How parents can embrace the mess and why they're happier for it

Does it feel like all you do all day is clean up one mess after another? That's parenthood for you. Take heart: Sometimes messes aren't such bad things.

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  • For such little things, babies can make the biggest messes. Meal clean-up after a baby has eaten may feel a little like cleaning up the aftermath of a giant Cheerio, cheese and applesauce food fight. Multiply that by three meals a day, not to mention the number of wardrobe changes and baths baby needs, and sometimes it feels like all a parent does is clean up food all day long.

  • Grandparents and parents whose children have outgrown the baby stage often advise parents of young children to enjoy babyhood while it lasts. That may seem impossible at first, but all you really need is a little attitude change and a few tricks of the trade to help yourself embrace the mess.

  • Undress the kid

  • Since you know the mess is going to happen anyway, you can prepare for it a little. You'll have several options, none of which include a bib since every parent knows that once they're older than eight months, babies never leave their bibs on for a whole meal anyway.

  • If laundry is the bane of your life, it may be best just to undress the kids from the get-go and be ready for some very thorough washcloth wipe-downs or a bath or two per day. The best choice for your family will likely be based on your baby's personality (i.e. what he or she hates least, changing clothes or taking baths).

  • Get messy yourself

  • How many times have you heard the phrase, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em"? It applies in this circumstance as well as in any other. Since mess is inevitable at this stage, try to come up with ways to have fun with it. Try using baby food for finger painting, laugh at each other's milk mustaches, make food rainbows on the high chair tray. This helps when you have a high chair that is easy to clean up afterwards, such as the Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Total Clean High Chair, so that you worry less about the mess. You can put the entire top half in the dishwasher for a complete clean!

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  • According to pbs.org, babies thrive on sensory experiences like playing with their food. In fact, "these experiences can be therapeutic, improve motor skills, raise awareness of how the world works, and contribute to language acquisition." Plus, it's a great opportunity for the two of you to bond. Yes, smearing oatmeal on your face can count as a bonding experience.

  • Take pics of messy kids

  • You've got to admit, even up to their elbows in mashed peas and pureed sweet potatoes, your kids are still pretty cute. Make sure to snap a couple candid pics of those adorable, messy faces. These are the moments that make the greatest memories, the ones you'll be reminiscing over 20 years from now, saying, "Remember when we mohawked Corey's hair with raspberry jam? We were picking raspberry seeds off his scalp for days!" Besides, every parent needs a secret stash of embarrassing pictures tucked away to share with future boyfriends and girlfriends.

  • Play food games

  • Babies are always learning, even when it seems like they're just playing games. For instance, babycentre.co.uk says from six to nine months old is when babies start learning about sizes, shapes and textures and are practicing fine motor skills. Give him or her a handful of Cheerios and a bowl and demonstrate how to pick each Cheerio up one at a time to fill the bowl. Then empty it and start over.

  • You could also cut soft fruit, cheese and bread up into different shapes, then point to them and name them as baby eats. You could also try arranging the food into faces on baby's plate. Children are programmed to recognize facial shapes and they'll be thrilled to recognize those familiar shapes in their food.

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  • Give baby control of utensils

  • Feeding an active baby is a little like dart-throwing mixed with stand-up comedy with a dash of dodge ball and keep-away thrown in for good measure. You must at once maneuver a small spoon with a puddle of liquid food past grasping hands, pursed lips and thrusting tongue all while keeping baby interested and happy, not to mention avoiding ending up with baby food sprayed on your shirt and smeared across your pants.

  • At the point you literally feel like a one-man three-ring circus, it could be time to give up the fight and let baby take feeding time into his or her own hands. Yes, it's likely to be quite messy and less food than ever will end up in his or her mouth, but it will allow you to keep your sanity and give the baby some chance to exercise his or her independence.

  • Realize that being messy is okay

  • In the moment, the fight to clean messy high chairs, food-covered floors and sticky-faced babies can seem overwhelming. But if you pause for a moment just to watch your baby's happy face as he or she explores food or feel the love and pride that swells within you when that spoon finally connects with mouth, you'll realize the mess doesn't matter after all. One day there won't be a high chair to wipe down and the floor will stay curiously tidy. And that sticky, smiling face will be grown up and gone, possibly with sticky faces of its own to clean.

  • And don't be afraid when you do feel overwhelmed to reach out for help. Support from family and friends is always a heaven-sent for new parents, but also look for gear to make your life a little easier when the mess seems like too much. Items such as the Fisher-Price 4-in-1 High Chair, is one such product. Not only is the entire top half dishwasher safe, but this chair is also equipped with baby wipes in the chair and easy to clean straps that you just wipe clean! Products such as these are designed to help young parents embrace that mess by making their lives a little easier.

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  • You see, there's one more thing all parents agree on: Though it feels all-encompassing now, these baby years go by in a blink. Don't waste them feeling worried and stressed; embrace the mess.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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