Why I Don't Get Offended When People Tell Me "Looks Like You've Got Your Hands Full"

Ad failed to load

It's happened to every mother I know. You're grocery shopping or at the mall or playground and your child (or, more likely, children) are in full-on beast mode. Not even necessarily in a Hulk-like rage, just loud and vibrating with energy. You are entirely absorbed in trying to get them to stop acting like chimps attempting to escape the zoo when, seemingly out of nowhere, you hear it. "Boy, it looks like you've got your hands full." And up from the depths of your mom heart comes the silent response: "No sh*t."

"Yes, stranger, I've got my hands full. Thank you for that very insightful, very necessary observation in the middle of my child's tantrum. This has been most helpful." A lot of moms I've talked to said it's one of the worst things they can hear out in public with their kids. (And, by the way, the more children you have the more likely you will be to hear this phrase, and with less cause. If you have one child you'll probably only hear this if they're kicking up or acting particularly silly. But if you go anywhere with three or more children in tow, no matter how well-behaved they are, you'll just have it randomly shouted at you.) I get it. In fact, at times I've been tempted to respond, "Yup. So are you just going to stand there making comments or are you going to come help me?"

But I've held back. Why? Well, because honestly I'm not offended when I hear this. In fact I can usually respond with a genuine smile.

Ad failed to load

Sure, as a parent it's tough to know that the fact that you're flustered and floundering is easily noticeable. It can be irritating when people attempt to pull you out of parent battle mode (not to mention literally impossible to engage with them in any meaningful way). Maybe it feels like these casual observers are mocking you. Maybe it even feels like they're somehow taking your child's side. Maybe, you think, they think your suffering is a source of entertainment for them and they don't appreciate just how much you're struggling. I understand it can be taken all these ways (which is why I don't say it), but I just don't think it's meant in any of those ways, not even subconsciously, in the vast majority of instances.

So those overly-chipper "looks like you've got your hands full!" is not (usually) judgment. It's a poorly-timed, perhaps tone-deaf attempt at empathy and encouragement.
Ad failed to load

Personally, this is something I hear mainly from older people who, statistically (and this has been established by subsequent follow-up conversations in some cases) are probably parents of little ones who grew up a long time ago. They see you wrangling your child/children and something tugs at the back of their brain. Sure, it's been a while, but they can still feel, deep within their bones, something of what you're feeling. They've been there. Sure, the memory may be seen through rose colored glasses, but, just as smell can trigger memory, so too, I'm certain, can particular aspects of parenting. I've only been a parent for a little over six years, but I can tell you here and now that long after my children are grown, all this mommy goodness will not go away. Even if I wanted it to, there's just no way it can be erased. Not completely. Oh, there will be certain things that fade and times and best practices will change enough where my kids will probably, at some point, complain about me being hopelessly out of touch. But becoming a parent is like getting a tattoo on your brain: even if it fades and blurs, it's there forever.

So those overly-chipper "looks like you've got your hands full!" is not (usually) judgment. It's a poorly-timed, perhaps tone-deaf attempt at empathy and encouragement.

Ad failed to load

We live in an era, and maybe we always have, where parenting is often a performance. Social media has allowed us to hand-selected the moments we present to the world. When everyone does this, it (understandably) influences what we believe parenthood "really" looks like. Needless to say, we pick the moments that make us and our beloved monsters look good, and who could blame us? The nitty-gritty is boring or disheartening or just makes us look like an inept mess. Highlighting the good stuff can be an act of self-preservation. But sometimes things get out of hand and we actively suppress the messy stuff. Even those who attempt to show that "motherhood is messy" can often find themselves falling into an established paradigm. Where even the "realness" is posed, artfully disheveled, and flattering. But parenting is supposed to look effortless, controlled, and, frankly, Pinterest-perfect. So when someone tells us "it looks like you've got your hands full" we hear "we can see you're struggling unsuccessful despite your efforts" which, in a time of serene Instagram mothers, can basically feel the same as "you're failing."

There are days that I can't bear the weight anymore and I give up trying.

But you know what? You're damn right I've got my hands full. Super-full. I'm not going to be sorry about that, much less try to hide the fact. There are some days that my hands are so full I drop everything despite my best efforts. There are days that I can't bear the weight anymore and I give up trying. I throw it all down in frustration and let my kids watch an extra couple hours of TV before microwaving them some leftover macaroni and cheese for dinner and counting down the minutes before I can put them to bed. This is bad enough when it happens in the privacy of my own home, and it's even harder when you're out in public, feeling as though you're failing in front of an audience.

Ad failed to load

But real life can't just happen in our private moments: real life happens in public and it's time we admit, without shame, that we all have our hands full. The parents who came before us know this. I get that it can be frustrating to hear someone blithely stating the obvious when you're neck-deep in maternal realness, but what I've realized is that it's their awkward way of letting us know "Solidarity, mama. Been there. It sucks. Chin up."

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

New Moms Have Two Options: Be "Sad & Fat" Or "Desperate & Thin"

As the line goes, the worst thing you could say about me, I've already thought about myself. In the early postpartum period with my son, it was: "I am overweight, lonely, and heartbroken." It was four days after I brought my son into the world, and I…
By Danielle Campoamor

6 Fascinating Facts About Spring Babies: You Could Have A Leader On Your Hands

Does the season in which you are born affect you or are all seasons pretty equal? It turns out that there are many ways in which the your child's birth season could give you an insight into things to come. Whether you are expecting a baby in the next…
By Shari Maurer

Kids Will Love These TV Shows & Movies Coming To Netflix In April

It's that time of the month again: as March draws to a close, Netflix gets ready for a little bit of spring cleaning. Though some TV shows and movies will have to find homes elsewhere, their departure makes room for all kinds of exciting new media. A…
By Megan Walsh

I'm A Stay-At-Home Mom &, Face It, These 11 Stereotypes Are Totally True

Hello, friends! It's me, your resident stay-at-home mom. You know, there's a lot that's said about me and my kind, and the vast majority of it is not even remotely true. For example, this whole "we're lazy, vapid, unambitious, anti-feminist, backstab…
By Jamie Kenney

The Pressure To Worry About The Gap Between Kids Is So Bad For Moms

"Two under two is absolutely crazy," a friend recently told me upon hearing the news that I was expecting a second child. "Why would you do this to yourself? Seriously, why?" However harsh her words, she was only echoing the same feelings I'd been ba…
By Marie Southard Ospina

To Be Honest, I Couldn't Survive Motherhood Without My Job

The decision to work outside the home once you've become a parent can be a complicated one. Some people don't really have a choice, and go back to work because they're either a single parent or can't sustain their family on one income. Some choose to…
By Priscilla Blossom

I Feel Guilty That My Kid’s Dad Is A Better Parent Than Me, & That’s BS

I was scared, and he was sure. I was clueless, and he was well-researched. I was making mistakes, and he was picking up the pieces. From the moment I found out I was pregnant until just last night, when I threw my hands up in the air and left the alw…
By Danielle Campoamor

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik