Kids Yes, but Squalor No

I was sweeping the floor the other day when my baby started crying, wanting to eat.  I hurried to finish up with the dustpan when my mother said, “Leave that, honey.  The children come first.  The kids always come first.”   

This is truly the way that my mom raised us:  housekeeping took a back seat to living life.  I always felt this as a child, although I didn’t appreciate it fully until I was a mom of my own.  I totally agree:  the kids should come first. 

The flip side of my mother’s “kids first” philosophy was that my parents’ house was pretty much always messy.  We kids cleaned our bedrooms once a week and the whole house was cleaned when company was expected, but other than that tidiness wasn’t a priority.  Our house was generally sanitary, but it was incredibly cluttered with the detritus of six busy people.  As a kid, I appreciated the extra quality time provided by the “kids first, chores later” philosophy, but I was also a bit embarrassed when my friends came to visit.   

Now that I am the co-head of a household, I struggle with finding the right balance between putting my kids and life first yet keeping the house relatively clean.  I get edgy when the house is a sty, yet I cringe when I hear myself yell things like “just a minute, babe!  Mommy needs to finish these dishes!”  I want to have a home where kids can get messy, have fun, and play freely, but I get pissed off when it takes hours to get the house clean again. 

There seems to be a continuum with pristine cleanliness on one end and utter chaos on the other.  The truth is, I can’t really specifically say where my ideal point on this line is, but (apologies to Justice Stewart) I know it when I veer from it.  

Here are some principles (coping mechanisms?) that I generally endorse.  I can’t say that I follow them all the time, but they have been helpful. 

Contain your mess:  If your house is big enough, contain the kids’ toys and mess in general in their bedroom or playrooms.  If possible, keep your house’s entryway and a front room clean so that pop-in visitors can be entertained in relative cleanliness. 

Clean as you go:  I go back and forth on this one.  I am so Type A that if I try to clean as I go I feel like a hawk waiting to swoop in and clean up puzzle pieces or Candyland cards, which is annoying and vaguely creepy for the kids.  

Clean with the kids:  Kids and cleanliness aren’t mutually exclusive.  They need to learn how to clean, and cleaning helps teach responsibility and respect. 

Clean away from the kids:  I try to clean during naps and daycare so that I’m not constantly cleaning during the day.  I stay at home to be with the kids, not be near them. 

Clean before fun:  Nothing comes for free in our house.  The TV doesn’t turn on, for example, until the kids pick up the family room floor. 

Hire a cleaning service:  If you can afford it, hire some help.  It will increase your quality of life immensely.  I love knowing that it’s never been more than two weeks since my toilets were cleaned.  Every other Wednesday I literally thank God for my cleaning lady.             

Cut yourself some slack:  I still haven’t solved this issue in our house.  I do what I can and try not to get too wound up about it. 

And now I’m off to clean the kitchen…

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