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3 Benefits of House Cleaning for Children’s Development

Preface: I admit this blog is not my hippest or masculine of topics, yet last week my wife completed a 3-year long MSN program at UT-Austin. During this period I assumed most management responsibilities of home and family.  The following are just a few personal observations gleaned from my more concentrated time at home.

Our house lies within 150 yards of a Northwest Austin two-lane, east-to-west road, which, in effect, serves as a boundary marker between quarter-of-a-million-dollar (or less) houses and those 2 to 4 times that amount.

We live in a 3/4 mile-long sliver of a neighborhood where the two residential zones (for lack of a better descriptive) overlap.

Differences between communities on either side of the boundary road are noticeable.

One noticeable difference, is the prevalence of small business home cleaning companies in the more white collar zone.  Cleaning ladies (I’ve yet to see a male) usually arrive in personal, nondescript cars, which contain a variety of house cleaning solutions and equipment.  Occasionally a company fleet car is parked curbside, with a logo and slogan painted on the side, such as this one from a Chrysler PT Cruiser I photographed last week and then cropped for blogging usage:


Is house cleaning really so menial a task that it detracts from and diminishes life?  Is there no inherent or transferable value in a few hours of weekly or bi-weekly house/yard cleaning?

I say yes.

Insisting on each family member’s weekly/bi-weekly participation in house/yard cleaning chores, provides at least the following benefits:

It counters negative minds and inert bodies. It’s Behavioral Therapy 101.

For example, you have a pressing project or assignment due, yet you feel lousy, depressed, and flat.  Somehow you force yourself off the couch and away from the TV. You start clearing the kitchen, while simultaneously stealing glances at the show you were watching. The show ends but you’re now well into the job, and it’s a short step to the laundry room, where you start folding clean but thrown-in-the-basket socks and undergarments. Before you realize it, you’ve done a mini-clean of the house and your body and mind feels invigorated and focused enough to engage that procrastinated project.

It teaches respect for the other(s).

Unless your house is obscenely large, personal and collective activities take place in “shared spaces.” Children need reinforced reminding that consideration of the other’s needs, preferences and (quirky) mannerisms are of equal importance to one’s own. What is one family member’s “clean & tidy” is another member’s stressors and vice versa.

No two families are alike. One family’s siblings do well if they talk or see each other once a year, while another’s are best of friends. My experience is that teaching respect for another’s “life and living space” is a painstaking role parents need to help facilitate.

Keeping house is perhaps a minor yet far from insignificant area where respect can be taught.  Respect for sibling, certainly, but also respect for the diversity of people, cultures, customs and beliefs our children are increasingly encountering on a daily basis.

It provides an opportune and safe place to help children learn how to resolve conflict.

In my family conflict always occurs when cleaning chores are requested, assigned, and finally inspected. House cleaning is almost always a once (or more) a month moment when disgruntlements necessitate we sit down as a family and discuss not only the cleaning assignments, but also underlying and dormant grievances that ‘magically’ somehow surface, yet which in hindsight were developing for days, if not weeks.

As my wife once and wisely remarked, “Parenting well can’t be done in just your spare time.” It’s time and energy consuming.

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6 Words – They Might Change Your Perspective on Mental Illness

Mental health is a popular, yet mostly negative current news topic.  It has piggybacked on the national gun control controversy at least as far back as former Senator Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting, and again stirred national, mostly evangelical consciousness this past weekend with news of the suicide by self-inflicted gunshot of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew.

It appears to be a self-evident truth that most North Americans, if not all nationalities, are uncomfortable thinking or talking about mental health.  And . . . we’re very uncomfortable in a face-to-face encounter with someone who has a mental illness – no matter the fact, that statistically 25-percent of people suffer some form of a mental illness, and therefore, every family has or likely will experience mental illness first-hand.


