Every day, I fight an epic battle with myself:
Play with the kids or clean the house?
Do the dishes or build with blocks?
They’re only little once! The laundry can wait … except we’re out of clean underwear.
Excuse the mess, we’re making memories.
Especially in my early years of motherhood, everywhere I looked, I was accosted with images of “good” parenting where I instead saw messy fingerprints on my windows, toys strewn across the living room, and laundry baskets stacked up high as I enjoyed some snuggles with the baby. And then I’d think — can we put aside the ooey-gooey, lovey-dovey motherhood sentiments for just a sec and acknowledge that shit still needs to get done here, people?
I look back on myself in my first few years of motherhood, when I was an exhausted, young mother of two and laugh at the girl who actually literally struggled with the decision if she should do the dishes or play on the rug with her daughters. We’re talking a full blown mental conversation in her head, wrestling with the guilt that while she was busy keeping a tidy house the magic of childhood would be zipping by her. I mean, she didn’t exactly become a stay-at-home mom to clean all day, did she? Wasn’t playing more important? Shouldn’t cleaning be secondary to all else?
I was spending all day “playing” with my kids but neglecting the house because I felt guilty, doing absolutely nothing non-essential during my kid’s waking hours, and waiting until my husband was home to fit in my work and other chores, like grocery shopping or exercising.
It was making me miserable.
It took me some time, but I finally had to make a decision for the health of myself and my relationship with my husband, who admittedly, was getting a grumpy, overwhelmed wife at the end of each day who was so intent on not taking any time away from her children that she stole it from him.
So I chose to give myself permission to accept that the domain of house cleaning was part of my job as a stay-at-home mom.
It meant realizing that for me, setting time aside every morning to tackle the kitchen, and get the laundry done and dinner prepped and beds made, was part of caring for my children.
For me, grocery shopping during the day, even though it’s harder and a hassle with kids in tow, is part of caring for my children and my husband, because it means more family time later.
For me, encouraging my children to play without me so I can fold laundry next to them, is part of caring for them, because I’m doing something for all of us.
It’s hard because we have this image of staying at home with kids as one of idyllic existence, like it’s all baking cookies and cuddling on the couch and play dates where you actually have time to talk to another adult, but the reality of staying at home looks more like trying to sneak in kid time among all of the chores.
I asked my husband if he thought that keeping a clean house was part of my “job” and how it affected our marriage and while he hesitated to admit anything, he confessed that — shocker — it is nice to walk in to a clean house at the end of the day.
Neither he nor I would ever go so far as to say that I better have the house clean or else, but he admits that he can sense the visible difference it makes in our marriage and in me personally, both of which, of course are intricately connected when I’m able to keep on top of the domestic duties. (Happy wife = happy life).
Don’t get me wrong here, either people. My house could use a good scrub-down and there are chores that I won’t even go near (windows? Nope. Dusting? Ha.), but in general, I work hard every day to keep a somewhat neat and tidy house because it makes me feel better and in turn, my mood kind of sets the tone for the rest of the household. It’s weird and maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but for us, it’s how it works.
Does that mean that every day I sail through my chores humming like Cinderella while the kids play happily at my feet? Um, no. Does that mean that my husband always gets to kick his feet up at the end of the day while I vacuum under them? Don’t make me laugh.
But what it does mean is that for me to do my job — and I do consider staying home as part of my job right now — well enough for me to be a happy and fulfilled wife to my husband, I need to stay on top of the cleaning.
Sometimes that means telling my kids, “no,” and sometimes that means making other choices so I can tackle the cleaning, but for right now, this is my life. It probably won’t always be this way and I’m under no illusions that a clean house is more important than say, those days when I really do drop everything to play with the kids — but those are the exceptions, not the norm.
And I’m OK with that.
It’s probably silly that I would even write about this, but this is my life, and the life of many other women, so I’m here to say that for whatever reason, a clean house makes me a better mother and a more loving wife.
Although I wouldn’t go far as to say that I would absolutely hate it if my husband took over the dishes tonight. Wink, wink.