Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life

Standard of Living vs. Quality of LifeEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about organization and about the things we value.

Summer may be a glorious season to sit and relax and soak up some sun, but I can only relax in small doses. To me, summer screams, “organize your house!”. Summer offers me a much-coveted stretch of time to finally accomplish some major housecleaning tasks. My children do not understand why a guest room which has been used as a storage room for the last two and a half years is now assigned the This Must Be Defeated Or the World Will Come to An End status, but that’s just how I am in summertime. I figure sun covers over a multitude of obsessive behaviours.

And so it is that for the last week my girls and I have rooted through boxes and jewelry racks and shoe racks and even the laundry room, shooing dust out of places I didn’t think it could accumulate, and relegating many long forgotten treasures to the charity pile.

As I gaze at this ever-expanding pile by my door, it occurs to me that each item there represents not just money that I once parted with, but time. We perhaps do ourselves a disservice when we value things only in terms of money. Sure that restaurant dinner out for four was only $65, but if you consider it by amount of time spent working, it takes on new significance. If you earn $13 an hour after taxes, that dinner out represented five hours of your life. Was it worth five hours?

When my oldest daughter started working full-time last semester she began to count things in terms of hours. That new hair straightener? Four hours. That’s worth it. That new dress? Not so much.

Little purchases can add up, but it’s perhaps the bigger choices of how we will spend our time and our money that set the tone for our lives. Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about our standard of living and not enough time worrying about our quality of life. We tend to measure things in terms of monetary value–we aim to earn the most income, have the nicest home, and accumulate more gadgets.

Yet when we make those choices, we’re simultaneously choosing to work harder and to be away from home more. Quite often standard of living and quality of life are trade-offs. When our children were small, for instance, my husband and I chose for me to stay home, even though it meant we rented an apartment, didn’t own a car, and bought everything second hand. We didn’t have a high standard of living. We did have a high quality of life.

Life is ultimately a choice–a choice of what we will value, and what we will sacrifice. If we choose to spend more time with our children, that may mean a much smaller home. If we choose to work for more vacations, a bigger home, or a summer cottage, it may mean less time to pursue hobbies, or simply to relax.

My fear is that too many of us get caught on this conveyor belt and we don’t realize we can make a choice to get off. There is no law saying that we have to keep accumulating stuff, keep earning more money, or keep buying the latest gadgets. We are allowed to choose what we will value.

Personally, I really value the chance summer offers to reorganize my life and drive my children crazy. It is a blessing. I just hope that this season reminds me that what I really want in life is more time–time with family and friends, time to knit; time to serve. And I can do that without as much stuff.

You can find Sheila cleaning house at www.Facebook.com/sheila.gregoire.books.

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Reader Question of the Week: Separate Lives

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question comes from a reader, who wants to bring her family together:

I feel like my whole family is just a bunch of individuals under the same roof. We all do our separate things–the kids have their friends and their activities, and my husband has his friends and his activities. My husband is always on the TV or on his computer (I don’t let the kids have computers, and they’re too young anyway), but we don’t feel like a family. I feel like I do everything and no one helps, and then everybody spends time in their own rooms. My kids (they’re in grades 2 & 4 & 7) don’t even like to play together. How do you change things so you feel like a family unit?

What do you think? How can she encourage the shift her family from separate into a unit?

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Adult Bullies and their Enablers

Adult Bullies and their EnablersEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s talks about adult bullying–have you ever experienced that?
Anti-bullying campaigns are all the rage in our schools today. What we often fail to remember, though, is that bullying behavior doesn’t stop the moment one dons a graduation cap.

Have you ever encountered an adult bully? I’ve been in social situations when someone has said something so outrageous and mean-spirited that I was temporarily rendered mute, a state which drove me absolutely bonkers as I was lying in bed later that night thinking of all the things I should have said. They eluded me at the time because the situation seemed so bizarre.

I think that’s why adult bullies can be so effective: the behavior is just so out of the ordinary. Sure, we may talk behind people’s backs (which is terrible, too), but in general we try to be polite to people’s faces. When someone violates that cardinal rule, we’re often so shocked that we say nothing. Perhaps it’s the residual British culture in us, but we’re not programmed to make scenes; we’re programmed to avoid scenes.

Bowling over people, then, becomes an awfully effective way at getting what they want. And they may genuinely not realize they’re pretentious jerks, although I think more likely they don’t care. They have such an inflated sense of their own self-worth that they keep at it.

We’ve been busy teaching children how to deal with bullies, but perhaps we need a refresher course for adults. You’re being bullied if someone constantly demeans you or says snide remarks about you. You’re being bullied if someone is constantly yelling at you or criticizing you. You’re being bullied if someone deliberately isolates you in social or work situations. And you’re being bullied if someone is constantly making helpful “suggestions” and laying guilt trips if you don’t take them.

