The "I Don't Know How You Do It" Mother

Moms who go out in public with all their little ones are bound to get some comments. Most often I hear people say that I "Really have my hands full!" or things to that end. But the comment I get most often from other young mothers is this:

"Oh, I don't know how you do it! I can't handle my one child!"

For some reason this comment bothers me the most. It doesn't hurt my feelings but it makes me feel really sad for this mother. Why? Because it shows some serious lack of confidence in her own ability to mother. I just want to grab these mothers and shake them and say, "YES you could! You are stronger than you realize!"

Why Don't We Think We CAN?

Ladies- what has happened to us? Why don't we believe that we can handle one of life's most basic and decidedly feminine functions: mothering?

(I am not saying everybody should have five kids or even any kids. Obviously there are lots of factors and desire is a big one. What I am talking about are women who are good mothers but really just don't think they can "do it" well.)

One reason this line of thinking is so prevalent is that we as a culture don't really value motherhood. We don't see the point in spending 25 years of your life devoted to raising children. This alone is kind of depressing. Mothering isn't perfect or easy or well paid. It is however something that matters. It matters that children are raised and it matters that they are raised well and with love.

Another is that because we don't value motherhood we don't support it. It can be incredibly difficult and even lonely and depressing to be a mother when you feel isolated and have no support network on top of the fact that your value seems to diminish in society the less you "contribute" monetarily.

As if this isn't enough we have also convinced ourselves that children are much more complicated than they really are. Walk into any baby store or toy store and you will come away thinking that to be a good mother you need educational toys for every age, color coordinated rooms, beds, gadgets, clothes, perfect schools, organic everything, AND a house huge enough to fit it all in. (Not to mention all the thousands of parenting theories and advice books on how to do it perfectly so that the children end up half functional.)

The truth is that children mostly need love and food. They need some clothes but they don't have to be brand new and they don't have to be perfect. Toys are highly overrated, expensive and can be an incredible waste of space. And the perfect baby room with sheets that match the wall paper- well- do it for yourself if you want too, but the six month old is not likely to notice or care.

When we step back and think of what we have done to motherhood, namely:
- devalued it
-under supported it, and then
-expected perfection from all those who are fool enough to partake in it.
Well, it is no wonder women don't think they can handle this job. It doesn't pay, people think you are crazy for doing it, and if you choose to do it you must do it perfectly.

Yes, You Can

My response to the oft expressed sentiment I hear from young mothers who are sure that they "could never handle more children" is this:

Yes, you can. I am not saying you should. I don't know your situation. But you are almost definitely able to handle more than you realize. People survive war, disaster, and abuse. Motherhood is not any of these things.

Choosing to have more children is not choosing to wake up in a pit of vipers each day. It is just choosing to mother.

Maybe people don't value motherhood but it is still important and it matters. It doesn't just matter a little either. The importance of motherhood is vast and lasts for generations.

Now I am probably scaring you right? "It lasts for generations." Yes the impact is big, but that doesn't mean it must be perfect.

Be real. If you looked at life and only got out of bed on the days where you could do X perfectly (job, marriage, hair, etc) you would NEVER get out of bed. Nobody does everything perfect on any given day.

Let me tell you a story. I am a terrible driver. Really. I am BAD at it. I think I got in about 10 car accidents the first year I was driving. I totaled my first car a few months after I bought it. For some reason this required life skill just doesn't come easily to me. But guess what? I still drive! I try harder, I am more careful, I go the speed limit and I don't let fear get in the way of LIVING.

We all do this with things in our lives. We all have things that are hard for us and we still get up and go do them because we HAVE and we NEED to and because and important part of life and adulthood is pushing ourselves past our comfort zone.

Motherhood is like life. You don't know what you can really handle until you try to do it. Nobody really knows what they are capable of.

I am rarely a great mother. Some days I am good at it. Many days I am mediocre. There are days that I am REALLY and truly bad at mothering. But you just keep going. You try harder. You forgive yourself and you remember that children have the most amazing ability to forgive you also. Then, you get up and you go and do it again. Amazingly enough, as time goes on, you figure some things out.

Then, just as you think you have figured it out there is a new challenge and a new experience and then you learn from that one. Life just keeps going and you do your best. And on the days you don't do your best, you try harder then next day.

