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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alert: messy mom tainting the gene pool???

Disclaimer: if you are expecting a light, funny post, you might be disappointed. But if you are all for rants and the right to different parenting styles, read on.

My dad is visiting. As it always happens when my dad is around, we talk about stuff, our opinions on stuff, or disagreements on stuff. Stuff that is mostly generic, so that noone gets hurt or feels criticized. That changed today.

We were talking about stuff. We got to talking about my mom. Note: I don't have the easiest relationship with my mom - more on that maybe later. But a summary is: we love each other, but she is kind of controlling and judgmental and I, a grown woman who has traveled lots and left home at 17 and is now married (have been for 11 years) and has two children and leaves far away from home - I, for some reason, still care deeply about what my mom thinks of me. I don't look for her approval, but her critics hurt me. To be fair, she can be kind of harsh. And most of you will agree with me that a critic touches you more when your own mom is making it. My dad, on the other hand, is usually pretty mellow and diplomatic and takes things very lightly (which explains why he handles my mom's criticism better than I do).

Anyway, so we got around to talking about my mom. He had mentioned before that she was concerned that we didn't enjoy spending time with them (my parents). I said that it wasn't true, but that if sometimes I'm tense its because I feel judged very often when I ma with her. He said it's not that, it's that sometimes she doesn't know how to tell me things without making me mad (I get upset when I'm hurt, so sue me) and I said that I've never established taboo topics, so I wasn't sure what he was referring to.

Should NEVER have done that.

Can open. Worms everywhere.

This apparently was interpreted as my go-ahead for a diatribe about how messy I am, and how this negatively affects my family, and how my toddler is out of control because she is allowed to make a mess everywhere (like she ever asks for permission). Come again?

At first I thought this was still a light discussion. Oh how wrong I was. When I tried to make a joke about Stella being too fast for me to keep up, he made a few remarks that made it very clear that we were very much past a light discussion. We were already in full-blown parental-lesson-turned-reprimand and now-I'll-talk-and-you'll-listen mode. Once the dam was open, it seemed impossible to close it. And I started feeling like I would actually need to hire a lawyer.

Here's a summary of our discussion:

Him: You are messy and your daughters are getting used to being messy and you are setting a poor example and doing a disservice to your family. And what is worse you don't even seem to care because instead of spending your time tiding up you play or read or stuff like that.

Me: Yeah, I do that. Sometimes. Because I have decided that as long as I do a certain amount of cleaning up daily it's ok, and I have accepted that as long as I have young children at home my house will never be perfect. But it's not like we are tripping on banana peels on the floor or anything.

Him: You have given up on getting the house in order and your family picks it up and they think it's ok to make a mess. And you let it sit instead you should put everything in order the moment it's out of place, without letting it accumulate.

Me: You know, I have tried that a couple of times, because contrary to popular opinion I do like a clean and tidy house and I WOULD like it to stay lovely and nearly perfect at all times. However I realized that if I wanted to go after every magazine, every toy, every piece of clothing, every cup that wasn't exactly where it belonged I would do nothing else all day. And that would be pretty sad. I prefer to let some stuff slip and spend some time drawing with Stella or making a puzzle with Sarah or checking my e-mail or reading a bit during the day. Granted, sometimes I could spend more time cleaning but there is no chance that I will try to run after every bit of mess made through the day. With a toddler in the house, I would eventually be go completely bananas.

Him: Which brings us to your toddler. You are sending the message that it is ok for her to make a mess and also she does pretty much whatever she wants.

Me (starting to get defensive at criticism of my parenting): I don't think I do that. But she's a toddler AND she is very stubborn, so there is a lot of stuff she'd like to do her way that I may not like during the day, so I try to pick my battles. I think if I tried to win on everything she would fight me on everything. So I prioritize. I prefer having her eating fruits and veg and sleeping in her crib to her not doing that but also not ever taking her toys out. Even if I didn't I'm not entirely sure that can be a accomplished with a 2-year old. But I do work on teaching her to put it away.

Anyway, this continued for over an hour and after the above it included examples of people who "let their children run wild" and how that eventually bit them in the a**, and a now less-than-veiled accusation that not only I am setting a bad example and doing my family a disservice, but that my life is actually out of balance because I am messy. At which point I started to get annoyed at what I felt was an uninformed and unfair judgment (afterall, we spend together 3 weeks out of a year). So I said this to him and I'd say it again:

I cook 90% of our food from scratch, using mostly organic products, unrefined foods and good-quality ingredients.
I read books, do research, read labels, buy the best food I can find so that my family enjoys a nutritious diet virtually free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, colorants and synthetic ingredients.
I make a weekly menu and shopping list every single week so that we we have a balanced diet and also save money by buying exactly what we need so nothing goes to waste.
I buy almost exclusively wooden toys and I'm subscribed to the newsletter about product recalls so I can avoid buying items that are harmful in some way.
These are some of the things I do, and they don't make me perfect, but I think they are important things to do and I am doing them.
I'm messy, and I am not proud of that, I know I have to handle it, and I haven't given up on getting better on that, but I also think it is now being blown out of proportion in terms of how important it is to the survival and well-being of my family.

