"Do you need any help?" my eldest daughter asked.
I stared at her for a moment instead of answering the question. Unprepared for her offer but already planning to ask for her help, I searched my mental to-do's for what I knew she could assist me with as I prepared the house for her younger sister's 6th birthday party.
"Yes, thank you! Can you bring those boxes into the guest room? And then those bags? And those cushions also?" I stopped at three things so as to not overwhelm her and cause her to change her mind about her freewill offering. As she moved each group of items from the dining room to the guest room, I sensed I was really messing up this parenting thing. Not because she was helping me clean, but for the precedent I was setting: when we have guests, we must hide our junk.
I've never claimed to be a good housekeeper. I'm actually OK with having a not-so-perfectly-kept house. I don't feel like it makes me less of a person if my house is a mess. However, mom guilt is apparently a different category for me than my personhood; when my house is a mess, I feel like less of a mom.
I don't have a standard unit of measure by which I gauge my mom-ness. On the other hand, if there was a widely accepted unit of what deems a "good mom", I'm not saying I wouldn't ever glance at it ... but I am not a woman who sits around wondering if she's good enough for her kids. Because I know I'm not; it's not even a question. Sometimes, after a bad parenting streak, that goal of being a perfect mom plops down on my chest and makes my eyes bulge out. Preparing for a less than impressive non-Pinterest birthday party while realizing what a huge mess I'd neglected was one of those times.
My sweet and sensitive 10-year-old saw I was in panic mode three hours before her sister's party and it affected her to the point that she volunteered to stop what she was doing and help me. I'm supposed to be the grown-up. I'm the one who should be helping her learn how to take care of things. I mean, what am I teaching her about managing responsibilities when I'm not actually cleaning or organizing? Rather, I'm hiding piles of papers, boxes, old projects and gift bags that have been sitting in the dining room for at least six months instead of putting it all in its proper place.
Grateful as I was for her help, I was left feeling like the worst mother ever for needing my young tween daughter to rescue me. If I can't even keep the house in order, how am I going to guide her through all the confusion and craziness of her teen years? If I want her to talk to me and be honest about the challenges in her life, how can I ask her to literally hide my junk in a back room? Am I not exposing myself to her as a hypocrite?
But that's not how she saw it; she was fine. She was just helping her mom. She was not blowing this incident out of proportion into something it was not. That was just me.
I am not psychic. I do not know what is going on in my kid's brain. I need to listen to her and not jump to conclusions. I need to stop convincing myself that I've ruined her life before she's given me the chance to. I need to quit being intimidated by her innocence.
I can't change who I am but I can share my struggles with my children. I can thank them for their help and appreciate their thoughtfulness.
As my 10-year-old and I cleared the last of the junk out of the dining room and admired our work, I thanked her for her help and let her know I couldn't have accomplished this task without her. As she looked up at me and smiled, I reminded myself I was just overreacting and that my kids don't really notice or care when the house is a mess. Therefore, I am not setting a terrible example just because I can't keep up with our stuff sometimes.
It was at this moment that my 6-year-old birthday girl burst into the room and announced: "This is the first time I've seen the house this clean! Because normally the house is all crazy."
I stand corrected.
Parenting is full of both joyous and messy moments. There's no perfect way to parent, which is why we've teamed up with Clorox to celebrate all of life's little messes. Do you have a personal story about your kids that impacted your approach to parenting or helped you stop stressing the little things? Let us know your perfectly imperfect parenting tale at firstname.lastname@example.org.