“You’ve Got Your Hands Full” Is Not An Insult

When people see me out and about in public with my four young kids, or when it comes up in casual conversation how many children I have and their ages (6, 4, 2, and four months), I will get one of two responses:

1) Wow! You know what causes that, right? [hearty chuckle]

or

2) Wow! You've got your hands full, don't you? 

There are all kinds of articles written in response to this oft-uttered phrase to parents. Heck, there are even actual blogs with the title because parents hear it so much. But what I hear the most in reaction to the “you've got your hands full” phrase is negative responses from moms who are just plain sick and tired of hearing it. 

“This comment is usually accompanied by a pitying glance, a sharp intake of breath, and/or an eye roll. It's true that my twins often keep both my hands full, but don't feel sorry for me,wrote one mom of twins. 

“I hear this phrase at least once when I'm out with all three kids. It used to have no effect on me. I'd just smile, say yes, and quickly move on. But now that I hear it all the time, the phrase has started to drive me nuts,said another mom with three young kiddos. 

And while I 100% understand that it can get a bit tiring to hear this phrase literally every time you go out in public (and I am actually using literally in the literal sense here, let's be clear), I also don't think that the phrase needs to be taken as an insult to any mom. 

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Image via Chaunie Brusie/Look, No Hands!

I genuinely think that us mothers with more than the average 2.5 children expect to face a little bit of backlash and criticism when we're out there in the world. I've lost count of the dirty looks and the horrible comments that have been left to me as a writer when I talk about how many kids I have. 

So I admit that I tend to be on the defensive, just waiting to hear something insulting. I'm always waiting for it, honestly, because it does happen so often. Just last night, I went to the dentist's office, and the assistant who cleaned my teeth made casual conversation (you know, the awkward kind when her hand is in your mouth?) and asked me how many kids I had. I told her and braced myself. 

“Oh, that's great!” she exclaimed brightly. “Good for you!”

I just about fell out of my chair. 

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The truth is, not every person who utters the phrase “You've got your hands full!” is out to insult moms of many. I really think that the phrase can be taken lightly as a simple acknowledgment that parenting littles can be a busy time. 

Because we do have our hands full. 

And that's just the way we like it. 

Does hearing this phrase bother you? How do you respond? 

What do you think?

“You’ve Got Your Hands Full” Is Not An Insult

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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5 comments

  1. Profile photo of Cherie Cherie says:

    I usually hear this when I am out with my daughters, (3 in July and 18 months) and I smile and tell them something along the lines of”this isn’t too bad, they have an 11 year old brother who has ADHD at school/home (depending on the day)” sometimes I get really daring and tell them I’m hoping for another 😉 and then I watch their eyes get huge lol

  2. Profile photo of nina nina says:

    Honestly I’m a mother of two, 18mos and 2mos, and I do hear that sometimes. From both family and strangers and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. As long as I’m not receiving stares, dirty looks, or comments on how young I am (look) then I’m fine cause I don’t wear my wedding ring and I seriously look like I’m 17 when really I’m 24…

  3. Profile photo of Maria Maria says:

    Hearing this phrase does not bother me too much. I know that being a parent of any number of children can be a challenge to anyone. However, I would appreciate less stares when I take my family out in public especially when we’re not accompanied with my husband. Not to mention the fact that I’m expecting my fourth in the next couple of months.

  4. Profile photo of Crisan Crisan says:

    I love hearing it! I have only 2, but they are only a year & a half apart – currently 20 months & 2 months. I’ve heard it most recently when I was either hugely pregnant with a toddler on my hip or when I have the little one in a carrier & the toddler on my hip. Most people say it with a genuine smile even if their eyes are saying they feel overwhelmed just looking at me. I am so happy to have them & usually feel accomplished that I am out & about even in the middle of juggling them so I also welcome the acknowledgement that it looks tough & I’m doing it!

  5. Profile photo of Ashley Ashley says:

    I have 3 under 3 and hear that all the time too but I normally respond with ya but I love it and walk away my younger too were birth control fails but I wouldn’t have it any other way now

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