Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mom on strike goes to therapy

I went on strike two months ago. I was on strike against the Homemaking Union. We have no rights, no freedoms, no pay, no one standing up for us making sure our work isn’t ruined.

I, like many of you, was so exhausted from constantly redoing housework that I tried so hard to do that was constantly being undone. It’s seriously like chasing your tail. And since I’m an intelligent woman, I finally admitted I wasn’t ever going to catch it. So I said, “Screw it.”

From that moment forward, I only did housework when there were no more spoons or plastic spoons or sporks, when there were no more kid clothes with food I could just scratch off real quick, when the skids in the loo were trying to eat me. And when I was finally forced to clean, I drug my feet, only giving in because it was live or die. I loathed every moment of work. And for meals, my only goal was “digestible” as I carelessly threw scraps together for meals, forcing my family to eat way too many tortillas and black beans.

And then I had an appointment with my therapist. “I wash my hands of it.” I said. “There’s no point to cleaning other than driving me to insanity.” She asked what motivated me to do housework. “I do it when I have no other choice, when I have to, when my hands are tied.” “No, when your mind is tied and so you think your hands are tied,” she interjected. I paused. “I know I say it’s ok that I have a messy house, but I’m really just trying to convince myself. I guess I’m not actually OK with it.” “I know you’re not OK with it,” she said.

Validation. I’m not OK with my messy house.

We talked laundry. “Is there any part of it you enjoy?” I imagined the process for a moment. “I guess I mildly, mildly, miiiildly enjoy folding because I usually watch a show while I do it and that takes my mind off it a bit. Oh, and, this is probably kinda weird, but, I like watching the clothes agitate. It gives me a little rush of joy, seeing them get all clean in the soapy water.” My chest warmed for an instant as I imagine the wash cycle. Freak.

“So, your motivation to clean is that you have to?” “Yes.” “What if you wanted to?”


If I wanted to what? Clean?! Bahahaha!

My therapist asked, "What do you want your home to be for your family? What are your goals?" "I want it to be a safe, cozy place where my kids, all of us, can put up our feet and get away from daily life. I want it to be clean and organized, I really do. Isn’t there a saying, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ or something like that…?”

She asked, “Could those goals be your basic motivation? Could they drive you to want clean your home,” Yeeeeah, I’d have to think about it.

The next day, I experimented. How can I get myself to want to do the laundry? What is my ultimate goal for my family and their clothes?

I want my kids to be able to open their drawers and feel comfort from having fresh, folded options. I want to be able to find clean outfits quickly and matching socks without having to dig through baskets. So, I dared myself to replace my thoughts. “No, I don’t haaaave to do the laundry. I want to do the laundry,” (even though I still didn’t actually feeeel that way—mind over matter, you know).

So, I went about the business, milking every last ounce of enjoyment from the work for positive reinforcement. I indulged in watching each load agitate for a moment before closing the lid. I let myself sniff and hug the warm towels as they came out of the dryer. And while I folded, I rewarded myself by listening to an awesome podcast on my iPhone, “Selected Shorts” from Public Radio International.

And you know what? I LIKED IT! It’s so much easier to find motivation when I have realistic goals and when there are perks to the work. So, when I see the laundry piling up, I remember my motivation. I remember that I’m doing it for my kids and me, for the luxury of clean, folded clothes in drawers. I remember that, while it will be undone, the bigger outcome isn’t undone. Aaaand, I remember the wash cycle.

I've been using this process with everything for the past 2 weeks. Just this morning, I beheld the shower  in all it's soap-scum glory and thought, “Ugh, I have to clean it. Wait. No. I want to clean the shower.” Because cleaning the shower means my family can bathe in a fresh place and feel clean.

I want to do the dishes. Because having a clean kitchen settles my mind and makes me feel good about myself. It makes the whole house feel clean. It lets me walk in there and just get cookin without having to clear the crap first.

I want to vacuum the floors. Because it protects me from the embarrassment of unexpected guests. It means less food for spiders and other human-eating bugs. It means my kids aren’t constantly wiping the bottom of their foot on top of their other foot.

I want to put away the folded laundry. Because it just feels so nice to open drawers full of clean, folded clothes. It makes me excited to get dressed for the day because I have choices.

