Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Always a Choice


The patio had to be cleaned and so I roused the teen son out of his bed at 11:00am and we started in to work. I was full of energy and ready to get that sucker straightened up, cleaned out, and hosed down. It had been awhile since we had cleaned it and once we got the furniture and plants cleared away we saw just how big of a job it was. About an hour after we had started, I sat down in one of the chairs and watched Evan sweep up some of the leaves in that unenthusiastic mode of a 17 year-old boy forced into labor on a summer morning. “Can we just stop?” he said. I started to speak and he could tell I was about to extol the virtues of finishing a job. “What's the big deal?" he said. "It’s just going to get messy again.”


Now, HOB (Husband Of Betty) and I have different backgrounds when it comes to chores and getting things done around the house. He grew up in a family that believed in the “Slash and Burn” method of getting tasks/chores done. When there was a task to be completed, it meant all hands on deck whether you liked it or not and the completion of the task was the one and only goal. Not only that, it had to be done in a certain way at a certain time or there was trouble. Things like quality of time together, consideration of others’ emotions, or preserving the self-esteem of family members were not considered.

His mother would make up a list of chores to be done by his father and brothers every Saturday and then the gruesome work would begin with her commentary in the background. No joking around, no funny business. Reluctant, resentful soldiers in the war on filth, they fulfilled their joyless missions and then retreated to their individual barracks until called out again.

My family was not all that goal-oriented when it came to chores around the house. We did them, but usually in a haphazard kind of way. Our house was always messy and frequently dirty. I did the dishes and those kinds of chores with my sisters, but for the most part we always managed to inject a little fun in whatever we did, snapping towels at each other, or balancing plates on our heads. The goal sort of, kind of, always got accomplished, but it was usually a by-product of the experience.

And so, when we got married I was perplexed by HOB’s reaction to what seemed to me to be opportunities to be together, work on a project, and have a hoot while doing it.

I remember during our first year of marriage, we had to put new wiper blades on the car. I stood, leaning against the car, yakking it up and making jokes, flipping the old wipers around as I spoke. HOB was having trouble figuring out how the blades went on. I gave him a suggestion or two, peppering my advice with strange accents meant to make him laugh. I looked over and it was clear that he was perturbed by my behavior. This levity had no place in his scheme of things. I joked around some more and then I saw clearly what needed to be done. I saw how the new blades slipped in and I told him so.

It was then he decided to try his hand at being the Big Boss in our new marriage. He stood and pointed to our apartment. “You need to go inside right now. Go!” he commanded. I narrowed my eyes at him. “What?” I said. ‘You heard me. Go Inside. I’m trying to accomplish something here and you’re just goofing around.” “Just a minute,” I said, grabbing the wiper out of his hand. I slipped it on the metal bracket he had been fumbling with for fifteen minutes. It fit perfectly. “OK,” I said, smiling a sarcastic smile. “I’ll go inside now.”

Because I did not fully understand how he was raised, my first thought was suspicion that he was behaving in this hideous way to get out of doing things that I asked him to do. (Later I found out that HAD been avoiding them, but not because he was lazy or opposed to doing the work. He was avoiding them because he expected to be criticized as he had always been during childhood.)

When I nagged him enough to do something like make a meal, he did so, but with an attitude that left no question that this was a task he would rather not perform. First of all, no one was allowed in the kitchen at any time during preparation, for any purpose. That person would be met that door with a scowl and a growl. Then came the unceremonious placement of the dishes on the table and then the sullen expression of the chef as we sat down to eat. It was a meal. We would eat it, but there was no joy in any part of it. And God help the child who complained about any of the food on the table.

I’ll admit that if his plan WAS to get out of doing chores by making himself and others involved miserable, it worked. I did take on more projects without him because I didn’t want to deal with the grim troll from beneath the bridge and when we had kids I found I wanted to protect them from this heavy negative attitude.

However, when our children got older, I realized they needed a good role model and there were things that our sons needed to learn from their father. Also, I was tired and just plain needed help around the house and with the kids. But I worried. HOB’s slash and burn attitude combined with his complex built-in resentment of being directed as to what to do was in itself a bad combination but when mixed with a fidgety fifth grader and his complex (for us) math homework, it was likely to be combustible.

