To whoever lives with my teens next,
I’d like to start this letter by telling you that whether you live with my son or my daughter, they are both very kind, responsible, respectful, hardworking, and wise people. I’m so proud of these valuable character traits and I believe you will quickly come to the same conclusions about them too. That is most important. I remind myself of this truth regularly.
But unfortunately, you will also learn that although my kids are amazing human beings, they both have one serious flaw: They are slobs. And I want to extend my sincere apologies for what you will soon see…
They will leave their stuff everywhere, no matter HOW many times you remind them to pick things up. You’ll find dirty cups and plates, shoes and clothes, books and papers, and trash scattered all around the house until you tell them for the third, fourth, even fifth time to PICK IT UP NOW. I have witnessed them walking right by their bags and bowls and all other belongings as if they didn’t even exist. It’s honestly quite confusing to me, this type of ignorance that seems completely incomprehensible.
I’ve tried to change these behaviors. Oh, how I’ve tried.
I’ve woken them out of a dead sleep to tell them they forgot to put something away or clean something up, as they moaned in anguish while I stood by their bed waiting for them to slowly slip out of their comfy covers and trudge downstairs to take care of their carelessness. I’ve even gone so far as to charge them their precious limited funds, a buck for every item I found lying around the house at the end of the day. Yet, as much as they are devastated at the cost of their messy mistakes, they soon recover and continue doing the exact same thing.
I’m finding the basic source of their sloppy slips is their “forgetfulness.” This is fascinating to me because they never forget to facetime with their friends or participate in that gaming tournament with their buddies. They are pretty good at remembering their sports schedules, work schedules, and turning in their school assignments, too.
But they will forget to do their dishes as they allow them to “soak” for hours at a time and never return. They will forget to hang their coats, or wet towels, or put the Tupperware full of fresh food back in the fridge. They will forget to do their chores after several reminders from me. What’s more disconcerting is they will forget WHAT their chores are, even when they are expected to do the same chores that rotate on a biweekly basis. They find it difficult to remember these basic conditions that have been set for years. Their mindset says, “Which week is it? I don’t know, so I just won’t do my chores because I’m confused.” Yes, this is their illogical stance. I’m amazed by this type of cognitive incoherence while they are taking honors and college-level classes and have over a 4.0 GPA.
And it’s not just about their forgetfulness, it seems they have this inherent ability to make a mess with anything they do. When they make their meals, there will be crumbs and smudges and spills and empty containers and dirty plates and fallen food, littering the countertops and floors. They will have splattered toothpaste all over the bathroom sink and somehow manage to hit the mirrors with make-up smears too. They will place their water bottles right NEXT to the convenient coaster on the coffee table, and while they are eating on the couch, one even uses the lovely throw as a napkin. Sick.
I feel this might be the best time to state my case, defending my own ability to run a well-kept and organized home, modeling how to take care of one’s belongings, because I’m sure you are imagining that we live in a trough. No, this is not true. I pride myself on keeping our living space fairly clean, vermin free, and in pretty decent order. And I will NOT let my kids dissolve my efforts.
Most of my time and energy goes into pointing out in over a thousand different ways, how they must improve these filthy fiascos before they leave home. And as much as I try to instill responsibility and teach them how to clean the toilet bowls, fold their clothes, and scrub pots and pans, as much as I work SO HARD to teach them over and over again, how to make cleanliness a part of their lives, I fear I have failed to make things stick.
So, whether you are dorm mates or housemates, a family host, or apartment roommates, I wish you the very best of luck living with my kids. I tried. I really did.
Please know that I have raised my kids on the belief that we must respect our belongings by keeping and caring for them on a continual basis. I have imparted the great truth that in doing so, we are respecting the people who live with us, too. I can only hope and pray that somehow, someway, my kids will remember all they learned through these exhausting teen years, that my endless efforts in teaching them to be diligent and not neglectful, to be mindful and not forgetful, to be considerate and not careless… will all come to life when they leave.
Maybe, just maybe, when they live somewhere else, they will prove they are truly capable of taking care of their things and keeping the place clean.
That is my hope and my prayer for you.