This Little Miggy Stayed Home: You've Got Your Hands Full: Validation or Passive Aggressive Dig?

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

You've Got Your Hands Full: Validation or Passive Aggressive Dig?


We're just getting back into the swing of things after spending the past 5 days in San Antonio. B had a dental conference there so the whole family came along. It was a great jump start to our summer! We had a super rough travel day getting there (see here) but all of that melted away when we pulled up to my friends house at one in the morning to quickly grab the pack n' play and 4 of my best girls had waited up just to say hello! How amazing is that? We hung out with our friends non-stop the next 5 days and had a fantastic time. We made some of the best friends of our lives in San Antonio and I can't tell you what a treat it is to see them again.

I may or may not do a recap post on our weekend there, but there is one conversation from my last girls night in San Antonio I can't get off my mind and its something I've wanted to blog about before. So here it is: When you're out and about with your kids, be it running errands or at the zoo and you're trying to wrangle your little ones and some astute observer comments, "Looks like you've got your hands full!"

This has happened to all of us. However I was surprised to find that out of all my girlfriends I was the only one who didn't perceive this comment negatively! I wouldn't say it's sweet per se, but I definitely take it as friendly validation for the hard work that is mothering. However, my friends all agreed that it comes across as a passive aggressive dig at their kids being out of control. To be clear, these girls are tops and not the easily offended type.

I know I'm in the minority here because I often see comments on Facebook or blog posts about moms hating that "you've got your hands full!" comment, which is why I wanted to ask about it here, because while I feel that I'm in the minority surely I can't be the only one who thinks this comment is friendly at best and benign at worst. First, people who have said it to me are almost always smiling and maybe even laughing at my kids while they're doing something crazy. Their tone alone just reads friendly. Second, as a special needs mom wrangling a little one and loading and unloading a power chair I DO have my hands full. And sometimes that validation feels great to hear. Yes! I do have my hands full, where's my quarterly bonus? Round of applause? At the very least can you hold my diaper bag for a second while I chase my 5 year old who's giving my toddler a ride in her power chair? 

That being said, my friend who we'll call Lisha--who firmly is in the I-do-NOT-like- this-comment camp--has the best response in the world. Of course you'd have to know Lisha and know that 1) she is hilarious and 2) she can hold a straight face with the best of them. So once when someone said this to her when she was pregnant with her 3rd, while her other two kids were being crazy, she dead panned, "What are you talking about? This is easy. This is a piece of cake! Why do you think we're having a third?" We were dying when she told us this story! 

And wouldn't you know it, yesterday as I traveled home alone with 3 kids +3 backpacks + 2 car seats + 2 bags + 1 double stroller and 1 power chair I heard from THREE different people*, "It looks like you've got your hands full!" And while I dropped the ball the first time, the last two times I didn't miss a beat.

"No way, this is easy! This is a piece of cake. We're gonna have three more!" 

So tell me, am I the only one? Do you think tone and timing have something to do with it? If so, have you had people say it to you in a mean or spiteful tone? Or do you just find it an annoying I've-heard-this-a-million-times-it's-getting-old comment? Or like me do you find this comment validating and friendly? And do you think people actually are trying to be rude/passive aggressive or do you think they're not trying to be rude, but they're being rude anyway? The other thing that this whole thing gets me thinking about is just how differently our brains are and how hard it can be to communicate our true feelings to each other because words, tone and body language can be given and processed so very differently. What is totally not rude to me is very rude to others! 

*The last guy who said this was the shuttle bus driver from the airport to our long term parking spot. He helped me load ALL of our stuff with a huge smile on his face, urging me to take care of my "precious cargo" and when we got in the bus he said, "I can tell you're a great mom. You've really got your hands full." Aww.... seriously, how could that be a dig? 

