Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bigger Picture Moment: Taking Up Slack

My youngest daughter and I are in a fight right now.

Well, not right now; this battle emerges daily for a few periods of time before being resolved happily and melting away into the past, where I'm sure it will remain until, sadly and inevitably, it crops up once more.

It's ridiculous.

It's the pick up your toys battle.  And I'm just about out of tactical maneuvers.  Lauren, though, has plenty. 

She doesn't mind if I confiscate the non-picked-up toys, hauling them away in bags or boxes to another room until she's proven that she can handle picking up after herself.  She really hasn't been bothered by being told she can't exit her room until she's put away the toys.  She almost didn't get dinner one night because she refused to budge.  (And how terrible is it that I even threatened such a thing?  I never thought she'd come remotely close to making me follow through!)

The standoffs might last for hours, and are almost daily.  I've stopped taking the toys away from her if she doesn't clean them up, because she just doesn't care.  She's probably happy to be rid of the mess.  So I stand firm.  Which I hate.  Really, I'm a terrible firm parent.

It's true that I'd like to be able to make this all go away (poof!) like magic.  I'd like to have things simple and easy, especially since there's about to be a baby in the house.  And maybe that's where my insecurity really lies.

If I'm about to add another child to the family, shouldn't I be better able to keep the house running smoothly by now?  Shouldn't I have it all under my belt, with children who have learned to understand the value of picking up after themselves?  Of being considerate and thoughtful no matter what? 

But nothing stops just because a baby is on the way.  The lessons I'm trying to impart to my first two children will still need imparting.  I'm not starting over -- I'm adding-to.  Which sounds both liberating and frightening at the same time.

So I stand firm, perhaps more firm than I would if there weren't a baby about to join us.  Maybe my resolve will help her learn about picking up her toys; maybe it'll only aggravate both of us to the point that we're angry so often that we throw in our respective towels.  I don't know.

What I do know, is that when faced with something that is out of my control, I try very hard to gather control in all other areas indiscriminately.  When the upcoming birth will happen is out of my control.  How we'll settle into life as a family of 5 is unknowable.  Whether or not I'll fall apart at the seams from lacking the logistical knowledge required to manage 3 kids simultaneously is still up in the air.

So I'm tightening up my strings in other places, taking up slack, getting ready for the waves to become bigger for awhile. 

And that means that my sweet Lauren, baby of my heart, and I -- we're going round and round.  Luckily, on the flip side of our circle, there's always a little girl who hugs and kisses her mama, even if she has to put her ponies all back in the box instead of leaving them on the floor for all of eternity. 

(But help me out -- how do YOU get a 3-year-old to pick up after herself?  Part of seeing the Bigger Picture today, for me, means that I need your advice!)

We're seeing the Bigger Picture through simple moments -- moments that force us to stop and take notice of the ways our worlds are important, meaningful, and beautiful. Please join us today at Lenae's place! Grab the button, link up, and then read a few others to encourage them as they walk this journey of intentional living.


  1. This article about having kids clean up has stuck with me. (And he talks about the "big picture"!) :)

    I think it's probably easier said than done to rethink the notion of kids cleaning up their own toys, but if it's really causing stress on you, thinking about it differently may be of help. I follow Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog and I love her idea that sometimes you just have to do things for yourself because you think they're important rather than trying to make someone else see that it's important. Again, maybe there are other reasons to make your kids pick up their toys, but... still, interesting things to think about, I think.

  2. Hugs. This is hard, especially with the pending arrival.
    I once actually gathered up all the toys on the floor, put them in a box and hauled the box and G over to the donation center where I gave those toys to children who appreciated them. I don't know that I would do that again ... I digress. We now have a star chart that seems to be very motivating.

  3. I go rounds with Anthony about getting up, eating, dressing himself, and getting out the door for school... every. single. day.

    So I feel you. IN A BIG WAY.


  4. My recently 3 year old (just turned 4) hates to do what she's told, but she does love to be put in charge of things. To control a project. I know if I say out loud, Ya know, this living room really needs to be picked up, but I don't have anyone to be in charge" she jumps at the chance to take control of it. It becomes more of her idea, than mine. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

    Like, for Lauren, would being in charge of "organizing" her My-Little-Ponies maybe make it more appealing?

    I also like what Jessica said, in that sometimes it just isn't important to your kid, and maybe that is the battle you pick not to fight.

    I know that going through age 3 felt like I was DEFEATED all the time, and ever since age 4, I have seen huge improvements. Maybe this is just her way of getting through the 3's, gaining her independence.

  5. I don't think I'm as strict about picking up the toys as you are, but I do know that when Chris is away I'm generally more strict across the board. It's probably the same as having a new baby, in some respects: I know there's only so much I can handle and I know there's a certain way I want our house to function (with clean clothes, warm meals, comfortable play spaces, etc.) and the girls flat-out have to help if we're going to maintain that standard. I also know, though, that getting my kids to do things is usually easier once they're developmentally ready for the challenge. (Or, at least, I'm hoping so -- we're having fits with P learning "eat your meals at mealtime" and "stay at the table during dinner".)

    When it's time to pick up though, I usually make it a game (and sometimes I bribe them): "Let's see if we can get this whole room cleaned up before the timer rings and then we can all sit down and have a treat together." I like the idea of putting her in charge, too. I'm going to try that!

