The dishes can wait, but they don’t go away


One of the pieces of parenting advice whose short-sighted thinking is positively correlated with its frequency of being heard is this:

“The dishes can wait; your kids are only young once.”

One part of that piece of advice is true.  And the other one… maybe partly true.  Yes, my kids are only young once.  And yes, I suppose dishes can wait.  But waiting dishes ≠ disappearing dishes.  Waiting dishes ≠ clean dishes.


Waiting dishes multiply.  And smell.  And attract the kinds of critters my kids would love to keep in a jar.  In a jar?  A’ight.  On my countertops and sink?   Um no.

The same rule applies to a similar piece of advice regarding laundry.

“Leave your dirty underwear, play with your kids!” they say.

Sounds like in-the-moment-ridiculous-planning-oh-crap-I-have-no-clean-gitch-for-the-next-day kind of thinking.  How does not having clean undergarments for the next day – or clean bowls for the next morning – help my kids stay young?  How does a growing mountain of sticky peanut butter plates make more time for me to give to my kids?  How does ignoring a pile of clothes with last week’s spaghetti sauce crusted on it afford me more enjoyment and presence with my family?

It doesn’t.

It just delays the inevitable and makes me feel like I have just opened up a window of time.  It tricks me into thinking I’ve gained something I didn’t.  I certainly did not gain time.  But I suppose I did gain something: I gained more to do later.  I also might have gained ants in my house.  And I might have even gained some odours I wasn’t planning on.

Waiting dishes do not disappear or create less work for me.  Waiting actually creates more work for me, because it gives the oatmeal one more day to strengthen its resolve to never never never come off.

Sometimes leaving chores is okay.  Sometimes an adventure is calling and the benefits far outweigh the risks.  But that is not everyday, and that is certainly not a way to live all the time, at least not for me.  I’d rather a mole hill of laundry regularly, then a mountain that will drown me for an entire day.  Leaving a chore doesn’t mean it decides to stop demanding my time.  (If it did, I would certainly be game to heed this piece of advice!)

But I do kind of get it.  I think when older ladies say this, they are trying to say, “I worked and cared about housework too much while my kids were young, and now I regret it”.  The thing is, we all will do that.  I think all parents will look back and think, “I could have done more ____ and less____”.  It’s easy to look back and forget how tired you sometimes were, or how you needed a break (and staring into space while washing pots in the quiet ain’t half bad), or how much work it is to keep a home running and feed everyone.  I think lots of things about parenting are easy to say when you’re no longer in the throes of skid-marked underwear left on the bathroom floor and old cornflakes left in bowls everyday.

But the thing is, when you’re 60 and looking back on your life, you’re not remembering the laundry.  You’re not remembering the dishes.  You’re remember your sweet cherubs – who have now all grown up – as they slept in their beds, or the time you played memory and laughed all afternoon, or the time you read books and accidentally missed bedtime.  You wished you had done more of that, so the obvious solution is to skip the chores and just DO more of that.  But the reason you did the chores, is because they had to be done.  And you forget that.

I’m not advocating that our homes be pristine and we are constantly on top of things. Or that we don’t sometimes just have a “screw the laundry” attitude and go on an adventure.  But I do think we shouldn’t feel bad for having our kids wait to play a game until the laundry is in.  Or tell them that right now, our goal is to get the kitchen tidied.  Sometimes chores wait.  Sometimes kids do.  But as moms, we get to decide that, and we shouldn’t feel guilty when the pee-stained toilets win.

Like for all things in life, I believe in balance.  We can have (semi-)clean bathrooms AND kids who’s hearts are full.  We can make sure our clothes and dishes and toilets aren’t growing mushrooms or penicillin, AND make sure we spend time with our kids.  It’s not one or the other.  I want to teach my kids to have adventures and also honour responsibilities.  I want to teach them – and model – balance, character, and how to do hard things that we just don’t want to do.

And I will try not to tell them that their dishes can wait when they have kids.  I want to tell them that it’s okay to do the dishes first sometimes.  It’s okay if the kids are the ones to wait sometimes.  Heck, I’d love to be the older lady that says, “why not have your cake and eat it too?  I’ll come do your dishes, and you go do that paint class with your kids?”

So instead of those guilt-inducing memes about cherishing our kids’ childhoods (because, seriously, who isn’t trying to do that, how about a meme that tells us to not feel badly about washing stains out of our clothes and having clean plates to eat on and getting the sticky spots off our floor.

Because dishes CAN wait, but they don’t go away (unless the older lady who tells you that is willing to make them go away for you…!).

So moms, if you sometimes say “no” and choose dishes instead, don’t feel bad.  The dishes won’t go away, but neither will you children and your love for them.

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