Growing up, I thought rage cleaning was normal. And I’m not talking about when momma is pushed to the brink and it’s Spring-cleaning time. I didn’t know the term “rage cleaning” at the time, but I thought morning chore lists and scrubbing floors every day before school was the norm. Spending afternoons and weekends enduring screaming about how, as an eight-year-old teetering on a ladder, I wasn’t cleaning the ceiling fans good enough was just the way I thought most families operated.
When my older sister would refuse to do some of her chores (like cleaning the toilets), I’d be mad, but I’d do them for her to try to keep the peace. My mother would even leave little traps like strategically placing a string or scrap of paper on the floor to ensure we vacuumed. It didn’t matter though because nothing we ever did would meet my mother’s unattainable standards. Guess what our punishment was if chores weren’t done to her standards. You guessed it – more chores!
My mother prided herself on always having a clean house and loved when people would comment about how her house was always so perfect. It was more important to her than anything else in the world.
It wasn’t until I was in high school and stayed overnight at a friend’s house that I started to realize the constant cleaning wasn’t normal. We woke up on Sunday morning and my friend’s mom was making pancakes. We went in the kitchen and she didn’t yell at us to clean the bowls she was using, because we were the ones who were going to eat the food.
After we ate, I immediately got up and started cleaning the table and then was planning to wash the dishes in the sink. My friend’s mom stopped me and said, “honey, I got it. Let’s sit down and you guys can tell me about what’s going on at school this week.”
I was completely taken back. In my house, if my mother cooked, I had to scramble behind her and clean everything the moment she was done.
It took years of therapy for me to come to understand she is bi-polar and it manifests itself with OCD cleaning. It was her control mechanism and still is.
There’s a difference between giving kids responsibilities and having children “earn their keep.” Do I believe it giving my kids age-appropriate chores? Yes. Is my house often the center of chaos? Yes. Do I laugh with my kids and do we have fun cleaning up together while blasting music? Yes.
For years, whenever my mother came to my house I reverted back to being eight-years-old and scurry around cleaning in a sheer panic. She’d walk into my house and immediately comment on how it’s a mess (even if it’s not), it’s dusty, it’s not organized enough, etc. The traditional follow-up comment was always about how on earth she could have brought up such a slob.
What broke me was when I came home after my mother was babysitting for my children and my three-year-old daughter was holding a can of furniture polish and crying. She said, “Grandma won’t let me take a nap because she said we had to polish all of the furniture because you never do it.”
Oh HELL NO!
I felt like a teakettle about to boil over, with years of suppressed anger abruptly coming to the surface. Through tight lips I ordered my daughter to go upstairs and watch TV. She could tell from the look on my face that something was about to go down and I meant business. I can still picture her scurrying up the stairs.
For the first time in my life, I talked back to my mother. Maybe I should rephrase that, I actually SCREAMED back at my mother.
“Don’t you ever fucking pull that shit with my kids! My childhood was spent enduring your rage cleaning, but you won’t do that to my children. You are sick and need help. Take your fucking furniture polish and get the hell out of my house!”
She stood there with her jaw on the ground, most likely because I have spent my entire life being her doormat. She wasn’t used to anyone ever pushing back on her, especially regarding her cleaning. She started babbling about me being an ungrateful child (I was mid-30’s when this happened) who enjoyed living in clutter and filth.
I cut her off, stormed down the hallway, threw open the front door and screamed, “GET THE FUCK OUT!”
As I slammed the door behind her I was shaking, but I also felt a sense of release. I felt empowered. Holy crap – did I just do that? So this is what it feels like to stand up for yourself! It feels damn good.
Once I collected myself, I went upstairs to get my daughter fearing how I would explain things to her. Lucky for me, my daughter was fast asleep and finally got that nap Grandma wouldn’t let her take.
As a mom to young children, I believe in assigning chores like cleaning your room and bringing dirty dinner dishes to the counter after dinner. I also prioritize spending time with my family and laughing over having an immaculate house and walking on eggshells.
The dishes can wait and I can live with the clutter. What I can’t live without is the love, laughter and cuddles of my little ones. If that means my house isn’t always company-ready, I am absolutely okay with that. You can bet my children will never experience rage cleaning.
BTW – after I threw my mother out of my house, she didn’t speak to me for approximately three months. Those three months were actually pretty peaceful. After that, she acted as if nothing had happened.
I now try to limit my interactions with my mother and no longer freak out about cleaning when she comes to home. I can tell when she is about to make a nasty comment and all I have to do is give her a look and she shuts her mouth.
My life, my house, my rules.
This author has chosen to publish her work anonymously.
