One of the things that has surprised me most as a parent is how much parenting is done by example. Before I became a parent, I intellectually understood that at least to some degree I would have to be a good example for my children. But now that I actually AM a parent, I viscerally understand the role of a good example. And every so often it hits me that in many ways, my example is the primary way I parent my children.
One area in which that lesson is really driven home to me is in the area of work, specifically housekeeping.
Now, I’m not one who believes that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” nor do I find my self-worth from having a tidy home. But, I know that it is simply easier to function in a house that is, at least to some degree, organized and picked up, and I know that there is a certain level of cleanliness that needs to be maintained in order to keep a healthy, hygenic home.
I keep a hygenic home, with the exception of my kitchen floor. Don’t eat off my floor, people. My linoleum somehow attracts dirt; I think it’s probably because it’s cheap. Plus, my kitchen is big, so it takes a lot of effort to truly keep it clean. I aim for mopping it once a week, and it gets mopped every 2-3 weeks, and … it’s good enough.
But other than my kitchen floor, my house is hygenically clean, except for the dust. And the cobwebs! I mean, dude, I get my wool-on-a-long-stick cobweb duster, but those spiders work hard. They are always putting up cobwebs in the corners of our high ceilings! The other morning I even found the start of a cobweb straight across my kitchen! What the heck??
Okay, maybe I won’t focus on the dirt in my house. Let’s just say that my dishes get washed every night, we always eat with clean plates and utensils, I cook a lot of food from scratch, and the toy room carpet gets vacuumed at least once a week. Close enough. Don’t judge me by my house, people. 😉
ANYWAY, I was saying how our example is so important to our children. I look at the example I set for my children, the difficulty I have in keeping the clutter-prone areas de-cluttered, how hard it is to get Lyd to clean up after herself (she’s such a space cadet! It’s ridiculous! She’s like Anne of Green Gables with her head in the clouds, imagining things differently than what they are! And then when she’s asked to do something, it’s “too hard,” or she’s “too tired.” Sigh. This is why I could never homeschool. Nothing would ever get done. Thank God for her wonderful Kindergarten teacher!) and just the fact that my house never gets truly, 100% clean, and I think, “Ack! What kind of example am I setting for my girls? I’m a horrible mother!”
But, when I think back to my own childhood, I realize that I probably wasn’t that much different. I don’t know if I was a space cadet to the extent that Lyd is, but I know that I spent a lot of time in my imagination. As my parents’ only child until I was almost five, I also had my parents’ sole attention for many years. Yet as time went on, I remember that I wanted to help out. I loved my parents, and I wanted to be helpful. I still wanted time for myself, but I also realized how much my mother and father did to keep our home running, and I wanted to help.
Part of Lyd’s problem is that she truly can’t do all that many things. Yes, she can pick up her toys, and for the most part, she does. But there are so many little tasks that she can’t do. For example, we don’t have a coat rack at her level, so she can’t hang up her own coat because she can’t reach it. She can set silverware on the table, but she can’t put plates and glasses on, because she can’t reach them. She’s not tall enough to stir things on the stove, and even if she did, Curious J (who must emulate her sister in all things) would demand to be next to her, and that would be a safety issue for her.
I probably do have to look harder to find ways to make more simple tasks accessible to her, but I’m also hoping that a desire to help will start to kick in. I think it IS starting. Once in a while, she will do something and say hopefully, “Momma, I did ___ without you having to tell me!” These moments, while still rather rare, are starting to occur more often. And tonight, after sharply reprimanding Lyd for splashing her feet in the water that her little sister had dumped on the floor, soon afterwards I took advantage of the “teachable moment” to encourage her to look for ways to be helpful without having to be told, rather than just thinking about herself. We then talked about things that she knows to do without being told, and hopefully the lesson is starting to get through to her about doing these kinds of things automatically.
I don’t remember exactly when it was that I knew that I wanted to be a help to my parents, but it happened sometime in pre-adolescence, and it’s never gone away. Without going into details, I wish I could help my parents in more ways than I am able being 2000 miles away from them. And when my parents were here last month, I was overwhelmed by how much they both, but especially my dad, were willing to help me out. (My mom’s knee is bad, so she couldn’t do as much as she has in the past.) I am still awed by how hard they worked all the years I was growing up, and I draw on that example almost daily as I try to be the best mother I can be to my daughters. Their love meant so much to me during my growing-up years, and it means even more to me now. I hope to be able to provide that same loving example for my own daughters.
So, I’ll keep trying to set as good of an example as I can for them. It’s not perfect, but hopefully my daughters will pick up on my example of fierce, unconditional love as much as my not-perfect example. Hopefully I can be consistent enough to train them up well in all the skills they will need to run their own households someday.
But honestly, if I can raise daughters who love Jesus, are kind and helpful to others, and who raise their own children to do the same, I think I will have done a pretty good job as a mother, even if my house never truly does get clean.