There are familiar words that get thrown around in discussions about why a home in which children live can look like a path of destruction.

“It’s because our home is lived in,” a mom will say with an added exclamation of, “We’re making memories here!”

As soon as it’s said you can almost hear a collective cheer from fellow messy-house moms across the world, banding together in their “making-memories-in-my-lived-in-home”-ness and taking to the streets to defend their dirt against all of the judgers.

I know this because I am a messy-house mom, and I’ve been one of the women on those streets. 

I used to hold that picket sign defending my hasn’t-been-wiped-down-since-last-week house with pride. I’d so aggressively chant my “making memories” claim that the furthest person away could hear.

Until one day, I finally realized my proclamation of “mess equals memories” was not only back-handedly inferring that a mom with a clean home WASN’T making memories, but that it was a mask of made-up confidence that was hiding my much deeper issues.

Because in-between the chants, I was side-eyeing the women around me. I wondered if any of them felt like the fraud I did; claiming my house was a representation of embracing the REAL moments with my kids, and not the fact that I was simply too exhausted, too anxiety-ridden and too down on my self-esteem to muster up enough of anything to even lift a dish towel.

And while I claimed I didn’t care what people thought . . . I cared a lot.

Before a friend could even step inside my front door, I was already giving her my “it’s been a crazy week with the kids so please don’t look at my mess” speech.

You know the one.

The one where you feel better if you say it before she has a chance to think it and start making assumptions about your ability to manage “all of the things”. The one where even after you’ve given your disclaimer, you apologize for the dried cheese on the counter next to her coffee cup or the disgusting mound of dishes that are in her direct line of sight, as if these things offend her.

While I was doing this, I was completely missing what was in front of me . . . which was a friend that was there to hang out, to converse and to simply enjoy some friendship, and NOT dissect my living space. A friend who couldn’t care less about how I keep my home, but WAS deeply concerned about helping me through my exhaustion, anxiety and self-esteem issues. And maybe she needed me to help her through hers, too.

Instead, I hid from that dirty laundry talk by bringing up the dirty counter.

That kind of chatter about how our houses look, and all of this head space taken up worrying about what other people think about it, is just one giant barrier to everything else that actually matters.

Because we SHOULD be discussing why we have become a society that judges each other in every aspect of our lives. We should be discussing why we aren’t secure enough in our way of life that we feel we need to relentlessly defend ourselves when someone challenges it. We should be discussing how our beautiful motherly instincts are being destroyed by the effects of social media. We should be asking each other about how our days are going and care about the answer. We should be discussing our dreams and what’s keeping us from finding them. We should be talking about our deepest struggles and greatest joys. We should be discussing how we can better help each other.

Instead . . . we talk about cleaning.

And we worry about what people think of our ability to do it.

And we analyze what it says about us if our house is sparkling from its pristine-ness, or from the glare of the sunlight bouncing off all of the toy cars strewn across the floor.

We are better than that.

There is so much more depth to us.

Because today, I may have enough time and energy to make my house spotless . . . and next week I may sit on my couch and stare at the disaster across my main floor and choose to let it ride for the fourth day in a row. And whether you come and visit me today or a week from now, I hope what’s in my mind and what’s in our discussion is the same.

I hope it’s the state of our hearts, our minds, and our relationships.

And not the state of my home.

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.