{Sometimes} I Choose Dishes Over my Kids, and That’s Okay.

502 days of loving more!

I like to be productive.
There, I said it.
I like to cross things off my to-do list.
Notice I say my to-do list, because yes, the list normally is all about me.

This list often includes: clean the kitchen, send emails, call friends, and organize playroom. You know, things that make me feel productive, accomplished, in touch, and organized. You know, things that make me happy and calm.

This list does not often include anything about my boys, per say. It does not often include: play board games with my boys, go to the park, paint pictures, or do science experiments. Sure sometimes the list has actions that have to do with my boys like: call pediatrician for well visit, make dentist appointment for boys, arrange playdates, or buy birthday present for a party. But hardly ever does my list have any direct actions about enjoying my kids and meeting their requests; you know doing things that would make them happy and would make me a “good, present mom.”

I often (or at least I feel that I do) prioritize my wish-list over my sons. And I often feel guilty about this. Really guilty. I mean, I want to be the super relaxed mom who doesn’t care about her to-do list and just wants to make play-doh creations. I try to be that mom. I stress that I am not that mom. A lot.

Oh, I hate that I focus on my to-do’s so much and that it is not my first instinct to think about what “can-do’s” I have the privilege to share with my kids that day. I hate that it is not my first instinct to realize and remember that when I hang out with my kids and do their wish-list items first, that doing so is something that does indeed make me happy, like really, super duper over-the-moon-happy. I hate that when I do play with my kids that even though I love it, right afterwards I can get the dreaded “shoot, I was unproductive” feeling in my stomach and immediately get back to my “I have to get a, b, and c done stat or I’ll go nuts and get cranky!”

Oh, how I struggle with my desire to be productive and also be a really present, fun mom. Last week I wrote about my struggle and my conclusion that being “unproductively productive” is a good thing. I wrote:

“Yes, six and a half years later I still struggle to accept that ‘unproductive’ intangible items like watching my kids reach important milestones, like looking out for my kid’s health, like teaching my kids to talk, to respect others, to be good people and like loving my kids unconditionally, the best that I can, when I can, are indeed, incredibly productive and not just incredibly productive, but also incredibly important.”

I wrote that and felt relieved. Aha! Finally, I had accepted a really important truth! Aha! Finally, I had figured out how to manage how my need to be productive triggered me to yell if I didn’t get a lot done that day; I just needed to redefine productive! Aha! Finally, I had gained insight into what really matters in life: organizing Legos by size, shape and color to make the most symmetric spaceship ever with my sons, not organizing Legos into bins to make the most tidy, efficient bookcase ever (by myself.)

With all these aha’s you would have thought I felt fantastic all last week. And I did. I did feel like a weight had lifted but at the same time, there was this growing feeling in my stomach of, but wait, was that a genuine post?

Did I really believe what I wrote? Did I really think that being “unproductively productive” was a good thing, something I really wanted, or was I fooling myself to feel better about my stress, my trigger, my personal struggle? The conclusion I came to was simple. And perhaps controversial.

Yes, I do believe that being “unproductively productive” is important, very important. Yes, being “unproductively productive” with my kids is something I want to embrace more and more. And yes, being “productively productive” is ALSO important, very important. And yes, being “productively productive” is something I will continue to embrace.

You see, I have learned during my journey to yell less and love more that taking care of me is really important. This means understanding me, understanding my needs, what makes me calm down, what makes me happy, what makes me feel relaxed enough to handle all the chaos and ups and downs that come with being a parent. I quickly realized over the past year and a half that if I am not happy or relaxed then my chances of staying calm enough to not yell are small.

And guess what? Organizing makes me happy. Cleaning my kitchen calms me down. Vacuuming makes me happy. Dirty dishes and clutter do not; they make me stressed. I know there are sayings that go along the lines of “the dishes will always be there, but precious moments with kids will not.” And I agree with this statement wholeheartedly which is why I used to feel guilty when I chose cleaning the real ceramic dinner dishes covered in spaghetti sauce over “cleaning” the purple plastic miniature dishes in the play kitchen covered in hot fudge, ketchup and pickle juice with my two year old.