Men don't sit home unemployed because the just "can't imagine handling a job" and people can't just opt out of life because some days are imperfect.

You can do this. You can handle this. You can mother and your best really will be good enough.


Kristi said…
I didn't even think I needed to hear this today, but I guess I did. I nearly started crying!!! Thanks for sharing.
Hannah Joy said…
I'm with Kristi! I have been having the most difficult time with my two littles (19mos and 19mosolder than that ;0) )

I'm exhausted, drained and grumpy. and I occasionally get the "I don't know how you do it" comments. I think when people see a Mama with more than 2 children, or 2 children spaced closer than the "norm" people are a bit awe struck to see some one out of their comfort zone: I think they feel like they have to comment. And "I don't know how you do it" sounds nicer than "I'm glad it's not me." :0.
Momma Jorje said…
I have friends with full houses. I've had one child at a time. (Literally, my older daughter is 11 and lives with her father. I now have a 1½yo daughter.)

I think what many don't realize is that 2 is easier than 1 anyway. At least that is what I believe. We're hoping to have a young sibling for our LO. Just 1 more, though. I'm getting too old for making babies, IMO. (Not that I would set an age limit for others!)
Marcy said…
I think it's not always so much of "I LITERALLY don't know how you do it" but more of a "good god that looks hard." At least that's how I mean it when I say/think it. I have 2 kids (3yr old and now a 3 month old) and while I know I'm a good mom, and do a good job, I look at, say, parents of twins or who have 2 kids much closer in age and I think "I don't know how they do it." Because it is already so, so hard as it is FOR ME, and while I know I could deal with even more challenge, what it comes down to is that I would prefer not to.

This is also something that is so individual. Some people know they don't want *any* kids. Some want just one, and are happy with that. others want 2, 3, 5, 7, etc, and are very happy with that. Some kids are easier, some are harder, etc. And all this plays into people's perceptions/beliefs/preferences about parenting and family size.

Momma Jorje-- I'm waiting for that "two is easier than one" thing to kick in. I've been told it happens sometime after 6 months... here's hoping, b/c so far this experience is kicking my butt! lol
Liz C. said…
Ha! Totally agree with your post! I'm a mum (in Australia) of 8 - and I get that - and other comments often! I tell people that they weren't all born at once - and that I grew with the job - and you do! I also tell people that you should START having kids at the 3rd one - cos by then, you're more relaxed, confident in your abilities, and if you're not organised, you gotta be by no. 3! jokingly of course ... but the benefits are true! My oldest is now 21 and all but flown the coop, and my youngest is 5 and it's amazing the perspective you can get on raising the younger ones when you've got some at the 'launch' phase. It's the hardest job i've ever done - or probably will do (makes other things look easy by comparison) but I LOVE it! most of the time .... lol
Joy@WDDCH said…
The "You've got your hands FULL" comment is the one that makes me grit my teeth. Sometimes it is said in a sweet way and I don't mind but it is when someone sniffs their nose and then looks down on me in judgment (I look like a teenager so I'm assuming that is why?!).

I've even had someone go as far as to say, "You do NOT look old enough to be having babies" at a baby shower for my sister-in-law right in front of my two little girls (I was pregnant with my third).

Anyway I guess none of that really has to do with your post. Just had to vent I guess because it gets old. But in regard to your post it makes me sad when mommas say that, too. I just laugh and tell them, "I actually think having two [or three] is easier because we can do things together!" Encouragement goes very, very far.

When a friend of mine becomes pregnant with #2 they are kind of freaked about what to expect with #1. While everyone else is telling them horror stories I try to take them aside and try to encourage them. I don't know WHY our culture is so insistent on pushing FEAR on pregnant women and new mothers.
mcm said…
Heard this comment but honestly I found one child harder than more (I am currently pregnant with my fifth)! Its all new and you haven't so much learned the shortcuts.
Unknown said…
This is just gorgeous. Whatover about the dumb remarks people make (I have 4 under 9) I love what you say about valuing mothering & letting go of the perfection ideal.
I'm quite happy not to be perfect in other areas, why not mothering?
Melanie said…
The "I don't know how you do it" comments really annoy me. I know that's not a nice thing to admit but I "do it" the best I can because I love my kids. Ours are 3, 2, 1 with a new baby due in early July and I get comments almost everywhere I go. I love being a mom and couldn't imagine another path to follow. I have times when I'm very lonely as we don't have a support network, but I try to compensate by connecting with other moms online.