My house is livable and comfortable, it doesn't smell bad, there are no cockroaches or rats or other disgusting creatures running around, there are no broken doors, broken furniture, broken appliances, ripped curtains or old mangy pillows in it. Some rooms are often messy, some only sometimes. I don't obsess over it but that doesn't mean I like it either.

It is easy to judge someone else's parenting skills, relationship, behavior from the outside - but the truth is that we never know if we would really do better in their place, because we are not living their life.

And to be completely honest Dad, I don't want to hurt you, but I am not sure that you and mom would do a better job if my life was yours. You might or you might not, but the truth here is that when you have a lot of balls in the air one or two will fall very often, and I feel like there are worse balls I could be dropping.

In the end, I said we'd have to agree to disagree and that it was late and we should go to bed. But this conversation bothered me. Because to me, the "we are proud of you" now rings oh so false.

You think I'm being a baby? Go ahead and say it. I already admitted that more often than not, unless the criticism comes from my mom, I couldn't care less.

But if you are going to say that you agree with my dad and being messy makes me a bad mom, then I have two words for you: BITE ME.


Anonymous said...

Oh hon, I am really sorry they come down hard on you with silly comments and accusations like being messy. I wouldn't take it seriously or personally -even though, how not to? as these comments are coming from your own flesh and blood. But maybe, it's just a question of them being 'old school' and seeing the world, life in a more rigid manner. I know you, I know your ways, and personally I don't think you are messy at all! If anything, I think you are super organized. I was so impressed with that map of NY you pulled out over lunch with notes on the top cafes, lunch spots, etc. You radiate talent, warmth and you are level headed (but super fun at the same time!), so don't let these silly useless comments drag you down. I get nonsense all the time from my folks e.g.. the whole 'don't get a dog' lecture *lol*.. hello, I'm 31! have a kid, married, own a house, work, etc.. and still I get lectures. Go figure!! Love ya babes. Hugs from rainy Oslo

Sam said...

I have no children, and am not a huge fan of kids in general, but that doesn't mean I hate parents and ALL kids. I realize that it's a difficult job and nobody is perfect.

I think that the points you made were dead on. Raising kids is tough, and it's hard to make sure that life is completely in order ALL THE TIME. And for your parentals to be giving you jip over it (considering they've already done the kid thing) seems a bit odd. I'm sure their intentions are well, but sometimes they just don't know how to go about telling you.

We can only do the best that we know how. I think so long as you try every day, you're doing *something*. Hang in there! :-) x x

chasingjoy said...

Ugh! This sounds like a lecture I've gotten all too often, but not from my parents, from my husband! I get the bad example part but seriously, he's 16-months (in my case). Is he really accumulating this information at this point? No, he’s not! A child's recall memory does not kick in until around 3 years old. I actually have some education to back up that statement but it doesn’t stop him. I have to get started now so it will be a habit for me then. Ok, it takes 21 days to form a habit, so we’ve all been told, right? So I’ll kick in gear 21 days before he turns 3! LOL!

Good luck. I would simply say the topic is closed if he brings it up again. Don’t let him get into the “and another thing” phase. This is your life, do what works for you!

Ry said...

Damn, I wrote out a long comment and FF crashed. Go figure.

Bottom line is, don't doubt your abilities. I grew up in what some would consider a "messy" house and what I got in turn was priceless, time with my parents and time to be a kid. Sure, I had to clean my room. However, I believe a messy house is a lived in house and you're always welcome.

Try not to be so hard on yourself, you obviously care deeply for your family and that's the greatest gift you can give them.

Maggie, Dammit said...

Oh, honey.

Nothing hurts quite like a parent's sting.

I'm sorry. :(

Domestic Chicky said...

Oy...I feel your pain. I had a friend who judged me like this and yeah, I am NOT Martha Stewart, but my house is pretty clean - I have lots of projects going on so there is always a random basket or stack of magazines/books/papers somewhere. But you know what? the mess will always be there-my precious 3 year old son won't. So if he wants me to play superhero or do a puzzle when I am getting ready to mop or load up dishes? I will always choose to be his sidekick. It's been my experience that the biggest critics are the ones who chose the mop n glow over the superhero in jammies, and they unconciously regret the choice THEY made.

Keep doing what you are doing. I could not tell you what kind of housekeeper my mom was. But I remember with great detail the times she played my silly games...

Elisa said...

Thank you everyone - reading all your comments was like getting a huge hug. I am so thankful for your support and encouragement!

And I think I'm done being a wet rag now - thank you for helping me pick myself back up!

Kelly said...

Wow. Just wow. I'd probably be way more pissed off than you are if my dad felt like he needed to have a chat about the messiness of my house.

And to say that a "messy" house causes disharmony in a family is hilarious. And infuriating.

Just chalk this up to one of the things you don't want to do to your kids when they get older. ;)

Kgraham said...

Isn't family fun!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I had similar conversation with my dad over my parenting style when we visited them last year, it bugged me still.

It's hard when you get this from your own folks, especially the closest one... Hang in there :)


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