In the newly refurbished kitchen, the ceiling was pristine white. Or at least it had been earlier that day. An hour after lunch, Julius, responding to the unabated appetite of a growing teenage boy, peered into the refrigerator looking for sustenance. Cold cooked carrots, raw cabbage and a remnant of chicken salad just didn’t do it. Julius grabbed a Pepsi, shook it vigorously, and removed the cap. Surprised, he stared at the ceiling and said, “Cool!”
His mother, in a fit of indignant fury, banished him from the house, picked up the phone, and cancelled her afternoon activity. Then, fueled with the energy of righteous indignation, Lucia dragged in the plastic tarp, and the ladder, and the pail, and the detergent, and the sponges, and the rags. She filled the bucket with hot water, climbed up the ladder, climbed down to get the sponges and the rags, climbed up again, and had at it.
Mutter, mutter, scrub, scrub, scrub, mutter. The brown stain clung to the flat white paint. Down the ladder, fresh water, up the ladder, scrub, scrub, up, down, up, down. By the time Lucia decided the ceiling would have to be repainted, her arm muscles were screaming and her clenched jaw ached. Luckily, the contractor she called could finish the paint repair before her husband returned on the weekend.
But, was that lucky? Is something wrong with this picture? How come Julius’s field hockey had not been interrupted? How come the fifteen-year-old didn’t scrub the ceiling or do the painting or pay for the paint job?
Lucia was justifiably proud of her “perfect” house and didn’t want any sloppy work on the kitchen ceiling, but…
What did Julius learn? Two weeks later Lucia came upon him in the kitchen, shaking a bottle of Pepsi.
A friend who was listening to the saga of the Pepsied ceiling asked, “What did you do?”
“I’m afraid I screamed, ‘Don’t you dare open that bottle in here! We just got the kitchen ceiling fixed and I don’t want to have to clean it again!’”
The friend gasped, “Why were you doing the work? Why not Julius?”
Lucia protested, “He wouldn’t do a good job, and I don’t want to look at sloppy work in my kitchen.”
So, Julius gets reinforcement on how to be irresponsible and Lucia gets to feel like… Like what? A perfect house keeper? A long-suffering housewife? A martyr mother?
Before we judge her too harshly, let’s remember that this gross overindulgence probably didn’t spring full-blown from a bed of selfishness, but rather grew slowly as a mom unselfishly cared for her infant, protected her toddler, and shepherded her offspring toward adolescence.
Probably Lucia thought her good-mother job was to keep a perfect house and help her son avoid being uncomfortable. Neither of these is bad. In fact, they are both good. But too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Lucia just didn’t get it that part of a parent’s job is to allow children to feel an appropriate amount of discomfort when they have misbehaved or discomforted others.
Poor Lucia, who let “a perfect house” get in the way of her child’s welfare. Poor Julius, who didn’t get to learn how to be responsible for himself and to others. Poor all the parents who don’t know that it is a loving act to let children experience appropriate consequences. Poor all the kids who don’t have that opportunity.
There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).
All photos from MorgueFile free photo.