Serving Others as a Gift
Along the lines of looking at things from another perspective, turning the negative to positive: Last night I was putting away clothes to get beds ready to be slept in. I was grouchy and tired and feeling put upon. It was only a burden, only a chore. But this morning when Linnaea got dressed she was wearing a shirt that I'd folded last night and put away. She wouldn't have known that she could wear that shirt if I hadn't taken the time to put it were it was easy to find. And so it changed from being burden and chore to being a gift that I gave her, which washed away all the resentment I felt last night.
From a long letter about from a mom, after she read The Big Book of Unschooling:
Your section on chores and serving others reminded me of something that happened recently. My boys spend a good portion of each day in our basement, where they have the majority of toys with lots of pieces. Legos, train tracks, puzzles, etc. Frequently, their play involves combining all of these things into one enormous pile, or just spreading them all over. Sometimes we clean up all together and sometimes I do it at the end of the day alone. One day I cleaned up in the middle of the day while they were upstairs, because I think most of the fun comes in the making of the mess. In my mind, I was giving them a gift, although I didn't know to what extent. A little while after I was done, they came downstairs and both let out a little gasp, and Josh (my 3 YO) said in a hushed voice, "It's like magic." I did that! I gave them magic! It was so wonderful for all of us that now I try to do things like that as much as I can.
All three of us (my husband, me, and my son) do things for each other throughout the day, asked and unasked, that we're all certainly capable of doing for ourselves.
For example, yesterday, I placed my iPad on the table as I went to get a glass of water. Apparently I missed and it was only balanced at the edge of the table, not all the way on, though I didn't realize that until I saw my 10 year old walk over and push it over so it wouldn't fall. Last night when I walked into my son's room, I noticed some bins of legos on the floor and pieces scattered about, so I asked if I could put them away so he wouldn't step on them and he said sure. Earlier today, I was on a conference call for work and my husband brought my morning cup of coffee while I was on the phone. At dinner, my son wanted more parmesan cheese and asked me to go get it for him—while I was on the way, my husband asked me to bring back the pita chips for him. A few minutes ago, my water bottle was empty and I asked if anyone wanted to fill it—my son jumped up and offered, as he loves using the water dispenser in our fridge :-)
If my son let my iPad fall, I let my son step on Legos on the way to get his clothes from his closet, and my husband hadn't thought to make sure I was caffeinated this morning, I'm sure life would have still gone on :-) And I could have filled my own water bottle, everyone could get their own food—we could each do what we could do ourselves, and we could each attempt to do as little as possible for each other. But our lives would feel so much different—so much less connected—so much more detached and rigid. We'd be keeping score and passing judgment (probably saying things like "10 years old—can't you do your own laundry?" or "how old do you think you'll have to be before you can make your own breakfast??" and all sorts of other things that are said in many a conventional-parenting household).
And that wouldn't be nearly as cozy and comfortable and positive as a life where we all look out for each other and show our care for each other throughout our time together. A life that got this way in large part because my son has grown up watching me and my husband say to each other "Can you..." —and watching whoever's being asked most times say "sure!" And because he's grown up with his dad and me saying "yes" over and over again to his own requests for assistance and attention. Saying yes, and more yes, and more yes can indeed lead to wonderful things. :-)
February 2013 (in a discussion on facebook)
THIS was the turning point for me. I realized I had fallen into the trap of feeling I was owed service and clean up by my kids and therefore grew resentful if they didn't keep their end of the bargain I had coerced into existence.
For the first two months, I kept my mouth shut about chores, messes, undone laundry etc. If there was a mess, I picked it up if it bugged me. And I said yes to every request I possibly could: driving, playing games, arranging friends to play at our house, watching movies together. I spent a huge amount of my energy at sports events (games), driving my teens to their social lives, purchasing art supplies and so on. I wanted my kids to know that they mattered more to me than any other consideration in my life.
Over time (multiple months), I got into a habit of service and not resenting. (During this time, the kids still did help with housework once a week—we held that over as we adjusted to unschooling). But it was during this time that I discovered that we could even re-think that weekly Saturday morning cleaning.
By mid summer, life was just much more relaxed. There are days when I have PMS and I get edgy about messes. But on the whole, the spirit of the home has changed. And the spirit now prevalent is consideration.
And the heavy investment of my life into theirs (making their dreams come true) has hit. They KNOW I'm for them first. And suddenly they are pouring out the love, support, help and service I used to think needed coercion. It's wild!
Joy can be a gift, too.
Really, I think it's better to have a dirty house and minimally prepared food than to have filth in the air from guilt, manipulation, and griping.
David and I were talking about gifts tonight as we were making dinner together. He said that he doesn't work at our marriage, none of the things he does for me are work, because those things are gifts. And if he can see them as gifts then toil is no longer a part of it. He's right. When I fold the laundry with the image of Linnaea dancing in her dress of choice it isn't labor at all. Or when I wash the dishes thinking about how much easier and more pleasant fixing the next meal will be, it is less about the toil in that moment and more about the joy in the next. But if I think about how many times I've done the dishes recently and how I don't want to do them tonight and I'm tired and why can't someone else do this and I always do them... it is all about labor.—Schuyler Waynforth, here: Sandra Dodd.com/divorce