But, with all of this, my therapist reminded me that I still need to have realistic expectations for what “clean” means for me. But don't worry—my bar is lower, much lower. It’s easily attainable. More on that to come. Pictures anyone? You know it!

So, I've just realized why housework was just chasing my tail before. My goal was to have all the laundry done and stay done. That's ridiculous unless we are nudists, which, thank goodness we aren't! Why on earth did I ever have such an unrealistic goal?

What are your current goals for housework? What do you want the finished chores to mean for you and your family? Are these attainable goals? Is there room for adjustment and for new healthy, realistic ones? Let me know where you're at with this!



  1. When you put it like that, it makes sense. The thing with housework is the feeling that they are a chore, something we have to do over and over. i like your therapist - is she taking new clients?

  2. This completely sums up a truth Jer and I learned from Dr. John Lund: Unmet expectations lead to frustration. And frustration often leads to anger and hurt feelings. I'm so glad that you were able to make some realistic goals that you can accomplish. :)

  3. Great post, Becky! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Lately I've been working on making sure I'm doing it for the right reasons. Why oh why do I think it's ok for my kids and husband to live in chaos, but for a stranger it has to be great? Shouldn't I WANT it to be nice for the people that I love? So, I've been trying to re-wire myself. I'm doing this because I love my kids, and they really do play nicer and for longer when they start in a clean space. They can find their toys. They aren't stepping on sharp random pieces of plastic. And my husband works hard too, and deserves at least ONE peaceful put together room. The whole house doesn't have to be perfection, but if I can have one room for him to go to do decompress, (and for me to as well) then we'll all be happier. So yeah, that's my thing lately. Doing it for me. Because I deserve serenity. Doing it for my husband, because he works hard too. Doing it for my kids, because I really don't want Ava to end up on hoarders. Some days I'm great at this...others it's an epic fail.

  5. Having our third child was much more overwhelming than the other two, and I found doing housework very stressful because I just expected it to be done as I always did it. With my husband's help we scheduled certain chores for certain days of the week: Monday is bathrooms, Tuesday is clutter spots, Wed and Thurs are laundry days, and Friday is floors. I've found doing chores much more attainable because now I just have one chore in mind for the day to get done, and once it's done, chores are done for the day and I have time to do other things for myself or the kids, or whatever. I need to have a clean house for my own sanity and happiness. For example, I really enjoy cooking dinner, but if the kitchen is a disaster and I have to clean for 30 minutes before I can cook anything, all the enjoyment of cooking is gone and it's become another chore. As I keep a state of relative cleanliness or constant progress, then I am happier, the feeling in our house is more positive, and I feel better about fulfilling my specific roll of "keeping house". Maybe someday I'll post pictures on your mom exhibit because our house is always far from spotless, but I can live with that.

  6. Your pre-therapy appointment is exactly how I have been feeling. Just yesterday things were really tough and my bff took my boy while the youngest took a nap, after my breakdown. As badly as I needed a nap what did I do? (After eating my comfort food) I cleaned. Not throughly, just tidied the main rooms and the kitchen counters. Surprisingly, I did feel better after the three hours of quiet and a cleaner home. Not sure I'll ever want to do it, but willing to try. Which is better than what i've thought for the past week. Thanks Becky! Your just what the doctor ordered. Love ya!

  7. I am so glad you posted this! We have 3 children ages 4,2,1 and I was feeling pretty alone, exhausted, and down right depressed about my house until I stumbled upon this blog! Thanks so much!

  8. Wow. i can cross this today of all days and i think you might have just saved me from a disapointing life of sadness. I - just today--flipped out on the kids when after I had spent my one day off doing dishes--come into the living room and find nearly half of them dirty or on the floor. y.My daughter thought it was okay to use them all at some point along the way and I found my oldest (who's 14) at my desk on MY computer without asking and drinking and slopping around on everything. I could take no more. I yelled. I screamed. I did. I admit it. and I felt so bad about it. But i looked at them as disrespecting me and I was done with it. After weeks of me working 50+hours all I want is help to clean a house I am never home to dirty. I have gone on strike and found it was to no avail. And today was that final straw.
    Thanks for getting me straight. I don't have to have it all clean. Just take it one part at a time. It is going to get messed up . It always does, but i can't let it tear me apart.