This is the end of my kitchen counter. It keeps me sane. If I need calm, I organize it. If it is overwhelmed with clutter, I get cranky and close to yelling. Notice the stress relief hand lotion there for that exact reason!

This is the end of my kitchen counter. It keeps me sane. If I need calm, I organize it. If it is overwhelmed with clutter, I get cranky and close to yelling. Notice the stress relief hand lotion there for that exact reason!

But this past year and half I realized that it is OKAY to want to clean the real dishes. It is OKAY to want to be productive in order to stay calm. It is OKAY to need to be productive in order to get calm. It is OKAY to say, “I need to do something for ME in order to be there for my kids and not yell at them.” I do not have to feel guilty or embarrassed because I chose the dishes over my kids. The Orange Rhino Challenge has taught me to feel proud about learning what I need to do for me so that I can yell less and love more.

And it has taught me that struggling to be some one that I am not, struggling to push myself to be a person who doesn’t need or want to be productive just because that is what I feel I should be to be a good mom, just makes me stressed out! And we know a stressed out mom, is a yelling mom!

Wanting to be “productively productive” is okay.
Wanting to be “unproductively productive” is also okay.

What is more than okay, is finding the balance between both. And that is what I will continue to strive for so that I can continue to be true to who I am as a person and who I want to be as a mom. What I will not continue to do is push myself to be one or the other, because that just makes me want to scream!

What makes you happy? Is there something you want to do to stay sane but choose not to because you feel guilty? 

Read the post “Unproductively Productive”, the post that inspired this post, here.

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41 thoughts on “{Sometimes} I Choose Dishes Over my Kids, and That’s Okay.

  1. Wow! I cannot explain how much I appreciate you writing this post. I have been struggling with this since my second little boy was born (past 5 months). However, I hadn’t realized why I was so upset all the time. This is me to the tee! I am always rushing every part of the day so I can get the next thing done, and when I start falling behind on my list, then unleash angry mom…
    People have tried to tell me that I need to just “chill out”, and I thought, yeah, I do, but I just can’t.

  2. This is SO me. This post and your last describe my daily struggle. How I truly struggle to do something for me each day so I can be a better Mom for them. And finding that balance of fitting in that “me” time without yelling because I haven’t gotten that “me” time is a toughie for me. I appreciate you sharing your struggles and success. It helps me a ton! Thanks

  3. This just made me smile SO much! The last two status updates on my FB are so inline with this beautiful piece of writing (and all the comments!) 🙂

    “Mom: ‘Right, let me do these dishes…’
    Sam(4yrs): ‘Thats annoying…hey?’
    Mom: ‘..it is a bit – but I have to do them.’
    Sam: ‘Yes – cos then it won’t be annoying anymore!So just do them, hey?’
    Well EXACTLY.”


    “theres is a lot of things i could have been…I decided to be a mother – that way I get to do them all:)”

  4. I, too, find I am very stressed when the house gets ‘out of control’. If I let things go too long, soon enough I find I can’t dig myself out. I also can’t find anything. Where are his shoes? Where’s the sunscreen? Argh, no diapers in the diaper bag (but an old tupperware from last week with an old Babybel wax thingy in it)! Food goes bad in the fridge because it’s hidden behind too much other stuff. We eat lunch on a pile of newspapers. The kids’ toys are a mishmash of miscellaneous stuff with no rhyme or reason. It just makes everyday routines that much more stressful when there’s already so much to remember.

    So, I agree with you. Taking the time to make sure things are cleaned and organized (with somewhat lower standards, maybe) makes for much happier parent-and-kid time.

    Plus, don’t our kids need to see that maintenance of the house is part of life…?

