On Parenting: A Mess of Their Own

Is your kid's bedroom theirs, or yours?

One of the most amusing things about your kid growing up is how the annual arguments change. In our house, we’ve gone through my daughter’s toys every year after Thanksgiving to make room for the upcoming present-apocalypse. Last year, my daughter clung like a demon to Legos that she never played with.

This year, she has to get rid of everything she owns instead.

At least temporarily.

She has to put all her worldly possessions into boxes because we’re painting her room purple. At her request, we are getting rid of the yellow paint on her walls. We put this paint in her bedroom before she was born, because of our parental refusal to bow to gender identity by painting it pink. (And then she was born with jaundice. The room color made her look like a zombie baby. You can’t win for losing.)

After seven consecutive years of having the same favorite color, she’s finally convinced us that it’s not going to change. And after nearly as many years of arguing about those Legos, she’s convinced me that her room is her room. So we’re doing what she’s asked for, and painting the dang thing purple. And she gets to keep the Legos.

So many of us feel that our children’s rooms are a reflection on us as parents. We decorate them, organize them, and clean them, and then wonder why our kids feel no responsibility for them. Why they don’t tidy their room up to our standards and value the beautiful place we’ve made it.

It’s because we’ve made it ours.

I’ve spent the past year trying desperately to stay pull back and let her have her room the way she wants it. When her clothes and toys pile up to the point that it looks like an episode of hoarders, I just tell her that I can’t come into that room for goodnight story and hugs without having a nervous breakdown. She’ll have to have her book read to her on the couch, and then put herself to bed, because I can’t go in there.

It’s still her choice to make a path, ask for help cleaning, or have her cuddles in the living room. Because it’s her room.

This time of year especially, I want my house lovely. I want people to be able to come over and feel the holiday spirit. I want a home that’s warm and welcoming, inviting and comfortable. And a bedroom that’s a minefield doesn’t fit into that.

But it’s not my room. 

I can justify making her clean up the public spaces in our home. I can say no toys can be left in the living room after our pre-bedtime “10-minute clean up.” I can even justify banning some things—like food—from entering her room, because a Nutella spoon under a pile of clothes is something I cannot even consider without nausea.

But the door to her room is the door to her world, and I don’t make non-safety related rules in there any more.

Probably because I’ve unclenched, she’s started to do the same. As she’s packed up her boxes this past week, she’s set aside things she’s outgrown. She has toys to send to her cousins, books for the school exchange, and a coat to give to the coat drive.

And she did all this herself.

And when she unpacks her stuff back into her newly purple room, I will help her, and follow her instructions on where things should go. And when she puts a pile of plastic cra… I mean, wonderful memorabilia toys from birthday party gift bags... into a place of honor, I will grit my teeth and say it looks great.

And it will look great. Because her room will look just like her. And that’s because it’s hers.


Where do you draw the line with your kids' bedrooms? Do you clean up after them? Tell us in the comments section.

Jeanne Gustafson November 30, 2012 at 05:41 PM
I used to have the same fight with my daughter, years ago, and like you, I finally let it go. If her clothes didn't go down the laundry chute about 15 feet from her bedroom floor, they didn't get washed by yours truly, and we kept the door closed so I wouldn't have to look at the mess. Now, I have to say she's probably a bit tidier than me as an adult. For my son, the magic ingredient to nixing his vice--the dreaded Legos all over the floor? A puppy that he wants to sleep in his room with him. He now religiously picks up the foot-poking Legos before bed or risk K9 ingestion of said toys. Yay for external consequences!
Jeanne Gustafson November 30, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Kathy said on Facebook: It's laziness on both the parents and kid's part, not individuality! Too much stuff! We cleaned my 9 yr old's bedroom out, took us 4 1/2 hours, and yes it got to be laziness on our parts as I didn't want to deal with it and she was overwhelmed with too much stuff and no places for it. . But now she keeps it clean because she knows where everything goes and it has a place, and it's been clean for over 6 weeks now! Individuality is the color the walls are, what is on those walls, what kind of covers and sheets she wants, not messiness! Keep what is most important and give away the rest.
Caron LeMay December 01, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Another article to love! We decorate/organize/clean their rooms "then wonder why our kids feel no responsibility for them..." Intelligent, insightful, funny! I love the way you facilitated her clean up and redecorating in a non-judgmental way, helping her to go through her posessions patiently and without pressure,.. It's true: Not everyone has the self-confidence to show their kids this much respect. Good for you! Your daughter will look back fondly on her memories of these moments when you could have been selfish or stubborn, but you weren't. And hooray for stepping back and seeing what really matters, and then having the self-control NOT to exert parental-control over your child's space! Malia, you're so right. If we are calling it 'her room', then we shouldn't be hypocrites about it: Let it truly be hers, and with your accepting, open-minded help she'll be free to develop her own decorating taste and cleaning skills. (BTW: I have the no-food rule too - And I jokingly credit the Department of Health for that one!)


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