Let me take you back to one winter when I was a pre-teen. We were on one of our long family road trips to southern Texas, this time with my cousin traveling along. He always sat in the very back of our minivan, where he could chatter about video games and reenact explosions properly in a whole row to himself. Once, when he was done with his gum and didn’t have a trash bag in the back, my mom reached her hand out and told him she’d throw it away for him. I recoiled in horror at this idea. For some reason, I’ll never forget what my mom said in response to me:
“I’m a mom. I’ve had a lot worse things in my hand than chewed gum.”
This was my first true glimpse of what life would one day become for me.
If you’ve followed my blog much at all, you already know that I can’t stop writing about messes. For those of you who’d like to understand why, let me offer this short explanation: I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old.
A longer explanation is that we’ve been through our share of spills, vomit in the car, poop on the floor, and crayon on the walls, to gloss over a few of our incidents. Truth be told, I know I can only expect more. Here’s how I’m embracing life as a mom in all its messiness.
Laugh at Messes
Laughter may come easily to me, but NOT always. Sometimes, in the moment, I either want to explode, cry, or hide. So here’s a reminder to myself: laugh at the days to come. Laugh at the messes that will be made, so when they happen you’ll already have a sense of humor about it. Remember that these moments will make for great stories in the future and are especially useful for sharing with your child’s future prom dates or fiance.
Make Your Home Functional
Whether you have the space for a play room or more of a play nook, create a functional space for your kids to make a mess. We have two large kids’ bedrooms, but no play room, and a lot of times both my kiddos play in the living room because it’s just more convenient. We’ve learned to expect the mess, and to have some set pick up times so that before dinner, things aren’t too crazy.
I’ve found that making your home kid-friendly mostly includes an attitude of acceptance and expectations for messes, and for me that’s tougher than giving my kids a play space. I like to have control over the atmosphere in my home, but having a family means sharing “my” space. So I need reminders that now might not be the time for a Pinterest-perfect home, and that’s okay. You can still enjoy your home, and let go of any fears of having other moms or guests over, too. They will probably breathe a sigh of relief to see another mom who allows for the chaos her kids will create.
Let Them Get Messy Outside
My mom used to set us free in the backyard to meet up with neighborhood friends and make mud pies–it was one of our favorite activities! I tend to cringe at some messes, especially from things like sand boxes (the sand gets EVERYWHERE!), but I’m working on letting it go.
After all, it’s better that the kids get messy outside than in the house. There are almost three seasons of the year when it’s easy enough to get them in nature or at least in the back yard, and encourage a few messes…so let them loose!
Life with kids can get messy in more ways than one, so be real with yourself, your kids, and the world that you’re imperfect. If you handle your own mistakes and messes with humility and ownership, your kids will learn to do the same. It takes some bravery, but share more than your highlight reel with your family or friends. The more authentic you are, the more easily you’ll accept your kids in all their sticky-coated loveliness. Kids don’t want or need you to be perfect, they just need you in all your YOUness.
Value Your Kids’ Special Sauce
It would have been hard for me to believe this before I became a mom, but sometimes life with kids becomes ordinary. I hate the thought of taking my family for granted. I want to make sure my kids know how much I appreciate them.
Go beyond sharing that you love them to share what you love about them. Look for moments that highlight their sense of humor, their artistic flair, their empathy, their creativity, or whatever it is that makes them quirky and unique. Each child adds an essential ingredient to your family, and I’m sure you have those qualities in mind right now. Write it down, get it on camera, share it with your friends, but most of all, share it with them. When you appreciate them and tell them so, you’ll build bonds that no stained white furniture can put asunder.
Have Grace for Yourself + Your Kids
When your kids mess up, or when life hands you something worse than chewed up gum, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s so easy to think that we’re “in charge” of our kids, and that we’ve messed up too when they make a mistake. We may shape our kids, but God is their ultimate parent, and our kiddos have a will of their own.
When you fail or your kids fail and life gets messy, make sure there is a confession, forgiveness, and then wipe the slate clean. Move right along and remember that you are only human, and so are your kids. There will be other chances to get it right.
Avoid Parenting Formulas
I keep getting reminders from God that one of our struggles as humans is our tendency to look for an equation. We hope that doing A will lead to B, and that will mean C. It’s all over God’s word that he doesn’t want us to be in control (yikes!) or to offer him rituals, he just wants mercy and responsiveness.
So don’t expect that you’ll be able to avoid messes or your kids’ bad choices with some sort of fool-proof parenting method. I’ve done this before (ahem…POTTY TRAINING) with poor results!
Don’t burden yourself with upholding an ideal that you and the kids can’t live up to, but instead be flexible and open. The more rigid you are in your expectations, the more you’ll hate messy surprises.
My mom is a wise woman. Now that I’m a mom too, her statement makes perfect sense. So whether you were expecting life to get this messy as a mom, I’m giving you (and mostly myself) full permission to relax, laugh, and embrace the mess!
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