“Give That Woman a Medal”

I have a new friend who’s always writing letters to the editor about what kind of Hell the country is headed for now. I find I agree with a lot of what he says though I lack his edge, meaning the anger that allows him to fire off searing missives to every paper in the county.

He sent me one, is how we met.

He thought I was an on-staff journalist in whatever paper it is where he reads my column each week; he didn’t know I was one of those slacker freelancers who are half the time writing from a bed piled high with half-eaten bagels, orange peels and a doting housepet or two.

Anyway he knows what I do now. And this is what  he had to say regarding Tuesday’s post about the woman who used extreme measures to get her sons and husband to pitch in with the tasks of daily life:

“Every household is as different as every country,” he began. “My mother had 11 children.  She cleaned, cooked, did everything mother always did then, including going down cellar every morning to get the coal for the stove, for heating  the house, for cooking. My two oldest sisters would do the dishes…. SOMETIMES. My two oldest brothers did nothing as far as I can remember. Nobody had chores except…. my mother! No sense talking about my father the gambler. (He lost OUR shirts as well as his own!)”

He went on to say that when the 11 grew up and left home they did finally become conscious of what they should have been doing. His feeling: they just didn’t know before: “We didn’t know because nobody told us and since no one told us what to do, it was left  to our housekeeper/cleaning-woman/mother to do everything. We did all go to work at 16 to support the old man’s habits and addictions. Finishing high school was out of the question. ‘ Education’ was not a word we heard; college was a disease. 

“So give an A+ to that lady you wrote about in your column,” he ended by saying. “She deserves a medal!”

Again you can read here  about the method of ‘that lady’ whose best move in my book getting rid of all the old dishes and bowls and cups and cutlery and giving each of family member his own small color-coded set.  That way if one ran out of his color he couldn’t poach the other guy’s without being exposed. 

Genius, no? She also stopped washing their clothes unless she jolly well felt like it.

When our kids lived here I started every day at 5am with a load or two of wash. We’d been poor enough so that having a washer and drier in the home still seemed to me like the height of luxury so I didn’t mind Dishes though? Dishes are a whole other thing.

If I lived with a guy who left his dishes around or kicked off his socks and walked away from them I don’t know what I’d do. Luckily, Old Dave is great around the house, though we did have some bumpy times early in the marriage. (The man’s mother used to IRON HIS UNDERPANTS. AND THEY WERE BRIEFS!)

Women have memories like elephants so I have a thousand stories about the Chore Wars but tell ya what: I’d much rather hear how others divvy up the jobs.  Send an email if you’re shy about posting a comment publicly and let’s see what we’ve come up with among us over the years.  

Strong Medicine

A woman wrote in to ‘Dear Abby’ about her retired husband Bud, calling him a lazy slob because “all he does is watch TV or play on his computer all day” while she works fulltime outside the home. ““Our house has become a pigsty, she went on. “If I try to do some cleaning, Bud gets mad and says he’ll do it ‘later’ but ‘later’ comes and goes. Returning to a filthy house after work is driving me crazy. He doesn’t even do the grocery shopping; I have to do it on my lunch hour.”

Abby suggested the lady try getting her husband to articulate his ‘vision’ of retirement. “You may find that it’s very different from yours.

“Also, he may be depressed at the changes that have occurred in his life… If Bud was always a ‘lazy slob,’ then face it – that’s the person you married. However, if this is a recent, radical change in his behavior, you should insist he be examined by his doctor. “

Good luck getting any guy to see a shrink just because you don’t like his behavior, right?  Still,  Abby’s tips are good tips all the same – just not as good as this regimen that  a reader of mine says she has used for her own husband and sons. She first wrote to me after reading a column I did about boundaries. We talked back and forth over the months and one day in came this email, from the lady I will here call Jan, whose last name I don’t even know:

I began realizing my effort to be a good person, wife, mom, and daughter were becoming a huge drain on me, so for a while I stopped doing everything around here. I redefined what was mine to do and let the rest go. Basically, I cooked a simple healthy meal and that was it. I gave them all their own sets of towels and dishes, all color-coded. I had to give them each their own color because that stopped them from being lazy and using someone else’s clean things ha ha! And wow what a breakthrough! I no longer wash dishes. My husband and sons rinse them off after they use them. 

I no longer wash their towels or laundry either. If they run out, that’s their problem.

As time passed though, I saw that my husband worked long hours and paid all the bills and mortgage – and he did try to do his own laundry – so out of love, I have helped out. My boys wash their clothes but sometimes, out of love, I will fold them. I try not to take over their personal responsibilities; I have my own. 

And so a switch started taking place inside of me:  I was no longer doing things out of a sense of duty, but out of love, and it felt much less draining on me.

I still don’t wash anyone’s dishes. It only takes them a few seconds to run them under hot soapy water, dry them off, and put them back on the shelf and if they can’t manage that then Jeez I have really crippled them!

I just had to just stop everything and take a step back to redefine what was mine to do and what was theirs. It took about six weeks. And I had some guilt, but then I realized:  It’s all about healthy boundaries. And so this works for us all and I feel more respected by them and more respectful of myself.

 And there, folks, is the magic combination: of self-respect, a recognition of the importance of community-mindedness and the willingness to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Brilliant!