A Little Peace of Mind, Please


It’s easy for me to understand now why my mother would request only “peace of mind” for her Christmas gift when my siblings and I were growing up.   Peace of mind is not easy to define.  I guess it’s just knowing that you – and your kids – are on the right track.

My mother never wanted us to spend our money on gifts for her.  What she wanted, I realize now, is for her kids to be happy, safe, healthy and on their way to becoming kind, caring, and productive adults.  That brings more peace to a mother’s mind than most material gifts.  I want the very same gift for myself.  I love nice things like any other mom.  I love Yankee Candles, perfume, cozy pajamas, pretty earrings…  But I don’t really need those things as  much as I need to know my kids are becoming good people.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress they are making when you’re racing from activity to activity and people are tired and grouchy.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress they’re making when they’re complaining that there’s no food in the house or they can’t find any socks to wear.  But then I spot one of them explaining a difficult math problem to the other or helping each other put together an outfit for school, and it gives me hope.

Parenting teenagers is tricky because it means providing the right balance of discipline, encouragement and freedom so they can learn and develop.  I always want to rush in and fix things for them when they make mistakes or face disappointments — but I know I can’t.   Problem-solving is part of their learning.

Having said that, I’m requesting for Christmas a peace of mind day for me and my husband.  This is how it will work:  For one day over Christmas break, my husband and I are going to kick back and relax. (He doesn’t know this yet).  For that one day (or a  significant part of one day), the kids are going to serve us.  I don’t mean we are going to treat them like slaves.  Nor are we going to sit around drinking pina coladas.  I just mean I am going to request that they work together to do some of the cleaning and some of the cooking (dinner), which involves a bit of planning and getting along with each other.  Everything will be provided (cleaning supplies, cookware, and money for groceries) except for the labor required to make it happen.

What’s great about this is one of my kids has her license, one is very interested in cooking, and one will learn that all of these household tasks can and should be done by both females and males.  (His future wife will thank me some day).

A long time ago, when I was a junior in college and moved into an on-campus apartment with friends, I could barely cook more than Ramen noodles, spaghetti and grilled cheese sandwiches.  My roommates (whose skills were not much better than mine) were shocked to learn I had never cleaned a toilet before.  And my version of doing laundry consisted of placing everything except dry clean only garments into the same washing machine, on cold water.  (All of my white garments were eventually either gray or pink).  Everyone eventually learns these skills but I’d like to see if my kids can learn them before I set them free.

So for one day over Christmas break, I would like to see if my three teens can manage the household operations.  I’m hoping they will:

  • Come away from the experience with a sense of pride in what they did.
  • Get along with each other by cooperating and dividing up the tasks.
  • Appreciate all that goes into keeping a house picked up and clean (even for just one day).
  • Learn that it requires planning (not magic) to make a meal appear on the dining room table.
  • Realize that mothers and fathers get tired, too, even though their activities are different from their children’s activities. (This is why we frequently ask for help from them).
  • Feel good about helping others.

This gives me peace of mind.

Maybe you’re thinking that this should be easy for teenagers.  It should be fairly easy for teenagers if they’ve been helping out with chores regularly (which mine have, um, for the most part).  It should be easy if they can find the ingredients they need at Stop & Shop and if they can  follow a recipe that I choose for them. (It won’t be fancy or complicated).

Can siblings get along for a whole day if they are cleaning and cooking and not glued to a cell phone, t.v., computer or PS3?  I believe they can.

Oh, and when nighttime comes, I get to choose a movie for everyone to watch together (if the kids don’t already have plans or aren’t heading to bed).  Maybe Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or Christmas Vacation or Elf — for the thousandth time.


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