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Why is it so hard to say “This is hard.”?

by Sarah Powers on June 28, 2013

This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Home contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger at Powers of Mine.

motherhood is hard

Things have been hard for me lately.

I’m saying that because it’s true, but also because I’ve noticed something. It’s hard for me to say “things are hard right now.”

Why is that? Why do I (and maybe you too?) say “I’m great! We’re really good. Things are fine.” when someone asks how we’re doing? Of course I’m not going to go into life’s every up and down when the grocery checkout clerk asks how our day is going, but I find that even with my good friends and those who truly want to know, I don’t say it.

So I’m saying it here. Things have been hard lately.

Not “wow, that was a crappy day” hard, the kind it’s fun to complain about with your girlfriends or post about on Facebook. Systemically, fundamentally hard.

It’s been hard for completely predictable (and almost downright boring) reasons: baby #3 is five months old and I’m still not sleeping at night – at all. It’s summer in Arizona, which is like winter in Minnesota for all intents and purposes. I have two older kids who are like every other kid their age in that they get bored, they bicker, they make messes and get into mischief. And remember how I didn’t make a summer bucket list so I could leave space for couch forts or some nonsense like that? Yeah, too much space. Too many couch forts.

But enough about that – for now. What I’m interested in is why I have a difficult time saying (admitting?) that this phase of motherhood – and yes, I know it’s a phase, this too shall pass, enjoy it while I can, yada yada – is kicking my tail a little bit? Or a lot?

Why is it so hard to say “This is hard.”?

Here are the reasons – valid or not – why I find myself glossing over this inconvenient truth:

Somebody else has it way harder

Meagan is recovering from a hysterectomy, has five kids and works full-time from home. That’s hard. Another friend of mine also has five kids under 10 years old, one with special needs, and recently had a stomach bug take down half the household. That’s hard. Remember my first-time pregnant friend? She completed her MBA last week at 38 weeks pregnant, 6 days before giving birth au natural. That’s hard.

(Not to mention, these examples are all from the realm of relatively privileged first-world motherhood – it goes without saying that many, many moms have it waayyyyy harder than this.)

Somebody always has it harder, and there’s a part of me that feels guilty or unjustified sharing that I’m having a tough time when all around me are women doing more, with less help, than I am.

I’ll seem ungrateful

I couldn’t wait to have a third baby. I choose to work part-time from home and get to do something I love. Everybody is healthy. I am so, so lucky to have the life that I do. So saying it’s hard feels ungrateful, maybe even a little spoiled.

You’ll think I want help

Asking for help is hard, too – and it’s something a lot of us could stand to get better at. But in this case I’m not talking about asking a friend to watch the kids for a few hours. Sometimes it feels easier to say “all’s well!” than to tell the truth and be met with offers (really wonderful, well-meaning offers) to bail us out, when what I’m really looking for is more just a soft place for that confession to land.

Nobody likes a complainer

There’s a pretty persistent culture of negativity in some mom-circles, and it’s easy to get sucked into commiserating about our lack of sleep, piles of laundry, or our kid’s annoying habit du jour. But I prefer to keep things positive as much as possible, which is why admitting things are a little rough can feel like I’m just adding to the bitch-fest.

I don’t want to worry you

Post-partum mood disorders are serious business, and while I’ve never suffered from true depression, I once had a healthy bout of the hormonal baby blues and know what that kind of inescapable dark cloud feels like. I know myself pretty well, and I can say confidently that I’m not depressed or even unhappy, but I do hesitate sometimes in sharing how hard things have been for fear of worrying those who care.

“Hard” takes longer than “fine”

It takes all of two seconds to tell someone we’re doing great; the truth is a longer story. I am really fortunate to have the support system of mom friends that I do, but our conversations happen in text messages typed with one hand or over the tops of half a dozen little heads whizzing by at a playdate. It’s not that they don’t want to listen or wouldn’t be sympathetic, it’s just that there isn’t always the time and space to have the conversation.

