I Don’t Know How You Do It

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In mom circles (and other circles, obviously) one-upping and undercutting can rule interactions. No, I’m not talking about who has the coolest car and who’s wearing the chic-est yoga pants brand-of-the-moment. I’m talking about who has the hardest time. The contest is to win at hardships or to minimize one another’s struggles.

This is a competition about whose job as a parent is the toughest. “Oh, you’re parenting up against that circumstance. Well, I have that circumstance and three others. So…” Or the “disguised as empathy” conversation with another mom and one of them says “Well, at least you don’t have to deal with x. y, or z.”. (You, dear reader, are smart enough to know that it’s never your place to say “at least” to a friend’s troubles, right?)

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The motherhood sisterhood sometimes forces us to grow a hard outer shell that makes sure we’re Mom-Martyring better than our pal on the left. We stand around with our arms folded (a silent but glaring communication in itself) and compare our circumstances. Thing is, we need to look at one another and say the most powerful thing I’ve ever heard from a fellow mom: “I don’t know how you do it.”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

Even if we think our friend seems to have so many fewer circumstances working against her. Even if our friend is stressed and stretched thin for (what we understand as) the most shallow of reasons. Even if you’re at the end of your own parenting rope and pretty sure nobody is going through half what you’re handling.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I work from home running a home-daycare. I have extra children who join me and my son every weekday for 11 hours a day. It’s a really great job for us. I love being able to be home with my son and I love being able to work on laundry and cook dinner during “business” hours. I really truly love my job, but it can be hard. It can be isolating, overwhelming, exhausting, and discouraging. Especially around 1:00 every day, after lunch when everyone needs to poop at the same moment. The days can be long and overwhelming. But it’s an amazing opportunity for this momma to be able to live her dream of being a stay-at-home mom, while still earning some necessary income.

I’ve heard all sorts of responses to my job. “Wow! That’s a lot to deal with every day. I guess it’s easy because you don’t have to get out and run errands with that many kids.” “I guess it’s not that bad because at the end of the day you only have one child.” “It must be nice to stay home.” “Oh, you work from home? Well, I work from home as well, but I have wild dogs run through my home every day and smash all our valuables and it’s way harder than your situation because–wild dogs.”

(Ok, that last one is a bit of an exaggeration but the sentiment isn’t.)

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Be it jealousy of my job’s perks or a misunderstanding of the duties, I’ve heard it all. But, beautifully, I’ve also heard that magical phrase, full of honest sincerity, from a few dear friends.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

The amount of empathy and understanding in those words makes another mom feel empowered and loved. I’ve heard it from moms who I would rank much higher based on the (made up) Magical Motherhood Hardship Rubric and from those whose lives seem easy. These moms have looked at my situation and have shown me that I am not isolated. They’ve shown me that my own struggling on the bad days isn’t invisible.

Interestingly, that little phrase immediately turns my own attitude away from one of glorifying my hardships. It immediately turns my attitude around to one sensitive to the hardships of the friend across the table. It gives me the eyes to see what they’re facing and to reflect that same empathy to them– “Sweet friend, I don’t know how you do it.”

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Please don’t think I’ve mastered this. I’m the worst. I’ve one-upped and undercut my sisters too many times to tell. I’ve tried to make the case for my own Mom Martyrdom so many times that I’m embarrassed to think about it. I’m working to change this nasty little habit, to replace these remarks with those miracle words.

What would this do for the War Between the Moms if we could start in our own friend groups with more authentic understanding and love? What if we took a long look at the circumstances of our fellow parents and respected their unique struggle? What could happen if we looked at one another and honestly, without snark or sarcasm, and with deep empathy said to our fellow-moms:

“I don’t know how you do it.”

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Caitlyn Maas is an Orthodox Christian, life-long 901’er, mom to William (born in 2012), Wife to Brandon (her college best guy friend who added husband to his best friend title in 2010), and author of Geraldine + Virginia (where she writes about her two grandmothers and how she curates a modern life inspired by their daily craft). Caitlyn is a work-at-home mom providing in-home childcare and also assists expectant and breastfeeding mothers as a breastfeeding educator. She’s a devotee of black coffee, addicted to stripes, unpaid professional binge watcher, and possesses a unique ability to start but NEVER finish a crochet project. She’s an ESFJ who lives to entertain and doesn’t know how else to show love other than with a casserole and some chocolate chip cookies.