Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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I blamed my wife for our messy house, I was wrong for many reasons


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I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter’s friends, approached me and said, “I just saw in your house. It’s pretty dirty. Norah’s mommy needs to clean more.”

“Some people find comments like that rude,” I said.

The little girl looked at me with a snarky smile and said, “yup!”

The thing that really sucks about what five year olds say is I knew she was being 100% honest. And indeed, our house was a mess. At the time, I could probably have listed a million reasons to explain our clutter piles, random installments of underwear, laundry baskets full of clean laundry sitting, precariously, in the middle of the living room, and so on. There always seems to be a bracelet loom, or a couple dolls, or a play dough kit on the table, along with a few dirty dishes.

It depends on the day, and if we have company coming.

We always have random kids hanging out in our living room, or on the porch, eating our food, and making messes by getting out our kids toys and not putting them back. Somehow we’ve become a neighborhood hotspot for fatherless kids looking for a place to hang out (I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into too much detail). We also just had a new baby, and that was probably the biggest reason for our messy house.

What really sucks is that there seems to be no justifiable excuse for having a messy house.

In the grand scheme of things, there are people with messier houses. I’ve seen them. And when I was young, I’d go to these houses, and say shit like, “I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty.”

Then I’d run home, and tell my mother about it, and we’d laugh and judge these messy house people. My mother would say things like, “Doesn’t she care about her kids? Or her home?”

It always came down to blaming the mother.

Although we live in an age where a stay at home dad is not that unusual (in fact, I was one for a short time), no matter what’s going on, the dynamics of the family, people still blame my wife for our messy home. I suppose I know this because I, too, used to blame my wife for our messy house.

The second she became a stay at home mom, I started getting really judgmental. I started looking at the house, the state of it, and thinking things like, “You have one job! One job! To take care of the home.”

I never considered the fact that kids just don’t care. When I was home with the kids, I’d sweep beneath the table, and 10 minutes later, it was dirty again. I’d have the kids put their toys away before bed, and by morning, before I even got up, they were back out.

I don’t want to speak for your kids, but my kids are remarkable mess makers!

Taking care of the home is actually a collection of a million full-time jobs. My wife is a housekeeper, disciplinarian, teacher, nurse, chauffeur, comforter, cook, part-time student, school volunteer, neighborhood caregiver, and so on…

A few years ago, Mel and I got into an argument about the house. I told her it was embarrassing. I asked her what she did all day. “It really can’t be that hard to keep the house clean,” I said.

We got into a huge fight over that. Mel told me that I needed to realize what she was up against. And then she told me something that really hit home. She said, “Sometimes it comes down between cleaning the house, and taking Tristan and Norah to the park. Or spending time having fun with them, or teaching them to read or write. Sometimes I can either do the dishes, or teach our son how to ride a bike, or our daughter how to walk. I’d rather do those things, frankly. I’d rather not be that mom who ignores our kids, and myself, because I’m so busy cleaning.”

What she said made a lot of sense. So I backed off. I stopped looking at the dirty dishes, and assuming that they were evidence of Mel sitting on her ass all day. Instead, I got off my ass and started washing the dishes. I realized that this was not HER mess, but OUR mess, and I started pitching in more.

I stopped worrying about the house, and started paying attention to the development of our children. I stated to pay attention to how happy they were, and the kind of relationship they shared with their mother, and I noticed that we have a messy house, and really happy, bright kids.

I’m not saying that if you have a clean house, you are doing something wrong. But what I am saying is that I don’t judge my wife for teaching my son how to swim, rather than vacuuming the living room. I don’t judge her for bettering herself by finishing her math homework, rather than washing the dishes. And I don’t think you should look down on stay-at-home moms with a messy house, because chances are, they are using that time wisely. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter
Photo by Lucinda Higley


Rie said...

Oh my, you made me cry. Thank you for this post, my house is always messy, there are always dirt dishes BUT my 3.5yo has learnt to cook scrambled eggs & muffins. He can also count up to 30, add 1+1 & 1+2 (up to 5) and he can subtract those numbers back down to 0. He can say the alphabet & almost spell his name. He can't quite ride a bike yet but he knows how to weed in the garden & plant seeds. He can share his toys with strangers & family. He can play happily with his baby sister & 'read' her books.
Sometimes I do feel like I fail because my house is messy but you just made me feel anything but a failure, you made me feel like a success. So thank you.

Brittany Griffin said...

Thank you for writing this from a dad's perspective. I just wrote it from a mom's perspective a couple of days ago, and it was nice to hear it from a different angle. Keep up the good work!

Paintsmh said...

I wanted to thank you for righting this, since well you're a man. When our daughter (now 4 months was born) I had a spotless house. I'd lost my job when I was 4 months pregnant, and had been unable to find work before I delivered her. My husband is a truck driver, and I had been a milk inspector, often driving equal miles with less pay, for the previous 4 years. After losing my job I went back to helping on my parent's floundering dairy farm as much as my pregnancy would allow, taking care of my ponies, my husband's massive Percheron drafts, and a flock of a few dozen chickens. The house stayed clean because I had nothing to do. After Peggy-Ann came along that changed. I was extremely sick my entire pregnancy and for the first 2 months after. When our apartment house was put on the market we decided to move down to my folks and rent from them as they'd sold the majority of the dairy herd and kept only a few pet cows and our beef steers. Our living quarters are no where near as immaculate as they were. I'm busy with our daughter, several dogs, multiple horses, over 50 hens, a half dozen Thanksgiving bound turkeys, steers, garden, and quite frankly while the house is tidy with myself and my mother to take care of it, I plan to make my husband read your post, as I think he needs to understand just because it may LOOK like I didn't do much in a day, I'm up at 4 fixing his breakfast, and lucky to be in bed by 11. Thank you for a well written well thought out, very true post. :)