Why my mess is a #MOMWINDec 17, 2018
If the me of 10 years ago saw my house today, she would have a mental moment. My life-long friends know that I used to sweep, mop (on my hands and knees) and vacuum my house DAILY. I never had piles of unfolded or dirty laundry. Even my underwear drawer was Pinterest-worthy. I was so proud. I was also a crappy mom and a ticking time-bomb. Nowadays, a snapshot of my house shows clothing and linens here and there, crumbs on the dining table, dishes in the sink, and unmade beds galore. I know the old me would look at my home and despair at how far I've fallen and see it all as a sign of terrible defeat and resignation. The me of today, however, recognizes my lowered standards as a MASSIVE triumph. Why? Because the real reason I was so desperate to have a perfectly clean home had nothing to do with feng shui, easy living, raising good kids or having positive energy. It was about some really stupid crap: 1) Control 2) NOT being my mother, and 3) Concern with being a 'good mom'.
Do you think I'm unique? After working with hundreds of moms, I am here to tell you that SOOO many of us have these same motivations for losing our SH*T when our house and lives are disorganized. I am not unique - I am soooo boringly typical, I promise.
Control: Having a child and getting married so young, leaving my job, getting constant 'input' from my mother and mother-in-law, unsure of my identity as a mother and a wife...it all made me feel pretty damn helpless and out of control. As my son grew into an unruly toddler, and I got pregnant again (and again, and again) my feelings of chaos and victimization grew, and with each new proof of my helplessness, my obsession with neatness and perfection grew right along with it. I have never been a person comfortable with uncertainty or disorder, but my mindset in early motherhood turned that tendency into an addiction. The order and neatness of my home felt like the only thing I could control, and it became the thing I depended on to stay sane.
Mommy Issues: My mom is NOT neat, and I know she wouldn't disagree to read that about her. She is many awesome things, but neat is not one of them. Everyone is biologically programmed to individuate from their parents by rebelling and some of us grow out of that phase sooner than others. I'm still finishing up ;) There's a reason the sentence "You're just like your mother" is the start of epic blowout fights in many marriages. So, for me, individuating from my messy mom looked like turning myself into a psycho neatnik. Fun times.
'Good Mom' Issues: I'm pretty sure none of us pictured a Mt. Everest of laundry and Kilimanjaro of dishes when we imagined motherhood and even though reality brings us back down to size after birth, for many of us, the picturesque image of motherhood still lurks in our minds and it feels really crappy to know we will never achieve it. Because for many of us it still feels possible, just by watching other people who don't seem to suck at motherhood like we do. Right? Of course we might intellectually know that perfect neatness is impossible, but emotionally we still feel guilty that we can't make it happen.
These are all perfectly rational explanations for behavior that is actually stupid ;) First of all, obsession with cleanliness doesn't really fit with having multiple small children. So, whenever my perfect little home would get messed up (basically all the time!) I would freak out! I felt attacked so I'd lose my temper and go into rage-monologues about how no one respected me or my time. OR I would 'surrender to the mess' for a while but all the time feel so miserable. It took me a long time tor realize that my choices weren't just either clean constantly or drown in despair. There's a third option, which is to grow the hell up and do the real work of living, which is a lot harder than scrubbing floors. The more I worked on my own hang-ups and shifted my mindset around my place in the world I had created, the more I realized that I had ALL the choice and control in ALL aspects of my life. I wasn't a victim or trapped. I could be a little messy, and still be my own person. I could create my OWN definition of a good mom and be her, because she is me!
The way we see ourselves in our world is 100% tied to how we feel and act in our homes and with our kids. The mess in my home now is a huge sign of the fact that I now know that I don't have to control every detail of my environment to feel OK with myself. I want to invite you to consider that, if you have a desire for uber-neatness, it might be about something deeper for you too! Of course we need a modicum of order and we need to learn how to make that happen by being a team with our family, but beyond that basic level of neatness, it simply is not necessary and I'll wager it's not about neatness at all.