The unbearable monotony of mothering

NS April 8th, 2010

Doing funny voices all day? I can deal with that.

Waiting patiently for a tantrum in public to subside? Unpleasant, but doable.

Breastfeeding a baby for hours on end and then a toddler who pinches and kicks and squirms? I bear it.

Changing nappies, preparing meals, rounding up all the items needed for an outing, arranging playdates, doing the school run, ensuring they are eating well, meeting their developmental milestones, learning manners, empathy, self-confidence, the alphabet and how to navigate this complex world successfully? That seems like the easy part most days.

You know which bit I absolutely cannot abide, the bit that, no matter how many times I am confronted with and know I cannot escape still manages to drive me up a wall?

The mess.

The endless, self-perpetuating, infinitesimal cycle of spills, crumbs, soggy towels, muddy shoes, water all over the bathroom floor, every nappy taken out of its package, every item of clothing removed from the dresser, made beds instantly unmade, toys underfoot: toys on the sofa, under the bed, in the washing machine, in the car, in my handbag; marker pen dragged along the recently-painted wall, cat food dumped out, containers placed (empty) back in the fridge, overflowing bins no one else seems to notice and a pile of laundry that moves from body to floor to hamper to basket to machine to airer or radiator to basket to bed to drawer and back onto the body where it will remain for perhaps three to four hours before being soiled and removed yet again.

These things —  not the tears or fighting or whining or being jumped on, poked, awakened, kept up, tried, tested and put through the wringer — is what usually ends up being the straw that broke this camel’s weary back. Maybe camels and mothers have more in common than previously thought — we both store reserves of fat and patience to see us through the long, hard slog in the brutal, relentless desert but eventually, if provoked, we get mean and spit; we lie down and refuse to move, dumping our hapless hangers-on headfirst into the quicksand.

Sometimes I look at another mess I have to clean up, another lovingly-prepared meal uneaten or another load of laundry I have to fold and put away and I do one of two things (and on a really, really bad day, both): explode or cry. I have seen a bowl of purposely-dumped cereal turn me from a normal person into a seething, shaking, quivering ball of internal fury that manifests itself with a clenched jaws, fistfuls of hair, eyes filled with teary, apoplectic rage and a river of self-pity and hatred that rushes through me so suddenly and with such force that it dulls the sharp edges of my heart a little.

It can’t be normal to have such a strong reaction to water dumped out of the bath, can it?

It’s not about the mess itself. I know that kids will be kids and that they don’t mean it (most of the time) and that it will get better as they get older. I know that in the grand scheme of things (and even in the not-so-grand), messes don’t matter. I know that Noble Girl doesn’t know how bat-shit crazy it makes me when  she starts chanting, “I’m hungry!” every 30 seconds right after lunch and while I’m doing my daily freelance gig, on deadline; I know that Noble Boy doesn’t know how soul-destroying it is to have to say, “No. No. NO. Don’t touch that, please. No. Please, don’t touch it. No. No! I said NO!” about 90 billion times a day.

But it’s not that.

It’s more about the monotony and knowing that if I don’t do it or say it, no one else will. It’s knowing that while I’m busy cleaning up one mess another will be created in the next room, and then the next, and so on. It’s knowing that even if get down on my knees and look them in the eye and do everything a good parent is supposed to do in teaching their child about appropriate behaviour, it will go in one ear and out the other and I will feel like a broken record, scratched and spinning out of control with no one listening. It’s knowing that nearly every other mother on the planet feels or has felt this way too, and even that is not much of a comfort.

It’s knowing that I will do this every day, several times a day, for years to come, because I have to.

53 Responses to “The unbearable monotony of mothering”

  1. I am with you!the never ending mess and laundry often tips me over the edge.
    MS x

    NS Reply:

    @Modern Dilemma, God, doesn’t it just?

  2. geekymummy says:

    Oh the mess, the mess. This resonates so strongly with me. And I have a housecleaner and a husband who does all the dishes and my kids are in daycare 8 hours of the day, and I tell you, it doesn’t help much, because two kids can trash the house in ten seconds flat.

    Why does my daughter have to throw every item of clothing she owns on the floor when getting dressed every single day?

    Why does my son distribute puzzle pieces and lego all over the house to be found by my bare feet in the dark.

