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It’s not the screaming. It’s not the tantruming. It’s not even the incessant stream of fights that break out only when I’m in the bathroom. Or the sticky mashup of oats & bananas that turns to concrete under their chairs.

It’s the household. Instead of having a job with measured successes and failures, my experience as an at-home mom is that now my measurable success or failure is my house. How clean is it? How tidy? How organized? How decorated? How cluttered? How beautiful?

Now I’m not even talking about what other people think. I’m sure people come into our home and think beautiful 100 year old architecture with 100 year old cobwebs, too? It’s never super clean unless we’re having an actual party (sorry friends who come by! I will not dust most likely. I may run a vacuum.). It’s usually semi-tidy with great efforts on everyone’s behalf. But the reason why it feels like a mirror to my internal success as an at-home parent is because it is where I am and what I do all day long.

To me, it feels cluttered even if I just purged and cleaned. To me, it feels like the kitchen floor is goopy again even if I just mopped yesterday. To me, the inability to stay on top of every load of laundry feels like epic failure, akin to not turning in a legal brief before the court’s deadline. To me, the stack of dishes in the sink that may not get washed before my husband gets home feels like I’m slacking on the job. To me, my home feels a reflection of my competence in my “job.”

Social media doesn’t help, but for me, doesn’t hinder that much. Sure, that one lady whose photos all have the same hue & filter, and whose open cabinets in her kitchen look pristine despite three kids makes my messy kitchen look askance. But truly, if anything, I’m inspired by the women who are dedicated to the repeat and mundane inexhaustible work of keeping a house looking and functioning nicely.

When I step back and remember that I am not my dirty house, and my mothering is not my dirty house, and my children are not my dirty house, I can once again believe that the real work I’m doing here is forming and shaping and loving and enduring little lives.

Yes, their environment is important. No, it’s not more important to have a perfect home than books that are well-read, couches that have deep dips from long snuggles, and toys that are so loved they’re strewn about for arm’s reach at any given time. (You might rock both–not knocking you–I just can’t do environment + child rearing simultaneously well.)

I refuse today, and moving forward, to let my anxiety and stress levels adhere themselves to the barometer of how clean my house is in this moment. Yeah, I have to work at tidying every day and cleaning more than once a month. My house is here to serve our needs as a family, not as a museum for our family to worship in. I’m a steward of it, not a slave to it.

That’s a jumble of metaphors for you.

If your efforts at minimalism and insta-perfect living are driving you crazy, I hope you can let it go, too. Not to be a complete sloth, but to be a person whose priorities are properly aligned: relationships first, possessions way down on the list.

Also, if you have the inclination and joyful ability to have a stellar home and small kids, I give you massive praise. This isn’t me. I’d rather be sewing. A few of my fall leggings left!

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26 Responses to My hardest part of being a mom at home . . .

  1. THIS: “When I step back and remember that I am not my dirty house, and my mothering is not my dirty house, and my children are not my dirty house, I can once again believe that the real work I’m doing here is forming and shaping and loving and enduring little lives.”

    I need that tattooed on my hand. Maybe in a slightly more streamlined version.
    Do you feel like when you’re rocking the forming of little lives and the sewing, your house suffers? I feel like I can only be doing a good job at two or three things at a time. If I’m writing and keeping up with their curiosity and doing a good job with meals, the house always feels a wreck and I’m behind on laundry. Somehow, I can’t accept that. :-)

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      I’m accepting that I’ll rotate. So one week I might do a bunch of me work in the odd hours and then the next, house work. Pregnancy helps me not care because I physically am so limited!

  2. Nicole says:

    Wow, this is SO ME. Yep. I almost always feel that the state of disaster in my home is a direct reflection on me. And we even have a very very small house, but still, if I work like the dickens and get one level of the house pretty clean, the other two go to pot, and yeah, it’s discouraging. But you’re right, being present to the kids is just way way more important. Thanks for the reminder!!

  3. Jenny says:

    Man, this is so good Nell. I just voxing with a girlfriend yesterday about how the state of our home/decor/clutter is the new purse/shoes/sunglasses. Like, who are we really doing this stuff for, maintaining this perfect image? If I’m being honest with myself, it’s much more about me and how I worry I’ll be perceived (or approved of) than it is about making a beautiful home for my family. Which is driven home like a rusty nail when I scream about babyfood on walls and broken lamps.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Hahaha you wrote beautifully about all of our concerns about others’ perceptions a few months back on blessed is she! I’d love for my home to look so perfectly “me” and styled lovelyly and my kitchen be tidy but for the wrong reasons.

  4. Christina says:

    Amen! I felt so bad for so long about my house because it always felt like a disaster (even though it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought) and I would think to myself, “I’m just really bad at this!” When I finally came to the realization that it’s not necessarily that I’m bad at it, but that it’s just not my top priority, it felt like a weight had been lifted. Sure, I COULD be amazing at keeping my house clean, but at this point in my life, I choose to be good at parenting (or trying to be good at parenting, ya know?) and doing things I enjoy like cooking for my family and keeping my brain from turning to mush by reading books. So keeping the house reasonably livable will do for now. Once I realized I was actually CHOOSING to prioritize other things, it was pretty freeing. I hired an every-other-month cleaning lady and moved on to other guilt-inducers. ;)

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Such a great realization. Priorities!!

