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Why My Daughters Need to See Me Cleaning the House

Photograph by Twenty20

"Get in here right now and pick up your shoes and jacket, please!"

"Yeah! Go get your stuff!" my older one reinforced my shrieking.

"Waaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" came from the hallway. "Why can't you just call Elsa to come do it?" my little one fired back. Elsa—our dear, sweet, always-smiling Elsa—is our once-every-two-weeks housekeeper that comes to do deep cleaning, usually on Friday mornings.

I was immediately thrown over the edge. Not OK. No way. Freeze and stop right there little one.

"'Call Elsa'?" I demanded back at her. "'Call Elsa'?!?!" I demanded again, this time louder.

She just looked at me.

"We clean up ourselves, every day, at this house. Elsa just comes to help us sometimes. We are responsible for taking care of what we're lucky to have. No one is too good to pick up after themselves. Got it? NO ONE."

She made a face and stomped into the den and picked up her shoes.

My heart was pounding. It was like I was slapped in the face, despite my longtime efforts to make sure my kids did things for themselves at home on a daily basis: taking their plates up the sink, putting their clothes in the hamper and even packing their own snacks for school in the mornings.

All kids complain about tidying up, I know. Just wait for the teen years, friends tell me. I myself hated picking up my room when I was a kid. This is all innocent and normal when it comes to children cleaning up after themselves, but I guess I'm extra sensitive about my daughters having moxie for keeping house because of the times we live in.

I want my daughters to see me cleaning our home not because I'm sexist, but because I personally believe it builds work ethic and reminds them that no one is too good to do anything. If I had sons, I'd want them to learn the same thing.

As a busy mom, how many times have you read an article about "the power of outsourcing" all the home tasks you don't really care for? Don't like ironing? Send it to the cleaners! Hate grocery shopping? Amazon can bring you food! Don't have time to clean out that junk drawer or wrap those holiday presents? Hire an assistant for the day! I've done all these things—they're helpful and lifesaving for all of us.

But just because I can delegate everything, doesn't necessarily mean I should.

My biggest goal is to raise my kids to be capable in every way, to task them with stuff that ranges from boring to thrilling to tedious to exciting to dirty to fun.

I can't help but wonder if all of our clever and constant outsourcing is subliminally tricking our kids into thinking there's no value in doing any kind of task that you're not absolutely in love with, that "dirty work" has no worth or that figuring out how to creatively manage time isn't a skill we can all master.

I want my kids to do mundane work at home because it teaches them a whole mess of skills at one time: to hunker down and appreciate a healthy work ethic, to learn how to squeeze in getting the boring stuff done between the fun stuff, to move fast and not whine and just do it—whatever "it" is. The new office assistant who refuses to file papers with a frown on their face doesn't get the promotion later.

Today's biggest complaint with moms is that there is not enough time in the day for all the crap we must get done between kids, spouses, work, home, and on and on. I experience this every day and recognize it as truth.

But I also know from a lifetime of smashing in meager tasks between accomplishing the big stuff that there is more time in the day than we give credit for. If I was raised with the mindset that I needed to outsource most of the responsibilities I now have as a parent in order to get things accomplished, I'd have been bankrupt years ago and would've never survived that time with two sick babies, a husband overseas and a kitchen renovation with no running water.

There's value in strategically outsourcing certain things (hello, mental health) but there's also exponential value in showing our kids that we can get clever when required to do for ourselves, that there is time in the day if we use it smartly, that no job is below any of us—including scrubbing toilets.

My biggest goal is to raise my kids to be capable in every way, to task them with stuff that ranges from boring to thrilling to tedious to exciting to dirty to fun. I don't care if they complain. Bring it on.

We do for ourselves, my daughters, because we're smart, we're able and because doing so will all add up over time, to make you a more capable woman, mom, wife, friend and co-worker who can handle anything years from now.

I promise.

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