I have a little decorating sign that my sister, Barb, gave me a few years ago which reads:
Mirror, mirror on the wall
I am my mother after all.
Yes, I know--it's very funny--and many of you may have experienced this when you look in the mirror. It can be a beautiful thing, to see the ways you are just like the woman who raised you. Even though your life-paths are different, there are so many things that will end up the same on this walk through time. For years after Barb and I each married, our husbands would refer refer to our Mom as "The Mother Goddess"--always in good humor, I'm sure! This was due to the fact that every time one of them would ask us why we did a certain task the way we were doing it (folding clothes, putting away groceries, organizing a kitchen, etc.), we would reply that this was the way our Mom had done it, so it must be the best way. When you see your relationship with your mother through the eyes of your spouse, it can be very illuminating. There are many ways my mother and I are like one another, but none are as interesting to me as the way we "mark" our territory and the ways we organize our households.
My awareness of women's tendency to be territorial about their homes came when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I was taking Home Economics in High School and we had learned about the proper order in which to wash the dishes (glasses, silverware, plates/bowls, serving dishes, then pots and pans). I am an oldest child, and with that comes a natural tendency to like rules and patterns and order, so discovering that there was a RIGHT way to wash dishes was fascinating to me. I was so excited that I wanted to share my revelation with my Mom--which I did--while we were doing the dishes one evening. My Mom had a slightly different way of doing dishes and I pointed this out to her, the way only a 16 year old can. The dishwater may have been hot, but the air in the kitchen became decidedly chilly. She quietly (quiet is so much more impressive than yelling) pointed out to me that she had been doing dishes for about 20 years longer than I had, and she was pretty sure she knew what she was doing.
I was stunned. And a little hurt. I was sure she would find this news as interesting as I did. Apparently, my RIGHT way was not her RIGHT way.
Several years later, after my sister and I had each married, my Mom came across a "Cathy" cartoon depicting Cathy and her mother clashing over the details of preparing a Holiday dinner. When Cathy asks why they can't do things her way, her mother points out that what Cathy is doing is not The Way, it is The Anti-Way. We have all laughed over this joke many times, because the best comedy always points out shared truth.
At some point, we separate our territory from our mother's and, while we remain heavily influenced by what she taught us about how to manage a home, we find our own ways to do things and we develop the rules for our own domestic domain. It's often a subtle experience that occurs over months and years as we develop a household routine. Because of that gradual process, we may expect that the entire household has internalized the "rules" and "right way to do things" in the way that we have.
In my home, everyone knows not to stack the dishwasher. One of my children has referred to this chore as "Tetris for Grown-ups", and they are right--I derive no end of pleasure from seeing just how much I can fit in there! I know just how to place every type of dish we own in order to maximize the use of the space. But, Heaven forbid that I open it up to find someone else has started loading it! Immediately I notice that everything has been put in the wrong place, and the compulsion to rearrange the dishes is irresistible. I'm embarrassed to think of the many times I have done this right after my husband or one of my children has just helped me out in this way--sometimes right in front of them! What a source of discouragement that must have been!
Over the years, my family and I have found our groove on this issue. I never rearrange the dishes in front of anyone; I thank them for helping to tidy up the kitchen. These days, I load the dishwasher and my daughter unloads it (a chore that I loathe) and all is peaceful on the dishwasher front. My husband and sons help out occasionally, but--as Katie and I have often remarked on--they can't remember where anything goes to put it away correctly.
As I look back, I wish I had made different choices in how I handled some chores in my home when my children were little. I wish I would have empowered them more in some areas. Not everything was as messed up as the dishwasher situation, and my kids are amazingly self-sufficient today (at ages 19,21, and 24). They can launder their own clothes, make their own meals, and generally take care of themselves.
I know my daughter will set up her own home in the next few years, and I really look forward to seeing her create her own nest and establish her own way of doing things.
Of course, there's a good chance some choices she makes may be The Anti-Way.