    • Shelley Knoll-Miller says:

      I agree with this, Christina. I’ve only got 2 kids -who are older and go to school- so it’s definitely easier to keep house BUT I agree that the CHOOSING is a great re-framer. So if I see someone else’s glorious photos of family/home/fitness/career blah blah and it makes me feel like I’m lacking then I give myself the little talk. “Well, they probably don’t do X or Y and you do, because you love X and Y or because it gives your life meaning etc. .” Like your sewing, Nell. And I can ask myself the question “Am I happy with my priorities? Do I want to keep choosing them?’ and the answer is almost always yes. This questioning turns that icky “I haven’t got my sh*t together feeling’ into a mental exercise. And it helps you appreciate the life you have. Then again, some days ARE just hard and no re-framing will help. Those are the days when I just have to cling on to Grace like a lifeboat and bob about in my insecurity, knowing (hoping?) that God loves me despite everything. I’m pregnant too, and it definitely increases the lifeboat days!

    • Shelley Knoll-Miller says:

      I agree with this, Christina. I’ve only got 2 kids -who are older and go to school- so it’s definitely easier to keep house BUT I agree that the CHOOSING is a great re-framer. So if I see someone else’s glorious photos of family/home/fitness/career blah blah and it makes me feel like I’m lacking then I give myself the little talk. “Well, they probably don’t do X or Y and you do, because you love X and Y or because it gives your life meaning etc. .” Like your sewing, Nell. And I can ask myself the question “Am I happy with my priorities? Do I want to keep choosing them?’ and the answer is almost always yes. This questioning turns that icky “I haven’t got my sh*t together feeling’ into a mental exercise. And it helps you appreciate the life you have. Then again, some days ARE just hard and no re-framing will help. Those are the days when I just have to cling on to Grace like a lifeboat and bob about in my insecurity, knowing (hoping?) that God loves me despite everything. I’m pregnant too, and it definitely increases the ‘lifeboat days’!

  5. Brittney says:

    Totally! I think this all of the time and I think it may have something to do with no longer having that constant feedback from the workplace. I loved the praise when I was doing a great job and being able to improve when critiques came in. With three little ones (4 and under) there are more actual tasks (feeding/cleaning/wiping/tidying) than I can ever get done in one day, even going at 110%. It is exhausting and makes me feel defeated some days but I’ve been trying to keep in mind that no one cares about the dust bunnies and laundry piles (that much…).

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Workplace feedback was enormous for me as a verbal affirmation person. It’s bereft in the wilderness of young motherhood!

      • Shelley Knoll-Miller says:

        I was just this morning thinking that, with this next baby, I really should build in some system of very material, obvious reward. I’ve previously joked with friends about creating a whole system of mummy badges that are like boyscout sew-on patches. So if you survive a week of flu with 3 kids under 5 then you’d get a ‘3 under 5 Flu merit badge.’ Huzzah! But my most recent thought was to buy a whole box of second hand trophies and re-label those bright, tacky, shiney gold objects of desire. This biggest one I could choose for birth and I’d just go from there, re-labelling and rewarding myself as needed. ‘Champion Teething-Soother, July 2017″. Perhaps we should do this for each other. Call a friend, and say “It’s been a really hard week. Re-label a trophy for me and I’ll do one for you and we can get the kids to clap and cheer and our husbands can give us a kiss and hand us bunches of flowers.”

  6. Kate says:

    Well said!

  7. Annabelle says:

    I thought I might chime in with a different perspective. Cleaning and organizing come easily to me and I enjoy meal planning, cooking, baking, etc. I don’t do it to show off for anyone because I am not even on social media.
    Your post hits home after a couple hurtful comments I have received from people I know – backhanded compliments for being able to get things done at home. It tends to convey a message that perhaps I am sacrificing snuggling on the couch or some sort of more meaningful connection with my (homeschooled!) child because I must be cleaning constantly. On the contrary — I just use my time as wisely and efficiently as possible (and try to be mindful on what comes in the house) in a way that works for ME. I am not trying to show up anyone else’s home and it can feel like reverse shaming in a way. I just mentioned this to a friend the other day after seeing a couple moms I know hanging placards in their home saying, “good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.” My interpretation of that: you are only a good mom if you let stuff go and that happy kids need a mom’s full attention at all times and she can’t possible be busy with housework.

    All that to say, less judgment could probably work for all. This mommy war stuff is the pits. Comparison is the thief of joy, no?

    (Ps – I completely agree with your thoughts on staying home after leaving “corporate America.” The acknowledgements and accolades (and, let’s be honest, salary! Bonus!)…sigh, I wouldn’t stay home if I didn’t think I was doing important work as a mom, but I would be lying if I said I did not miss it.)

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      I get it! My sister is the same. Her home is gorgeously decorated and tidy and clean and she takes great care of her kids too. I felt so badly coming home after a visit out there as this is not my charism or talent. I’m so sorry you’ve had the backlash of “those” kinds of comments. The pendulum needs to stay in the middle instead of vacillating so hard one way or the other!

      Leaving the working world: so hard on my need for affirmation!!

  8. Rebecca says:

    Thank you, Nell! I don’t have time for a longer comment because my children are crazy, but thank you so much. I needed to read this.

  9. Jean says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was pretty much saying these things word for word to my husband and then the next day read your post… so good to know I am not alone . I left a career in nursing to stay home and there are so many days when I think, “I used to take care of a whole hallway of very sick patients; why can’t I even keep the house clean now?!” Thanks again for your lovely blog!

  10. […] with a friend who’s got a two-month-old at home and also just started homeschooling, and so this piece on not equating the cleanliness of your home with your success or self-worth rang especially true. Also, I am writing this while surrounded by boxes and unopened mail and […]

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