I have been a mother for over 21 years, and I’ve realized there are many lessons that children need to learn over the course of their lifetimes. Some are fairly easy to learn, like needing to wipe after using the toilet. Others take time and practice, like looking both ways before crossing the street. I have figured out that the absolute most difficult lesson for children to learn is this: The right way to do something isn’t always the easiest way.
Let me lay out some examples for you. My children are all expected to help with the dishes. They are supposed to load their own in the dishwasher and help put them away one day a week per child. No matter how many times I have showed them how to load the dishwasher, they continue to open the door and, instead of pulling out the racks to put things in, just throw the dishes in as far as they can reach. This seems to result in the front section of my dishwasher being crammed willy-nilly with dishes, while the back of the dishwasher remains barren. When they put the dishes away, instead of taking 15 whole seconds to stack the pots or the storage containers, they just throw them in the cabinet. One of my children constantly puts things in completely odd places around the kitchen and pantry because he finds it quicker and easier than actually asking where things belong. We always joke that after he has unloaded the dishwasher, we will be playing a fun game of utensil hide and seek for the next week.
My children are responsible for doing their own laundry. I have carefully walked each of them through the process on multiple occasions. Some of them will ask me if they need help, but a few of them will try to stuff two weeks’ worth of clothes in one load. They then consider picking random drawers, plastic bins, or empty lego boxes and just shoving whatever item of clothing happens to be in their hand into said space to be “putting their clothes away.” I resorted to giving each of them four unique towels to use because we had too many instances of 15 towels piling up on the bathroom floor and no one taking responsibility for cleaning them up. Now, we still have 15 towels because each of them grabs their sibling’s towel to use, or uses one of the guest towels, or comes in and steals mine so when it comes time for me to shower, all that is left in my bathroom is a tiny hand towel I have had since I started college 27 years ago.
Their idea of putting a bike up is to lay it in the middle of the driveway, or right in Dad’s parking space in the garage, when the actual spot for it is a mere five feet away. A day doesn’t go by when I do not find trash laying around my house, especially in my kitchen, where a child has just left it to lay instead of walking 10 steps to the trash can. Despite my attempts to get them to be good stewards of the earth, I find plastic bottles and cans in my trash all the time because the recycling bin in an extra six feet’s walk and they have to actually open two doors to get to it.
It doesn’t just affect the cleanliness and organization of my house. For some of them, finishing their school work means zipping through it at the speed of light, barely skimming a page of reading or studying for a big test. No matter how much their teachers and I try to fix this habit in some of them, the pattern continues and, unfortunately, it is too often reflected in their grades.
It even extends to their personal interactions from time to time. Sibling rivalry can be more like Civil War Part II in my home. A recent example showcases one of my children accidentally grazing another’s face, then that child taking it as an act of aggression, and in a matter of seconds, an all-out physical brawl had ensued because it was easier to lash out than to walk away or apologize. If one of them breaks a major rule in the house, instead of owning up to it, they will sometimes create elaborate stories or find ways to blame someone else because it’s the easier thing to do.
But it’s not the right thing. In ways ranging from silly to serious, it seems too many people try to do the fastest thing, the easiest thing, the most comfortable thing, but not always the right thing. I’m guilty of it myself sometimes, which is why I have to apologize for my tardiness because I don’t budget my time well when there are other things I want to be doing. It’s why dinner is more often take-out than cook-in because the time to make a tasty, healthy meal is more than I want to deal with or plan for.
But I will keep trying to teach this lesson. I will keep trying to learn that lesson, and model it for my children and those around me. I will remind myself that the effort is almost always worth it in the end. Now excuse me while I try to find my spatula.