I liken our national, near phobic discomfort with mental illness – and our stigmatizing of those who suffer from it – to the discomfort motorists in my hometown of Austin feel when they drive up to street lights and encounter struggling, frequently disheveled, dirty, and worn-out-looking men and women holding placards asking for food or financial help.  Occasionally, of course, drivers are kind and roll their windows down, sharing $1, $2, or a cold drink on a hot Texas summer day.  More often, however, windows are kept rolled up, and eyes and attention averted.

I volunteer on a weekly basis at a mental health facility.  I’m a client rights’ representative, which essentially means I take seriously the rights and well-being of mental health patients.  My job is to demonstrate respect, compassion, and a listening ear when I respond to and facilitate resolution of their complaints. Complaints frequently revolve around their emotional, social, and medicated struggle to live – and heal – within confined and “non-home-like” quarters.

You might know that bipolar and schizophrenia are common mental health diagnoses.  Patients typically present imaginative delusions, hallucinations, grandiosity; disorganized, random and racing thoughts; mood swings; et cetera.  I admit that sometimes it’s difficult not to inwardly smile at their “stories,” or to think that their “world” is so “other than” my own that we share no commonalities whereby our respective humanities can meet.

In those moments I am so wrong.

Every week, in one form or another, six simple yet evocative words are voiced by one or more clients:

I just want to go home!”

The words might come in agonized, angry and insistent form, or as they did from one client on the Thursday before this past Good Friday – with sad and tear-laden eyes.

How many times can you recall voicing to a friend or colleague, “I’m so ready to get home!” Or, “I can’t wait to get home!” Or, “When I get home, the first thing I’m going to do is . . .”

The idea of “6 words” came to me several weeks ago while reading an article in The New York Times Magazine, entitled “12 Words.”

In it, Helen Sheehy reflects on her geographically distant caretaker relationship with her paranoid schizophrenic older sister, who at the age of 7 contracted polio and had to live in an iron lung for months, yet still graduated magna cum laude from the University of Oklahoma, and was a speech therapist before schizophrenia assailed her.

Sheehy asks her sister to give her twelve words that will help unlock her writer’s block.  After a week’s thought, Sheehy receives her sister’s twelve thoughtfully selected words, which her sister had intentionally positioned in the center of a single sheet of paper –

Another decade is traveling through, and I’m here, and you are there.”

I hope this glimpse into the lives of a few people, who suffer from mental illness, will be transformative in and for you, so that when you meet people who present symptoms of mental illness, you’ll see beyond the “illness” to the person.  A person, who like you, wants nothing more than connectedness to life, home and family.

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Perspective, Piloting and Chester – Our Screech Owl

I won’t lie.  The past year has been more difficult than I like.

What or who sustains you during difficult days and periods of life?

For me, resilience (i.e., the capacity to persevere, to re-engage life with hope and a sense of meaning) and contentedness, most often occur when I’m reminded or become aware of and appreciate the small, less significant or successful realities in life.  Acceptance of reality is posited by most resilience “experts” as a primary characteristic of resilient people.

Much as I would prefer (like any sane person) to leapfrog to emotional happiness or vocational and material success, I realize that life achievement and attainment rarely occurs instantaneously.

Contentedness, meaning, resilience are most often discovered and attained by small, incremental, and intentional changes (tweaks) in one’s daily life.  They often assume a tedious appearance, like hand washing dishes, cleaning up a messy house, or garden work.  And the “miraculous” is frequently discovered amidst the mundane – even if the “miracle” is nothing more than a slight change of attitude, which in turn might result in the capacity to relate more warmly to people or re-engage important tasks and responsibilities.

