The Messy Mom

The Messy Mom

“But the Weisberg’s house is SO messy, Eema, we’ll never find it!”

This was the despairing plea of our 6-year-old guest who lost a bracelet while playing at our house one afternoon about 5 years ago.

And our young guest was right. 5 Pesachs have come and gone, but we Weisbergs have still never managed to find that lost bracelet.

And the truth is that, while I pretended to laugh it off, that “messy Weisberg’ comment really stung.

I AM guilty as charged. My house IS messy. Any order I manage to create in the Weisberg home is in constant danger of being consumed by the disorder that rages all around it, like a sandcastle gobbled up by an incoming tide. But why did this girl have to embarrass me in front of her Eema like that? You know the kind… the Eema with the perfect size-six figure and the perfect neat house (and the non-existent mess that she still apologizes for) and the perfect folded laundry in the drawers and the perfect 2 home-cooked meals a day?

And then last week I had a revelation which made me re-think my ancient but still-lingering lost-bracelet embarrassment/indignation…

Last Wednesday I attended the final meeting for Hallel’s amazing pre-bat mitzvah program with Rabbanit Tal Rachmani…

And for the final meeting, Rabbanit Rachmani had prepared a special game. The week before, every girl had written down what she most admired about and wanted to learn from her mother. And when we met on Wednesday, every mother had to guess what her daughter had written about her…

A girl stood up to read all the girls’ cards:

“I want to learn from my mother how to be clean and neat, because my mother is clean and neat.” One sheepish mother raising a manicured fingernail to claim that comment.

“I want to learn from my mother how to be clean and neat, because my mother is clean and neat.” Yet another sheepish mother raised her hand to claim that one.

“I want to learn from my mother how to be clean and neat, because my mother is so clean and neat.” Yet another sheepish mother claimed that comment.

And then there were some comments that started to moved me…

“I want to learn from my mother how to have true respect for my parents, because she treats Saba and Savta with so much respect.”

“I want to learn from my mother how to be more generous, because my mother is so generous and I am so stingy…”

“I want to learn from my mother how to do acts of kindness, because my mother is always doing acts of kindness for others…”

And finally, the comment that moved me most of all: “I want to learn from my mother how to inspire Jewish mothers, because my mother knows how to inspire other mothers and I think she is a very good mom…” followed by a bashful smile from Hallel.

And as I sat there blushing (yes, literally blushing), with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of a moving letter I received last year from London JewishMOM Amanda Bradley.

Amanda wrote: “Recently, a young mother in our community passed away very suddenly. She was superlative in the love and care she poured onto her children and husband. And you know, not one eulogy (formal or informal) has said ‘she was a fantastic cook’ or ‘her house was really spotless’ or ‘she never bought her challahs.’ Which is not to say that any of those were not true, but that they were meaningless beside the real loss, which was of her love and her care.

“Since then, I have thought that women have our own version of ‘You can’t take the millions with you’ and ‘No one ever says on their deathbed that they wish they’d spent more time at the office.’

“Our motherly version is ‘You can’t take your spotless bathtub with you’ and ‘No one ever says on their deathbed that they should have cooked gourmet.’ What matters is the love and personal role modeling we provide our children. And as long as their basic needs are met, the rest is trivia.”

Photo courtesy of Mr. Robert Wade


  1. Just what I needed… and I have my mother in law in from the US..

  2. As I finally sit down and wait for the last load of washing to be done in my now-spotless kitchen, after putting away the last vestiges of very neatly folded ironing (by helper) in very tidy drawers ( by me) and feeling very peaceful in my very tidy home with FINALLY sleeping children, and after throwing away the last paper bag and storing the spare ketchups from the takeout meal we happily downed ….. Arrggh! Takeout – Busted!!!!

    I really enjoyed this post.

    The truth is, the only reason I am so neat is because its the only thing I feel I have any “control” over! At least a towel doesn’t talk back, a plate doesn’t punch, and crumbs don’t kvetch….. please forgive me my tidy home: its just a cover for the fact that I’m a lousy mother! At least I do something well. But it’s not at the expense of my kids, I hope. I’m going to ask them that question and sit back and take some serious notes.

    Thanks again for some post-arsenic-hour cheshbon nefesh!

