29 Jan

If only I could care less . . . a story about fear, wet towels, and letting go

There it was again.  A wet towel lying on my 11-year-old’s bedroom floor.
 

wet towellI’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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13 thoughts on “If only I could care less . . . a story about fear, wet towels, and letting go

  1. Great read! Would love to hear more about your process of understanding and unwinding this concern from your inner programming! One of my hot triggers is stuff being spilled, especially by my 4 yo who I know will refuse to clean it up. Grrrrr! But when I delve deep, I recognize that there are connections to my own childhood and that is helping.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lana. The process is not over yet. I’m still unwinding the old programming (or rather, letting it be and trying to do some new programming.) It takes lots of practice!

  3. My version of “If only I could care less,” is pick your battles. Just had this conversation with the husband about picking the ones that really mean something, rather than ALL of the battles. Which means you have to care less about the small ones, for sure! The wet towel, the piles of clean clothes (I wish they stayed in neater piles at least), going out in 30 degree weather with only a sweatshirt. We are working on conversations about what matters. And what doesn’t. Thanks for reminding me to continue to care less about the small stuff!

    • Yes, pick your battles is a great way to put it. Some of us pick too many, some too few. I tend to be on the too many side. Thanks for your comment, Laura!

  4. I’ve been experimenting with caring less about what my son’s room looks like. He likes to get things out and play with them and leave them all over the floor. We used to have him clean up his floor and put away his things at the end of every day. We loved it but he hated it. We are trying now to have him put his things away once a week – in time for our weekly house cleaning. We hate it but he loves it. By the end of the week (and usually within only one or two days) his floor is covered with stuff. I close his door when he is not at home so I don’t have to look at it. But still when I do go in there and see the mess I just cringe.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is a great reminder to think about what is underneath the caring…

  5. I cared about my daughter, Mary. leaving her dried cereal bowls in her room until I decided to care less about that and care more about making sure the message of love got through. I told her, “I’m going to pick up your dried cereal bowls in your room (when we run out of bowls) as a message to let you know how much I love you.” I honestly don’t remember what happened after that. I guess that is truly caring less about the dried cereal bowls. 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment, Jane! And also for the laugh (re: not knowing how this works. You figured it out, tho!)

  6. Last year, I was very frustrated with rabbits eating my flowers, so much so that my 2 year old and 4 year old both said, often, “mommy does not like bunnies.” This is not a good message. My 4 year old suggested that maybe I should just not worry so much about the annuals getting nibbled. I said we’d be sad because we didn’t have nice flowers. He said we wouldn’t be sad, because we didn’t care. So this year I didn’t plant annuals. I am a happier person who doesn’t rage at bunny rabbits. My son taught me basically that the joy of pretty flowers (or a clean room) does not outweigh the frustration I had to go through in pursuit of those flowers. So stop the pursuit and enjoy other, better pursuits. Like playing go fish or just watching cute bunnies racing through your yard. Cause that’s cool too.

  7. Wow, Katie, that is so beautifully said! Thank you for sharing this story. Isn’t is amazing, the wisdom that can come from a 4YO?!

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