My house has a dishwasher full of dishes and the winter coats are in a heap rather than hung up on the listing coat rack from The Dollar Store. There is a film of dust on the coffee table, and blanketing the bookcases and the floors all need a good vacuuming. I’ve spent forty plus years trying to make the present prettier than the past. Along the way, I turned into a mother always trying to make sure my children were anxiety-free, well-cared for, their their dislikes and likes accounted for and their feelings expressed. I am proud of my children and their unsurpassed empathic skills. I am proud of their fluent emotional language and their good will toward others. But they’ve not a bit of practical housekeeping to go along with their good person credentials.
I made an unconscious decision to make my children’s life different from my own. My uber-housekeeper, at-home-mother-chauffeur-stint began before my children were born. When we got divorced, my super-mothering got turned up a few notches. But way back, pre-divorce, I determined to parent in reaction to my own childhood where all over-compensatory behaviors are bred. In the family of origin petri dish of neurosis. Don’t we all take the bits we want from our own childhood and then strike out on our own to correct and do better the parts we felt fell short? Nothing new there.
Last week I watched my 17-year-old stumped by the dishwasher and my 14-year-old wrestle sheets, unsure how to make them fit her mattress and I vowed to get to the bottom of my over-mommying. When I watched them each unable to put away leftover food without destroying the aluminum foil roll and losing the end and gnawing at it with their nails I had to leave the kitchen before I barked something unforgivable.
So for the first time I stared down the facts (granted all of this could be because I’m in the middle of mucking my way through a self-indulgent memoir). But here ya go, welcome to the shit of self- discovery, unearthed in the office of a very patient therapist:
The dishwasher full of dishes and the coats in the heaps and unmade beds I walked out on this a.m. have nothing to do with whether or not my children are happy and well-adjusted. A better disciplinarian would have called end game to my guilt-addled housekeeping a few years ago. But not me. I kept at it. I made beds, cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the kitchen and hung the coats. I stepped over my children’s forgotten piles and mused at their sloppiness all the while ordering the disorder they left in a trail behind them. I still turn my heat on the moment I detect frost outside. I run a dishwasher and I do not re-use my towel. Growing up? We did. And the tp? My father counted the squares we used and if we’d been in the shower too long? He turned off the hot water. I have parented in reaction to my childhood and (my divorce). My poor children. They’ve been doubly coddled. I thought I could keep my children from going through the pain of life if I did all the cleaning and ordering of the messy parts.
Do your children know how to empty a dishwasher?