What Does Your House Look Like?
by Daniel Chable, Psychologist
I have often met new parents, mothers in particular, who believe that they should keep a “display house” at the same time as looking after a baby. Father’s usually seem less likely to have such an expectation. Such mothers may become extremely anxious if their house does not come up to their expectations in terms of tidiness and cleanliness. They may often place additional pressure upon themselves by worrying what their family and friends will think of them if they come to visit. Consequently this period in a family’s life, when there is a new baby in the house, can create enormous pressure and stress.
Usually our expectations of how our house should look come from what we can recall about how our parents looked after their house. The problem with this is that we usually cannot remember how their house looked when there was a newborn in the house.
A house may change considerably during over the time that a child grows into an adult.
It is almost like, even if we were to remain in the same house over 20 years, that we effectively live in many different houses. A house with toddlers in it is quite different to a house with primary school children in it and is certainly different to a house with adolescents in it.
One woman I knew said that she had three friends, all of whom had one child like she did, and that she noticed that she would become very anxious whenever either of the first two friends came over for a coffee but that she didn’t feel like that when the third friend came over. She then realised that she also felt very anxious when she visited either of the first two friends’ houses but that she was quite comfortable visiting the third friend’s house.
She finally worked out what was causing her anxiety: When she visited either of the first two friends’ houses she observed that their houses would look like display houses. If she happened to drop a crumb from a biscuit onto the carpet in either of their houses they would immediately jump up and vacuum the crumb or sweep it up with a brush and pan. However when she visited her third friend and happened to drop a crumb or spill some tea onto the carpet her friend would just say “don’t worry about it, I’ll clean it up later.” Her friend also invited her to put her feet up unto the coffee table – something that would not be tolerated in the other friends’ houses. The third friend also did not keep a display house. It was very much lived in and there were various things like kids toys around the house.
She believed that if either of her first two friends would come over to her place and it didn’t look like a display house they would disapprove of her and consider that she wasn’t coping. Accordingly she was always feeling as though she was being judged. However, as her third friend did not keep her place like a display house she didn’t feel pressured to keep her house immaculate for fear of being rejected. When she realised the pressure that her first two friends were effectively placing on her she was able to discuss the issue with them and to her amazement, they confided in her that they had felt the same way about her.
As a result, they were all able to make changes in their relationships and felt much more relaxed.