I Clean Instead Of Playing With My Kids, And I Don't Feel Bad About It

by Elisa Cinelli
Originally Published: 
A mom in a brown shirt with white dots and daughter in a blue and white dress taking out laundry fro...
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When it’s naptime at my house, you might find me sprawled out on the deck in my bikini soaking in the afternoon sun. I could also be curled up in our guest cottage with a book and a hot cup of coffee. Depending on the weather and my mood, I might be in a number of places in my home doing a number of things, but generally, I won’t be vertical. My eyes might be open, but my body systems have gone into a dormant state. And. I. Will. Not. Be. Cleaning.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m the kind of girl who bleaches the counters and does two loads of laundry per day. When you add it all up, I spend at least an hour and a half on cooking and cleaning each day. And that time doesn’t even include running errands, shopping, or making appointments. So when do I get it all done?

Simple: when my toddler is awake. After breakfast, I clean the kitchen and prepare lunch. Then we read books and do letter work together. Next, I throw in the laundry, vacuum, and clean the bathrooms. We have an outing, come back for lunch and nap (during which, as you know, I am not cleaning).

Immediately after naptime, we read nonfiction books, and then I make the beds, do the dishes, fold the laundry, sweep, mop, and take care of anything else that needs to be done. Then we have another outing and come home to play with something like puzzles or play dough before dinner, after which, of course, I clean the kitchen.

So what’s the kid doing while I’m doing all this housework? Answer: whatever. I don’t care too much.

Sometimes she helps me, which always turns into a fun lesson. Other times she sets up little beds for her stuffed animals or stacks blocks. Often I’ll think it’s one of those “it’s too quiet” disasters, only to find her wholly absorbed in figuring out how to button up a sweater. If she cries, I can sometimes finagle a way to hold her while I work, or I’ll turn on music and suddenly it’s a dance party, which is actually really helpful when you’re cleaning.

So am I a bad mom? I indulge myself while my child sleeps and prioritize the housework while she’s awake. Shouldn’t I be toiling away at naptime so I can focus all my attention on interaction with her? Or shouldn’t I be letting my house fall to pieces because mothering is so hard and “those dishes can wait, but childhood is so short?”

NEWSFLASH: The dishes cannot wait. We need to use them again. And a dirty, messy house depresses me and makes my husband grumpy. We both want our home to be an oasis, and we’d like to create that feeling for our children as well.

I spend plenty of time with my daughter. And I’m talking about time where I’m entirely focused on her. We discover new flowers and insects in the garden, draw pictures, and read lots and lots of books. We hardly do any screen time at all, and when we do, we’re watching National Geographic footage of baby penguins. Together. I was going to count up the number of hours per day I play with her so I could tell it to you, but I don’t need to. I have no fear that I’m not spending enough “quality time” to her.

When my daughter sees me doing chores, lots of cool things happen. She begins to participate, and I get the chance to teach her many practical skills, like loading the washer, folding, washing dishes, and where everything in our home belongs. Children thrive in an ordered environment where they know where to find things. And perhaps most of all, she will grow up with an inherent understanding of housework’s value. I want a kid who knows that hard work matters and who respects the world around her. We have to model these virtues if we want them embedded in our kids’ value systems.

So I’ll keep recharging my mom batteries while my toddler snoozes, and when she wakes up, I’ll keep cleaning the house while she does, you know, whatever.

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