Recently my daughter and I went over to a neighbor’s house for a backyard playdate. My daughter announced upon arrival that she needed to use the bathroom (of course), so our host invited us inside. “I’m so sorry,” she said, gesturing around apologetically. “My house is such a mess!” I glanced around. What I saw was a beautifully decorated home, and on the floor was a basket of laundry and an infant activity mat. Confused, I guided my preschooler to the bathroom. Mess? This house was adorable! My house was a dumpster compared to this. One basket of laundry? I just hide the overflowing baskets IN the laundry room, behind the closed door! And also…this bathroom was spotless! My bathrooms have an ever-present glob of toothpaste in the sink and the hand towel is forever scrunched into a ball off to the side.
My daughter finished up, washed her hands (I made sure the towel was hung up!), and we headed back out to play. But the encounter left me thinking. Why did my friend apologize for the state of her house? She has a four year old and an infant, plus she works from home. Her house looked great to me!
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a conversation like this. Whether it’s “My house is a MESS” or “This dinner was a DISASTER” or “I am so FAT” or “My kid is a BRAT”, these are statements I’ve heard from friends, neighbors, and even my own mouth. But the evidence rarely supports the sentence. I’m sure you’ve been in these conversations before. So why do we say these things?
Is it false humility?
Has our culture (especially if you’re a Christian) taught you that humility means putting yourself down? That you can’t feel pride in your home or your body or your kids?
Is it a need for approval?
We all have it–the need to be told we are good enough. Sometimes our egos crave praise too much, but sometimes, we just need a little affirmation in the moment.
Is it the comparison game?
Are we suddenly feeling like we are not measuring up to our friend, neighbor, sister-in-law, etc? Is your mother-in-law such a talented cook that you feel like you can’t even bring a dish to her potluck without apologizing for it ahead of time?
Is it just anxiety?
That shape-shifting, slippery demon that constantly picks us apart at the seams, leaving us feeling like we are actually falling to pieces?
Or is it some combination of all of these, depending on the day? I’ve been on both sides of the conversation, both apologizing and saying, “No, no, your house/meal/kids/body is awesome!”
I’m done apologizing.
My friend texted me the next day, thanking us for coming over and wanting to set up another playdate. Once again, she apologized for the state of her house. I started to type a response, but instead I turned on the video feature of my phone and hit ‘record.’ For the next two minutes, I narrated a tour of the first floor of my house, including things such as: last night’s ice cream dishes in the sink, crumbs and sticky fingerprints on (and under!) the table, a cluttered sea of Little People and who-knows-what toys covering my living room floor, a pinata on my kitchen island, my husband’s electric drill and its accessories (I’d get laughed out of Home Depot for that) on the counter, and a precariously tall stack of child artwork. (The laundry baskets were upstairs). It was 8am on a Thursday.
I’m not a slob. I vacuum, I do laundry, I bathe my children (and myself!). But my grandmother, aunts, and even my own mom kept their homes in sparkling clean condition. They vacuumed the entire house daily. My mom constantly put our toys away after we played with them, and when my sister and I were teenagers, there were consequences to be had if we left anything on the kitchen table or dishes in the sink. It’s a standard I’ve never been able to live up to and for a long time I’ve beaten myself up about it. But not anymore.
When guests come to my home, friends eat at my table, family plays with my children, I want the focus to be on the people present. I want to focus on the relationships, not whether or not I can still see vacuum lines in the carpet. I want to know my friends can handle wiping crumbs off their chair and still love me (and my kids!). I want to feel confident enough in my relationships with family members that I don’t panic-clean when they’re pulling into the driveway. I don’t want to be tearing myself down inside while smiling on the outside. I want to be the mom who is present with her kids and present to her own needs (like relaxing on the couch during naptime, rather than hustling to straighten things up).
Are there moms who can do both? Of course. Are there moms who delight in having a clean, crumb-free home? Of course. And good for them! But if you are finding yourself in the anxious, rocky boat of never feeling like your house is clean enough, your meals are tasty enough, your body athletic/skinny/sexy/whatever enough…take a deep breath. And stop apologizing. You are a wonderful person with a beautiful home and fabulous family. You are worth knowing. You are a gift. Stop apologizing. Open the door and say, “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.”