Here’s the thing: we really are fine – great, even – in the grand scheme of things. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been hard. The hard is part of the great, and it’s all tangled up together in a mess that’s hard to explain in a passing conversation with monkeys hanging off your every limb.

But here’s something else I know: when I take the time to acknowledge to myself, and to confide to someone else, that this is hard, I feel a little lighter. A little more truthful. I don’t feel guilty, ungrateful, weak, negative, or any of the other things that sometimes keep me from speaking those three little words.

And then? When we have that moment where I say “This is hard,” and you say “Yeah, it is”…guess what? It actually feels…easier.

Do you struggle with admitting when the going gets tough? I would love to hear if things are tough for you right now. I promise I won’t think you’re complaining or worry about you or offer to bring you dinner – I’ll just listen and say “Yeah. Me too.”

* * * * *

As I was writing this piece I remembered a blog post I read over a year ago by Amy of When Did I Get Like This? Amy’s post is actually a response to a piece of Heather’s from The Extraordinary Ordinary called your hard is hard and it speaks so perfectly to the problem of “comparing our hards”. It’s always the mark of a great piece of writing when you think of it months later, and when I returned to these after more than a year I loved them as much as the first time. I hope you’ll go read them both.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire June 28, 2013 at 8:23 am

Great post, Sarah! We live in a sound-byte culture, and “hard” definitely takes longer than “fine”! I responding with “hard” for most of the same reasons that you have listed. I love my life and love being my son’s primary caregiver, and I’m afraid that if I tell people I’m having a hard time, they might interpret it that I would be happier if I were working fulltime (completely false!). Also, summer is a very hard time of year for me. Our summers here in upstate NY would seem like a joke to you in Arizona (there’s that “someone else always has it worse”!), but the heat and humidity, especially considering that I live in low-ceiling house without central AC, pushes me to my limit sometimes. And no one wants to hear it, because around here most people live for summer. Well, I’ve written a novel here, but basically I just wanted to say that I totally relate to what you’re saying, and I appreciate that you have given it a voice.


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 11:32 am

Thanks Claire! And just so you know, I DO actually think that summers in places like where you live can be “harder” :) – because not everyone is prepared for the heat in terms of A/C, staying indoors, etc. Our summer is hard because we have to stay indoors all the time (117 today!!), but we don’t actually spend very much time being hot because we just don’t go outside at all.

And I totally understand what you mean about not wanting to seem like you wish circumstances were different. I remember telling my husband after I had #2 and was going through that “hard” that I was happy on a kind of macro scale (meaning I was doing what I wanted to be doing in terms of the big picture), even if I was kind of miserable in the moment. I totally think those two things can be true at the same time.

Thanks for reading, Claire!


Cate June 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

Claire. I have been in upstate ny in the summer without air. It was miserable. Can you get a window unit? I have nothing awesome to say other than I was there for a week and it was hard! Hang in there !!! :)


Claire June 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

Hi Cate,
We do have a couple of window units. I have a love-hate relationship with them. I hate how they tie up windows, I find them ugly, and they are really loud. But in my current house, we couldn’t live without them. The house I grew up in was a different story (high ceilings, lots of shade, etc). My favorite days of summer are when it’s below 80 and we can just have the windows open. I guess the bad days just make me appreciate the good ones even more!


Cate June 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

A couple of things, sweet friend. Don’t minimize your journey or pain with comparisons. I think it is healthy to keep in mind because we don’t wallow. However, people that know you want to know how you are processing, wrestling and working out the good and the bad. Maybe good with bad? showing the joy and the struggle?

Then, if someone offers you dinner don’t ever ever ever refuse!!!! In my circle, we gift each other with just because gifts/food because THIS IS HARD. And not cooking one night is golden!!!!!


