An Open Letter to My Kids – I Fired the Housekeeper
It was your dad’s idea.
He felt like I needed a helper because we started a ministry to college freshmen. For nine months at a time.
You didn’t know this when you cuties were up thrice a night, attempting tricks on rusty bars, absorbing a second language, taking in avocados, trying to find a friend, and learning to walk, but those students in our ministry required hours and hours of our time.
And so did you.
In our younger years your dad repeatedly joked about moving to Mexico, always ending it with the promise of a housekeeper. Didn’t sound like much of a deal to me; I was perfectly content staying in the States and cleaning my own toilets.
When God surprised us both by moving us here, your dad happily reminded me of “our deal.” So I timidly set out to find a woman who could get the job done, all the while justifying the uncomfortable feeling and talking myself into the new idea.
It’s good to help the local economy by providing a job. Plus labor is super cheap down here. Don’t feel guilty, Carrie—your supporters will understand.
Margarita came quietly, shy beyond shy, stepped into our doublewide mobile and said, “Wow… it’s so big.”
I hid my shock and ushered her to the kitchen sink to meet the North American cleaning supplies. My fat Sharpie turned complicated English names into simple Spanish words for the woman who stopped going to school after sixth grade.
Kitchen, bathroom, glass.
My Spanish skills included gaping holes and her English did not exist, but a few weeks and dozens of charades later, we were in business. She moved timidly from one room to the next and cleaned in ways I’d never seen before. She appeared comfortable with a sponge, broom and mop—not so much with eye contact.
No matter; I was living in domestic bliss while running out the door six times a day to teach, mentor, discipline, go to meetings and juggle whatever came my way in the ministry.
You, my children, were short at the time. You learned her name, were reminded to say hi when she arrived and tried to make her feel welcome. She never seemed to gain any confidence until one of you extended your stubby little arms and hugged her.
Months turned to years and I saw glimpses of entitlement creeping under your skin. When I caught one of you cutting corners on a basic job, you threw the wrong statement in my face.
“It doesn’t really matter, Mom. Margarita can do it.”
“Excuse me? Don’t ever say something like that in public. Just because we have Margarita doesn’t mean you can slack on your chores.”
My shock obviously didn’t last though because when Margarita eventually quit, you said what I felt.
“What are we going to do now?”
Go find another housekeeper, of course. A second brave soul crossed our gringo threshold, and I saw you kids welcome her with a love that said, “Whew! You’re here.”
I know—I’m guilty, too. But in my mind I was providing a job. In yours you were getting out of hard chores.
After a few months, she and her husband got pregnant. She suffered from extreme morning sickness, visited the hospital twice, became too weak to clean, and said adios. All while you were at school.
The next one had childcare issues and barely made it to month three before she graciously exited stage left.
You knew I would solve the dilemma each time because we were in a routine. You never looked nervous about new chores; someone else would surely step in.
Then a younger one, the daughter of a lady in church. She arrived in skinny jeans, texted when she thought I wasn’t looking, took selfies in your bathroom, and fizzled out like a defective sparkler.
Her mom stepped in and cleaned with power which loosened me up to write, and loosened you up to… start a clan war and craft another mine?
I stuffed the guilt and we were back in business.
Until she got a better offer somewhere else and quit in December.
“Merry Christmas, kids! Shall I buy you a broom or a new set of rags?”
Whoa there—relaaax. It’s not like I’m going to make you clean the way grandpa would.
I can’t fault you, awesome offspring; the lapse falls square on my shoulders. You were adorable, clueless mini people when this all started.
But you, my children, are older now. Bigger, smarter and more coordinated. You play the snare drum in the marching band. You run track like your older brother did. You climb trees and rescue birds. You figured out there’s an opposite gender in this world which now occupies brain space. You strum the ukulele, sell rubber band bracelets at school, ride motorcycles, practice putting in the family room, sand things in the garage and climb on the roof for no reason.
Of course, activities like this can be exhausting, so chores get the brunt of your irritation.
Yes, you do the basics with ease: make beds, feed dogs, take out trash, fetch clean water, put away dishes, pull laundry from the line, and pick up rooms. But you know your whining always lands within earshot, right?
“Why do we have to dust? Is someone coming over?”
“It’s Saturday. Can’t we just relax?”
“Why do I have to make my bed if I’m getting back in it tonight?”
“Can’t I just let the dog poop disintegrate in the rain?”
“Does it really matter if my room is clean? Who’s going to see it?’
“I’ve already done three chores. Can I take a break?”
“Are we getting paid for this?”
“Why doesn’t Dad have to pull weeds?”