I have my truly bad moments but you live, learn and move on. We don't have a huge house but it's enough to fit us. The kids don't have a ton of toys but it's ok because they don't care...their imaginations fill in the rest. And their clothes aren't always new, unless I find a good clearance sale...but it matters not to them.

It's very sad to me that our family cannot get past the number and ages of our kids to be excited for our newest one. This was a great post to remind me to push ahead for my kids and husband. After all they are the most important things in my life.

Thank you.
Lynette said…
Great post! I get that comment a lot. It bothers me because most of the moms saying that to me feel they have to work outside the home to have any sort of *fulfillment* in their lives. I really wish that society would embrace and encourage mothers instead of making them feel like second class citizens.
Cynthia said…
Awesome post...much needed :) I totally argee with the having bad mothering days and starting the next day fresh and trying harder. Though I haven't announced anything to family yet, we are expecting #4 and #3 is just a couple months old...let the comments begin :) Oh, and my oldest? He is only 4...
Quantmlife said…
Very timely. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... I will say there are people who basically "never get out of bed" and who don't go to work because they believe "they can't handle it" more and more I'm afraid these days... and it's sad, no it's pathetic! Thanks for encouraging those of us who do get out of bed and who mother REALLY bad some days... hey, if you ever have a day where you don't feel like driving (if you live nearby or happen to be visiting), I'd be glad to drive you... that's one of the few things I feel good at... and it's a good thing, too... because DH doesn't like to do it. Blessings to you.
Danielle said…
Wow. This is very timely for me. Thank you so much for putting into words what I SHOULD have been telling myself all along. I am totally bookmarking this for a refreshers on days where I just think I can't possibly ever have another baby (I only have one! LOL).
Jo said…
thank you for this post- i have had a really really REALLY rough mothering week and have just sorta felt myself shutting down today. i appreciate the reminder that i am not alone and that i am probably not completely screwing my kids up. tomorrow is a new day
Mara said…
I completely agree with your sentiments in this post. I am a new mom to 3 under 3 and I hear both "Looks like you have your hands full" and "how do you do it?" Both of these get a little under my skin...but the second one makes me think...what else would I do? Set my kids at the curb and go about my errands solo? Some days, that isn't too bad of an idea, but the reality is I signed up for this, I love it, it drives me crazy, but my kids are my life. They make my life worth it! And you just learn as you go. I really feel your comment about forgiving yourself is truly important. We must do this daily, some days several times a day! I just started writing a blog on simplicity - you might like it:
Kama said…
Great post! I have a 3 year old, a 21 month old and am due in 9 days with #3. People often tell me they don't know how I do it or that I have my hands full as well. I totally agree that anyone CAN do it--but should they? That's another question entirely! Thanks for a great post!
Kimberly O. said…
I agree, but obviously, we are our biggest critics...not other people. I have three kids, almost 6, 18 months and 6 weeks.

And some days, like today, I look at the 9 different piles of laundry to fold, the groceries that barely made it into the kitchen, my 18 month old with cream cheese all over her face from lunch and my son who is strapped to me(and who will throw a fit if I take him out of his carrier right now) and wonder how the hell I'll make it through the day. It is tough. I go to bed at night sometimes wishing that my kids will disappear for 24 hours because I need a break.

But I'll tell you what, I wouldn't trade all the sweat, stress and sometimes tears for a life without my kids. They ARE the reason I am who I am today...and I KNOW I'm strong and can handle it...but sometimes, I just get tired of handling "it", like most parents do at one time or another. That's part of the reason why I'm so glad that we're done with number three. I will sure miss newborn snuggles. I'll miss their smell and holding them for the first time and sleeping next to them, but what I won't miss is a toddler and newborn screaming and needing to be changed at the same time. :)

I take it day by day and I am happy to say that my bad days are few and far between and I do wake up happy and in a good mood 99% of the time. Which to me, is exactly what matters. My kids are my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.