Foul toilets + foul frustration = adaptive child with clean bedroom

Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, R. Psych.
Wishing Star Founder

The dreaded weekend cleaning day had arrived. That day when every OCD bit of me wants to just blaze through the house and pull it all into shining, calm, ordered perfection. But rather than fall under the alluring spell of my OCD-ness, my spouse and I have committed to the team-approach of having our children understand what is involved in keeping our house in running order, and having them be part of the maintenance of that order.

And so, the OCD part of me reluctantly resorted to counting slowly and repeatedly in different numerical patterns, as I resigned myself to the Saturday cleaning battle. While our 10-year-old son is able to hold onto the outcome at the end of the cleaning journey that is Saturday (dare I say following in my footsteps of OCD cleaning glory? Ok – not quite…), our 6-year-old son is so totally and completely not there as to be 100% on a completely different planet about the Saturday cleaning ritual.

Understand that this has been approached from 72 different possible angles in Saturdays gone by to bring some fun into it as our family works together to accomplish the insurmountable. However, I arrived at a recent Saturday resigned to the battle, but with the best possible twist. The twist is that I am reminded that the battle is not between the 6-year-old and I. Instead, it is a battle within myself to be able to understand and even facilitate his utter frustration at having to attack a toilet bowl or sort his Lego, while my inner OCD begs to be released. And so, with an understanding of my role and affirmation of a need to hold onto what is actually important here, I hunker down.

It begins with a slamming of a foot into the ground. I respond with an understanding of his anger. It continues with some name-calling of mom. I respond with an understanding of his irritation. It carries on with the throwing of some toys. I respond with an understanding of his frustration – and a gentle reminder that the throwing must stop. It proceeds from there with angry tears and stomping around and crashing through piles of laundry and…well, you get the picture.

The challenge for me was to make all sorts of room for this storm of foul frustration without losing myself in it. To let go of the time-line I had subconsciously assigned to the Saturday cleaning ritual. To quiet my inner cleaning diva and allow my son the space and room to fully release his absolute un-done-ness about all of this, and then come into a space of acceptance of what must happen before anything else can be done. And to do all of this whilst:

  1. never once putting him in a position to be responsible for our relationship (staying away from the “you will clean up this room because I work hard all week and you need to take responsibility for something!” kinds of angry assertions);
  2. never instigating a break in our connection (staying away from angry tones, and frustrated deep breaths); and
  3. never putting my son in a place where he may be lead to believe he is in charge of or responsible for my emotions (avoiding comments like “I am losing my patience with this/you”).

How did it all go? Well, let’s just say my neighbours were probably all lamenting the Saturday cleaning ritual by the end of it. But at some point in the middle of it all, as I sat quietly making room for the foul frustration – or that frustration that gets all caught up and really just needs a way to get out – the energy about it tangibly shifted. The fight became more subdued. The tears found their way out. And the sadness about having to give up time spent on other fun activities to do some family cleaning spilled forth. And then….calm. The toys found their way into baskets. The toilet got a little scrub. And the laundry landed in drawers.

When all was said and done, in the crowning moment of the whole experience, my son looked around himself with shock, and exclaimed, “wow, this place looks really clean mom!” as he toodled off to explore an old Lego creation unearthed in the clean-up. Foul frustration found its way out alongside the cleaning of the foul toilet, and an adaptive energy replaced it – one that allowed our son to come to terms with the reality of his responsibilities while being held in the safe embrace of one of his big people.

And at that, my inner OCD cleaning diva took a big old deep breath, slowly exhaled, and moved on to sorting socks – by function and color, in that order.

Scrubbing the Toilet

This blog posting is not a form of psychological counselling, advice, therapy, or assessment and should not be used as such by any individual. This blog posting is provided only as an article intended to encourage thought and discourse. For specific psychology related services, please contact an appropriate healthcare provider.



  • Eileen Hopkins | 2014.03.04 at 2:15 PM

    Smiling and nodding my head with a heart bursting with pride with your six year old’s adaptation! WTG, Mom!

  • Christy | 2014.03.05 at 2:38 PM

    You are a good reminder to keep the calm and mother on in my own battles with my four munchkins. However, I HAD to snort with a little laugh at your sitting down to sort socks by “colour and function”. I gave that fight up years ago. Now I just buy one kind of sock for each child and hope they all make it through the laundry.

  • Jo-Ann | 2014.03.06 at 5:29 PM

    What a wonderful piece! I see the family resemblance but I confess I did not have near the insight or skill that you have.