When Zach was a year-and-a-half old, I joined a “Sit n Play” group. It was a group of six families that met every week, rotating through each of our houses. Whenever it was my turn to host, I became a total wreck, frantically cleaning the house, including mopping the floor. No matter that the kids would track in dirt and sand as soon as they toddled inside. I was terrified the moms would judge me and think I was a bad mother.
I needn’t have worried of course because they were all gracious, friendly, and their houses looked just like mine (before I cleaned up). I noticed that their bathroom sinks and floors sometimes looked in need of a bit of scrubbing, but I didn’t mind. Mostly I felt grateful. I wasn’t a horrible mother with a messy house. I was a mother just like all of my friends, and we had young children so of course we had messy houses. I still like to sweep before someone comes over, but that’s the extent of it, no scrubbing, no mopping, and no stressing out. Sometimes I haven’t even swept, and lo and behold, I noticed the world didn’t end. It’s been hugely liberating.
Another thing I used to do was to buy pastries ahead of time and make a pot of coffee. Maybe it’s just my set of friends, but most of them seemed more grateful when I stopped providing the pastries. Quite often they bring their own bottles of water or tea. I still offer to make tea but sometimes forget to actually make any, and as far as I know, no one’s been offended.
Sometimes you just need to build a Mythbusters-style obstacle course.
Recently, a friend of mine went through that special level of hell where one member after another in her family was sick, and she was housebound for a few weeks. I asked if she wanted some company, and she said her house was a mess, but if I didn’t mind, I could come over.
My friend wasn’t kidding when she said her house was a mess. I’d been there many times over the years, and I’d never seen this fine coating of crushed Cheerios all the way from the front door through the kitchen into the playroom before. My friend’s house cleaner, who also works as her part-time nanny, hadn’t been able to come over to clean because she’d caught the kids’ cold. I admired my friend’s “I can’t stand that the house is like this, but it is what it is” attitude.
I thanked her for trusting me enough to let me come over when her house was like that. She laughed and admitted she wouldn’t have let just anyone come over. In that moment, I felt incredibly proud of all the hard work I’ve done in therapy, particularly in letting go of my perfectionism and judgment. In exchange, I've gained self-confidence and a depth of friendship that I simply wasn't capable of before.
There is, however, the temptation to overcompensate by letting the mess in my house get so bad it's become a fire hazard. So far, as long as I can still find the children and the cat among the piles of construction paper, Legos, and cheap goody bag toys, I think we're doing okay.
Do you clean up before friends come over? How much?