Monday, January 6, 2014

Coddling Hurts Everyone (Or, How I Realized I Coddle My Sons and the Steps I'm Taking to Fight It)

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco

Last night, after dinner, I did something I have never done before:  I left Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the kitchen to clean up while I retired to the living room to read.

I know, I know.  The above doesn't sound like something that should be shocking.  Things 1 and 2 are 13 and 11, respectively, and have been cleaning up (somewhat) after themselves for years.  But I have NEVER EVER left them in the kitchen to clean up BY THEMSELVES after dinner.  I have HELPED them.  I have COACHED them.  I have lingered on, watching while they rinsed each dish and I have showed them how to load the dishwasher.  I have offered to clean the pots and pans and I have gently offered helpful household tips while they have cleaned.  But I have never EVER never ever NEVER left them alone in the kitchen to clean up after dinner.

It. Was. Fabulous.

Did they do it as I would have done it?  No, not really.  Did they do a great job?  Yes.  And no.  Did they complain?  Not once.

The whole affair was entirely shocking.  And, unbeknownst to them, has completely changed the way we do business around the Manor.

In many respects, I am actually a terrible parent.  I sometimes encourage dessert before dinner; I very often choose that we read over chores; instead of shuttling them to lessons or other useful pursuits, I tend to suggest that we have Great Adventures or Laze The Day Away.  And, in so doing, I have coddled them and, I fear, probably ruined them for good.

But, no more!!  The coddling ended last night when I realized that, seemingly overnight, they have become fully capable human beings.  I have to admit that I take the whole Divorced Parent thing a bit too far at times.  Because I am Divorced, I am the only Functional Adult in the household.  And, because it's not THEIR fault that I am Divorced, I tend to DO more things for them than I think I would in a Real Family environment.  (The capitals are all mine and always included in my thoughts.  Welcome to my head.)  I pick up their glasses and plates from the living room.  I do all the cooking and most of the cleaning.  I mow the lawn and pick up the animal feces from the backyard.  I do all the dusting and most of the vacuuming and sweeping.  I do the laundry.  I used to fold it AND put it away but in the last year I've been putting it on their beds for them to put away.

I just feel like since I ruined their lives by getting a divorce, the very LEAST I can do is be their servant for life.

And that's the crux of it.  I do too much because I'm trying to make up for interrupting what MIGHT have been an idyllic childhood by thrusting Divorce into their lives.  Because they have to shuttle back and forth between Mom's house and Dad's house, I try to somehow make up for that pain and inconvenience by letting them skate by with very little effort.

But that's not going to make them very good human beings, is it?

I don't know that I'll EVER be guilt-free about being Divorced.  I don't know that I'll ever truly forgive myself for inflicting that pain on my kids.  At some point, when they're older, I hope they'll understand that being Divorced actually helped their mom Get Healthy.  And I hope they can forgive me.

But, until that day, I think they'll be doing a lot more dishes.

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  1. How about laundry? After my divorce, when I had a business project to do while I was gathering the boys' laundry, I thought to myself, "if they can be so adept at pushing those buttons on a Nintendo controller, they can surely operate a washing machine." From that day forward, when they were 7 and 10, they started doing their own laundry. Did they separate whites from colors? No. Did that matter? They grew out of their clothes in weeks anyway. Did they fold? Barely. But did that free me up in the same way the dishes did for you? Yes. And yes, our deal has always been one they accept as more than fair. If I am buying all the food and preparing the meals, they clean. A life bargain that has nothing to do with divorce. Cute epilogue: I recently moved out to my own place and left the house to the boys. My oldest visited me for the first time last week. I made a fantastic meal. When it was over, I said, "You're my guest. I'm cleaning." I started to clean. He starts putting stuff in the dishwasher. I reiterated he could go sit down. "I feel laxy watching you do it without helping."


    1. I use you as a barometer quite often (whether you know it or not!) because I know that you did what I am doing but to the nth degree because you had zero help. I know that you ALL made it through...and pretty successfully, too! Laundry I have SHOWN them how to do but I have yet to take the step of "OK, go put in a load of your laundry on your own." I guess I'll have to work on that one, too! :)

    2. It won't take much work. "Hey guys. I'm thinking you're quite capable. From now on, your laundry is your deal. Folding lessons take place Saturday at 10am. I do hope you will attend." Think of the hours that will free you up to more productive things for yourself over the next few years. And imagine how novel and exciting it would be for some poor kid from Bangladesh to be able to operate a washing machine! And have clean clothes. (And even HAVING clothes! Zippers and buttons. Oh wow!) Getting out of the coddling mode takes perspective.

  2. I wish the responses had the paragraph breaks I used. And also, I can't edit. Obviously he wasnt feeling "lazy," although that's a good word!

  3. Laxy! Damn autocorrect works when it wants to. I should type these on the computer and not the phone.