char·ac·ter /kerəktər/ n. 1. The ability to do the right thing when everything inside you, down to the bowels of your soul, wants to do the wrong thing. 2. Pretty much everything sucks if you don’t have it.
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to tackle our kids’ messy rooms. It’s taken this long to make any headway. But now, when we tell them to clean their rooms, they do it – really well. They even keep their rooms cleaner on a day-to-day basis than they used to.
We started with “just put everything somewhere,” which meant transferring all the crap on their floor into a box, or under the bed. We operated that way for awhile, mainly because of the screaming and crying that it caused, then ratcheted things up a bit when we changed the definition of “clean your room” to include cleaning under their beds.
After awhile we added “keep your storage bins clean,” and recently tacked on the “keep your shelves organized” amendment. We still have a little work to do but I’m confident that, by the end of 2018, all rooms, with the exception of my closet and the garage, will be kept as they should.
Our kids fold their clothes and clean their rooms on Fridays. They have multiple chores that must be executed on a day to day basis. We have a family business meeting on Saturdays. We still get some fussing, but we don’t get the meltdowns from long ago.
This process has been a lot more difficult for me than my wife – I’m the artsy, sensitive, empathetic one. I hate doing things that cause people pain.
I was a late adapter to chores, etc. I’d always been diametrically opposed to “pushing” children. Life should be fun for them – full of adventure, laughter, autonomy, etc. Tons of people feel this way about raising children. When I considered “pushing” room cleaning, I read article after article about how a kid’s room is their sanctuary. If they want to trash it, so be it.
Then I read “Little House on the Prairie,” and everything changed.
Kids from long ago had to work 9,000 times harder than most modern adults. And they were happy. It didn’t kill them. Add to this the fact that my wife is much more reasonable when it comes to expecting great things from her kids. She’s not afraid to “push” them, not because she’s a meany, but because she wants what’s best.
And I’ve never seen a sanctuary that was completely trashed.
Now, I’m fairly 100% convinced that the emotional muscles required for things like room cleaning are also involved in things like honesty, compassion, generosity, and other hard things that are part and parcel to a good life. Chores don’t make kids honest, but if kids can’t handle chores, they’re doomed when it comes to the bigger things.
I’ve also recently come to the understanding that, for everyone, trouble lurks around every corner. When our character’s weak, we run from trouble, do whatever we can to escape it, and never allow it to temper us into people who’s lives aren’t ruined every time something bad happens.
I like seeing clean rooms. It’s fun to watch my kids get their chores done with sometimes smiles on their faces. But what I love most of all is watching the change that comes from all of this. They’re more capable, less likely to lose their shit when they run into something hard, and more likely to choose what’s right, even when it’s difficult.
So I’m finally on the same page with my strong, compassionate, caring, highly capable spouse who’s always miles ahead of me when it comes to character. But I’ll always struggle. Every time we ask our kids to do something they don’t have the emotional muscle for, they scream, cry, completely lose it, and sometimes have to go to bed early. You’d think someone was ripping their arm off. It’s horrible.
But I’m growing into the understanding that, if I don’t (appropriately) push them, they’re lives will be consistently miserable. And they can handle much more than I give them credit for – most of the things I’ll need to teach them when they’re teenagers can be taught now.
While I like clean rooms and folded clothes and responsible kids, I really want them to grow into adults who who are will be strong enough to weather the storms of life and kick some ass, and laugh while doing it.