Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Ownership of space - Jan 05

From Thursday, January 06, 2005

A whole bucketful of rain has come through my roof now since this morning, which is going some. The ceiling looks OK; it's not bulging or anything, the water is just pouring straight through the flat roof where the plasterboards once met. It's not getting any better but I don't think it will collapse. I hope it doesn't: there are about 2000 books underneath for it to land on if it does. Hey, it's an indoor water feature. I always wanted one. (Be careful what you ask for..)

So the other issue that I think about a lot, as well as how to get things done, is ownership of space, because it seems to me that this is a vital aspect of harmonious living. I'd like to extend a tenuous theory: that it's impossible for more than one person to share ownership of the same space. (I mean ownership in the sense of being in control of the space, as opposed to financial or legal ownership. If you feel confident of being able to move things such as furniture around in a room without feeling uncomfortable or being challenged by someone else, then I'd say you own that space in the way I'm talking about now.) If more than one person tries to share ownership of the same space, they'll always argue over it until one of them gives way and retires to the proverbial potting shed.

The woman of the house, if she's striving for domestic perfection, like Bree in Desperate Housewives, is in danger of inadvertently depriving her family of personal space to control, and I think that having personal space to control is an essential element of happiness and good mental health.

It's difficult for us mums, because babies are born not needing their own space and older children can often be very messy and untidy while they learn how to deal with their stuff. Teenagers and other adults can be even worse than that and it's harder for us to tolerate because we expect more from them. We women quite often feel responsible for the state of the whole house. The buck stops with us. Society judges us on the state of our home - all of it - and if it doesn't then we feel it does anyway and so the end result's the same.

What can we do? If we don't clean and tidy all of the house, we're at risk of being thought negligent or slovenly and if we do clean and tidy everywhere we're depriving our loved ones of their essential need to be in control of their personal space. And shouting or nagging at someone to tidy their space counts as taking control for it too. If we're imposing our standards on someone else's space we're not allowing them to be in control of it.

Letting go of space to my children has been a gradual process for me as they've grown up. Lyddie shares my room, and it's interesting to see that it's fast becoming her room. She has all of her toys in there , a little table and chairs, she decides whether to have the TV on and what to watch, turns lamps on and off as she likes and so on. If we're both in there (this happened earlier today) and someone knocks at the door she's the one to call "Come in!" - because it's becoming her space. I'm relegated to the more public areas of the dining room and kitchen in the daytime now. But in the evening when she's tired she reverts to babyhood and I move in and reclaim the space. The toys get put away, something more grown-up goes on the TV, the curtains are closed. Of course, we don't spend all of our time apart all day, she's often in here with me or I'm in there with her, but it's on sort of a visiting basis. So far, it works well for us. I'll know when she's ready to have her own room completely separate from mine.

The older children are now pretty much in charge of their space. As I say, it's been a progression. When they were a lot younger I would go in and tidy up, but I'd try to do it while they were around and ask "Where shall I put this?" so that they got an idea about tidying up. If someone's room ever got really bad (which they often did on a 6-monthly basis) I'd ask whether they'd like me to blitz it for them, because it really is too big a job to completely blitz a room for anyone other than a healthy, mature adult. (I use the terms healthy and mature wisely. I've known quite a few adults who weren't either sufficiently healthy or mature enough to be able to successfully blitz a really trashed room.) Anyway, sometimes the child would tell me they didn't want their room blitzing, so I'd tell them to just let me know if they changed their minds, which they invariably did after a week or so to think about it.

Now, the boys are pretty good at managing their space. I ask them if they want chambermaid service sometimes, when I realise I haven't washed any of their laundry for a few days or I'm short of coffee mugs and if they say no I respect that and maybe just ask for the cups or whatever back. I'd still blitz their rooms for them if they asked me. Ali had his done a couple of months ago. Tom doesn't want his done at all. Zara's room is an absolute tip right now and I'm quite keen to get in there and do it but she says she's happy to keep it that way for now, so I have to accept that.

Ownership of space means you do all the jobs in the space, so as the only adult in the house I've always chosen to take charge of cleaning the communal rooms like the bathroom, kitchen etc. Also my philosophy of not controlling people means that if I think something needs doing, I have to either get on and do it or change my mind and be happy to leave it undone. So the washing-up is my job, for example, because I'm the only one who ever thinks it needs doing. I'm happy to do this because accepting that it's my job makes me feel good. Imagining it's someone else's job and they should do it how and when I think they should do it makes me feel resentful, angry and bad. This is quite easy when it's only my beloved offprings' dishes I'm washing. I think it would be more of a problem if another adult was involved.

Sometimes I wonder how other people manage to share space and tasks. Maybe there are people in families, partnerships, teams and groups for whom this just isn't a problem. I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of thinking is just my own idiosyncrasy.

Still raining. Getting dark. What a day. Roll on Summer.


posted by Gill at 3:51 PM 0 comments

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