By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

I don’t make my kids’ beds. This doesn’t stem from some lofty ideology, unless you count self-preservation as lofty.

The thing about mess is that it is not linear. It’s logarithmic. If one neat child and one slovenly child share a bedroom while three children who are too young to properly clean their rooms by themselves share a bedroom, how long does it take their new, not-neat stepmother to give up on making beds? Answer: no time at all.

My main neatness requirement in the children’s bedrooms is that there be a path from the door to the bed, and that the door be able to close. Out of sight, out of mind, thus freeing the mind for other pursuits, such as what to feed everyone for dinner, how to get them to their scattered, simultaneous activities, and whether or not I can take a shower before work.

We can’t tell ahead of time what the end result of our parental decisions will be. My overly optimistic hope was that the kids would learn to make their beds. What happened is that they have a resentment against sheets.

My children neither know nor care about the difference between a flat sheet and a fitted one. Pillow shams and pillowcases are identical to them, and they were genuinely baffled by the discovery of a bed skirt in the linen closet. More than one of my children was surprised to learn that a mattress pad does not count as a sheet. They can sleep on a bare mattress with a naked pillow and can’t even tell the difference. This may also be due to the fact that they sleep in more clothes than they actually wear in public. Twice as many.

It’s not surprising that "Change your sheets!" on the chore list is viewed as punishment. They try many creative ways to bypass it. They’ll put all the bedding—including their comforters and mattress pads—in the laundry room. Whatever child “wins” starts their wash load, usually cramming the machine full with the sheets balled up in the mattress pad and the comforter stuffed in too, if they can get the lid closed.

Then nothing else happens.

The load does not move from the washer to the dryer. No further sets of sheets are washed. None of the 37 extra sets of clean sheets in the closet—which would have eliminated the need for them to do laundry in the first place—are put on their beds.

They operate under the delusion that their sheets will magically cycle themselves through the machines on a Saturday, when their dad and I both work a long day in the city, in time to put themselves back on the beds before bedtime, and that if it doesn’t happen, we won’t notice. Well, that last part is pretty true.

They dig out sleeping bags and blankets and lay them out in pretense of having made their beds. They will then sleep on bare mattresses and pillows until the ruse is discovered.

They’ve finally gotten hip to the fact that if they remove only their sheets and not the rest of their bedding, we won’t know they’re sleeping sheetless unless we go in the bedroom and check. Frankly, I try to avoid their rooms as much as possible.

I was talking with a friend of mine about this recently and she’s the exact opposite of me. She has two teenagers and cleaning is her hobby; she still makes their beds every day. She’s currently engaged in a passive-aggressive battle with her teen daughter. When the daughter throws attitude at her, the mom doesn’t make her bed. The next day the daughter retaliates by halfway making her bed by herself. I totally recognize that teen girl gauntlet being thrown down.

I just surveyed the bedrooms and found three kids are using only one sheet, one has no pillow coverings at all, and the one who has both a fitted and a flat sheet is using a pillow sham instead of a pillowcase.

I retaliated by closing all their doors again.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at