Mess and Mothering, Meeting in the Middle

“No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor. ” ― Betty Friedan

Mess and Mothering, Meeting in the Middle

Let me tell you about last Friday. I had three things to do. I had to unstack and restack the dishwasher, I needed to fold the laundry, and I had to put the grocery shopping away. Take a guess how long it took me to do those three basic tasks.

It took over three hours.

But here’s the kicker: I still hadn’t actually completed them. That’s right, in three hours I didn’t manage to complete three tasks. Now we’ll go back to our guessing game. Guess WHY it took me so long to achieve not much.

It took that long because I’m a mother of young children.

In that three hours I changed nappies, fed the baby, took him out of the rubbish bin repeatedly, moved him away from the computer, then the other computer, and repeated that. I settled arguments between the older children, I cuddled the baby when he dropped something on his foot and made his toenail bleed, I argued with the teenager …. on repeat. I took the baby out of the shopping and swept up the bag of oats he split while I was putting wood on the fire. And if you can believe it …. I actually managed to sort the cold food into the fridge and freezer.

In the end I strapped the baby to my back and managed to get a few more things done, but by then it was time to start dinner so I had to multi task my way through mothering  other children, cooking, and completing the half done tasks which had become the bane of my existence that afternoon.

I have been rather critical of my housekeeping skills over the years but that afternoon an awful lot of things became clear to me. It wasn’t that I was lazy or hopeless, no I wasn’t sitting on my arse eating chips all day, my flatmates were sabotaging me!

You see, my flatmates have a completely different standard to which they ardently adhere. They don’t care if their clothes are clean and easy to find, they don’t care if they’re traipsing mud through the house, they don’t care if there are no bowls to eat off, they don’t care if I put the vegetables away, they’d prefer I didn’t buy them, they’d rather I bought toys.

I spend each and every day of my life keeping children alive, surrounded by more mess than I like to entertain, but the truth is that I am not a messy adult. I was once a messy child, but as an adult I look around the lounge room and the only thing on the floor that’s mine is my slippers …. which will go on my feet when I stand up.

One of these days my flatmates will move out (you know, in about two decades) and I’ll be able to bask in my tidiness! After dinner  I’ll wash one pot, one pan, two plates, two coffee cups and two wine glasses. In the mean time I’m going to revamp my expectations!

We mothers can be awfully critical of ourselves however we’re not too realistic with our expectations. The standard TV families set is unattainable for many of us. I know LOTS of mothers, and I don’t know a single one whose house looks like a glade commercial.

Our houses look lived in, they look like there are lots of happy memories being made, lots of nourishing meals prepared, lots of action packed days in the yard marked on the knees of track suits that are strewn on the bathroom floor next to empty laundry basket … I see REAL families where life long bonds are created, and the memories of mess and feelings of inadequacy will only be embedded on the mother’s cognisance.

Woman asleep covered with leaf litter
Sleeping Beauty, mess and mothering. License: Creative Commons CC0.

Choose some family standards that everyone can help maintain. What matters MOST to you. Is it clean dishes? A clean bathroom? A spotless lounge room? Pick and choose, then prioritise. Acknowledge that you can definitely achieve some stuff, but achieving everything on the TO DO list without hired help is unlikely every day.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers! You are only human. If you expect perfection you will never be content, you will set yourself up for years of misery and self criticism. You’ll miss the moments of mothering that really matter because the guilt over dirty laundry drew your attention away from the laughter. Rather than seeking to live in a home like the glade ads, seek to live in a family home, surrounded by loving chaos! Your glade home awaits you ….. after your babies have flown the nest.

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.”
― Erma Bombeck

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