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A Totally Employable Strategy for Keeping Your Kid’s Room Tidy

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Dirty socks are mixed in with a pile of Legos. Shoes, barrettes, and random beads litter one corner of the room. Open books cover the bed, spines facing up, to hold the page in the absence of bookmarks. The dress-up basket lies upside down atop a sea of tulle, spandex, and polyester.


My preschooler’s room drives me crazy. My husband thinks I should let it go. (Note: he places no value on organization and possesses an uncanny ability to locate any random piece of paper among the stacks littering his office.)

I try to let it go, and I’ll be chill for a while, but eventually I run out of patience; usually when I can’t find a path to her bed, or when there’s nowhere to put a basket of clean laundry. At that point, I go into “mean-mom” mode. I yell, then I feel guilty, then I apologize to my daughter for overreacting, and I resolve to chill out. Inevitably, the cycle starts again.

Is the key to breaking this cycle finding a way to keep my daughter’s room clean, or finding a way to stop caring?

Does it matter if your kid’s room is clean?

Like most aspects of parenting, there is no one right answer to this question. According to Jill Ceder, psychotherapist and parent coach, the research is inconclusive. “Some research shows that chaos negatively affects us while other research shows messiness encourages creativity.” We do know that people are either born with the “clean gene” or not. If tidiness isn’t in your kid’s genes, Ceder reminds parents that our role is to coach our kids, not to control them, which means avoiding nagging and yelling. She advises parents to drop the power struggle entirely if it’s becoming a major issue. “If you can, muster up the strength to close the door and forget what is behind it. Realize that there is a difference between old smelly wet towels shoved in a corner and a pile of school papers on a desk.”

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On the other hand, Kate Paisley Kennedy, an executive function and organization coach and Lead Gifted Education Specialist at Chapel Hill Carrboro City School District, says it’s crucial that kids keep their rooms clean. “It teaches the skill of breaking a job into small chunks without the risk of failure, which is often attached to school work.”  So how can you get kids invested in cleaning their rooms?

How to Help Kids Clean up: Make it Simple

Have a place for things

It’s easier to tidy when there is a place for everything. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a complicated system. Boxes and baskets you already have will do the job. A shoebox can store blocks, or a laundry basket can house stuffed animals.

Minimize stuff

Fewer things means less work, less overwhelm, and less chance of tripping. I do stealth purges, leaving my kids’ toys in a holding area before donating them, in case they ask for the missing toys before I get to Goodwill. However, my kids (ages three and five) are often willing to collect toys for needy kids when asked.

Break it down

The idea of cleaning a messy room is overwhelming (even for adults) until you break it down into smaller pieces.

Child therapist Maria Arias recommends letting kids choose a task. My daughter usually throws a fit when it’s time to clean her room, but if I ask, “Do you want to start with books or clothes?” she’ll pick one and get started.

Often, children respond better to a task list, than to verbal instructions. You can write a to-do list with your child, or use a picture schedule for younger kids who can’t read yet.

Paisley Kennedy recommends breaking a project like room cleaning into time-based chunks, to avoid overwhelm. For example, you can set a timer for five minutes, and take a break at that point.

Make it routine

Some parents report a total absence of power struggles or negotiations in order to get their kids to clean their rooms. With kids ranging from three to twelve years old, these parents had one thing in common: They’d established a solid clean-up routine when their kids were very young.

Ceder recommends not only expecting kids to do chores when they’re young, but also building clean-up into their schedule. For example, the routine could be to clean your bedroom every Saturday morning before you’re allowed to do something fun, every night before dinner, or before starting a new activity. What matters is that the routine is consistent and that kids know the consequence for not participating (e.g. you don’t get to go to gymnastics or have screen time if it’s not done).

Make it Clear

Arias emphasizes the importance of clearly communicating your expectations and why they matter. To do this, she recommends:

  • Showing your child a picture of their clean room.
  • Explaining the motivation behind the goal. Arias encourages parents to emphasize safety by saying something like, “Let’s pick up the toys so no one will fall.” (Note: this is very different than howling in pain and threatening to burn all the Legos when you step on one.)
  • Putting it in the context of helpfulness by saying something like, “When the room is clean, we can be on time to school, which is helpful to the teachers and the other students.”

Make it fun

Parents reported the following strategies to infuse fun into the process. (Many of the “fun moms” admitted to threatening to chuck all the toys from time to time.)

  • Set a timer and dare your kid to beat the clock (“I bet you can’t get this done in less than five minutes!”)
  • “Race” to see who can clean up more blocks while getting down on the floor to help younger kids.
  • Load toys in a dump truck and let kids make the truck unload them into the appropriate bin.
  • Play “cleaning crew.”
  • Make a game of putting away specific items, like hunting for all the blue things or anything round.

