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Learning to Let Go

Creative family versus tidy house – my life’s greatest dilemma

For all of my married life I have struggled with the guilt of duty to the household, as many parents have but particularly women who, I’m afraid, do have the greater share of the guilt in this world. Women are natural multi-taskers. Many of us know where all our children are at any one time, can be holding in our head a list of jobs for the day, be worrying about a friend or our mother and under our arm we (perhaps metaphorically) carry a book we hope to read when we feel we have deserved it. If we do finally start to do something remotely enjoyable or creative, we are looking at our watch and thinking about school kicking out time or dinner or looking at the calendar wondering if our nephew would like a football for his birthday.


Well I believe the guilt and the multi-tasking are natural instincts that we are born with. Any woman who says she can’t multi-task hasn’t thought about how she really is multi-tasking in her mind constantly. It’s difficult to have the straight-thinking, one-job-in-hand mentality of most men. Take shopping for example. Most women will be distracted when shopping, but a man can walk into a shop to buy only milk and walk out with only milk. Okay, so maybe I’m generalising a bit but on the whole this is true.

Women are people people! We are delegators, planners and, – yes – nurturers! This is why we find it hard to let go of our guilt; ‘If I do this for myself, I won’t be doing this which means so-and-so may suffer,’ we think.

There’s more though: Social guilt. We are compelled to conform to a norm’, to fit in, to worry about appearance, to not stand out as weird or different. And we are constantly critical of other women. We rarely stand for messy hair or garish outfits on TV. ‘Oh my word, what DOES she look like?!’ we exclaim. Or about someone who looks over a size 12: ‘Oh dear, she’s carrying a few extra pounds or two… You can tell she likes her cake!’
We use our own insecurities and take them out on other women. We tell men we don’t want them to judge us by our appearance, but we cry when we are having a ‘bad hair day’ or we’ve got ‘nothing to wear!’ Aren’t we awful?

Well no. We’re not awful. We’re wonderful. We do our best to make everyone happy and we worry about our families, our friends and we do something magical that men are totally crap at (sorry – most men!). We support, we listen, we prop up, we care, we empathise. We don’t prescribe a pill. We don’t go and fetch a builder to try and fix things. We drop everything, even if only for a few minutes and we take time out to let someone know that we are there and that they are important. We offer tender words and a shoulder to cry on (for free!) and for that we are incredible.

But. All this caring and guilt and social stress and incredibleness means we over-worry ourselves. My husband goes to work and when he comes home will often load the dishwasher. ‘Oh my god.’ I think to myself, ‘This is so wrong. I should have done that. What would my mother-in-law say?’ If he goes shopping I make a list for him, I phone him halfway round the store to remind him we need loo roll and I worry that someone will see him and wonder why I’m not doing the shopping.

And along with this social guilt comes the ‘State of the House Guilt’. I get it in bucket loads. But – and, as they say: ‘it’s a big but’ – I’ve noticed that the ‘State of the House Guilt’ can be damaging to my family.

I am naturally creative and I have staunched my creativity in order to be a good housewife and mother.
Well that’s my fault. I’m finally allowing myself to be creative now but it’s causing a constant internal battle. Writing means letting go of everything for a time. Everything. Blocking out the outside world, ignoring the phone, not eating properly; losing myself inside a cocoon of imagination and little thought processes. If I stop to make a shopping list, to speak to my mother on the phone, to eat simply because it the right time to eat, to clean the kitchen, I am thrown out of my creative bubble back into a world of tasks and lists. And I lose the spell. Unfortunately my family seem to think they like it better when appointments aren’t missed, when the fridge is full of food, when they can find clean pants, when I can help them organise their social lives, when I can cook dinner so that my husband can go to the pub. But they also want to be creative too. All three of my children are artistic. They get lost in a world of creativity where they make a goddamn awful mess and … should I stop them when I know what it feels like? No. I don’t think so. But I don’t think I should be their slave either.

So if the five-year-old has left glue and scissors, pens, pencils, sheets of paper, rolls of card and sticky tape strewn across every downstairs room (and she has!) and the fifteen and thirteen-year-olds are doing something similar in their bedroom, should I scream ‘Stop! We can’t have a messy house! We need to have a home like the adverts on the TV!’?
Should I say ‘Stop playing the guitar, even though you’re brilliant at it and it gives us all immense pleasure, because you haven’t tidied up.’ Probably not.
But should I spend my whole life running around tidying up after them constantly? Or should I live and let live and hope that I am allowed to let live too? Can I have the strength to stick two fingers up to the narrow-minded people who judge me by how often they see my husband at the supermarket or how dirty my windows are? I think I must, for my sanity and to show my kids that people that spend their whole lives just tidying and cleaning are slaves and that appearances are just that – appearances.
Guilt schmilt.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. That’s no use worrying about what people think (my God, each one of them has different thoughts, how can we ever fulfull their expectations?) and worrying about a bit “chaotic” house (as long as all local rodents and insects don’t find it a nice place to live as well).

    We only have one life – we can keep everything tidy, but at the same time we have to keep ourselves happy. Who else would do that for us?


  2. Rachel #

    Thanks for your comments. 🙂
    It shouldn’t be, but it is difficult to get the right balance. There are such strong messages about how we ought to be behaving that it’s hard to step back and decide that actually there are some things that aren’t as important as people make out.
    (I do draw the line at rodents ;))


    • I know, you do, you sound very organized 🙂

      I think women generally have problems with being immune to others’ suggestions and “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” It’s in our blood, somehow, not only regarding keeping house clean, but also being beautiful, fashionable, etc. It’s in our blood somehow, and going against it causes the feeling of guilt. I’m still trying to fight the guilt off 😉 To a certain extent, of course, I do not fancy turning into a man 😉

      I keep my fingers crossed for you, to make the guilt disappear 🙂


  3. I have a friend (of a friend) who sat in a café with me a few months ago. She is slim, well-dressed, wears make-up, works, and runs a website empowering other women to work. Oh – and has three children, one newborn. Humph, I thought, trying to drag my unironed jumper over my stomach fat.
    We got talking about the conflict between creative genius and washing pants.
    ‘Washing pants?’ she screeched, ‘ha haaaa! I just buy a pack of seven at the beginning of the week. Life’s too short.’
    She does not, it turns out, wash pants.
    Just sayin’.


  4. Rachel #

    I love that story. I can’t believe I forgot to thank you, Martha!
    Thank you, Martha! 🙂



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