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Earlier today I found myself a little bit past frustrated. I had a long list of tasks for today and I knew there was no way I was going to complete them all. When I slept in a little later then planned, I began rushing around trying to get a handle of what I could get done in my shortened time-line.
I was already frustrated with myself for being behind schedule when I found out that my husband had not done one of his chores the night before. While that aggravated me, what upset me was when I went to do this chore I found out another set of chores he had told me were complete hadn’t really been completed. I phrase it like that because I am sure in his head they were done and to his liking but to me the chores were incomplete.
For this reason chores in our family are a point of aggravation and argument. I was raised with certain expectations when it came to chores. If the chore was not done correctly the first time I had to keep repeating the chore until it was completed to my mother’s liking. It sounds much harsher then it really was. Most of the time it involved learning how to correctly hang pants, moving items to dust or vacuum and properly cleaning the dishes. All items children have trouble with until they learn what is expected of them to complete a task. However, as a child I often thought of my mother as the Queen of ALL Perfectionists. Truthfully this way of being raised has turned me into a perfectionist.
After fifteen years of marriage, what I have come to realize is that each of us in our own way is a perfectionist. Most people care about a few things that they do really well and then everything else they just complete to their level of care for that project or task. Then there are those that feel most things in their life should be handled to that same level of care and these are the people that we call perfectionists. I tend to fall into the latter category while my husband tends to fall into the former category. There really is nothing wrong with being from either category of people. My husband is an amazing computer programmer who cares about his family and has a few interests that he is passionate about. However, with me being a perfectionist, my husband’s patience is often tested when I ask him to help with things he could honestly care less about, which in turn tests my patience.
As a perfectionist, I tend to think that most things I set my attention to should be done “right” (whatever that means to me). I am a work-a-holic who tends to commit more then the normal 40 hours a week to a job. I like my house to be clean and realize it will never be perfect as long as I have children or animals living within it. A clean house to me means trash in trash cans; dishes clean or in the dishwasher; laundry either put away or put in its place (dirty hamper for dirty clothes and a clean hamper for clean clothes); etc. I like to have a relatively clean car both inside and out. I like my yard to get mowed once a week from spring to fall. You get the general idea.
As a young couple my husband and I would argue frequently about chores. We had divided up our chores based on physical labor and skill. That meant I generally did the laundry because we both agreed he would dye our clothes interesting colors and might set the house on fire with the dryer. I also handled cooking for similar reasons. He would in turn handle washing the dishes or loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, scooping the litter boxes and scrubbing toilets. Things like dusting, vacuuming and other general cleaning would take place once a week or as needed and would normally fall to me to handle solo unless we cleaned the house together, which was rare. Seasonal things like mowing would get passed to whoever had the time. You would think that this meant a smooth running household but life is never that easy.
The first few years I handled most of the chores because I could never find a full time job in the small town in the middle of nowhere Iowa that we lived in and I felt it was only fair for me to handle the chores while my husband earned the money to pay the rent and bills. The next couple of years of our life we spent living with my parents while we were trying to save money to purchase a place of our own. We both helped out around the house as much as our full time jobs allowed. Once we did buy our own house, in another small town, the chores fell to me again as I left with part-time employment. When I did find full time employment, I was still responsible for most of the chores as my husband’s job monopolized more then 45+ hours a week. I even handled a lot of the yard work for the first couple of years.
When my husband’s job finally eased up so that he could help me with chores, what I found was that he would quickly do the chores and I would be left with any fallout from the chores not being done to my liking. As you can imagine this caused heated conversations and arguments as I felt like the message he was giving me was that he could care less about our house or my feelings. He would say things to me like “I don’t like chores” or “I am not as good at this as you are” as if that explained why he would not fully complete his chores. I would remind him that I hated doing chores just as much as he did. That while I loved cooking I hated doing the dishes and taking out the trash.
What really had me upset was my sense of fair play and equality. Not only had I been raised to be a perfectionist, I had been raised in a household that taught fair play, including how chores were handled by both the husband and wife. So I felt like my husband was telling me (through actions) that my career was not as important as his and in turn that my time was not as important as his. There were times where I felt like if I didn’t handle the chores that they would never get done because they just were not important to my husband.
The overall truth is just that my husband and I were raised in very different environments. I had a sibling and he didn’t. My mother expected both my brother and I to help out a lot (there were years my dad was in the hospital more then at home so it was like being in a single parent household). My mother-in-law tended to do more of the around the house work for her family for many reasons including she felt like unless she handled it the chore might lead to her house burning down (my father-in-law once burned his eye brows off trying to burn brush so I can’t argue with this feeling). My father was very much a blue collar worker while my father-in-law is more of a white collar worker. My family had a very “hands on” approach to everything from painting our house to changing the oil in our vehicles ourselves and that is not the same type environment where my husband was raised.
Sadly this leaves us with different views on chores. My husband feels the chores will get done when he has time and how they are completed is dictated by the time he has. I was raised you do the chores before you do anything else and do it right the first time irregardless of what else is going on.
When we received our first foster placement (a toddler and a newborn baby) our views on chores changed. The first few days we barely slept and the next couple of weeks we felt like we were barely treading water. My husband quickly realized that I couldn’t do all the chores on my own while taking care of an infant and toddler. I realized that some chores (like dusting or hanging my laundry) were not as important as other chores (changing diapers and feedings). It became interesting to see how my inner perfectionist started to mellow out while my husband’s dedication to family (and therefore helping with chores) really went into hyper-drive.
So I was frustrated earlier when I found my husband’s chores incomplete. I pondered on what was going through my husband’s mind when he told me that the chores were done. I then took a deep breath and exhaled. Being upset over the chores wouldn’t instantly make them done and I needed for the house to not smell like a dirty cat box. I already knew I wouldn’t get everything done today. There was no point in getting upset about it. Today when my husband comes home and the toys are strewn all over the family room I know he won’t ask why I didn’t clean up after the kids (because I am the perfectionist after all), instead I know he will say a little prayer that at least the house didn’t burn down.
There are still days and crunch times where we both fall into our old patterns but overall we do tend to help pick up the slack for each other. When I am sick my husband attempts to cook (he is wonderful with yummy take-out food!) and when he has an overly taxing project I change the litter boxes or take out the garbage. Nothing is perfect though and even the perfectionist lets things slip or slide when they need to. Hey, that just lets everyone know that we are all human!