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I know, I know – I do need to get better about not worrying about other people offering to help. It’s funny – I’m pretty good at ASKING for it when I really need it, but it’s the offers that just come out of the blue that I feel bad for accepting. Thank you for your comment, for reading, and for your friendship. xoxo


Tanya June 28, 2013 at 11:50 am

It is hard to say that things are hard, for all the reasons that you’ve listed (#1 and #2 are my major ones). In some communities (mine and I would guess yours as well) there can also be an undertone of competitive mothering, and even if you don’t partake in it it sort of makes you loathe to show any sign of “weakness.” Beyond that, though, being a mom is just a tiring job. It’s incredibly rewarding, but just exhausting. I similarly have the benefit and fortune of being a work from home mom, but man – sometimes I can barely keep my eyes open after Harris’ bedtime.

This post is very timely for me as, between having a sometimes terrible 2 phase with #1 and really terrible morning sickness with #2, I’ve been trying hard to stay off the waaaahmbulance – but haven’t always been succeeding. :) I am super impressed that you are juggling three and think there’s no shame in admitting that it’s hard.


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Tanya! Congrats on #2! (I saw the Zofran mention on FB the other day and sort of assumed…). As someone who has suffered terrible morning/all-day sickness all three times, I can tell you: that is HARD. So sorry.

Yes, I think there’s a teensy bit of the “not wanting to show weakness” thing, although I do have a very supportive circle here, but we all manage to do that to ourselves anyway, right?


Janet June 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I definitely relate this week. I’m new to Arizona and already getting cabin fever. I can’t spend another weekend holed up in the air conditioned house watching TV all day! Everyone tells me ‘Get out of town! Take a trip to Flagstaff for the weekend!’ Not so easy to do when both my husband and I just started new jobs and we have a fifteen month old. Yes, it is hard. But we’ll get through!


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Oh, Janet, good luck with your first AZ summer. This weekend is CRAZY awful! Are you Phoenix-area? Be sure to look up Scottsdale Moms Blog if so – that’s one of my other online homes and it’s all stuff for local moms! Hang in there!


dona June 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I hear you, sister. At a playdate a couple of weeks ago one of the other moms asked me how I was, and I admitted that I was really tired. And then I realized I was talking to the mother of a 4-month-old and I started apologizing for complaining about being tired. But you know? I was tired.


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Thanks, friend. So true – hard is hard. Tired is tired. :)


Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) June 28, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Thank you for writing this. It has been really hard for me, too. I’m a working mom when I desperately want to be a SAHM, so I take it out on my husband. My husband is frustrated because his business is not growing as fast as he’d like, and he feels guilty that I have to work. And the truth is, I resent him for it. It’s hard.

All I want is to quit and lie by the pool all summer with my son.
Thank you. I feel better.


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Thanks for sharing, Kristin. So glad you feel better. Hang in there.


Claire June 29, 2013 at 12:39 am

Kristin, I totally relate! I was always the primary breadwinner in my house. It broke my heart to have to go back to work fulltime when my son was 3 months old. It put a huge strain on our marriage. Thankfully by the time my son was 18 months old I was able to cut my hours to part-time. I hope that your husband’s business picks up and you are able to be home more in the future.


Carrie June 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Yes, I totally understand this. A very smart doula I interviewed once on my site said that “even when you choose something, it’s okay to grieve when it’s difficult.” I LOVE that.

I have a large blended family of 9, and we homeschool, and I run a few blogs… it’s hard sometimes. I’m tired, the 3 year old is being a total pain, it’s hot as youknowwhat out, and I want to pack up and go to France for a month. I don’t want to complain, for all the reasons you mentioned above, and because I CHOSE this hard life. Thanks for this!


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Oh Carrie, I LOVE that too. Thanks so much for sharing.


Kristen June 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Aaah, I SO appreciate that I stumbled upon your website… Perhaps God is listening because I am having a hard time right now and I can relate to your post. I do agree that my day job is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do – be home with my soon to be 2 year old son and almost 4 – going on 13 – daughter, but today is a day I’d like to scream!! Our master plan is to have 3 kids but I’m not sure I’ll make it there or at least with my sanity intact. The million dollar question for me, how do I get my almost 4 year old daughter to listen?!?! Some days it feels like it’s me against her, my son and even the dog! Even though I don’t want to complain, ask for help or admit that as much as I wouldn’t change my situation for the world, being a SAHM is hard from time to time. Thanks for listening! :)


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

It is hard. Yep. If it helps, I think the 3’s are rough for many kids – but 4 is awesome! :) Hang in there.


