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January 22, 2016

The Art of Human Maintenance

shutterstock_237184102“After enlightenment, the laundry.”
(Zen Proverb)

I recently read an interview with Melinda Gates. She spoke of trying to create normalcy within their stately home, and within her and her famous husband’s far-from-normal life. Turns out they and their three kids all take their turns loading the dishwasher. Even Bill.

Amazing how much we envy the ridiculously rich, while the richest family alive strives so hard to be like most of us—sharing the sacred ritual of dinner, from cooking to conversing to cleaning. I remember working with a very wealthy family on the West Coast several years ago. Even after hours and hours of therapeutic work with the great Hal Runkel, the Mom & Dad credited one small ideas of theirs as the decisive game-changer for their family. It was the idea of sending their nanny/housekeeper home at 5pm, leaving the chores of the evening up to themselves and their kids. This was their before/after moment of change.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the effect of this choice; there is transformative power in performing the basic tasks of human life…together.

Ever been camping, out among the elements, with your kids? The less you ease-if-y it with battery-operated appliances and modern conveniences, the more they usually love it. Ever cooked a meal with your kids, entrusting vital parts of the preparation to their participation? The less you do for them, the more they usually love it. Ever sent your housekeeper home early, and dared to do it all yourselves? Of course not, since you probably don’t employ housekeepers full time. But if you did, like my former clients, your kids would eventually come to love it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the pursuit of wealth, and using those means to make your personal family life a little more comfortable. Go for it. But don’t be surprised if, as you do, a part of you longs for the hands-on duty of your own human maintenance. And even though they won’t articulate it, your kids will long for it as well.

All within limits, of course. As Melinda testified, Bill Gates will take a turn loading the dishwasher. But will he empty it as well?

“Never.”

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