STOP saying “I don’t know how you do it” …and say this instead.

I know it is supposed to be a compliment but it never fails to make me cringe. I mean, honestly, there is no good answer to this phrase, usually thrown out by older women to younger women.

It was Sunday. No matter how many time we try to prepare Benji for communion Sunday, a once a month event when the order of service changes, it always catches him off guard. Despite all our preparations, he was in a Mood from the moment we walked in the door.*

Silas did not want to go to class. He cried and clung to Aaron’s neck. Daddy sang the praises of Sunday School but our 3 year old was not buying what Daddy was selling.

I sighed, fighting the wave of anxiety that was threatening to knock me off my feet. Tears seem to hover under the surface of my emotional armor  these days.

I needed to get a pager for Eli so he could go to the nursery so I handed our sticker to the check in lady.

“Good morning!” She said cheerfully. “How are you?”
“I’m uh…pretty good.” Darn it. I probably shouldn’t lie on Sunday.
She saw me looking around at my husband, wrangling my unwilling children.
Don’t say it. I thought. Don’t say–

“I don’t know how you do it!”

She said it.

I sucked a bunch of air in my cheeks, blew it out in a huge sigh and said, “….yeeeeaaahhh.”

I usually say something cute like, “Me either!” and laugh a fake laugh, but at that moment, I had nothing.
I should have quipped, “I drink a lot” but I really didn’t have the energy for clever zingers either.

She looked up. “Are you ok?”

Yeah, I was being kind of rude. But I left my cape at home that morning and pretending I have it all together when I don’t is exhausting.
“Umm, well…two of my four kids are melting down right now and it is just really stressful.”

Honesty. Sometimes that’s “how you do it.”

I thanked her for my pager, dropped Eli off in the nursery, willed my tears to stay put, and sank thankfully into the pew for the service. *Amazingly, Benji ending up having a great Sunday!

I know that when people say “I don’t know how you do it” they mean it as a compliment.

But, really, it’s not a compliment. If it was, I would know how to respond, right?

But saying “thank you” would be weird.

Saying, “Yeah, my life is really hard” is awkward and then I would feel even more discouraged.
If I disagreed by stating “Oh, anyone could do what I do!” I’m Humble Bragging.

But the real reason I hate “I don’t know how you do it” is because it makes me feel alone.

When I hear this phrase from women whose kids are grown up I think, “It must have been easier back then. She can’t relate to my experience. My life/situation/kids are a whole new brand of Hard.”

I don’t think this is what people mean to say but that is how I feel. I don’t want to be held up on a false pedestal of Misery, or awarded a prize for “Your life is so hard I don’t even know how to relate to you.”

What I wish people would say is this:

If you want to give praise, say something praiseworthy: “You got all your kids to church this morning. I think that’s great! You are doing a wonderful job.”

If you want give encouragement, say something encouraging: “I remember when my kids were little. It’s hard. You’re going through a trying age. Keep hanging in there. I made it and so will you, dear.”

If you are in awe of the mother, say something awesome: “You rock, girl! I think you are amazing!”

If you think she needs help, tell her you are bringing over a casserole on Thursday night.

And a bottle of wine.
I don't know how you do itBecause you may not know how she’s doing it, but chances are, she probably needs a friendly word of praise, encouragement, and help, not an empty cliche.

Does “I don’t know how you do it” drive you nuts?
How do you respond?
What do you wish people would say instead?

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If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂


  1. bellabooksandbaking

    Every. Single. Time.

    If I’m having a migraine day, that sad look of sympathy followed by an “I don’t know how you do it” leaves me feeling awful. Because sometimes I’m barely hanging on and most of the time I don’t feel like I AM doing whatever it is they are referring to (not giving up and dying, I guess?) and very often, the smile pasted on my face is me doing “it” for exactly as long as I can before I go home and break. Sometimes I respond with the “Everyone has something to deal with and this is my something” speech, which is true but doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

    I honestly don’t know what I wish people would say instead. Maybe just “I’m sorry. That sucks. So what else is new?”

    I sincerely appreciate sympathy, but I am even more appreciative when people ask me about something – anything – else going on in my life. I like being treated like a person rather than a walking, talking headache. 😛

    • I really appreciate your perspective. My sister has chronic health issues too and I know she feels the same as you do. Genuine sympathy is good but pat-answers always leave us wanting. Thanks for reading, Melissa. I hope you are having a great day today. 🙂

    • I’m sure they don’t hold it against you. But specific encouragement will help them love you even more! 😀

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