There’s a new movie with Sarah Jessica Parker coming out, perhaps you’ve heard of it: “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” It’s based on a book that I read several years ago, and I hated it, partly because people have often made that comment about and to me over the years.
I started working about two weeks after I graduated from college almost 22 years ago, and except for my four maternity leaves I have been working fulltime (in the city, 35 miles from home) at the same job ever since.
I made the decision early on that I was not going to be deprived of the opportunity to be involved in my kids’ activities because I was working. Since I had my first child nearly 19 years ago, I have been a Girl Scout leader for all three of my girls (one year all three at the same time), I’ve been PTA president at our grade school, and have volunteered on countless committees. Oh, and my husband worked weekends and for many of those years took classes in the evening.
I’m sure to the average person I probably seemed like I was superhuman to be juggling all my activities with my kids and work, so why did I always find it so annoying when someone would say, “I don’t know how you do it!” I’m sure it was meant as a compliment. The truth is I didn’t do it all…that well; everything has a cost. Like every working mother, I suffered from a pretty good dose of mommy guilt about being away from my kids every day.
Did it seem like I was balancing everything? Maybe, but while I was at an evening meeting to plan the next Explore More Day at the kids’ school, I wasn’t reading to my kids before bed. And when I was taking the day off to actually run Explore More Day, I was missing a meeting at work that would have given me the opportunity to participate on a cool new project. Even today, with my youngest child in eighth grade, I took the 2:40 train home, leaving early yet again, to make sure I wasn’t late for my second daughter’s Senior Night at cross country. And I’ll do the same thing Thursday to watch my eighth grader play volleyball.
When the kids were young, I was deeply envious of the moms who didn’t work, the ones who got to drive their kids to preschool every day and grocery shop on a Tuesday morning or walk with a friend after the kids got on the bus. I remember taking my kids to the pool one weekend. Another mom recognized my daughter from preschool and made the comment, “Oh, sweetie, is this your mother?” as if my daughter was a sad orphan. Rightly or wrongly, I felt like people probably felt like I didn’t know my kids as well as they did because I was at work every day.
“I don’t know how you do it.” Maybe I used to bristle when I heard that because not working wasn’t really an option for me. I like my job a lot, but it’s certainly not my life’s passion. And from a logistical standpoint, “doing it” is just a matter of being organized, it hardly requires any superhuman capabilities.
Or maybe I’ve gained the maturity and awareness to realize what I subconsciously knew all along: there are much bigger, more deserving situations of that kind of awe than one like mine. For almost two weeks now, I’ve been following the story of a fellow blogger (Mary Tyler Mom- love it!) and the 31 months—2 ½ years—she spent with her daughter battling cancer, ultimately unsuccessfully. And this woman did not wither up never to be heard from again. I know it makes her uncomfortable when people pour on the admiration, but truly if someone deserves to hear “I don’t know how she does it,” it’s someone like that.
The next time you think of saying “I don’t know how you do it” to someone else, just consider that they may not have a choice, and it’s possible they’d switch places with you if they could—whether it’s to have a healthy kid rather than a sick one or to stay home rather than work.
If I sound grumpy and bitter, I’m really not. I love my life and I love hanging out with my kids. They’re in school all day at this point anyway, and their activities are worth a few vacation days or missed meetings. But I still think I’ll skip the movie.
Filed under: Parenting