Jerry and I recently visited a young couple in their beautiful home. They both have careers, 10-year-old twins, and two dogs – yet their house was sparkling. Thinking of my own less-than-twinkling space, I asked, “How do you keep your house so clean?”
The husband, wife, and one twin said in unison: “Clean as you go!”
Well, Jerry and I adopted that slogan, and our home has become much more orderly with very little extra effort. I started to think about how this might apply in other areas – like relationships.
Say, you drive over to take your mom to lunch, and find her happily eating a tuna sandwich all alone. How might you respond?
You could gunnysack your disappointment and pretend nothing’s wrong. You could call your sisters and complain. You could chew Mom out for being inconsiderate and never writing anything down or checking her calendar. You could “catastrophize,” decide she has Alzheimer’s, and start looking for a nursing home. The list goes on.
Or you could clean as you go.
“Mom, I’m surprised you’re eating. Did you forget we were going out to lunch?” If she is distressed that she forgot, forgive her. But take the opening to explore what’s going on. Has she been forgetting a lot of other things lately? If she says yes, ask whether that worries her. Offer to take her to a doctor for a checkup. This could be a cause for real concern and an opportunity to act quickly.
If she blows you off, as in “I was hungry and couldn’t wait. I didn’t think you’d mind,” clean as you go another way. Say you do mind. You’re disappointed. And hungry. Maybe she’ll fix you something to eat, and you can talk in a loving way about why you wanted special time with her. And then let it go. But do pay new attention to other behavior changes.
In mediation clients say they wish they had not ignored early clues that something was askew. Unexplained expenditures (like a number of checks written to Cash) can be a warning that a parent is being drawn into a scam. Or an addiction. At 90, my own father started to receive large amounts of mail from a publishing lottery. I wondered, but didn’t ask because I thought it was none of my business. Then, when he was in the hospital I found an unpaid bill of over $4,000.00 for merchandise, hidden under his bed, unopened. He was trying to win a million dollars to leave my sisters and me.
The point is, cleaning as you go in a relationship has two benefits: It resolves small offenses before they become bleeding wounds. And it can present an opportunity to head off a more serious problem.