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!
And there you have it. Wow! Even I feel validated!
WOW!! Thanks for posting.
Thanks for commenting Rachel!
Wow, these are truly wise words, thanks for sharing these thoughts!
Where od you think I got my education? Hours on the phone….!
Thank you, I totally relate to the views expressed in this article. Thank you for the validation 🙂
Thanks for sharing this, Rivka Malka. It IS validating, and I can relate.
that would explain me, so neat, never ending picking up, never getting to what I need to do for myself on in the way of my daily tefillah as often as I want to. I also agree that I feel better, the kids, husband and all when the house is a bit more organized and functioning better. It’s true, it is a loving expression, so pat on the back to me and all of you. Nice to find your website. Look forward to what is to come. All the best!
Thanks for sharing Nina, I’m so happy you did. We’re in all in this together! DId you make a little quiet time for yourself today?
I’ve got two little guys (9 months and 2.5 years) so I guess I’m still in the inevitably-messy stage of my life. I do all those things – compare myself to other young moms, try to do it for my husband, etc. Reading your blog certainly makes me feel validated, yet I still yearn to be balance creativity with a clean home and little kids – even though I know its unreaslistic, I can’t seem to help it. I’ll have to keep working on it. I keep trying to remember that my avodah (no matter how much I do) is the glue that’s keeping my family functioning, so there’s beauty in picking up just one item or one room.
HI ROchel – thanks for commenting! Who cares about being realistic – I love that you’re idealistic! To me, its so great that you’re not letting go of your ideals while still dealing with what is. The main thing is to not get hard on yourself – notice all that you do. Happy painting, cutting, crafting and baking. I love it all!
I can’t believe I never saw your blog before! I’m so glad I found you! I so relate to this post. You cannot imagine the pressure we are under to keep our homes clean where I live! And I could never keep up! You’re right. It must be a talent. And I have plenty of other talents so I guess I can’t have them all!
HI Sharon – ever heard of Type Z – as in zany? Welcome to the club! I have really found that when we accept ourselves – others accept us too. And what a great gift to give the world. Self acceptance is contagious! –
I don’t remember your house being messy! My memories of your house (the old one, the apartment in the big house) are: happy, comfortable, fun, inviting.
Thank you for the reminder of letting my kids have a childhood… (which includes lots of messy things!) Carpeting is more replaceable than toddlerhood!
(I’m Yosef’s daughter, come on, don’t you remember me?)
Meirs! Its so great to hear from you! HOw are you? Thats so nice of you to say, it was always a pleasure having you over. PS I just posted some Erev shabbos FB photos. Yes, it is a mess, but I can smile about it
B”H we are a happy little family in Seattle, very busy with important things like watching the tractor digging down the street, taking the couch apart, and of course, making messes. OK, I’ll try to smile about it more! Your posts have inspired me to do more fun things, like take the bus to the grocery store to buy about 4 things, because my son (2) thinks the bus is awesome.
OY! I forgot to reply.(that happens sometimes if I read my email on my phone) Meira, I”m so happy for you! Motherhood realy suits you.That althlietic tomboy part of you is so much fun for your kids! Thanks for catching me up. have a great Shabbos! love, Rivka Malka
“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. ”
that’s *exactly* how I feel sometimes! But with two toddlers in the house, a home educated eight year old, and a business to run, there are just not enough hours in the day. I look forward to the time when my youngest is old enough to wait half an hour before he pulls all the toys out again as I tidy them up.