Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"I Just"

Sometime ago, when my oldest was probably 2 or so I had a realization about the phrase, "I just...". For me this thing frequently comes to pass in the context of parenting but it is just as likely to happen in any of life's more complicated tasks. To cut to the chase, "I just" can be quite inane and is also frequently rude.
I first noticed it when I was bemoaning some aspect of parenting, mainly discipline related. For example:
Me: I can't keep Anthony in his bed, he comes out of his room like 39 times a night!
Other mother: Oh, I just have a rule that they are not allowed out. (inane)
Me: Yes, so do I. But how do you get them to ACTUALLY stay in bed?
Other mother: Well, we just tell them that if they get up then (fill in the blank) will happen to them. (inane squared)
Me: Yes, as do we (now speaking louder slower like a tourist in Paris hoping that I will break through the wall of inanity that is building up). But HOW do you get them to stay in the bed?
Other mother: Well, my kids just wouldn't dream of coming out. (inane cubed + rude)

If your child actually stays in bed then you don't know what my problem is!

It is so easy to respond to inquiry's about our parenting methods (or prayer methods, or exercise methods, or cleaning methods) with an, "I just..." but remember that there is another person on the other end of that conversation who can't "just" - that is the point of their asking for help. If they could "just" do something then why would they bring it up? Using the phrase, "I just" runs two risks - my sample conversation (which may or may not be an exact duplication) demonstrates both.
1. It shows the person you are talking to that you do not struggle with that particular dilemma which in turn makes you look inane for offering any advice at all instead of just commiserating. You have now been inane.
2. Or worse - it shows the person you are talking to that not only do you not struggle with this dilemma yet are offering advice anyway but it also reveals that deep down you are just condescending. Now you have been inane AND rude.

I sometimes still use the phrase, "I just..." because it's just such a simple way to start a response to a question but as soon as it slips out I try to couch it in lots and lots of disclaimers. "My kid is so different then yours; it was just luck; I have no idea if this would work; everyone is so different; that's just anecdotal, etc."
But these days, more often then not I am saved from the phrase, "I just" because the truth is that I don't "just". There's nothing in parenting (or any part of living a good, worthy life) that is simple. Human beings complicate everything to an infinite degree, in spite of our finiteness.
Now, I love talking and sharing stories and ideas and dilemmas but even when I have a response (and the vast majority of the time commiseration is all that I can offer) if, in the end, my answer to someone's question was, "I just..." then I know I have missed the mark. That is something that I just know.


  1. So true Alexis, great observation! I may pass this on to other friends.


  2. My favorite line to parenting advice is this: "I just put mine in a crate and go to work." :P

    And I am always AMAZED that there millions of kinds of people who need very different parenting (and the same number of parents who need to do different styles of parenting). It is all quite fascinating and I think we do better if we stand in someone else's shoes before opening our mouths to give advice.