Dear Carolyn: When my family members visit, they always help out in the kitchen (which is much appreciated), but they put things away where they don’t belong, and it drives me absolutely bats when I can’t find things. So I asked my family members when they visit to not unload my dishwasher.
Sister A’s response was, “OK.” My mom’s response was lots of eye-rolling, pointed remarks about how she wasn’t allowed to do it, and then hovering behind me while I unload the dishwasher and swooping in and grabbing things that she thinks she knows for sure where they belong — and, yes, puts them away in the wrong place.
Sister B gives lots of pushback, makes it clear she thinks I’m being unreasonable, and has gone so far as to get up before me in the morning to unload the dishwasher and then sit there smugly when I get up.
This has been going on for years. I feel like I made a pretty simple request that actually is to their advantage, too, but my mom and Sister B persist.
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So now it’s turning into a huge issue, and I feel really disrespected. A few times I’ve discussed this with friends, they come up with suggestions for compromises, and I’m at a loss here as to why I should compromise. My family is only here once or twice a year. I was going to talk to them about it next time they visit, but maybe I’m really missing something, so I thought I would ask your opinion before I potentially explode at my whole family over unloading the dishwasher.
Too Much Help
Do you love your mother? Sister A? Sister B?
Do you want them to feel welcome in your home?
Do you want them to keep visiting you a couple of times a year?
When they start getting old, having difficulty traveling, even dying, will you be sad to see these all-under-one-roof occasions end?
Then let them unload your dishwasher all wrong. It’s part of having guests. You can put everything back in its proper place after they all leave. Make it an everyone’s-gone-and-I’ve-got-my-house-back tradition even, with your rage-cleaning music cranked to 11.
Before you rule this advice out as unhelpful: Are your mom and sisters engaging in a power struggle with you that’s about the dishwasher in name only? Yes. Is it your house? Yes. Should they be honoring your request? Yes.
But you can’t be right in a vacuum. Being right comes with consequences that, in this case, include escalating a picky chore argument into an Issue.
So why do it?
It’s certainly up to you to decide that the principle of the thing matters most – but that would be so terribly shortsighted that I can’t even treat it as a viable option. Or you could ask one of them, in the fine Hax-reader tradition of pretending you’re an anthropologist studying your family, why they’re hellbent on unloading your dishwasher?
But I still say, if you find teacups in your sock drawer, just thank them and express how happy you are for their visit. Bad air out, good air in.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.