A helpful analogy for me of the importance of “small” in surviving, thriving and resilience building is that of flight and piloting (no, I’m not a pilot).  My middle and high school years were spent at a boarding school in Kenya. For most of that time my family lived in Tanzania.  My school operated on the British calendar, meaning we attended school for three months, followed by a one month vacation, and so forth.  On many occasions I flew to and from school by a single engine Cessna plane.  Critical to ensuring a plane arrives intact and at the intended destination – at my school, this meant an extremely short, sheer, and knotty grassed sloped runway on the side of a hill overlooking the Great Rift Valley – are a litany of small and corrective instrumentation adjustments the pilot has to make  in-flight in order to adjust to air traffic, wind gusts, thunderstorms, headwinds and geo thermals.  IMPORTANT:  Big and quick adjustments BAD (remember the Air France jet that went down over the Atlantic a few years ago, killing 188+).  Small and frequent adjustments GOOD.

Cessna flight instruments.

Cessna flight instruments.

A personal example from postgraduate study days.  I remember how overwhelmed I felt on many occasions.  Despair hit most frequently at the start of a semester after receiving course requirements.  Syllabi combined with a nagging sense of comparative inadequacy  – i.e., compared to most of my colleagues, who were fresh out of Master’s studies, and who outwardly at least “played the postgraduate student role” better than me.

Thankfully my wife on many late evening walks reminded me of several important things:

First, things are seldom what they seem on the surface.  That is – don’t be fooled by the apparent “got it togetherness” of others.

Secondly, focus on small, measurable, and attainable steps – don’t anxiously or despairingly fixate on what seems insurmountable.  The insurmountable, then, were multiple, 25-plus page research papers, presentations, working to earn a living, plus, my role and responsibilities as husband and father.  In other words, break the overwhelming down into small, manageable “chunks,” and focus on completing one “chunk” at a time.

small&attainableThe small, perhaps mundane moments of my life these days as I wait patiently for a meaningful full-time work opportunity to arise (after choosing to be un- and under-employed and assume primary home manager role for the past three years so my wife could return to school for a graduate nursing degree), provide a rhythmic regularity and a motivating impulse, that, depending upon the day and mood, provide either a reminder of life’s gift or of life’s struggles.

Houser Family


The past two weeks have mostly been “beyond mundane” because my family of eight (including my eldest daughter’s husband) have shared time together.   Speaking of family, in 2007 I attended a friend from Mozambique’s funeral.  At the graveside, I reconnected with a mutual friend, a school principal at a school in Malamulele, South Africa.  I asked about his family, to which he responded, “Scott, we are well.  I have five children.”  I said, “Really!  My wife and I also have five children.”  Mr. Manganye then replied, “Scott, someone once told me that you are blessed if you can fill up all the fingers of one hand (with children).”  He then paused for effect, before concluding, “The same person then said to me, ‘Do you have the courage to go to the next hand!?'”  It was a humorous story that caused me to laugh, but also communicated a distinctive African value – life and meaning is fundamentally interconnected with relationships, community, and family.  And the West used to (still frequently does) think of Africa and Africans as primitive!  Btw – I like what an African theologian once said about the West’s perception of Africa as “primitive.”  He said: “I like to think of primitive as purity.”  Amen to that.

Family isn’t always available or enough on certain days. That’s when any number of other “small” things in life must provide sufficient measure of perspective to engage life.

Over the past two months a personal example is a small screech-owl that has made his home in our adolescent red oak tree, rooted in our front yard, just outside the kitchen window.  My middle daughter affectionately named him Chester.  Chester likes to split his time with us and some unknown other family.  With regularity, he flies in for two to five days, disappears for the same number of days, and then reappears to perch the entire day on the EXACT same branch. His silhouette each daybreak brings great joy to my excitement starved family!  Chester

You may not have a screech-owl in your front yard, but I bet you have any number of small, seemingly insignificant and mundane other “realities” in your life, which you’re prone to overlook and disregard, but which, if you’ll let them, could provide you with endless simple pleasures from which your life could benefit. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, you’ll likely have a variety of interesting looking neighbors who regularly walk by with their dogs, or a deer, lost and wondering to himself who the hell put all these houses where previously it was just scrub brush and giant oak trees.

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