The dishes.
July 07, 2011

She wants to wash dishes with me.  Every day we go through the same routine, the same give and take.  She pulls the faucet toward her, shrieks BABY TUN! (baby’s turn) excitedly, and I tug it back my direction.  No, I say.  It’s Momma’s turn.  Back and forth, over and over.  No, you cannot touch that glass bowl.  Please stop helping me load the dishwasher.  How about we not splash?

And then, inevitably: CHARLOTTE CHRISTENSEN, NO!  Look at me.  I have already said no.  Please listen.  Momma is busy washing dishes and as soon as I’m done, we’ll do something fun.  Just let me finish, okay?

Finally, I started washing dishes during her naptime.  Just me and the quiet air.  No busy hands, no incessant demands, no messes all over the counter.

Yesterday, I read Ryan’s post about a little toy car and I could think of plenty of choices that I make today as a direct result of being forced in a different direction as a child.  We all have SOMETHING.

But what the post really made me think about was Charlotte.  What little longings of hers am I stifling?  Am I telling her she cannot do something that she would benefit from trying?  And is there a way to rectify this – to change the way I talk about things she’s not old enough to do alone, to help her learn how to do things on her own that she’s interested in?

I know it’s only dishes, but I never want to be the parent who suffocates my child’s attempts to grow and learn.  So instead of washing dishes during naptime yesterday, I waited.  When she woke up, I pulled a chair up to the sink.  I gave her a sponge and some spoons and showed her what to do.  And did she make a mess?  Yes.  Did she splash water everywhere?  Yes.  Did she clean anything?  No.

Oh, but she was proud.  Rinsing a spoon off, sliding off her chair, carrying it to the dishwasher, loading it in, then climbing back on her chair to help with another spoon.  When we were done, she kept chirping that she had HEPPED! (helped) and that she WASH DISHES LIKE! and that we should DO GEN! (do it again).  It just about killed me seeing that something so simple made her so unbelievably happy.

Sometimes I forget to say it, but thank you Internet.  You people who comment here, you readers who e-mail me, you bloggers who write words I remember?  You have some kick-ass ideas and you constantly teach me how to be a better mother.  Thanks.


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  1. By Alicia S. on July 07, 2011

    I am bad about this. I’ve always been kind of a type A personality, so when this same realization started nagging at me, I decided to let go juuust enough to have Matthew start helping me with little things here and there. And you know what? That boy can roll the garbage/recycling cans to the end of the curb (with me pulling one can and him pulling another), he can water the plants, and he can mash babyfood for his little sister like nobody’s business. I never would have imagined he’d actually learn how to master these things enough to become a help instead of a hindrance, (and I know that’s not the point) but he really did learn them with a little practice because he cared so much about doing them. I’ve even started to let him try to fix toys of his that he accidentally breaks—and have been astounded at what he can accomplish when I just give him some space to work and a little bit of credit.

  2. By wordplayhouse on July 07, 2011

    Take the “help” (i.e. companionship) while you wash the dishes now…she may run the other direction when it’s time to help in a few years…or she may just end up enjoying this time with you so much, she’ll get past her learning curve and really begin helping you…without the suds and water everywhere!

    And get a dishwasher! You’ll have plenty to hand wash even with one, and even more time to just play with water and suds just for fun (no dishes involved)! I love my dishwasher so.

  3. By on July 07, 2011

    My Charlotte loves to help wash dishes, bring in the recycling bin, and water the plants too. And she loves to help me cook! It’s amazing how much cooking I can get done when I finally just give in, let her pull up a chair and help out—and by help out I mean make her own unique dish with her own bowl, a spoon and whatever scraps from the real meal I give her to throw in there.

    The other day she really did help make pancakes. I measured the ingredients and she poured them in the bowl and then she stirred them. I’m starting to see that maybe there will be a day in the future when I can make big fancy meals with home made pasta again. Some day I will not be limited to those meals that can be thrown together in a half-hour.

  4. By on July 07, 2011

    I’ve always tried to make a point of letting Jude help. I’m lucky enough to have a number of friends with kids about 6 months to a year older than Jude and so I hear about all of their hurdles before he gets there. I remember one conversation they had when Jude was still about 6 months old about how hard it is to get anything done once they start walking and wanting to help. I kind of made the decision then that I’d let him help.

    I do little things to let him in on the action. Sometimes he sits on the counter while I’m cooking and tosses in ingredients. Other times he’s on the floor with a bowl stirring flour and water together to make his own meal. If I’m cleaning the house I give him a bucket to put all his toys in and take back to the toy room;e If I’m moping the floor, he’s sweeping another room; when I fold clothes, he simple moves them from one basket to another, etc. MY theory is they might slow you down tremendously and make a bit of a mess, but if you let them help you go from getting nothing done when they’re awake to getting something done - and they’re learning responsibility while it’s still fun.

  5. By Jeneva on July 07, 2011

    I struggle with this too. Mainly because I have a tiny (like, minuscule) kitchen so when anyone is in there with me, I feel almost claustrophobic. Doesn’t help that I have 2 and if 1 is helping, so is the other. But, my kids love to help so I try and let them when I can.