    • why are you doing this to yourself?! without knowimg you, I am sure you are not a “lousy mother” – just think what great example you are to your children – of course they learn from you very important skills – organizing and cleaning doesn’t come easy – as you can tell… I struggle every day to keep my home clean and tidy, it’s crucial to the יישוב הדעת of the family. a nice and clean house inhances learning, talking, thinking – specially when you have a large family and/or small children. just enjoy what you are so good at – no need to apologize

      • Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this chizuk. Though I often tell it to myself, I sometimes think it’s my “justification”. To hear it from another mother helps so much.

  3. Amanda Elkohen

    If your kids ever need to see a really messy, house, they can come over here. I’ll make balloon animals and distract you from the piles of…well, everything. Thanks for your transparency! We all need to hear it!
    As a side note, I bet the bracelet got put in the trash by a helpful sibling! The number of things I’ve dug out of the trash put there by an overzealous toddler…and not even Pesach cleaning will retrieve things that get tossed.

  4. O ONCE AGAIN THANK YOU for all this powerful inspiration you give us dear Chana Jenny!!
    and your children are lucky to have such an inspired person as a mother and role model…

  5. Truth is, the older I get, the more I appreciate the fact that house should be clean and orderly and there’s some real value to it. I just can’t manage to overcome my distaste at the process of making mine that way and even greater distaste at seeing it all undone within hours and sometimes minutes…

    • Talk about how things need to be constantly redone! When my kids were younger and I spent time entertaining, nursing, bathing, feeding them. I waited until they were sleeping to fold laundry and do dishes because spending time with them was more important. We did clean up toys together each day. But to keep my serenity (the little I had!) I would spend one hour cleaning/chores and then another hour listening to radio shows while doing needlepoint. That at least would not get undone the next morning! Now, there are shiurim to listen to while doing needlework but I don’t find I get to it.

  6. Once I asked a mom of a 24/7 clean house, how she does it. She answered that always follows her kids around, cleaning up after them. She is just constantly cleaning. She said she envies those moms who have a messy house and are fine with it!!
    That’s my goal — not to have a clean house, but to stop apologizing to everyone who comes to my door about it!!

  7. just goes to show that our children really see through us. our daily actions are implanted in them. how wonderful at such a young age your daughter was able to internalize that special message. much nachat always!

  8. Gosh- so something that Im facing lately. I so want to create order and when I just cant get it together I feel like a lesser mom. I am still working on getting more organizing and keeping a cleaner home bc I do think thats important for teh children but its great to have some perspective on this!

  9. I need to have a neat house because I can’t stand the clutter. i am a visual person and mess disturbs me. But I am constantly cleaning and organizing. It is tough.

    • I am the same way! I’ve finally gotten to the point that I accept it can’t ALWAYS be neat. As long as the house is neat before I go to bed so I can wake up to order, I’ve found I can do ok. It’s a compromise for my sanity…

  10. I was nearly in tears reading this. What powerful chizuk about remembering our priorities. Thank you, Chana Jenny!

  11. I always love to hear about other moms who “aren’t perfect”. I love to walk into a friend’s house and see it piled high with toys and laundry far exceeding my own, and totally not in an “I’m better than you” way; but rather a “This must mean I’m okay!” way.

    It is difficult, though, when they are so little and I feel like most of the stuff I’m really good at is more intellectual/spiritual teaching, which I can’t really do at those ages. But I know it’ll come, and I know just being me and loving them is all they need right now.

  12. I was moved to tears by this post. Hallel, you are spot on, your Mom never fails to inspire me.

    I hope to inspire my students in that way.

    Thank you, CJ!

    {I just love the image you started out with! I can relate…}

  13. When I was really neat and clean (meaning I’d run my finger over the balatot after the cleaners finished to make sure it was really clean), I was suffering from depression and mild OCD. B”H, with help from Above and others, thank G-d I am no longer that way. I feel good when things are neat and clean, but most of the time they are not. And I’m really okay with that. I’m a lazy type – would rather not make beds or do dishes (my husband helps out a lot with the latter) and sometimes I don’t. Now that I’m healthier, those ‘little’ things don’t bother me.

    I once came across something that really helped. Most kids don’t grow up remembering how neat and clean their home was, but the yummy foods that their parents made now and then (who doesn’t relate food to comfort), the way their parents handled life’s stresses, and feeling safe in their own home.

  14. Amanda, I second the motion – that bracelet was put in the trash on day one. Don’t sweat it, Chana Jenny!!!

  15. Your daughter’s sweet words brought tears to my eyes. Right on!

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