Adventures into the Madness

The Mom Frants – Responsibility and the Laundry


I was talking with some other parents one day and we got onto the subject of  “when we started to do our own laundry”. It was amusing to hear the answers range from “I did my own in High School because mom went back to work full time and it was that or go stinky” (me) to “I still don’t do my own” (lucky guy). One couple piped up that they knew a family that made their grade schoolers do their own laundry. I went home that very night and announced that my then-8 yr-old was going to start doing his.

A few months later I heard a radio news feature about College campuses forming Laundry classes because so many kids hit college having never done a load in their lives. One school had a hotline number to call. I laughed out loud! I went home and told my son how proud he should feel that he was doing an important job for himself that many big kids couldn’t even do. It was small comfort to one burdened by such a chore, but I saw a spark of pride in his eyes.

What I found baffling, though, during interviews with some of the kids was when several mentioned that not only had they not been asked to do their own laundry, but they’d never been allowed. They’d been told they would “do it wrong” and mess up their clothes. It begs the question: how are they supposed to learn to “do it right” if they’re never allowed to try at all?

My now-9 yr-old drives me nuts the way he does his laundry: he shoves in too many clothes at once, he washes pants with one leg of every pair inside out (only one), he folds sloppily and wads the clothes into the drawers. The thing is, he’s doing it. Every time, unless I help out for convenience in which case he is reminded to thank me. At nine, he doesn’t care if his t-shirts and workout pants are wrinkled for the first hour of school before they smooth out. (um, he wears t-shirts and workout pants – for crying out loud!) When he does care, he’ll adjust his laundry technique accordingly (and hopefully his fashion sense). If I cared more, I’d spend more time with him on the details, but he’d still be doing it.

When he looks like a wrinkled idiot, I keep my  mouth shut and kindof of hope some kid will tease him so he’ll be more motivated to care. (I kindof hope his teachers don’t call Child Protective Services!) But I know parents of 9 and 10 year olds who still lay out their kids clothes for them so they “don’t mismatch”. I know kids who collect incentives to get dressed in the morning and brush their teeth without a fuss. I tell parents of his friends all the time that Ben does his own laundry and they look at me like I’m from Mars. Mostly because the thought just never occurred to them.

For me, the struggle is to let go of those grownup expectations of how stuff should be done. It’s my job to be inconvenienced and even embarrassed when the kids get stuff wrong. It’s so darn easy just to do chores, etc. myself. It’s usually faster! But if I don’t let them fold clothes, cook meals, clean the bathroom, pick their own clothes, tidy their own rooms, rake the leaves, etc. etc. they will reach adulthood having accomplished only the skill of getting dressed in the morning and brushing their teeth without a fuss.

Even as I preach, I am preaching to the mirror: I worry still, deep down. I think this worry often with the phrase “Am I being strict (or consistent) enough?”

The frightening truth is that the real question is “Am I letting go enough?”

posted under Family

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