I feel like I’ve been telling people what they want to hear my whole life. I’ve always been a people pleaser, and I try to avoid conflict at all costs. This hasn’t always served me well, since failing to express my true feelings can lead to unhealthy and misplaced anger (sorry, family). But sometimes it’s a necessary tactic for self-preservation. In fact, I guarantee there are things a mom really means when she says "I'm fine," and they're all said so us mothers can keep it together.
Now, in my defense, I don't say "I'm fine" to my closest friends. I unleash my fears and frustrations because they know me, and I know they can take it. But for other people, namely those who are really in no position to help me manage the dumpster fire that feels like my life at times, I don’t need to get into it. “I’m fine” is my standard response to most people who aren’t good friends, family, or medical practitioners. And I even spare those folks the hard truth occasionally, since I know how to read a room and can tell when someone might not be able to handle my TMI explanation of what set my child off on that particular day.
“I’m fine” is the go-to reply when just want to let things be. It’s greeting a neighbor on the stoop, but not inviting that particular neighbor in. It’s similar to “we should get together,” “I’ll put you two in touch,” and “I’ll have to try that place some time” — all phrases that make you feel like you checked a box on social interaction, without actually doing anything.
So if you’re wondering what a mom really means when she says “I’m fine,” it could be any of the below:
"Everything’s On Fire"
My son is kicking the walls, my daughter is yelling at him to stop, there’s bits of food everywhere, the garbage is overflowing, and, like clockwork, the telemarketing calls keep coming in.
I’m fine, because if I’m not, I’m dead.
"If I Talk About It I’ll Fall Apart"
Trust me, you don’t want to know how I am. Motherhood gets dark sometimes. Talking about it is fine, if you want to, but most times I just don’t want to. I know once I start getting into it all — not having enough time or energy or faith in myself to actually raise quality human beings — I will melt in front of you. So just pretend to believe me when I say “I’m fine.”
"Leave Me Alone"
Please stop talking. My reply of “I’m fine” is your cue to nod and move on. I am not inviting you to question anything more, either. In fact, I am fine with you not asking follow-up questions about me or my family. I am not being passive-aggressive. I am just ending this line of questioning to save you from watching me collapse into a snotty cry in front of you.
"Night Feedings Will End Me"
Tell me, what would you rather hear? "I'm fine"? Or, “The human body was not designed to withstand consistently interrupted sleep for months on end and yet I am still alive but that can’t be a good thing because it only makes me that much more aware of how exhausted I am"?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
"Children’s Rain Boots Are Torture Devices"
Have you tried this "fun" new game? All the parents are doing it. First, you get your toddler some adorable rain boots, preferably ones with little ladybug antennae or dragon wings (because shoes that resemble animals are synonymous with foul weather). But get them before you actually need them, of course, so you’re prepared.
Then, when it finally rains on that not-too-cold, perfect puddle-stomping late fall day, present them to your young one to get them excited about going outside.
If they don’t collapse into a fit of rage at the idea of climate-specific footwear, you’re winning!
But the next challenge is to actually get them on the child’s feet, and that is a problem, because, since you bought them ahead of time and are now a bit too small, but not so small that they couldn’t possibly be forced onto the kid. So get shoving, cramming, and wrestling!
An hour later, it’s either stopped raining, or you have allowed your child out in their sandals because it’s just not worth it.
Collect two vodka tonics and pass out.
"Who Thinks Buttons On Baby Clothes Is A Good Idea?"
If you ask me how I’m doing while I’m dressing my child for a holiday photo shoot, class picture day, or just to make some grandparent happy by wearing the adorable, intricately constructed outfit, I will tell you I am fine. But I am suppressing all the rage directed at baby clothing designers who have clearly think all little kids are cooperative rag dolls when you try to dress them.
"I’m Pretending I Don’t Care How I Look"
If you look at me, squint, and ask me how I am, I’m going to say fine, even though we both know that my uncombed hair, wrinkled shirt, and ragged nails might suggest otherwise. I know I often look like sh*t, but if I at least pretend I don’t care, it may come across as kind of cool… and not pathetic.
"There Is A Strong Possibility I Won’t Make It Through The Day"
Here’s a quick daily list of where all my energy goes as a mom:
- Mitigating sibling squabbles
- Tracking down kid stuff
- Tracking down my stuff
- Filling out school forms
- Updating the calendar
- Figuring out how to handle scheduling conflicts productively (apparently crying about them doesn’t do anything)
- Meal planning, preparing, and begging the kids to eat it
- Calculating how much clean underwear is left before laundry day
- Cutting apple slices
- Saying something to my husband that at least resembles a kind remark. (“Oh, you’re here” doesn’t count)
- Working a full-time job
I just hope to make it to bedtime all in one piece.
"You Would Be Horrified If I Told You How I Really Felt"
Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. You have to be ready to deal with some feelings. Sure there’s the unabashed joy and fierce love that arrive, at least eventually, with the child. But there is also the resentment and depression and self-doubt and rage, and even, at times, aloofness (eat all the Cheerios you want off the floor, kid, because I have to pick my battles). For the uninitiated, it could be a lot. I know for me, it’s a lot. Too much, at times.
So next time you ask a mom how she is, ask yourself if you really want to know.
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