Mama Mantras: This is Not My Problem
By Sydney Dorr
Hey Mamas! This mantra will save you some tears. I know this because I was crying in the laundry room over tempera paint last week until I wrapped my head around the fact that:
This is not my problem.
When the eldest man-child asked to paint I groaned inwardly because I hate painting time. It seems like no matter how many rules and newspaper I lay down, I always spend the next few days wiping paint from surfaces all over the house. But I agreed, because childhood is about getting messy and creative expression – or whatever. And sure enough, within ten minutes the youngest man-child had covered himself liberally in paint and dumped some on the kitchen floor. Ok, that’s enough fun and mess, into the tub. After I denied Gideon tub access since only his fingers needed washing, he proceeded to spread paint all over his feet – and on the floor – in an attempt to circumvent my refusal. After soaping people and arguing the point that spinning around the kitchen with closed eyes in order to step in wet paint did not count as “an accident”, my emotional control was in shreds.
With an edge on my voice like 40-grit sandpaper, I demanded that both boys stay on the couch (cue defiance) then in their room (cue tears) while I cleaned up. I don’t know if you are able to confine willful and tearful littles to a small space while you wipe paint off of a kitchen, but I was unsuccessful. In despair, I locked myself in the laundry room (again) and broke down. And then I remembered the mantra. It seemed almost impossible in that moment, but gleamed like a beacon of hope in a paint-saturated world. This is not my problem. I did not make this mess. I am not the one who needs to learn that paint doesn’t belong on the floor. I am not the one who needs to learn what it takes to clean up after myself. Although I do apparently still need to learn that my young son’s creative endeavors cannot be left unattended for any length of time.
So I took a deep breath and put them to work. I rinsed rags while they wiped surfaces and cleaned brushes. I handed back the problem they created for them to deal with. They experienced first-hand that sometimes 10-minute mistakes have 2-hour consequences. They also learned how to mop.
When I hand them the problem, I no longer carry the burden of cleaning the kitchen and disciplining my kids. Having my kids clean the kitchen accomplishes both objectives and I can put my energy into helping them learn. I can point out paint spots ad nauseam, demonstrate how to clean a brush and how to get paint off a cabinet. I can drive the point home and provide boundaries by telling them that they can only paint when I’m available to be with them. I don’t have to devise a separate punishment for them to feel full force of their actions – the difference between how long a 4-year-old thinks it’s fun to clean his red footprints off a floor versus how long it takes him is a solid hour.
Are you carrying more than you need to? Are there problems and consequences and lessons weighing you down that you can hand off to your kids? It can be hard to let go; sometimes it feels like it takes too long or they can’t handle it or it’s not punitive enough. But I think letting young ones – from 2 to 22 – solve their own problems, is a parenting life hack; ultimately they learn more for less work on our part. And this season goes by hard and fast – I need as much efficiency as I can get.