Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The fundamental flaw in my parenting style.

Playing with butter

"You LET him do WHAT?"

The thing that people question the most about my parenting is The Mess. It is always about the mess. Not the experience, not the fun, not the learning, the mess. As if one should care about the mess. As if the mess is the most awful thing one could imagine.

If I had a quarter for every incredulous question, raised eyebrow, or disapproving look I would be a rich woman rocking a designer diaper bag.

Cinnamon Ornaments
Making Cinnamon Ornaments

I don't have a 'parenting style'. I think all of the hype about 'What kind of parent are you?' and 'What is your parenting style?' is a total waste of time and a great way to get people to miss what they have in common. Getting obsessed with a 'parenting philosophy' can make us miss what is going on with our kids.

But I do think that LIFE IS MESSY. I think that is what makes it beautiful and worthwhile. I think that you need to embrace the mess to see the beauty in the moment. Messes teach us how to adapt, change, clean up. and yet, so many of us are afraid of making a mess.

But here's the thing about a mess:
1. Messes are awesomesuperfuntimes. (Art is messy, science is messy, play is messy, math is...well, boring, but if you make it messy then it could be fun.)

Caulk paint

2. Better the mess I designed, than the mess I found unexpectedly. (Rainbow rice scattered on the hardwood floor? One minute and a broom. An entire container of Vaseline smeared on the iPad and child? That's gonna take awhile.)


Indoor construction zone, hours of fun.
Vaseline on the iPad, hours of cleaning.

3. Making a mess is how we learn that the world won't end just because we screw up.'s washable.

Like, even if we get caught drawing a cafe filled with dancing penguins on our bedroom wall. The world will not end. We will have the wash the wall, but the world will go on, relatively unchanged. If we trip and spill our milk, the world will not end, we will just wipe it up. In case you think my house is a disgusting mess all the time, I assure you it is not. We do have a rule about messes:

4. If you make a mess, clean it up.

I know my plan is working, because when kiddo spills his drink, he immediately looks for a towel. And when he spills his drink in front of The Hubster, (who is not ok with The Mess) he immediately puts his little hand on Daddy's arm and says, "Don't worry Daddy, we'll just clean it up. It will be ok." And when his baby brother spits up he says, "Oh silly Baby Brother, you shouldn't puke on my bed like that. I'll get something to wipe you up." It's not a big deal. There is no drama, no crying, no shouting, no fretting about 'screwing up'. Messes happen, we clean them up, we move on. I hope that as he gets older he remembers this when the 'messes' are a bit bigger, or involve other people, but for now...

Because I am not worried about The Mess, a kid covered in lipstick is funny.
Because I am not worried about The Mess, bath time is less of a struggle, and gravity experiments are scientific discoveries.
Even if sometimes I have to settle for starting a bath fully clothed, just to get him to go in it. Because bath time has always been a tough sell around here. Whatever, it had been a week and at least his hair got washed. (Note to self: if you threaten to put a kid in a bath 'clothes and all' you might end up with a kid in the bath with all of his clothes on.)
Sometimes making a mess is the only way to get a boy clean.


Because I don't worry about The Mess, play dates are more interesting.


And deodorizing the carpet makes for a few hours of fun while Mommy rests.
And exploring the silverware drawer gives me time to menu plan.
A set of washable markers can turn a long car ride into a body art event.

And I just think picking up beads is a small price to pay for long, quiet summer afternoons spent playing on the porch.


Because I am not worried about The Mess, I have a kid who asks interesting questions, then goes looking for answers. Because I am not worried about The Mess, I have a kid who thinks art and science are cool. Because I am not worried about The Mess, I have a kid who isn't afraid to tell me when he's made a mess, and doesn't hide because he thinks he'll be 'in trouble', and who (generally) cheerfully pitches in to fix it. How different would we be if I pitched a fit and yelled about every little mess?


Letting go of the fear of The Mess means there is room and time in our day to embrace more fun. With toddlers on the loose, the house was bound to be a bit messy anyhow.




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