I’m Raising an Independent Child Who Refuses to Shower
By Annette McLeod
Photo © caitlinrheaphotos/Twenty20
Jul 31, 2018
I have a 9-year-old son, so maybe it goes without saying, but my kid is a mess. Not that he’s not bright, personable, funny and adorable, if I do say so myself, but he is a literal mess. I’m pretty sure we could clone dinosaurs using something we find under his fingernails.
As my grandpa was fond of saying, you seldom get peaches from pear trees. We are not meticulous people. When visitors come, I often employ one of my dad’s favourite jokes: "Pardon the mess, but we live here."
However, what we’re not is filthy. We’re stackers, and maybe a little too often, dust bunny breeders. We don’t leave food lying around, there’s no mould in the bathroom and the bed is made. We are, I suppose, indifferent to a little dust.
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Personal hygiene is different. I started brushing my son's teeth almost before he had any, I'm always showered even if all I do is change into a different pair of yoga pants (freelance writing has a very lax dress code) and I’m a borderline obsessive hand-washer. I don’t like being unclean. Callum, on the other grimy hand, doesn't really care.
We encourage independence, and have always said that the only thing for which we have a zero-tolerance policy is lying. Everything else is negotiable. Of course, we knew there would be slips and there have been. And of course we’ve dealt with these lies harshly to demonstrate the absolute inflexibility of our ultimate rule.
We encourage independence, and have always said that the only thing for which we have a zero-tolerance policy is lying.
Guess what we caught him lying about? Guess what was worth risking his hard-fought integrity, his solo walks to school and his Nintendo Switch? Showering. Whenever I tell him to take a shower in the evening, he asks if he can do it in the morning. It never goes according to plan, and for reasons unknown, I still always say yes. One morning, I came downstairs and found him, as per usual, playing with the dog and half-watching The Thundermans. His hair was wet.
Me: “Oh, wow, did you shower?”
Now, I’m not the most perceptive person first thing in the morning, but something stood out. So, I asked, “Then why are you wearing the same clothes?” He was busted. At least he’s not going to be a criminal mastermind.
Since he’s old enough to reason, we try to help him make decisions and show him the potential consequences of them, rather than making all of his decisions for him. Cleanliness, it turns out, is among the most personal decisions around.
I just don’t want him to stink. I don’t want his teeth to fall out and I don’t want him to spread more than his fair share of germs.
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But It’s another aspect of his character he’ll have to figure out for himself. And you know, I don't think a daily shower is necessary. And I think we probably wash our hair too often. And really, the ridiculous — and ridiculously expensive — abundance of personal care products on the market can mostly be done without.
I just don’t want him to stink.
I keep on him for those fingernails because, well, eww. And he does pull himself together for a shower semi-regularly these days — soon enough, we’ll no doubt be hard-pressed to get him out of the bathroom.
In the meantime, I’m trying not to sweat it, even though I shudder when I see him wipe his greasy pizza hands on his pants. Eventually, someone or something will make him care. A job, his friends, a girl. Or it won’t, and his friends and his girl will love him anyway.
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