Clean floor or happy mama?

How to stop focusing on a clean house and instead be the mama you want to be

Practical Parenting Commentator / September 24 2018

It’s all I could see.

The mess, the dust, the toys, the pyjamas left exactly where they were removed (with the knickers still inside the legs of the pants). My senses were so highly tuned to the state of the floor, it was as if it were actually talking to me.

“Look at that dust!”

“Oh my god, are you kidding me!”

I’d been a ‘solo parent’ for about five days - my husband was in the middle of a work-trip to Paris (poor guy) and, with three kids and no family support, I was knee-deep in the parenting trenches. I knew it was going to be tough on my own, so I’d decided I needed to be extra organised to get through it. Instead of my usual morning routine of meditation and yoga, I was rushing through my ‘me time’ and getting straight down to business: lunches, washing, ballet bag ready for the afternoon, dinner defrosting.

It was a military operation, and I was the commander.

 But it didn’t seem to be working. We usually have quite a smooth-running household - with a few minor meltdowns along the way. Of course there are mornings when mummy’s blood boils as she has to repeat the request to ‘put your shoes and socks on!’ two hundred and three times, but generally, we leave the house just in time and in a state of semi-cleanliness. And a smile on our faces.

This time, however, all my efforts seemed to be making it worse.

Everyone was moving slower. The house seemed to be more chaotic. Despite my army-like focus, we were late and dishevelled. And as I started to raise my voice along with my temper, yet again asking the girls to put something away and hurry up, I realised that I had yelled every morning that week. Every morning. I had justified it to them, telling them that I was on my own this week and I expected more help. Even though I doubt they heard very much of it, I went on and on about the expectations and responsibilities I expect of each of them, and so on and so forth.

Which, of course, did nothing but make them ignore me more, until I would have to yell to be heard.

The truth is, I’d allowed the pressure of being on top of it all, turn me into a mama I didn’t want to be. I’d let the messy floor, the late minutes, and the pyjama pants become more important than being kind.

But how do we manage times in our lives when there is so much pressure on us? How do we run a household and manage all that is required of us without turning into a yelling, angry and stressed mother?

Looking back now, I know what went wrong. It is as clear as day to me - so much so, that I’m amazed it took so long to see. Here’s what it was:

  1. I changed what I did each day to look after myself. We all know this scenario: as soon as life gets busy, our own needs are the first to go. After years of teaching and practicing meditation and mindfulness, my morning routine is one of the saving graces in my life. Those few minutes before the three kids wake up are my sanity: I breathe, I stretch, I write, I potter around in the dark. But as soon as life got busy, I dropped that routine. I thought making the lunches was more important. It’s not. I know now that the lunches would still have been made in time if I had taken fifteen minutes to set my day right with a little self-care moment. I promise you, I have never dropped this part of my day again.
  2. I let the ‘story’ of how hard it was going to be and how much I needed to be organised rule my life. After years of coaching hundreds of mamas, I know first-hand how loud that inner voice can be when it comes to our belief systems. I call it the Inner Mean Mama, and oh she can be mean. Things like “why is this so hard” and “I can’t do this anymore” are on high rotation for so many of us, and we let it rule our lives. In this situation, I let that inner voice change the way I acted, and what I prioritised. It made me focus on my floor more than my words with my children, and I let it turn me into a stressed out mama.

So often, we unconsciously let these little things change our whole life. Dropping our own needs always leads to burnout. And letting that Inner Mean Mama voice rule our day always leads to angry outbursts. These two things are non-negotiables for me now. After all, a clean floor is never as important as a happy family.