  5. This is so true for me too! I have a series of tasks — yes, washing dishes, as well as making the bed and doing the laundry — that I need to have done in order to feel “at peace.” My husband thinks my list of items doesn’t quite make sense, and I should prioritize better, but he has his own things that he does in order to feel like his life is in order!

  6. Thank you thank you THANK YOU! This is ME. 100%. I have been struggling with this for a while now. I want to be “Super Mom” and have loads of fun with my boys, but I just cannot get over the fact that my home is a complete disaster! It’s always “if I could just get ONE more thing done….” Maybe now that I can embrace my need to organize and clean I can just do it and get it done so I can spend MORE quality time with my boys instead of not being present with them and trying to “sneak in” some cleaning.

    Just simply: Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this. I have serious productive productivity envy at home.I never really felt the need to be organised and on top of things at home before I had kids – I managed to get by. And then when they arrived I thought this would be my opportunity to embrace this productive productivity in my home! How wrong was I? So now, for the past 5 years plus I have been frustrated about the unproductive productivity getting in the way of the the productive productivity, coupled with the fact that when I get around to being productively productive, I genuinely suck at it! I think all mums should be applauded! Anyone that manages pregnancy and child birth in all it’s versions and variations deserves a medal! Anyone that cares for little people in all their glorious variations and challenges deserves a medal! In fact considering we are all essentially the same Being at the very essence of it – everyone big or small, female or male, challenged or rockin’ it, what a marvellous phenomenon we are! Now if only I could apply that to myself instead of feeling guilty for what I am not!

  8. Thank you so much for this! I really needed this today. I can so much relate to this post. It’s like you’re reading my mind and saying it out loud. This is exactly what I feel everytime. I thought it was just me but I feel so relieved and so good knowing that I am not alone. Reading a lot of comments from a lot of moms are really making me feel a lot better! Thank you so much for this! Really!

  9. I’m the Mom that chooses to make play-doh creations, LOL. This will make you feel a little better… I sometimes feel guilty about playing too much and not spending enough time doing the cleaning, organizing, etc. The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? We have long hair, we want short hair. A couple weeks after we cut it we’re “growing it out” all over again! There was a brief time period that I actually wished I was more like June Cleaver, ha! I couldn’t really enjoy my kids as much as I wanted to until I realized AND accepted that I’ll NEVER be Betty freakin’ homemaker…and that’s OK! I do think it’s more important right now to spend time with the kids. Unless you’re having company then I say screw the kids and clean like your life depended on it! 😉

  10. Fabulous article and so on target. I’m a work-at-home mom of three and it’s very challenging finding time to straighten the house, make sure my work is completed on time, and that I am engaging and enjoying my time with my children. I always feel guilty if I have to work during the day for a little bit while my littlest is napping and let the other two kiddos watch a movie or play a video game. I’m trying to be better with the time management since it’s summer and my middle child also starts school in September so I know time is limited.

  11. YES! THANK YOU FOR THIS. I made the decision to end the self-guilt when I feel the need to clean or organize even if only for 10 minutes is great. We have two boys ages 4 and 61/2. I daily struggle with the balance between being fully present with them and doing what I need to feel at peace. There is no either/or. There is both. And mama feeling at peace goes a long way to making the moments and hours with my children, peaceful. I also think it is important for them to realize how many things there are to do to run a house. I give them a choice of helping me do some of these things or that I will join them when I have finished. I try to share with them the things i need to do (otherwise, the list would be endless and I think they would feel put last). It can be done in a way that honors the children, lets them know they are important, and also helps them understand why chores matter too and show we care about each other and our home environment…

  12. I am YOU..I neeeeeed to clean the kitchen and vacuum…I panic if the end of the day is looming and I haven’t “accomplished” something…I’m a notorious and hard core list maker and like you checking things off that list makes me feel better and okay. I also get very cranky if I look around and everything is a horrible mess or terribly cluttered, those things interfere with my brains ability to function. I too have often felt bad for doing my list of things over the kids, but I compromise by say…once the kitchen and living room are done we’ll go in the pool, and if they help me, we’ll get there that much faster….*my kids are old enough to actually BE helpful, lol…just for the record, I LIKE to run errands alone, music up, starbucks in the coffee holder *the possibility of a quick pedicure*- the kids HATE errands and whine the entire time and distract me and in my rush to appease or deal with them, I forget half of what I left the house to do. I just want to thank you for making me feel NORMAL for wanting those things and not like some disconnected must not really like her kids enough because she wants to lysol the counters mom.

