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The Mommy Chronicles: A Clean House

May 9, 2009 | by Leah Kaplan

I'm my own version of superwoman. I do it all, but I don't clean the bathroom, and I'm okay with that.

Today was a good day. Nobody threw up. Not that throw up automatically constitutes a bad day, but it certainly doesn't help.

I am the mother of young children. My house is a testament to this. I have this recurring dream that a neighbor (whose kids are grown of course) stops by to borrow something and I don't know where to find it. They're standing in the foyer, politely waiting, thinking "perhaps she's fallen and can't get up," when actually, I'm running around the house trying to find the sugar. Yes, in my house even the sugar can get lost.

Today I hired someone to clean my house. I've wanted to hire someone for a few months, but life on a budget inspired me to give it the old college try. After three months of a combination of denial and guilt about the general lack of order and cleanliness, I threw in the towel. I spent two months and 29 days feeling guilty that I'm not getting the job done, and amazingly, only one day to get over it.

And I'm sooooo over it! What a relief, I'm free from housework! Okay, not exactly free. I still have shopping, cooking, laundry, general maintenance, cleaning up so that the cleaning lady can clean and of course, if anybody does decide to throw up, I'll have to take care of that as well.

But I am free from the guilt and the judgment. I'm my own version of superwoman. I do it all, but I don't clean the bathroom, and I'm okay with that.

What have I learned?
Guilt is a waste of time.

I thought guilt worked like this: feel bad about yourself for an undesignated period of time because you are falling short of your potential, and then, miraculously, through the guilt, you'll start reaching your potential. I thought that being a Jewish mother I'd have extra G-d given talent in using guilt to manipulate myself and others to do my will; but no such luck.

Guilt tricks us into thinking we're working on the problem when, in fact, it just gets in the way.

Here's how guilt really works:
First, guilt tricks us into thinking we're working on the problem. Feeling guilty isn't an actual activity that counts towards problem solving. Focusing on the past and our shortcomings does nothing to move us towards a solution. In fact, it gets in the way.

Secondly, guilt robs us of our self-esteem. It makes us feel bad about ourselves. This in turn makes us feel incapable of change. Guilt makes us feel like we don't deserve things to be better or that we aren't actually capable of fixing the problem.

Judaism's version of guilt is really regret. The past is relevant in so far as we're willing to recognize it for what it is, own it, and change. If we're falling short of our potential, we need to admit that we could do better, and do it. This is a productive response to negative feelings of guilt.

Regret, unlike guilt, can actually get us somewhere. In order to feel regret we need to examine the past and see where we went wrong. Regret means owning our mistakes and shortcomings. Once we can do this honestly, we'll see the areas where we have the potential to grow. This is really powerful. It's movement. It's freeing. The past doesn't rule the present. The future with all its potential is what drives us now.

Driven by the promise of a clean organized house, I hired someone. Once I admitted that I had too much on my plate to take care of it myself, I realized that I was wasting my precious time feeling guilty. I regret that I had a hard time admitting that I needed help.

Her name is Bernadette. She starts tomorrow.

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