Perhaps the most difficult thing about parenting teens is letting go–ceding control over their lives, or recognizing that you never really had any control–and preparing them to leave you. When my girls were toddlers, their wise grandparents told me this, but until I faced the challenge myself I didn’t understand a word of their sage advice.
My eldest’s recent acceptance to college was not only a source of pride; it also triggered some anxiety in me, which I tried to dispel with humor. I claimed my greatest fear was that she would bring her dirty laundry home for me to wash during her vacations. One friend’s shocked response of, “You don’t make her do her own laundry?!” made me wonder if my stranglehold on the family’s laundry signaled an inability to let go.
Determined to raise my children to be productive and happy adults, I strive to encourage their independence. They have been dressing themselves and packing their own lunches every morning for as long as I can remember. They take responsibility for their assignments at school and home, and I don’t try to protect them from the dirty work. Their chores include collecting the garbage and the dirty laundry from upstairs, clearing the dirty dishes from the table, and cleaning the yard of our dog’s “business.” I also insist that they help with sorting the socks–a tedious task that I abhor–and putting their clean clothes away.
But I don’t really allow them to do their own laundry. That’s my job. And while I joked that I look forward to a lighter laundry workload next year, my friend’s response hit a nerve. Why do I assert sole ownership and guard the territory of the laundry room so fiercely?
I believe that my reaction to her remark has nothing to do with how I feel about housework, nor does it reveal an anxiety about my parenting skills. Truthfully, I realized that I’m not being controlling; I’m simply being selfish. I like doing the laundry. I find it therapeutic. And I don’t want to lose the sense of accomplishment I get from this work.
I don’t regard doing my children’s laundry as shielding them from a burden. Instead, I am depriving them of the joy I feel when I place the damp, clean clothes into the dryer. With each load, I celebrate the completion of a single task, something that I rarely experience otherwise. As a teacher, a rabbi, a writer, and a parent, it seems my work is never done and the results are never final. Although the laundry is also part of a never-ending process, there is a moment–when the spin cycle ends–in which I experience total contentment.