  13. Oh my goodness! Were you talking to me? I feel like this all the time. I am a daycare teacher and I know the importance of playing with your kids and talking to them while they play and making crafts and gluing and cutting. But if I have dishes in the sink and stuff on the counter and the floor needs to be vacuumed and laundry needs to be put away, I just feel irritated. I can’t concentrate on playing with the kids and I don’t want to glue or cut because that would make more mess. We do a lot of playing in the evening after dinner is cleaned up and Daddy is home.
    Thank you for making it ok to clean your house. Thank you for saying it. Kids can’t live in a messy house and if it is clean, making a little mess is not a big deal . If the kids make a mess and I am already irritated I will yell for sure. I find myself a lot of the time getting angry over silly things like spilled milk. Lately I have been saying to myself, “it’s ok, we can clean this up” and it has really been helping.

  14. I can so relate to every word of this! I LOVE cleaning for the same reason ~ an organized, neat, and clean home makes me feel calm and relaxed ~ clutter stresses me out… and it is much easier for me to play with my kids when I’m not staring at dirty dishes or a floor that needs vacuuming. {I actually wrote a post about a month ago about my love of cleaning and how a clean home makes me a better mama}. And you are so right ~ it is certainly about balance. Love that I have found your blog!!

  15. So glad to read this–I have a daily list of what I’d like to accomplish too and know just what you mean! It feels so good to actually get something done and feel useful in a tangible way. But I do not think taking the time to do dishes or clean off a counter is selfish at all. It’s largely for my kids that I do those things. If dishes go unchecked long enough (like, a day or so, ha ha), it gets really gross. Their lunchtime might be delayed because of it. Also, despite having a small house in general, I have an awesome kitchen counter and having it clean is extremely satisfying. But it’s not just me. The kids love to play with play-doh and paint with watercolors on the eat-on counter. If it’s buried in clutter and day-old dishes, they have been known to say “gah, MOM, where are we going to paint/eat/play with whatever?!” I need the time and space to do certain chores, and I think it’s normal to get frustrated when I don’t get it. That said, two things definitely have helped me. 1) Realizing that some of my cleaning is a little OCD and it’s not realistic for us to keep books lined up a certain way, for example; and 2) Structuring my day so that deep-concentration to-do list tasks are taking place during the two-year-old’s nap or when the kids are busy. It’s very difficult still, and I think that’s the answer. It’s just a hard season of life that we should support one another through 🙂

  16. I too need to be productively productive in order to be able to hang out with my children. I can’t bear mess and clutter – so why did I have 3 kids 😉
    But I also have moments, now they are 4,7 and 10 that I realise just how short the messy stage would have been and if I teach my kids anything in terms of being a better parent, it is to find the right balance in that area because I know I found the wrong balance and I can’t go back and change it.

  17. Hello, OR~ I just love your posts, and this one is another memorable one. It will have to go in your Hall of Fame File, or at least shared with all my FB friends.

    Balance is key, I agree.
    Either or is not a pretty picture.
    I am with you all the way on this one.

    and Yes! to Productive in all it’s myriad forms.

    Have a productive week and tell us about it.

  18. Oh you put so much light into this! I just posted something about choosing my kids over the dishes, but then again, there was this nagging thought about the sink.

    I guess we really need to put things in proper perspectives and time management comes in handy. I hope you will take the time to look into my progress. Not a lot but a progress nonetheless.


    Thank you so much. You are such an inspiration.

