It is not about the dishes
It is not about the dishes
Recently I started working with a family of four:Mom, Dad, Son and Daughter.
What an amazing experience this has been, so I want to share a lesson I shared with them. First, let me give you the background on this family…
Just three short years ago everything was perfect in their home.
Both youth were straight-A students going to great schools.
Dad had an amazing job and mom was able to stay home with the children and be a mother full time.
Every couple of months they would take amazing vacations all around the world.
The family was happy, healthy and living the American dream.
Then something happened.
Dad lost his job.
Mom had to go to work.
The children went from A students to both being expelled from school and forced to do charter studies year round.
Both youth were fighting depression, worthlessness and suicidal thoughts.
Parents were fighting over everything.
The daughter told me, “My alarm clock in the morning is my parents fighting…I want a new alarm clock.”
The son, who we will call Matthew, was struggling to pull himself away from video games. He pushed himself into a dark hole. A hole where he felt worthless; he felt as if he had failed his family, his friends and himself.
The daughter, who we will call Sammy, was quiet. Every time you asked her a question about her feelings she gave the age old, “I’m fine…” She was the farthest thing from fine. She was terrified of her feelings. She wanted to be strong for mom, for her brother, but inside she was fighting to stay alive.
Mom was stressed. She was overworked. She was barely holding it together. On the outside she seemed “fine.” She seemed as if she was handling everything. She was being everyone’s hero, but I could see the pain. I could feel the stress, the worry. The wonder, did she do this? Is all this her fault?
Dad was angry. Mad at the world for doing this to him. He wanted to protect his family and show them he was strong. He was powerful! Most importantly, he was daddy. His worst fears had become reality. He was doing all he could to become something, someone, but in the end he felt as if he had failed them all. He had let his wife down, his son down. He felt as if he was no longer his daughter’s hero. He was no longer daddy.
This family was hurting.
During a private session with me last week at their home, the family came together for the first time in months. Feelings were heard and action items were set up. We talked about everything from school, haircuts, family time, date nights, one on one time or “time outs” with each other. We even talked about their food with the help of my lovely goddess Jodie and her program of NUPRUA (the art of creating a NEW PURE LIFE).
We tackled everything for nearly 4 hours and things were starting to crack open and healing was beginning.
Then out of the blue Matthew started getting angry with his father about…
(Side note: if any of you follow me you know my stand on dishes; they are the enemy of life and no one should be forced to do them. Dishwashers are a waste of space and should be called ‘dish holders’ because you have to WASH the dishes before you put the dishes in the dishwasher! … ok enough about that.)
So, yes, they began to argue over dishes. Not the fact that they weren’t getting done, but the fact they weren’t getting done fast enough.
Yes, that was right. Dad was a Dish Nazi. You know the type: as soon as the plate was cleared of food he was taking the dish from you and cleaning it even BEFORE they got to the kitchen sink!
Dad was upset that no one was doing the dishes fast enough.
I paused the blow up which was quickly percolating and asked some probing questions.
“Dad, why does it bother you that the kids don’t do the dishes right when they are done eating?”
“Because I like things cleaned up. I was raised to do the dishes and they need to be done right away!” he said with conviction.
At this point Matthew chimed in, “Dad, I just like to enjoy the meal I just made. I like to make it, eat it and then sit and enjoy it. I always do the dishes, I just want some time to enjoy the meal… geez!!”
Now we were getting somewhere… feelings were about to come out…
“Dad,” I paused him from replying to his son, “What happens if Matt doesn’t do the dishes right away? Does the house start on fire, the ants come marching in and the San Andreas fault opens up?”
Laughter broke out in the room (good thing too because shiz was about to get real).
“No,” he answered with a laugh in his voice. “What happens is I get busy with work or projects in the house and she has to do the dishes.” He points to his companion, friend and wife.
“Do you mind doing the dishes?” I silenced the rest of the family and directed my question to mom.
“No, it relaxes me.” She says with a timid voice.
“BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO DO MORE WORK! YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THE DISHES AND EVERYTHING ELSE!!” Wow, we had hit a nerve. Dad was infuriated.
The whole family started standing up for mom. Telling dad to calm down, to stop making it a big deal.
I let this go on for about 15 seconds and then stepped in.
I directed all my attention fully on dad and looked him straight into his eyes.
“Dad this isn’t about the dishes. This is about you. This is about how you feel like a failure. That you have let your wife down. That she now has to work and that is your fault. Your feelings of inadequacies. This is about how bad you feel that you have let this family down with money and your best friend and lover is now ‘forced’ to do more than you promised yourself she would ever have to do. The dishes are just more work. Just more things for her to do.”
BAM! We had hit it.
Dad just shook his head in agreement.
The whole family stopped. Mom and Dad looked at each other and fought back the tears.
Mom wanted to look strong in front of everyone and Dad had just been discovered.
Matthew saw something. He saw the depths of a father’s pain. He related. He too was feeling like he had failed the family and was fighting feelings of inadequacies.
Sammy just kept her head down as she was having a very hard time dealing with the feelings and emotions of everything.
We broke it down.
“It isn’t about the dishes. It isn’t about the dishes. When these things happen we need to take a moment and evaluate everyone’s feelings. Why is someone so upset? Why are these things such a big deal? What is really going on here?
“Mom, your husband just discovered it is up to you to show him he is worth more to you than a paycheck.
“Dad, you need to stop this. You are worth more to this family than money. Stop pushing them away because you feel weak inside. Take time to address these issues inside yourself and stop taking it out on the family.
“Kids, let’s help do the dishes. Let’s make a 12-hour rule/no overnight dishes rule. If the dishes aren’t done in 12 hours or are left overnight from when you eat something, then we have a problem.
“Now, Dad, due to the wounds that have been created over ‘dishes,’ if you see dishes around the house and it is bugging you, get a bucket. Do not make it a big deal to the family. Put them in a bucket and walk away. Mom, if you want to do the dishes in the bucket, do them. Kids, if the bucket gets filled up, maybe you should step up and do the dishes before Mom does.”
I went silent.
Peace came into the room.
Everyone’s heads swiveled back and forth as they looked at each other for acceptance.
We had a plan.
We had just opened the door for communication.
We began the healing process over “the dishes.” In a short window of time we saw just why it wasn’t about the dishes.
So many times we jump to a conclusion without the facts. We think we know what someone is feeling or what they are thinking. We think we have it all figured out. This can be with someone we have known for years or someone we just met.
It can be with a friend, a family member or even a lover. It would serve us all to just take a moment and seek to understand.
I will be as bold as to say, it would change the world if we all just realized it is not always about the dishes.
So I ask you this: How many things in your relationships are “not about the dishes?”
Print a sign and place it above your front door or the door you leave out of every morning with this saying, and see what happens:
“It’s not about the dishes.”