    Why do the kids then whine and complain and throw tantrums because they can’t find the teeny tiny shoes for their teeny tiny plastic princess tiana dolls amongst the crap strewn floors?

    Why do my animals grind their hairy backs into the carpets straight away after vacuuming?

    You know what helps? Wine. Make the mess kind of blurry and tolerable.
    geekymummy´s last blog ..Grimace My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @geekymummy, Oh, don’t tell me it’s just as bad when you work at an outside job! On my worst days I always fantasize about getting a nanny, a housekeeper and a job….as it that would make the annoyances and mess go away! You’re right, wine does help. Immensely.

    geekymummy Reply:

    @NS, I do at least get to sit down at my relatively tidy desk all day, that is a blessing I should be grateful for.
    geekymummy´s last blog ..Guilt Trip. My ComLuv Profile

  3. Ellen says:

    I love you for telling it like it is!
    Ellen´s last blog ..Muslim Women: Ambassadors For Islam (For Better or Worse) My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Ellen, Just call me Jerry Springer! ;)

  4. Iota says:

    The mess. I can live with that.

    The thing that tips me over the edge is the other thing you mention, the “no-one listens to me” thing. I’ve missed the boat on kneeling down and looking them in the eye. If I knelt down now, I’d be looking my 12 year old in the abdomen.
    Iota´s last blog ..The Garage Sale: Part ll My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Iota, *snort* That just gave me a hilarious mental picture. At least I have one over on them for size at the moment. Not that I use that to my advantage. Ahem.

  5. I can totally empathise with this – for me its the repetition, the fact that every day is groundhog day and that you can get horribly stuck in a rut

    Monotony is the very word for it
    Muddling Along Mummy´s last blog ..Getting my mojo back – finally facing up to where we are My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Muddling Along Mummy, Oh, that’s so it! Groundhog Day. I’m like fucking Bill Murray in Groundhoug Day.

  6. Emms says:

    “It’s knowing that I will do this every day, several times a day, for years to come, because I have to.”

    You do it because of love, the intense all consuming love you have for your children.

    But that said it can make you soul weary.

    NS Reply:

    @Emms, Compared to you I have it easy. Seriously, you are like Superwoman to me. Send some of your power my way, please!

    Emms Reply:

    @NS, lol…<sending wine & large glass ;o)

  7. Potty Mummy says:

    I hear you, oh god do I hear you. If it’s any consolation, the longer you have to bear it, the more your criteria for what constitutes ‘a mess’ redefine themselves. Things that 2 years ago would have driven me crazy are now perfectly acceptable to have on display when we have visitors – because almost every other mum I know is in the same boat. However, somehow I don’t think that’s really going to help as when I look at it, this redefinition in itself – and the fact that I’ve been forced to make it – is also really quite depressing…
    Potty Mummy´s last blog ..The difference between… My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Potty Mummy, The thing is, I’m not a neat freak at all! I don’t like filth or a lot of mess, obviously, but I don’t have really high standards or anything. I’ll happily let the outermost corners of my floors get pretty disgusting before I bother cleaning them and my house gets dusted perhaps once every couple months. I do go a bit nuts, however, when the kids things are just piling up all around me. Maybe it’s some primal ‘this is MY territory, bitch’ kind of thing? Who knows.

  8. Gappy says:

    It’s like threading beads on a string with no knot on the end isn’t it?

    It’s their room that gets me more than anything. They just don’t care! Toys and games that have been lovingly chosen for them are strewn – broken and with pieces missing – all over the floor. The eldests dirty socks are everywhere despite the dirty washing basket being located precisely two metres from his bedroom door. I nag, I cajole, and occasionally I completely lose the plot.

    Nothing makes the slightest bit of difference, and sometimes I just feel defeated by it all too.
    Gappy´s last blog ..An Apology. My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Gappy, See, their rooms I can deal with because I can close the door and leave it for THEM to trip over. But when it’s in the main living space it’s a different story.

  9. Trish says:

    I see a welcome mat at your front door with the words “you won’t hear me apologise for the mess” in large red font. Or “Grab a feather duster on your way in”.

    This is a great post. I used to get angry like that, too, but I never described it that well. Thanks.
    Trish´s last blog ..Autumn leaf caught in a cobweb My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Trish, I don’t care what other people think, it’s just the constant cleaning up of the messes they make. Drives. Me. MAD!

