Its-not-about-the-dishes

It’s not about the dishwasher

What does it take to get your teenager to empty the dishwasher these days? You’ve tried the list on the fridge, the polite request, rewarding, threatening, withdrawing all the taken for granted services. What do you do next?

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You know that you can empty the dishwasher yourself – it would take a mere two and a half minutes. But there’s something about our kids helping out that makes us feel like we’re not the only ones holding down the fort at home. We ask our bleary eyed kids to empty the dishwasher and we’re met with a, “Sorry mum, I (insert excuse here).” In that moment, something happens inside of us that is, well let’s just say – it’s not about the dishwasher.

What’s this all about then? I want to introduce you to four simple statements which might help you to work out what’s really going on.

1. This is what happened (the trigger)

If you missed it already, what happened is that I asked my teen (in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice) to do something that he had no particular interest in doing.

“Hey mate” I said, “Can you empty the dishwasher before you head downstairs?”. He pretended not to hear me and just popped his wee ear pods into his wee ears and started walking out of the wee room. Cue another pleasant (and slightly louder) request from me, “Hey mate, please don’t walk away.” Spoiler alert – he continued to walk away and slid down the wee stairs whilst checking his wee instagram feed.

2. This is the story that I am telling myself (the script)

Feeling like a first class failure, I was left standing there speechless, recounting that I never would’ve dared to do that to my parents. At that very same time the play button of a painfully familiar recording commences in my head that goes something like this,

“This is outrageous. What am I? Chopped liver? What does chopped liver even have to do with anything? How can he ignore me like that? I never would have dared to skulk away from my parents like that. I bet (friend’s child’s name) would never speak to (friend’s name) like that. The audacity of it, after everything I do around here. Everything I do is for them. I work all day, I pay for everything, I get no appreciation – nothing. I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore. Screw this lot, I’m done.”

The story that I am telling myself in the moment my son walks out of the room with his ear pods in is, ‘No one appreciates me. No one cares. I’m in this alone – and I’m done’.

3. This is how it made me feel (the feeling)

The above is a silent recording in my head that I know all too well. When I’m ignored, it makes me feel incredibly worthless and unappreciated. When I’m feeling worthless and unappreciated, I get mad. I could feel the rage starting to bubble the exact moment my son walked out of the room. My heart started to beat double time, the blood started to boil, my jaw gripped. I felt the need to chase after my son and let him know a thing or two.

I’ve heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing you have done before and expecting a different result. The same thing for me at this point would be to empty the dishwasher all by myself whilst seething under my breath. I resisted doing the same thing I have done many times before. It was time to try something different.

4. This is what would make me feel better (the need)

I get it – no one loves this stuff. Emptying the dishwasher is a big bore but someone has to do it. It would make me feel a whole lot better if instead of being ignored, my request was at least acknowledged. That would be a positive start. What I needed was to feel like I wasn’t invisible.

So, I tried something different. I took a few slow deep breaths, waited for my heart to stop racing, and then walked casually down the stairs. Then, I knocked on my son’s door, opened it, and waited for him to remove his ear pods.

“Sorry to interrupt you mate, but you might not have heard me before.” In saying that, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“I want you to know that I really appreciate it when you help out with the dishwasher.” I showed him the appreciation I wanted so badly myself.

“I know it’s a total bore, but it makes a real difference to me when it’s done.” I empathised with how boring it was to unload the dishwasher.

“Can you make sure you do it before you leave today? Thanks a million.” I gave him ownership over when it would be done, and showed gratitude.

The importance of holding on to composure

Holding on to our composure with our kids when we’re feeling ignored is super tough. While it it’s tricky, when we can recognise the story that we’re telling ourselves and we can access our inner calm. We can then navigate the hard conversations in a way that is respectful and works better for everyone. Because it’s not about the dishwasher – it’s about feeling respected.

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About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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