DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Tina in Tennessee" brought back memories from my past. Tina was upset because her husband's son had come to live with them, and his messy bedroom made her angry. She excused herself by saying she was a "perfectionist," waving it like a banner, as though it made her behavior OK.
I, too, was a perfectionist. I made my four children's lives miserable with my constant nagging and threatening. My crisis came one winter when, in the midst of a snowstorm, I made all of them stand on our windy back porch, strip naked from their wet, cold clothes, and wait until my floor had dried because I had just washed and polished it. It hit me like a ton of bricks!
For years, I had made my entire family miserable with my constant cleaning. I had been known to wake up in the middle of the night and clean or go outside and do yard work. I always said the clean house was for "them." The truth was, I didn't like myself. I cleaned house to prove to the world that I was all right.
What really needed cleaning was my SPIRIT, not the house. This may be too long to print, but I wanted to share this milestone in my life -- the start of my recovery. -- NO LONGER "MOMMY DEAREST" IN CATHEDRAL CITY, CALIF.
DEAR NO LONGER: You were perceptive to realize that you had turned the "virtue" of cleanliness into obsession and compulsion, to the point that it had become abusive to your family. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I, too, am the stepparent of a sloppy child. It used to drive me to distraction, until I realized the only person I could change was myself, and my harping and complaining only made ME the pariah in the household. Now I close the door to his room and ignore it. When he's grown up and gone, I can change the carpet, paint the walls and "live happily ever after." -- MARK IN GARLAND, TEXAS
DEAR MARK: A wise parent (or stepparent) carefully chooses his (or her) battles, because you can't win 'em all.
DEAR ABBY: My philosophy on neatness is that I'll never look back on my life and think, "Thank goodness I did the dishes every day. I'm glad I spent so much time vacuuming." I will always wish for more time spent with my family and friends, enjoying the things I love.
I would hate for that woman to find herself looking back on her life, regretting a miserable relationship with the boy and his father over dirty clothes and candy wrappers. She needs to reach a compromise. -- NOT SO NEAT IN N.Y.C.
DEAR NOT SO NEAT: Your housekeeping may not win any awards, but you have your priorities in order.
DEAR ABBY: "Tina in Tennessee" should count her blessings. She has a wonderful stepson who is being bounced around like a pingpong ball through no fault of his own. His father should rejoice in the opportunity to have a relationship with his son. This is also Tina's chance to have a relationship with the young man. Tell her not to ruin it because of a messy bedroom. Shut the door! -- A MOTHER IN MINNEAPOLIS
DEAR MOTHER: Good point. There is so little the boy can control -- his bedroom is "his space," and it should not be turned into a battleground. He should be praised for his strong points and given a little leeway. To quote a reader from Littleton, Colo., "Teens are 'neat' people, and it has nothing to do with the state of their bedrooms."