  19. This post really resonated with me. I am Type-A to an extreme and NEED to feel a sense of productivity/accomplishment just to keep from losing my mind.

    Yes, it’s important to have those “unproductively productive” moments during the day, but I find that I am a much better mom day in and day out when I make sure that I have my “productively productive” time, too.

    I am also a HUGE introvert and work from home so at least one day a week my kids go to the babysitter’s for the morning. I used to feel guilty about this until I realized that this time away from my kids made me a better mom since a) I had my time to recharge by myself and b) I had focused time to get a bunch of things done so I could have some peace of mind to really be present with my children when we were together.

    Thanks so much for this post and letting me know I’m not alone!

  20. That is me. That is SO me! Thank you for putting my feelings into words, I feel normal, I feel justified, I don’t feel like such a terrible mother 🙂 Thank you a million! xx

  21. Oh my you must be reading my mind! My to do list is on the whiteboard on my fridge…your post resonated alot with me (and I’m sure many others)…I even responded to one of those drippy fb picture posts that said something like “Good moms have messy kitchens, sticky floors, and happy kids” My response was something like “wow, then my kids are really really unhappy!” So, one of my solutions was to have 4 of everything…one swiffer for me, and one for each kiddo…4 dust mittens, 1 for me and 3 for the kids…we have swiffer races, and dusting/dancing around the house (with loud music)…I can not understand how being a “good mom” and having a tidy clean organized home are exclusive of each other…I want it all…and I believe I can have it all…I try to explain to my adult daughter (who has 3 soon to be 4 girls under 6) that when I look around, my eyes are happy and peaceful when I see things shiny and clutter free and I do feel agitated and stressed when it looks ransacked…I have sponges and dustpans and hand brooms in every bathroom, and it only takes a minute to spiff it up (several times a day)…my children show no signs of neglect, disordered bonding, or any other thing! I don’t know…I just really liked your writing and even though all my friends think I’m OCD…my kids are happy (most of the time) and my house is presentable (most of the time)…Did I mention I have 8 children and I’m almost 53? Still raising little ones (7,7, and 4) and loving it.

  22. Thank you for this. I have been feeling uneasy lately and like I’m the only one that feels this way! I spend huge amounts of quality time with my sweet kids (aged 3 and 5) but I always feel bad when I take time to get my house back in order. All the posts seems to say, It’s ok to leave the dishes and housework because spending time with the kids is EVERYTHING! I feel good when I get my “stuff” accomplished and I feel great when my space is clutter-free. My kids learn that they can spend some free play time or independent time alone and THAT’S OK! 🙂

  23. Us “unproductively productive” moms are jealous of your organized houses and decluttered closets. Believe me. The clutter doesn’t bother me. Well, until it gets ridiculous then it’s a mad dash to make it reasonable again. We are all different and what makes us the mom we need to be for our children is different. Even if kids came with a manual it would change daily. We do what we have to and what we can to be the mom our kids need. Keep up the good work, moms!

    Mom of three boys. 16, 11 and 4

  24. “Dirty dishes and clutter do not; they make me stressed.” That is totally me! I simply cannot relax and enjoy time with my kids when we are amidst a cluttered mess (which is every day after supper). I read that aloud to my husband and he smiled knowingly. I struggle to find a balance and often find myself saying “not now, Mom’s busy” but am also trying to teach myself to stop (even for 2 minutes to really listen to their story) and enjoy the little moments amidst the noise and chaos that comes with 6 kids.

  25. I like how you’ve decided that a balance between unproductive & productive productivity. I think that it’s important for the little humans to see us both work and play. We do have to maintain things to an acceptable standard, healthwise. I’m learning to intersperse household tasks throughout the day, so that the kids get face, floor, reading time, I get stuff done, and they see mommy and/or daddy taking care of their home.

    My 3 yr old daughter is learning to play in the vicinity of where I’m working. This may mean that that she’s imagining that her fairies are on a boating adventure in the kitchen sink.

