We were halfway through winter when the walls started closing in like we were stuck in a bad dream. After months of temperatures so cold we couldn’t endure more than five minutes outside, and even more months of colds and viruses that kept us quarantined, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted a social life anymore.
The other moms at the MOPS meetings somehow managed to curl their hair and find cute clothes to wear, while just showing up with a ponytail and fleece hoodie felt like success to me.
When the speaker finished her talk, we split into discussion groups to share our hearts. Somehow, in God’s perfect design, the first question for discussion went something like this: “In what creative ways could we set aside our desires to appear perfect and let other women see us as we truly are?” While I almost suggested a mandatory sweatpants only MOPS meeting, another mom shared her insecurity first. She spoke of her longing for a social life and how desperately she wanted to invite other moms into her house, but she never stepped out because she was ashamed of her messy house.
“I propose we start a messy house playgroup,” I said, the words slipping out before I’d entirely thought through the idea. “There’s only one requirement: You absolutely cannot clean your house before the group comes. We’ll do it once a week and everyone’s welcome to take a turn.”
With that, the messy house playgroup was established and a small group of women embarked on authentic friendship without masks, walls or facades.
It wasn’t comfortable, but I was the first to host a messy house playdate. The morning of the playdate, I resisted the urge to crawl under the dining room table and clean up the breakfast crumbs before my guests arrived. I left dozens of toys strewn throughout the entire house. The mail remained stacked on the china cabinet. And in the midst of it all, something beautiful happened.
Women opened up more deeply than ever. We stepped into each other’s messes and the most surprising thing happened: Instead of being rejected because of our messy lives, there was greater acceptance. It was as if seeing the messes was what actually brought us together.
Whether it’s a messy house, messy marriage, messy wardrobe or messy season of struggle, being real about our brokenness invites others to open up about their own areas of brokenness. It also sets us free to live without anything to prove, eyes always searching for someone to love instead of searching for someone to make us feel loved.
Here are four simple suggestions for the mom who’s ready to be the first to let her guard down and let others into the imperfect parts of her life:
Host your own messy house playdate.
It’s not easy to let others see the messes we keep behind closed doors. But that’s just the thing: Every one of us has messes behind closed doors. When we invite others into them, we create an atmosphere that says, “I’m not perfect and you don’t have to be either.” Because, really, who among us has it all together?
Show up without perfect hair, perfect makeup or perfect anything.
One of the most freeing moments of my MOPS experience was when one of the most gorgeous women in our group showed up in a loose T-shirt and jogging shorts. The day this mom showed up in her workout clothes felt like an invitation that said, “Come as you are.” It broke the mold of keeping up appearances at all times. After that meeting, the environment of our group changed and it was as if we were permitted to have a bad day.
Be the first to tell it like it is.
Nothing makes a mom feel inferior like hearing other moms boast about the vitamin supplements that have kept illness out of the house for the past six years, a family craft night that takes place four times a week, or a discipline strategy that has fostered perfectly obedient children. While it’s healthy to share what works, let’s not forget to tell it like it is. There are meltdown days, throw-up bucket days, and scrub the kitchen floor 12 times days. These days are less than glamorous. Let’s share the struggles instead of pretending they don’t exist.
Absolutely refuse to wear a mask.
Most of us like masks. We’re experts at covering up the blemishes on our skin, and we’re even more adept at hiding the imperfections in our lives. Set other women free to unload their burdens by being honest about yours. If you just yelled at your kids 16 times in an effort to get out the door, if you made threats in the car, if you wagged your finger like somebody’s angry Aunt Margaret, you’re not alone. Share the ugly with other moms and you’ll find a very real kind of community.
Regardless of where you’re most likely to hide the real parts of your life, consider being the first to step into the freedom of living real. It’s in this place of sincerity that the most lasting and life-changing relationships take place; that the drudgery of the mundane becomes a shared journey through the mountaintops and valleys of motherhood.
Stacey Pardoe is the mother of two young children, wife of a Christ-loving man, certified special education teacher, freelance journalist, mentor and more. She writes weekly at staceypardoe.com.
This article currently appears in the spring issue of The MOPS Magazine.