Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

It was years ago now, but I recall this incident like it was yesterday (funny how that happens).

A mom I knew in town had come over to pick up her son at our house after a playdate. Our six-year-old boys had played together for a few hours far from the madding crowd. In our small but comfy home, they drew with crayons. They kicked a ball around the yard. They stacked blocks in the living room. They had a snack. Boom — two hours was over like that.
At the time, I had three older children in the house, I was working full time, I was juggling other family responsibilities, and I remember feeling tired (um, yeah). Yet I know I tried hard to set the stage for a fun and packed playdate for the kids.

My son was happy, and the other boy, whom I didn’t know very well, seemed to have a good time, too. Then this adult strode into our living room where the boys had been playing. Without even greeting her own kid, she looked around, put her hands on her hips, and said, “I hate clutter.”

Wow. That one should be in a sitcom somewhere.

Except that it was real.

That cutting remark stayed in my brain for years, mostly because it was in such sharp contrast to the words of another mom, another peer — one I so appreciated for her wise and easygoing approach to family life with little kids and many large responsibilities. We were at her house one day, and it was the reverse of the above: I was there to pick up my kids after they’d had a playdate at her house. Her three little ones, and my two, had all been engaged with games and toys as they crawled around on the floor together. This mom, a teacher, knew so much about children, learning, living, letting kids be kids—and laughing at oneself.

The place was a happy mess. I felt cheerful at seeing my kids having such a good time in a new environment with other children of varying ages.

Who cared if they had the remnants of smashed Cheerios (and maybe bananas? not quite clear) on their clothes and their skin. They were little kids. That stuff usually comes out in the wash (and the bath). This mom looked at the kids having a blast. She smiled and said to me, “I sweep the floor once a day. Anything that falls after that has to wait until tomorrow. This is about the kids having fun.”

I thought: Bless you. And: Who cares about clutter when little kids are having fun? To be clear, no one’s advocating constant messes or hoarding environments that could be hazardous. We’re just talking about ordinary, everyday messes. And about being real.

So unless our little ones are truly in danger, let’s leave the parent-on-parent value judgments behind, shall we? Let’s leave the cutting remarks on the cutting-room floor, OK? Let’s think of the kids. Let’s let them have a little fun — even if it’s not exactly the way we’d handle it or organize it. Let’s let our kids grow in new and interesting environments. Let’s let small children enjoy each other and their social experiences without crass judgment.

Because, really, everything else is just someone’s opinion—and in the long run, that only matters as much as we allow it to do so. If you’re a parent, what matters is your child’s happiness and well being!

Wendy Aspuro is a mom and stepmom located on the East Coast.