Say Yes to the Mess!

Life with little people can be messy. Very messy. Sometimes, it seems like all I do is move from one kind of mess to the next.

There’s the poopy diaper mess, the sticky breakfast fingers mess, the breakfast dishes mess, the spilled on shirt mess, the tried to use the potty but didn’t make it mess, the pajamas on the floor mess, the choosing clothes for the day mess, the toothpaste in the sink mess….. and it’s not even 8:00 yet.

The thing is, messes aren’t inherently bad. Messes mean that something got accomplished. I just walked around my house and took pictures of various messes that had been made.

A pile of books – my son voraciously devouring the library haul this week

A pile of Duplos – two of my kids actually working together, playing together, to share and build a scene

A pile of animals inside a jump rope – pretend play of circle time from preschool

All around me was evidence of meaningful activity. Just like the pancakes I made for breakfast this morning created bowls, spoons, and a griddle that would need to be cleaned up later, my children’s play necessarily created a mess in order for them to have control of their environment, to be creative, to work together.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that they’re off the hook when it comes to clean up time! (that’s part II of this post). But it DOES mean that when they want to rearrange the living room, turning it in to a massive book fort, I need to say yes (providing we have the time for them to play before cleanup needs to start), and if they want to help make the bread, I need to say yes, knowing that there will be a bit more clean up than usual.

If they want to make a big collage, cutting lots of paper all over the place, I can say yes (after reviewing with them that they will also be responsible for cleanup). If it’s play-doh time, that’s ok too.

Here’s the thing: our kids need to be exposed to messes and to be guided through the process of putting things back together. This is a life skill that translates into all areas of life. Unless you’re filthy rich and can afford servants to clean up after you, messes will be part of life.

When we start when they’re young, gradually teaching them the skills of looking at a big mess, breaking it down into smaller parts, and then acting on those smaller goals, we’re helping them prepare for research projects, apartment moves, house renovations, and their own kids’ sticky fingers.

We’re empowering them.

So go ahead. Get messy. (and then see part II – clean up time!)

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