Recently, I conducted an experiment in my kitchen. I didn’t mean to. It just happened.
I didn’t make slime or a build a baking soda volcano, but rather I inadvertently left the door open on the dishwasher.
And by open, I mean completely open… all the way to the floor, the bottom rack of clean dishes pulled out. I had every intention of emptying it, but I became distracted with other things.
Day one of the open dishwasher turned into day two, and instead of putting the dishes away, I had a thought. My family had walked around this door for an entire day with no questions asked. How long would they continue to do so? I decided to wait to unload the dishwasher and see what, if anything, would happen. So I waited. And waited.
Three days went by and three teenagers and a 46-year-old man walked around that open dishwasher. They squeezed right by the open door and went about their business in the kitchen, never saying a word about the dishwasher. I just watched them in silence.
I wasn’t angry or upset. Instead, I found myself smiling and amazed.
Amazed that no one noticed it, even after someone slammed their shin into it. Amazed that it didn’t seem to bother anyone. And really amazed that no one noticed the utensil drawer was running suspiciously low on spoons.
Finally, on the third night I caved and pointed it out to my family members. And the responses were what I thought they might be – “Honestly, I didn’t even know they were clean,” “when did I hit my shin on it” and “I didn’t know why it was open.” But the response that really struck a chord with me was when my 15-year-old daughter questioned, “why didn’t you just ask someone to put them away?”
So I begin to think, why didn’t I just ask someone to put the dishes away or even just close the open door? My immediate answer was that I shouldn’t have to ask a grown man and three perfectly capable teenagers to tackle a task blatantly staring them in the face.
But then I dug deeper. Why didn’t they see the open dishwasher? There had to be a reason. Was my family lazy? Absolutely not. Self-centered and entitled? No way. And after much thought, it hit me – they didn’t see the open dishwasher because I had never given them the opportunity to see it.
In what I like to call “the early years”, I was a stay-at-home mom with three small children under the age of five and a husband with a stressful job who worked long hours. By default, almost everything at home was my responsibility. And that was okay with me. It worked for us.
But now looking back, I think I was so busy trying to do everything myself that I never noticed when my children became old enough to help out. I never stopped to teach them how to help out around the house. I just swooped right in and took care of things. It was easier that way.
Dishwasher clean? I emptied it. Trash overflowing? I took it out. Crumbs all over the floor? I swept them up. But my children are teenagers now and I’m still doing all these things. Why was that?
I did some soul-searching and discovered a few things about myself. As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve always felt like running the household is my “job.” On the busiest days when I can’t do it all, I feel guilty for not being more effective and this keeps me from asking for help. Pair that guilt with a liberal dose of impatience. It’s easier to do things myself rather than take time to teach others. Then add in time constraints. My husband and children are always running out the door to school or work, practices and lessons. I am simply home more, with more time to do chores around the house.
But this dishwasher experiment has shown me that it’s time to change my mindset…and fast. I have to let my guilt go, stock up on patience and rally the troops! I am seven months away from sending my oldest out into the world. Her sister will follow soon and the boy only a few years behind. And while I’ve worked hard to make sure they are kind, honest, intelligent and thoughtful, I have not done a very good job teaching them basic life skills.
It’s time to teach lessons that involve stoves and ovens and dishwashers and washing machines. It’s time to teach them how to folded a fitted sheet (if that’s even possible) and how to know when the grill needs a new propane tank and when the plants need water. And while I’m not sure I can cram all this into the coming months, I’m going to give it my best shot and pray that the learning curve is not too steep.
And then maybe, just maybe, we can all stop hitting our shins on an open dishwasher door.
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Kelly Hays is a freelance writer living in suburban Atlanta with her husband and children. She previously worked as a public relations manager and associate communications professional for The Home Depot, Inc. Currently, she conducts basic life skills lessons with her three teenagers.