I don’t know about you, but laundry has always been an interesting dilemma for my family and me. Growing up in a family of 12 we had a bag and crate system to help get the clothes to the washroom and then back to our closets. My mom’s biggest chore in our home was to wash the laundry. Besides the bags and crates we also had the famous “sock bucket” where all the socks ended up needing to be sorted or left partnerless . . . probably to this day.
Now, with my family of five, we oftentimes deal with the laundry couch where all the clean clothes wait to be folded. I have learned that it is easy to have the washer and dryer do their job but sometimes finding the time to fold and store is a personal challenge. Many times, we have to run the clothes to the bedroom or even put them back in the dryer if guests are coming over—until we can better deal with them.
You are probably wondering why I am talking about laundry on a therapy blog or why I am sharing about my struggle with laundry. The reason is because I think our feelings are very similar laundry. See, everyone has laundry and as humans we also have feelings. In fact, we have a lot of feelings.
Just like laundry—we have our darks, whites, colors, and delicates. And just like laundry, we all have to constantly do something with them. This can be tricky, especially when dealing with gentle fabrics, hard stains, or even when too many have piled up, and it becomes overwhelming to where we have to take our laundry to a dry cleaner. As a therapist, I have noticed that learning to do emotional laundry is an essential skill for individuals and families.
Take a moment and think about how you learned to do your emotional laundry. I fear that in a lot of homes we treat our feelings and emotions like laundry. In many families, mom takes care of the laundry for everyone—separating, washing, drying, sorting, folding, and storing which is quite the task. That has to be exhausting. Think about your current family—who does the emotional laundry in your home? Do you and your partner work together? Is this a task that you discuss or does one partner always feel burdened with this important detail? It is my belief that a strong and healthy practice is that everyone learn to be responsible for doing their own wash while also pitching in to help the entire family get through laundry day.
As parents, we have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to help our children learn to sort through their feelings and deal with them on a regular basis so they don’t become overwhelming. Oftentimes the 2 hardest tasks for anyone to learn are to identify different feelings and know where they belong. It is important that we treat delicate feelings different than others and understand that the process of dealing with them is special and important. Helping children name strong and vulnerable feelings helps them to normalize their experience and know that they are not alone. It also gives them permission to accept their feelings and parents the opportunity to let them know how they can best deal with some strong emotions.
As intimate partners we have the great opportunity to “lighten each other’s load”. Although each partner should ultimately be responsible for their own feelings we also depend on each other to take care of and care for each other’s emotional needs. Part of being a human is to experience a wide range of feelings and emotions during different times in our life. The best part of being in an intimate relationship is that we get to have help during those times. Sometimes all we need to know is that we have a helping hand when folding an endless pile of mismatched socks.
Take the chance today to help your family with their daily laundry. Maybe you validate your child’s softer feelings today or you take some extra time noticing the wrinkles and the stains on your partner’s favorite shirt. Maybe you just notice the beautiful threads and textures of all the different feelings and emotions we get to experience and just accept them as part of our great human experience without defining them as good or bad, right or wrong, but just different and unique. Try to not let your emotional laundry pile up and become unbearable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance when it does appear to be too much, that is what family, friends, and therapists are for after all.