This is a thing? I thought it was just me! I was in my early 30s before I realized I didn’t have to be furious to clean. It’s how I was brought up. And I almost always have a panic attack when my mom calls to say she’s coming over. Wow. This is… I’m so glad to not be alone in this. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Thank you for sharing this. My mom rage cleaned whenever someone was going to come over and she would yell and scream and hit us and we would cry the whole time. Now as an adult I have panic attacks when I begin to clean my own house or even THINK about cleaning. I’m working through it though 🙂 this helped
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Really, thanks for sharing this. I literally just got done cleaning my mom’s bathroom for two hours, every inch, every corner. I’m 17 and I have been through much of her cleaning abuse. Every time I clean something, she goes after me and cleans it again, then voicing very loudly how no one does it like her. I strive to stand up to her one day, just like you.
I am a 42 year old man with mental health problems. I still live at home with my mother and she is a rage cleaner. At late at night she gets up and if the kitchen isn’t clean to her liking she throws a massive tantrum and pots and pans can be heard banging and she’s starts swearing. She often calls me down to clean up even when I’ve done everything. I know if I don’t like it I should leave but I am in such a state with my mental health and have nowhere else to go.
Thanks for this! My experiences with this have often been traumatic, due to abusive treatment from others. I have so many terrible memories of being forced to clean while people screamed at me and called me dirty, lazy, etc.
I hate cleaning because of being treated that way.
What’s funny is that I have no problem cleaning when no one is around to bother me about it. I do dishes, take out the trash, do laundry, make the bed, sweep the floor…and I’m more productive if I’m by myself.
I work better when I’m not being verbally abused or bullied. I don’t blame you for protecting your children from that insanity.
Chores are important, but some parents (and others like roommates) use it as a way to punish and abuse, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
You stated this so well that I got chills, especially the part about how you value precious time with your kids, instead of needing things to be perfect and freaking out.
I love your style of parenting. A home is meant to be cozy and happy…a place of warmth and safety. Not a museum where it looks like hardly anyone lives there, and people live in fear.
Being neat and tidy is OK but some people have a problem where they are obsessive about it, and they mistreat others.
To me, it’s more about control than anything else. I don’t believe that it’s truly a matter of cleanliness…it’s about narcissistic control and having power over people who can’t fight back.
“My life, my house, my rules”…I love this! I’ve taught my daughter to clean up after herself but I would never treat her the way I was treated.
It’s her home too, and I want her to feel loved and safe. If she does make a mess, no big deal. It’s not the end of the world. The same with me…I leave my coffee cup where I want to in my kitchen, I have pillows on my sofa, things are not perfect and that’s OK with me.
My daughter and I do crafts together, we wrap presents, we eat dinner, and we have quality time. We watch movies and eat popcorn and laugh. Our cat curls up on the floor contentedly while cookies bake in the oven. I agree when you say that’s more important than being a clean freak!
If a bit of water spills on the floor when I come out of the shower, no problem. But unfortunately, abusive people act like this is a crime and that’s when the narcissistic rage emerges.
It’s sad that some people value a perfect-looking home, but fail to treat others with kindness.
I loved everything about your story. Thank you for sharing!! Im glad Im not alone thinking and feeling the way I felt growing up. For me we lived with my grandmother who was a rage cleaner. Although my mother was not. During our time living with my grandmother was scary. I never felt it was normal. Always feel scared and fearful of them during those times and as a kid I dont react well towards fearful teachings. I believe in stressful living and love, patience and kindness and understanding. Call me a hippie LOL. Now I had to deal with my mother inlaw who is very much a rage cleaner and as an adult doesnt go very well. I thought to please her. But its so unhealthy. I believe if they are the RAGE CLEANER, then let them RAGE ALONE. But when they include others and abuse other is so toxic. Thats when living separate lives is best in order to continue to love them from a distance LOL. Thanks for sharing!
Wow! Thank you for sharing.
Growing up I had to clean because I was a girl and that’s what Girl’s do. My brother never lifted a finger. I had to move the furniture to get every corner of the house. A mop was something my mom felt like doesn’t do that the job. My mom had an old clothes stash. Whenever it was time to mop she would soak that in water and some smell good stuff, ring it out and place it on the floor and I’d have to walk all over the house with it under my feet. The kitchen better be spotless, my room and take care of my brother. It was annoying. Now with my kids I realized I became like that with them. My teen daughter sat me down one day asked me if everything was ok. And that she realized that when it’s time to clean I am fuming with rage. I didn’t even see that I had a problem. I am happy that I
Am the mother that I am because I considered her feelings and analyzed what was happening inside.