Call it Type A, Red personality, or a tinge of OCD, but some of us thrive on order and cleanliness.
There is something about a pristine, uncluttered countertop that brings me inner peace. Fresh carpet lines signal that all is right in the world. A newly made bed with zero wrinkles and crisp sheets centers my Chi. Stuffed animals perched perfectly on beds make me happy, and color-coded legos all in their proper bins are (forgive me mom), nearly orgasmic. I don’t know why, but I thrive on order.
Before kids, my clean, organized house made me very happy. But something was missing. I wanted little children to fill this house, playing hide-and-seek, building towers out of blocks, and painting me water color masterpieces. After a blessed whirlwind that brought four beautiful babes, I was unprepared for the happiness they would bring, but also the messes that came with them.
Cheerios smashed in the carpets, army guys lined in the middle of my Mise en place, crayons cascading over the kitchen table like a slow-motion Niagra Falls. Beds that are jumped on, pillows flung from wall to wall. Handprints on every glass door and stainless steel surface. And the Legos…oh, the Legos! The devil’s practical joke on parents found in the DVD player, the fish tank, the toilet bowl, the sofa crevices, and the baby’s diaper—the worst crevice of all.
Instead of the happy mom I always dreamed of being, the messes started to poison my insides. The messes made me angry, quick to snap, impatient and, not very nice. I didn’t want friends to come over because I was embarrassed that my house looked so…lived in. I’d follow my little ones around like a robo-vacuum, picking up every item they dropped, putting every toy back in its rightful place, re-making every bed after it had been jumped in, and wiping every hand print from the walls before it even set in, only to do it all over again and again. I was running myself ragged. I was unhappy because I was tired. I was short-fused, snapping at my barely walking toddlers because they were knocking down towers and scattering blocks. I put toys out of reach so that I wouldn’t have to clean them up. I refused to get the paints out because of the mess they would most surely bring.
I was turning into someone I didn’t want to be. I was becoming someone even I didn’t like. I had to find a way to be happier mom despite the mess.
The Secret to Being Happy When You Have Messy Little Kids
Surprisingly, the secret came to me when I took my three-year-old in for a check-up. My pediatrician, sensing some anxiety in me, asked how I was doing. I told her I was overwhelmed and outnumbered. That the messes were out of my control.
“Oh honey,” she said, “those messes won’t be there forever.”
“You’ll have the rest of your life to have a clean house, but now…now is the time for fun. That’s how they learn.”
And that’s the secret. Moms and dads out there who feel overrun with messes, who feel guilty that you can’t keep on top of the clutter, ashamed because your house isn’t perfectly clean when friends stop by. Parents with small children who bring you so much joy and so much clutter–here’s the secret I learned to being happy when you have messy little kids.
Change your perception.
These messes aren’t toxic. Not at all. They are evidence of your happy home. Each pile of pots and pans are proof of creative play. Dolls lined up for tea parties are really remnants of fun times and memories your children are making. Their messes are a confirmation that they are learning.
The UC Davis Children’s Hospital says that play is critical to the healthy growth and development of children. Toys are actually tools for learning.
Clean houses can come later. Having kids means embracing the messes that come with them. Not that children shouldn’t learn to clean up after themselves, because they 100% should. But especially while children are small and unable to understand the concept of chores, don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t set unrealistic expectations of what your house should look like. Don’t apologize because your house is lived in, played in, and loved in.
Instead of looking at a jumped-on bed and getting angry, I look at its rumpled sheets and see the utter joy in my children’s eyes as they fled the big bad dragon. Each abandoned tea party I come across, each meticulous line of army men guarding my kitchen counter top, each mess that I come across is not a sad mess anymore. Instead of getting angry, I shake my head and smile.
Most days, my house is a wreck. I think back to that Type A mom who fell asleep angry and exhausted because she followed her kids around all day long, an assassin of clutter. Nowadays, I am a much happier mom. I do the best I can, but I don’t let mess take the best of me–that’s reserved for these little people I love most. My messy house is evidence of a happy house with happy people inside. I’m learning to accept it.
If you find yourself angry, impatient, or unhappy because things aren’t perfect, all you need to do is look at them differently. It’s like a light switch. All you have to do is turn it on.
Letting the kids learn through play is so important! Here are some ideas for sneaking some learning into your child’s play time: