We are considering renting out a room in our house to a young man we know. He has been living several hours away but recently moved back, got a job and is coaching with Scott at the local high school. He needs a place to stay while he transition and we could use a little income. Immediately the idea is slightly overwhelming to me.
I grew up living in “communal” living situations. At least, that is the simplest explanation for them. My family belonged to a strict fundamentalist church. The homes were usually consisted of a couple or family and several single men or women. These “training homes” or “brothers/sisters homes” as they were called were run on strict guidelines. Everyone, except the husband, was required to pitch in around the home. Chores were divided up by the person in charge, the Head Steward and assigned to everyone down to the youngest child. These chores could be checked at any moment and were expected to reach a strict standard of perfection. Anything less was met with “consequences” in the form of additional work time as well as shame and humiliation. Food was bought for everyone in the home by the person assigned to grocery shopping and no one was allowed to have their “own” food. Dinners were almost all family style and on a strict time schedule. Being late was unacceptable, regardless of the excuse. Everyone’s attendance and contribution required. If you were not assigned to a food prep item on a given night you definitely had a “clean up” stewardship.
This arrangement made for a strange family sort of environment. It was definitely not a room-mate situation. Also, despite the theory that everyone had chores, the overall look of the house was the responsibility of the wife. If a home was not extremely neat, clean, organized and orderly at every moment of the day, the wife/mother was at fault. It was her responsibility to make sure that everyone did their chores to perfection. She could and would be punished if the standard was not met. I knew many women that worked long hours to make sure this happened. All this was to happen while she also “trained” the children and raised them to be responsible, obedient and holy people.
Since my mother also wanted her children to have a magical childhood she slept little. She spent her nights organizing the running of the household, menus, shopping list, chore division, laundry and her own cleaning so that her days could be spent making sure we had interesting projects, activities and mind-developing interaction.
I have spent years trying to find balance in my life regarding housekeeping. With a family of 6 children and a dog, I have found that I can easily find reason to clean non-stop. When I fall into that, I quickly find my self emotionally exhausted, angry and even a little bitter. I quickly feel at odds with my family members. They become the mess-making problems and the internal pressure builds out-of-control making me impatient and even unkind to my kids. I find that I don’t do this so much with my spouse, probably because in the homes I grew up in, the husband was exempt from any type of domestic duties. Since I don’t have the physical endurance of my mother, I can not do everything.
My house never lives up to the standard I grew up with. However, I get to spend time raising my children, I get to blog and research genealogy. I am more patient and less stressed. I enjoy my life. I still have that standard in the back of my mind making me feel just a little embarrassed. The voice has gotten smaller through the years but the fact that I still find myself cleaning with manic energy for an afternoon when company is expected reveals its presence.
The thought of having another adult in our home confronts three aspects of my personality that I have not resolved yet. The simplest is the “clean house” side of me. It is easy to quiet the judgmental voice in the back of my mind by simply making my house “up to snuff” for company. The prospect of having a stranger here every day to see how clean my house is as we live in it has raised that voice from a whisper to a roar. I find I repeatedly have to consciously set aside this voice. I need to be able to continue to treat those I love the most with kindness, patience and compassion as I process through this and find balance again.
The other side of this is that I am suddenly very consciously aware that I have no idea how to allow a person to live in my house in a room-mate type arrangement. I feel almost naked in my vulnerability as I think of trying to handle the simplest of things like food in the home. Do I include his wants in our shopping and ask for a contribution to the food expense? We don’t have a lot of money right now, With Scott out of work, we have been required to sacrifice a lot of luxuries that a single guy could afford. If we give him space in our kitchen to shop and bring in his own food, I have to work on making sure the boys don’t eat it. The boys have a hard enough time staying out of food that I have dedicated to a specific menu item as it is. At least in the current arrangement, when they cross that line only our family is involved or suffers the consequences.
This leads to the children aspect of my past. Children were required to have exemplar behavior at all times. The way this was enforced was to make it the mother’s responsibility and humiliate and punish any woman whose child was less than perfect. While I consciously know that this was a horrible control mechanism used to make women in the group nearly crazy in their diligence, I still struggle to overcome the extreme embarrassment I feel whenever an outside person is affected by or even sees my children being less than exemplar. Also, Daniel does odd things sometimes. In our family we understand the why and are patient, will an outsider?
For all I know, this young man will think our house is great. He has simply become a person on which I have projected all the judgmental standards of my past. Having a person to stand in that place, has given strength to those judgments. Will I ever be rid of them completely? I don’t know, but if I can find a new level of ability at balancing them with the important things of real life, maybe it won’t matter. Maybe having those standards there will simply be a constant reminder that balance is what is important in life. A reminder to choose quality interaction and realism over idealism. A reminder to always be self-aware, growing and learning and a reminder of what is important and how far I have come.