I was waiting outside my daughter’s dermatologist with three of my younger kids. I sat on a step enjoying the breeze while my little ones hunted for acorns in the grass. They were the picture of joyful childhood on an idyllic fall morning.
Just then an elderly gentleman walked up and shattered my bliss. He said the one phrase that makes my ears bleed every time I hear it: “You have your hands full.” Then he walked to his car and drove away, leaving me wondering what on earth made him think my kids were a handful. At that particular moment they were darn near perfect!
He may as well have cursed me out. What I heard was, “You incompetent, stupid woman. You have too many kids and there’s no way you could take care of them, much less enjoy them.” That’s the level of primal hatred I have for that phrase. It is on par with insulting me to my face.
I know the man didn’t mean it that way. 99% of the people who say it to me Every. Single. Day. don’t mean it that way either. We’re friendly here in Oklahoma. They want to say something but they don’t know what, so they spit out the first thing that comes to mind. It seems benign, they feel good about being friendly, and everyone goes on about the day.
Let me tell you why it’s not benign: My kids are standing right there. They hear you say, “You have your hands full,” while looking at them like they just drug in something dead from the yard. What they hear is, “You kids are a burden and a hassle. Your mother would have a much better life if you didn’t exist.”
Think about it.
Do you want a child to feel like they are too much to handle? That they’re not worth it? That they put unnecessary strain on their parents?
Do you want a mom to feel like she made a mistake bringing children into the world? That she isn’t capable of living a fulfilling life while raising them?
Of course you don’t! If you did, there are plenty of other things you could say. I’ve heard those comments too. So because I like you, and I know you mean well, I’m going to give you a handy list of phrases to use when you see a mom out with her kids and you want to be friendly but don’t know what to say.
Instead of “You have your hands full,” say…
“You have a beautiful family.”
“Your children are adorable.”
“You are a blessed momma.”
“They look so happy.”
“You’re doing a great job.”
If she looks frazzled you can add…
“Hang in there Momma. You’re doing a great job.”
“We all have/had days like this. You’re doing a great job.”
“Don’t worry. You’re doing a great job.”
“I promise they outgrow this. You’re doing a great job.”
The one and only time it’s appropriate to say, “You have your hands full,” is if followed by…
“…open that door for you.”
“…help you load your groceries.”
“…hold the baby while you fix your plate.”
“…buy you a margarita.”
“…pick up the check.”
“…babysit for free while you go get coffee.”
You get the idea. Of course, you should probably know them pretty well before you offer a few of those. Don’t be creepy.
To the gentleman at the dermatologist: Yes, I do have my hands full—full of blessings—and I wouldn’t want it any other way! Now please stop mentioning it.