Cerebral Homemaking Part 8 – Not a Kid Anymore

I wish I had a flattering photo of one of our bathrooms for this article, but there aren’t any, so you get this detail of an early autumn garden bouquet. Trust me, this is far more attractive.

Other Cerebral Homemaking posts:

Part 1: Wrapping My Mind Around My Work 

Part 2: Please Lie Down on the Couch and We’ll Begin the Analysis

Part 3: Lofty Thinking — About Vision, Philosophy, and the G-Word

Part 4: Blast Physics! We Have to Aim Just a  Little Higher

Part 5: Time Matters

Part 6: We Like What We’re Good At — Developing Competency

Part 7: Mundane or Maniacal?

When I was a kid, it was my job to clean the bathroom. At first we had just one in our old farmhouse, but then we had three after we remodeled and expanded when I was twelve. And one of the new bathtubs was dark chocolate brown, which meant it showed every single hard water droplet that touched its surface and required cleaning with a multi-step paste regimen designed for boats. And the master bedroom bathtub was a sunken Jacuzzi that required me to lie down and reach nearly full-length into the thing to reach all the corners. I smacked my head hard more than one time on the faucet as I hauled myself out of it, and it hurt. Just typing that makes me feel as sorry for myself as I am sure reading it makes you feel for me.

Poor, poor Lori. Despite my punishing schedule in elementary school and junior high, despite having to share a bedroom with my sister until the house was remodeled, and despite being forced to wear hand-me-downs and homemade polyester dresses until the age of twelve, I was also expected to give an hour of my time once a week to cleaning bathrooms. I was saddled with parents who thought it was good for their children to contribute sweat equity to the family economy and believed it was part of their job to train their kids to develop competency at everyday life skills like toilet-scrubbing, for crying out loud. Poor, poor soul.

Then I grew up. And then I got married, and with marriage came the responsibility to “manage the house.” The first house I managed was a single-wide, furnished mobile home with one bathroom (rented). Then it was a two bedroom/two bath townhouse (rented). Then it was a basement apartment with one bath (ditto), then a three bedroom/one bath duplex (ditto), then a two bedroom/two bath house (ditto again), and finally for the last nineteen years a three bedroom/two-and-a-half bath house (mortgage). For at least the first two or three of those homes, my attitude toward housework was pretty okay except for the bathroom. I avoided working in it until it just had to be done, and then I sort of slammed around in there sloshing the toilet brush around and swiping the surfaces, practically muttering under my breath, “Why should I have to do this?” Real mature, huh?

Cognitive therapists have an answer. They believe our minds play tapes from our pasts over and over again that direct our behavior in the present. And the Bible, which I trust far more than the average cognitive therapist, says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Based on my own experience and observation of others, I firmly believe that homemaking attitudes, practices, and behavior are often influenced by forces from our pasts that we may not recognize if we aren’t paying attention. It is very illogical, but common! By avoiding cleaning the bathroom, a job I knew needed to be attended to regularly, I was in effect saying, “Nobody’s going to make me do it!” And I didn’t, because nobody did make me and I could “get away” without “obeying.” So the bathroom got dirtier and dirtier, and I minded that more than anyone else, but still I kept repeating that act of rebellious negligence. I was acting as my own worst enemy without even realizing it, and all over a ten or fifteen minute job. The sad truth is that, twenty-seven years later, I still find myself thinking and acting that way now and then.

What other “tapes” might be playing in a homemaker’s mind as she goes about her work? April at The Flourishing Abode made this comment about an earlier Cerebral Homemaking post: “I remember in college, if my roommates came home and saw me cleaning the house, they knew I was upset. Not angry at them, and not even angry at the condition of the house, but just letting off steam. Because when I was angry, I would have all this energy and I figured, hey I might as well do something productive. But, of course, cleaning and anger started to become synonymous. Even if I wasn’t angry, if I started cleaning, I would feel angry. I’ve figured out better ways to handle my anger since then – but I think there is still the residual connection … and it makes housekeeping VERY unpleasant.”

So we’ve got rebellion against perfectly reasonable authority and associating cleaning with feeling angry on our list. What else? How about these?

–What about if parents used chores as punishment? That might make a person feel even more negative toward housework than I did.

–I think many of us unwittingly buy into the societal message of the last several decades that housework is somehow beneath intelligent or wealthy or powerful people – “I have better things to do than keeping the floors clean…”

Acts of Service folks may equate having others do housework as a proof of love – “If you loved me you’d clean the toilet…”

–Are there any princesses out there waiting around to be “rescued” or “saved” from grownup responsibilities? Maybe one parent assigned duties, but the other parent came along behind and undermined the first by saying, “Aw, you’re only a kid once. Go on and go have fun. I’ll do that for you…”

–Did you feel deprived of material goods during your growing up years? Sometimes that translates into an adulthood of telling oneself, “Just in case…” when making decisions about hanging onto clutter or making household purchases.

–If you tend to overdo it in the cleaning and organizing department, it could stem from a strong desire to control your environment in order to feel that you have more control over other aspects of life that you do not, in fact, have the ability to dictate.

–Along the same lines, sometimes people try to attain perfection so they can prove themselves worthy of love or esteem. For this person, it is not enough to have a clean bathroom – the bathroom has to be noticed and praised.

–The opposite side of that coin is the perfectionist who does nothing rather than risk a less-than-perfect outcome.

So what is the answer to these mostly-unconscious messages that negatively influence our behavior and attitudes?

  1. Develop awareness: Just noticing and identifying negative self-talk is probably the biggest fix. “There I go again – acting like I’m being punished because it’s my job to change the bed linens. Silly!”
  2. Be on my own team: Replace the negative message with the positive truth. “I am not being forced to change the sheets against my will. I choose to change them every week because I love the luxury of crawling into a clean, fresh-smelling bed every night. It is a gift to myself and my husband.”
  3. Grow up: It is time to let go of the past. Maybe I really was treated badly by my caregivers. (I wasn’t! My parents couldn’t have been better, but I know some people truly are.) Well, what about that? Will I let my past dictate my present and my future? I only get this one life, and I don’t want to waste it acting out negative stuff over and over.
  4. Quit playing house: This is a necessary part of growing up. I’m not a kid anymore. A life without responsibilities makes people feel useless and disconnected from the rest of humanity, which isn’t what I really want. I am a grownup with grownup responsibilities and privileges. I need to have a vision for what I want my life to be and embrace that. Embracing my life means I accept the truths we talked about earlier about what behavior is necessary if I want to dwell with my family in a Living Space. Embracing not only means I accept the truths, but that I remember the truths and live the truths. And yeah, this is where the cerebral part of homemaking meets the making part of homemaking.

And while I am being kind of bossy and tough on us, let me add that embracing means not saying, “Whatever,” and going on acting like I’ve been acting and getting the same frustrating results. Embracing means not getting all gung ho for a few days and then forgetting the true-ness of the truths and sliding back into my old habits. Finally, and did you notice how I casually stuck the H-word in that last sentence, embracing means I will understand that all the thinking in the world won’t quite get the floors cleaned and the dishes washed – action is required.

Putting My Thinking Into Practice: Identify a homemaking job you hate or avoid because you were made to do it in childhood or because you think you are a princess or you associate it with bad feelings or whatever. Analyze your self-talk logically and tell yourself the truth. Develop a good h-h-habit (Whew! Got it out!): commit to doing the job at the level of frequency/efficiency you choose for period of _______ days/weeks/months. Consciously work to change your attitude about it (Be on your own team.) Evaluate progress.

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