I’m standing in the doorway to my son’s room. I’m reluctant to pass the threshold from my clean, undisturbed hallway carpet into what appears to be a war zone that smells like a farm animal. I plug my nose, and go forth into the dungeon of young man sweat. I put my toddler to work by giving her simple, really boring tasks (don’t judge) and we begin to clean.
You're asking yourself why I would choose to clean Cheetos out of someone’s bed, so I want to shed some light on why I do what I do. To be clear, my son’s room is not the only goat poop smelling room I clean. I do the same cleaning regimen for my teenage daughter. And, might I add, her room is far worse. I’m talking about her room's a freaking freak show. Nail polish open on the window sill, sports bra’s hanging from the fan, makeup caked into the carpet. I literally found a piece of cheese in her bed. Like, good, expensive cheddar, just left to petrify and die in her nasty little bed quilt.
I often clean my teenagers' rooms because they're a bundle of confused hormones with an enormous amount of responsibility stemming from high school sports, academics, and expectations from family and friends. Not only that, but teenagers are thrust from childhood into a world that expects them to learn how how to drive a car (murder machine), get a job, get all their homework done, keep their rooms clean, make friends, keep friends, get rid of bad friends, learn about sex, talk about sex, maybe have sex (oh hell no) and the list goes on.
The expectations we put on young people, without recognizing their vulnerability, their lack of developmental maturity to process and complete all the tasks we ask of them, is a road block to a healthy teenage/parent relationship. How do I know this? Trial and error. I’m a researcher by nature. I read, I process, I put into action different modalities, until I find a way that feels good for us all. And by this, I mean, actions that create harmony, happiness, and feel heart-centered. Nothing based on fear, or physical punishment.
One of the books that has help shaped my ideas of parenting through understanding, simple actions, and love, is "Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!" by Dr. Michael J. Bradly. Dr. Bradley provides readers with the science behind the “modern” teenage brain, and offers explicit information on how to parent these teenagers of today. Being able to take a step back, a deep breath, and let your guard down in knowing that our kids are not literally trying to kill us – they just can’t help it – is the next best thing to coffee.
This is why I started cleaning my teenagers' bedrooms. I realized why we were butting heads constantly. They're overwhelmed, fearful, and not able to process everything that was happening to them. When we yell at them to get what we want, we are actually digging a hole, one that we inevitably sink into, further and further away from the very teenagers who need us more than ever. They need simplicity. They need to feel empowered, they need to feel loved. Will cleaning their room inhibit their ability to be responsible young adults who can go to college and get jobs? No. It won't.
What it will do is offer them a safe, clean, happy, and Cheetos-free place to come home to and do their homework. It'll show them that you appreciate how well they’re doing in school, or it'll show them that you want them to have more time to focus on school if they aren’t doing so well.
It'll show them that you know how hard they're working at relationships, and that you appreciate their helping with dinner, or playing with their kid sister. It will show them that you understand, that you’ve been an overwhelmed teenager before, and that you get it. Above all, that you get it.
This is how connection is built. And from connection, empathy grows, and empathy is the tie that binds us all to one another. Especially, those pesky teenagers.
So, yes, I scrub, vacuum, wipe, fold, put away, and finally sage the whole room (hashtag hippie mama). I stand back, and smile at this tiny offering of love, and wait for them to come home, mumble a “thank you mom,” and then give me a stinky, sweaty, Cheetos-smelling hug.