The challenge comes in choosing which battles are worth fighting. I believe that many parents choose to give the battle against messiness a higher priority than it deserves. Messiness should not be totally ignored, but it does not need to be public enemy #1 either.
Before we talk about how to handle messiness, I want to touch on the battles that are definitely worth your time. Those battles are the ones that focus on habits, actions, and decisions that violate the values you are trying to teach your kids.
For instance, your child lies to you or ignores your warnings against dangerous activities. Those are battles you must fight, for the sake of your family’s health and for your child’s safety.
The for-instances go on and on, depending on what values you uphold in your house. And if you can’t identify your values, this is a good time to define them. Values give you a compass for being a parent, and for being a person. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to actually write them down and refer to them every now and then when you are faced with deciding which battles to fight.
The Messiness Battle
Should children be taught to pick up their toys? Of course! Should they learn to clean their rooms? Of course! These habits can be taught matter-of -factly, with logical consequences, minus your anger and impatience.
But as your kids get older, you will learn that other, more important battles will surface and the war on messiness may need to take a back seat.
I say this as a mom who abhors clutter. I used to let it drive me crazy. But I learned that ignoring the stuff that is just annoying and not value-opposing actually freed me from getting uptight about things that weren’t worth it.
When messiness rears its ugly head and starts to grate on your nerves, remember this:
- Your children can be held accountable for their own messiness without you making it World War 3. Logical consequences from a calm and consistent parent should get your message across.
- Distinguish between messiness that is merely annoying and messiness that is unhealthy, dangerous, or destructive to your child’s possessions. When my kids were teens, I chose to ignore their messy bedrooms by not going in them, and often just closed the door so I wouldn’t see the clutter. For me, in that situation, ignorance was bliss. We all would love a perfectly kept house with beds all made, clothes all neatly put away, towels hung up. But I promise that when your kids are grown and gone, you will have more cleanliness than you really want!
- When messiness annoys you and you are tempted to sweep through the house like a raging maniac and clean up the clutter yourself, try to take a calmer approach. How about just picking up everything and casually hiding it away in a bag or basket? When your children go looking for something, make them earn it back or pay for it.
- Save your disappointment and anger for things that really matter. Like the battles you fight for the souls and safety of your children.
My kids are 20,23, and 26. The two that live at home often still have messy bedrooms and they forgetfully leave their stuff laying around the kitchen or family room. All three of them tend towards the cluttered-car look. But you know what? All three of my kids are amazing, strong, faith-filled young adults. Their messiness pales in comparison to their character.