That’s a rhetorical question, and of course you’re all going to tell me, “No! At 17, your daughter is old enough to do her own laundry.” And you’re right.
But… it’s complicated.
Today is Daughter’s first day back at high school as a senior. Last spring, I decided it was time for her to do her own laundry. Since she was in the throes of finals and SAT prep, I figured wait until the start of senior year – a nice, clear delineation point.
Why have I been doing her laundry up until now, though? Plenty of teens do it themselves. If we had a larger family – if I were like my friend Janine, with three children and an hour-long commute each way to a corporate legal job in Silicon Valley – my daughter would have been doing her own laundry for years. I know what Wendy Mogul and all the other parenting experts say about the need to give teens responsibility, not coddle them, not be helicopter parents, and so on.
But here’s the thing: Doing her laundry has felt like love to me.
My own mother did everything for us. Granted, she was a stay-at-home mom in a pre-feminist era, but she did everything! She did our laundry, made our lunches, dusted and vacuumed our rooms, I think even made our beds until we went off to college. It was excessive. My sister, brother and I should have been given more responsibility. But none of us turned out spoiled, selfish or slovenly. We felt loved and cared-for.
Now an adult myself, I want to do things for the people I love. With Sam, I reflexively look for little ways to help — pick up his dry cleaning when he has a busy week, save the science section of the New York Times for him when he’s traveling. He does the same for me. When it comes to laundry, we both do each other’s. One shared hamper, throw it all in the machine, dump the clean clothes on our bed to sort and fold. It works well and we pretty much end up doing an equal amount.
So it’s felt weird over the years to think of NOT doing Daughter’s laundry too. Particularly with an only child, it felt like sending a message of exclusion: “Sam and I will take care of each other, but you’re out on your own.”
One solution might be to bring Daughter into the mix and have her take a turn doing the whole household’s laundry. Great idea – in theory. In practice, it would mean one more task to nag her about and fight over. I don’t want my clean underwear held hostage to the riveting social life and general procrastination of a teenager.
So I’ve done her laundry. But last spring, as we started looking at colleges, I realized it was time to stop. I didn’t want her to show up in her freshman dorm not knowing how to turn on a washing machine. It’s like making our pre-schoolers learn to dress themselves and tie their own shoes. Doing laundry for her may = love, but forcing her to learn how to do her own laundry also = love.
So, okay. Resolved. It’s day one of senior year and time for me to retire as laundress.
But I have this feeling of dread. I picture piles of (dirty? clean? indistinguishable?) clothes on her floor and wails at 6:15 in the morning, “I don’t have any pants to wear!”
And as she becomes ever more independent in so many other ways, I already miss this one little way of still taking care of her.