If there’s one thing that I’m learning in motherhood, and one piece of solid advice that I would offer to any parent, it’s this: let your kids make the mess. Though it may seem counterintuitive, kids making a mess can actually be beneficial in many ways. Like engaging their senses, fostering creativity, learning self-regulation and more.
But I’m not writing this to speak on all the existing studies out there that prove the benefits of giving your kids free reign to make messes—I’m writing this from a lived experience that shaped the mantra that has become ritual for me:
Big or small. Intentional or unintentional. Right away or after a while. Messes can be cleaned.
This mantra has become an anchor for my sanity in more ways than one. Without giving in to the messes and allowing them to happen, I’m sure I’d be at my wits-end by now.
I cannot tell you how many times I found myself overwhelmed with the mess that my son had created around our house. Along with the kitchen that needed to be cleaned and the clothes that needed to be folded, I found myself having a hard time functioning amidst the chaos.
And it would send me in a downward spiral.
Trying to control the mess internally left me in a feeling of disarray.
Oftentimes, my son would take containers from the kitchen and leave them on the living room floor. He’d throw toys out of his playpen, over the baby gate of his bedroom and down the stairs. At a day’s end, I couldn’t manage the wreck of disorder that our home was left in. And I felt like a failure for not being able to keep it all maintained.
The state of our house was what I used to weigh how good of a mom and wife I was. As a working stay-at-home mom, I believed that I needed to vouch for my SAHM status by keeping everything together. If I couldn’t maintain the household, I wasn’t good enough. And if I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t fulfilling my roles as a mom and a wife. That’s how I thought about myself.
Trying to control the mess internally left me in a feeling of disarray. It was just another thing that I couldn’t seem to manage.
But I had to take a step back and look outside of myself. Kids make messes—naturally. It’s something that happens as they grow and learn and explore the world around them.
My child uses his playtime to get creative and engage his senses. And while I know that dealing with havoc is at times mentally draining, I remind myself that as messy as it gets, it can be cleaned.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the constant mess, I encourage you to let go of control and let your kids make messes.
These four tips helped me to say yes to making a mess, and they can help you too:
1. Messes can be cleaned
As I have mentioned many times already, this mantra is one to live by. Of all the things that we truly have no control over, we are actually able to clean up the messes that our kids make—and teach them to clean up after themselves, too. And I believe that this is a lesson that will carry far beyond childhood. They’ll learn how to clean up messes in the classrooms and in the world. They’ll know how to take responsibility for their mistakes—and learn from them.
2. Prepare yourself for the mess
It doesn’t help if all you try to do is avoid messes. They’re bound to happen—especially when you have younger kids. What does help is preparing yourself to know that messes will come. You can set up a specific room in your house that is considered a “mess zone” and let your kids have at it.
For me, it’s my son’s bedroom and our sunroom. Those are the two places where there aren’t any items that may cost us a hefty bill to replace (like our TV or piano) and the two places that are also designed specifically for my son to play without it being a hazard for his safety.
3. Unstructured play is OK
As we grow older, we get so used to rules and structures. We fall into systems and regulations and we forget how to just exist freely. Our kids don’t need us to be hovering over them telling them that they can’t play a certain way. We hinder their creativity and artistry in doing so. We take away their innovativeness.
But when we encourage unstructured play, we get on their level. We experience life through their lens—how they see and comprehend everything around them. And through this, we teach them how to express themselves.
4. Exist in the moment—not in the mess
Out of all the time that somehow slips away so fast, I don’t want to spend these moments focusing on avoiding the messes. Because time is something that we can’t get back—but the messes are something that can always be cleaned. So I exist in the moment—not in the mess.
Let your kids make the mess, and sometimes even join in for a few. Because they can teach us a thing or two about nurturing our inner child.
I will no longer wear myself thin trying to eliminate messes. I’ll let my kid have at it, and we’ll simply clean it all up when he’s done. I’ve relinquished control of trying to keep orderly conduct and maintain the chaos all the time. Now, I just breathe and tell myself that messes can be cleaned.
Because they absolutely can be.