I am not a good mother because I keep a perfect house – Sara’s Story
I’ll never forget the first time I felt criticized for lack of care for my home. Aaron and I had been married for a little over a year, and our first son had come one month early. I was attending college full-time, trying to catch up on my courses so I could prove to my mother that my decision to have children early in life would not keep me from completing my college degree. Aaron was working full-time and attending school part-time, and on top of the challenges of our new marriage, new baby, school, work and low income level we were leaders in our church’s youth group.
“Spread too thin” may be coming to your mind right now. OR, you could be one of those over-achieving people (like I used to be) who think that’s just a walk in the park. Well, I can tell you that I was holding on to everything as best I could, but one of the items that kept sliding to the bottom of my list was cleaning our bathroom.
We were living in a tiny 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment, and keeping the laundry and cleaning done was a challenge for me. I mean, I KNEW it needed to be done. I SAW it needed to be done. I just had so many other things on my plate that seemed to be a higher priority- like my son who would ONLY sleep in my arms with a pacifier nestled in his little mouth. So when a young student who stopped by one day flippantly said, “It’s time to clean your toilet,” I almost burst into tears.
Now, let’s take a step back here. It’s just a toilet. And he was just a twenty-something guy whose biggest concerns were which classes he was going to take next semester. Still, the comment stung. It took me years and many more comments like this to help me realize WHY.
My wise pre-marriage counsellor once told me that men generally feel their work reflects their inner character. If a man doesn’t feel good about his work, he doesn’t feel good about himself. She also said women feel the same way about their environment. I know women and men who fall into both of these categories or are flip flopped, but the point remains true: we tend to think of certain elements of our external environments as a reflection or our inner selves.
So when that young man commented about my toilet, it felt like he had just told me I was a failure. In that moment, everything else I had accomplished that day- as a mother, a wife, a woman- it all flew out the window. I buried that comment in my heart for years, like a seed, allowing it to grow. I allowed other seeds in as well:
…Like when the teenage girl noticed the goldfish cracker from my toddler’s lunch crushed into the carpet and asked me if I owned a vacuum,
…When a well-meaning older mother told me, “You’re only as clean as the floor under your refrigerator”
Now, I’m sure none of these people meant to judge or condemn me when they shared their opinions about my home. I don’t think they had ill intent or were maliciously attacking me. The problem was that I believed my home was a reflection of myself, so if it was dirty, I was dirty. A good mother doesn’t keep a dirty home, I thought. So how could I be a good mother?
Enter a little bit of OCD. As years went by and I had more children, it only got harder and harder to keep my home up to the standards I kept raising to impress others. Finally, a few years ago, I started seeing a counsellor to work through some of my broken views of motherhood. I recognized that something was off in my head, and it was beginning to hurt my family.
One of the first assignments my counsellor gave me turned out to be one of the hardest things for me to do.
“Sara, I want you to leave something undone every single day.”
“Wait, What- How- You mean- I don’t understand…”
“Do it, Sara. I don’t care what it is- leave dishes in the sink, the floor unvaccumed, laundry undone- whatever, but leave it undone. Then tell yourself, ‘I am not a good mother because I keep a perfect house. I am a good mother because I love my children.”
That exercise began to shift my view of my home. I had seen it before as another “thing.” Another person to take care of. “Home” became one of the kids, and boy was it unruly. But I am beginning to understand…
My home is a tool, given to me to help me be the best mother I can be to my kids.
- The clothes on the floor aren’t a problem to be solved- they’re a tool to help me teach my kids how to care for their things.
- The dishes in the sink are a chance to work together with one of my kiddos, learning how to clean and learning how her day went and what she is learning at school.
- The couches aren’t there just to look good. They’re for cuddling and wrestling and reading books.
When my home becomes another tool in my “Mommy Belt” I am better equipped to be who I am supposed to be.
This isn’t an excuse to let your home go to pot or not take care of things. We are still stewards of the resources God has given us, but it is vitally important that we remember- that is just what they are, resources. They are not the most important things.
So, if you come to my house and notice a toilet that’s not spick and span, just remember- that great white throne is simply a tool for flushing excrement. One day it’ll be spotless, and my kids will have their own homes to deal with. Today, I’m holding them close and letting some things go undone.
To connect with Sara visit www.escamom.com or @esca_mom