PS If you're ever visiting San Antonio with small children here are some of my favorite sights to see and things to do. The photo above is along the Riverwalk along the Pearl.  
Exploring the Riverwalk
Kiddie Park
King William District
Mission San Jose
Japanese Tea Gardens
Fiesta on Main


  1. I've never taken it as a "dig", and I've said it many time too, and never meant it in a mean spirit.

  2. I have five boys, so when I go out in public (even if it's with only 4 or 3 or 2 of them) I get all kinds of comments. "You have your hands full" (yes) and "Were you trying for a girl?" (yes, but we woulda had five anyway) are the most common.
    I know all sorts of moms have all sorts of problems with these comments and allow themselves to get annoyed.
    (I know because lots of my friends forward me articles about this exact subject...)

    But after giving it a lot of thought, this is what I've determined:
    I think that our neighbors out in the world are just looking for ways to connect with us.
    They look at us and have a split second to determine if they are going to take a chance on reaching out to a stranger and they say the first thing that comes to mind.
    I choose to believe that 98% of the time, the comments are innocent. No, they're not thought out, but standing in line or in an elevator with a stranger doesn't always lend itself to sharing profound thoughts or pithy comments. Heaven knows I've made plenty of inane comments to strangers just to fill the silence.

    There are (very rarely) times when people make comments with a sneer and look of disgust. I respond with a smile and comment about how lucky I am. Those people clearly are not blessed with five awesome little boys like I am and don't know what they are missing out on.

    But I think most people are just trying to be friendly and life is too short to be getting worked up every time I leave the house.
    That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;) Sorry for the rant!

  3. As a pediatrician who does not have children yet, I've said this many times to parents in my office. I have always meant it to be validating and empathetic, like "Parenting is not easy! It's ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes." I'm going to have to start paying attention to how people react when I say that, and maybe have a different pat phrase I guess.

  4. I have said this many times. I meant it as the parent was doing amazing. If I felt differently I would have said, "Looks like you need help."

  5. I never thought of this as a dig, and I've even said it to people before. I think it's more a lighthearted acknowledgement of the fact that herding small excitable children can sometimes be a mammoth task - I think of it more that people are giving you a little nod for all the effort you are putting in. Some people take every single thing said to them as a passive aggressive attack... but I really do think that this one, unless said with contempt and eyerolling, is benign.

  6. I never took that personally, I would think it's someone just reliving the days in their minds with their kids, or imagining what it might be like. However in reference to the comment "looks like you need help" I'd be offended at that one no matter the intent. Way to proud for that to fly unless I really knew the person.

  7. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Oh PLEASE! I cannot see how such a comment can be taken as offense (provided it's not accompanied by a sneer or the like) I also have three kids and I never once felt this was a slight in any way!

  8. I never took offence, now my children are bigger I sometimes say to a mother with children running amok 'hang in there' or similar, with what I hope is a supportive smile. Sometimes I ask can I help, when the shopping bags need loading, or the stroller unfolding. I liked it when people made a supportive comment, made me feel less alone.

  9. Anonymous2:46 PM

    It had never even occurred to me that this could be offensive. I think the second commenter hit the nail on the head (as have all the other commenters). People need to lighten up. Everyone is so sensitive about one thing or another that it makes a person fearful to even speak to another person (and then they are perceived as "stuck-up") Sigh.

  10. Those SA girls must be so uptight! 😜 For the record, it's really not that big of a deal to me, I Really don't give it much thought. It's just something you get used too as a mom of three hooligans. But I still want to try Lisha's rebuttal to prove I can be cool like her 😎

  11. I've had it said to me & I've said it to others as well. I've never been offended & I certainly don't mean offense. I think it's just small talk. People like to connect. It's like commenting that I have long hair (yes, I do) or its hot out or something.

  12. LIke you said, it's the tone and the expression. Most of the time it's friendly, but at times, it's dismissive or downright condescending. We've got 9 and our youngest uses life-support equipment. If it's friendly, I usually reply with "yeah, it's crazy, but it's great!" and a big grin. If it's negative, I reply with, "I wouldn't have it any other way" and a smile with a bit of steel in my eye.

  13. I only have one child, but people will say this to me when I'm out and about with my kid and my dog and usually doing something else. Honestly whenever I hear that comment, I'm always having a good time with them so I don't really see it as a dig.