Although I appreciate a clean house and a clean car, I have never been one to regularly give anything the “white glove treatment.” When friends say, “I just can’t sleep if there are dishes in the kitchen sink,” I used to think they needed to take a strong “chill pill.” However, after my first child began walking, subsequently making mess after mess, I soon became obsessive about the cleanliness of my house, especially after I decided to stay-at-home after the birth of child number two. During those first few months with the girls, I spent all day, every day, cleaning up spills, toys, clothes, shoes, dishes, you name it. Every time my daughter knocked over a cup, I raged with annoyance.
See, after a while I realized that staying at home most all day with small children, made my house look quite “lived in,” to put it mildly. Translation – like I wailed to my husband, “I was NEVER, EVER going to have the picture perfect Southern Living House I always wanted”! Seriously? While real people struggle to feed their family, I melt down over this?!? Just stop. Literally. Stop and put things in proper perspective.
Yes, it is important to keep our houses tidy, and overall sanitary. However, realize that for right now, every sticky handprint or smeared pb&j will not be immediately wiped clean, not to mention every speck of dust. Children are messy, and truth be told, a lot of adults are too. The state of my home at 5 p.m. does not determine my competence as a mother and wife, which is rather hard for me to accept because I worry about what people think about my home and me as a homemaker.
You see, although she denies this, my mother keeps a spotless house. She is that woman who apologizes with remarks like, “Oh, I am so embarrassed; this house is a wreck,” (which means there’s a cup, from which she is currently drinking, still sitting on the counter), or maybe because she lives with my father, whose favorite fragrance is Eau de Pine Sol! (I kid you not.) Yep, by most people’s standards, they’re true “clean freaks.” On the other hand, I am more like, “Enter at your own risk and excuse the ten pairs of shoes strewn about, last week’s dishes still to be put away, and dust bunnies from, well, I’d rather not say.” HA – it’s not really that bad, but you get my point.
One person’s definition of clean or tidy, is not the same as another’s. A woman once told me that her mother used to say, “A clean home makes for a boring mind,” adding that her mother was never boring. Well, I don’t know about that, but it did gave me a good chuckle. What I do know is that we must stop nitpicking over every little detail of housekeeping, especially if the stress of keeping a perfect home causes us not to enjoy our children or to open our homes to others out of fear of what they will think.
Rest assured — no one cares, especially the children. Believe it or not, I almost wet my pants laughing recently after some church ladies comment about how clean they thought my house always seemed to be. Really? My house? Perspective, people — that’s the message here — we all view things differently. Thus said, I encourage you to let go of whatever your idea of a perfect home looks like if it’s making you feel like a failure.
For me, I had to give up the constant comparison game because it drives me crazy, and steels joy from time spent with my children. All mothers know that kids do not appreciate or care if the bed is made or the kitchen is cleaned right after a meal. They want us, their mommas, to play with them and to love on them. The late Dr. Billy Graham admonished parents to not only love their children but to show them, adding, “Children who experience love find it far easier to believe that GOD loves them.” Well, isn’t that the most important truth mothers can impart to their children, EVER? Sure, it’s important to teach our children responsibility, demonstrating how to take care of our possessions and to keep a clean, safe environment, but we also need to be honest with them and admit that accidents like spills and scuffs just happen, to all of us, and they can be forgiven.
Our response to mishaps now, shapes how children approach us later when it comes to telling us about something they really messed up or about an accident which involved them. Many years ago when I was just a toddler, my brother taunted me with a bag of cookies that my mother gave us to “share” while she was buying a few groceries. Needless to say, we left a trail of crumbs all over the store and in the grocery cart. At the checkout, she began to scold us but was interrupted by a nearby gentleman, who pointed at us and said, “Small ones make small messes.” Then he added, “And big ones, make BIG messes,” as he pointed to his sullen teenager and gestured broadly. Again, it’s about perspective – carpet stains cannot be compared to crashed vehicles or other “curve balls” life will throw at us sooner or later. Most things can be repaired or replaced, in time, but a losing a child’s confidence in our love may prove irreversible.
All of this brings to mind the account in the Bible when Jesus visited his friends, Mary and Martha. And honestly, it sometimes annoys me that Jesus seemed to overlook the importance, in my opinion, of Martha’s hard work to make everything perfect for His visit, not to mention her sacrifice of not being right there with Him.
Luke 10 38-42 tells us this: 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Of course, I don’t know about you, but I struggle not to be like Martha, becoming so caught up in preparation that I lose sight of the purpose. Almost daily, I ask myself if it’s truly necessary to always have a perfectly presentable home for my family (yeah, those people), especially at the expense of my family? NO! So, if you, too, struggle with this, then, Momma, cut yourself some slack or in more spiritual terms, enjoy the blessings of God around you, even when dishes and laundry pile up. Oh, and let me tell ya somethin’ — should your husband ever hint that you could use some extra help around the house, like maid service, TAKE IT!
Real Life Tips:
1) Do a quick, 5-minute pick up around the house three times a day, which I do typically after meals.
2) Use only one cup or glass, one plate, and one set of silverware for each person all day, quickly washing them in-between meals to cut down on the amount of time you spend doing dishes.
3) Avoid activities that cause big messes like painting, or using glitter or play dough if you do not want to clean big messes. It is not worth the stress, and there are plenty of other activities you can do with your children.
4) Schedule certain days for certain chores. I do laundry on Mondays and Thursdays unless it is an EMERGENCY. Otherwise, I do not let a pile of dirty clothes ruin my “non-laundry” days.
5) Enlist your children’s help! This isn’t always easy, especially at first, because it takes more time than to tidy up yourself. But they need to learn early that if THEY make the mess or pull things out, it is THEIR responsibility to clean up and put things away. Even my 18 month old can put her shoes back in her shoe drawer. I have learned that it helps if they do one activity at a time, cleaning up afterwards, BEFORE going on to another.