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13 March 2015

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Kate

I feel like there are certain kinds of compliments that are also "othering" statements, even though I can't quite describe why they grate on me. Sweeping statements about the virtues of women or mothers, for example. There's a subtext of "I don't know how/why you do it" to statements like, "there is no force as strong as a mother's love and forgiveness" that almost seems to make certain virtues commonplace and unworthy of respect on an individual level when displayed by individual members of the complimented class. My love for my family becomes this alien thing that is credited to my motherhood rather than to my personhood. Which also serves as a handy excuse for the (male) speaker to dismiss anything he might learn from the virtues of the women in his life.

That's just the example that comes to mind because it's the one that most often leaves me sputtering incoherently, but I imagine this is the effect that even positive statements based on race or nationality must have.

Barbara C.

I guess when people have said to me "I don't know how you do it" I see it more as them feeling deficient about themselves than anything bad about me.

Well, come to think of it, it depends on what they're talking about. If it's the five young kids thing (especially now that I'm recognized as a single parent) then I honestly reply, "By the grace of God." Because I don't know how I do it half the time. I do it because it's what I have to do, and I seriously doubt that I'm doing it well most of the time.

If someone says it in reference to homeschooling, I probably do see that one more as "Why would you want to do that?"

On the flip side, I have sincerely wondered at times "How does she do that?" Whether it's people like Jen Fuwhiler and Simcha Fisher, with writing books, blogging, public speaking, hosting radio shows while raising a slew a of young children or the moms I know in real life who are active in ministry and volunteer work while working full time jobs and raising young children.

It took me a long time to realize that the reason they could do it but I "couldn't" was because they had strong support systems in place. They have husbands that they can trust to help them and try to lighten their burdens instead of just adding to them. They have a lot of family and family-like friends nearby that they can depend on if they need help; they have a community. And they aren't afraid to make use options like "real school" or childcare programs.

Jenny

I think there is a distinction between genuine admiration and thinly veiled gratefulness that "I am not you," but the latter do use the former as cover and don't like being called on it.

I think the rule of thumb is that if you are remarking on some notable achievement, it is fine to say "I don't know how you do it." For example, you once mentioned that you can carry a baby and chop an onion at the same time. I am in awe of this skill. I don't know how you do that. Yes, with practice, I could do it too, but, wow.

If, however, you are making comment on some not very changeable fundamental of life which might be a source of ambiguous feeling to the recipient, just don't. Find another, better way to say it.

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I think I read something somewhere about this

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