Here’s a question from a reader named Amy:
I’m struggling with my Penelope tendencies and my ability to effectively mother. I tend to want to pick up the Legos immediately upon them being emptied from the box. I’m not exactly carefree and laid-back, and I’m afraid that my (ahem) more controlling nature might be negatively impacting my son. Thoughts?
First of all, Amy, let me say “I HEAR YOU.” This is a huge issue. I get so many emails from Penelopes lamenting the exact same thing.
And I find, personally, that one of the hardest things about parenting is my natural inclination to have things neat, tidy and quiet all the time. Once you have kids, you realize, that ain’t gonna happen.
Given that I have 4 kids and have been a mom for 19 years now, I’ve had a lot of time to think this through. And, since 2 of my 4 kids are now actually adults, living away from home, I have a sense of how being parented by a Penelope has affected these children.
Here are my thoughts:
- Do you have to be carefree and laid back to be a good mom? No.
- Do you have to allow your children (and their stuff) to overrun your house in order to be a good mom? No.
- Does having a messy, cluttered, disorganized home mean you’re a good mom? Absolutely not.
I actually hate sayings like this one which pissed me off so much I snapped a photo of it at Target and posted to the Penelope Facebook page.
I call bullshit on that. Why? Because my kitchen is not messy, nor do I have piles of laundry sitting around, and my kids are happy, too.
But, (and this is the big but) can you be rigid and hyper-controlling and be a happy mom with happy kids? I don’t think so. In fact, no.
We must, as in all things, but here especially, strive for a middle ground. It’s not all or nothing. That’s what I’ve learned.
In short, we have to be ok with the Legos being out while they’re being played with, but not out all over the place all the time.
One way I cope with this is to think of life as being divided into “seasons”. For example, right now, my youngest is 2. That means, he makes messes. He wants to touch everything all the time. He spills things, he throws things, he dumps things out and walks away.
But, I realize that life won’t be like this forever, that’s the first way I get through this season.
Secondly, I am taking the time to lay the groundwork with Jackson so that, later, he can help clean up the messes he makes. I want his “messy season” to be as short as possible. So, I’m teaching him that we take out just a few toys at a time. And when we’re done with those, we clean them up before we move to another. He’s not a fan of this. At. All. He’ll whine and cry and throw himself on the floor about half the time.
But he knows that, 100% of the time, he’s not moving on until he helps me clean up. And as we do, we sing together, we count things, we play. We spend quality time both playing and cleaning up. He’s getting my best attention, and that, to me, is what makes a good mom. Sure, if I were constantly vacuuming instead of interacting with my children, that’s going too far, way too far. But I am not going to feel bad that my children live in a tidy home. Or, that my expectation of them is that they will help keep our home tidy.
I want this for me, but I also want this for him. I don’t believe that creative, productive thinking can happen amidst chaos. I want him to know that order and routine can help him thrive. I also want to teach him that we do things we don’t feel like doing, like cleaning up after ourselves. I think that’ll make my future daughter-in-law happy.
So, Amy, I think it’s ok that you want to clean up the Legos. I don’t think that makes you nutty or compulsive or controlling. I don’t think you’re harming him if you want to put the Legos away when he’s done. I think that makes you a neat, ordered mom. At that point, you’re not refusing to let him play with Legos, you’re simply saying, after you do, we’ll clean up before we move on.
In short, I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods when we believe that good moms have messy houses. Some do. But, there isn’t just one way to be a “good mom”.
Messy kitchen or clean one, what matters is how we make our children feel. The time we take to invest in, teach and love them. That’s what makes us good moms.
And I’m not going to let some stupid pail at Target make me – or any of you- feel different.