I suffer from a chronic problem. It’s been going on for years already, and just recently I discovered the root of the issue. But let me describe my problem first before I move on to my diagnosis. Each morning I go through the same routine: I drag myself out of bed to the catchy tunes of, “Ema!! I want CHOCOLATE MILKY!!” Or I get kicked out of bed by any one of 3 mystery intruders who have somehow managed to covertly seize 99% of the mattress, leaving me a nano-sliver at the end. After un-cramping my joints and getting dressed, I attempt to navigate my way through the obstacle course of toys without damaging my feet, and here is where my problem begins. Each morning I get caught up in... “The Mess That Wouldn’t Go Away”. I sigh, I roll my eyes, I mutter, and eventually I get reactive and start complaining to myself (and to my husband) about the mess. The Mess is like an annoying, overly-talkative party guest that doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to leave even as you’re turning off the lights and getting into bed!
As I make my way to the kitchen, I shake my head at the perpetual mountain of laundry that needs to be folded. The color of the living room rug peeks out from underneath the hundreds of microscopic Legos (G-d I hate Legos!) and blocks and cars and on and on... The kitchen table is covered in bills, drawings, crayons, pencil shavings, everything but food. The sinks are filled to maximum capacity with dishes. The laundry is lying haphazardly on the floor, patiently waiting for me to finish sorting it. I almost have an anxiety attack just taking it all in! How is it possible? Did I not just clean most of it up yesterday? And of course there’s the kids’ bathroom, which is decorated in sparkly toothpaste and toilet paper. What is this, a fraternity house??
Thank G-d my kids are cute...
My husband, ever the objective and detached one, always points out the same facts: I have four young boys, Baruch Hashem, and they’re going to make a mess! The fact that he always reminds me about the boy thing is kind of annoying- as if to say girls aren’t expected to make a mess. I remember being plenty messy! Or was that my sister? Yeah, that was her; definitely not me! I was perfect! But seriously, he’s right. Having four young kids is a recipe for a messy house.
So I’ve been thinking about it, and I know just two families who have kids and a relatively neat house. And these families have live-in help! My life is a life in progress. I realize that. I know that I will not see the day that my house stays neat and clean for more than five minutes- at least until my kids move out. But even that will hopefully be short-lived, because they will be bringing my grandchildren over! (Yikes!) Everyone I know has a life in progress. We’re far away from having a statically clean house. Objectively, I realize that. But when I have to experience it day after day- it drives me crazy!
Recently I was on the Emuna Parenting conference call with Dr. Zev Ballen, our wonderful and amazing in-house psychotherapist. I thought I would ask him why I’m so bothered by the mess, and he told me that I must work on letting go of the need to have things in order. So I was thinking about it, and then an interesting thought came to me- I’m spoiled! I grew up with live-in help for much of my life, and my house was relatively neat. But as I thought about it further, I realized that in fact, I’m very far from spoiled. I never looked for the easy way out of anything, and certainly wasn’t looking for an easy lifestyle. If I wanted that, I would have stayed in Miami, where I had my parents and friends close by if I needed help. Even now, my husband has to remind me to ask for help when life gets too overwhelming. No, being spoiled wasn’t the issue... so what was it?
About a week passed by before I got my answer. It wasn’t me who was stressed out by the mess- it was my mother! Aaagghh! My mother was in my head! How could this have happened?! All those years I thought I was ignoring her, and she managed to slip into my subconscious! She would make the Mossad proud!
Her famous words came back to haunt me: “You need help! You can’t live like this! You can’t do it on your own!” And she was telling me this when I had just one kid! When I gave birth to my fourth one, you can imagine how she was pressuring me... “You must get help! You need someone here for 8 hours a day, every day!” Believe me, I understand that she had only the best intentions for me, and that she wanted me to have it easy. Most parents feel this way. But there is a very fine line between wanting your child to have the best and debilitating your child because of how you think they should live.
Then I began to see her disapproval in every area of my life. “You’re giving the kids turkey sandwiches for dinner? You’re not showering them tonight? You’re not taking them on daily excursions after school??” You know what they say- the path of good intentions leads to Hell. Yes, she intended to be helpful in her strange way. But what did she really end up doing? She ended up creating this massive self-doubt and self-persecution in me. I actually feel guilty when my kids get eggs or sandwiches for dinner! What’s wrong with cereal once in a while? Well, it’s not a five course meal, so it’s borderline neglect! When she was here, she was beyond stressed out by the constant buildup of mess. Her stress was contagious, and still lingers on, like radiation poisoning.
Believe it or not, there are several positive aspects to my realization. First, I have realized that I must give myself more credit. I deal with high-stress situations every day- as a maid, chef, chauffer, mediator, referee, personal shopper, wardrobe, animal tamer, etc. Not only do I deal with them, but for the most part I do all of my jobs happily. The hardest job in the world is to be a mom, especially a mom that has a full-time job on top of her family demands. Second, I realized that the yetzer is ten steps ahead of me. For years he had me confused about my unexplainable intolerance for messiness. The funniest thing is, I’m not a control freak or a neat freak! If I were, this would have all made sense long ago, and I would have been aware of the cause of my stress from the beginning.
Third and most importantly, I have realized the root of my self-persecution. I hate to do this, but I have no choice. The root is my mother! I’m not blaming her for everything, G-d forbid, but I’m trying to make a point: Our generation, as Rav Arush says, suffers tremendously from the plague of self-persecution. We come down on ourselves in so many ways. Think of the ways in which you persecute yourself. Do you think you’re not successful enough? Not good-looking enough? Not smart enough? Whatever it is, where did those thoughts come from? Think back to when you were a kid. Did your parents berate you and tell you the million and one ways you were doing something wrong? Did they support you when you made a mistake, or did they point out and amplify your mistakes? When they were angry with you, did they insult you? Do they still insult you?
Of course, unless your parents are like Rav Arush, Rav Brody, and company, they have done one or all of the above. The purpose of me pointing this out is not to get you to blame your parents. The purpose is to get you to begin to separate their feelings about you from your feelings about yourself. How they see you is not who you really are. Your “faults” may not necessarily be faults at all, and they probably don’t know realize how many talents and positive qualities you really have.
More importantly, you now have the opportunity to stop the cycle. Don’t repeat your parents’ mistakes on your kids. I know, it’s human nature to have the same tendencies as our parents. But this is one area that is relatively easy to control and fix. The formula is simple:
If you don’t persecute your kids, they won’t persecute themselves.
I honestly can’t believe how hard it is for me to not yell at my kid when he spilled juice all over the floor and just walked away like nothing happened. I feel like strangling someone (him) at that moment. But I realize that kids are like emotional sponges- whatever you tell them, good or bad, they will absorb and internalize. Later on, if they have low self-esteem, it will be very hard for them to fix it.
But, rejoice! You might be thinking about how unfair it is- being the one to stop the cycle. Instead, realize how much Hashem believes in you! You’re strong! You have the capacity to break things that could have been passed down for generations! Hashem chose you to make a new beginning for your children and all future generations! Accept the challenge with excitement! If you’re ready to un-brainwash yourself, listen to Rabbi Brody’s cd’s: Educating Children with Love, All in the Family, The Family Connection, Complete Recovery, and Hashem Loves Me.