Tuesday, February 24, 2009

you've made your bed and now you have to lie in it

Phoebe remarks on the Obama family's efforts to maintain discipline and normalcy for their daughters by way of making them make their own beds and clean their own rooms:

While telling the housekeepers not to make the girls' beds in the morning seems reasonable, bed-making is something I've never understood altogether--why must a bed be made, except on the occasion of sheet-change/laundry day? Can't a person (child or adult) OK with a messy bed have it messy in the morning and return to it messy each night? I get how having a maid clean a room could spoil a kid, but I tend to think parents who make their children make their beds (as opposed to saying, your bed will be as you leave it) do so to make a point, a point that could just as easily be made by having children help out with chores that actually must get done, such as dishes, laundry, vacuuming, cooking, etc.

For the Obamas, whose goal is providing normalcy, I can understand why such a rule might make up, character-building-wise, for chores the kids simply wouldn't get a chance to do, it being the White House and all.

As a non-parent, I can only speculate, but maybe enforced bed-making is a way of telling your children that they don't make the rules, that this isn't their property, and that they must not only pull their weight around the house and lack grown-up privileges - both reasonable requests - but also submit to constant reminders of their inferior status. And I'm not sure I see the point of taking things that far.

So, I wouldn't normally impute such authoritarian motives on the Obamas, except that my parents definitely wanted to put me in my place. Half of the orders I had to comply with as a child were to reaffirm my inferior status, both as a female and as a child, so yes, that part of it sucks, although I am not sure I want to go so far as to not establish any authority over my future children. Plus, "good" habits like "tidiness" carry some sort of character-building, no?

Apart from the stacks of articles that are piled high on my desk and my totally messy desk tray (thank goodness for online automatic bill pay) that betrays my lack of paper organization and continual works-in-progress (no really, I need that book I took out a year ago for THIS project too), I'm pretty tidy. My workspace is what it is because that's the only way I can work--I need every book I might require around me. But I'm tidy otherwise. I like to keep my counters clean, and like to break out the 409 after each cooking/eating episode. Shoes are removed at the door, and still I sweep up every other day and mop every week (or at least every two weeks). The bathroom is cleaned just as frequently, and the laundry is sorted by colors in bins, done twice a month, and then neatly folded. There aren't piles of clothes (although there are piles of books and Buffy DVDs). I even fold my underwear into neat little squares and put them away by color in my dresser (okay, TMI, I admit). And yes, I make my bed. Every day, and it takes like 10 seconds to fluff the duvet and pillows and arrange them. Not just when company comes over, and certainly TD is not formal company, and he is...not as tidy as I am and would not care at all if the bed was unmade or if there were clothes on the floor. I am not saying I am a better person. But I'm tidier, and I care about my surroundings and the impression they give to others (not that I have many guests), and I feel calmer in a tidy environment (apart from the chaos of my desk, but at least the papers and books are organized by project/subject in neat stacks).

So I'm just saying, what's wrong with making little girls make their beds? Maybe part of it is telling them what to do and where their place in the family hierarchy is. But the fact remains that they are not the decision-makers of the family, and that they must learn the good habit of tidiness, and so there. Of course, this small issue is actually a much larger one--what would you require of your children? What is your fundamental child-rearing philosophy? TD is more laissez-faire. I find, to my horror, that mine is closer to my strict authoritarian parents than I'd like to admit. I never want to be like my parents to my own children. I mean, I want my children to respect me and listen to me and not do bad things, but I never want to instill that type of fear in my own children. I never want to yell at my children for the simplest thing as if it reflects a character flaw or failure to be a proper ____, such as leaving a sock in the dryer or failing to make a bed. So it's a really uncomfortable feeling to realize that I am not the liberated, liberal Westernized person I thought I was. I actually am as deferential to authority and later, willing to exercise authority as my crazy parents raised me to be!

Isn't there a balance between instilling "good" habits in children and being my psycho strict mean parents? TD was raised completely differently, and while less tidy than I am about clothes and dust, he's also free of all of this psycho baggage. I am sort of coming around to his way of thinking. 1/10 of my mental space is devoted every day to keeping things under control, including dust, objects, clothes, etc. I do not, I repeat, I do not, want this to extend to being a control freak. Right now, I live by myself, and I am not totally unbearable. But I am worried that I might be. I do not want to fight with my partner over who does which chore, and I do not want to get angry at my children for not being tidy. Tidiness is a virtue, yes, and I do like having a clean and well-organized house. But I also want a happy and healthy home. Perhaps just let the children do whatever they want to do, so long as they stay out of real trouble and get their work done and don't grow up to be too lazy and pampered.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so worried about balancing the two (it's not like you can't have both), were it not for the ingrained from birth propensity to control-freakiness and apoplectic rage over disorder. You know how alcoholics just have to eventually stay away from all parties to avoid even being near alcohol? It's sort of that way with this type of "red-flag" issue that could very well mean me becoming something I'm not. I avoid all sorts of things and people because I don't like the effect they have on me, that I become a different person I don't like. Avoid. I wish to avoid becoming a Strict Asian Parent.

So, ways to avoid the conflict between clean and too-strict: 1) Only be with people and later raise compliant people who are as tidy as I am. Hmm, that's not really an option, and not even a desirable option, given the peculiar attachment I have already formed and my desire to raise children who will become independent, autonomous people. 2) Chill the fuck out and relax a little bit, because dirt is good for babies and if I live far enough away, my parents won't be able to visit and remark on how I fail as a woman because of my untidy house or the tidy house that is due to the housekeeper I waste my money on because I am such a failure of a woman.

I think #2 is the one. I guess I have to get used to the idea of shoes in the house one day, and their attendant dustiness. Excuse me while I shower after shuddering at the very idea of dust.