Sometimes it’s OK to be a control freak (or, why I don’t delegate certain tasks.)

sometimes it's ok to be a control freakRecently a friend of mine, Bonny, was telling me about her family’s disregard for her carefully-constructed grocery budget, which she tries to keep to under $50 a week. (Yes, really.)

With five kids in the house, including teens, and a full-time job, Bonny tried to delegate the task of grocery shopping and cooking a few times, but with disappointing results: her husband wouldn’t get the right items to make the meals she’d so carefully planned, or he’d blow the budget by a long shot. As for the kids? Well, the more food in the house, the more likely it was to go to waste.

Finally Bonny’d had enough, and once again took control of the kitchen. “I’ve decided I’m fine with being a control freak in this area,” she said as she tightened the reigns and got her meal plan back on track.

One of my rules of happier motherhood is that you can’t do everything. I’m big on delegation, whether it’s making my kids load and unload the dishwasher and walk the dogs every day, expecting everyone to jump in cheerfully on Saturday chore-fests, or hiring help when my load has gotten too heavy.

And yet, I agree with Bonny: sometimes, there are things that are so important to you that it’s worth keeping a tight reign. In my book, I call them “trigger tasks:” those things that actually make me feel happier and more functional when they’re done a certain way.

My short list of trigger tasks includes: folding laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning the bathroom.

Why? Well, it’s not because I think women are biologically programmed to do all the grocery shopping, or that my husband is too inept to clean a bathroom correctly. It’s just that those things are important to me.

I’ve been doing the grocery shopping and majority of the cooking for many years. I’m simply better at it. I’m not great at expressing my shopping needs to my husband, and he’s not great at reading my mind. Plus, I like shopping well enough that I don’t mind doing it.

I like the way I fold towels better than my husband’s method: he folds in half and then in half again, whereas I fold in half and then in thirds. Is this of vital importance? No, but I think my towels look fluffier and stack up more neatly on the shelf. Control-freaky? Maybe, but it’s just a small thing I can take a little pleasure in.

And maybe this is weird, but I actually kind of like cleaning bathrooms. There’s something satisfying about being able to take a small space and put it to rights quickly. I like the way my bathroom cleaners smell. I get a sense of gratification from a shiny sink and mirror. I know.

Point being, I think it’s totally OK that I’m a bit…particular when it comes to certain chores, as long as I keep things in perspective and don’t allow my pickiness to cross over into craziness. Here’s a quick checklist I keep in mind to keep things positive:

  • My standards are mine alone. I can’t expect my husband to understand my penchant for triple-folded towels any more than I really understand his desire for a clean, organized computer desktop. And the last thing I want to turn into is the mom who follows the kids around barking directions for how to better fluff a throw pillow. Bottom line: if I delegate a task, I have to accept that the other person is going to do it their own way.

I’m blissfully happy with my atrociously messy computer desktop, but it gives my husband The Sad.

  • Just because I’m picky about something, that doesn’t make me a better (mother, homemaker, cook, worker, etc). Yes, I am particular about certain ingredients. You’re probably particular about other ones. I like a clean bathroom. Maybe you take pride in a perfectly organized office. Guess what? We’re both right! The minute I use my (rather arbitrary) standards as a way to compare myself to others, it’s turned into a negative, not a positive.
  • It’s important to choose our control-freaky battles carefully. There are a whole lot of things I’d like done a certain way, but I’m not about to do it all myself or waste precious hours doing in-home quality control. I’ve learned to prioritize the things I most want done “my way”, and accept everyone else’s efforts with genuine appreciation.
  • Being particular does not equal being a martyr. Having certain standards is not a good reason for never expecting my family to contribute. If I start feeling stressed, put-upon or exhausted rather than energized and satisfied because I insist on doing things “my way,” it’s time to re-evaluate and re-distribute the household work.
  • Sometimes even control freaks have to let go. During particularly busy or stressful times, we sometimes have to suck it up, ask for help, and look the other way when our husband buys three different varieties of chips…but forgets the green beans. There’s optimal mode, and then there’s survival mode. Understanding the difference allows us to put control-freaky tendencies on temporary hold without giving up the idea that, one day, we will again have a fresh-smelling bathroom.

Bottom line? Sometimes, it’s OK to be a control freak. Just make sure your particular-ness is working for you, instead of against you. And be willing, sometimes, to admit that your way isn’t the only way. (Even if, deep in your heart, you believe it really is the best way.)

Like this post? Here are some others on delegating and (not) doing it all:

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