When I got to work this morning, my boss had cut out a cartoon and had left it on my desk. It was a Baby Blues cartoon, and began with the kid asking the mom if he and his sister could watch some TV while she cooked dinner. The mom answers “sure” and is shown tackling laundry, childcare and dinner duty solo, all the while grumbling how she LOVES doing everything around the house all by herself. It ends with the kid returning to his sister and letting her know, “She said ‘sure’”.
I appreciated the laugh and seeing that on Monday morning, after leaving a messy house with a to-do list a mile long, made my day. The timing was perfect—I almost wondered if my boss had been a fly on the wall in my house at dinner last night! The fact that it was so relatable hit me in a couple ways. First, I can be that Martyr Mom at times, complaining about how I have to do everything, after having never asked for help. I forget my kids (and even sometimes my husband) don’t read minds and if I want them to do something, I need to specifically instruct. Second, I began to wonder what message, if any, I send my family as I putter about in the kitchen, closing cabinet doors a little too hard and muttering to myself. The reality is, they probably hear what they want to—Mom’s got dinner covered, let’s play XBOX until she calls us in.
I admire Marla Cilley of Flylady fame. She has a website, www.flylady.net, where she helps those of us with Housework Attention Deficit Disorder (my terminology) develop routines and habits for keeping an organized, tidy home. One of the points she makes when people whine that their families don’t help them is that it’s better to lead them by example than nagging them to death. I guess I’ve never quite been a good enough example to test that theory, but I love how she sees the complaining as being a martyr. I’ve been around enough martyrs in my life, haven’t you? You know the type. They do this, that and the other and it’s so hard and nobody appreciates them and blah blah blah. I have to put the blah blah blah in there because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard what comes after that. And neither do our kids.
None of us wants to be that person, yet I do think all of us have felt that way at times. Whether or not we verbalize it depends on who we’re with and what mood we’re in.
So Martyr Mom tendencies aside, the cartoon made me think about what we Moms (and Dads) need to do to get our families more involved in the household routines. I stayed home with the kids until my oldest was a freshman in high school. From the time they were born, I did all the household tasks—laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. I considered it my full-time job and felt blessed to be home with them when they were little. Any time I tried to develop some kind of chore system I became so frustrated I just gave up. As they got older and I became more involved in activities outside the home (many of them revolving around the kids like coaching, leading Girl Scouts, etc.) eventually returning to work part-time, I should have been more diligent in assigning them specific things to do. Instead, I mistakenly just believed that they were mini adults, and would see something that needed to be done and just do it for sake of cleanliness and hygiene. (They’re good kids, but not that good!)
Now don’t get me wrong, my kids will do chores when specifically asked, even if at times I have to ask more than once. The problem is that I need to let go of the idea that they will use their observation skills to see I need help and instinctively offer to set the table. Like the mom in the cartoon, my frustration is, in part, of my own making.
Because while nobody likes being given Mom’s To-Do List, they dislike Martyr Mom even more.