Homework, bike repair, lawn work, driving lessons, garage clean-up, he helped the boys with all of them, and sometimes with very messy outcomes. He just couldn’t shake the childhood feelings that jobs had to be done and they had to be done HIS way. You can imagine how well that worked out when children were involved

Finally, I said, “Think of it this way: the completion of the task is not as important as how the people involved feel afterwards.”

This was a completely foreign concept to him. It took awhile and I had to remind him of this new philosophy A LOT, but finally this new way of thinking took hold and it made a huge difference.

We as parents have so many opportunities with our kids to set the tone of any given situation. Yes, you can put children to work on a task and you can make them do it YOUR way with a perfect outcome. That car will be clean, those dishes will be sparkling and put away just right. Their closets will be orderly and neat, but at what cost? I live with a man who got the message early on in life that the completion of chores and tasks in the “correct manner” was more important than his emotional well-being during the task at hand and it has affected him deeply.

The emotional barometer of a household tints all of our childhood memories. Placing too much emphasis on how a job is done can sometimes cause us to lose sight of what’s really important. Do we want our children to remember our displeasure with them because they didn’t get certain details right on a job or do we want them to remember a sense of being valued and appreciated? Most of all, do we want them to remember they had fun being with their family even as they accomplished a task?

So yes, the clothes have to be folded and put away, but there’s no reason not to slip a t-shirt on the dog in the middle of the process. Yes, the table does have to be cleared off, but it’s pretty fun to stop and roll marbles around the objects even as they are being cleared off.


And that patio does need to be cleaned off, but maybe, just maybe, it’s OK to clean only half of it and then go someplace to eat, to linger at a restaurant, just mother and son, to talk about how school is coming up soon and summer is quickly coming to an end.

69 comments:

patti said...

Your images, your wisdom, ROCK!!!

I SO enjoy reminiscing about the "good old days" of allowances, teenaged "discussions."

Funny that hubby and I call it reminiscing, our grown children call it harping. Still.

LOL, Betty!!!

patti said...

Your images, your wisdom, ROCK!!!

I SO enjoy reminiscing about the "good old days" of allowances, teenaged "discussions."

Funny that hubby and I call it reminiscing, our grown children call it harping. Still.

LOL, Betty!!!

Nat said...

Great philosophy! When it comes to chores, I have a tendency to just want to get things out the way and not find any joy in the process...maybe I need to slow down a bit, find the fun :-)

faye said...

Your post brings back memories of
household chores with my sisters.
Looking back to what now seem like
very good times.

Kathie @ Just a Happy Housewife said...

I like your way of thinking and I'm glad you posted this! I may not have children yet, but I like to think about how I will raise them and this was very helpful. I was raised similarly to the way your husband was and it can be hard to do things other than the way you are raised...but it's possible! :-)

Parsley said...

Girl...you got your groove on with this one! ;-) Love it!

Jennifer Shirk said...

What good role model you are!

I love to joke and take it easy as I work--unless I'm under time pressure! LOL

Susan Fields said...

I love this! It's so true. And the image of slipping a shirt on the dog made me laugh out loud.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I'm so glad HOB met you! LOL! Seriously! I think he needed to be shown the other side of the coin and moreso with someone who truly loves him! I think your boys have the best of both really and truly!

I hope you and your son enjoyed your time together. I hope HOB is also mellowing out a little to enjoy his time with you all!

Take care
x

Tabor said...

Need you around here as I tend to be more like your husband...maybe that is why my son rarely calls?

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

I like the advice in the story and I agree it's good to lighten up - enjoy the task and the company.

BigSis said...

Very insightful. My sister and I have similar theories about how we attack chores based on the way we were raised. Our tendency seems to be to do the opposite of the way our mother did it. Interesting, no?

SFDaddy - Bryan said...

Wow. Just, wow. No. Not, just wow. Thank you, too.
Off to looks for marbles to have on hand.

Joe Cap said...

