How I Got My Kid to Clean The Toilets

I was in a bad mood. Capital F Foul. It was Sunday, late afternoon, and it had been a long weekend. That morning we'd gotten up early to go to a pumpkin festival at a farm over an hour away. I'd had to leave the farm early to drive an hour back to a work meeting, then 45 minutes home from that to meet my son in a parking lot at Michael's where he was with friends buying crafts for their Historical Pumpkin class project (please don't ask) and by the time we got home I was D.O.N.E.

But the house was an absolute mess. Dishes piled up in the sink, dog hair sprinkled throughout the house, laundry piled up, and dirty, filthy toilets (why can't boys pee IN the goddam toilet?). So there was work to be done before I could feel remotely good about relaxing.

Exasperated by what I was facing when I was already exhausted, I told my son to clean up his Legos in the playroom while I started on the dishes.

"Mommy will you help me?" he whined. (He is a class-A whiner.)

"No, you can do it yourself. I am busy doing the dishes."

"But I want to do it with you. It's too much for me to do alone."

On a very short tether, I barked back, "Are you kidding me? I have to do the dishes, fold the laundry, clean the toilets, vacuum the house, cook dinner and more. And you want help putting away Legos? Are you KIDDING? Are you going to help me with all the other stuff that has to be done?!?"

"Can I?" he asked, his giant brown eyes glowing with excitement.


"Can I help you with the dishes and the cleaning? Then you can help me with the Legos. We can do it all together!"


My brain was barely able to process or compute what was happening. Was my nine-year-old actually asking to do housework and chores?

Still a little grumpy and perhaps testing his resolve, I said, "Fine. You want to clean the toilets?"

"Will you teach me how?" he said, with growing excitement.

What the fuck was happening??

With a softening heart full of bewilderment (and maybe a few thoughts like, 'Holy crap if I play this right I may never have to do this again'), I gave him the spray bottle and a sponge and into the bathroom we went. I showed him how it was done, and he said, "This is so fun! I love using a spray bottle!"

"That's great honey! You're doing a really good job. When you're done in here you can do the other bathroom too. I'm going to go back to the dishes, ok?"

"OK!" he said brightly.

About 7 minutes later he returned and when I asked if he was all done he said, "Yep! And I even did the mirrors!" This kid was proud!

"Oh, that's so great! Did you notice that maybe they were a little streaky?"

"Yeah," he said, sheepishly.

"That's ok, that's because there's a different spray bottle for the mirrors, and you use paper towel instead of the (toilet) sponge. Here you go." And off he went.

When he returned he saw me doing the dishes and asked if he could do them too. Next thing I knew, he had on the yellow gloves and I was teaching him how to rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

Then came vacuuming. (This proved a little less fruitful because he really wanted to play with the vacuum cleaner and watch it suck up his skin more than the piles of dog hair, but by this time my foul mood had morphed to bewilderment and was now creeping up on full blown joy surrounded by pulsing rings of love so I let it slide.)

By the time we made it to the playroom together to clean up Legos, my son and I were chattering away happily, making up stories and fully bonded. We even had time to play (I know, right???). We made dinner together and watched a movie together and then got into bed to snuggle and read together. We were a team.

After that night my son went to his dad's for 2 days. He came back to me last night and while he did his homework at the kitchen table, I cooked dinner. He got up in the middle and asked if he could chop the onion for me, then the cucumber.

We are in a new routine here at our house and it has been entirely led and dictated by my son. I have resolved not to push it on him and not to make it feel like a chore. I am really clear that while my son may have been asking to do housework, what he was really asking was to just be with me. He asked to participate in things that usually keep us separate; he asked to learn; he asked to partner with me.

We always say they teach us so much. Consider me taught.

ParentingKate Anthony