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I’ve always been a confessed neat freak. Order and cleanliness calm me; disorder and dirt leave me feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It irks me when my kids’ pajamas are covered with hot chocolate stains, their hair in tangles, or their shoes untied. When feeling overwhelmed, my response is to start tidying up the house and plopping my kids in the bathtub, suiting them up afterwards in fresh pajamas with neatly combed hair. With my kids scrubbed clean and fresh, I can breathe, reassured that everything is not out of control.
As a self-confessed control freak who normally bathes her kids daily, skipping baths is not something I’m proud to admit has come to pass in my house. Yet as the years have gone by, after a particularly long day, my neat freak ways have been thrown by the wayside, particularly on weekends when we often are out and about and getting home late from sports and activities. Sunday nights are the case in point.
This past year, we escorted our three boys to countless away soccer games. After a long day of fretting over soccer gear, snacks and the logistics of driving (I’m not a great driver and am scared to venture off to new places), I often was too tired to supervise bath time. Throw in our Sunday family dinner, often ending post 9 p.m., and on more than one occasion, I heard myself saying: “Just go to bed in your clothes. You don’t have to take a bath tonight.”
If you don’t think this is gross, think about how dirty a kid gets when they play soccer. Yup. That’s how tired I was. You’ve gotta be pretty darn tired to sign up for an extra washing of your kids’ sheets the next day because you were too simply drained to ask them take a bath.
And then there is the swimming excuse. On several weekends this summer, after having played soccer or tennis, my kids jumped into the pool to cool off. You might think that one should shower after the pool to get the chlorine out of your hair, but think again. On several weekend nights, I accepted a lesser formula, that went like this: pool = shower! And what was Mommy doing while her chitlins “showered” in the pool? Enjoying a glass of wine by the pool while her kids did cannonballs until later than usual, eating hamburgers and chips for dinner (they don’t have fruit and milk at the pool snack bar), soon to be dropped into bed without a bath.
Since my kids know that I think being clean when you sleep is a good idea, they looked at me askance when I suggested they skip the bath. Sometimes, they even countered me, saying the things they’ve heard from me, such as: “Mom, I feel fresher after I take a bath and I sleep better.” (Change the “I’s” to “you’s” and guess who they were quoting?)
Throwing my standards out the window has extended further on weekends than foregoing daily cleanliness. When particularly exhausted, I’ve encouraged my kids not to even brush their teeth. Here’s the funny thing, though. I’ve trained them too well and oftentimes, they won’t fall for it. They’ll say: “Mom, that’s gross, we don’t want to get yellow teeth” … or “Mom, we don’t want to lose our teeth, after all, we only have one set of teeth.” “One night of skipping teeth brushing won’t do a single thing,” I’ve retorted.
Who is this devil mom? Encouraging her kids to sleep with blackened knees and food-filled teeth? Neglecting them, giving them cavities, letting them sleep in filth? Such are the thoughts that have crossed my mind as I am stuck dealing with guilt from these decision before I myself fell asleep on those shameful nights.
As a mom who tries as hard as anyone to “be a good mom”, it’s embarrassing to admit to these shortcomings and feeling like a failure. We all have standards we live up to, and we all like to think that we stick to our standards, never falling short. But if like me, you fall short a lot, why not embrace the fact. Overcoming perfectionism when it comes to motherhood is liberating. Falling short frees you up. It proves to us that what we insist on doing isn’t really all that important, and if we can figure out how to let go sometimes, we can lead happier lives. It shows us that what is important is loving each other as a family and experiencing new things together, rather than always doing things just so, in the way we should.
Liberating too is realizing that the house does not fall apart because someone is dirty. Better that we be happy and dirty and with unbrushed teeth, then tired and yelling at each other over showers at 9 p.m. when no one has the energy for that.
So to that mother who feels like a failure because you don’t live up to expectations, cut yourself some slack. Once in while SKIP THE BATH. AND JUST HAVE FUN. Don’t be afraid to take a lesson in the art of letting go. Spend the extra hour with your friends at the pool. Make your way home, and just plop those kiddos into bed. There will be plenty of time to wash up the next day.
P.S. Please don’t tell my doctor (nor my dentist) that I said any of this as I’m sure I’ll be claiming close to perfection at our next appointment.
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