Sunday morning I lost track of time as I lay in bed finishing the novel for book club.
I looked at the clock and leaped up with a start, realizing that I had forgotten to prepare the vegetarian dish for my son’s Sunday school teacher, Amanda. Today was the “Coming of Age” ceremony and the parents had decided to put together a cooler full of ready-to-eat meals as a thank you gift for Amanda, who eschews meat.
I flew downstairs and begin to prepare the food. 8:00 a.m. – I should be OK. I threw in a load of laundry and advised my four children that we needed to be in the car and leaving the driveway at 10:00 a.m. sharp. We needed to arrive by 10:30 a.m. to serve cake to the first service of Coming of Age parents and kids.
I ironed three shirts, one for each of the boys, so they could wear something nicer than a logo T-shirt and basketball shorts. I gave Rugby, the family dog, his daily half-hour walk. I showered and finished tossing the meal together in a plastic container. So far, so good.
My mental checklist for leaving: keys, wallet, video camera, Amanda’s gift and four children clean and presentable.
While the chaos was unfolding, my soon-to-Come of Age son was running around the house saying he had no socks because “Mom, you haven’t done laundry in like three weeks.” I told him that in fact I had done laundry as recently as three days ago and that it was a throughput problem. The lack of socks was due to his penchant for throwing dirty socks on the bedroom floor.
The socks cannot be washed if they are not in the dirty clothes pile, “a law of simple physics,” I explained. I had an idea: It was time for Connor’s Coming of Age with Your Laundry ceremony.
Two years earlier, my daughter had lodged similar complaints about the inadequate laundry service that I was providing. I took care of that by turning over the duties of her clothing completely to her. Suddenly, the complaints about me — at least the dirty laundry — evaporated and I was a much happier mom. Connor was about to meet the same fate.
My new laundry ceremony would involve a full introduction to the sacred soap altar, the pile of laundry pulpit and the inner sanctum of the dryer.
While I was delighted with the off-loading of the chore, I began wondering if my excitement about bowing out of laundry duty was symptomatic of a much larger problem. It seems that I had fallen into the trap of excusing my kids from responsibility because I considered it a priority that they study or just have some unstructured time. Why was it better that I became the person doing most of the household drudgery in a home filled with six capable people?
As a teenager, I did my own laundry, helped with meal preparation and clean up and did other tasks to help out the family. Yet, I was not requiring the same from my own kids until I had reached the breaking point. I had trapped myself into doing too much and it was time to give myself permission to delegate more to my kids and not feel guilty.
When children are young it is understandable that more needs to be done for them. But, as kids get older we aren’t doing them any favors when we do too much. We are creating a situation that might interfere with healthy relationships at home and later in life.
The Coming of Age ceremony at the church had triggered a rite of passage at home that perhaps in the end was for both mother and son. It was time to pass more than the car keys to the next generation.
Carol Lewis Gullstad, May 30, 2011