  10. Charlotte says:

    Oh God, yes. Now that my team are getting older, I am training them to be tidier but they still make the most unbelievable mess and I bore myself and them and anyone else listening asking them to tidy up. Or I just shut the door to their rooms and refuse to go in again until they’re tidy.
    Charlotte´s last blog ..Feast of Reading My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Charlotte, My 18-month old already knows what ‘tidy up’ means and seems quite genial about helping to pick up the huge messes he creates. Doesn’t make it particularly easier to deal with at the moment though.

  11. Matchy says:

    I’m a stay-at-home dad, so I’d gently suggest that what you’re describing — which is a beautifully honest and accurate account of an experience that more or less dominates my life — is the experience of being a stay-at-home parent, not exclusively a mother.

    But you’re saying something really important here, something that is rarely discussed and frequently dismissed by people who don’t get it, so thank-you. I adore my son, and that’s hard to reconcile with the sometimes ragey, teary, overwhelming, chaotic and sometimes paradoxically tedious job of raising him. Seeing it written is tremendously relieving.

    NS Reply:

    @Matchy, You’re absolutely right, I apologise. I get so caught up in the emotion of my own experiences sometimes that I forget to include others. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either…but I hope you know what I mean. It’s hard, not matter what our gender or parenting situation.

  12. macondo mama says:

    Yes, this is the part that so, so, so wears me down. I can accept that parenting is challenging in so many ways, but I hate that a yogurt mess or doing dishes for the 15th time in a day can provoke such unreasonableness in me.

    You explain this so well – thanks.
    macondo mama´s last blog ..Pushing my first baby into the world My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @macondo mama, Thanks for commenting, I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

  13. Dara says:

    That was me yesterday. I was a seeting ball of fury set off by the crumbs on the floor, the three day old dishes my husband had left for me to come home to, the towering pile of laundry that would suffocatem my children if it collapsed on them. The worst thing is that once you reach that teary, hair pulling stage it’s so hard to do anything about it.
    I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I know many parents who have perfectly neat and tidy houses: are they different than me? are their children better than mine?
    Usually they’re just people who have dull children or a lot of help.
    Some days I kind of wish for dull children . . .
    For each extra child you bring into your home (whether your own or a playmate) the mess increases exponentially, as do the demands for food, drinks, toys, entertainment.
    It’s a depressing, sad, infuriating cycle.
    And it seems there’s no end in sight. We can say we don’t care about the mess, but we do. We really, really do. But mostly I think it’s the knowledge that it’s a job that can never be done, a task that will never be completed, a thankless sisyphean endeavour.

    NS Reply:

    @Dara, “But mostly I think it’s the knowledge that it’s a job that can never be done, a task that will never be completed, a thankless sisyphean endeavour.”

    That’s it!

  14. Marcia mitchell says:

    thank you for your unabashed honesty. It is the recognition of the seeming futility in tackling any or all of the mess that is so deflating. Curling up with the iPhone seems like a plausible answer to any or all of this, but as someone so wisely stated before me, if our kids were dull or dispirited, then we may have far less to do and be far less frazzled by their domestic demands. I’ve almost resigned to the fact, that I will always be razzed by my eldest son(3), but I also know that I will be the first to champion any creative and exciting endeavour he may pursue as his life’s journey. The world needs more people to set our hearts in fire. I hope I’m raising more than one of them :)

    NS Reply:

    @Marcia mitchell, You too? I think I’ve got some people destined to set hearts on fire too. :)

  15. Expat Mum says:

    So with you. I thought that when they were older it would be less messy but teenagers leave their stuff EVERYWHERE and it’s a lot bigger than the stuff they had when they were five! Pah!
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Expat Alley interview My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Expat Mum, You are supposed to tell me that it gets better, that it ALL gets better and that this is the worst bit. Sticking my fingers in my ears now. Lalalalalala!

    Expat Mum Reply:


    There’s a saying “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” I’m here for you when you need me.
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Another Day in the Small World of an Expat My ComLuv Profile

  16. andrea says:

    now i totally understand why mom used to get so frustrated with our messes! hang in there!

    NS Reply:

    @andrea, I have a whole new understanding of mom since I became one myself, that’s for sure!

