Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

If I’m honest…

on January 20, 2013

As I read various different blogs, I’m often struck by the different tones people take.  Some people’s posts are always light-hearted or enthusiastic about their subject, be it cooking, books, family life, etc.  Some make observations about more serious subjects – the Christian life or world events, for example – and it’s only natural that the tone be graver and sometimes quite sombre.  Since my blog covers a mixture of topics, I think the tone varies, but when it comes to talking about myself and my own life, I have on the whole a tendency to be upbeat.

However, a few days ago I read Alice’s blog, where she talks about the person she aspires to be – and wonders whether it’s really right, or helpful, to dream of becoming such a person.

She’s sort of a tyrant. Nowhere in her list of attributes is admission of weakness or acceptance of failure. For her, it’s not enough to manage a little bit sometimes – she wants it all and she is never satisfied.

Dozens of people have commented, most to say that they identify completely with Alice’s thoughts and that they want to try to suppress the desire to set progressively more demanding standards for themselves.

Now, this post flummoxed me somewhat.  I recognise the Voice in my head that says you haven’t lived up to what’s expected of you (again) – you’re a disappointment and you need to try harder.  I hear it a lot, especially in the areas of housekeeping, parenting, my prayer life, etc, etc.  But I’d never in a million years imagined it was a negative influence.  After all, if I listened to it and aimed for the standards it was setting me, it would be better for everyone, wouldn’t it?  Take having a clean and tidy home, for example – many people who love me and love spending time with me have told me that it’s me they come to visit, not my house, and it doesn’t matter what it’s like (one lovely person told me a couple of years ago that she loves coming to my house because it feels so homely, which was obviously even better!).  But on the occasions that I’ve managed to make progress in this department, the same people have asked me if I don’t feel much happier about it (I do, but mainly because I can see how much happier it makes them).   Surely, then, the Voice is right!

If I’d given it more than a fleeting thought before now, part of the reason I was surprised to read Alice’s post is that I hadn’t imagined other people’s hearing the Voice in quite the same way I do.  I know myself, I know that I could do a lot better most of the time, if I weren’t so lazy and so adept at finding more fun and interesting (and less taxing) ways of passing the time.  The Voice is right to chide me and challenge me.  Whereas other people – well, they’re better at it than I am, aren’t they?  When they hear a Voice like that, it is unreasonable and hyper-demanding, because they’re already making a good effort.  I know this, because I’ve been to their homes, seen them with their children, heard them talk about the rewarding Quiet Times that they have even when they don’t feel like it.

I know what you’re going to say next, and you’re right.  My rational side understands nobody is as brilliant as all that (although I still can’t help thinking they are probably better than I am…).  We’re all human, flawed, what the Bible calls sinful.  But I don’t often see that.  What I see is people making choices: either they work hard at keeping house, spending time with their children, losing weight, carving out a regular time for a Quiet Time (even if that means sacrificing sleep), or they don’t because it’s not something they care about and they’re happy with the decision they’ve made to be overweight, or untidy, or whatever.  Most people’s lives look to me like a bit of both, but either way, their choice.  Whereas my choices don’t feel right – if I decide something isn’t what I care about, I end up feeling badly because other people clearly do care, and I should too.

I imagine I’m not the only one to think like this.  One of the comments on Alice’s post points to Social Media as a major culprit in encouraging us to present the sanitised, glossy, I’m-not-perfect-but-I-do-my-best-and-I’m-nearly-there view of ourselves to the outside world, and seeing that version of someone’s life can make us forget there’s probably a less desirable one hidden in the background.  And this got me thinking about myself, and my blog.  Do I contribute to this façade-building? Am I creating a fictitious me that makes me look better?  I don’t mean to, but I suppose a lot of the time I do.  I share my baking triumphs, my ideas and my discoveries – and when things don’t go quite to plan, I share those too, but in a somewhat British-humoured, self-deprecating what am I like? way which makes it sound as if it wasn’t that bad after all.

I’m not saying I’m going to come over all morose on you on a regular basis – that wouldn’t really be in keeping with the overall tone of the blog, after all – but I do want you to know, for the sake of cutting down any kind of façade, that I’m not that person, confident in her opinions, satisfied with her achievements and her family life, that can criticise herself and know nobody takes it seriously because most of the time it’s all good.  I talk about my anonymity making it easier to be honest, but in some ways that’s not true.  I have been honest in everything I’ve shared, but really I’ve still been selectively honest.   In real life I’m the person who wants to please – constantly.  I rarely say anything controversial in case someone disagrees with me or laughs at me.  If I think someone doesn’t like me I more often than not give them food until I feel things have improved.  I find it difficult to make small talk and find often if I fall into conversation with someone, it will become a sort of interview, with me answering all the questions and asking none, going away feeling utterly selfish because I didn’t manage to find out how the other person was feeling.  I feel like I let people down all sorts of ways – I don’t read (or write) the kind of books they’d expect me to, I’m not sporty, I don’t like watching nature programmes (I’m the only one in my family, I have tried my whole life but however much I feel I should, I don’t).  To go back to the subject of housekeeping (the most visible way in which I fail to live up to people’s expectations), I was told a while ago by a very caring and well-meaning person that my home was in such a state they were concerned that people may stop wanting to visit me before long.  Interestingly, this was on the very same day that my other friend made the comment about my house being homely, which should have showed me that not everyone has the same opinion, but actually what happened is that I have stressed about it any time anyone has turned down an invitation to visit, particularly for an overnight stay.

