What I’m about to tell you is going to fly in the face of everything you’ve ever heard, ever believed or ever been told:
If you want to be a good mother, you need to keep a messy house.
I know, I know, you’re probably saying to yourself, “self, that just can’t be true! The way I keep my home is like a barometer that measures how well I’m doing as a mom and if it’s a mess it means I’m not doing a good enough job!
Sister, don’t buy that lie! You’ve bought an advertisement that tells you that your laundry needs to always be done, smelling fresh and folded neatly in an organized linen closet. The truth is, your worth cannot be measured by external stuff.
You know those Swiffer commercials where the mom is able to dust in half the time and she finally has time to do things like read a book or drink a cup of coffee? She proudly announces, “I’m done!” Then she hops out of the room with excitement.
I hate those commercials because subtlety layered into that commercial is the message that I can’t relax until my work is finished, until my home is perfectly clean. How sad that we sometimes trap ourselves into feeling that we have to earn our way to a little enjoyment in our lives!
I call bogus on that whole message. I would even go as far as to say that not only does not keeping a perfect house mean you aren’t a bad wife and mother but keeping a messing one can actually make you a good one!
The other day I did my weekly deep cleaning. I swept and mopped and scrubbed my sink. I did loads of laundry, dusted, organized rooms and did everything that had been piling up over the course of the last six days. You’d think that the more I cleaned, the better I’d feel. After all, my home is starting to look good, smell fresh and I have a sense of accomplishment. But instead of feeling relaxed when it was done, I felt tense. The more I cleaned, the more I felt a desperate need to keep it clean.
And when the kids got home from school I bemoaned every string cheese wrapper left on the counter, every sweatshirt thrown on the couch, every speck of crumbs that made it’s way to my freshly gleaming floor. I became drill sergeant mom, yelling at the kids to “pick that up and stop putting your hands on the glass door, I just cleaned it." I felt a sense of disappointment that all my hours of hard work were virtually erased in the 15 minutes after they hopped off the school bus.
Should Is A Dirty Word
I know it’s impossible to keep a clean house when you have small children but I’d even take that further and say it’s impossible to keep a clean house when you have children period. No matter their age!
This sense of disappointment nagged me. I should be able to keep a clean house. I should be able to stay organized. I should be a good wife and mother. Should is such a dirty word. It’s a handcuff that imprisons us to an obligation that is impossible to attain. “Should” expresses the shortcomings of what we do compared to what think everyone expects of us. It becomes a mantra that says to us, “you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough.”
It’s so important for us moms to be gentle with ourselves. What if we stopped burdening ourselves with “shoulds” and started giving ourselves credit for what we can do and letting that define our success.
Today I can make my bed, I can do a load of laundry, I can throw away all the garbage in my car. And if that's all I accomplish today, I will consider today a smashing success. We do what we can.
The Sweet Spot
There is a sweet spot when it comes to cleaning. The Goldilocks of housekeeping. It's a spot where the house isn't filthy but not too clean either. It's just right. It's messy enough for me not to come unglued if one of the kids spills glitter on the floor but I wouldn't fall over dead with embarassment of someone came over and asked to use my bathroom. That's the sweet spot.
Notice if you will, that I did not say that you need to keep a “dirty” house to be a good mom. There is no excuse for not cleaning your toilet for a month and a half, people. I have no interest in becoming a hoarder, sleeping in crusty sheets or eating out of a filthy cereal bowl. I just want to loosen that noose of expectation that I have wrapped so tightly around my neck. I want to give myself credit for what I do, not beat myself up over what doesn’t get done. When my husband comes home from work I want to notice his smiling face, not the fact that he just tracked in a pound of mud on his shoes.
The reason I say that having a messy house can make me a better wife and mother is because I’ve noticed that when I keep a clean house I become obsessed with keeping it clean. When it’s just a tad messy I feel a sense of relief. If the floor is not already perfectly clean, it doesn’t matter if the kids spill a glass of milk on it. It was already kind of dirty! No biggie.
If there are already a few clothes thrown on the floor, I won’t freak out when my daughter tosses yet another wet towel on top of the pile. Of course I’ll remind her where the hamper is but if it’s already messy, I’m much more likely to have a sense of humor about it and be much easier to live with. I’m simply a happier mom and wife without feeling like my house “should” be clean all the time.
Messes Open The Door To Memories
Without all the meaningless and time consuming tidying and scrubbing, I have plenty of time to re-charge my battery and even spend quality time with my family, most of the time we're making even more messes! That's okay. My kids aren't going to remember that we played a game of "Sorry" on a sticky table. They're just going to remember the time we spent together.
The truth is, keeping a clean house with a family is like running a marathon. It's best to pace ourselves. If we run at full speed the whole time, we're going to burn out and never make it to the end. Plus, it’s won’t be nearly as enjoyable a journey.