This Is What You're Really Saying When You Tell A Friend 'I'm Busy'

by Christine Burke
Peter Muller / Getty Images

“How are you?” I ask, discreetly glancing at the time on my phone.

I have just run into a friend I haven’t seen in a while and we are both rushing through the grocery store at breakneck speeds.

When I saw my friend in the cereal aisle, my heart felt a twinge of sadness. How long had it been since we’d caught up on our lives? I was genuinely happy to see my friend.

“I am so busy!” she exclaims. My friend, clad in yoga pants and sporting a messy bun just like mine, launches into an explanation of every single activity that had consumed her world lately.

Soccer practices. PTA events that she was coordinating. Job tasks. The list went on and on.

As I stood there, patiently waiting for her to finish telling me how busy her life has become, I realized that, rather than focusing on what she was saying and being engaged in her life, I felt the urge to one up her.

I started compiling my own list in my head, my own list of busy tasks that I could rattle off to her as soon as she stopped talking.

Oh, she thinks she’s busy? I thought.

Well, she only works part time and her kids are older than mine and….my mind continued to wander as my friend droned on about her very busy list of things to do.

When she was finished, she looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to give her my list.

“So, what’s new with you?” she asked, as if waiting for me to confirm that I, too, was busy.

And it made me sad.

This is what friendships have become between mothers.

Moms are trying to win at being busy.

We are trying to “one up” each other, as if we need to prove that by being busy and constantly on the go, we are good moms.

Ladies, I’m calling bullshit.

Because we are glorifying the art of being busy and it’s ruining our friendships.

No one wins at being busy, ladies.

And, when we really look at our lives and the activities that consume our waking hours, are we busy because we want to be or because we feel like we have to be? Are we trying to keep up with the other mothers by overscheduling our kids? Are we taking on too many PTA responsibilities because we feel that we have to justify why we’ve decided to stay at home with our kids?

What are we really saying when we tell our friends that we are busy rather than what we are really feeling?

Because, if we are being honest with ourselves, I’m pretty sure we’d all admit to feeling overwhelmed by the activities we’ve voluntarily added to our daily schedules, right?

I read an article several years ago in the New York Times by Tim Krieder entitled, “The Busy Trap.” In his piece, he explores our innate need to want to prove our worth by the amount of activities we can cram into our lives. As he puts it, “…obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Let that sink in.

What are we really saying when we announce to our friends that we are too busy to squeeze them in for a few minutes during our day?

When we boast about our busyness, we are trying to look important in front of the other moms, to hide the fact that we feel inadequate most days. We are trying to hide the fact that, some days, motherhood is boring AF and filling our days with mindless errands and activities makes us feel as though we won’t slowly lose our minds. When we proudly announce “I’m so busy!” what we are really saying is “I’m better than you because I am in demand!”

Is that what we really want to say to our friends? Do we really want busyness to keep us from having valuable connections with our friends?

I think we all know the answer.

So, the next time you see a friend and she asks you how you are, be honest.

Tell her you feel like you are drowning. Tell her you are excited about your new project at work and you feel energized by the increased work load. Tell her that you realize now that signing your kid up for the travel volleyball team was a bad idea because now your Friday nights suck.

Resist the urge to tell your friend how much busier you are than her.

Because, real talk, here: it’s just rude.

No one is busier than anyone else.

We all have our balls to juggle, our shit to manage. And we are all feeling the pressure of a society that has forced us to be plugged in 24/7 and ranks downtime low on the priority list. We’ve all made bad choices about overscheduling our kids and fulfilling our worth by covering our calendars with so many activities that we run out of room.

We are all busy.

And it’s a shame.