I got an email the other day from a delightful Penelope named Karen. She’s got a situation brewing and needs some feedback from the Penelope Community.
Here’s what Karen says:
“I have a family member whom I love dearly and with whom I’m very close, but who is also a little bit on the sensitive side. He often visits my home and always insists on helping around the house… sounds nice, right? Except, he doesn’t do things the way I would and it drives me batty. If I make dinner, no amount of “oh, no, don’t worry about the dishes I’ll get them later” will stop him. He insists on doing them… badly.
I know I’m a total nut about how dishes are done, which is why I never ask anyone else to do them. Also, I’m very very, very specific about where and how things are put away. Again, I know that this is all just a quirk of mine and that other people aren’t wrong to put a wire whisk away still damp (mine is silicone, it’s not going to rust, but I Just Do Not Like It.).
After this family member has been to my house, I spend the next week searching for things that are in the wrong place and re-washing fry pans that haven’t had the toothpick treatment (you know, where you dig into the rivets with a toothpick to get the gunk out?).
And to be totally honest, even if he did all these tasks up to my totally wacky standards, I still wouldn’t want the help. I like cleaning my kitchen. It’s my time to relax and gather my thoughts at the end of the day. I like to putter and straighten. Trying to explain that to non-Penelopes is almost impossible. He thinks I’m just being “nice” or being a “good hostess”, but the truth is, if he doesn’t get the heck out of my kitchen I may have to move out of state!
So, how does a Penelope politely get a beloved, helpful, not-quite-Penelope (or should that be Percival??) out of my kitchen without hurting his feelings??”
Here’s my answer:
I think there are two possible approaches to this: you could opt to go the easier route and just give your family member different things to do while you clean up the kitchen. He could sweep or dry dishes. Easy stuff.
But, I don’t think that truly gets to the heart of your situation. I think you’re dealing with a deeper, more emotional issue. You’re telling him how you feel and he’s not listening. He’s certainly well-intentioned, but he’s not respecting you. He’s putting his need to help ahead of your happiness.
You have every right to say, nicely but oh-so-clearly, that this will not continue. That you fully understand the sweet, helpful place from which he’s coming, but you like doing things your way and you actually like cleaning and you’re going to do this yourself.
If he loves you like he says he does, he’ll respect this quirk of yours. You could even tell him you’re a Penelope and that you can’t help it – it’s your nature. Hey, refer him to our website, so he can see what he’s dealing with!
The point is, this is your kitchen and your domain. You make the rules. But, communicated lovingly, I think this can be handled with minimal emotional distress.
Don’t worry, Karen. You’ve got thousands of Penelopes standing in support.
Penelopes: weigh in with your thoughts in the comments. Karen and I really want to know what you think!