How My New Dish-Washing Routine Changed My Relationship with My Son

published Nov 20, 2019
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I turned 30 a couple of years ago and, despite being solidly married with two children, I suddenly felt this need to adult harder than ever. Things were pretty chaotic (see: two kids) and I was grasping desperately for small things I could tweak to streamline, or simplify — whatever I could do to help me gain more control over the day-to-day. 

I did not read Marie Kondo and thank my old prom dress before donating it. I didn’t start intensive Sunday meal prepping. Instead, I decided to do the dishes.

Of course, I’ve always done the dishes. I am a grown lady! But as a food writer and a mom, there are always just so many of them (so, so many). I would cram whatever I could into the dishwasher after dinner and let it run its cycle. (Likely for the second time that day.)

But the large and awkward pieces would get washed and left in the dish drainer until … I needed to use them again. None of it ever got put away. It was like open shelving, except instead of intentionally mismatched ceramics and tiny succulents it was a precariously stacked pile of pots and pans and the water bottles that actually made it home and Thermoses from lunch boxes and all the salad spinner parts. Oh and there was also that one pot in the sink that got left “to soak.” I gave myself permission to call it quits after 85% of the job was done because I was 100% done.

Unfortunately, giving myself permission to continually do less wasn’t the moment of self-care I thought it was. I was really just setting myself up for defeat. First thing the next morning, my mood would immediately turn south when I would spy that soaking pot in the sink. My to-do list had already grown, and I hadn’t even had my coffee yet. 

So I ditched my huge dish drainer and replaced it with this dish mat. (The “mini” size is perfect, but don’t let the description fool you; it holds quite a lot, while also limiting my stacking capabilities.) And then I wrangled my son into helping with the drying. Because what is parenting if not outsourcing chores you hate? I wash, he dries and puts everything away. I hang the mat up to dry until it’s needed again.

While I pat myself on the back for this newfound expanse of uncluttered counter space, there is more than just the one benefit. What I have really come to love is the stillness in the busyness of those 20 minutes with my son by my side. 

Now at the end of each day, my moody preteen is nowhere to be found. Instead, a 12-year-old boy towers over me, wielding a clean drying towel and a grin. Caught in the corner between the counter and me, he jabbers away, filling up the entirety of the space. I get to hear the goofy stories about his teammates in the dugout. He tries to navigate a conversation about lunchtime politics, unsure of how to detail things because he’s unsure of what it all even means. I hear about his concern over locker-room graffiti and the evergreen frustrations of group work. 

It is quiet and his homework is done. Any scheduled practice for the day is over and the only things left for him are a shower and a book in bed. His mind is free to wander up and down the incredible potential of everything he doesn’t know he doesn’t understand. My to-do list is far from finished, and probably never will be, but I’m pushing that anxiety away for the moment. My adulting can wait as I listen to him grow into his own.

Do you do any chores with your kids? Tell us about them in the comments below!