  17. Deer Baby says:

    This is such a great post. So well written and telling it like it is. It’s just so true, every word. I have a post in draft about cleaning which I’m planning on publishing next week – would you mind if I link back to this one?
    Deer Baby´s last blog ..An Ode to Brighton and a shock My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Deer Baby, Of course not, go ahead! I look forward to reading it.

  18. Jenny says:

    I could’ve written this post….well with a lot more cursing. Being a SAHM is fucking hard work. *sigh* I also very frequently explode at messes done by my two girls….and then I break down crying b/c I feel terrible for having lost control of myself. Repeat once or twice more in a week. The worst thing about being a parent IMO is the mess. I’m a clean freak and so this is an every day issue when you have a 3yr old and a 1yr old. We have cleaners that come once a week to do the major stuff but its not enough. Hell, most of the time the house is back to being a mess an hour after they’ve gone.

    Its been 3yrs since my clean and tidy life has been disrupted and enough time has gone by that I’ve learned to just grin and bear it and just keep on cleaning after the little brats. :) <—That's exactly what I keep telling myself….grin and bear it….but its easier said than done when you've got cleaning issues like myself! LOL I would like to stand up for the parents who have tidy houses….perhaps they do have lots of help or dull children but in my case that's not really it. I have two girls (3yo & 1yo) so plenty of messes….spills, crumbs and toys all over the place(s). Yet, I manage to keep a fairly tidy house (at the expense of my sanity of course ;) ) and like I mentioned before we have cleaners that come once a week for about 2hrs but other than that I have to take care of the messes/cleaning the rest of the week. My children are not dull….they're lively and full of joy and they love to show it by playing all day long. My days are spent cleaning one adventure after another and I love to see them enjoy their toys and to see them built a fort out of this weeks laundry….but while they escape the troll (usually me!) and run giggling into their fort I quickly pick up the jigsaw puzzle pieces from 5 different puzzles they left from earlier. I run around all day like a headless chicken picking up after my children b/c I refuse to have an untidy house. Not just b/c I'm vain and want to play some super mom card but b/c I feel anxious, jittery, and upset if there is too much clutter around. I feel like I can't think, can't breathe with toys all over the damn place. And so for my sanity (ha!) I will then go insane trying to clean and tidy. Yeah, I need therapy. I am a happier person if the house is clean and so my children will then benefit from having a calm and happy mom. Although, this is extremely hard to keep up and that's when after the milk has been spilled for the 4th time I usually explode. My oldest seems to have wised up….so will often help my tidy and then its a race to see who finishes with their assigned clutter first. Before we leave the house we make it tidy for when we return, before bed we tidy so its nice and fresh for the morning. Repeat day after day. Monotony sucks in this household but it sucks less if its tidier. LOL

    NS Reply:

    @Jenny, No, I agree with you. Wanting a tidy house and some semblance of order does not mean you are OCD or that your kids are dull, by any means. It just means that we all have a different line in the sand when it comes to house cleanliness and when it is crossed we lost our shit. It’s learning to recognise that line and try not to cross it too often that is key, I think.

    Jenny Reply:

    @NS, “It’s learning to recognise that line and try not to cross it too often that is key, I think.”

    YES! I know that my children don’t mean to make a mess that will piss me off. They are just being kids…..but it still infuriates me. LOL I do realize that my cleaning issues are just that….mine. Sometimes, I remember this before I explode and sometimes afterward….and if it is I make sure that I apologize to the girls and try and make it a learning lesson for everyone involved.

    Dara Reply:

    You definitely don’t fall into the “usually their children are dull” parents I was talking of.
    I DO know parents whose kids have been trained to just watch TV all day rather than play or sit in their room with a few select toys and only come out for meals. As parents we have to acknowledge that the more active and fun our children’s lives are, the happier and more child-like they are, the bigger the messes.
    And I know exactly how you feel. I’m not an utter clean freak – though like anyone else I enjoy a clean and tidy home – but my husband suffers from bipolar disorder and a little OCDish behaviour so I often find myself exploding because the kids have made a mess 5 minutes before hubby comes home and I know if I don’t get it cleaned before he gets home it’ll send him into a tailspin of depression.

  19. April says:

    Thankyou so much for this….helps me not feel totally completely insane when i seem to completely lose the plot over spilled milk.

    NS Reply:

    @April, Oh, I’m sure I have literally cried over spilled milk too. I always thought that saying was strange….now I know!

