Mess is a part of parenthood. Not just the toys and books on the floor. We're talking the wet, grass and mud stained variety of mess. So how do you cope when you're a neat freak mum? (We know you're out there!)
Let’s face it, life with little ones is downright messy. Aside from the obvious mess of that first year there’s the ongoing mess during mealtimes, the mess of sick days and toilet training, and -what I really want to talk about- the mess of play.
Now, I’m not referring to the toys and books scattered in the lounge room at the end of the day, that’s par for the course. No, I’m talking about the wet, grass and dirt stained children that have somehow lost half their clothes outside and are now standing on your (no longer) clean carpet asking you for a snack.
Surely, I’m not the only one who has heart palpitations at the mere thought of this? I’m getting much better though, and here’s why.
When the work of motherhood becomes a distraction…
Earlier this year we had on and off rain for two weeks. I counted one sunny day amongst it which meant for two weeks everything felt especially damp and muddy. I’m all for letting children play outside and get dirty but to have to clean muddy children every day for two weeks, and a few times a day at that? I was going batty!
My efforts to stay on top of the mess (mud-caked children included) were in vain. No sooner would I bathe my children, Leo and Phoebe, then they would be at the door begging to go outside again. My days were looking very ordinary and I resented it.
The turning point came one morning when I was, yet again, sweeping dried mud and leaves back outside. Leo appeared out of nowhere, presenting his toy car to me dripping in mud. To my shame, I didn’t enjoy his wide smile and bright eyes, but instead cried out, “Move, I’ve just swept here! Stay out!” Then, as if on cue, Phoebe walked around the corner covered head to toe in mud. She was quite the picture and just as tickled pink about it as her big brother. I could no longer keep a straight face.
My children were clearly having a great time but up until then I hadn’t been. In that moment, I was forced to face the larger problem – myself. I was allowing the repetitiveness of my day and the constant mess to distract me from what was really going on – the makings of a happy childhood.
It was a little shocking to realise all my grumbling about Leo and Phoebe playing in the mud was about myself. I was being drawn out of my comfort zone (rainy days signify happy hours reading with endless cups of tea, not going outside!) and kept digging my heels in at every turn. I began to wonder what Leo and Phoebe would remember about these rainy days as they lay in bed, eyes heavy with sleep. Would all my fussing cast a shadow on their memories? I hoped I wasn’t too late to set things right.
Remember the joy of motherhood and start again
I put the broom down and followed Leo and Phoebe outside. I let them put mud on my feet and they laughed at my obvious discomfort. I watched them relish the feeling of mud oozing between their fingers and running down their arms. Sure, it was messy and not at all my idea of fun but here was an opportunity to enjoy my children in all the unbridled mess of their childhood. I was not going to waste another minute fretting about the state of the house. For the remainder of those two weeks I turned a blind eye to the mess and instead, saw the delightfully messy and joyous children before me.
Now I don’t even bother asking Leo and Phoebe if they want to watch a movie when we see the clouds roll in. I know what they’ll want to do. Sit at the window and watch as the rain falls then, when the temptation to jump in puddles and make mud pies is too much to bear, race outside to get as messy as can be, sans clothes if possible. Instead of cringing, I fetch my camera and follow them because these are their days and their delights. I am simply fortunate enough to bear witness and draw the warm bath for later.
So Say Yes!
Since those two weeks I have found myself saying yes to messy play more often. I’ve also wised up; suggesting we save jumping in the mud for before bath time, that we finger paint in the bath tub (and clean it after), that we build bed forts before stripping the sheets for a wash. Little things like that have made for an easier clean-up which has allowed me to fully enjoy the play as it happens, whether I’m participating or not.
While I still sigh heavily at the chaos that surrounds me, I am getting better at looking past it. It’s what Leo and Phoebe have been doing all along and I’m finally catching up.
Do you struggle with embracing truly messy play? How do you find a balance between wrecked carpet/curtains and children who are happily using their all their senses to discover? Tell us in the comments below.
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Jess lives with her husband, Joel, and children, Leo and Phoebe in Gympie, Queensland. She spends her days doing her best to soak up these early years at home with her little ones but can sometimes be found enjoying a moment's quiet with a cup of tea she prefers not to share. She's on Instagram @themakingofdays