Still Growing Up
My son loves to keep his room a mess. This is not a judgment call on my part. He has told me so, repeatedly, usually with a gleam in his eye! “Dad! I hate a clean room! I love it messy.” His words, not mine. Doesn’t get any plainer than that. It’s his room, and he doesn’t really have to share it with anyone, other than with friends who come over to play from time to time. At five years of age, he does not appreciate the value of a peaceful room and environment, despite the guidance of his wonderful Montessori school, teachers, and classroom.
And I can’t tell you how often I let this drive me nuts. The boy just won’t clean up his room. His closest efforts at cleaning his room are when he makes a path from the door to his bed to his train table. And you should see and hear how proud he is when he makes this path! Chemaine and I agreed some time ago that we will not make it a regular practice to simply go in and clean it for him, no matter how much either of us may feel the urge to do so. Doing so would basically train him to be irresponsible, and would really be more about us than about him anyway.
At one point a few months ago, I decided I had found the key to motivating him to keeping his room reasonably tidy and peaceful. My son has basically been a “Daddy’s boy” since he was old enough to express his own preferences. He truly delights in spending time with me, and soaks up every bit of the time I will offer him. Yes, I realize this will not always be the case, and it is a very precious opportunity for me to invest in him. Based on this dynamic, and the fact that I really don’t like to go in his room with him when it is a total wreck, I thought I would use this as the way to convince him of the importance of keeping his things in order.
And so, from time to time when my son would invite me to join him in his room to play, I would say something along the lines of, “Shep, I would really love to play with you. But your room is just such a mess. You can either clean it up, and I will play in your room with you then, or you can join me in the activity of my choice somewhere outside of your room. If you want to clean your room, I will be glad to come in and help you.” And nine times out of ten, my son would look disappointed, turn away, and go play by himself in his messy room with some verbal declaration of his disapproval of the options he had been given.
Then I resumed writing a book about parenting, based on what I have increasingly come to believe represents the heart of wise, loving, Godly parenting. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long at that point for me to recognize that my method of trying to motivate my son was in direct opposition to my beliefs regarding how to practice parenting. I have resolved never again to tell my son I won’t go in his room because of the mess. What kind of foundation was I laying for his adolescent years to come?!! “Sorry, son. I know you really want and need time and guidance from me, but you simply don’t have your stuff together. Your life is too messy for me, and doesn’t meet my approval. Let me know when you’ve cleaned up your self and your choices, and then I’ll consider being with you.” Not the message I want guiding our relationship!
This does not mean I will always go play in his room when he asks. There are times when I am busy with other relationships or work that genuinely need my attention more than he does at that moment. Occasionally, I will trump his invitation to join him in his room with an invitation for him to join me at something I believe will be better or more delightful for him and for our relationship. And sometimes I am simply too tired to head into his sloppy realm for whatever play his enthusiastic imagination creates.
But I am through telling him he can enjoy my presence in his world only when his world is up to my standards!
He needs me. And he needs to know I am there for him, to love, accept, encourage, and guide him – despite the mess he has made of his room or his life. I love my son, and he is currently one messy little rascal. So I am joyfully playing in the toy-strewn chaos of his room. And I can see the sail of his soul filling with wind. It is the wind of the presence and guidance of the man charged by God to take primary responsibility for showing this boy the way to healthy manhood. Thank you, God, for stepping into my messy world to love me and be with me and show me how to grow up well. I’m still growing up.