That’s the real me.  And I do do and think and enjoy all the things I’ve talked about in the past as well, but not always in quite such a carefree, self-satisfied way as I might have presented it.  To demonstrate this, I thought I’d share something I’ve come across recently which is helping me with the housework problem.  The reason it demonstrates what I’m saying is because I wasn’t going to share it now, I was going to wait a few weeks to see if it actually continued to work, and then I could say look, here’s a way in which I’ve improved!  Instead I’m telling you how it’s going now, and maybe I’ll check in later in the year to face up to how well it’s working out long term.

Susan at The Confident Mom* has produced a year-long planner for 2013 which breaks down every household job into a manageable-sized list for each day.  For someone like me who is easily overwhelmed (and uses that as excuse to do nothing at all but hide!), this is invaluable.  Each day I have five or six specific jobs to do (plus laundry, washing up, etc) which can be ticked off.  If I notice anything else I need not panic, because I know that will be covered on a different day and it’s not something that I have to worry about today.  It means the important things get done at least once a week, like mopping the kitchen floor, and other things get done less frequently, like cleaning the fridge, still get done (actually, you clean part of the fridge each week on a rolling programme so it’s never a massive thing).  Each task is designed to take between 3 and 30 minutes and if it doesn’t apply to you, you get to tick it off and pretend you’ve already achieved something!  You can also add other things you need to get done which aren’t on the list.  It includes non-cleaning jobs too, such as exercise, planning birthday cards and gifts for the month ahead (if you buy the version with supplementary pack you get a chart to fill in birthdays etc for each month) and the option of Bible readings included on every day’s list so you read the whole Bible in a year.  (I’d have liked a little more with the Bible readings as I’ve never been very good at responding without some questions or thoughts, but at least I’m doing it!)

I’ve only been doing it for 10 days but it is working –  for now.  There have been a couple of hiccups – for example on Thursday I vacuumed our bedroom for the first time in months (it always gets left because nobody sees in there) and it took an hour because our vacuum cleaner doesn’t really like the pile on our carpet, so to do it effectively after such a long time I had to use the crevice tool on the hose, which is about 3cm wide, so it was a long job.  On Tuesday I had to clean the oven.  After quite a while on that one I decided it was going to be an on-going job: it comes up every 2 months on the list so I imagine I’ll make better inroads into it that way than trying to get the whole thing clean once every 18 months or whatever it is.  The biggest obstacle is that each week I’m supposed to dust and vacuum the children’s rooms.  My children have inherited my sloppy tendencies, without any of the desire to please which keeps said tendencies mildly in check.  Over Christmas the Bookworm tidied a large part of her room so it looks OK (especially if you glance in from the landing), but when I tried to vacuum 4 pieces of Playmobil went up the nozzle so I took them out and gave up.  The Butterfly’s room has laminate flooring but you wouldn’t know as it looks like a colourful carpet of clothes, toys and other debris.  I don’t currently vacuum in there – soon I’ll steel myself once again to clear up the mess she’s made, reminding myself – through gritted teeth – that I’m blessing her by doing so and even though it’s a thankless task it’s good to get it done and maybe this time she’ll keep it better.

On the whole though, things are improving and – rightly or wrongly – I’m attaining a higher standard of cleanliness and home organisation through following a few instructions each day.  It remains to be seen what will happen when I become ill or just get really busy at some point.  Hopefully I’ll be able just to dip back in as soon as I’m able and not worry about the lost days, rather than use them as a stick to beat myself with!  I need to find that balance in just how much to listen to the Voice…

__________________________________________________________________________

*I discovered The Confident Mom via a link posted on Facebook by Christy, The Simple Homemaker whom I follow on Facebook and who couldn’t sing the praises of the planner highly enough.  A couple of days later I found out that Susan is also a friend of Beth at Five Kids is a Lot of Kids, of whom I’m also a huge fan!  It’s a small world!

Thankful for…

My friend’s new baby boy, born yesterday morning!

The sense of achievement (without guilt for not doing more) from the housework planner

That the snow has given us a chance to rest this weekend, as we couldn’t travel anywhere

Losing another 1lb this week

Finding part of a broken earring which I lost whilst waiting to get it mended (and Southern Daddy then mending it yesterday, yay!)

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