“How are you?” seems to be a generic greeting now-a-days. People don’t always wait for an answer. Some don’t even expect an answer. But if a response is given, it’s almost always either a quick and cheerful, “I’m good! You?” or a somewhat frazzled, “Oh, you know. Busy as always!” Rarely does this question lead to a response that gives true insight into how the recipient of the question is actually doing.
And the truth is, we’re not always “good.” Sometimes we’re not even “OK” or “fine.” And the busyness that we let take over in our day-to-day lives is sometimes used as a distraction from how we’re really doing. I was recently in a place where I was wearing thin. I was physically exhausted. Emotionally drained. Mentally foggy. I was depleted. And I just couldn’t continue giving the expected response to the casual greetings anymore. So, I found a more truthful answer:
“I’m hanging in there.”
It’s vague enough that those who don’t want to know more, those who don’t expect an honest answer to the question-greeting, can just move on. But it also hints to the asker that there’s more to my story than surface small talk can cover. That there’s depth and struggle hidden within my response.
Some who felt compelled to ask follow up questions abruptly learned that I was not good. I was not OK or fine. Not at all. My life had been derailed, unexpectedly shattered. And I was keeping it together, keeping my emotions in check, only for the sake of my three year old. My answer was far more than the expected answer, but it was my truth.
Moms have so much on their plates. Behind your “hanging in there” response could be a struggle with infertility. Or miscarriage. It could be loss of financial security. Lack of physical safety. It could be struggles with breastfeeding or a colicky baby. Anxiety or depression. A personal medical diagnosis or a sick relative. The recent loss of a loved one. It could be feelings of inadequacy or frustration when faced with difficult parenting issues: Special needs, behavior disorders, learning disabilities. Or maybe you’re just plain overwhelmed with parenthood and life in general.
Whatever it is that takes you to that place where the fake smile and the “I’m good” response starts to wear on you, I encourage you to share it. Start with a more honest answer. Find your “I’m hanging in there” response.
Because I have learned something huge in doing so. The difficulties we face as mothers, wives, and daughters can feel as heavy as boulders sometimes. But every time I have given a truthful response about how I’m doing, every time I have shared my struggle with someone, a piece of that heavy boulder has broken off. A tiny chunk the size of a pebble has been given to the person listening. And my load lightens.
We don’t all carry boulders at the same time. There are times that our load is easy, our arms are empty. We are strong and confident and filled with peace. During those times, it’s easy to carry a pebble for someone else. Some people are even capable of carrying a pocketful of pebbles.
So, here is my challenge to all moms out there:
Be truthful about your struggles. Give your pebbles away.
And when you’re able, when you’re on the other side, be ready to really listen to the answer of the “How are you?” question. Listen for depth and truth behind the response. And be ready to put a pebble in your pocket.
After all, we’re here to support one another, right?