Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Putting Order in its Place
by Chedva Ofek

Part II

Adapting to Requirements

It's pleasant to live in a clean and tidy house but it's even more pleasant to live in a house where the atmosphere is one where understanding and caring among its members prevails. Occasionally, the atmosphere turns ugly because of the extreme and unbalanced fastidiousness of a housewife who is overly immaculate and pressures those around her who don't live up to her overly stringent standards. The opposite can be true if, in contrast, she is messy and doesn't adapt herself to the practical needs of her family.

What determines the makings of the neat or the messy woman?

Mrs. Yaffa Barnett, a clinical psychologist, explains: "A balanced outer order may hint at inner organization or in general at having organizational talents. An extreme and rigid outer order can hint at a lack of inner order, an opposite reaction to anxiety and a need to control, which is expressed thus, at least outwardly. Everything appears to be organized, neat and under control because the person feels inside that she doesn't have a balanced anchor. Everything is distorted and she tries to grab on to externality, so that at least for outer appearances, she is organized.

"There are certain circumstances in which an over-concern for order is a symptom of a personality disorder, a fastidious phenomenon that leads to functional disturbances," explains Dr. Alex Aviv. "This is found in people who are inflexible, who are incapable of enjoying something simple, like a vacation, for example; are unable to work in unclear frameworks; require that those around them live according to strict rules and timetables; and they invest unnecessary energy in small details until it's difficult for them to see the big picture. They don't admit to having a problem but are of the opinion that others should be like them. These people, by the way, can adapt to work that requires attention to detail, like archiving or accounting."

In contrast to them, Dr. Aviv enumerates another group that includes people suffering from the other extreme of the problem: "Order causes them emotional disorder. Mess gives these people a feeling of vitality and not only a disorder of things. They'll try to create chaos on purpose, even in interpersonal communication. They will, for example speak loudly and make themselves heard in a group carrying on a quiet conversation."

Mrs. Burnett adds: "If a person reaches a situation of obsession, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) this can certainly stem from feelings of guilt or a genetic disorder but it isn't always genetic. Sometimes, it's a learned behavior and there's a difference in the way it's treated. If we're dealing with a learned behavior, a person can change, using behavior modification, counseling and self-awareness. But if it's a compulsive behavior, they should seek outside help."

In order for a woman to tame her extremity, we have to examine the source of the behavior: is it an emotional response stemming from anxiety and an attempt to control it or is it a rigidity or compulsiveness? When she understands what is at the core, she'll be able to change.

Also, in the opinion of Mrs. Hadassah Halamish, a psychotherapist, at the core of the perfectionist housewife, who demands order above everything, is an unacknowledged fear from an earlier time in her life. "As long as there isn't any extreme demand for cleanliness, like repeated washing of hands with soap or an obsessive demand from her family for exemplary order, there's no problem," emphasizes Halamish. "The problem starts when the peace of the home is disturbed because of it and the whole family suffers.

"A woman who is extreme in her demand for order has to think what's preferable, fighting with her family to maintain order or playing with her children on the carpet and later picking up the toys. It's a good idea perhaps to establish an area that's off-limits to toys, which will remain clean and tidy, like the living room. Or, for example, to set a time when all the family, at the end of the day, will be enlisted to clean it. The rest of the day can be spent on other activities apart from straightening up the house. There's no doubt that a compulsive housewife will be very tense and will project that to the outside. Therefore, it's desirable for her to find a way to get out of this negative habit."

The Neat Image

Many of us are convinced that we're neat but also run to clean the house before guests arrive. For housewives, it's important what other people think of their level of neatness. "I organize the house every day but when guests come, I'm more thorough, clean the corners, the kitchen shines and the house screams, 'I'm clean,'" admits Tamar.

"When someone comes and looks at the apartment, it affects me, puts me under pressure. I admit that the image of being neat is very important to me and affects me even subconsciously. I'm not comfortable when the house is a mess and someone suddenly comes in. Truthfully though, because of the tight daily schedule, I can't run around being a policeman to my young children but at least the entrance hall is always clean, uncluttered and projects pleasantness."

Tova adds to Tamar's feelings. "My friends and family already know that they have to let me know ahead of time if they're coming. Because, in the daily routine, cleaning the house doesn't occupy such a big place (and the house looks it). I have to be well-prepared before guests come. It's important to me what other people say about how the apartment looks. In fact, it's not only important, it's critical, and I worry and try to make sure that everything is in its proper place."

The exception is Rabbanit Y. who claims that it's not important to her if other people see her as a lover of order. She says that she has no interest to put on a show for anyone and it's a waste to invest energies in external impressions. Although she does give priority to the mitzvah of hospitality and makes sure that when guests come the atmosphere and air in the house are clean and positive, still, she emphasizes, the guests are certainly not more important than her family.

Mrs. G. from Kiryat Sefer, the matriarch of a multi- generational family, adds an anecdote which casts more light on the topic. "Last week, I called for a washing machine repairman. Naturally, before he came, I moved it and cleaned the accumulated dirt (he shouldn't see, Heaven forbid, that I'm not clean because, between you and me, when was the last time I cleaned there?). My husband asked why I was bothering, as if the repairman was out to inspect whether it's clean or not. I was in conflict - my image of "clean" versus the price I would pay, the effort of cleaning. The deciding factor was the way I looked at the task. I saw it as a challenge, as constructive stress, in other words: this is the opportunity to clean since usually, the daily pressures don't let me get to forgotten corners like behind the washing machine. And now someone's coming, so I'll clean. I did it happily and energetically, feeling like I had gained something.

Parenting Counselor, Mrs. Esther Ingelrod from "Arba Eiynaim," guides us toward the middle path and says: "In general, the anxiety over the perfection of image disturbs the tranquility of perfectionist mothers, those who want everything to be as perfect as possible. This is the place for priorities. It's the mother's choice — what's more important to her: receiving guests while going crazy and stressing out everyone at home or losing the guests and giving up the bother involved in inviting them. The correct path is to relate to guests like members of the family, spontaneously. Guests enjoy the pleasant atmosphere more than they do the appearance of the house. Of course, the house has to be inviting and pleasant, not an uninviting jungle, but the peace of its inhabitants projects more.

There are times when it's better to consider differently. For example, if the price of having a particular housewife lower her perfectionist standards is too high and when if her house is not shining according to her standards, she is in internal turmoil; she'll reflect that to her guests and it's better that she be ready for them according to her strict standards. On the other hand, it must be remembered that being overly neat and clean also causes stress because the guests are afraid to make a move lest they disturb something. It's important to remember that no guest looks with a magnifying glass into every crack but at the general state of the house."

According to Mrs. Ingelrod, "The internal image of the housewife regarding cleanliness is built up out of experiences from childhood, over the years, and from personality. If the housewife feels comfortable with this image, that's the ideal. But when it's a problem, and inviting guests calls for exaggerated preparations, there's room for improvement through behavior modification. Sometimes this will be expressed by preparing only 95% instead of 100%. The guests will enjoy themselves very much even if everything isn't perfect and she'll feel calm inside that everything went well even though she didn't go crazy. The positive experience that recurs and is internalized will help the housewife to release her internal tension and bring her to a place where her image is improved and her functioning healthier."


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