There were times in our growing-up years as a family (and we did grow together!) when the pace of life was pretty fast, and everything in the house would end up everywhere. I never could get on top of it. No sooner had I tidied up one place, when it would be all out from under somewhere else.
Then the time came when I undertook important work that required peace and order in my surroundings. I made great strides in my own mastery of order in the home, but no sooner would the front door open than the trail of jackets, shoes, bags, and everything that goes along with children, would pour in and fill the place up again.
I wanted our home to be a "nag-free zone" and couldn't bear the thought that the first thing I said to the children or my husband after their demanding days would be to nag them about putting things away. I wanted to greet them with delight and ease. How, I wondered, could we solve this problem so that everyone felt good about it?
One day when I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that the children wouldn't spoil someone else's homework, or walk across one of my husband's architectural drawings with muddy feet because we recognized and respected each other's work too much. The clean, tidy home was part of my homework, and should receive the same respect.
But more than this, we could all pause before coming into our home and check the thoughts we were bringing into it. If we all played our part in contributing to its atmosphere, our home wouldn't be a dumping ground for complaints or negativity.
And that's how our household code was born. Ever since, it has hung on the wall near the front door. It says:
To be thought of when coming home ...
Enter this home cheerfully.
Your thoughts are the company you keep;
Please bring in welcome guests.
Enter this home tolerantly;
Others have worked hard today, too.
Enter this home considerately;
Your day's work may show up in a schoolbook or on a drawing board,
Someone else's in a clean, tidy home.
Enter this home responsibly;
Your freedom within it is your privilege;
Your conduct your responsibility.
Enter this home generously;
Like a bank account, it needs paying into,
Not just drawing on.
Enter this home expectantly;
Others have looked forward to your coming.
Enter this home gratefully;
The strengths within it are enduring,
The weaknesses, opportunities for growth.
And even if on occasion none of this seems possible ...
Enter this home fearlessly.
There will be no condemnation:
You are loved!
There were still times when the door would open after school and the slightly glazed expression on the face of one of the children seemed to be saying, "Don't talk to me - just give me food and television."
As the trail of belongings started to form, inspiration and humor had to come to the rescue. Once I remember gazing intently at the ceiling and saying, "Just look at all those shoes and books on the ceiling! How did they get there?" To my amazement, it worked! They giggled - and picked up their things.
Freedom, creativity, and order aren't mutually exclusive; they're mutually supportive, and liberate the home from both perfectionism and chaos. Too tight a sense of control can suffocate spontaneity, but an absence of discipline in caring for belongings means that important life lessons aren't being learned. As with all things, balance is the key.
I know there were earlier days when my mother thought, as grandparents sometimes do, that we were never going to get the balance right. But I think she would have been happy with how things turned out, thanks to our household code.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society