On being a broom (and why I can’t just relax and enjoy shit)

I realized why I have a hard time relaxing and taking actual vacations and even enjoying the holidays.

As a child all of the times that most children have “off” to play and relax and do their own thing, I never had. We never had summer break, we took Nov-Jan off every year instead, and during those two months we never rested. During those two months, my mom made lists, my mom kept us running ragged either baking or crafting or “ministering” to other people, or doing deep seasonal cleaning. I remember, vividly, begging, all of us, begging to keep ONE DAY in two months free so we could just watch a movie and relax and not make cookies (or make cookies that we actually got to eat instead of for everyone and their aunt).

We had “parties” that I don’t ever remember being fun, because the entire time leading up we spent deep cleaning, and cooking, and setting up, and then when it was party time I had to help mom keep the party and the guests organized and on-schedule, and I had to make sure the dessert came out of the oven at the right time, and often was interrupted with some kind of caretaking need in the middle of a group activity.

My mom hated it when I planned my own (graduation) party and I told her she couldn’t do anything and that I had no plans, and we were just going to hangout, maybe watch a movie and order pizza. Even then she still tried to dictate what happened when, I was still pulled aside, it was still stressful.
All I remember my mom doing during breaks, and actually for the majority of my childhood was sitting in her recliner, writing us lists of things to do, and getting upset when we didn’t do them all fast enough for her.

Her version of helping and “being productive” was sitting there, after giving us our lists, watching us do the things on the list and telling us what we were dong wrong or should do differently, or coming up with more things to do simultaneously.

There is no pleasing my mother. We had “breaks” solely so we could do chores and things we couldn’t have done while we were “schooling”. Forget that we didn’t school on Fridays, because Fridays were intense cleaning days, you know, on top of normal cleaning all week.
Even my dad, my mom would write HUGE “honey-do” lists for on his one week off (you know, when we kids just wanted to play and have him rescue our toys from the packaging). My mom was a slave-driver who bred her own slaves. And yes, I do feel like I and all my siblings are just slaves in my mothers eyes. She wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s exactly how they live(d) and practice(d), and people wonder why I have horrible self esteem issues.

I mean, I was told, outright, for years, that my purpose and job in life (while I was home) was to serve my “family” (i.e. mom). I felt, literally (I cannot emphasize this enough) like I was just a broom with arms, legs, and a heartbeat. I remember standing in the kitchen one day, fighting back tears, devastated as I was doing two things at once, that I didn’t have 8 arms, because I could. not. keep. my. mother. happy. I could not physically clean, and cook, and hold the baby, and do the laundry all at the same time. I was human, I ONLY HAD TWO ARMS, and yet, there was my mom, in her chair in the next room, berating and harassing me because while I was cleaning the dishes and cooking and had a toddler draped around my leg, I hadn’t yet started the laundry, or brought her snack.

If I was “caught” doing anything that loosely resembled “relaxing” that was immediately rectified with other tasks (unless it was bedtime, or the like 90 minutes of “free time” I had that rapidly shrank). I feel horribly guilty if I am not doing some kind of mundane work when I could be, because I was never allowed to breathe.

I wasn’t a person until I ran away. Before that, I was nothing more than a breathing, walking, broom. 



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6 responses to “On being a broom (and why I can’t just relax and enjoy shit)”

  1. Tentative Cynic (@tentativecynic) Avatar

    This really brought out all of the bottled-up resentment I had kept hidden away for so long. I can’t say that my mom drove all of us as hard as yours all the time, but the sense of abandonment/desperation/angery completely resonates. Whatever mom was doing was always more important than us. Some project on the computer, some person she was helping somewhere, an idea she was talking to people about…it was always the first priority. She was always doing something else. If she was at home, she was either on the phone or on the computer. But she was rarely home, because she always had a project taking her away from the house, leaving us with a list of chores to accomplish and the hopes that we’d do something vaguely resembling school.
    And even when she was doing something for the home, it was a waste. At the start of every school year, she would spend WEEKS glued to the computer creating incredibly massive color-coded schedules and lists for us, which never once lasted longer than the amount of time she had wasted to create them.
    It was never enough. Craving just a moment of personal time, of relaxation, is such a familiar feeling. I remember finally finishing everything and curling up on the couch to breathe for just a second, moments before dad would come home and see something that needed to be done before he was all the way through the front door, and instantly questioning why I would be so irresponsible as to sit down while there was work to be done. Incredibly frustrating. I never felt like they valued our feelings. They just wanted to dictate them.

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  4. Kat Avatar

    I found this post after reading your article about Child Marriage on HA. It really resonated with me.
    My family homeschooled (by that I mean my dad worked, my mom stayed home and talked on the phone all day long while us kids sat in the basement with a few textbooks and were expected to teach ourselves) and for as long as I could remember we always had honey-do lists. Sometimes pages long. Every day. Sometimes my mother would help clean, but it was always the bathroom or something small. Most of the time I remember having to do it all myself. I did all the laundry for the entire family from the age of 7. (I broke my leg and was in a cast for a few months, my mom thought I might as well stay busy.) Funnily I was never allowed to cook (that was my mother’s domain. She was an expert, my requests to learn were rebuffed or she made the lesson miserable enough for me to quit.) Many years later I recognized that my childhood was not normal. My mother became a hoarder, and she probably also suffers from NPD or BPD or something. She never let my dad have any downtime either. Even now I don’t know what she was doing during all the days minutes and hours we were constantly cleaning or doing yardwork or rearranging the basement for her, yet until we stopped speaking all I would hear about was how “her dreams never came true because she became a stay at home mom” blahblah. She would leave the house or talk on the phone while we worked. I have an older brother who was an adult when I was born, and even though his childhood was completely different (she was a career driven single-mom while he went to various public schools) he also had “the lists.”
    I’m just sickly thrilled to find someone not related to me that had that kind of childhood also…anyways I apologize for the gigantic rant. x.x

  5. Jamye Avatar

    I was a homeschooling mom who felt SO much pressure to do everything just right and raise perfect children. I have apologized to my 3 kids for how things were when they were young because the overwhelming pressure on me resulted in severe anxiety and that resulted in a very short-tempered mom. So wish I could rewrite our history. I felt it too though. I couldn’t just develop a skill or talent just because I was interested in it, it couldn’t be for fun?!?! There had to be purpose and reason and productivity.
    I love to sew and wanted to learn how and get really good at it, it was even a reasonably productive desire, I LIKE the idea of sewing our own clothes. But that was the problem, whenever I wanted to spend time on it I fought tremendous guilt over “wasting” time. If you ENJOY it, you are doing a bad thing. I knew that wasn’t logical but it was a feeling that persisted. I’m rewriting things for myself in this area, but it takes a lot of effort. I STILL list off to my husband all the things I’ve “accomplished” today although he doesn’t ask for this and would be just as happy if I said “I spent all day sewing”. But, every day, I get a little more free.

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