Sometimes one can do a job too well. Since I quit my full-time job to stay home with my kids, I have seen most household responsibilities as part of my job.
Taking care of their health and well-being has been my top priority, but the everyday maintenance that comes along with living in a house with a group of people is also part of what I do. Since I accepted these responsibilities, it is perhaps unrealistic of me to expect others to take them on, just because they see that they need doing. (Although that has been part of the problem, they too often do NOT see that these things need doing.)
Over time, they have come to see these things as my responsibility, but I also have inadvertently convinced them that certain things are true.
There is a dish fairy.
Unless you are willing to spend extra money on disposables and contribute to filling landfills, you have dishes. Dishes need to be washed, generally after each use. (And let’s not forget the pots and pans used before you put the food on the dishes.) With a family of six, the sink fills up. Sometimes I have other, more pressing things to attend to, and the pile sits. I have taken to casually mentioning that we really need the “dish fairy” to show up. This is usually met with a chuckle and life’s busyness goes on. At some point, I empty and fill the dishwasher (which seems to take less time than when anyone else attempts it) and the problem is solved.
Now, I could have started when the kids were little and insisted they do the dishes. In my husband’s family, each child had a dish night; in mine, my sister and I would trade off – one did the dishes and the other the pots. Instead, once my children were tall enough to reach the sink, they also had a crushing amount of homework. Doing well in school is important, so I made the decision that school is their “job” and they could help with dishes and other chores on occasion. They are expected to get their dishes to the sink, but for the most part, their responsibility ends there. (I do have the rule that no food is allowed in bedrooms, so I thankfully have avoided needing a “dish collection fairy” as well.)
I guess this makes ME the dish fairy. (Honestly, most days I don’t mind as the window over the sink provides entertainment with the variety of birds that frequent our birdbath, I just wish sometimes the dish fairy would visit before I get there).
I have nothing to do with my time
Once all the kids were in school, I arranged my daily routine around the school day. They would leave, I would run errands, do household chores, make phone calls, plan events, and hopefully squeeze in some “me time,” like meeting a friend for lunch (and usually running errands before or after).
When they got home, I was available to hear about their day, help with homework, and drive them places. After dinner, I tried to minimize personal obligations that did not directly impact my family. Weekends were likewise set aside for kid-centric events or whatever someone else in the family needed or wanted to do.
I realize now that by doing this, I have made it look like I don’t have anything important to do. When they are around, I am there, for whatever is needed at the time. They don’t see all the mundane things I regularly get done while they are away from home. Even when they hear about my day, they have no true concept of how much time it takes up. On unscheduled days off, I have heard complaints that I am “too busy.” Well, that is my “job,” every day.
I have their schedules committed to memory
I have always had a mind for dates and times. I am frequently the go-to person when someone needs the date for a birthday or anniversary. I have four children, spanning ten years, with different interests. The family calendar is color coded, by individual and sometimes by activity.
Thanks to the way my brain functions, for the most part, I could keep track of all the comings and goings without too much difficulty. Since kids often need it, I made a habit of providing a warning that “soon” we had somewhere to go.
As they got older, I realized they could be responsible for keeping track of these things themselves. I stopped giving warnings and they managed just fine. Since I no longer had this responsibility, I wasn’t paying as much attention to their calendars and sometimes would forget they had anywhere to be at all.
When I showed surprise that they were leaving, or that it was time for me to take them somewhere, they looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I was supposed to remember these things. After all, isn’t that Mom’s job?
I know where everything is
This, I know, is a common mom phenomenon. Almost every family I know looks to Mom when something is missing, whether it be keys, library books, or shin guards. It is reinforced when, more often than not, she tells you where these items are (usually where you left them). When I am scattered myself, and don’t have the answer, I get a strange look and, “But you’re supposed to know, you’re the mom.”
I know when they are out of anything
Things run out, like shampoo, deodorant, clean underwear. I am expected to know when these things are close to running out and make sure a replacement is at hand. This, unfortunately, is something that I have mostly been very good at over the years. I notice details and have a strange sense of when things should be purchased again. I don’t keep written notes (if I did I would likely put them in that elusive “safe” place), sometimes it is as simple as a bottle falls over and I notice it feels light, or I am making a list or looking at coupons and remember to ask, just before something is needed.
On occasion, I have messed this one up, and there is whining and gnashing of teeth. I protest that it is not my job, that one should know when they are using the last ____ , and to let me know so it can be replenished. This is something that they all got better at, especially once they got to college.
Clean clothes magically appear
Laundry is one of those dirty words (pun fully intended). This is one of the chores that is NEVER complete. Again, I have taken this task on, of my own free will. Everyone in my house knows how to do laundry – how to sort it, and how the washer and dryer work. They also know that complaints about something not being clean will result in them being told to do it themselves. Therefore, they have also learned to not complain and to do without.
Like the others, this is a chore I chose. Yes, I could make each child do their own laundry, but then I would lose control of the washing machine. My main argument is that if everyone did their own, we would use more energy as we would be doing more partially full loads each week. This is true, but my hidden agenda is that by letting them all use the washer and dryer, it will likely be full when I want to use it. I really don’t want to have a laundry schedule, where everyone would have assigned times. I don’t want to manage such a schedule, and I want to use my machines when it is convenient for me.
Some people have told me that I let my kids off too easy, that they should have had more responsibilities around the house, starting at a younger age. There may be some truth in this, but I think we are all doing okay. They know how to care for themselves (even though they sometimes pretend they don’t) and are well on their way to becoming productive members of society. I am fortunate to have been in a position where I could do these things and possibly reduce the amount of stress in all their lives. They know that everyone has to pitch in to make society work and are among the first to volunteer when they see a need.
To be fair, my family takes care of me as well.
Several years ago, when I sprained my foot, badly, they wouldn’t let me get out of my favorite comfy chair except to go to the dining room table, the bathroom, or to bed for four days. That is how I learned how well the human body can heal itself, if you let it. (I have had not a twinge from it since.)
More recent illnesses have also had them stepping up and taking care of the most important, basic needs (the stuff they KNOW I do), while insisting that I rest and get better. At these times, I know that what I do every day is noticed and appreciated. Once I am again healthy, though, taking care of the house and them, well, that is my job.