Portrait of scared baby against crazy mother with pan on head

The Dishes Can Wait…and Other Lies

“They’re only young once.”

The words are superimposed on an idyllic picture of a child in nature or a beach with footprints leading to the horizon. There’s always a hazy filter. The bottom caption implores you to leave a counter full of dirty dishes, to eschew housework, to be present for your children for they will grow up before your very eyes. We are reminded that no one has ever said they wish they had spent more time doing housework, and less time with the kids.

Don’t feel bad if you have shared these well-intentioned words with the overwhelmed parents in your life. But can I politely ask you to stop?

Because stop.

We know this already. We want to be present with our kids, to enjoy the special moments. We know they are fleeting. We also know that while the dishes are waiting, the floor is getting covered in sticky grime. While the floor is waiting, the bathroom sink is collecting toothpaste. While that toothpaste is waiting, Mt. Laundry is growing in elevation. While Mt. Laundry is waiting…if you give a mouse a cookie. Actually you’ve already given the mouse a cookie because the cookie was sitting half-eaten on a plate for the last week. You’ve also given a mouse the crusts of several sandwiches, a pan with scrambled eggs cemented to the bottom, and three or four chicken nuggets deemed “too bumpy.”

But at least you got to play that extra round of hide-and-seek with your kids. Unfortunately, one of them tripped over the waiting vacuum and broke his arm. You make a makeshift sling out of the dirty underwear on the living room floor. When you find yourself weary at the end of a long day, you don’t have to walk all the way to your bedroom, you can curl up right there on a pillow made of dog fur, stickers, and other miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam.

No? Not what you meant? Those cute sayings and washed-out .jpgs are meant to give us perspective! To relieve us of the pressure we put on ourselves!

All they do is give us another thing to feel guilty about. Another way to question our priorities, and to worry that we are doing it wrong. By the time I re-clothe super princess Barbie for the 2349234902 time, I can feel my inner spring coiling tighter and tighter. The visual chaos of a house where everything is waiting for “later” makes me want to escape my skin. Because if I don’t do it, and if my husband doesn’t do it, who will?

These supposedly reassuring words are a long view of a big picture.

Right now we are surrounded by clutter. Right now the dishes are becoming antibiotics. Right now, to be honest, we are sort of tired of our kids.

They’re only young once. Dishes can wait. Enjoy every moment.

These platitudes feel like cheap words said to deal with your discomfort of our distress. You are dismissing our reality in the pursuit of sounding wise. It is, in short, patronizing. Our kids are growing up, and sometimes we miss out. We don’t need better time management, we need more time. And without the presence of a Timelord willing to cross his own timestream, that is unlikely to happen.

So I will continue to do things less than perfectly, with my attention sometimes focused on my slowly tightening muscles. Sometimes I will play dress up and sometimes I will cry about the dishes.

Just like you did.

This post originally appeared on rhiyaya. It has been reprinted with permission.

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