  6. By on July 07, 2011

    I love this post. This past week has been really difficult with a whiny baby and a grumpy husband because of said whiny baby. And here I am trying to hold it together when all I want to do is snap. Last night I turned to the internet and learned that I am not alone in my bed time battles, or the crying when we don’t do what he wants to do, or the screaming to get anyones attention, or the wanting to help me with EVERYTHING. I also learned that I just need to slow down take deep breath and spend a little more time with him and less time worrying about whether the laundry gets folded the right way, or how the dishes are stacked in the dishwasher. If he wants to help put dishes in the dishwasher let him help, if he wants me to play cars and crash into each other over and over and over and over then so be it. Basically I learned a little more toddler-only focused attention gets us a long way. And it totally worked this morning! Happy baby+Happy husband= Happy me.

  7. By Nikki {Perpetually Engaged} on July 07, 2011

    She sounds so cute!  I’d love to have a little helper like that.  Unless of course I needed to get things done ;)  Could you fill up the sink after her nap, let her splash around and wash a few spoons?  I wouldn’t worry about stifling any dishwashing dreams just yet.  You’ll do that when you make her wash the dishes later in life ;)

  8. By on July 07, 2011

    So you do eighteen million loads of wet towels for a few weeks, but you’ll be surprised how quickly she gets the hang of it. And then you can eat bon bons while she loads the dishwasher. Wait. Why is it that, as soon as they master something, it’s no longer interesting? :)

  9. By tracy on July 07, 2011

    This was somthing I felt very strongly about from day 1…... not saying no to my daughter simply for my convenience at the expense of her curiousity and fundamental need to learn new tasks.

    My (soon-to-be-ex) husband loved to call me a control freak, and while I do crave order & control, when it comes to my daughter’s growth & expansion on life experiences (no matter how minute), I learned to let go of control long ago.

    The thing that helped me, was instead of getting frustrated at E trying to unload the dishwasher when I was trying to load it, was giving her a specific task. She was in charge of silverware, and after I rinsed them off, she put them in the silverware basket-thingy, and I didn’t let mysef fret over the fact that they were all jumbled up in there, and it wasn’t the way I would have done it. 

    When I’m dusting, her job is to dust the coffee table. Bonus: she now knows that she has to put away her books & toys that were strewn all over the coffee table before she can do her dusting.

    Of course there will be messes, and of course dinner will take longer to make, I would tell my husband, but SURELY I/we/you can find SOMETHING she can help with (sprinkle the seasonings on the chicken, pour the water & rice into the pot, stir the marinade, etc; obviously nothing involving heat or raw meat).

    All she wants to do is be where we are, and do what we’re doing, and I refuse to tell her no just because it will make things harder for me if I let her help. And the bottom line is, the kid needs to learn how to do things, and I guess I just determined early on that she could and should learn them as soon as she wanted to, and/or it was safe for her to do so. The very last thing I would ever want to do (okay, it’s on the list of the very last things) is stifle my daughter’s anything.

    As soon as she became mobile, I figured that there will be so many things I’ll have to tell her no about in her lifetime - things to keep her healthy & safe - that I wanted to keep the no’s to a minimum when at all possible (hahahhahahaha), and now that she’s (a brilliant) 3 year old, I’ve still tried to stick with that philosophy.

    Except now, after giving her my list of reasons of why I said no, I frequently end it with, “And because I said so”.

    And then I get a “moooooo-ooooommmmmmmmm” in reply…....Because I have a 13 year old trapped in the body of a 3 year old ;)

  10. By on July 07, 2011

    I love this. The sentiment of slowing down really resonates with me. As I prepare for my first year teaching high school next year, I am trying to focus on making my classroom really student-centered, just like you have made your life charlotte-centered. It’s amazing how our frustrations diminish when we stop focusing on what we have to DO and start focusing on WHO we are doing it with and for. Thanks for the renewed inspiration.

  11. By on July 07, 2011

    Isn’t the internet such a wonderful resource? I’m so happy to have found your blog (which I try to catch up on as I feed my 9 month old). I love all your ideas and thoughts. You really make me think about how I want to raise my son and the best ways to do it. Thank YOU.

    PS - I can’t wait to make a list of all the things I find in Alex’s pockets :)

  12. By Sarah Christensen on July 07, 2011

    Trina, thanks, that’s very sweet =)  Enjoy your Alex - I feel like nine months was just yesterday for us; I can’t believe Charlotte will be two in a couple weeks.  Where does the time go?!

    The latest additions to my pocket list are:
    - garlic cloves
    - pink button that I have no explanation for
    - a handful of yellow snap beans
    - gravel
    - my old driver’s license, folded in half

    LOL! =)

  13. By Ryan on July 08, 2011

    So very nice to read this story. Definitely going to fill up the sink with some dishes today :)

  14. By Sarah on July 08, 2011

    Just found your blog through blogtopsites’. So cute! And may I say, best name ever! I’m a Sarah too. And I looooooove the diaper tally! I also cloth diaper, I would have loved a tally on the changes/washes I’ve done!

  15. By on July 08, 2011

    Sarah, when my kids went through this phase either your mother or grandmother suggested letting them ‘wash’ the tupperware for me. Charlotte is in one of THE cutest stages and ages right now.

  16. By on July 09, 2011

    So I read this post a couple of days ago and it was great. Yes, let the toddler help you do the dishes. Its a great learning moment for her. She’s almost two and someday it will probably be one of her chores.

    Then last night I had a revelation. My 18 month old who is obsessed with “helping” me with the dishwasher, is also not too young to learn how to put spoons and forks in.  And that for as much as I encourage my son to be independent and to challenge himself, I was holding him back by thinking he wasn’t ready. And all along he was telling me that he WANTS to learn and help.

    So thank you for once again providing insight to my parenting.


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