There it was again. A wet towel lying on my 11-year-old’s bedroom floor.
I’m not a neat freak, I swear. I like things to be relatively clean, and I appreciate an organized pantry or filing system. But there are often dirty dishes in my sink at bedtime, and every horizontal surface in my office is covered with something that belongs somewhere else.
But the wet towel on my daughter’s floor! And the dirty clothes only inches from her hamper. And piles of clean, folded clothing on her chair, awaiting their moment to be placed neatly into drawers. It kind of kills me.
I know many tools from Positive Discipline, and have been using them for quite some time. Like asking rather than telling: “what do we do with wet towels?” Writing a humorous note: “Hi, it’s your carpet here, and I’d appreciate seeing the light of day!” Pointing to the wet towel without speaking. Taking time to teach her how to fold and hang a towel. I even tried joint problem solving. Her solution: “Give me a reward every time I put my towel away.” Huh. That’s not what I was going for.
She would quickly comply when I reminded her, but I was really tired of reminding her. Our relationship was turning into a series of reminders. And then someone asked me a very good question: “What if you cared less?”
Wow. I had to think hard about that one.
The next day, I told my daughter that I was going to give her some space to take care of her own room. I told her that I hoped she would pick up her towel after bathing, and put away her clean clothes on her own, but that I was no longer going to remind her and that I had faith in her to take care of these things herself. In short, I backed off.
For the next week, amazingly, her room was definitely tidier. When her towel was picked up and clothes put away I told her that I noticed and she literally beamed. But after about a week, I walked in to find her towel on the floor, and (ugh!) I couldn’t not care. I looked at her with wide eyes and pointed at the towel. I broke my end of the deal. (Again, ugh!) Man, it’s hard to care less.
So, I will try it again, and reflect a bit more on why it’s so hard to care less. I know that fear is playing a role here: fear that she will be a sloppy mess for the rest of her life and no one will want to be with her because she can’t take care of herself or her things. But how likely is that, really?
I, myself, used to put wads of already chewed gum on the back of my bed stand. Now that’s disgusting. And somehow I turned a corner and cleaned up my act. All on my own. I didn’t end up living alone in a pig sty.
There’s also fear of judgment. When people look at my daughter, what will they think of me? I thought I was over that one. Apparently I still have some work to do.
My realization (slowly coming to me. . . ) is this: My daughter will change. She will grow. She has so much time, and so many strengths. Some parts of her may not change, but even so, I want a strong, connected relationship with her. So I have to decide what to care about. And what not to.
I’ve also decided that I’m teaching her how to do her own laundry ( :
What do you want to care less (or more!) about? Please share your thoughts!
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