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What a messy house really says about my parenting

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As parents, we take different liberties when it comes to our kids.

Maybe you’re lax with enforcing the all-important double-dipping rule.

Perhaps you have clothing-optional days.

As for me, I’m not a stickler for having a pristine house. My house looks like kids do, in fact, live here. All over the place, in fact. I know other parents will say that a clean house is the parenting hill they want to die on:

You kids took my youth, my free time, my disposable income, my formerly taut body. You will not sully my living room with your Legos!

In many homes, kids can get the short end of the stick when it comes to where to set up camp with their armload of toys. Perhaps the husband gets the garage or is relegated to the lower level, which is how it is in my house. Women may get free reign on the rest of the house, armed with an obscene amount of accent pillows and vigorously trying to distress a brand new piece of furniture to make it look … not brand new.

I’m an outlier among my own group of friends whose immaculate homes have clearly enforced no fly zones when it comes to toys. But outside of my circle, I’m in some familiar company. I count myself among the parents who preemptively put their not-pristine house out there. And evidently, I’m not alone. There’s a thriving industry of homemade sorry/not sorry signs like, “Sorry for the mess, but kids live here,” and “We’re learning, we’re having a blast and making memories.” In other words, messy is good, so stop wondering where my Swiffer is, and don’t judge.

I promise my house isn’t Thunderdome, though. I do enforce that accent pillows aren’t meant to be stepped on in the never-ending game of the floor being lava. I dutifully uphold the sanctity of decorative rattan balls.

But we generally let our kids play everywhere. A sun room off the kitchen houses many of their toys, but throughout the rest of the house you may stumble upon ratty doll heads, abandoned drawings because do-overs, so.many.crayons, and just stuff. My kids know I won’t object if they have an impromptu stuffed animal tea party in the dining room. You might see a puzzle project sitting out in the living room that won’t immediately be put away.

We could banish my kids’ stuff to the basement or order them to leave all their toys in their rooms upstairs. But the truth of the matter is that, I prefer to have my kids close and their toys closer.

Messy means something.

  • It’s a bit like a National Geographic-type observation, but I like watching them in their “natural habitat.” My kids can be particularly self-conscious if they know I’m (lovingly not creepily) observing them. But with them close by, I get to see and hear them play in a more organic way. I love hearing their conversations with each other, to their stuffed animals, or to themselves. It’s heartening to watch how they study a book about raccoons or the way they devote painstaking precision with a popsicle stick craft.
  • I like to acknowledge and reward their creativity. When the kids spend the better part of an afternoon putting together a vet clinic (complete with receptionist’s desk, a waiting room, designated rooms by injury) that kind of dedicated effort and imagination shouldn’t be immediately dismantled at the end of the day in the name of tidiness.
  • I like to be reminded of their presence. And that they are just kids. I have to remind myself that these are the days. This is it, the exhausting, elbow-deep, snack-gophering, face-wiping thick of it. And it will be over soon. How much do we really think about how the stages of childhood are articulated through living space? We seem to be sprinting from each stage to the next; complaining about and converting the vestiges of childhood in the same breath. We complain about how much space the high chair took up and then we start eyeing how to convert the backyard once the kids outgrow the swing set. So my kids’ stuff is actually sobering when it comes to thinking about time.

I need these visible, somewhat cluttered reminders of kids living here and to really relish the business of raising them. And it’s okay by me if that takes place amid a puddle of Legos in my living room.

[Read more on my parenting journey at]

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