Cleaning Out The Clutter With My Mom
Mother daughter relationships can be tricky.
One of the toughest things in my own journey as a daughter, is coming out from my mother’s shadow and charting my own course as a mother.
I had a wonderful childhood. There were parties, trips to the circus, milk and cookies after school, family walks and softball games, summer vacations and barbecues. I attribute much of that to my mother, Alma.
My mom didn’t work or worked only part-time for most of my school years. She was pretty much always there for school pickups and PTA meetings and our house was always museum-like clean, and when my dad got home from work at about 4:00, we all sat down for family dinner every night at 4:30 like clockwork. Every. Night.
So even when I was pregnant and anxious and nervous about becoming a mother myself, the one thing that gave me comfort was knowing that I had a great mom. And if I could do what she did for me, I would be okay.
As an adult, my mom and I have had our share of issues. But my biggest issue with my mom was definitely around housecleaning. My mother kept a very clean house. Yes, she did a white glove test in our room more than once. Yes, you would hear about it if she found a shirt in your sock drawer or vice versa. And if you washed the dishes but didn’t clean the kitchen properly, i.e. empty the sink trap, sweep the floor and wipe down the countertops, you might be awakened out of your sleep to go back downstairs and finish the job.
As a working mom with a one and half hour commute, I just didn’t have the time to give my house that kind of attention.
Trust me, I tried. For months, I watched my husband roll on the floor playing with the kids on a Saturday with nary a dusty care in the world, while I toiled away mopping and waxing to a shiny finish and missing out on quality time. I was angry. In the end, I was “mean mommy” and he was “fun daddy.” With my crazy schedule, I made a conscious decision about how I would use the very little weekend free time I had with my children. And I decided that my house would be clean but not always tidy, and that this was one of the areas I was willing to throw some money at. I had a cleaning lady come twice a month.
Though I felt resolved in my mind and I talked a good game, whenever my mother came to visit, I got very anxious. Ok, stressed. I could hear her looking at the growing pile of mail on my otherwise clean dining room table, and saying her usual, “Oh, I see you’ve been busy,” which I took as code for, “You don’t keep your house clean. You are a bad mother.”
I would be insulted when she offered to clean things that really should have been taken care of already, especially when she pointed out those in between spots that I hadn’t thought about in years. I would take it as a personal affront when she offered to tackle my linen closet. I was embarassed that I had help coming in for cleaning. I don’t care what post-feminist year it is, when a house is untidy, nobody blames the husband.
And while I was able to accept my mom’s help in my other areas, this cleaning thing really got to me. Maybe I was caught up in gender roles. Maybe because I grew up in that environment that seemed “right” and my imperfection seemed “wrong.”
It took some time and a lot of self talk, but I was eventually able to accept that I’m a different kind of mother than my mom was—you may find piles of mail on my table, and you may find clean clothes still in the laundry basket, or you may find dirty clothes piled up in the laundry basket—but I’m still a very good mother.
Just like my mom. Oh, and now when she comes over, I have a list of suggested cleaning projects that I would love for her to tackle.