If you’re a parent, you’ve probably talked to friends about how hard it can be to balance parenting with all of the other demands of adult life. Managing a household, having a career, supporting aging relatives, staying active, nurturing friendships, attempting to have a social life and get some “me time” every once in a while…it’s a lot.
Just the idea of ‘balance’ can feel laughable in those early years of parenting when your entire mind and body is dedicated to keeping tiny humans alive and well. It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home or spend all day with your kids – being a parent means being pulled in a bunch of different directions all the time, and it’s exhausting. Awesome, but exhausting.
And so occasionally, we vent.
It doesn’t mean we don’t like our kids or enjoy our lives – we’re just sick and tired of making nutritionally appropriate litterless lunches every damn day. We’re going to keep making the lunches, but sometimes, we need someone to look us in our tired eyes and say yeah, I get it, making hundreds of lunches every year sort of sucks.
Many people understand this need to vent and be heard; to speak without judgement and feel comfort and validation. It’s not about needing to change your whole life or find a magical solution to what’s making you tired – oftentimes, it’s a very temporary thing and we know that this too shall pass. A baby in a sleep regression, for example, or a particularly busy season at work. Life’s chaos will always ebb and flow, and when we’re in the thick of it, it’s natural to seek consolation. A good friend will listen and a great friend may find just the right words of acknowledgment and reassurance. And then, there are the people who mean well but miss the mark. The ones who drop those four little words that kill any emotional release in an instant:
“Why don’t you just…?”
Boom. Vent killed. It’s all over.
It doesn’t matter how well-intended the advice that’s about to be shared is – this phrase can deflate a person in seconds. Why? Because sometimes, we don’t want advice. We want recognition and solidarity from someone we trusted with our feelings – even when those feelings are about something as inconsequential as lunch-making. It’s not that advice should never be asked for or given – we all have friends we go to when we need guidance or want feedback on something, and their words can be invaluable.
But sometimes, we don’t want a fixer – we want a friend.
Let’s say you’re standing at the park with a mom friend while your kids run wild, or maybe talking to a co-worker about their plans for the weekend. The conversation turns to how hectic the summer has been, and you admit that making dinner every night feels like such a chore (on top of grocery shopping and running kids to soccer practice and all the rest, that is). You might even confess that some nights, you hit the drive-thru, pop in a frozen pizza or just make scrambled eggs for dinner (gasp, the shame)!
You might get a “Hell yeah, making dinner is the worst”. This is a person who understands how you feel and lets you know that you aren’t alone. Yeah, making dinner every night isn’t a big deal, but you’re wiped out and at this very moment, it’s the last thing you want to do. You forgot to thaw the chicken and your kids are getting hangry and dammit, it’s 4:45 already. Would it be terrible if you had subs for dinner (again)? No, it wouldn’t be – in fact, your kids will love it. Carry on and feel no shame, friend.
But the person you’re talking to might go another direction. “Why don’t you just meal plan?” they might say. “Why don’t you just batch cook on Sunday nights, or order one of those weekly meal kit delivery services?”
And this, my friends, is where moments of solidarity go to die.
Maybe you don’t want to meal plan or batch cook or order those meal kits. Maybe it feels like an added chore, requires too much planning ahead, costs too much or just isn’t your thing. And maybe, just maybe, you don’t actually mind cooking dinner most nights but are having a long week and wanted to vent for a few minutes. You didn’t want a solution – you wanted a release.
It doesn’t matter what you’re venting about – we all need the time and space to let things out when we feel frustrated or overwhelmed. It doesn’t make us weak, whiny or ungrateful (we know it’s wonderful to have food on the table every night, even if it’s scrambled eggs on toast). It makes us human.
A friend once told me that she found it challenging to go out on day trips with her infant and busy toddler, and when she admitted this, people would always say things like, Why don’t you just put the baby in a carrier? Why don’t you just make the toddler walk? Why don’t you just go out before/after naptime? Why don’t you just ask a friend to go with you and help out?
Here she was sharing her struggle, and each “why don’t you just” was breaking her spirit a little more. It’s not that she was refusing to leave her house – she just found it challenging. All she really wanted was for something to acknowledge how tough everyday life with two small kids can be – but instead, she was told what she “needed” to do differently, which made her feel inadequate.
Why don’t you just is a conversation killer because instead of showing empathy or simply listening, the response has become a critique. As in, you could be doing this better – here’s an easy solution! It’s a message that yes, you are doing this thing wrong. There is a way to do it better and right now, you’re failing.
A vent isn’t inherently a request for advice. Most of us already know we could meal plan or batch cook but we’re too damn busy (or tired) or simply don’t want to, for whatever reason. It’s not that we can’t think of a better way – we just needed a momentary outlet. Another day, we may look for a solution or implement a new strategy (even the ones coming in those why don’t you just comments) but at the moment, what we need is compassion from a friend.
If I could take this four-word phrase, roll it into a ball and toss it out the window, I would. Instead, may I humbly suggest that we banish it from our collective vocabulary and work on offering support instead of suggestions.
Then, when our friends do ask us for advice, we can give it freely and know that it’s wanted. Until then…hell yeah, making dinner sucks.