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.