Last month, blogger and Tampa, Florida, mom of three Nikki Pennington struck a nerve on Facebook with a photo of the messy and cluttered passenger seat of her car. Looking for solidarity from other moms who could relate to the sight of floorboards littered with water bottles, snack trash, random empty soda cans, and paper from who-knows-where, she wrote: "I'd like to give a shout-out to all my fellow hot mess school moms."
"Here's to the end of the year, my car is filled to the brim with memories of this school year, I lived in my car, I promise I'm not a hoarder or homeless, I'll clean it up on the last day of school, trash rolls out of my truck in the drop off line, my house isn't this messy, I'll try harder next year, hot mess school moms," Pennington said.
"May we know them, may we love them, may we confess we've all been one, may we promise to look the other way when we see one and not mom shame, and may we all know we are doing the best we can even when our car looks a hot mess like us."
Many moms chimed in on Pennington's post and confirmed that yes, they too had messy mom cars. Some, however, claimed they do not — and they ignored Pennington's request to refrain from judging those that do.
"The shame isn't that her vehicle looks like that, it's that she's justifying and advocating a chaotic, unhygienic environment," wrote one commenter. "Ever heard of a ten-second tidy? You don't have to be a neat freak or even a halfway together person to avoid the disaster in her pic! It purely an issue with priorities... Stop making excuses and seeking validation!"
Pennington told TODAY Parents that she believes moms have messy cars not because their priorities are misplaced, but instead because they are human. "An average mom juggles so many different things on a daily basis," she said. "Our cars are usually at the bottom of the list for things that need to get done. Most days, we are living in our cars — it's where our daily life happens, from rides to and from school, sports, family vacations — so that's where most of the mess happens.
"To the ones that judge the messy car moms, I wish they would realize that motherhood is messy and we are all out here doing the best we can, and sometimes that means having a messy car so that we can give our all to another area of motherhood," Pennington added.
But Sumer Ramsey, an Indianapolis mom of six children ages 13 to 3 — including 3-year-old triplets — told TODAY Parents that the reason her minivan is messy is, in fact, about what she deems most important in her life. "I could justify the filth in that my hands are full dealing with so many kids, blah blah blah," she said.
"But honestly, it's just not a priority. The van gets us where we need to go, and then my focus turns to making dinner, cleaning the house, homework, and overseeing basic hygiene," she said. "And, bonus: hauling around so much junk means I am often times prepared when small emergencies like needing a hair tie or change of pants pop up."
The founder of parenting website Scary Mommy and mom of three Jill Smokler told TODAY Parents that emergency preparation is one of the benefits she sees of having a messy mom car herself. "I find my car liberating," she said. "I don't need to look for a trash can or plastic bag; the floor works just fine. What, kids? You're hungry? There's basically a buffet between the floor and the seats. Bon Appetit!"
Where do you stand on the Messy Mom Car Debate? Should it be a priority to keep a clean car when you are a parent, or is a messy car just a result of having more important things to worry about?