Not a day goes by without at least one person saying to me, "I don't know how you do it." The "it" they're referring to? It could be mothering a child with a life-threatening, degenerative disease. It might be advocating for my son, whose ADHD often gets in his way as profoundly as my daughter's inability to walk gets in hers. Or it could simply be having three young children while working full-time, which so many of us do and wonder ourselves how we do it.
I never know what to say in response. Do I dismiss it and tell them my life isn't as hard as it seems? That would be a lie... it really is that hard. It's hard for all mothers and maybe extra hard for working mothers and definitely extra, extra hard for mothers of kids with special needs and serious illness. So do I agree with them and tell them I don't know how I do it either? That I often feel I've been dealt a really bad hand and that it's unfair and why me? That would also be a lie. Because I know that while my hand is complicated and messy, my sister and friends have complicated hands too. They may look like beautiful and colorful and flowery hands on the outside but two (or four) shared glasses of wine is all it takes to discover just how messy their cards are too. And given the choice, I'd pick my own mess every time.
I know the intention of my friend, or colleague, or relative, or neighbor or whoever is wondering how I do it on any given day is noble. I know the subtext is one of respect and maybe even sometimes admiration. But really, what's the option? How would it be possible not to "do it"?
I suppose I could stay in bed all day. In fact, most mornings, that actually seems like a really great idea. I would love not to "do it" and instead to lie in bed reading, watching "Mad Men" and eating potato chips. I'd also love to have a full-time staff to clean my house, make breakfast, pack lunches, oversee homework, drive my brood to their respective doctors' appointments, baseball games, and therapy sessions -- and, oh yes, while they're at it, it would be great if they could do my job for me (and maybe even workout on my behalf). Until that happens, I will continue to get out of bed in the morning.
And that, I really think, is the biggest battle of all. Because once I get up, how can I not show up? What would that even look like? How can I not make sure that my kids are prepared for the day, no matter how hard the day proves to be? That they're nourished, literally and figuratively? How could I not do everything possible to make sure they know how much they're cherished and valued -- that together, we'll fight their battles and celebrate any victory that comes our way?
Isn't that what all we mothers do? We may not have it all, but that doesn't mean we don't do it all.
Sure, some people's battles might not be quite as dramatic as others. Showing up day after day takes much less energy when every minute isn't scheduled, when your children can stand up for themselves (figuratively and literally), when you have the means to hire a staff. But when people say, "I don't know how you do it," the implication is that they wouldn't be able to. And frankly, I don't buy it.
Because we all know that as comfy and inviting as our beds may seem, as much as we love to watch Don Draper, we are mothers, and we are going get up and do what needs to be done.
That's how we do it.
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