The one thing about parenting small kids that completely undoes me

messy toddler

Editor and mum of two young kids, Lucy Kippist, says if there is one thing about family life she just can’t handle it’s … mess

It’s 7:42pm on any given night and I’m furiously vacuuming.

My head is down but my eyes are trained to every corner of the house. The splotch of pumpkin on the cushion covers, the pile of toys in the next room, the basket of overflowing laundry, the dishwasher full of dishes, the shower that needs to be cleaned; the tiny, greasy hand marks all over the fridge. 

It’s been a long day. I’ve either been working or spending a delightful day trying to wear out my four-year-old and a one-year-old, and me in the process. 

My life is stupidly fortunate. I have two beautiful sons and work I love to do, but I’m deadset worn out by the mess. 

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I can play matchbox cars, fill up the backyard pool and empty it again 10 times a day. I’ll fossick for tiny aeroplanes that have fallen behind the bed, push higher and faster on the swing at the park and make umpteen tiny meals for hungry little mouths, seemingly with little complaint.

But the mess.

Oh, the mess. The way our tiny ones turn our house upside down can set my fuse alight. 

“You have young children, what do you expect,” you may well say. And in my more well-slept moments I’d have to agree. But truthfully, most days, I spend an embarrassing portion of my day despairing over the state of my house – especially the floors. 

There’s only so much cleaning a relatively sane person can do

I try to keep up with my own exacting standards. But there’s only so many times you can vacuum in a day (currently twice) before it begins to wear away your soul.

What drives this compulsion to have everything clean, when ostensibly everything else about my life suggests the effort is futile? Short answer: control. Or, lack-there-of.

As a sage friend of mine once said, “We mums grasp at any little thing we can control. And fixate.”

Amen to that.

But unfortunately, it’s THAT part that has the ability to completely ruin everything.

In the words of Lauren Dubois, the wonderful voice of popular blog, The Thud

“I love my kids. I love playing with them and talking to them and watching their games … for about seven minutes and then I need to get back to work. OK, maybe I could do ten minutes. Twelve even. But eventually I’ll see that crushed biscuit on the floor, I’ll remember that pile of laundry, I’ll see it’s 4pm and I should probably get something sorted for dinner, I’ll hear an email pop up on my phone; the endless shitness of being an adult. It’s all of the extra stuff on top of parenting that makes me cranky and impatient. It robs me of any joy I might feel just ‘being’ with my kids.”

Amen to that, too. But what to do about it?

How do you let go?

While I’ll easily admit that tackling the mess exhausts me, a tidy house symbolises something for me; and I don’t think it’s just because I’ve satisfied my OCD tendencies.

It calms me down. 

Maybe I didn’t hold everything together today, but at least the house is ready for tomorrow, I say to myself. 

But what would happen if I just left it alone? 

Nothing too terrible. The washing pile would grow, ditto the dishes and the floor would be out of hand, but would I feel saner? 

Like most of you I’ve read countless articles and studies telling me I’d feel better if I just learned to leave it be. To catch up with it later. 

While intellectually I know that it ‘should’ be good for me, how would it make me feel about me? 

I think I’m too scared to find out. 

This article originally appeared on Kinderling Kids Radio. Download the Kinderling app for more great stories.

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