I read a quote recently that said something like, “When it comes to myself, my children, or my home, at least one of us will probably look a mess at any given time.” I thought about that quote as I cleaned my house this past weekend anticipating having a few friends over for a cookout. This particular day I had some extra energy, so in addition to mopping the floors, dusting the TV stand and lighting a few candles, I did a few loads of laundry and even found myself shining the knobs on the kitchen cabinets.
I was pretty pleased with myself when I was done but I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed after laying eyes on a few things scattered around the dining room. The items made it clear that a four-year-old lives here: a science lab she had gotten as a Christmas present but couldn’t fit in her room, a bucket of Paw Patrol and Whisker Haven figures by the front door that held all of the characters I discovered in shoes and in between cushions long after her bedtime, and lastly, coloring books and crayons stacked under the coffee table. For a second I thought about gathering everything up, tossing it in her room and not worrying about it until after our guests left, but then it hit me: My child lives here. Her STEM lab and mini fire marshal dalmatian belong here just as much as my scented candles and throw pillows. Why did I feel the need to apologize for their presence to people who visited a few times every year?
It’s a situation I swore I’d never let myself be in before I became a parent. I passed all kinds of judgment on the families in the neighborhood whose lawns were littered with tricycles and kiddie pools. In fact, I remember my own mother banishing me and my whole Barbie community to the garage because she was not about that playroom/living room life. So there was 8-year-old me, bundled up in a coat pushing my Shani doll around in a pink Porsche past the garden hose and the trash bins. Even then I wondered why it mattered to my mother so much that her house looked like Max’s apartment from “Living Single,” totally dismissing my existence until guests walked past my bedroom to use the bathroom.
What I’ve come to realize now being a parent myself is the unrelenting pressure that society can sometimes have for people to maintain appearances regardless of the number of responsibilities they have. In a recent article, writer Erin Sturm shared how even on days where she damn near invited Mr. Clean himself to MC her tidying up festivities, she couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t enough:
“Even when I’ve cleaned for hours, I look at my house through, what I imagine are, someone else’s critical eyes and can’t help but feel like I should be doing more. There’s always something out of place. There’s always something that needs to be wiped down. There’s always so much more that needs to be done.”
My living room doesn’t exactly look like a daycare, but at this very moment I can guarantee there’s some plastic food from a kitchen set scattered under the sectional keeping the dust bunnies company as well as a puzzle with missing pieces shoved in a closet along with a bed in a bag and bucket of salt for the next winter blizzard. I have to remind myself that as long as my child is fed, clothed, happy and loved, I’m doing a damn good job. If you consider yourself my friend and are silently judging me because you sat on a miniature plastic milk carton by accident, then maybe you’re not someone I want in my house to begin with. Sturm shares that’s why she believes it’s important for moms to surround themselves with women who “get it:”
“We’re in our homes raising our children on our own. We need a community. We need to be around other women who get it. Women who are giving the best parts of themselves to their families every day. Women who try and succeed and try and fail and try again. Women who are experiencing the same fear, joy, and awe that comes with trying to raise good people.”
I will never apologize for the moments when my life as a parent doesn’t appear as cozy as a Hallmark movie or as trendy as a Target commercial. None of us should have to apologize for any parts of our lives being short of perfection. In addition, my home isn’t just a reflection of my interests and experiences, it’s a place where my kid lives her life too. Instead of scented candles and area rugs, her contributions to our humble abode are cookie crumbs, foam letters on the side of the bathtub and the occasional stain from and explosive Capri Sun. While I may not let her wreak havoc and turn our home into ground zero, what I won’t do is make her feel like she has to be any less herself in order to impress company (particularly company that aren’t contributing to my bills or happiness).
It takes a lot of strength and courage in these times to walk into the outside world and be completely yourself, and the last place I want my home to be for my daughter (or anyone else for that matter) is somewhere where they have to maintain a facade of perfection. The home should be a place where she gets to make mistakes, spill things, and be surrounded in all of her Crayola/Playskool glory. So if you get up and there’s a fruit snack stuck to your ass, just know that the moment I didn’t spend obsessing over vacuuming every crevice of my couch is a moment I spent reading a story, making an appointment at the pediatrician or singing “Old McDonald” for the tenth time in a row. Whether you’re cleaning peanut butter out of the remote control buttons or obsessing over the perfect wine glasses for a party with friends, remind yourself to not go so crazy over setting the scene for your life that you neglect to actually live it.
Toya Sharee is a sexual health expert who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.