are plenty of stay-at-home or part-time parents who share in the family finances because they are part of the family unit. Ideally, those parents aren’t denied access to the family funds, even if they are not the majority breadwinner, right? (I’m not talking grocery money, but rather the spare funds for a new blouse or a manicure or a cup of exhorbitantly-priced coffee.) I don’t mean chuck wads of dough at your kids, but rather than buying them toys or movie tickets or X number of text messages or whatever, they are given X dollars and told that any movie tickets, iTunes songs, toys other than birthdays and Christmas, etc. are now their responsibility and choice.

    Apologies for talking too much!

  35. Carolie

    p.s. — I love Andi’s neighbor’s technique of “job ads” and letting the kids negotiate/bid on the jobs!

  36. Walking In My Sleep

    It’s so refreshing to know my kid isn’t the only PIG in the world. I love him dearly, but can’t stand to even look at his room. IT MAKES ME CRAZY!!! Love your approach. Maybe (Oh, God, I hope) I could get myself – no, I mean close my eyes tight enough – to walk through his room for most of those days and not have that screaming going on in my head that says, “How can he live this way???”

    Thanks for the idea!

  37. Amy@UWM

    Everyone’s writing about popsicles today (go read Mom-101).

    I know how you feel about the kids being back. My daughter just got back from camp and we missed her so much. I know it’s not the same as your situation (frought with “hard things”), but you’d think after all the head banging they drive us to when they’re around, there wouldn’t be so much nail biting when they’re gone.

  38. Katherine

    On the cleaning of rooms. Supposedly the kids are cleaning their room once a week this summer – usually its not too bad, but currently the rooms are strewn with leftovers from vacation – books, trinkets, etc. I too insist on the path to the bed (and to the window for when we have cool nights and open the windows). I do not insist on a path to the closet or dresser as putting away clothes are their jobs. I told my oldest – if there isn’t a clear path, I can’t bring you a cat. Far worse to him than not getting tucked in!

    I give my kids (ages 9 and 12) an allowance as a tool to learn how to manage money. It is not tied to chores, though they do have chores. I want them to know that we do stuff around the house because we are all part of the family and we all benefit. For the summer at least, they do have a reasonable amount of chores (that during the school year I mostly do), like cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, vacuuming, in addition to the year round trash duty, emptying the dishwasher and setting the table. I think I will retain one more summer chore per kid this fall. With their allowance they buy all their wants (other than Christmas and birthday presents), including presents for family and friends (they pay half the price of friends gifts). I think it gives them a chance to learn about money and make mistakes with small amounts now, rather than later. I have one saver and one spender, interestingly.

    Oh, and I do go to the bank and get a bunch of ones periodically. I’m also bad about not paying every week. Allowance usually gets saved up and paid once or twice a month.

  39. All Adither

    So glad you have them back in your protective and reasonable fold.

  40. BP

    I haven’t reached the “clean your room” stage – but I sure am inspired to try your tips for the future. I almost feel guilty not putting in as much thought and effort as you do!

  41. J (Goteeman)

    Always good to get them back home safe and sound…

    My wife just about goes nuts when the boys are gone…

    got that whole “mama bear” thing going on, and everybody knows not to mess with mama bear when the babies are involved…

    wonderful post…

  42. LiteralDan

    I hope I can be so calm and composed when faced with this situation in a decade or so. Given the genes my wife has contributed, I might occasionally have to “accidentally” push over a mountain of crap onto them so they can learn a lesson in the day or so it takes me to begin mounting a search and rescue.

  43. Amy

    I’m taking notes and hoping that some of these ideas help me in the next year or two. My oldest would “get” it but the Boys are still too young. I love the “Saturday Box” that someone else commented about. I think I’m going to start with that one!

  44. Kristi

    You’re a stronger person than I!

    But you know what I instituted several months ago? They do their OWN laundry. Let me tell you–this plan has saved my sanity single-handedly.

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