I don’t know how you do it

October 8, 2010 at 5:45 am (Family, Parenthood, Time)

Amidst the shock of adjusting to my new title-in-the-making, Mother of Four, I visited my one friend in the same boat.  In her case, she acquired the title by trying for “just one more” after two children, and conceiving twins.  Her first advice was to think about my stock responses to all the comments I’ll get from strangers.  Her concern being that one wouldn’t want to inadvertently make the older children worry that one wasn’t grateful for each little mouth to feed.

At the time, I wasn’t too worried about it.  As the mother of twins, I’ve fielded my share of well-meaning but uninformed and/or repetitive comments.  Yes, they’re twins.  No, they’re not identical- did seeing one with brown hair and chocolate eyes and the other a tow head with bright blue eyes tip you off?  No, they don’t run in my family. (Sometimes a veiled way to ask if they are IVF or not.  No, they’re not IVF!  We weren’t trying to get pregnant!  They were conceived out of wedlock!  Horrors!)

Now that I’m out and about with four, though, I’m finding my friend was right.  While stranger comments on twins seem generally based on the novelty factor, comments on the four children often seem based in judgment.  The one that irks me the most is “You know what causes that, don’t you?”  “Well, yes, I do, and clearly we enjoy it.”  I haven’t had the guts to say that, though.  I don’t know what to say.  And we happen to be the type that have been gradually introducing sex ed since our kids were at all curious, but if we weren’t, I seriously wouldn’t appreciate somebody bringing it up.  What causes what, Mommy?  In the grocery store, just what a mama needs.

The one I’m currently struggling with, though, is often from acquaintances and friends.   I don’t know how you do it.  Or the corollary I got last week, I don’t know how you do it with a smile on your face.  Sometimes it seems meant as a compliment, sometimes it seems the person means I don’t know how you do it and I can’t fathom WHY you had these four crazy children, you over-populating wench.  The latter doesn’t deserve a thoughtful response, but the former… what to say?  Possible answers:

  • Self-deprecating:  I don’t. You should see the mess that is my house.  Or,
    I don’t. I’m not usually smiling.
  • Annoyingly upbeat and self-sacrificing:  Well, I did have to get up this morning at 5am to make pumpkin muffins for the kids’ school snack!  But if I just time it right, I can get in my required half-hour of quality time with each child a day!
  • Emotional:  Start crying.  I’m just barely holding it together today.  Please, please, help me.  I’m about to have a meltdown.
  • On a frustrated day:  Well, we made our bed.  Now we have to lie in it. 
  • Then there’s my usual answer:  First smile, then falter.  Well, uh, you know.  It can be hard, but, uh, you, kind of, just do it.

I oscillate between the self-deprecating answers and stuttering something about just doing it.  Some days I’d like to do the emotional breakdown.  I’d like to find a better way, though.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to tell strangers about the jam crusted on my kitchen floor.  Well, no.  I do know.  I don’t want to make them feel bad.  Presumably I’m talking to another mom, and no mom could possibly have it all together, so I feel the need to assure them I don’t too. 

Usually I am teetering on going a little crazy.  But last week was the first time that I felt like saying something bordering on the annoyingly upbeat.  I had a damn good week.  I was helpful to others, had some good times with the kiddos, put myself out on a limb and arranged a playdate for my sons, cleaned out a couple closets, and did make pumpkin muffins but only because I discovered that morning I was on the snack hook and had NO store-bought snacks in the house.  (See, I still feel the need to put in a caveat.)  But I feel like people are looking for me to be modest.  They don’t want to hear that I have 1-3 more children than them but am functioning just fine.  It’s a woman thing, maybe, or at least a Mom Thing.  I’ve said before I do it by cutting corners. Everybody does, what varies is the corner.  To hide the corners or not? 

Clearly one’s honestly in answering will depend on if this is a stranger or one’s sister or your son’s new friend’s mother.  But what would your “go to” answer be?  It’s not always easy.  Perhaps.  I do the best I can?  Maybe.  Actually, I kinda like that one.  That’s all anybody can do.  But, there’s probably better.  Ideas, anyone?



  1. Jenn @ Juggling Life said,

    It’s funny, but I don’t think I ever got that question frequently. Maybe because 3 is really normal in our neighborhood, so 4 is not that big a deal.

    I think you’re on to something with the modesty thing–maybe you should just smile and say, “I’m a super-mom!”

  2. suburbancorrespondent said,

    “Me, neither!” If it’s a good day, you can add, “But it’s fun!”

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