I feel like the conversation around how to support overwhelmed moms of young children has come a long way in the almost seven years since I became a mother. A quick search turns up lots of articles and blogs on practical ways to help new moms, what to do and not to do, what to say and not to say, etc. There are a lot of rude people out there, y’all, but hopefully it’s mostly due to ignorance. I think these discussions are helping people realize that how they phrase things is important, especially when hormone-charged, sleep-deprived moms are involved.
One phrase that often makes the lists of what not to say and also seems to turn up every few weeks in some friend or another’s Facebook rant is “You have your hands full.” Usually it’s a mom of multiple kids (hi, mom of three here) venting in frustration that they can’t go anywhere in public without some random person commenting on how full their hands are. Most seem to feel like it’s an indictment for having too many kids or a judgment on how they are handling said kids in a public space; it’s yet another example of nosy strangers trying to give unsolicited parenting advice or observations.
My husband will be the first to tell you that I am SENSITIVE to how things are phrased. The words a person chooses, communicate a lot about the intent behind their message. But I can’t for the life of me understand why people are bothered by others noticing their hands are full.
I LOVE when a sweet little old lady or a shy young cashier or a middle-aged man or a fellow thirty-something mom give me an understanding or sympathetic or even slightly horrified look and pronounce, “You certainly have your hands full.” I feel understood and validated and a little less alone for feeling slightly horrified myself at the often embarrassing scenes my brood and I are creating in public. Yes, random stranger, this motherhood thing is very, very hard and all consuming. Thank you for noticing.
And guys, if you gratefully acknowledge what is quite honestly just a factual observation on the other person’s part and maybe even throw in a bit of a smile, it almost always gets you awesome bonuses!
Here are just a few of the things that have happened to me immediately following someone noticing that I have my hands full with my small children:
People have taken my cart to the cart return for me so I don’t have to walk away from the babies I have buckled in the car.
People often wait longer than usual for the kids and me to reach the door so they can remain there to hold it open for us, especially when I’m struggling with a giant stroller.
People have offered to let me go ahead of them in the checkout line because I have three small hooligans with me that can only be patient for so long.
People have helped lift my 30-pound toddler onto a swing for me when I was wearing my baby and struggling to do it myself.
I had a guy close up my stroller, load it onto a shuttle, and then unload and open it for me once we reached the parking lot when I took all three to a school carnival by myself.
People frequently bend down to pick up items my kids or I have dropped in the grocery store so that I don’t have to bend over while hugely pregnant or while wearing a baby.
Sisters, there really aren’t a lot of perks to this motherhood thing. But getting to use the very valid and real excuse that your hands are full in order to benefit from some extra assistance in public spaces is certainly one of them in my book. Next time you hear this phrase, consider that the person may just be trying to say something sympathetic in the only way they know how.