Forget all the lovey-dovey stuff you see in the Huggies commercials on TV. When you become a parent, you are drafted into a war. Of course there are many times of truce, when everything is all sunshine and rainbows, but you always have to be prepared for the next battle.
The first conflicts are just minor skirmishes . . . the baby doesn't want his fingernails cut, your six-month old won't settle down for the night, or your one year old decides she doesn't like bathtime anymore. These kind of conflicts are pretty easy to work thru, and you move on.
But all of a sudden that baby is a toddler, and it turns out that those little skirmishes were just practice runs for the real battles. Now there is strategy involved, and these battles actually count for something. If there is one thing a toddler wants, it's control. Control over meals, and bedtime, and toys, and clothes, and anything else they can think of. So you give them some control.
"Do you want to wear the red socks or the blue socks?"
"Would you like to have oatmeal or cold cereal this morning?"
"Do you want to start clean up with blocks or stuffed animals?"
There. They have a choice, get to feel like they have the control they want, but those scenarios keep the parent firmly in charge. Control within boundaries. It's when they start claiming control outside the boundaries you have set up that things get tricky. That's when you have to think outside the box, because as the parent you HAVE to win the war. They might get you with the occasional battle, but you must prevail in the end!
This past fall, Sophia decided she was done cleaning up her toys. She was all about dumping them all out and playing with everything, but when it came to putting them away, she was boycotting. At first I gave her a little grace . . .
"She's so little, she's probably tired." (Never mind that she had been consistently cleaning up with parental direction for a year.)
"She has a cold, I don't want to exacerbate her asthma." (In what world does cleaning up toys = asthma flareups?!)
"I think she just needs a little cuddle, she's still getting used to Jude." (Hello, he'd been around for over a year now!)
After a week or two of the cleanup boycotting, I finally clued in that the problem was not going to go away on it's own. I would tell Sophia to clean up, and she would slump onto the couch or floor wearing a pouty expression. Again, "Clean up time!"
Cajoling didn't work. Kindly explaining that we always have to put away our toys when we are done with them didn't work. Telling her that some little children in Africa would be happy to have this many toys to put away and that they would do it joyfully didn't help.
(I know, why did I think that rationalizing with a three-year old was a winning strategy?! Hindsight, people.)
"Alright, if you don't clean up, you're going to have consequences."
Oooooo, consequences!!! Please, no consequences!
Erasing checks on the chores chart? Who cares. Timeout? No biggie. Spending time in her room by herself? More toys to get out!
Finally, I had it. I was so DONE cleaning up all the toys, and giving in to a whiny little toddler.
"Sophia, if you don't clean up when I tell you to, your toys are going away for a few days. You have been warned. Clean up your blocks, Sophia."
"Okay, I will clean them up." I pitched the blocks in their container, but instead of putting it on the shelf in the living room, I took them in the kitchen and put them on top of the pantry.
"Clean up your little people, Sophia."
"Okay, I will do it." Little people in their box, into the kitchen on top of the pantry.
"Clean up your stuffed animals, Sophia."
"Don't take them away!"
"Then you have to clean them up."
"Ok." Stuffed animals into a trash bag, on top of the pantry.
The living room and dining room had been quite a mess. By the time we had moved on to the play kitchen area and miscellaneous toys, those rooms were looking pretty good (I just might have done a happy dance because I finally had a clean house), and the pantry was loaded right up.
And that was when Sophia asked "Can I have my toys back now?"
"No. The toys are going to stay up there for three days, and at the end of that time, if you are ready to clean up what you take out, you can have them back."
Reality set in then, and the Snuggler was not happy. At that point all that was left were Jude's toys, the books, and coloring supplies. She was a good sport though, and made do quite well. Those three days actually inspired a deep clean and purge, because I saw how happy she was with less toys. At any rate, Sophia learned her lesson about cleaning up, and we haven't had to go that route since. She still has a tough time occasionally when I ask her to clean up the blocks, but I have to cut her a little slack because it is most often Jude who pulls those out. A simple little reminder of the consequences of not cleaning up usually does the trick.
Every time Sophia (and now Jude!) throws down the gauntlet now, I am reminded of the Cleanup Battles. How sometimes we have to get creative to win the war. It serves as inspiration for me when we need to come up with other outside-the-box ideas . . . and reminds me to never give up. As parents we have to win the war for the good of our kids. I figure that giving boundaries is one way we show that we care . . . if I didn't care about my kids, then teaching them responsibility wouldn't matter at all. And when it comes right down to it, winning the battle keeps us parents sane. Winning, and a nice big carton of Cherry Garcia.