It happened twice this week. I took my two little kids to my friends’ houses for play-dates and their homes were spotless. I’m positive they cleaned their houses for me. So I could see it. So I could think to myself, “Her house is cleaner than mine, she’s perfect.” Why would my friends want me to think like that?
I get it. I also feel the pressure to be seen as perfect. I admit I’ve cleaned the house for play-dates. But that was before I realized why I was doing it. I was showing off. Pretending that I had everything under control so I might be admired. I was making my friends feel bad about their home by making mine look so unattainably clean. I was being rude.
I don’t do that anymore.
I no longer clean up before other moms come over and I don’t apologize for the mess. That means leaving the dishes in the sink, leaving loose macaroni on the table, and leaving the toys scattered. Having a home full of young children is nothing to be ashamed of and yet I was constantly trying to hide the evidence.
The first time I had company over with my house in its honest state, I got physically uncomfortable when I heard the knock on the door. I knew they were standing next to the dirty diaper bucket on the porch and it wasn’t empty. I could see the diaper bucket, greeting them, “Hello, welcome to our home”. I let them in; she stepped around the Legos and abandoned shirts and sat on my couch. With a heavy sigh she said, “Thank you for not cleaning your house for me. It’s nice to have a friend who doesn’t pretend.”
I’ve been following this rule for a few months now and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I have heard the words, “Thank you” in regards to my disheveled home from every single mother who has entered it. I have had mothers express that going to a “perfect” house causes them, “serious stress… I just worry that my kids are going to mess things up.” This simple act has also increased the depth of my friendships. As soon as I quit trying to bolster my ego through vacuuming, my friends got real with me. They sat in my messy living room and cried about husbands, finances and loneliness.
And my friends stopped cleaning their houses for me. Funny how that works. I have gotten the chance to see how my friends really live. And it’s beautiful. There are signs of life everywhere.
I understand that there are some parents who have mastered housekeeping and there are some three-year-olds who are helpful and neat. I understand that every home has a different cleanliness base-line. I get it. I really do. But, in the world I live in, the minute you invite a toddler to live in your house, it becomes a zoo… pooh flinging included. I know that there is someone out there who would be like, “Wow. I’m uncomfortable with this mess and you’re disrespecting me by not cleaning it for me.” To those critics I would say, “I’m not ashamed of my house, I’m not ashamed of my life and if you can’t handle this type of reality, go somewhere else.”
I stopped cleaning up my house for play-dates because I don’t want to add to the perfection epidemic. When my friends come over I want them to feel like they’re in a home, not a museum. I’m not washing my dishes before you come over because I don’t believe in making my friends feel bad about their dishes. I want my friends to know that they are welcome in my space. I am not pretending to be something that I’m not. I am not here to make you feel small. This is where I’m at right now.
I’m not saying I’m giving up trying to keep a clean home. I’m not. If I took so much as a week off, I’m pretty sure child protective services would be knocking at the door with concerned looks and clipboards. No, I’m really trying but I’m not perfect and I’m done pretending to be.
I bet someday we’ll miss the mess. I bet someday we’ll be wrinkled and old and we’ll finally have all those tall imported curtains and delicate vases. Someday everything will be in its place. When that day comes I bet we won’t clean up after grand-kids in hopes of showing off the mess to our old lady friends. So that we can say things like, “Yes, the grandchildren came over and look at this mess!” Someday we will long for the mess. It will be quiet and we’ll wonder why we ever tried to hide the fact that we were raising children.
(This post originally appeared on Candy House Blog.)