I was struck by the image of you fixing the wiper blade early on the marriage. These days, it is hard to put these things on, everything is complicated.
So, here you are, musing and posting at 4:00 AM, and you STILL had motivation to get up and attack the patio? I bet it sparkles now, and you can relax outside!

Shan said...

I could have really used this information about seven or eight years ago when I was in the midst of a "my way or the highway" routine. It didn't work like I thought it would, so I've moved on... but you're absolutely right.

Brian said...

I'll admit it, sometimes I am just not to good with choices, nap or sleep, sleep or nap. Always a dilemma!

Mamma has spoken said...

I'm the one who will leave a list of chore to be done by day's end. Don't care how they get done, as long as they are done by the set time. As for leaving a job half done, you are better than me. My OCD would have kicked in and the need to get it done would overpower me to get it done. Only once the job is complete would I have been able to go and enjoy lunch with one of my favorite guys.

Christina Lee said...

AWWW I like (And agree with) your last paragraph! LOVE it!

Madi and Mom said...

Good morning BB
What an excellent and inspirational post. I've never really thought about the differenty dynamics of families when it comes to chores. You are right on target!!!

When I was a child my cousin and I had to wash dishes at my grandma's house. We actually counted out the number of utensils and plates we each washed.
Happy Wednesday,
Madi and Mom

The Empress said...

You really are a wonderful wife, Betty.

Mellisa Rock said...

This couldn't have come at a better time - we are about to bring out the chore charts - I will think of this while instructing my kids.

Mommyfried said...

This so goes along with how I do things. I always get a little worried when someone new comes over. I am at the point where the kids are doing most of the chores so they can learn. Lets just say their idea of a job well done is not the same as mine. Slowly it is getting better with the emphasis on s-l-o-w-l-y. I know this age will pass and I will miss it. Life is so worth enjoying while living.

Great post today.

Gaston Studio said...

I totally agree with you that there should always be a little levity in most of what we do in life... because like HOB, my mom was insistant I do my chores her way and I had to repeat them until she approved. Horrible way to be brought up, believe me. Our children have to find their own way in life, in all things.

Thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday, I sure am glad I came over to see who you are... 'cause I'll surely be back!

Jane

Bethany @ Organic Enchilada said...

"The emotional barometer of a household tints all of our childhood memories."

I love that line. Probably because I need to remember it every day. I have a short fuse and get upset about little things that don't matter in the big picture. (Except for leaving glasses laying around for littles to bend out of shape. Grrrrr.)

As for chores, we're constantly developing the perfect balance. I'm sure we'll have it just right about the time they all leave the nest.

Sarah said...

I think everyone who has a control problem should read this. It will benefit them immensely. Kudos to you for having that kind of patience to work through it with HOB.

slommler said...

Great philosophy!!! That is the way to do the chores!! With creativity and humor!! WTG!!
And you have to take a nap right in the middle...makes it all the sweeter. The sleep and the chore!!
Hugs
SueAnn

Together We Save said...

Everyting can be cleaned it in time... but those talks with your son, you won't have that chance forever.

Pearl said...

Betty,

I like your attitude and feel the same way myself!

Pearl

liz said...

I think dog's wearing t-shirts is an awesome idea.

jinksy said...

An exceedingly good philosophy I've attempted to follow all my life...

Marlene said...

Such an excellent post. I am guilty as charged. I used to be anal about decorating the Christmas tree a certain way. When the kids were little, and wanted to hang everything on the lower branches (the only place they could reach) - I'd immediately move their trinkets to a higher spot so as to evenly space it out. In retrospect, I should have done this after they had lost interest in the tree and wouldn't have noticed....cuz you know what? They have a memory of mom and her "has to be perfect" tree. UGH.

Lourie said...

I think I will have to try your method of cleaning. The kids will be more willing maybe....maybe.

Copyboy said...

You must be such a cute sight when doing those couply chores. :) I really admire the type of relationship you constantly strive to have each and every day.

Flartus said...

