Mothering in the Mess

I am a recovering slob. To be honest, I would probably still be a slob if I hadn’t married a man who loves tidiness and also feels loved when I make an effort to be tidy alongside him. Why cleaning up has to be our shared hobby, I’ll never understand. But here I am, a reformed messy woman wishing our couple-hobby could be eating ice cream in bed.

When I first married David, in an effort (and a failing one at that) to be a perfect wife I started cleaning the way he likes things cleaned. I closed dresser drawers, I did the dishes right as we finished dinner, I lined my shoes next to the door. Not because he demanded it, because frankly, if my husband were to ever demand anything from me he would find himself with the exact opposite of what he wanted for the rest of time. No, my efforts are because he genuinely likes tidiness but doesn’t expect it or demand it. I can almost see a visible weight lift from his shoulders when he walks in the door and our home isn’t trashed by the toddlers and the overwhelmed mother who spend their minutes, hours, and days there. Don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of days that it is absolutely a mess and it takes every ounce of my effort to even clean up after meals. And I am thankful to be married to a man who just jumps in to work with me to get things back in order, never making me feel bad or as unqualified to be a mother as I feel on those long house-trashing days.

And so the beginning of our marriage was filled with empty kitchen sinks and finished laundry. Even when we had just one baby, I was still pretty good at keeping things all in place. It was a little harder when our little tyrant of a son started walking and running and sword fighting the sofa cushions, but it was still manageable.

Fast forward to two tyrant toddlers, a husband whose Army assignment has him working endless hours and spending countless days, weeks, and months away from home, and enough toys (oh how I hate the toys) to fill Al’s Toy Barn (Toy Story reference, anyone?). Then add in exhaustion, feeling like I’ll never manage on my own, grieving the loss of my mother, the need to re-watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix for the 16th time, and things just feel… messy.

I had this conversation with my best friend recently. We talked about all this. About why toddlers could possibly think it’s appropriate to change their clothes 26 times a day. About why we even have all the toys; “Let’s throw them out!” we chant. About why, despite the fact that we are IN OUR HOME most of the entire day every day, we can’t seem to stay on top of all these messy things. Why we aren’t reading our Bibles enough. Why we aren’t praying over our children enough. Why our toddlers look us straight in our eyes, without flinching, and as we yell “STOP! NO!” they throw a toy at their younger sibling because…. well…. we never figure that part out.

And as we weakly described these scenes to each other, chiming in with “Oh yes. I know exactly what you mean.” She said something profound: “I just need to mother through the mess.” She went on to say that we just need to find a way to stay calm in the chaos that is swirling around us threatening to strip us of our dignity (it’s hard to hold on to that dignity when you’re wiping butts all day…). We need to find a way to wrap our children in our arms when they disobey and remind them that who they are is ok with us, their actions at times are certainly NOT ok, but that we don’t need them to be anyone different.

This has been on my mind so much lately, as David is gone for another month-long training. Mother through the mess. Love my children even when I feel like I have nothing left. Look at the books strewn across the floor and be thankful they love to pour over pages and use their imagination. Wipe the crumbs off the floor from a stolen graham cracker and laugh a little at myself for completely being oblivious to that particular snack-heist. Calmly ask Flora not to grab Eli by the hair when he is doing something she dislikes.

One day my sink will be empty because I’m back to washing dishes for 2. My laundry will be folded and free of marinara stains from when I walked by a grabby little hand who wanted to show me how he could pick up a meatball with a spoon. My house will be tidy in time. But how will my heart be?

Will my heart be heavy with regret over how frustrated I was that Eli was upset paint was on his hands during painting time? Will I sit and think about all the things I wished I had differently? Because I just don’t feel like I’ll remember the messy house. But I will I also forget the messy little baby face who says “Mama” 6.2 million times a day just to show me something new?

I want to mother through the mess. I want to look at my children the way I know God looks at me. I want to rejoice in their successes and be patient with them in their mishaps and missteps and remind them that they are not a mistake. Their learning is not a mistake. And even when they do make a mistake, I want them to be able to turn to me in their mess to help them, because they know in me they can find help- not condemnation.

Life is messy. Mothering is messy. Even Gilmore Girls is messy and imperfect. But I am thankful to be finding time in the Word each day. God’s Word that is full of truth and encouragement. Word that takes mistakes and mess and walks us through it to the other side.

So here’s to the mess, friends. Here’s to the hard days that seem like they won’t end. Here’s to all the mothers who have to wash laundry more than once because they forget about it until something smells like blue cheese upstairs (guilty). And here’s to Jesus. The mess-cleaner and the only one whose got all the answers to get us through to the other side.

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