A few weeks ago my last high school student graduated. Amid the whirlwind of activities I heard a similar comment from several parents. “She doesn’t even do her own laundry. I don’t know how she’ll function away at college.” I found this to be a strange concern as all five of my children have done their own laundry for some time. One of the benefits of having a large family is that you don’t have the time to indulge your children the way our culture thinks you should.
All mothers would agree that laundry is one of the most time consuming tasks we face. Although my reaction to my peers is harsh, I must take a step back and remember how I stopped the “doing everyone’s laundry” syndrome. I wish I could say that in my ultimate wisdom I knew it would be an important step into adulthood, but I cannot; no … the “doing your own laundry” routine came about in a somewhat violent and willful act of defiance.
Years ago, after having tried all kinds of sorting techniques, I came up with a clever system that involved a multitude of colorful baskets. If each member in the family could do their own sorting, I could take a basket to the garage and calmly do one load per day. After the load was dry I would lovingly fold and place each person’s clean laundry onto an old book case in the garage. Each shelf was properly labeled with their names in descending age order. It was a system that I thought was reasonable and workable. Then one “game day” changed my whole laundry program, a day I am eternally grateful for.
My oldest child had just begun middle school. He was almost 11 at the time. I had spent the morning searching for all the pieces of his baseball uniform. Uniforms were exempt from the colorful baskets due to their importance. Finding all but the stirrup outer socks – navy blue – I ventured into his room. He continued with his video game. When asked about said socks, he answered me not. My search continued. Getting down on my knees I ventured under his bed. I began pulling out dirty clothes that failed to make it into the colorful baskets. “What is all this stuff? Why didn’t you put it in the colored hampers?”
Deliberately pausing his game, he slowly turned to me and said these crucial words,
“Don’t you have something better to do?”
My blood began to boil. “Yes, I do have ‘something better to do’ but you have a game today and I must wash your uniform. I need your socks. And get up and sort all this dirty laundry under your bed!”
The conversation quickly went south. Within moments we were in the back yard yelling at one another. I pleaded my case. If he could cooperate with the sorting system, everything would be fine. He insisted that I was constantly invading his personal space. Infuriated at his lack of thankfulness, my final blow sounded something like this.
“Then FINE! Do YOUR OWN LAUNDRY!” I challenged.
His reply changed my world, “I WILL!”
“GOOD!” I smartly retorted, and retreated to the garage.
I don’t remember if I found the sock, but I do remember that I never did his laundry again. And, as a bonus, my other children wanted to know why they couldn’t do their own laundry too. I was dumbfounded. What a crazy odd thing to happen. Not knowing how my younger children would manage the washing and drying machines, we set established the using of these important appliances as a rite of passage at the age of 10. My sorting system slowly went away as each child picked out a stylish laundry basket for their own rooms.
I must confess that sometimes my children wore clothes that weren’t clean. I had to learn to turn my head and not try to fix this … but at least this overwhelming task moved out of my realm of duty into theirs. They couldn’t be mad at me if their favorite shirt wasn’t clean or their jeans were dried too long. Being responsible for their own laundry eliminated many, many arguments. It also taught them valuable lessons about caring for their possessions and planning ahead.
I’m still surprised when I hear parents complain about laundry. I encourage them to teach their children to do their own laundry. It is part of life. I mean, after all you don’t dress them once they can do it for themselves. Laundry is no different – teach them how to do it and let them do it! It’s good for them and really, “Don’t you have something better to do?”
~ ily momma