Having A Clean House Does Not Make You a 'Hands-Off' Mother

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 

I have a secret, one that I don’t often share with my mom friends.

Over the years, I’ve quietly sidestepped conversations that involve my secret, and when the topic comes up, I simply smile and nod. My secret makes me feel out of place and often makes other moms feel judged, though it’s never intentional.

But the minute you walk into my home, my secret becomes quite apparent.

My house isn’t messy.

In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s so organized that even Martha Stewart would approve.

There are no piles of papers on my counter, and you can see the floor in my laundry room. My closets aren’t overflowing with toys and linens, and my sink is usually empty, save for a few bowls or cups if I’ve been in a rush.

I am a mom who has a house that is almost always in order, and my desire to declutter and stay organized has long been humor fodder for my best friend. Over the years, she has good-naturedly teased me about being on a first-name basis with our local thrift store staff and my inability to let our vacation suitcases linger when we arrive home from a long trip.

Being organized is just who I am, and when I became a mom, structure and order was my lifeline.

When my son arrived, I was not prepared for the chaos that a newborn brought to our home. Of course, I knew that babies came with a lot of needed gear: Our family room looked like a buybuy Baby showroom in the early months of his life. I knew that an infant would throw a giant wrench into our, dare I say it, blissful childless existence. And I was well aware that babies were messy, loud, sticky, and not at all interested in containing Legos in matching bins.

But what I didn’t realize was how out of control becoming a mother would make me feel.

I struggled with postpartum depression after a trying bout with mastitis from hell, and those early months of motherhood were among the darkest of my life. I realize now that I was suffering from undiagnosed anxiety, too, but at the time, I spent long hours crying because I was devastated to realize that motherhood was not something that came naturally to me.

Everywhere I looked, my life no longer felt like mine.

And my son was suffering too.

My restlessness and anxiety led me to feel even less in control of my daily life as a new mom. My son was fussy and needy, and I could tell he needed me to find a solution that helped us both calm down during the day. We had no structure to our days, and though I was blessed to be able to stay home with him full-time, the days are long when it’s just you and an infant who wants to nurse constantly.

So I turned to what I knew always brought me comfort: organization and structure.

Chaos and “go with the flow” had never worked for me before kids, and I finally admitted to myself that if I was going to survive early motherhood, I needed to add structure to our days. And to my surroundings.

I started by scheduling our days and sticking to that schedule consistently. And I took control of our household the only way I knew how: I cleaned and organized. I developed an organized system that worked for our young family, and slowly, the fog lifted.

I let myself off the hook for needing order in my life.

I accepted the fact that I am not a mother who is able to function with PTA forms littering my counters and that I am not ever going to be good at just going with the flow.

So, no, my home isn’t messy.

But it’s not because I want other mothers to feel bad, and I certainly don’t judge the mothers whose kitchens look like explosions at a mattress factory.

In fact, I envy moms who don’t need as much structure in their lives as I do to survive parenting. I want to be the mom making jokes at girls’ night out about my bathroom that looks like a Sephora blew up in it, but that version of me is stressed and anxious, and that isn’t fair to my family.

I know there are other mothers who, like me, cope with the stress of motherhood by restoring order to their homes at the end of the day. Mothers who find the tasks of cleaning relaxing or who feel accomplished simply by making the beds in the morning.

Having a clean house does not make us a “hands-off” mom by any means, either, so you sanctimommies who think that our kids are neglected because our counters don’t have crumbs can take a seat.

My clean house doesn’t mean that I ignore my kids or that I’m a bad mom because I can’t make jokes about how long it’s been since I’ve touched my laundry pile. In fact, I often wait until they are in bed before I pour myself a glass of wine, listen to music, and put my kitchen back in order. For me, there is comfort in order, and if you are mother who needs order and a clean house in her life, rock on with your toilet brush, mama. I am not going to judge.

Yes, my house is organized and, yes, my toilets are usually clean. I make no apologies for doing what was necessary in the early days of motherhood to save my sanity and help curb the unexpected anxiety that came when we brought our son home. Nor do I apologize for continuing to do what works for me and my family now.

So I hope you won’t unfriend me because my floors are spotless.

Because everyone needs a friend who will gladly show up to help when your basement needs a deep cleaning.

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