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Just Like My House, I'm Perfect - Aren't You?

By Yvette Vignando - 28th March 2011

I spent half an hour in front of the television this morning before starting work. I should have been putting away the folded washing or wiping down the kitchen benches or picking up the shirt label that was dropped on the lounge room floor by Mr 15 when he opened his new shirt … 2 weeks ago.  If I knew you were coming over for coffee this morning, I would have put away, wiped and picked up, and I would have emptied the dish drainer and swept the front hallway and maybe even vacuumed the stairs. I would have baked you a cake and I would have remembered to open the window in the dining room to let some fresh air flow through the house. Why?

Well, I want you to feel comfortable here – I want you to relax and feel looked after, and I want you to think the house looks like this all the time. Because I’m perfect, aren’t you?

This post is inspired by the conversation I heard on Channel 7's Sunrise between Jessica Rowe and Kylie Gillies about Jessica Rowe’s new book Love, Wisdom, Motherhood.  It was a conversation I’ve had many times with other parents  - you know, the one about how we put up a façade of perfection for other mothers and it ends up making us all feel like we’re not doing a good enough job.

Why do we do it? Why do I do it? The only area in which I occasionally construct this façade is the state of the inside of the house. I don’t aim for perfection in the clothing department, in manicures, hairstyles or the cleanliness of the car. The garden is never going to be on display in the ABC Open Garden scheme.  But my “thing” is that I regularly lament about the chaos in the home and I try very hard not to display this mayhem to friends and visitors. Close friends are occasionally allowed to view the debris-strewn upstairs hallway, but only to prove that I’m not exaggerating when I say that sometimes the house looks like it has been robbed – when it has only been lived in.

I absolutely subscribe to the idea that children will remember the things we’ve done with them, and not the cleanliness of the bathrooms (and for a great example of why this is true, do read Carol Duncan’s post Doing Stuff With Your Kids and Leaving the Washing Behind ). But if I’m focused on cleaning up the house before you visit, I must also be thinking that you’re a different species to my kids – that somehow you won’t remember the cake or the conversation, the laughter or realxing in the sunshine with me at the outside table. I must be thinking that your memories of the visit are going to be about the shiny, black and dustless surface of the Yamaha piano, the gleaming blue glass dishes decorating the dining table and the pristine white laminex of the kitchen benches. But they’re not what you remember are they?

What I remember about a visit to a friend’s house is the conversation and the food. If you invite me over and your house is super messy, it just makes me feel better about our own housekeeping shortcomings. And they’re not even shortcomings – my husband and I work hard on keeping the kids happy and healthy and the house in a liveable condition – we just can’t get to it all. I’m trying to turn off the voice in my head that says I have to do a Martha Stewart on the house before you visit me for a coffee – I really don’t think it’s a good thing, perpetuating the façade that my husband and I are working and parenting and partnering and cooking and shopping and washing and at the same time effortlessly keeping the house ready for visitors. It’s exhausting really - just  thinking about it is exhausting.

And you? What’s your façade? Is it the house, the children, the garden or something else, or is it only me? Are we making things harder for each other by keeping up appearances?

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