Friday, July 05, 2013

Laundry brings up issues of relinquishing control

From today's Briefing:

As school was ending, I boldly declared that this season would be known as the Summer of Laundry Skills.
Before school begins again, I want Cooper and Katie fully trained on the laundry process — sorting, washing, drying, folding, putting away. (We’ll save ironing for a little later.)
One month in, I’m realizing that I should have called it the Summer That Mom Might Learn to Relinquish Control.
I’ve been doing laundry since I was 12 — the same age as Cooper.
My earliest laundry skills were honed at a Laundromat. My mom was a housekeeper at the time, which meant she dirtied a lot of towels, which meant we might spend an entire Saturday afternoon manning machines.
I learned what needed bleach, when to pour in fabric softener, how much could be shoved into a dryer before compromising drying time.
As I got older and was responsible for buying my own clothes, I started taking a much more personal interest in laundry and which items needed to be washed separately or hung dry or laid flat. (There’s no quicker way to learn about the perils inherent in new red pants than to wash a pair with a new white T-shirt.)
After years of deciphering tags and fabrics, I find myself in a battle, one that comes up again and again in the parenting years: letting go vs. holding on.
Why is it difficult to let go?
In this case, because it’s faster and easier to do it myself. Because all the rules are in my head. Because I don’t want to explain all the quirks. Because I think I’ll make fewer mistakes.
Of course, a lot more harm could come from shielding my children from the harsh realities of chores.
I don’t believe in pushing adult concerns into childhood, but there are basic life skills that they need to learn — and I don’t intend to spend the summer before college offering a crash course in all housekeeping matters. When they set the table, put away clean dishes, water plants, take out the trash and wipe down counters, they are contributing to the (sort of) smooth operation of our home. They experience what it means to be a member of a team working toward a common goal — a pleasant place to live.
And even though it takes me longer to explain the intricacies of sorting dirty laundry than to actually do the sorting, if I keep it all to myself, I’m depriving my kids of the satisfaction that comes from learning and mastering tasks.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, my go-to expert on child care and development, has a series of videos on WebMD. In one of the interviews, he addresses the issue of chores, saying that parents should start assigning them at age 2 or younger. And he acknowledges that not enough families are doing so.
“I do think that parents are trying to protect their children now,” Brazelton says. “Probably because they feel so stressed, they want to protect their children from stress. … We cannot promise our kids a safe world. So what can we give them instead? We can give them resilience. We can give them a feeling of ‘I know how to do things and I can do them.’ And those kids will be ready for whatever they have to face.”
This is not only the Summer of Laundry Skills and the Summer That Mom Might Learn to Relinquish Control. It’s the Summer of Resilience. We can all use a dose of that.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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