Why “I Don’t Know How You Do It” Should Come Out of Your Vocabulary

Posted on | September 14, 2012 | 15 Comments

When I was newly single, I read a blog post by another single mother that discussed her disdain with the whole “I don’t know how you do it” comment that we get… well… ALL the time.  When I read it, I was sort of taken aback because, why would you be upset that people recognize what you’re doing is difficult?  Then a year went by and a friend of mine called me when her husband was out of town.  She talked about how her house was dirtier than normal, her kids were eating more fast food, and she hadn’t showered in two days.  And then she did it.

“I’m so glad Mr. X is coming back tomorrow. Honestly, I don’t know how you do it!”

And just like that, it all made sense.

Because here’s the thing… I do it because there is no Mr. X coming home tomorrow for me.  I do it because if I don’t, it doesn’t get done.  I do it because my child can’t eat fast food every meal, every day of the week.  I do it because there are no reinforcements.

To be honest, I know that it’s said with love.  It’s usually said with genuine admiration, genuine feeling, genuine respect for what I do every day.  But you want to know what it starts to sound like after it’s been said a billion times by a billion different people?  A little like this:

“The past two days without my husband have been hell for me. Then I remembered that you don’t have a husband so your life must suck all the time.  I’m so thankful that I have a husband coming home tomorrow… I’m lucky not to be you.”

I know.  You’re reading this as a married mom and thinking “Damn, Gina.  Sensitive much?” But think about it. What if, instead of being a single mom, I was the mom to a really sick child.  Would you call me every time your child got the sniffles to tell me how you struggled through a box of Kleenex and how you were so in awe of what I do?  No.  Because it would be pretty insensitive to even start to compare your otherwise healthy child to my sick one.

It is similarly slightly insensitive to remark on your two days of parenting without your husband and to compare it to my daily existence.  Know what would be MORE helpful? If you just kept your words to yourself.  If you thought about how fortunate you are to have a spouse who helps you with the parenting and you tell him or her how glad you are that they are there.  Not me.

Because I’m kind of over hearing about how thankful you are to not be me.


15 Responses to “Why “I Don’t Know How You Do It” Should Come Out of Your Vocabulary”

  1. TarynB
    September 14th, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    I hear you… I get similar comments, in a slightly different vein. My ex and I live near each other and split time 50/50. My comments are more along the lines of “oh, you’re so lucky that your ex takes the kids so you get time off.” Really? I should be lucky that I, too, do not have reinforcements that are coming home at night… I should be lucky that I miss half of my kid’s week and don’t get to see them or hug them or kiss them? People really need to learn to keep their lips ZIPPED!

  2. lawmomma
    September 14th, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

    Yeah… it’s best to just avoid commentary on anything you don’t know about first hand.

  3. Paula
    September 14th, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

    I’m a newly single mom but that hasn’t changed my life in the least. Even when I had a husband he was never around to help out anyway. Honestly he helps more now that he “has to” then he did before when we were together. I was the one who did everything anyway so honestly I have less work to do now that I have one less “kid” to take care of!

  4. lawmomma
    September 14th, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    I get that. I totally do.

  5. Q's Mom
    September 19th, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

    Yes to this!

  6. Caitlin MidAtlantic
    September 14th, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    I am a married woman who has thought the above… but I’m also a working mom who has thought the same phrase about SAHM moms. But I stopped thining that phrase when I realized that yeah – if I were in different circumstances, I’d just buck up and make it work. Just as I get myself to work everyday, buy the groceries, keep up the house and still find time for my two kids every day. We are all in the same boat in the end, in that no one knows how any of the rest of us continue to function! I admire you for being a great mom, regardless of how you work and what you come home to.

  7. lawmomma
    September 14th, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    Amen! 🙂

  8. Guest
    September 14th, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

    Love love love this post. I am sick of hearing this same statement. Thanks for putting it out there!

  9. lawmomma
    September 14th, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    It’s a tough line for people to walk… between showing admiration and showing delight not to be you. A better choice of words? “I have so much respect for what you do.”

  10. Barbra Baker
    September 14th, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    I get this!! I’m the one with the sick kid and I actually had a fellow mama friend wrote on my FB wall: “I’m so glad it is you and K. in the hospital and not me and my child because I know I couldn’t handle it as well as you!” She really meant it as a complement. She just had no idea how something like that would actually make me feel. I let it roll off because I have no choice but it sure made me do a double take. I hear versions of this all time. Usually, it’s “I don’t know how you do it” or I just couldn’t handle it” but they all mean the same thing. And I say, “yes, you could handle it because you would have no choice”.
    One of my words of advice for brand new mamas is you can handle anything. You won’t actually die from exhaustion and you won’t know where the strength comes from, but somehow, you find a way to stumble through and keep going because you have no choice. Your baby needs you.

  11. hilljean
    September 14th, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    While I think most people view it as a compliment, you completely enlightened me! It’s really a backhanded compliment, and I am going to try my darndest to keep my mouth shut! There’s so many other things I could say to support my single friends than “I don’t want your life because it’s too hard for me.” So glad I read this–I needed to hear that!

  12. Violina23
    September 15th, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    I appreciate your perspective on this. I think you’re spot on, particularly in regards to the fact that this is almost ALWAYS said with good, genuine, kind intentions. It’s an attempt to say “Wow, you’re better than I am” but it can come off as “better you than me.” I don’t think I’ve ever said it to a single mom, but I have said it to a mom of twins & a mom of many kids (3+).

    I guess the better thing to say might be “You are doing an awesome job” or “You rock, has anyone told you that lately?”

  13. Helen Harrington Pope Taylor
    September 18th, 2012 @ 12:56 am

    Wow, I related to the post as a single, divorced working mom. But I realized that I may have been as unintentionally insensitive to parents of multiples as people have been to me. Of course we all do what we have to do. Good reminder.

  14. Jo
    September 16th, 2012 @ 11:10 am

    This is so true! As a single mom, this comment drives me nuts. Also, the married friends who post on Facebook about how they are “single moms” for the weekend because their husband is away for a couple days. No, you are not, because while he is gone you are still able to spend his salary if you need something and you know if anything really bad happened, he would come back. Single mom isn’t a game you play a couple times a year. So annoying!

  15. Q's Mom
    September 19th, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    Amen to this!

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