Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Katelyn Fagan’s blog, What’s Up Fagans. It has been republished here with permission.
I have three young children. My house gets messy daily. Despite my best efforts, random stuffed animals, shoes, socks, jackets, pillows, puzzles, crayons and toys end up strewn across my house on a sometimes hourly basis. And that’s to be expected! I have children. Children make messes. And I let them make messes. I let them (and encourage them to) play in the dirt and explore outside (remember how I am a free-range type parent?) and come inside and paint, and draw and imagine away with their toys, blankets and pillows. I give my children the vast majority of the day to use their creative imagination to play. I believe in play. I believe in playtime more than “learning time” right now, so I fully expect messes and memories to be made.
It’s why I can get behind phrases like:
“Please excuse the mess. The children are making memories.”
I don’t buy that I need to wait until my children are sleeping to clean up my house. Not for a second. In fact, I believe in cleaning the house with kids who are awake!
I often feel like I’m in the minority on this one, especially when sentiments like this are commonly shared online:
“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” – Phyllis Diller
“Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”
So while I totally get that as you clean one spot your kids will just mess another, and that the cleaning never ends, does that mean we should never clean? Or only clean when the kids are safely away? Maybe. But, not to me.
Look, I’m not a clean freak (although I enjoy cleaning). I don’t obsess over messes. I can go days without cleaning anything. I can easily step over toys and doodads all day long without having it drive me insane. But, I assure you, I don’t like to clean while my kids are sleeping. I want my kids awake while I clean the house.
So, yes, I clean the house while my children are awake. And there are very good reasons for it.
First, I don’t believe my daily life at home with my kids should be all about them
I don’t believe it is my duty to ensure that every single minute of every day is scheduled with a “meaningful” activity unlike most 21st century stay at home moms. I don’t do crafts. I don’t enroll my children in sports, clubs or other activities. I don’t believe I need to ensure my child’s happiness constantly while they are awake. As I said before, I believe in play and not entitlement. My kids get to play, and they do a great job of it. My kids never complain of being bored. I don’t know if they really know what that word is. Sure, I redirect them to a new activity from time to time, but I let my kids play independently and without me (as well as with me) throughout each day. This essentially means I have time to do other things while they are awake: like clean, cook, shower, blog, etc.
Second, I don’t want my children to think that a magical elf comes and cleans their house for them each and every night.
I want them to know that I clean, their father cleans, and that they, too, are expected to clean. Cleaning is an essential part of life and of taking care of a home. Of course things will get messed up again, but it doesn’t mean we should be slobs or live in filth. We need to clean, and I absolutely believe my children need to see me cleaning up the house, washing and folding laundry, vacuuming, cleaning dishes and mopping the floor. Seeing me (or their father) clean helps them learn gratitude. My children also like having a clean home (which seems crazy considering they make 85 percent of the mess around here). I have been so humbled and touched by my children thanking me for cleaning their room, for vacuuming, for making our home “beautiful,” as they say. They love having a clean home just as much as I do.
Third, if I clean during the day, my children can help me
Even though I want my children to see me cleaning, I also expect them to help according to their abilities and age. My kids generally like helping, and they have certain activities that they prefer to others. Lisa likes to scrub down the table and help me sweep the floors. Alison loves to vacuum. Lisa will help fold clothes and both enjoy making their beds. Michael can occasionally be counted on putting a few toys back in a container.
I love seeing them take pride in cleaning. About once a week they’ll ask us to come up to their bedroom so they can show off how clean it is, how the beds are made, and how their laundry is actually in the hamper, beaming with pride and satisfaction. As a parent, I love instilling the value of hard work in my children, and they know that “you don’t give up” when things are tricky or hard. I don’t expect my kids to clean perfectly or to my level of cleanliness, but I help them learn how to do it better if need be.
Fourth, I don’t want to spend my precious me time, quiet time, cleaning
Sure it’ll stay spotless longer, but at what cost? The cost of me developing other skills? Socializing with friends in person or online? Quality time with my husband? Time spent writing or promoting this blog? Or at the cost of my already limited hours of sleep? No! I do not want to clean during nap time or at the end of my very long days. I’d rather forget about those dishes in the sink and save them for tomorrow morning while my children are eating breakfast, and instead pop some popcorn, pull up a TV show on Hulu, and snuggle up next to my hubby at the end of a long day.
My home is a mess a lot of times. And some areas of our home (dusting for instance) are ignored for a very, very long time (just take a peek at our Household Chores Printable). But, I don’t mind. While I still prefer to clean some things while my children are away or sleeping, like showers or other “bigger” projects which are more time or chemical intensive, most of the cleaning happens with my children awake, and often times with them helping.
That’s why sometimes, I’m bothered by sayings like:
“Good moms have sticky floors, messy kitchens, laundry piles, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”
I don’t believe for a second that a prerequisite to being a good mom is having a messy home. While I know that such sayings are to help moms not feel overwhelmed, the reality is that kids don’t reallylike living in a messy home, nor do their parents. Messy, unclean homes tend to stress everyone out. I don’t think a home has to be constantly spotless or that you need to clean your oven more than like twice a year, but cleaning regularly, to whatever your level of cleanliness is acceptable for you and your family, is good practice. Because, honestly, your top priority as a mom should not be an immaculate house; it should be happy children. That’s why I would rewrite the above quote simply:
“Good moms have happy kids.”
My house is far from spotless, and some days I don’t clean A. Single. Thing. but I am proud to say that I clean the house with children awake, as nonsensical as that may sound to many of you.
So, tell me, do you clean while your children are awake? Why or why not?