Make it rewarding

According to Paisley Kennedy, “a positive reward works eight times faster than a negative consequence.” The reward can be as simple as stickers or verbal praise. Ceder agrees that it’s important to praise effort. She encourages parents to take note whenever their kids take responsibility for their messes, “and use this as a time to connect, engage, show appreciation and encouragement.”

That said, many parents report success using candy, toys, and screen time as a reward. One dad reported his son, age five, kept his room clean for fourteen days straight, motivated by the promise of a new toy.

If getting your kid to clean is too overwhelming…

Don’t despair. The childhood bedroom of one of my best friends looked like a war zone. She was a stellar athlete and a great student who earned an advanced degree from Harvard. She now has a fulfilling career, two great kids, and a loving partner. It would be hard to argue her messy room held her back.

 

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Before I had a baby, postpartum depression (PPD) was something I only heard about on the fringes of motherhood. It would occasionally get brought up among mom friends, but only in the tightest of circles and usually in whispered tones conveying depths of shame I couldn't quite understand.

Every so often, I would see a magazine article citing women who admitted (again, in voices heavy with shame) that they didn't immediately bond with their baby. That they felt soul-crushing sadness after giving birth. That they felt wholly unable to mother properly.

When PPD was mentioned (which wasn't often), it always seemed to follow the same formula: a lack of bonding with the baby, followed by extreme sadness that could last for months―or even years after birth. And long before I ever had a baby, it was clear to me that the majority of women I knew who suffered didn't want anyone to know about it.

Years later, and with two births under my belt, I'm grateful to say that I've seen some things change. Slowly, but with increasing pace, I see more and more parenting communities shaking off the stigma of PPD. I see more and more women breaking the silence and coming forward with stories of their own. I see more and more compassion for the one in every seven moms who experience postpartum depression each year—that's over 500,000 mamas.

And, even more surprisingly, I see a greater understanding of just how varied the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can be. Because, the fact is, PPD rarely looks the same for any mama―and it can be especially hard to explain feelings that feel unique to you. The experts at Allegheny Health Network get it. They've made it their mission to not only bring more understanding to postpartum mood disorders, but also to help every mom break their silence and remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here's what some of the women they've worked with want you to know.

When I say "I'm feeling lonely," what I mean is... I feel alone in my suffering.

The trickiest part of PPD? You probably look exactly the same on the outside. In many cases, women continue to power through their daily routines so it can be easy to miss their suffering. "You feel like you're drowning," says Heather, a PPD survivor and an Allegheny Health Network patient. "[But] physically looking at me or at anyone that suffers from something like this, you can't see it. That's what makes it so difficult."

How to help: If you know a new mama, don't assume she's doing okay just because her life isn't obviously going up in flames. Check in. Ask about her health, not just her baby's. And let her know you're a judgment-free place to share.

When I say "I'm not feeling how I thought I would," what I mean is... motherhood isn't bringing me joy.

As moms, we're expected to feel an almost blissful happiness every second of pregnancy and motherhood. But for many women, that happiness seems to evade them―and it often doesn't come the moment they're handed their new baby―leading them to feel like they're already failing as a mother. "I felt so guilty because, here I am, I have this new, adorable baby who doesn't cry and is fantastic," says Ashleigh, a PPD survivor and Allegheny Health Network patient. "I didn't want to seem ungrateful."

How to help: Many mothers with PPD feel guilty for it. One of the best ways to lessen the load? Sharing your own story. It's normal not to immediately connect with your baby (you did just meet them, after all!), and the more stories we hear of strong connections that took a bit of time, the easier it will be for new moms to talk about it.

When I say "I don't feel like myself," what I mean is... I'm getting overwhelmed with anxiety and/or anger.

Sadness is just one of the possible symptoms of PPD. For many women, the condition manifests itself as extreme anxiety, OCD (especially worrying about bad things happening to their babies), and even rage. "Before I personally experienced postpartum depression, I thought, that's only for people that feel like harming themselves or harming their children," Heather says. But the truth is, PPD can look different for everyone―and it can affect anyone. "I never thought that I personally would have postpartum depression because I like to laugh and make jokes about everything," Ashleigh says.

How to help: Postpartum depression and anxiety doesn't discriminate―anyone can be affected. Look for signs that your new mama pal is feeling out of sorts. She might say she lost her temper or that she feels extra frazzled, not necessarily that she's feeling sad, but these can still be symptoms of a greater issue. You can have a more objective view of her feelings even when she can't.

When I say "I don't know how I feel," what I mean is…we still have a lot to learn.