  6. You guys are so helpful. I feel like crying a little bit, and not just because I'm hormonally challenged. But because you understand, and you have ideas, and you're so gracious about sharing them. Why am I such a sap?!

    Anyway, thank you.

  7. Our Eli is much the same way, Sarah, and just as stubborn about the consequences I throw at him. I don't have anything different to offer than what's already been shared here, but I will say this: lately when I feel my head starting to explode from frustration (which usually leads to my yelling.. and his increased stubbornness), I've been trying to be calm, stoop down, and explain in a very measured voice what we're doing and why we're doing it. For being our most feisty child, this seems to work best with him. (And for the sake of honesty... I bribe with treats at times too :)

  8. Oh, the clean up struggle! Oh, mercy.
    I've tried lots of things and still we struggle...
    I love what Lenae said about staying calm. My oldest doesn't respond well to me when I'm upset, but if I'm calm, she does better. And it's true too about the control thing. And games. Most of the time, if I don't help, it doesn't happen. I witnessed a great tactic today - at a friends house it was kids vs. grown ups, who would win the clean up game? (The girls miraculously picked all the high point bonus items. I'm sure that had nothing to do with the fact that they chose what was bonus.) A crazy room was tidy in 10 minutes!
    Remember too that those early days with a baby you need a clear path to walk, but you don't need toy free space for a crawler or tummy time kiddo for months. You have time to get this ironed out. Keeping sane is key, teaching responsibility is too, but so are the last few days (I hope) of Lauren being the baby of the family.

  9. I like the game idea. I was all about distracting them with fun and leading them in the direction I wanted/needed them to go. It actually works sometimes!

    Also, can you give her some input in the process? Like maybe if she gets to help pick out a special tub or container for the toys....

    I think that instinctively you are injecting some structure and order into the lives of your little ones because things are about to change. For the girls to know that the rules and expectations of home remain intact during the transition is such a good thing. So, I encourage you to hang in there. Tired though you are. It is worth it to keep the continuity that you all need.

    Finally, I have to say the transition in our family to three kids was tons and tons easier than the transition to two kids had been. I hope it will be the same for you.

  10. We recently went through this with our son who is also three. Every day was a battle. Part of the solution: Get a large amount of the toys out of her room. She will be just as happy with a quarter of the toys as she is with all of them. (plus toys are more exciting when you rotate them!) I found our son was overwhelmed with all the toys he had so he just made a mess out of them. We boxed up 3/4 of them, left 3-4 sets of toys (they were not big sets though) and the rest sit in our garage. It works well. That way there is less to pick up. For the consequence though, that is hard. At three they need a good consequence. We spank. Not a ridiculos amount. A few good hard swats to make a point. At three they can be SO stubborn and a timeout, or toy timeout is not always effective. Sometimes they need to learn to really obey and as they can have a knock down drag out fight of wills that can last hours, when you don't have hours at bedtime, this can be more effective. You can also find what motivates her. Positive can be more motivational than negative. Instead of losing toys maybe just let it go if she doesn't pick it up but let her know that she will not earn ____ (a special treat, something-something special she wouldn't normally get at home) if she doesn't. Kids are amazingly obedient when they start to realize what they are missing out on!! Especially if you implement it with both of your kids and she sees big sister getting the reward for listening! It might not take that long if she decides to do it.You could do a reward chart with stickers and if she listens she gets a sticker, and five stickers earn something (or something like that) Just a few ideas.. Good luck!

  11. Hmm, given the tantrums and stubbornness it kind of sounds like the issue for Lauren isn't really about cleaning up her toys, but rather about something else. Like Robin suggested it might have something to do with a need for control and so her fighting with you would be a big win in her head. I know my MIL always said my husband's key motivator is independence. She discovered she could get him to do anything if she dangled the lure of greater independence. Maybe if you can figure out what's really causing her stubbornness about it, you can find a way around it.

  12. My 3 year old is the same way (middle child as well)She will make any excuse (I'm tired.. etc.) to avoid picking up toys. I find that I get a lot further if I participate. I tend to make cleaning a group activity. Last time she refused to clean up even though we were doing it together, I gave her options on what she could pick up (blocks? books?) and she insisted she wasn't going to pick up anything. So I said that if she was that tired she'd better go and take a nap while the rest of us cleaned. She went to her room and then started crying, but after a few minutes came out and said that she'd like to clean up with us, and picked the blocks as her responsibility. (Oh, and when I am hugely pregnant I just sit on the floor as an enthusiastic cheerleader/ toy box holder.)

  13. These are all great ideas! I feel like Robin was speaking right to my heart! You know we battle with this too....sometimes it's no big deal: "okay mommy" with a smile, but other times oooohhhh other times. I think a lot is the mood at the time of pick up, but she also needs transition time-a good warning. My problem is that I wait until the house is out of control and then I lose it....if I would notice when she changes activities and pick up before we move on I usually have more success then. It's all about the attitude you present-positivity-does the clean up song work, or have you ever tried it? Savannah sometimes makes up her own clean up(or whatever activity she is doing) song. A lot of times, I give her control by saying:"would you like to pick up the books or the dolls first?" or depending on the situation, she can do 'this' or 'this' and I will do the other or if she doesn't cooperate she can just do it all by herself. Good luck, I hope I can remember these tips: stay calm, put her in charge!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?