I thought I was being wise by installing carpeting that matched the dog. No one could see how rarely I vacuumed, unless they looked closely. Then my baby started crawling, and vacuuming became important. Really important.
I spent a lot of time vacuuming regularly. Then I had a second child and bought a dark red oriental rug. I was in over my head.
It became readily apparent that I did not have the skills or discipline required to both raise my kids the way I had always intended—with lots of love, thoughtful activities, and numerous outings—and also keep the house clean.
Before children I hid my poor housekeeping skills by never inviting anyone over. There were plenty of bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys to meet up in. But playdates with mom friends required a living room, especially in the early rising years when our munchkins were frisky before 9 am and we were not ready to commit to anything besides yoga pants and a zip-up hoodie.
Anyone in the trenches of parenthood knows two things about toddlers:they are pure joy, and pure chaos.
Sometimes all you do is follow behind the kiddos and put things back, then run ahead and put things away before they find them. Sometimes? Make that all the time. For years.
And did I mention their need to eat every 14 minutes?
The dining room table was always covered with crafts in various stages of completion, little plastic bowls containing too much snack to throw away and not enough to put in a baggie, and a few coffee cups I’d lost in there somewhere and forgotten about.
And a cat. On the table.
If I was lucky it was only a cat.If I wasn’t, the dog joined him to help empty those snack cups.
My boys loved to play trains, and that meant we were all down on the floor, which meant the floor needed to be vacuumed first, and while I was vacuuming, the baby and the toddler were free to roam about the houseand find something to entertain themselves.
If you have both a baby and a toddler you know how often this ends poorly.
Yes, I had a pack-n-play, but I also had kids that screamed whenever they were loving placed in “baby jail.” I just wasn’t the kind of mom who could tolerate children screaming and the sound of the vacuum at the same time. I had to give in to the chaos. Swim with the current instead of fighting against it.
I bought a small cordless vacuumwith a good beating-rotator head and didn’t put it away for three years. It lived quite happily in the corner behind my chair. It might not have added to the décor but didn’t hurt anyone.
Since it was readily available, I vacuumed the living room rug more times than I can count. The rest of the house? Not so much.
As a single mother with two kids in diapers, I had to give up on the notion that the house was going to resemble anything Instagram worthy. But that was OK—I didn’t have kids so they could watch me clean my house. In fact, the best thing I did for my mental health was to learn to relax my cleaning standards. A lot.
My guest room became the laundry staging area. I sorted the clean clothes into piles on the bed, and sometimes even folded some of them. But putting them away was no longer on my list of goals unless I was expecting house guests and needed the bed.
I washed the dishes every night, because I was neurotic about that, but the sink and stove got cleaned only once every quarter, or when my mom came,because she is a very nice mom who took mercy on me.
Yes, we had play doh stuck to the rug but my kids were engaged, happy, and learning. And I was a happy mother without a clean house.
I developed a theory: if my house was trashed on the first playdate with a new mom friend, she would then be impressed anytime it was reasonably clean. It would look like progress. And if she never came back over, she probably wasn’t going to be my bestie anyway.
Inevitably, my kids got older and the chaos slowly became more manageable. Now I have to decide, how much do I want to nag in order to have a clean house? Once again, I’ll probably come down on the messy side of that. After all, I decided to stay home to raise kids, not to win a housekeeping award.
Don’t get me wrong—I’d like to be cleaner. I feel better when the house in reasonably tidy. But I have so many other things I want to do more. Every now and then I go on a cleaning binge when I fear the mess might overtake us all. And on very rare occasions I get so stressed about something that I long to just put one thing in order, like the refrigerator or the one shelf at eye-level in the pantry.
If I learned to clean to handle stress, we all might be better off. But until then, I’ll just continue to love the kids and nag only a moderate amount and try to only adopt dogs that match the carpeting.
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