My son offered to sweep the kitchen floor. Though tall enough to hold a full-sized broom normally, he instead gripped it as if he were planning to whack a mouse and then slid the bristles across the vinyl tiles, managing to collect a few dog hairs and bread crumbs with each slow, inefficient motion.
While wiping the counters, I watched him, debating whether or not to say something. Should I recommend a better way?
My mind flashed to a summer day at the farm house where I grew up. After Dad and my brother finished mowing near the house, my job was to sweep the grass clippings from the back porch, a concrete slab about four by six feet.
I grabbed the straw broom from behind the door and started sweeping. I probably wasn’t working very quickly; I was likely daydreaming. I might have been gripping the broom awkwardly, sliding it across the concrete in wide, inefficient motions.
Suddenly, a shout. “Not like that!” Dad yanked the broom out of my hand. “You’re doing it all wrong! My mother taught me the right way. You have to make quick, short movements like this!”
Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick.
He handed me the broom. While he watched, critiquing, I had to practice it his way—or, rather, his mother’s way—adjusting my motions until I achieved the perfect flick. Finally satisfied, he returned to the mower. I flicked the broom a few more times for effect, then ran inside and shoved it behind the door.
The grass was gone; so was my self-esteem.
Watching my son in the kitchen as he managed to corral the crumbs, I decided to keep quiet. Perhaps in the years to come he’ll watch others at work and learn to adjust his hold on the handle; or maybe he’ll figure out how to sweep quickly and thoroughly by experimenting on his own.
But for now, he was collecting most of the dirt. Wasn’t that the goal?
Anyway, who was I to criticize? After wiping the counters, I left streaks.
Related reading at The High Calling: “Do the Job Your Way” by L.L. Barkat.Photo by Ann Kroeker, copyright 2011.
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thesavingmom (jessica) says
Loved this post. How I wish I could keep that lesson in the forefront of my mind… ~Jessica
So glad to see you here, Jessica. I struggle to know when to redirect and when to just relax and let them find their own way.
Megan Willome says
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can crush the heart of a child?
My son just started doing his own laundry–his idea. And he’s doing it right! Will wonders never cease?
Maybe I was overly sensitive as a child (and now), but I also struggled to trust my father’s love. I think if I trusted that he truly, deeply loved me, I would have accepted his instruction and correction better, but maybe not. Maybe I would have been crushed regardless.
Love that your son is doing his laundry, and doing it correctly! Congratulations–in a few short years, you can send him off to college with confidence!
Cheryl Smith says
Oh, I wish I had read this a few days ago. Before a major incident in the kitchen with my 13 year old. He HATES to vacuum or sweep and usually I can find other chores for him to do (easier in a family w/4 kids than not I suppose) but this day, it was simply his turn. Thankfully, Peter intervened with a cooler head and it turned out well.
You’re such an inspiring mom, Ann. Thank you!
Ann Kroeker says
I’m so sorry. Any time a parent has to use the words “major incident,” I can only imagine how tense it must have been.
My hesitation and the reason for my internal debate actually traces to Stephen Covey. Do you remember his whole method of training his son to take care of the yard? I found someone provided the story here: http://www.championsclub.org.uk/covey/green-and-clean.php
Hazel I Moon says
I would have been like your dad, giving instructions as to: How there is a better way to do this job. So many regrets now that I could have been a softer hearted mom. I am glad you gave him freedom and leeway to do his job as he wished and that he did complete his task. You are a great mom, Ann and your children will rise up and call you blessed.
Ann Kroeker says
Hazel, I think it’s great, also, to help a child know what’s expected and provide ideas for how to get there. My eldest, a sequential learner, actually likes to know step-by-step how to approach a task. She might have preferred that I show her how to hold it, how to flick, etc.
It’s so much. I hope that you’re right; that they will forgive me for my failings and shortcomings and we will all enjoy and appreciate each other in the years go come. Thank you for your kind words, Hazel.
I think all too often after we “suggest” a better way to our kids, we regret not having kept quiet. Good for you for thinking it through first.
Well, I guess the memory helped, remembering the feeling of being criticized as a child. I remember thinking, “If I’m getting the grass off the porch, does it really matter how I hold the broom?” If I had a dozen other chores to work through, I would probably need to learn a faster method, but I don’t remember having to do anything other than sweep the porch.
Anyway, isn’t it interesting how our past informs our present, sometimes leading us to better choices (something leading us to worse).
Kathy Robbins says
Found you at” A High Calling”. Followed to here. Love the post. I am guilty of trying to teach my kids how to sweep properly. I have frustrated them. They tell me not to tell them how to do it. This frustrates me. They start sweeping a room in the middle of the room. Drives me crazy! But, I too, leave streaks when I wipe the counter. Even the little things are hard in parenting.:)
Kathy, I’m so happy to see you here–and I think we’re going to meet sometime soon, at Laity! 🙂
David Rupert says
We are so quick to point out our “perfect way”. But people are people — so let it go! Loved that you gave your son the freedom to fail, to find his way.
Thanks, David, for your affirmation! I trust your perspective and appreciate your wisdom.
Lisa notes... says
This applies when our spouses do chores too. I so often want to correct my husband on how to best load the dishwasher, but, hey, if he loads it all, why should I complain?
I’m trying to let go of having to do things the optimally perfect right way. It’s the relationship I want to get “right.”
Thanks, Ann. I always need these reminders.
Yes, oh, yes, Lisa! Good point! Thank you for reminding me to use this same principle with everyone in the family.
JoDee Luna says
Those days of parenting young children are long gone for me now but vivid in my memory just the same. Especially those times when I expected far too much.
Your children are fortunate to have you as their mother. Your sensitivity and self-awareness strengthens their self-confidence.
JoDee, thank you for this perspective and the encouragement. I do have older kids (eldest is 17), as well, and I do think it helps me parent my youngest with greater sensitivity. I expected so much from the 17yo, sweet thing. That birth order thing…man, it is often so true!
Matthew Kreider says
This post resonates with me and, as a father of two young boys, kind of frightens me, too. Your words triggered memories from my own childhood and brought them into focus. We’re such broken, miserably selfish people. But I remember my mom’s words that love covers a multitude of sins. Grace has a way of making our floors and countertops sparkle. Thank you for your post!
Matthew, I’m so glad your mom was able to provide loving input, true words, to balance out the hard ones. As I responded to someone earlier, I think it’s hard to balance when instruction is needed, and guidance, and when we let our kids find their way. That day I let him sweep it any old way, but maybe later I’ll show him an idea for pulling out the trash liner from the can so that it doesn’t spill as he ties it shut. Will it crush him? I hope that I can communicate even instruction and advice with love, but I fail even at that.
Grace, yes. So needed…so, so needed.
Amy Sullivan says
Sigh. Too many grabbing the broom times are coming to mind right now.