I often find that adult bullies tend to be older, especially in families. They think they have the right to tell other people how to live their lives and demand things a certain way. And we tolerate it, because “that’s just Grandpa Joe.” Or we do our best to compensate, running interference if anyone opens their mouths and says something that may set him off. We spend our energy trying to placate or distract Grandpa Joe so nothing bad happens. What kind of family life is that?

Sometimes bullying, especially in families, is more covert. If you call them on it, they reply with incredulity, “I was just asking questions! I can’t believe you took it that way,” putting the blame back on you. And then you start to wonder if you’re the crazy one. Yet even if you turn yourself inside out to try to please the bully, you never will, because bullies thrive on the feeling of instilling fear. Meet one demand and they’ll come up with another.

Maybe it’s time our British, don’t rock the boat culture learned something from the Italians, who say everything. So let’s practice: “You are being inappropriate.” “I won’t sit here and listen if you talk to me like that.” “You are a guest in this home, Mom, so you should treat us with respect.” Or, better still, stand up for someone else. “Dad, you owe Jennifer an apology. You were completely out of line.” And if they start yelling or criticizing you, just repeat it. Then stand up and leave the room. There is no law requiring you to sit in a chair and be insulted.

If more of us just spoke up, bullies would lose their shock and awe power. And it’s time the rest of us had some shock and awe on our side instead.

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Rocking the Boat

Rocking the Boat: Resolving Family Conflict
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is on resolving family conflict, and is a reprint from 2007.

We’re a week past Christmas now and as we take down those lights and dismantle the tree so we can sit in the living room again many of us are breathing a sigh of relief. We made it through a family dinner without any fights! Hallelujah and pass down that Christmas angel.

Families often pride themselves on the absence of conflict, as if not fighting means that we’re close. But I wonder, instead, if the opposite is actually the case. Think about it this way: in order to have a close relationship with someone, you have to be sharing your true self, which the other person then has to accept. And, of course, this sharing goes both ways. Sitting in a room together as you chat about the weather and the price of gas and did you see the colour Aunt Ruth dyed her hair? is not sharing yourself. It’s passing time. And the more we engage in this kind of surface relationship with people with whom we should have more intimacy, the more we build walls between us. It may buy us time, it doesn’t buy us peace. That’s because real peace isn’t not fighting—remember the Cold War?—it’s knowing someone and accepting them anyway.

Serious as this problem may be with extended family, it’s even more grave with our immediate family. We don’t confront our spouse on things that we consider serious, because we’re scared of the reaction. Instead, we bottle it up, pretend nothing’s wrong, and add more bricks to that wall. But is this really what we want for our relationships? If we want true intimacy, we’re going to have to share what’s in our hearts, what’s bothering us, even secrets that we’re afraid may cause that boat to keel over. There’s little lonelier than sharing your life with someone who doesn’t even know you.

Spouses, though, aren’t the only ones we hide from. How many of us really fight for that relationship with our kids, especially our teens? Too often we allow them to push us away, because we’re afraid that if we confront them, we’ll find out how alienated they really feel from us, or we’ll push them away even farther. We’d rather have the semblance of a relationship than acknowledge that there are severe problems. But how can we deal with those problems unless we name them? And most children, though they may not admit it, appreciate being fought for, rather than being allowed to do anything and everything just so you don’t have conflict.

Of course, some of us aren’t in the position to open up and share what we’re thinking and feeling. The relationship itself seems so fragile that sharing may be the final straw. When you’re afraid the person may bolt, opening yourself up just doesn’t seem worth it. But I wonder if settling for the shell of a relationship is really the better course? Only you can be the judge of that, and waiting for the right time to deal with something big may be appropriate. But putting something off indefinitely won’t build you the kind of relationship that your heart dreams about. Sometimes we need to go through a period of conflict in order to get to the other side. Taking bricks down is messy, but think about how wonderful it will look later on.

Nevertheless, while rocking the boat may be necessary, it shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. We want intimacy, not just fights! So as you share, remember that you don’t get extra points for being loud or angry or making the other person look like a fool. That’s not removing bricks; that’s adding more. So calm yourself down, search your heart, and figure out what you want. Then decide how you’re going to get there. Letting things go on as they always have isn’t necessarily going to help. It’s going to build more walls. And then, who will be there to help you tear them down?

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Reader Question of the Week: Modesty Standards within Families

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. After the discussion in the comments last Saturday, one reader wrote in with this question:

What standards for modesty do you have inside your home? Do family members see each other getting out of the bath or shower regularly, is the bathroom door locked with a dead bolt or is it somewhere in between? What rationale did you use to come to your decision on this issue?

What standards do you use in your home and why?