  20. Capital Mom says:

    I feel like I almost don’t even see the mess anymore. I just step over things and sit on the cheerios. But then people come over and I see it all through their eyes.

    But the whining! Help me!
    Capital Mom´s last blog ..Visitors My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Capital Mom, I hadn’t even thought about how other people must view my home. Ugh, thanks! ;)

  21. BoozleBox says:

    It does get better I think. For me the bat-shit crazy was always over the endless things to do with food. Buying it, putting it away, cooking it, cleaning up after it day after day after day. And weaning? Dear god I nearly lost my mind both times. Food all over the child, the high chair, the floor, the walls, the ceiling – three times a day for what felt like fucking years! I think I’m border line OCD in some ways because I absolutely cannot sit and look at a mess. I physically can’t. My husband doesn’t get how out of sorts it makes me. Bit even I’ve ‘adjusted’ my expectations over the years otherwise they would have wheeled me off to the asylum by now. Not sure what I’m saying here except you are completely normal and I think kids need to know how much effort it takes to run a home and if that means mummy-meltdowns occasionally, so be it.
    BoozleBox´s last blog ..I’m writing this instead of packing… My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @BoozleBox, Oh, I hear ya on the food everywhere thing. My son just throws his food on the floor if he doesn’t want it, even at 18 months. Sometimes I just leave it for the cat to get later or for it to solidify so I can sweep it up without it making a big mess. Gross, I know, but I don’t care some days.

  22. troutie says:

    I am messy. I was always messy. What do they say about the sins of the parent being visited on the child? I’m sure I’m in for one hell of a messy ride.

    There is a Quentin Crisp quote about not noticing the dust after four years and also this one by Joan Rivers

    “Don’t cook. Don’t clean. No man will ever make love to a woman because she waxed the linoleum – “My God, the floor’s immaculate. Lie down, you hot bitch.” ~Joan Rivers
    troutie´s last blog ..French Philosophers and imaginary ‘Alpha Mummies’ My ComLuv Profile

  23. Victoria says:

    Hi – oh this one struck a chord. You know how we’re always hearing the advice : stop, slow down, enjoy the moment, smell the roses – well I did that just yesterday in our playroom. It was total utter carnage – I am used to to bit of carnage with three small children, lots and lots of Lego and go go’s in ever more extraordinary places ( someone somewhere is making a lot of money out of those things…). I stood, I mused – what would happen if I simply turned around and walked out – just left it – left the chaos to accumulate. How long until the carpet turns furry and mould appears on the wall ? How much mess can three children simply left to their own devices make ? I even wondered if some inverse law of nature would ultimately intervene and they would start to find the devastation trying and clear up and tidy away of their own free will ? I am one of life’s optimists.

    NS Reply:

    @Victoria, Ha! I’ve often wondered that too. After my husband read my post he said I should just leave the messes they make if I’m having a bad day and it’s getting to me. When I told him he’d be shocked by what the house looked like when he got home if I didn’t lift a finger all day, he said he’d seen it pretty messy. I laughed a long, throaty, rueful laugh and told him that the worst he’d seen the house was when I’d only done half of what I normally do to keep it from descending into chaos. Maybe even 3/4. If I truly didn’t clean up *anything* all day, it would look like we’d been robbed and ransacked.

  24. Sandrine says:

    I’ve a got a nanny/cleaning lady who comes three afternoons a week. She does the ironing and everything. Everything. It’s great. And when the house is messy anyway, I just bugger off to my office where any mess is MY mess, and therefore a lot less bothersome. I’ve got it easy, I know. And one reason I dread coming back to Europe is that I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay someone else to deal with my kid’s mess. I know from my days off that it grows and grows. That the more pick up the more it grows. That they never learn (hey, their dad isn’t that much better about picking stuff up!). So I’m not leaving Turkey any time soon…
    Sandrine´s last blog ..Our Very first meme – part 3 My ComLuv Profile

  25. Expat Mum says:

    But just wait till y’all experience the stench of a teenage poop that you missed till mid-day. Oh ye-e-ea-ah!
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Housework – Ho hum. My ComLuv Profile

  26. blues says:

    Good lord. Maybe I’m not cut out for mothering. Honestly, I feel this way just after cleaning up my own messes. But that’s cause I’m a slob.
    blues´s last blog ..I’m already gone My ComLuv Profile