I think I must be related to HOB. I still marvel every time Miss Chef and I accomplish a repair or replacement chore without getting into a bitter argument. Part of what I love about being in a relationship is learning that there's not just one right way to do things. Imagine that!

Michelle Faith said...

I think I must have a grim troll from beneath the bridge to, I find myself (even with 4 kids) not asking for help to avoid the grumpy ol troll.
Love this post...next time I fold clothes with the kids...I'm slipping a t-shirt on the dog. Great point of view.

CherylK said...

Hats off to you, my new blogging friend!! What a timely post. Our kids were here visiting (we live on a lake) and it was all I could do to not harp on picking their swimsuits and towels off the floor or tracking sand through the house. But I managed to keep my lip zipped! Now, I'm so glad I did. Thanks for the wake-up call!

Debbie said...

You are a wise, wise woman! Good for you for stopping to enjoy that son.

Ann said...

if only I had your advice when I was raising my kids. I'm afraid my approach was probably closer to your husbands. Hopefully they do a better job with their kids :)

KleinsteMotte said...

We must have come from the same two backgrounds. Mr.K is like your hubby and I do it the fun way. Your way. Kids still hang out with us and we enjoy the time with them. gradually they do chores on their own just because it feels good to be appreciated and because it's nicer when it's done.

Hilary said...

Excellent advice. I'd so rather my kids remember some fun we had one day as opposed to the task we attempt to complete. I'm glad you could reach HOB in that regard. It make for some fine memories. You're a good Mom.

Aging Mommy said...

Absolutely fabulous post - you have really made me think about a lot of things today. My own parents attitude to jobs was a little like your husband's family and I realize now that is why I am the way I am about things that need doing - I cannot rest until they are done. So I need to work on that and adopt a different attitude before my daughter starts to get involved - because you are right, it is not the perfect or timely completion that matters as much as how you go about it. You are a wonderful wife to have figured out what was going on with HOB when you married and a great example to your son as his Mom too.

Mike said...

LMAO "go in the house." Now there's a Kodak moment if their ever was one.

Baby Sister said...

I love that. Reminds me of my parents. My dad is not at the extreme that HOB's parents were and for that I am grateful. We still butted heads a lot growing up. Luckily he has mellowed out a lot. Thanks for that!!

Betty said...

Great post Betty! You always have such inspiring posts. I hope you can help some parent with these suggestions!

Pat Tillett said...

Great post Betty! I guess it depends on the "chore" sometimes. I don't have a problem being given "chores" to do, but I have a big problem when I'm told how to do them. (it's okay, she won't read this). I can pretty much do any household repair. But sometimes I just don't want to, because of the "input" I know I'm going to recieve while I'm doing it. Oh well, I love her anyway!

Pat Tillett said...

Whew! I just had to come back and make sure Ashley didn't comment. You know she'd tell on me!

Gigi said...

You are one wise woman. I will take the lesson and carry it forward. Because it applies to many different facets of life.

Cheeseboy said...

I'm with your husband. All Hands On Deck method works best.

Theresa Milstein said...

Your attitude is awesome - get it done and have fun doing it. I'll have to slip a t-shirt on my cat next time.

And bringing the whole family into it makes it go faster.

Peggy K said...

"You need to go inside, right now" is just about the funniest thing I can imagine being said to you. Didn't he realize he was talking to BOSSY Betty????
Great decision to get that lunch in with your son. Soon they will be few and far between and your heart will ache for some of that time!!

Writing Without Periods! said...

I'm a do it now even if it doesn't need to be done, and my hubby is the GREAT PROCRASTONATOR! We meet somewhere in the middle, usually on the couch talking about doing chores. Loved the post.
Mary

Lin said...

I'm sort of in the middle, Betty. I like to get a job done, but let's have some fun doing it. I think making things a chore is horribly boring and sad. I hope HOB can change with time. Maybe. I think he's lucky to have fun 'ole you!

Daisy said...

This is so well written, Betty, and you are so wise. I used to be more concerned about keeping the house clean and tidy, but I've come to realize that some things are more important.

Katie said...

As always you are "spot on". I can see now that we are divorced..a lot of childhood "things" passed down from both our respective (strange) families had a deep affect on how we treated/reacted to each other.