Renata June 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I seriously don’t know how you women do it. Here in Brazil it is usual (for ‘middle class’ families) to have at least 1 or 2 days of help at home with cleaning, ironing, even cooking (and it is not so usual to see stay-at-home moms, most of my friends who are moms work all day). Here it is pretty normal even having help 5 days a week. I don’t worry much with cleaning the apartment, cooking and ironing, I have a part time job and at home I “only” take care of my 2.5 and almost 4 year old, do laundry and keep the house organized. And although I feel grateful for being able to work only in the mornings and to get help with cleaning and stuff, still I am tired! Taking care of young kids can be stressful anyway. But then I read blogs and see so many moms “doing it all” and I feel like I am so weak for having help and still feeling it is hard.


Sarah Powers June 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for the insight, Renata – I’ve heard similar things about practices in other cultures too. So interesting. But maybe “hard” transcends borders in a way? Hmmm…


Amy June 28, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Sarah, I really love this piece of writing because it’s so true! I especially love your phrase about looking for a “soft place for that confession to land.” Because, really, sometimes that is all we need. The offers of help are welcomed, but sometimes, we just want someone to understand and understand in a way that isn’t just negative or complaining or, even worse, comparing who has it harder. I can also identify with those feeling of not wanting to admit the truth because (a) so many others do have it way harder than I do; and (b) it does take a lot longer to explain “hard” to someone (and assure them that you really are okay) than it is to say “fine” in response to those “how are you?” questions. I, too, am in Arizona (Tucson), where it is supposedly going to be 112 degrees this weekend, and I’m desperately thinking of things to do with my toddler because I know we won’t be able to be outside much. This weather is like winter in other parts of the country where people are cooped up inside day-after-day-after-day. I’m afraid that this weekend will turn into 24/7 TV viewing, and, while not rising to the level of terribly awful, that will be hard for me. I will worry about whether I’m a good enough mother, and those feelings of inadequacy will rise in me. Thank you for sharing that it’s been hard for you. I hope things get easier. I know you’ve probably heard this one too many times, but I’ve found that there are periods that are harder than others, but they never last forever. Here’s hoping that your period of hard is giving way to something less hard, more gentle. Thanks!


Silly Lily June 29, 2013 at 12:22 am

Hi Sarah, thank you for posting this blog. Being a mom is an exhausting and difficult job which we can’t quit. I’m learning not to compare myself with other moms cuz then I’ll never feel I’m a good enough mom. We have to truthful to ourselves, if we are tired, then we ARE tired, it doesn’t matter if we only have 1 kid while others have 5 kids. We’re good mothers in our individual unique ways. Hang in there. I’m going through the intense years of child raising with you and many other women.


Rowell June 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm

As a full time dad, with a wife who also works full time, and a parents of a 2 year old.. It’s definitely hard. But I think most people who ask how are things don’t want to hear that side of the story.

We have to admit it’s hard sometimes to maintain our sanity but power through the difficulties and focus at each task at hand. We need breaks. When was the last time you got to just sit there with a glass of wine.

With demanding jobs, it has become so difficult to just have a home cooked meal. We come home tired and just get more tired. Then there’s the whining.. oh man. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent.. it’s patience.

But I like to focus on why we became parents. I’m constantly reminded by the smile my son gives me each time. That’s what keeps us going.

If certain things have to slip, so be it. I’d rather spend time with the family. In the end, chores and all the small things can wait. Or I can save up some cash and hire some cleaners to help out.


Nina June 30, 2013 at 3:19 am

I have twins and a preschooler so I allow myself plenty of opportunity to admit that parenting them is hard. Even in the midst of knowing that other babies aren’t as healthy or that I ought to be thankful that I even have kids when so many struggle to conceive even just one, I still admit that this stuff is hard!

I don’t hesitate from admitting it to people because I truly do think it’s hard. When things got easier with my older son I admitted it then too but we’re not there just yet :)


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