As parents it’s sometimes helpful to share our experiences and tips that have helped us along our parenting path; the rise of the family bloggers and vloggers demonstrates how we like to tune in and find out how other parents get along.
If we are being honest and giving people an insight into our parenting reality it can be very informative and empowering. However, if it’s a heavily filtered version of the truth with all the ‘bad bits’ taken out it can lead others onto a path that is striving for perfection. There is no perfection. There is no perfect parent. We are human and are designed to make mistakes and learn from them. Just like children need to make mistakes.
A post I read recently left me feeling a little concerned that we could potentially be losing sight of what is important. The post was talking about ‘top cleaning tips’ for when a friend calls last minute to ask if they can pop in. “We all have a couple of those friends don’t we?” it stated. Erm, yes, I do hope so!
The tips continued to tell us how to hide toys out of sight, clean the bathroom sink, fold washing away, spot clean a mirror and basically how to make it look like nobody really lives there. As I read it, in my mind I was thinking if my friend said they needed to pop in:
1. They may need to talk to me or need some support about something.
2. I must fill the kettle and check for tea bags.
3. Immediately scour the cupboards for biscuits.
This is my friend! They are not coming to my home to try and catch me out and find my house messy, they are coming because they want to see me. And eat the delicious cakes I bake; bought from Aldi.
We all know people whose houses are immaculate all the time. The ones where you sit on the edge of the sofa instead of slumping back. The ones where you don’t accept the offer of a biscuit in case you drop some crumbs. The chances are if my friends came around and saw the house immaculate I would make them feel pretty rubbish about the pots they’d left in their sink at home, or the pile of ironing they have left to do. Either that or they’d think I was expecting the Queen to visit.
With my child development hat on I find it quite frustrating to hear how all the toys get tidied up whilst the little one is napping or if someone is coming around. Children need to know that they can revisit what they were doing, pick up where they left off otherwise they may have to start all over again with what they were trying to achieve the first time. You wouldn’t do it with a half-finished jigsaw, so why do it with other games-in-progress? Maybe they just needed a little break but were looking forward to continuing after they’d had 40 winks.
When I was little I was allowed to lay out my toys behind the sofa in the lounge. My Sylvanian Families would be set up for weeks and every time I ‘visited’ Sylvania I would continue the story, developing the characters and storyline. (What I put some of those poor little creatures through doesn’t bear thinking about!) Then I put them away myself when I had finished playing and moved onto Sindy and Skipper.
Now, I’m sure it drove my mum a bit mad when she went to draw the curtains, but she knew it wasn’t forever and quicker than she could fathom, or would wish for, I would be upstairs in my room reading ‘Nikki’ comics and listening to Michael Jackson and The Pet Shop Boys on repeat. Childhood doesn’t last forever, it goes quicker than we can imagine.
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ever tidy the toys away but do it with your child. Talk to them, and if they say they’ve not finished with a toy maybe let them leave it out. If they are too young for that maybe just leave the stuff they were playing with. If they are emptying everything everywhere and not really sitting and playing, then the chances are they have too much and just don’t know what to do with it.
I LOVE reading parent blogs cleaning hacks are great (I love a motivational cleaning post) if it’s clear that it’s OK not to do these things too. If we are constantly striving for perfection or stress about the state of our house when a friend is popping in last minute, then what message is that sending to our children?
More children are developing problems with their mental well-being than ever before, and we have a real responsibility to help them embrace their own uniqueness and to encourage them to let people love them AS THEY ARE.
Saying the words is one thing but modelling the meaning behind them is even more important, by doing so you’re giving your children permission to do the same. My 10 year old is currently getting upset with her hair, “why are THESE bits (pulling at Loose hairs at side of head) here?!” my answer is, “...because it’s hair”, and then check my hair has enough of THOSE bits exposed (there ALWAYS is) before leaving the house with a smile on my face and a reassurance that if it’s OK for Mum then it’s OK for me.
Look, there’s no perfect solution but I plead with you to consider it the next time a friend asks to pop in. Find a happy medium you’re comfortable with. Our homes are for living in, being with family, making memories and sharing a cuppa with friends. Pour that tea, put out that plate of biscuits and watch them sink back into the comfort of your home; as it is.
Now, do you really need to spot clean a mirror to do that?
Jennifer Wyman is founder of Bridge the Gap and an emotional education consultant and trainer. A qualified early years practitioner and mum of two with over 21 years experience within the early years sector.