Here’s a dose of something we all need from time to time. Validation.
Has this ever happened to you? Someone takes a photo of you and when you look at it you recoil as you notice your messy house in the background? That happens to me all the time.
Or how about this. You go to sleep with a sinkful of dishes and a plan to wash them in the morning. Morning comes and goes and it’s 2:00 before the dishes ever get touched and by the time you’re finished washing them , its’ time to take them out again to serve dinner! It happens to me too.
My mother used to say that the only time the house was neat was between the hours of 12 and 6 am when no one could see!
I can see some of you don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s because you’re gifted. Truly, thank G-d for this gift that you have.
You can actually have a reasonably accurate expectation of what your home will look like at the end of a birthday party with sixteen kids on a sugar high.
You can finish dinner, wash the dishes, put them away and still get your kids to bed on time.
You can have people walk through your front door pretty much anytime of day and not have to say the WORDS.
“I’m sorry” or “don’t mind the mess” or please don’t open your eyes for the next half an hour while you visit me because I’m so embarrassed!”
You have a gift of being super neat and organized. (And maybe great cleaning help!)
So here’s your chance to pat yourself on the back. You are amazing!
Now for the rest of the folks.
I think a lot of us women are walking around the world feeling unnecessarily deficient. As if we would be more saintly, more worthy, if our houses were neater. As if everyone else has it all figured out and our mess is our private shame – to be put away quickly or apologized for when someone comes in.
Housekeeping has been a struggle for me since early on in my marriage. By nature I’m creative and chilled and that coupled with my complete lack of experience, makes me not a naturally good housekeeper.
My husband, on the other hand is a very orderly guy. He’s had his nail clippers in the same place for the last 10 years! So you can imagine that working this out has been a process!
And now, 16 years later I can finally share something of value and spare you some of the misery I went through.
I used to think that a clean house was the goal. The goal I could never get to. Oh, I could clean up for Shabbos and certainly for company. But that neat, organized, clean lines look was just never going to be for me.
For years I twisted myself in to a pretzel trying to get it right. And those years were a struggle. I struggled to make my husband happy, to not feel like a loser, to not be resentful and to try to figure out what other women knew that I didn’t know.
Eventually, I learned some things and here how they go.
Good housekeeping takes time. Tons of time. Hours a day on laundry, dishes, bedrooms, sweeping and picking up toys. When you have young children it’s very likely that you just don’t have that time.
This doesn’t mean that you get to live in a pig sty. It just means; Moms, give yourselves a break. You’re leading a busy life, doing the best you can and your baby thinks it’s fun to spill the Rice Krispies.
Just the other day I was reminded of this when my four year old showed up at the supper table with a big smile. “Here, Mommy” he said. And he produced the box of gloves and hats that we’d been missing for a week. On top of my proudly organized collection he had put cars, dolls and various other toys so that the gloves couldn’t be seen.
Then, in order to show me the gloves he took all the toys out one by one in the dining room. As the floor became littered with lego, I watched him and thought to myself “Wow! so this is the science of mess. Here’s how it happens!”
So, Lesson Number One – Have reasonable expectations. With time as your children grow, your expectations will be able to grow with them.
Another story. A few years ago I had a neighbor that was super clean. I mean SUPER clean. You could not catch this woman in a mess. You could not catch her kids with their shirts untucked. You could not catch her sink with dishes unwashed.
Though there were only four families in the building I almost never saw this neighbor. Remember, good housekeeping takes lots of time. Meticulous housekeeping takes all your time.
But one day, she came down for a visit. I was mortified. As she entered she caught a whiff of the weird smell coming from my kitchen. She passed by three of my kids who were sitting in a circle around a mixing bowl making “an experiment.”
They were pouring in ketchup and sugar and mixing it with oregano and cloves and who knows what else. They were strirring it and runny red drops were splashing on the floor.
I tried to act casual. “So, what have you been up to?”
After a minute or two of shmoozing she stopped short and said “I would never let my kids do that.”
“Your kids are so lucky, I don’t know why, I just can’t handle it. But this is so nice, you’re letting them have fun.”
With the oregano tickling my nose and my total shock and bewilderment, I tried as best as I could to think up a response.
And that brings me to Lesson Number Two – Please, don’t compare yourself.
We have no idea of what the processes are for another person, what their challenges or capacities are. I know a woman who beats herself up daily for having to be so neat that she can’t relax. It’s very likely that some such woman is looking at you admiring how easy going you are.
My house these days look pretty good most of the time. Not gorgeous and not a constant hurricane but something somewhere in between. And I feel okay with it.
Not having a little baby or toddler around has made a huge difference. Another difference is that my children are older and they help a lot. But the most important difference is what will bring us to Lesson Number Three.
I used to clean to make my husband happy. I used to clean because I was trying to reach some goal of being good enough. I used to clean because I had to – and I resented it.
Now, I clean because I want to. I see how having a neat environment has a direct effect on my children’s middos and mood. I see how my husband feels more content when he comes downstairs in the morning to a neat house.
I’m still not a great housekeeper but I do what I do because at last it has sunk into my brain how much it matters. The whole family dynamic shifts when the house looks good. We feel better.
With time I ‘ve come to see how powerful the role of a women is. We make the home. Our children’s childhood is ours to mold. Our husband’s care is in our hands.
What I thought of as tedious has not suddenly become fun – but I don’t dread it anymore.
So, Lesson Number Three – See your housekeeping as an expression of love. After all, you are so loving, you give everything you can to your family. This is just one more way to give to them.
I don’t think I could have gotten to this place when I had lots of little babies.The physical demands were just too much to allow for this flexible, accepting approach. I was too overwhelmed and saw it as an all or nothing endevour. But I’m here now and it feels really good.
Here’s to you!
If your house keeps getting messy – you probably are creative and busy and you can stop judging yourself. There is no hidden camera filming a reality show called Why Can’t She Get it Together. You’re not alone – you’re actually pretty normal.
And if your house is spotless and you’re wondering why you’re exhausted or why you sometimes feel like you’re in a never ending quest, it makes sense. It really is that much work to keep up that standard. You’re not alone. You’re actually pretty normal!