  26. Thanks for sharing, this really speaks to me. I love to be organized and have a relatively tidy house. I live by my to-do list and often struggle to find a balance between doing the things on my list and doing things with my kids. One thing that helps me to remember to keep this balance is to put things that I want to do with my kids on my to-do list. A typical list could include: change the sheets, do the laundry, clean out the fridge, take out the trash, go to park. Since I love to cross things off my list, I figure out a way to do the chores and go to the park. It forces me to remember that I although I want to have a clean house I also want to have fun with my kids. It doesn’t always work, but when it does I’m so grateful for the time that I spent with my kids (and grateful that my house is clean).

  27. When my son was born, my father gave me one really important piece of advice: “Take care of yourself, because if you don’t, nobody else will. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby.” He was so right. I feel much better when I’ve knocked something off my “Me” list and can then focus on my child with less stress, less pressure, less oh my gosh where is the time going. If I take care of me, I simply don’t mind that two or three hours of “unproductive” time passes while I play with my son. I’m happier, and most importantly, so is he. I’m glad you put this in words for your readers; thank you!!

  28. This could not have been better timed. In my journey of not yelling (day 5, so it’s NEW)… I was feeling like a HORRIBLE mom. Not for yelling (because seriously, I have been doing pretty good the last couple days on that), but because I also thought that not yelling was going to turn me back into super-mom who could “let the house go” and not have an anxiety attack. (Turns out I can’t. So I cried the whole time washing dishes because I chose the dishes over playdough and reading stories.)

    Wish I had read this before the dishes were done. 🙂

  29. I think it’s also good to teach our kids that life comes with responsibilities! They should know that the dishes don’t just magically get done (and the laundry, vacuuming, cooking…). 🙂

  30. Mommy guilt in all it’s forms has such a strong hold on us doesn’t it? Have been reading and talking about it w/friends so much recently. I would feel guilty not wanting to clean the dishes:). We can’t let guilt win & steal any more joy or calmness or dictate our days for us so great job using your voice to encourage others!

  31. Love this post. I,ve heard people say just let things go and share quality time. I find myself crazy in dirty house which until now hadn,t realize that cause stress then the need to yell. I want the balance. I have to learn it,s acceptable for kids to play by themselves! Thanks for insight!

  32. I have never read something that was so intune with me! Mom of four, 2 boys 2 girls, and yes I HAVE to have somethings done/organized or I either shut down or have the possibility to amp out. Ah.. I’d love to be unproductively productive over coffee with you.

  33. This is me to a T. I have to get certain things done, such as take a shower, make my bed, and do the dishes, before I feel like I can have my head on straight and deal with the daily challenges. I often feel like when I am hitting roadblocks on accomplishing things due to the needs of my children, I start to feel twitchy. And that’s where your last post came in and reminded me that hey, it’s okay if things don’t get done RIGHT NOW. Because my children are the most important thing, and the other stuff will get done, just maybe not that exact moment. And other times, if the kids can wait a bit, I can take care of my to do list. You’re right – it’s all about finding the balance!

  34. Oh thank you so much for putting into words what I cannot at times. This indeed is my struggle day to day! How do I find that balance? How do I not feel guilty over every decision to either play with my boys or work on the house (which also is my stress reliever)? I just decided today in fact to do a list for myself of essential things that keep Mom happy, things I need to do everyday and check off to make sure I am taking care of me. I never let my kids go without their needs being met, so I felt today after Church that I need to try and meet some of my needs too, of course I am meeting those needs so that I don’t go crazy and yell at my kids and can be the best Mom I can be for them! You just helped me feel excited about a new week of trying hard to be a great Mom, not yelling, and also not feeling GUILTY! Sorry so long winded!

  35. I love this. And I hope you feel better after writing it. You are not a hypocrite. You are learning more about yourself every day and helping others in the process. It’s all part of the journey! Here’s to your appreciation of all kinds of productivity and balance! xo

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