Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

Why some of my beliefs trigger grumbling

On the surface of it, these two beliefs seem harmless.

  • People should show appreciation for work done to benefit them or the household.
  • People should do their share of the household work in a timely fashion if they are able to.

Obvious, right? Who could argue with those? And yet, I’ve come to the conclusion that they lead to some of my worst grumbling. Why are they causing me trouble?

I think it comes down to this: I’m in my head and everyone else is in theirs. Everything is subjective.

Take Husband, for example. It’s not that he and I have different beliefs about everything. After all, we’ve managed to enjoy being married for over two decades. What we have is different, and shifting, priorities and levels of awareness. When I am focused on the hours I spent cooking and am waiting for some acknowledgement, Husband may be focused on his volunteer commitments or sore back. Even if he thinks of showing appreciation, the way he does it may not mean anything to me. Going back for seconds doesn’t scream “thanks for your hard work cooking dinner; it was delicious” to me. But maybe for someone else, a clean plate would say that perfectly and be thanks enough.

The persistent grumble that ruins Sunday dinner

Let me set the scene for a great big recurring grumble.

dirtydishesfull resized smallerI spend a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon making supper. It turns out to be pretty tasty, as well as nutritionally balanced and free of allergens. There are enough leftovers for Monday’s supper and some lunches. Score!

We talk and laugh. Thing One is home for dinner, and Thing Two is in good sassy form. Mom-in-Law teases and tells stories about her travels and time living in Germany. It’s a loving, lively family dinner with all five of us, the kind I treasure. We linger at the table, sharing wandering conversation and bad puns. More than a time to refuel, it’s an important family social event. Then partway through the meal, I suddenly start to enjoy it less, and Grumblings opens his eyes and starts to stretch.

I tense up, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement or thanks. People finish eating, some bring their dishes to the kitchen, some move to the couch. The computer comes on, the phones come out. No-one makes a move to work on the dishes. I wait a bit, then get started, hoping someone will come and help, getting crankier when no-one does. Grumblings charges in, and the small puffs of smoke drifting upwards as I wash dishes go unnoticed. [Comment from Husband, reading this before posting: “So that’s what the smudge on the ceiling over the sink is?”]  I grumble, then try to talk myself out of grumbling, over and over.

At this point, I’m so much in the thrall of Grumblings, all I can think of is myself and how no-one commented on supper or said thank you for the effort of cooking. How unfair it is that no-one else is doing dishes when I’ve spent the past several hours in the kitchen. How I have things to do too, and would like to spend some time on my own projects.

How have I tried to solve this problem?

  • I’ve mentioned that it bothers me when no-one comments on the food and no-one helps with dishes.
  • I’ve tried adjusting my expectations so that I don’t require appreciation and can be content with knowing I did a good thing for the family.
  • I’ve tried to figure out if expecting appreciation for cooking is reasonable, whether it’s a matter of common courtesy or a matter of training. When I was growing up, we’d comment on how good the food was almost as soon as we started eating. There would be murmurs of appreciation around the table. Was that one of the habits we developed as a family to keep my mother happy and avoid her temper, or was it normal? I don’t know: it was normal for me.

None of these efforts have succeeded in changing the situation or banishing Grumblings. I have a long-standing conflict between my expectations and reality, and haven’t been able to resolve it yet.

Manners or habit?

Do I remember to show my appreciation for Husband every time he cleans the bathroom or puts the winter tires on the car? I doubt it. Has he ever complained about feeling unappreciated? Not often.

Yes, we’re two different people, with different needs. But why should I hold him to a standard that I don’t even meet? When I mow the lawn, I don’t expect the same kind of appreciation. Is it simply good manners to thank the cook and help with dishes because mealtimes are in a special category?

Again it’s about my own behaviour… and this is good!

I started this blog to help people feel better by writing about the good I come across and by sharing my challenges to stay positive and banish Grumblings. This week, I confess there’s a sneaky, seductive little hope that when Husband reads this post he’ll see the error of his ways and adjust his behaviour accordingly. Fortunately, I know better: passive one-way communication won’t work for us — we need to have to have a real conversation, like healthy grown-ups. We’re going to have to assume positive intent and think of the situation from the other person’s point of view. And I’m going to have to be the one to start that conversation, since I’m the one who wants things to change.

Where was I? Oh yes. This blog is NOT about fixing Husband, but about figuring out the deeper causes of my grumbling so I can say goodbye to Grumblings the dragon. As I write about each grumble, I’m finding that the more I look at the cause, the more I find the root of it within myself. This is good, because I have control over my own behaviour and no-one else’s.

I hoped to wrap up each post with a useful tip and a happy ending. But sometimes, like today, I end up with more questions than I had when I started. There is good in questioning. If I’m getting close to asking the right questions, maybe I’ll actually find some right answers. And it’s good to recognize that my beliefs exist in the context of my family, people who all have their own beliefs, habits, expectations and personalities.

How to go forward

What can I do to keep Grumblings away from the supper table? Take my two beliefs about sharing household work and showing appreciation, and simply talk about them.

  1. Talk with the family about how we each like to receive appreciation (verbally, through gifts or actions, or some other way). This will help me learn to show my appreciation for others in a way that is more meaningful for them.
  2. Talk with the family about everyone’s expectations around housework and make sure we all agree, especially since Thing Two is now an adult.
  3. Rather than letting the grumbling start, after supper, simply call for kitchen helpers. It goes faster with more hands helping and can provide opportunities for even more conversation.
  4. Finally, give myself permission to delegate cooking or to let everyone forage for her or his own dinner every now and then.

Looking at these steps — comparing love languages, clarifying and agreeing on expectations, expressing needs, and departing from the routine — I think they’re keepers that will come in handy for many situations. I hope they’ll help me say goodbye to that long-standing supper grumble. (Could be a happy ending!)

I’m curious now and wonder what normal looks like: does your family have friction around showing appreciation and housework? Am I alone in making mountains out of this kind of molehill? Do you have a habit or anecdote to share? Send me an email at susan_at_goodbyegrumblings.ca or leave a comment.

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About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

4 Replies

  1. Chopper

    Small reminder. At least you have someone else in the house to grumble about. And they happen to be pretty good company, when they aren’t laughing at Tumblr or finishing their GC obligations. Count your blessings. I know of 3 you should be particularly proud of.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      A good reminder indeed. I am grateful every day and love them all dearly.

  2. Gwen Six

    I fought with this for years of a lack of appreciation for just this thing. As I’ve grown older and hopefully wiser, I have come to several conclusions, one of which is “Do I really want to go there right now?” Tom and I both say that two teenagers live in our house now, neither of which cares very much about kitchen clean up, so, the kitchen stays unkempt quite often. Its just not a battle I want to go to if I’ve had a long day and spent so much time cooking and the last thing I want to do is clean up the darn kitchen, and rather than let the slow burn start to grow, I find its so much easier to turn off the lights and ask Tom to remember to put away the left overs and I go and read….I do know though that when I am enjoying someone else’s cooking in their home, the first thing I say is “This was so good, can I help clean up?” and I say this because I DO know how it feels and smarts when noone says a word.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      I love the idea of two teenagers who just don’t care about kitchen clean-up. I had a revelation recently: I had some writing I wanted to do, and was fretting that if I did the dishes first, I’d probably have less time to write, cause people would come home and want to talk. The brilliant idea was to…. gasp…. do my project first, BEFORE the housework! It was great. I got to do what I wanted, then had someone to keep me company while I did dishes. It was so much against my pattern that I managed to surprise people in the house. It felt like a real accomplishment.

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