Mamas and Papas, Embrace a Little Mess…and Play Instead

Yesterday evening I sat on our back porch, with an unrelenting, cheek-aching smile as I surveyed the scene of our townhome’s postage stamp-sized backyard. There was my husband, work pants rolled up to his knees, and our son, in a soaked cloth diaper sagging from his toddler frame, splashing and jumping in a pint-sized pool. An arc of water rained down on them from a nearby sprinkler. I’m not exactly sure why my husband bothered to roll his pants up, or why my son was still in a diaper; both articles of clothing looked uncomfortably saturated, but my boys could have cared less.

There were many chores I could have been doing while my son was cheerfully occupied–chores I’d been unable to tackle to completion all day–and yet I couldn’t peel myself away from my perch. I simply couldn’t walk away from my kid’s delighted squeals and gut giggles or from watching my husband’s unrestrained, big-hearted goofiness. I’ve discovered this to be a common theme since becoming a mother, this forgoing of household obligations for the sake of fun and play. Y’all, mothering has made me embrace messiness.

I didn’t always feel this way. In the first few months of my transition to stay-home motherhood, I felt such a weighty, badgering obligation to DO things around the house. A loaf of no-knead bread everyday? Why not? Scouring the grout between the bathroom tiles while my infant napped? Of course! Vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, weeding the garden, folding laundry, and a meal from scratch every night? On it! I felt like I needed to prove my worth and household contribution, like I needed to justify bidding adieu to a really solid salary to be home with my baby…as if mothering him wasn’t justification enough.

It is perhaps a needless confession, especially to those of you who’ve been there, but this pace wasn’t sustainable. Or, rather, it wasn’t compatible with my hope to give my baby calm, attentive nurturance. And it didn’t jive with my deep desire to be present with him. I shared this frustration with my husband one day, and he replied with a caring shrug, “Why stress? Do what you can, don’t worry about the rest. We’ll get it done.” And from that moment on, I relaxed both my standards and myself.

I’ve written here on TOBB before about play,  how vital it is for our little ones, how little you really need to stoke your child’s creative, playful spirit. But you know what else I’ve discovered about play? It’s perfectly okay–awesome and fundamental even–for play to come first. The laundry will be there. The dishes can sit. Taking time away from household chores to play is not an act of indulgence or negligence; it’s a worthwhile investment in your child’s development and spirit. Taking time to marvel at your child’s imagination and discoveries is one of the highest joys of parenting, I’ve found. And aren’t we all in this for the joy?

Sharing and engaging in play with our babes is another way we parent them, not an act to get around to when we have a convenient, free moment (which sometimes doesn’t come). Sometimes I need to be reminded of this when I’m doing the dishes and my toddler takes my soapy hand and pulls me over to his toys. When I see the yogurt-y handprints on our stainless steel fridge (seriously, y’all, stainless steel appliances and toddlers are not a good combo); when I see the crushed Cheerio graveyard that is the floorboard of my car; when that bulging wet bag of cloth diapers beckons, I have to remind myself, This can wait for a little bit. (Have you been reading One Perfect Day’s nifty weekly series “10 Simple Ways to Connect with Your Child?” I love Ness’s suggestion in week 4 to Begin Each Day with Play. It’s not something that I have been able to do every day, but it’s something I am now more conscious about, and something I now strive towards. Check it out!)

I understand that we, as parents, have much competing for our attention, like a never-ending tug-of-war of our time. I imagine this competition for priority is especially challenging for those with multiple children or for   those who work at home or outside of the home. I suppose I simply want to give a little permission–if I could, as someone once gave me–to lighten the load and lessen the pressure for perfection. Don’t feel guilty for delaying your chores to enjoy playtime with your child. If your experience is anything like my own, a little chunk of time spent  snuggling, singing songs, stacking blocks, or galloping through the park is just the needed tonic for righting your day and reminding you who is most important in your life.

Do you struggle to balance household obligations and special time with your little  ones? What are some of your tips in striking a cozier balance? What are some of your favorite ways to play with your tots?

Rhianna is a mess-making, rump-shaking stay-home mama to a mighty spunky 20 month old. They live in St. Louis and have been discovering all kinds of cool play activities worthy of chore avoidance.

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4 thoughts on “Mamas and Papas, Embrace a Little Mess…and Play Instead”

  1. Rhianna this is such a beautiful post. I felt like I was reading my own story. You completely captured how I felt when I first became a stay at home Mum – that whole feeling of needing to justify not being at work, not earning a paid income. Honestly, the things I used to accomplish during R’s naptime – making wontons from scratch (!!) for a week night dinner and washing the windows about once a week (The rain washes them now!). Isn’t it a wonderful discovery to make – finding how much joy can be found in the simplest act of just being with our kids and playing with them, reading to them, or simply watching them. Thank you so much for linking back to my post. I’ll be sharing this on my FB wall tomorrow and have pinned it to my parenting inspiration board as well. I\’m so glad to have found your blog.

  2. Aww, thanks, Ness! It was so cool of you to stop by and say hello! A couple of other mamas have said similar things to me about also feeling that weird, sort of self-imposed pressure to make their stay-home mamahood feel productive in terms of chores and the like. It really was an awakening of sorts for me to finally understand that mothering (and all that it entails) *is* productive and totally worthy of our undivided attention. I do struggle with it still sometimes and I have to stop and remind myself that the payoff in being present, though it may not appear tangible in the immediate. Best to you!

  3. “I felt like I needed to prove my worth and household contribution, like I needed to justify bidding adieu to a really solid salary to be home with my baby…as if mothering him wasn’t justification enough.”

    I need to stitch this on a pillow. Except that right around the time I couldn’t fake my way through PPD anymore I gave up any domestic activity besides mothering. Crash and burn to the max.

    I work part-time from home as well, but I still feel the expectation that “I’m home all day” from my husband despite what he says. However, I cannot do 100% of the housework, and work, and the majority of the childcare. So I gave up on chores. I mean, I still DO them, but I gave up on caring. I gave up on *apologizing* for them not being done, and then adding a layer of guilt on top. That being said, I still struggle to find balance. Every day, many things fall through the cracks. I try to make sure my son isn’t one of them, but sometimes I fail there too. Currently I am looking forward to two things to help achieve more balance: quitting my job (for REAL this time!) and returning to being a full-time SAHM, and my son becoming more interested in “helping” me do things. Very excited for both. 🙂

  4. Oh wow! You couldn’t have described it better, that feeling of “making your time at home into something tangibly ‘worth-it'” Do all of us at home go through that madness? I’m so glad to find I’m not the only one!

    I follow One Perfect Day (that’s how I got to this place, thanks Ness!) and have found a lot of encouragement and ideas to meaningfully engage with my kids and to PLAY and to be okay with not getting all the chores done all the time. It was difficult (sometimes still is) because of (sometimes self)-imposed notions of the need of being a supermom – you know, the one that does everything right: she’s got a sparkling clean house including folded laundry, three course homemade meals, freshly baked cookies and happy, smiling, sweetly behaved kids. She doesn’t exist! Or if she does – “Boo to you!” 😉

    From Awesomely Awake I’ve also found how important PLAY is for ME! And what better way to re-learn playing as an adult than joining in with your kids!

    Further to all of that, play is so essential to being creative, and I’m not just talking about writing or drawing or doing something else arty, I’m talking about creativity in every day life – solving problems creatively, finding new an interesting ways to do mundane things etc.

    Thanks for the permission to disengage from the meaningless tasks to focus on and engage with the meaningful people in our lives 😉

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