By Jenn Moore Mehmke
“Why does everything have to be so neat with you?”
The words shot like pins out of my six year old stepdaughter’s mouth. Stepdaughter…I am still new to parenting multiples.
Until this past September, it was just me and my son Atticus (age seven) and he has never really challenged me. The extent of my discipline has been the use of my serious voice; he hates it when I use my serious voice (his words). Through an alteration in my tone and cadence, I have been able to parent in even the roughest situations. Now there are five of us (fortunately for me one is my very engaged husband).
I have embarked on a new journey of self-discovery and skill building.
Nick lives in Montana with his two children and I live in Wisconsin with my one. Our recent visit over the holidays was the second time we were all together for an extended period. The first time was last summer. (During that visit, I slammed my finger in a truck door and still have the scar to prove it. This occurred after a parenting meltdown followed by Atticus’ suggestion that I take time to meditate—a suggestion I ignored.)
Parenting three children is a different sort of dance—frantic, energetic and unexpected—I am just beginning to learn the steps.
Lily’s bed-making protest came on the heels on my request for her to remake the bed she was jumping on—the bed I had just made a few minutes earlier. I began with, “Lily, will you please make that bed?” Her response, “I don’t know how.”
Calmly and clearly I stated, “Lily, please climb off the bed and straighten the pillows and blankets the way they were before you jumped on them.”
“I don’t remember,” she returned.
I paused, breathed and took the moment I needed to hear and get clear. “Let’s leave this place neater than we found it.” Then she took her time to respond, and after a very, long pause…
“Why does everything have to be so neat with you?”
We made it through the making-the-bed-again moment. In fact, we survived the next two weeks with days of adventure and joyful celebrations. And Atticus and I returned to Wisconsin, where it is again just the two of us. This time I came back with all my fingers fully intact.
Lily’s question has stuck with me,“Why does everything have to be so neat with you?” It is a very valid question and one I had not fully answered for her, or for myself.
We have created a world that offers unlimited distractions from the practices of every day life. Simple activities like self-care, cooking and housework have become inconvenient, something to be delegated to others. I have read a lot of motivational parenting quotes and articles lately that encourage us to leave the mess alone and spend time with the children—the dishes will be there when the kids are grown sort of advice.
I don’t agree.
Children benefit from witnessing us take care in our actions. When we take care of ourselves, our homes and our families we teach respect, responsibility and discipline. We also teach mindfulness.
Children learn far more from observing how we act then they ever do by listening to what we say. So if we say to them, “Clean your room and put your toys away” and then we leave the dishes a mess after meals, we’re sending confusing messages.
I read an article recently that asserted the best thing we can do for our children is to talk to them. I agree, talking to our children and engaging them in our world is essential. Taking time out of our busyness to connect is healthy. Frankly, we could all benefit from unplugging and talking to each other more.
So yes, let’s take time to talk to our children and to play; let’s see the little ones right in front of us and witness them change and grow. Let’s practice letting go with every breath.
But let’s also do the dishes.
Our children will benefit from the “leaving our world better than we found it” lesson. They will thank us later, even if they protest now. Mindfulness practices alter our perception of time and help us get clear on what really needs to be done. We may find we feel a lot more connected with our children—and ourselves—and a lot less stressed.
A straightforward way to practice this is to engage children in the simple tasks of everyday life—the chop wood, carry water activities—and together celebrate these little moments. Turn everyday activities into mindfulness practices. Share the joy of simply doing and being with awareness and care.
The best thing we can do for our children is clean up our own mess—and I am not just referring to dishes here. When we do our own internal dirty work, everyone benefits.
It’s not about just keeping it neat, it is about keeping it real. And what is more real than dishes.
Jenn Moore Mehmke is a writer, public speaker and yoga teacher focused on Mindful Living with every breath. Her young son inspires her daily and parenting him reminds her that beauty exists everywhere—and every breath is our teacher. Jenn is a faculty member of the Svastha Yoga Institute and continues to train in Yoga Therapy under the direction of Dr. Ganesh Mohan. Her company Breathe Peace provides inspiration and programs to make sustainable change in the life and in the world. Jenn’s passion is writing—connect with her on Facebook, her blog and elephant journal.
Editor: Dana Gornall
- Mindful Morning Sickness Or Seeing the Forest. - April 25, 2015
- Chop Wood. Carry Water. Make the Bed. A Lesson in Mindful Parenting. - January 21, 2015