Your Hands are Full

“Your hands are full.”

Sometimes it’s said with a sneer or a side-eye; on more rare occasions, with a nostalgic smile at my (potentially misbehaving) small boys. It tends to pop up when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and never do I feel more murderous than when someone cuts into my path as I struggle with strollers and children and all their detritus and then glare at me and tell me my hands are full.

This uninvited narration tends to begin when one dares to be pregnant in public, and continues anytime one appears in any public setting with children in tow. People watch you, and they talk to you, and they think they can say anything.

“You’re about to pop!”

“Are you having twins?”

“Why’d you wait so long to have another?”

“When will you give {that day old baby} a sibling?” 

“Were you trying?”

“Two girls! Were you trying for a boy? Will you?”

“Two boys. Going for a girl next time?” 

“They’re ALL yours? Same father?”

“Oh, twins! Are they natural?”

“Twins, huh? Two for the price of one!”

What is it about pregnancy and parenthood that allows society to think it’s socially acceptable to comment on your life? I especially feel for moms of multiples. They get asked all the questions. Don’t forget the belly rubbers, either. Although I’ve personally noticed this phenomenon more since moving to the South, friends from all regions have shared similar experiences. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. But if you aren’t part of that parent’s village, maybe keep your criticism to yourself.

After all, can you imagine if we treated everyone the way strangers treat mothers?

What if, when seeing an elderly person walk slowly, we patted their shoulder and murmured, “Your days are sure numbered.” 

Or when seeing a man flirting with someone, “Keep it in your pants, Casanova.”

To the nurse struggling to insert an IV, “This must’ve been your backup career path, huh?”

To the waitress holding back tears after dropping a tray of dirty dishes, “Ouch, there goes your day job.”

The moral here is, of course, it’s not okay to say these things. When a mom may be feeling overwhelmed, why do people feel the need to point it out? Newsflash: that doesn’t help! A kind smile, a simple, “Those days can be tough, but it gets better,” when witnessing a child’s tantrum; these are acceptable responses. Double-edged phrases, like “Your hands are full,” are really just a euphemism for “your family is inconveniencing me in this moment.”

When you see any adult outnumbered by kids, don’t ask anything you wouldn’t want asked of you. Asking if someone’s child was conceived with help or the ‘old fashioned way’ is incredibly inappropriate. You wouldn’t ask honeymooners how many times they consummated their marriage, would you? No! Of course not! That would be inappropriate. Yet we accost parents simply because they dared leave their house?

There are, of course, those who use this phrase to open a window. Sometimes it’s followed by an offer to help unload the cart on the grocery belt, or just as a conversation starter. In these cases, the smile that accompanies it usually sets it apart from the other, ill-intended times. Yet it’s still unnecessary. Compliment the kid, or just smile and offer to help. Not everyone knows the negative connotations of this phrase, but if you ask a parent, they’ll often answer that “your hands are full” is like nails on a chalkboard to them. 

Next time you find yourself witnessing someone else’s overwhelming moment, avoid phrases like, “your hands are full.” Instead, think of what would benefit you were the situation reversed. For introverts, a kind and understanding smile. For extroverts, and offer of help. For book nerds, the Katniss salute from The Hunger Games is sure to lighten the mood and help alleviate some of their stress. 

Go forth, be kind, and kill the phrase, “your hands are full.” Kill it with kindness. Or fire. Your call.


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