I get it. I’m tired at the end of the day, too. I don’t play any kind of drum, but the dirt nestled into the fibers of the backdoor mat does demand a beating.
I don’t run on a track, but ever since a friend reminded me to take into account the Earth’s curvature, the tilted treadmill started kicking my tail.
Chores got the brunt of my irritation, too. I cleaned house for a couple decades before you were born, before we moved to Mexico, and before those available women came into my life to scrub our home.
When the last one left I had no desire to start doing harder chores either. But after picking up the slack to protect you from possible overload, it hit me. I was doing you and your future spouses no favors. I knew it was time to go to a family-focused, less-entitled approach.
I gathered my courage, consulted your dad and gave you fair warning: your chores were increasing.
You seemed to understand the change for a couple months, but then your frustration (err, laziness) got the best of you.
“Ugh! When are you going to hire another housekeeper, Mom?”
News flash: I’m not.
You, my children, do not occupy wheelchairs. You were born with all of your limbs, the ability to bend in multiple directions, and brains that know the difference between grimy and shiny.
So I fired me.
Don’t panic—I am still washing your dad’s sweaty jerseys and scrubbing our own toilet. And I will still continue to feed your dimpled faces five times a day.
But your own laundry once a week? Not gonna kill ya. Nope, not even you, cute tween. You’ve been tall enough for years and can follow directions fairly well. Plus the germaphobe in you will probably enjoy keeping all your clothes with their own kind.
Yes, your dad and I will continue to include you in the “extra jobs to earn money” process. But at the end of the day, you will not be receiving 30 pesos because you made your bed, dragged a can to the street, and took your plate to the sink.
You live here. For free.
Like a captain on a ship, we the parents are in charge of delegating jobs. I’m guessing there aren’t any ships in the world run solely by the captain.
Can you imagine if the crew played cards in the stern all day while the boss man cooked three meals, mopped decks, charted the course and steered the ship? He would no doubt burn out by day three, and the crew would be useless dead weight.
Every crew member is responsible for their own area, as well as common areas to benefit the greater good.
They work together.
And we do, too. For the benefit of our family now, for your future roommates, and for your future families. We refuse to operate like a church with ten percent of the people doing ninety percent of the work.
And please don’t ask me why pastors let us get away with that.
I don’t regret having housekeepers when you were little. They freed me up a bit to spend more time with you, help our students, and write newsletters for our ministry. But unless I have to start working crazy hours or a family tragedy impedes all of us from cleaning, I do not see any more hired help on the horizon.
You have the right to be upset about physical labor, but you do not have the right to quit. God put you in our family for a specific reason, and during this oh-so-short season, part of it is to learn how to contribute to the family unit and be a productive member.
And while that’s all good and true, the bigger picture includes the fact that you were not put on this earth to be served. God gave you gifts and abilities, and I am excited about your futures. But if you walk through your one life looking for housekeepers so you have more time to play Xbox and scroll through lame videos, I have done you a disservice.
Go out and serve. Donate your time. Put yourselves last. Boost your neighbor.
I don’t care if you never admit I was right and I am not doing this to hear you thank me someday. I’m doing it because your grandpa on one side was right, your grandma on the other side was right, and your dad and I love you more than your endearing attempt at hospital corners.
And if you look at me like I’m crazy, that’s okay. I’ve been called worse and I can still run circles around you with a vacuum. Now chop chop before I have to chase you down the hall and suck up your Legos.
I love you, Mom
Ronald Vom Steeg
Dear Carrie…I am a huge fan of your blog .. I met it several months ago and have been blessed by every one. They make me ponder, laugh, relate, “turn and look” on the back side of the article to see if there is more cuz I don’t want to miss a word or thought.
Sooooo, that being said, I have my question…how can I share your blog with other people- my friends on my contact list? Collectively and not one at a time.
(Are you going to write about being lazy or just more efficient????? )
Your blogs are too good just to sit on my computer.
A delighted reader and many times inspired to action kind of a guy.
Ronald Vom Steeg
Thank you, Ron! Your words are a huge boost and I appreciate your kindness. I sent you an email with all the directions. Please let me know if you need any help. Thanks for being a connector!
Great post, Carrie. I’d like to hire you to whip my family into shape too. Wait … I think that defeats the whole purpose here. It sounded good, anyway. I wish my husband and I would have been better at delegating. With summer coming, I think I will follow the example you’ve set and put my kids to work too. If they give me any complaints, I’ll just threaten to move us to Mexico without a housekeeper. That’ll fix ’em.
Ha ha! Best comments ever. Thanks, Joanne. 🙂 It’s never too late to start!