I used to take such pride in opening the linen closet and observing a perfectly stacked set of towels and washcloths. Such an observation would fill me with a sense of order and an assurance that all was well within my household because the linen closet was neat and tidy. (I see a psychology lesson in that warped logic.)
My day was filled with providing, serving, and preparing, while the little ones ripped, roared, and had fun. As an involved mom, I’ve spent my fair share of time on the floor, right in the middle of all the fun. But when it came to chores around the house and providing for our daily needs, it was just easier, faster, and more efficient for me to do it myself.
Okay, confession time. Actually, it was better to do it myself because then it would be done right. The problem was that I worked myself ragged in my pursuit of things being done right! Anyone else suffer from this problem?
When we choose to do tasks our children could be doing, just to make sure they’re done “right,” we are missing the opportunity to teach our children capability and responsibility. We should be training our children to do for themselves and serve others. The only way your child will ever be able to make a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich is to make two dozen of them. Sure, the first 23 will be lumpy, and your countertop will be laden with crumbs and jelly blobs, but hey, before you know it, you’ll have a capable and skilled helper when you’re serving lunch to neighborhood playmates.
A mess of “folded” towels
I figured out the principle of having my young children “help” me with the daily tasks around the house one day while I was folding laundry. I decided that we would fold together and that I would turn the task into a time of prayer. We discussed that we would say a special prayer for the person whose laundry we were folding. Inspired idea, right? Only one problem—in the process of this intended sweet time of prayer, I was becoming a basket case.
As I sat there, systematically rolling socks into perfect little balls, I noticed that my daughter wasn’t properly folding Daddy’s T-shirts, and they were becoming all askew. That caused me to feel a bit anxious. I then swiveled around just in time to see my son take a clean towel, lay it on the floor, and start folding. Can you believe that? Clean towels on the floor—I was horrified!
To make this hideous infraction even more grievous, he was tossing one “folded” towel upon another, and they were getting all bunched up, not properly aligned. I know, isn’t that just awful? My son then proceeded to pick up his large stack of disheveled towels and disappear. When he returned, he was all excited, grabbed me by the hand, and asked me to come look.
We trotted down the hallway together to the linen closet. And before my eyes, in my normally pristine linen closet, was the worst mess of “folded” towels I had ever seen. I was aghast. I was about to snatch them out of the closet and redo them “right.” But when I looked down at my son to explain his mistake, I froze. The look of delight and accomplishment on his sweet little face was precious.
His primary teacher
That’s when it hit me: It’s my job to teach him, with encouragement and patience, how to fold towels, how to share with his sister, have a quiet time, respectfully talk to others, and so much more. As his primary teacher, I would accomplish none of that if I was controlling and wanted everything done my way and “perfect.” This little boy who was eager to help me and worked so diligently to accomplish the task at hand deserved a good cheering, not a controlling mother’s chastising.
Colossians 3:21 came to mind: “ … do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” And then Ephesians 6:4: “ … do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
The Lord redirected my response to that less-than-perfect linen closet. My son beamed happily as he watched me do a little dance of joy while clapping excitedly. I enthusiastically gave him a high five and told him he did a great job. Those words of encouragement caused him to want to help in other ways and do his best. If I had used words of condemnation, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have been at all interested in being my little helper.
That day I learned a valuable lesson: It’s more important to work with my children to complete household chores than it is to get everything done “right.” Interestingly, I also learned that in the long run, as my children do chores and I playfully guide them toward improvement in completing certain tasks, the better they get at doing those tasks.
I remember the first carrot cake I made as a newlywed; it totally bombed, but my husband didn’t lash out at me for messing up the cake. If he had, that would have ended my cake-baking career. And then my “world-famous” chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake never would have been invented—and that would have been a real crime!
Not only did my kids slowly improve in their chore-completion skills; they also began to enjoy our time of “Chores and Prayers,” and it has evolved into “Chores, Praise, and Prayers,” because as they’ve grown older, we’ve added the element of some seriously loud praise music!
I realize now that the days of perfect linen closets will return far too soon, since my children are growing up fast, and way before I’m ready for it, they will be leaving the nest. Who knows, once they’re out of the house, I may even place my towels in the linen closet all askew, in spite of myself, as I lift up a prayer for my children.
Excerpted from Be the Mom ©2012 by Tracey Lanter Eyster. Used with permission of Tyndale Publishers.