So. Messy bedrooms.
What’s a mum to do? Close the door and let it go; nag until it gets tidied; or just get in there and restore order oneself – because let’s face it, it’s the only way it’s ever going to get done properly and until then, you can’t effing well find anything they need, when it’s needed, or indeed recover the mislaid items of your own property which have been secreted somewhere among the detritus.
(I’m reluctant to make any wild accusations in case it turns out I’ve just lost it myself, but at the moment, I can’t quite shake the suspicion that my missing iPod is languishing underneath something, somewhere, in the devastation zone you see above).
My daughters’ bedrooms are more or less always messy – apart from during the nanosecond of neatness after I’ve been in myself and blitzed them – but right now, a week and a bit into the summer holidays, the Misses P have truly surpassed themselves in their aptitude for creating chaos in their personal corners of this house.
Some people say it’s one of those issues you should probably just chill about. No harm is being caused, and if they choose to wallow in their own untidiness, so be it.
Thing is, I cannot let it go. It’s not that my domestic standards are THAT exacting, really – there are cobwebs and sticky skirting boards aplenty round here to testify to that – but I do feel that a certain amount of order is necessary for a busy family to function. Practically speaking, you need to get those crusty cereal bowls into the sink at some point, otherwise there won’t be anything to put your breakfast in towards the end of the week, and dirty clothes really do have to go through the laundry if anyone is ever going to have anything to wear again. In term time, living among random piles of your own cack becomes particularly impractical, since you need to be able to locate that school tie or crumpled item of homework if you’re going to get everyone out the door of a morning without blowing a gasket.
Anyhoo, seeing as I’m properly flummoxed about the best way to tackle this situation, I asked Sue Atkins – a proper parenting expert, who helped me with my first book, Cool, Calm Parent – for her thoughts. She says she feels my pain because she’s been there with her own untidy daughter, and agrees, for the sake of getting on with life, you can’t really just shut the door and leave it all to fester. But is it unreasonable of me to want tidy rooms – and unrealistic to expect them to maintain them?
‘I think it’s important they keep on top of messy bedrooms for themselves, not just for the obvious practical reasons but because it’s part of being a family team – and because it’s an important life skill they need to learn so they can look after themselves one day,’ Sue tells me.
Ok, so they really do need pulling up on this. But how? Last time I instructed Miss P the elder to go and tidy her room, she spent ten minutes pushing everything on the floor in the middle of the room to its edges. It was not so much tidying, as shunting the mess into a different area.
‘You need to be assertive and confident when you tell them to tidy up – and very clear about what specifically you want them to do,’ Sue goes on. ‘In fact, it’s a good idea to write it down for them: ‘Put your pencils in the pot, hang your clothes in the wardrobe, put your books in the bookshelf’, and so on. You want her to keep on top of it rather than letting it become really bad, so you could have a checklist up with, perhaps, five basic tasks which she needs to do every day. Putting her PJs under the pillow, for example, making her bed, and putting her dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Give praise or a reward if she keeps at it – but not money. I don’t think kids should be paid for keeping their own rooms tidy. After all, we don’t get paid for cooking their dinner, do we?’
Seems like wise words to me. I have in the past flirted with the idea of using cold hard cash bribes to get their rooms sorted, but now I come to think of it, bugger that. I do plan to have a crack at the written instructions and checklists, though. And I guess I do need to chill a bit and let at least some of it go – as Sue suggests.
‘Kids don’t like tidying their rooms, they’ve got better stuff to do. So there’s no point in expecting it to be pristine,’ she says. ‘And you don’t want to end up being a nag about it, because in the scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal. There’s no point in sweating the small stuff, otherwise they won’t listen when it comes to the things that really matter, later on.’
Talking of later on, I am assured by my friend Pippa – mother to two girls of the teenage variety – that I have many, many cycles of wrecked rooms, quiet despair, giving in, and giving up, ahead of me. She has kindly shared these delightful images of her youngest’s bedroom with me, along with a warning that it’s only going to get worse.
‘You think it’s messy now? Wait until they’re older – and smellier,’ she advises me, ominously. ‘I do try and let it go, but I find it impossible not to think about what lurks behind that door. In fact, I obsess about it. Once in a while I give in, hold my breath, and go inside: it’s the only way I can get any of her clothes through the wash or reclaim a cup when I need one. Some of the dirty dishes I find in there should have a health warning – it’s easier to throw them away than attempt to clean them.’
Hmm. Sounds like I need to overhaul some bad habits round here before it’s too late. Meanwhile, in order to achieve a blank canvas and a fresh start, I think I’m just going to have to don my flak jacket, roll my sleeves up, and launch an offensive.
As the saying goes, if you want a job doing….
Big thanks to Sue for her advice in this post. Check out her website for more information about her work, or take a look at her latest book.