So many symptoms of PPD are similar to general depression and anxiety, it can be scary for a new mom who isn't sure what's wrong with her. "I didn't know how to distinguish from it being...depression or anxiety versus it just being motherhood. I think part of the cure was just discovering that I had postpartum," says Chrissy Teigen, who is Allegheny Health Network's partner. "It was just such a sigh of relief that we can fix this."

How to help: Remember that you don't need to fix her symptoms―you just need to be there when she needs you. Be a listening ear, and remind her that there's no shame in needing help.

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When you're pregnant there are so many medical appointments, and many moms look forward to each one. We want to know what is going on with our bodies and our babies. But once the babies are born, many moms aren't able to keep their own medical appointments and experts are worried.

New moms are missing key appointments in the critical fourth trimester, or the first three months postpartum, according to a new study from Orlando Health.

Nearly a quarter of new mothers surveyed admitted that they did not have a plan to manage their own health in the first weeks and months postpartum. The numbers are alarming as nearly half of new moms have admitted to feeling their most overwhelmed, anxious and depressed during that time period.

Worse, the incredibly stressful first few days and weeks of their baby's life is the time when many mothers have admitted to feeling the least supported by their doctors. According to a survey from Healthy Women and 2020 Mom, nearly 30% of women have felt "no support" from their health care provider. This even as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently adjusted their guidelines to suggest that women see their doctors within the first three weeks after birth, rather than the traditionally recommended six weeks.

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"Seeing your doctor within a few weeks of delivery and sharing any concerns is critical to getting the care and treatment you need," Megan Gray, MD, an OB/GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, told Orlando Health. "The fourth trimester can be difficult and overwhelming for women as their bodies go through physical and emotional changes, and this time deserves the same support and attention as the first three trimesters," Gray said.

Yet, with many women going back to work at six weeks postpartum, up to 40% of moms are missing that first appointment entirely. For most mothers, that represents a rapid and drastic shift in their approach to maternal health care, as prenatal care is full of regularly-scheduled appointments and check-ups. Given that the US remains the most dangerous industrialized country to give birth in, the statistics can't be ignored. As the survey notes, it is impossible for mothers to take care of their babies without taking care of their own health as well.

Still, the onus shouldn't be placed solely on new mothers, who are already riddled with exhaustion and anxiety. With doctors and employers failing to support them, it's hardly surprising that they are struggling to keep up with their appointments or feeling comfortable enough with their doctors to open up about their physical and emotional changes.

In fact, a recent study from Maven reported that as many as 54% of new moms were never even screened for mental health concerns during their pre and postpartum care. Of those who did raise concerns, nearly 30% were not given concrete steps to get treatment.

All of this contributes to the cycle of shame that leads to nearly 60% of new moms experiencing depression and anxiety in silos, only furthering their feelings of extreme isolation. "I thought everything would come more naturally, but it was so much harder than I expected," one mama, Rachel Kobb, told Orlando Health. "Women have been raising babies forever, and I felt selfish for feeling like I couldn't handle it," she said. "I felt very lonely, but I didn't know how to ask for help," she added.

Still, there is hope for new moms, even during those incredibly difficult early months. Medical professionals like Gray and the ACOG are continuing to push for proper training for doctors, midwives and doulas to help new mothers cope with the emotional demands of motherhood, in addition to improved programs for mothers like lowering costs for mental health care and urging companies to provide paid maternity leave for at least the first half of the fourth trimester.

Moreover, simply reminding women that they're not alone is a critically important shift in how society treats new moms who are struggling emotionally.

"There is no perfect mom out there," Gray noted. "Taking some of that pressure off yourself will help you be the best mom you can be and help you better experience the many joys of motherhood."

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The phrase "women can have it all" has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Sure, our options for fulfillment extend beyond the home. But between wage gaps, the astronomical cost of childcare, student loans and ever-rising living costs coupled with shrinking wages, can we have it all?

Some women know their calling is at home with their babies and they make it work. They budget like it's an Olympic sport and find resourceful ways to save money. Many women are single mothers and are the sole earners in their homes. Every household has different needs and we absolutely deserve to choose whatever best fits our lifestyle.

Whatever that fit may be, it never encompasses "all."

I knew from a young age that I loved babies and wanted a family of my own, but that vision always included me working. Maybe it was the 90's TV boom of Ally McBeal and Detective Olivia Benson but I knew I wanted a career. I wanted a purpose that contributed to the world outside of my home. I knew I wanted a degree or two, maybe three. The fact that I made up my mind so early and never wavered, made me sure that "mom guilt" was something that other women felt; women who maybe felt the pull to be home but other circumstances were in their way.

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Mom guilt wouldn't hit me, I'd be immune, I thought.

Fast forward to the first month I went back to work from maternity leave. I ugly cried on my way into the office so frequently that I kept makeup in my car so I could fix it before going inside.

