Do I clean the house or play with my kids? That is the question. Sigh, the daily struggle. My OCD husband and my Pinterest addiction fuel this constant desire for my house to look like a page out of Home Décor magazine, but our two crazy demons (aka, my beautiful children, 4 and 2½) have other ideas. We live in a small house near the beach, so sand and wet towels are always everywhere. Lots of extra space, plenty of storage and a housekeeper? Not in my home description.
I once read:
“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”
Well, with all due respect to Phyllis Diller’s famous quote, the snow usually stops, but toddlers and teenagers don’t. Ever. They don’t stop ever. Until bedtime, and even then they still seem to require something of you for the next day (lunches, school reports, schedules, you name it). And sometimes it’s really hard to relax when you’re tripping over toys every step and the remnants of mealtime has made food colonies on the dining room furniture…
I have friends who have untidy, wildly unorganized houses, and those with spotless houses. All of whom are amazing, busy, talented women. My good friend’s house is always kind of a mild disaster, and it never seems to faze or upset her. My sister’s house is so clean, you could eat sushi off the floors. It’s SPOTLESS, seemingly impossible, out of a magazine ORGANIZED, not a paper out of place spotless. EVER. It’s almost like a sick joke. A Stepford wife would take notes from HER (And she’s a doctor, a working full time mom with a perfect baby and an extremely demanding job. AND she’s an athlete and beautiful…yep, I hate her too). I tried that for a week, and I could only keep it up for three days. I was a hot mess of frantic ‘don’t touch that!’ ‘put that down!’ ‘go in your room and let mommy scrub the darn floor!’ Not only was my house never as clean as hers, but I hardly interacted with my children except to holler at them every time they threw something on the floor. In fact, they watched more movies and cartoons in those three days than they had in weeks.
So, feeling like a neglectful mother, in the wake of my horrendous guilt, I subsequently devoted the next three days ignoring the house completely and did nothing but give them every ounce of my undivided attention. Result? I was exhausted. Both extremes were straight-up exhausting and draining. I needed BALANCE.
So, after some intense experimentation, here are my 3 Action Steps to find a balance between keeping your house clean and giving your kids just the right amount of attention:
1) CLEAN AS YOU GO. I know this is not revolutionary advice and it’s borderline annoying to even read, but it’s the #1 thing that truly works. Don’t wait to do it later. If you can quickly do it now, then, be like Nike, and just do it. Right.At.That.Moment. Instead of waiting until the sink is FULL to do the dishes, quickly and easily load the dishwasher throughout the day or wash a few as you go. Result? Takes way less time and energy. If there is food on the floor or dirty diaper stankin’ up the trash, just take it out right away. For me, b/c I’m particularly anal-retentive about clean bathrooms, when the kiddos are in the tub for bathtime, that’s when I give the bathroom a wipe down. Each one of these tasks only takes me 3-5 minutes and then it’s not waiting for me until someone unexpectedly pops over when my house looks like a scene out of the Exorcist (oh you know what scene I’m talkin’ about). Also, in our house, we do one load of laundry every day. It’s like, way easier to put away one medium sized batch of clothes during the day than wait a week and have a mountain.
Even more, at the end of the day, when the adorable demons are finally asleep and I’ve started to sip on my spectacular $10 bottle of Trader Joe’s wine….the LAST thing on earth I want to do is clean for an hour. So, get off your sweet tush and get it done when you can.
2) STOP the GUILT. When I don’t clean enough, I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and conversely when I ignore my children to clean/organize, I feel horribly guilty. It’s a cycle of madness. So stop the cycle and stop the guilt. How you say? DEVOTE some time to them. By devote I mean spend unadulterated and uninterrupted time with your children every day (or your spouse/boyfriend/dog/yourself/HBO/etc., all of whom can be a woman’s best friend). I literally put it in my daily calendar. Give whatever time you can that makes you comfortable. The amount of time varies depending on how busy life gets, but I consistently try to devote a solid 45min-1 hour. During that time, I put my phone down, turn off the TV/IPad/Tablet and we just play, talk, eat, cuddle, laugh, draw, eat some more, etc. That way, when I inevitably have to bust out “Frozen” one more time to entertain them so I can get stuff done, I don’t feel guilty. I know I’ve been a great mom—even if for one measly hour. And you’d be surprised at how relaxing and rejuvenating that precious quality time can be–its not nearly as exhausting because it’s a short duration that’s devoted just to having fun, regardless of what the house looks like. This is so important, especially because it truly strengthens the bond between you and because they’re growing up fast…You may not remember all the times you swept/mopped/scrubbed, but you will certainly remember all the memories you made.
3) MAKE IT FAMILY FUN TIME. Turn cleaning into an activity where everyone’s involved. My daughter loves to help water the flowers, my son gets super excited to load the laundry or put things in the trash (sometimes too excited, if you know what I mean). I bought a full-on Dyson battery toy vacuum and a baby sized-broom, so we clean the floors together. At night we clean up our rooms—we sing a song and race to see who can finish. Whoever cleans up the fastest gets to pick the bedtime book, or gets tickled, or chased like a zombie, or given an m&m, etc etc, you get the point. Result? I don’t have to separate cleaning vs quality time.
By creating a blend of these, balance becomes easier and life becomes more manageable and a lot more relaxing. I can let it go (get it? ok i know, corny, but I couldn’t resist).
(add’l quick tips:
- My husband and I pick one day a week to give the house a good cleaning, usually Monday or Saturday, so things are clean for the weekend and prepped for the week.
- PURGE. It’s much easier to clean a house that isn’t overloaded with crap.
- Rewards are not just for kids! I totally use the reward system on myself. Pathetic? Possibly. Effective? Definitely. Today for example, I rewarded myself for getting up early and cooking/cleaning up a delicious homemade breakfast on a school day with the world’s biggest caffeinated Starbucks. It was so worth it. But that is another post for another time…)
~Ciao Mon Ami~