Sunday, May 17, 2009

Parents: Please Advise Your Parents

M & M, 1987

Like childbirth, the painful parts of motherhood seem a little vague in my 60-year-old memory. Now it's the miracle of the whole process that stands out for me. I look at my kids raising their own kids and I'm filled with respect, awe and wonder. I can't believe I actually did it! It's so exhausting, demanding and constant, and it takes so much creativity and endurance. But, in my experience, it is so worth it. That's why I want to be a cheerleader for the new team.

When I see a young family bravely entering a movie theater, or a mom herding her little flock through a department store, I always want to give a shout out. Since I'm wandering peacefully on my own, dodging the stroller and the run-away toddler, the mom probably doesn't realize I'm an alumni of the motherhood club. I try to give her a rallying smile and hold the elevator door open, but in this age of stranger danger I can't actually grab the kid who's running up the down escalator. It's even risky to pay much attention to the friendly baby. So I say what I hope sounds like a morale booster: "Wow, you've sure got your hands full."

Gabi (my daughter, who has her hands full) wrote a post about her crazy, kid-filled Saturday. Apparently she hears that phrase often when dealing with her (sometimes) high-octane kids in a public place. It sounds like a criticism to her. She asked her readers how they respond to "You've sure got your hands full!" and the comments confirmed that it is an offensive phrase moms don't want to hear.

The team spirit we alumni feel when we give this shout out seems to be lost in translation. What I mean to convey is, "Wow! You are awesome! I know how hard you're working and how unappreciated and frustrating your job can be. My hands look empty now, but I used to have my hands full, too. It's worth it! Hang in there! Bless you! Good luck!"

Our gang in a restaurant, back in the day.

All those thoughts take too long to say to a stressed out mom coping with a two-year-old's tantrum in Target's toy aisle. I have to step over the kid, so it seems silly to ignore the situation, and I don't want to hang around looking like I'm judging her choice of discipline, so I just give a supportive smile and say, "You sure have your hands full."

Maybe some people mean it mean. I think most of us just mean it as encouragement to moms who are enduring hideous days so their kid will have a good upbringing and end up capable of having her own hands full. Older folks have usually raised kids. We understand that they are often uncontrollable, and always unpredictable. When I see childish antics my first reaction is, "I'm glad it's not me. Been there, done that." And then I hide a chuckle, because it's funny to see how even a baby can totally control his parents.

Anyway, I want to know how to support and encourage moms and dads. There are times I'd like to pick up a toddler and help the mom to her car, or hold the baby while a mom goes into a restroom stall, or lift a little boy up to get a drink. But I'm a stranger, and I don't want to trespass into private territory. What can I say that sounds friendly or cheery? Instead of making the unwelcome observation, "You sure have your hands full!" I just want to say:

Go team, go!

Any suggestions to the alumni?



14 comments:

Alisha said...

Maybe just say, "You're doing a great job!"

I think the reason it is offensive to us younger ones is because it comes across like, someone with bigger, more able hands would be doing a better job. When looked at as a short saying for that, of course it translates to "OUCH!"

gab said...

I wish people would say, "Your hair is darling. Where do you get it cut?" Or "Love your shoes!" If they HAVE to say something about my kids, "They're darling" or "Moms of little boys are angels on earth" or "You deserve some chocolate!"

"You've got your hands full" is overused and ambiguous. To me it sounds like, "Why are you out in public?"

Anonymous said...

I love hearing things like, "Your children are beautiful." or compliments like that. When I hear "You've sure got your hands full," I think it means "your kids are really obnoxious."

I also love when people interact with my kids and seem to be enjoying them.

Thanks so much for asking. I still read and love your blog.

-raehan

hannah said...

It doesn't bother me when people say that, but I can see why some moms would take it as, "Your kids are out of control." I think complimenting the kids is a great idea. It would make the mom feel like you don't find her crazy kids annoying. ;)

Liz said...

My problem is trying to bite my tongue when I see a mother being too harsh with a little one. I want to intervene, but don't want to embarrass anyone. I usually end up saying something positive about the child: what pretty eyes she has! or 'you are so lucky to have such a great helper at the store with you.' Hopefully, it diffuses the situation, but I'm never sure.

The Grandmother Here said...

Marty, May I have your permission to copy this blog entry to send to my kids who are parents? It's great!! You've said it so well!! ~~ Diana Bobo

Kay Dennison said...

I just tell them their kids are beautiful and that i remember those days and that someday they will miss them. I loved raising my kids -- some days more than others, of course!!!

diane said...

I say "You go girl" maybe offensive as they are not girls, but I love being called a girl.

Annie said...

or go, team Mom! There really should be a secret password or club handshake to show that we're all on the same team. Someone I know says in response to the Wow, you're hands are full comment: "If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!" So maybe you could say "wow, look at your beautiful children. You must have your heart full!" :)

kenju said...

I have no advice, but I have a question. What would you say to a 13 year old girl who lied to her parents about finishing a school project so she could go on a school trip to an amusement park. They had told her if she didn't finish the project, she couldn't go. I think they should not have taken her word for it, but now I wonder what you would say to her or do to punish her?

Ashley said...

Hi Marty! It was so fun to get your comment and find your blog. I had found Stie's and Marta's blogs and enjoyed hearing bits and pieces about your family, sad to hear about Pete's accident, though I was so glad to find your picture of him on the bike here! Looks like he is recovering well! I love your posts--this one especially was much needed today. I always feel like a disaster when I'm out with my boys. I don't mind the "hands full" comment. I think I care more about the non-verbal reactions. I can tell if people are annoyed or impatient. But it can make my day if someone smiles at my crazy 2-year-old, flirts with my baby (without touching him if they are a stranger), lets me cut in line when my kids are crying, or holds a door. It's amazing how many people drop the door on you when you're coming through with a double stroller! Anyway, it's nice to know that there are others in the club who get it, and to think that I just might make it through.

Michelle said...

I LOVE this post-- like anonymous, I love to hear, "You have such beautiful children!"

You are wonderful Marty. Please keep writing. And I think I may need some travel advice from you...

The Grandmother Here said...

"Hang in there, Mom. These are the ones who will choose your nursing home."

Tyson and Laurel said...

once a woman offered to help me (skillfully inserting her alumni status into the offer) out to my car and that was the most wonderful thing that could have happened. Helping may be a scary thing to do, but offering puts it in the mothers court and even if she doesn't accept, she'll remember the thoughtfulness.