I'd dive headfirst into work until I had to pause to pump. Work, pump, work, pump, shove in some lunch at my desk at some point and sprint out the door to get my baby. I was productive but distracted. When I was at work, I wanted to be home. When I was home, I thought about the possible mistakes I had made at work.

I was in a job that was full of stress, last minute late nights, terrible pay and no appreciation. But from the standpoint of working and having a family, I had both. I had it "all."

Some days, I felt as though I was maybe just ungrateful for all the responsibilities I had to juggle. I blamed my attitude.

Facing my unhappiness at work and the baggage I brought home to my daughter and husband weighed on me. Then, six months postpartum, I lost my dad. I packed up that baby and flew home to say goodbye.

At the visitation, his colleagues shared many memorable stories, but the ones that kept coming up were his dedication to his wife and six children. They were memories of my sisters and I hanging out in his office, coloring while our mom worked. In fact, one of my masterpieces, a mosaic Great Dane, still hangs in my dad's old office window on Court Street because the owner of the building watched us grow up and didn't have the heart to take it down when he retired.

Dad was an attorney who nearly always made it home by 5:30, something unheard of in the world of owning your own practice. He didn't live to work; he worked to live.

I realized that when I leave this world, I don't want anyone to tell my children stories about how hard I worked. I wanted them to tell my children stories about how much I loved them and that they always came first. I had to make a change.

The right doors opened in the next month and I eagerly took on an entire career change (not something I necessarily recommend with a 7-month-old, but we made it work). I closed the doors of childhood ambitions that didn't match with the type of mother I wanted to be. It wasn't sad, it was liberating.

My new job included work from home days and a team of women, mostly moms, who value hard work and success but prioritize family and their roles as mothers. That attitude starts at the top of the company and trickles down. It was a breath of fresh air after seven months of feeling like I was suffocating.

Despite these life changes, I still don't have it "all." What I do have is realistic expectations for what I can accomplish in a day.

I have a house that looks like it's been ransacked Monday through Friday. I have a sink full of dishes.

I have a car littered with smashed cheddar frogs and peanut butter smears. I have a bedroom containing endless laundry baskets of clean clothes that get folded and put away maybe once a month.

I have a supportive partner whom I madly love and helps me rage clean all of the above when we can't take it anymore. I have a happy, healthy daughter who couldn't care less about dishes, laundry and dog hairballs.

I have a job that contributes to the betterment of humanity and a team who makes office days a joy.

I have women in my ear sharing their disdain for me working out of the home, but I also have women in my ear championing me as a mother, wife, homemaker, and career woman.

Maybe the answer to finding that peace was leaving a toxic job. Or maybe it was found in losing my dad and having my daughter in the same six months. Perhaps it was the priority shift that followed those changes. It could have been extending the same grace to myself that I so willingly give to those I love. Whatever it was, I'm grateful to have found it so I can enjoy living in our good old days, today. I don't have it all, but I really love everything I have.

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It's been more than a year since Khloé Kardashian welcomed her daughter True Thompson into the world, and like a lot of new moms, Khloé didn't just learn how to to be a mom this year, she also learned how to co-parent with someone who is no longer her partner. According to the Pew Research Center, co-parenting and the likelihood that a child will spend part of their childhood living with just one parent is on the rise.

There was a ton of media attention on Khloé's relationship with True's father Tristan Thompson in her early days of motherhood, and in a new interview on the podcast "Divorce Sucks!," Khloé explained that co-parenting with someone you have a complicated relationship with isn't always easy, but when she looks at True she knows it's worth it.

"For me, Tristan and I broke up not too long ago so it's really raw," Khloé tells divorce attorney Laura Wasser on the podcast. She explains that even though it does "suck" at times, she's committed to having a good relationship with her ex because she doesn't want True to pick up on any negative energy, even at her young age.

That's why she invited Tristan to True's recent first birthday bash, even though she knew True wouldn't remember that party. "I know she's going to want to look back at all of her childhood memories like we all do," Khloé explained. "I know her dad is a great person, and I know how much he loves her and cares about her, so I want him to be there."

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We totally get why being around Tristan is hard for Khloé, but it sounds like she's approaching co-parenting with a positive attitude that will benefit True in the long run. Studies have found that shared parenting is good for kids and that former couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Khloé says her relationship with Tristan right now is "civilized," and hopefully it can get even better with time. As Suzanne Hayes noted in her six guiding principles for a co-parenting relationship, there's no magic bullet for moving past the painful feelings that come when a relationship ends and into a healthy co-parenting relationship, but treating your ex with respect and (non-romantic) love is a good place to start. Hayes describes it as "human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love."

It's a great place to start, and it sounds like Khloé has already figured that out.

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