The Janester and Me and the Phrase “I Don’t Know How You Do It.”

“If evolution really works, how come mothers 

only have two hands?” 

― Milton Berle

There’s a phrase in the world of motherhood that is a passive-aggressive hot button. I never realized it until this week. I’ve used it myself before, and I didn’t understand the emotions it elicits until it reached out and slapped me in the face. Now I do. And here it is:

“I just don’t know how you do it.”

Let’s back track a bit.

A person I don’t know well, only through association, ran into me at Target the other day. We were talking about how crazy Saturdays are now that we have kids, packed with grocery shopping and errands and laundry. But then she patted me on the shoulder and said, “I just don’t know how you do it.”

My nostrils caught a whiff of condescension and I was instantly on the defensive. The difference between us is that I work outside the home, and she doesn’t.

First, let me preface by saying I’m not all about this whole mommy -wars thing. I think it’s dumb. I think if you love your child and you’re doing your doggonest to be the best mother you can be, a tip of the hat to you. I don’t buy into the rules, posed by various groups and factions. Breastfeeding. Formula. Working. Not working. Crying it out. Time outs. Organic food. Private school. Public school. Home school.

Blah, blah, blah.

In my opinion, these are the things that make a good mother.

1. If your child is teething, and clinging to your leg and crying all day, and you slip away to go the bathroom for the first time in six hours, and said child manages to get into the bathroom with you, and clings to your knees while you try to do your business, and then starts trying to pick your nose, and you don’t yell: a bronze good mother star for you.

2. If your child is a picky eater, and you work your head off putting together a plate with lots of healthy selections (avocados, chicken, strawberries, whole wheat toast), and your child pokes the avocado with their pointer finger, licks a piece of chicken, and then chunks the entire plate into the floor where the dog attacks it like Jaws, and you don’t start crying and having uncontrollable eye twitches: a silver good mother star for you.

3. If your child is throwing a fit because you didn’t remember to bring the sidewalk chalk outside, or your child is throwing a fit because you did remember to bring the sidewalk chalk outside but you put it on the patio table instead of on the ground, or your child is throwing a fit because you remembered to bring the sidewalk chalk outside, and you placed it on the ground, but for some reason the light blue color is missing, and you don’t pick up that box of sidewalk chalk and heave it into the middle of the yard like an Olympic javelin thrower on steroids: a gold good mother star for you.

So I’m standing there, receiving a sympathetic pat while the words “I don’t know how you do it” ring in my ears and I realized that the subtext I’m reading into that phrase meant several things to me. “You must not have time to be doing it right because you work.” Which in turn might mean “I don’t work and I have time to make lunches, and do laundry, and care for my kids and you don’t…”

But as I studied her face, I realized that in this case, she meant it as praise. I realized I was being too defensive. She meant that she admired the fact that I juggled a lot more balls in the air than she did on a daily basis. Or maybe not more, just different. And maybe she also meant she was relieved she didn’t have to. But that’s ok. That’s her business.

But I also realized I’m probably not going to be saying that to my stay-at home friends anymore. I don’t want them to think I think there’s something wrong with what they do. Or undesirable. Or unlivable. Because it’s their business. They’re good at it. And Jane is my business, and I’m good at it. And this morning I talked Jane into sitting on the potty, and she did, and she peed a little, and she was so excited she reached in to touch it, and promptly stuck her hand on my face to share, and I did not scream in horror or run away from her like the ebola virus.

I think that earns me a gold good mother star.


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