I have a confession to make; I secretly love bringing my kids over to your house and seeing last night’s dishes stacked by the sink or a pile of unfolded laundry. You apologize for it, look away as if you expect me to chastise you for failing to be Martha Stewart, and give an explanation for the mess, but really, it’s completely unnecessary because I love your messiness. Your imperfection gives me permission to be imperfect.
If you come over to my house unannounced, here’s what you will likely find: dirt on the floors, toys out of the toy box, countertops with unwashed dishes, and clutter on tables and desks and really any spare space. Here’s what you won’t find, pretty much ever: a house sparkling to perfection, complete with shiny floors, and immaculate living spaces that look like they’ve never been lived in. Let me say that I’ve given my lifestyle some serious thought. I could, and have tried to, live in a perfectly clean house, daily chores always completed, dishes and laundry always done. And it was empty.
This constant striving for perfection left me feeling like a Stepford wife, gleaming and beautiful on the outside, but hollow and meaningless inside. I had time only for keeping up the exhausting appearance, but no time to stop what I was doing and play with my children. I rarely had friends over to my house because I was worried about what they would think if the bookshelf was disorganized or last night’s dishes undone. If I went to someone else’s immaculate house, I left feeling intimidated to have them over to mine, knowing that my best efforts couldn’t compare to their perfectly appointed domain.
But one day, it all came to a head for me when my three-year-old daughter asked me to play with her. “Mommy, come play with me! ” she begged. My response? “Not now, honey, I’m busy.” Good girl that she is, she obeyed but I saw her downcast face as she turned to leave. I looked down at the dishes that had seemed so important a moment ago and asked myself, “Why does this matter so much?” I realized that there would always be dirty dishes to clean but my amazing daughter would only be little and wanting her mommy to play with her for a short time. I knew, 20 years from then, I would never look back and say, “I really wish I’d had a cleaner house,” but I would say “I really wish I’d played with my daughter when I had the chance.”
So I decided then to become consumed with living my life, not just cleaning up after it. The dishes could wait but my children get older every day, and I don’t want to miss a minute of their childhood. I applaud the rare ones of you out there who can do it all, maintain a beautiful house and be totally available to your kids – I know you exist, and I’m not criticizing you. But I can’t do both. For me, something has to give right now. So if you find yourself in my camp, needing something to give, let it be the dishes, and the laundry, and the yard work. Invite me over and let me enjoy your messy, wonderful, lived-in house with you. And 20 years from now, may our children say of us, “My mom always stopped what she was doing to play with me.”