:-) Love what you have to say here. Keep it up! HOB is a lucky man!

Thanks for stopping by my blog this week.

A girl needs 2 Talk said...

Bet, you're an awesome Mother! I love the understanding you possess! I think that picture goes great with this post title!

Pat said...

Great words of wisdom, and a wonderful read!

Maggi said...

I couldn't agree more, I'm definitely in the "We'll get it done but it's better to have fun" category. lol

Shrinky said...

Your children are blessed! I confess, all our four kids have their chores, but they are usually solitary, like emptying the dishwasher, or taking the bins out - each one is allocated their individual tasks. The thought of them sharing these - eeek - bound to end in accusations one isn't pulling their weight as much as the other is..!

I laughed over the dog/t-shirt thing, I took a photo of exactly that only yesterday, when my youngest decided to play "dress-up" with him.

A very sage post, and a good reminder maybe I should lighten up a bit more.

Ally said...

i'm very determined when it comes to getting chores done. hubs takes hours to do one thing. we clash like that.

DrSoosie said...

Betty I so relate to your need for order and cleanliness...but at what price?? I think I too placed way too much emphasis on this kind of order in my life (a false sense of order if you ask me) and now as a middle aged woman I just don't seem to care as much. I have even left a dirty dish or two in the sink of late. But seriously, who remembers how clean your house was. It is the times you laugh and all the other precious moments that are remembered. As far as the hubby thing goes...well I have found yet again a power shift the longer we are married. Initially I would say Tim had more power in our marriage in the beginning but as the years have gone on the balance of power has shifted and I am happy to say it actually feels quite equal (most of the time!)

DrSoosie said...

Betty I so relate to your need for order and cleanliness...but at what price?? I think I too placed way too much emphasis on this kind of order in my life (a false sense of order if you ask me) and now as a middle aged woman I just don't seem to care as much. I have even left a dirty dish or two in the sink of late. But seriously, who remembers how clean your house was. It is the times you laugh and all the other precious moments that are remembered. As far as the hubby thing goes...well I have found yet again a power shift the longer we are married. Initially I would say Tim had more power in our marriage in the beginning but as the years have gone on the balance of power has shifted and I am happy to say it actually feels quite equal (most of the time!)

Kazzy said...

Got any little pointers on how to get my husband to do any yard work????? :)

Green Monkey said...

we bring so much of our childhood into our marriage. This is my third and my husbands 1st. The other day I said, "I wish you had a first wife so you knew how good you have it" "I do have a first wife" he answered, "YOU"

its almost 8 years and its still working - probably because he treats me like a queen the minute we walk in the house. Cause he didn't know any better, I told him this is how husbands treat wifes, and...he believed me! He serves me wine and dinner and cleans up. He does the dishes, takes out the garbage. I do the laundry. He keeps his stuff neat, I keep my stuff messy. We share a bed but not a bathroom. We have a housekeeper and a landscaper. This week, I'm trying to teach him how to complement me....regularly... and how to scratch my back properly. I often threaten to bring "Kevin" home from the nail salon. Kevin gives a great back massage! "but he doesn't speak english" says the husband "that will not do with you" ...oh, he knows me so well!

notesfromnadir said...

Never really thought much of the different ways people grow up having to tackle chores. Your way is definitely the best as it makes chores less "chore-some" for lack of a better word! Glad I read this! :)

slommler said...

Congrats hun on your POTW award!! That is super!
Hugs
SueAnn

Jillsy said...

So true and the philosophy can be applied to just about anything. Congrats on the POTW! :-)

deb said...

so so fabulous.
and I got a funny feeling deep in the pit of my stomach.
you are right about childhood things always being there.

Dianne said...

I so love this!!
congrats on POTW
and I hope lunch and mom/son time was wonderful

Cricket said...

Just wanted to leave belated congratulations on the potw. I did read it then, but life interfered...

An interesting and thoughtful post. I wonder about this for my boys myself. They want to help so much... A for effort, C for execution. Oy.

I try to let it go.