Twenty-first century moms live a life similar to previous generations. I’m pretty sure my grandma was exhausted, watched the clock until bedtime, and prayed to the potty-training gods just like her granddaughter would 60 years later. She probably poured a bigger than usual glass of wine some days, commiserated with her girlfriends about how hard it all was, and relished in the quiet of nap time. And I’m sure she heard the old guilt-ridden saying that “the dishes could wait” and she should “treasure every moment” with her kids because “it all goes by so fast.” Only Grandma probably heard this now and then, maybe from her own grandma, or maybe from a friend or neighbor. Perhaps she read it in Good Housekeeping when it came in the mail.
Today’s mom, however, gets the joy of having these messages incessantly beaten into her brain due to the wonderfulness of modern technology, the internet, and social media. And yeah, she could opt to put the phone down or not scroll through IG (especially since her kids are growing up SO FAST and she really needs to go TREASURE THEM!), but the online world also helps her survive motherhood. Because, despite the negativity, she finds empowering words online as well—words that help her feel less alone. Words that tell her she’ll be all right, and that she’s doing a good job.
Words like a recent post from Finding Joy that’s gone viral because it says the exact opposite of the message above. And moms everywhere are here for it.
In her piece entitled “just do the dishes please. the kids will be fine” in her signature lowercase style, Rachel Marie Martin of Finding Joy says what so many of us need to hear. And it’s not that “the dishes can wait” and we should “treasure every moment“; instead, Martin says something entirely different.
“Don’t feel guilt about doing those dishes,” she tells her readers. “You’re teaching kids that dishes are a fact of life. You eat, you make a mess, you clean up.”
Yes! Good Lord this is refreshing. As a stay-at-home mom who had three kids in 5 years and a husband who traveled often, you know who did ALL the dishes for years? Me. So if I walked away from a dirty pile of cups and plates, guess who still had to do them later? Me. And guess who had to deal with the consequences of then having no clean forks or sippy cups at lunch? Me. And guess who needed a freaking break from Brown Bear, Brown Bear and choo-choo trains and playing picnic and baby dolls sometimes, so she did the dishes instead? This girl right here.
Martin goes on to address that for a lot of mothers, having a mess in the kitchen leads to anxiety and feeling a loss of control that might prevent them from “enjoying” any minute with their kids. And that they are actually better, more engaged mothers once their house is in order.
“Sometimes I think those articles that tell us to savor the moment miss that sometimes savoring the moment is WAY more enjoyable and easy to do when there isn’t a big pile of dishes staring us down as the food dries on it,” her article reads.
One line —”You are not a bad mom if you’re not sitting there savoring every single moment”— is probably the most valuable thing a mother can hear. Because who DOES savor every moment? Is that even possible? After my kid shits himself for the the third time in one day and another chucks her bowl on the floor because it’s not pink and I’m lonely and desperate for adult interaction but too exhausted to pack up my life and go anywhere, do I look back on that day and say, “Ah, motherhood. What a blessing. I sure enjoyed every moment of this day”? Fuck no, I don’t. Yet somehow we are all made to feel guilty when we don’t.
Martin goes on to say, “Doing the dishes might be important for you but not for someone else. But I feel like I just want there to be that permission, in a world screaming at us to savor every second, that doing the dishes or the laundry or all of that stuff is still good. It’s mothering. It’s life.”
Martin, a full-time writer and public speaker from Nashville, is a single mom to seven (yes, seven!) kids and is the author of The Brave Art of Motherhood. She’s not preaching from the pulpit on a topic she knows nothing about—her kids are grown, or almost grown, so she can look back and attest to “how fast it goes.”
She tells Sammiches and Psych Meds that she remembers cross-stitching the quote “cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow, because babies grow up I’ve learned to my sorrow” when she was pregnant with her first child. “And while I loved the sentiment, that quote had moments where it induced guilt,” Martin shares. And now, that “baby” she was pregnant with is about to graduate from college. Martin says that as she looks back on her journey through motherhood, she realizes, “For me, I was a better mom when I actually did the dishes (or cleaned up).”
But Martin knows that not every woman cares if the kitchen is clean. Also, some moms just clean to escape and get a break from their kids. Her point is that we all deserve to run our homes and mother in a way that works for us. “We all have unique and individual stories,” she tells SPM. “In the end the article was to be this sort of permission piece – clean or don’t clean, play or don’t play – because in the end what works for your family is best.”
As a mom who does let the dishes sit, not always to play with my kids, but sometimes to sit on the couch with a beer and HGTV after a long day, I say thank you. Thank you for validating that we can love our kids fiercely and not savor every moment. That good moms have clean houses and good moms have messy houses. And that our kids are going to be all right because we are all pretty amazing—regardless of whether we do the dishes or not.