Raising Mary: How do you get kids to pick up after themselves?

This is one area in which I have dropped the ball, so to speak.
Sometimes, I pick up the ball, only to fumble and trip over it laying on
the floor. 
I confess, my two darling daughters, six and almost four, generally do not pick up after themselves. 
‘Start as you mean to go on,’ said author Tracy Hogg in The Baby Whisperer.
I love this British saying. Figure out your goal and strive to
implement it from the beginning. Young kids won’t resist much; they take
your word for it that this is the way things are. Do-overs are way more
I’ve started as I’ve meant to go
on in several areas, with good results. But when it comes to my kids
picking up after themselves, I have ignored my own ‘rule’. They take
things out all the time to play, leave them, and go on to other
activities. Mary loves to draw and craft at the breakfast counter, and
it must be five or six times a day I put away her papers, markers and
If I’m in a good mood, I put things
away quietly. If I’m in a bad mood, I still tidy, but complain loudly
about how ‘Mommy’s a Mommy, not a maid’. I ask Mary and Adelaide to
clean up and they simply ignore me. Then, I clean up for them and
implement no consequences. Why would they listen? 
I have a few possible reasons for my poor parenting strategy: 
I am a bit controlling. I am not great at standing by while the kids
fire random toys into the ‘wrong’ bin. I’m too picky about this. Time to
switch to decaf!
2. I didn’t have to tidy up
when I was a kid, so I feel a little bad making my kids tidy up after
themselves. I think there are plenty of years to do housework and
childhood is for playing. 
If I don’t smarten
up, my girls are going to have moments like mine when I went away to
university to live with three other girls. I’ll never forget how dumb I
felt when it was my turn to clean the toilet and the tub; I didn’t want
my roommates to know I’d never cleaned a freaking bathroom, so I used
way too much cleaner and our place reeked of toxic fumes for hours. 
Maybe it’s time to pick up that metaphorical ball again. Better late than never, right?

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 6, and Adelaide, 3.

Originally published in ParentsCanada, April 2012

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