Don’t Tell Me You’re Busy When I Ask How You Are

by Jorrie Varney
Originally Published: 

The other day, I stood in line waiting for my daughter to get out of school. Another mom I see from time-to-time was waiting with me. We chatted back and forth while we waited.

“How have you been?” I asked.

“BUSY,” she responded emphatically.

She went on to list each and every task she had accomplished that day, and what she still had left to do. I zoned out as she rattled off chore after chore, task after task. This felt like déjà vu, and I was irritated with myself for stepping into this very obvious trap. I tried to think of a time this woman hadn’t lamented her chaotic schedule, step by step, and I couldn’t. Every time we talk, she overtakes the conversation with stories of her busyness.


Listen, I get it, everyone is busy. We’re busy because we have jobs, and families, and a million things to do on any given day. Most of us work 40 hours a week, if not more. Bills need to be paid, groceries need to purchased, and kids need to go to school, soccer practice, and some kid’s birthday party this weekend. (Don’t forget to buy a gift, Mom.)

Busy is the pace of life when you have kids, but it’s not an emotion or gauge of wellness, so when I ask how you’re doing, please don’t tell me about your schedule, it feels so disingenuous. Overwhelmed, tired, stressed, exhausted, happy, sad, frustrated— these are feelings. I want to know how you’re feeling. I’m asking about you, not your schedule.

I suppose I should elaborate on this, because sometimes when life feels overwhelming, we just need to be seen—to have someone validate that they see us busting our ass trying to be a good mom, a good wife, and a decent human. If that’s you, cool, I get that. I’m not talking about single parents, or people who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. That’s a whole different monster. My angst isn’t with the person who tells me they are busy when they are nearing the end of their rope; it’s with the person whose default response is always, “I’m busy” as it if proves some kind of worthiness.

Please, no. Stop it. Life isn’t meant to be a non-stop sprint to the grave. There is no busy contest to win. I don’t carry around trophies for people who are ‘busy’. I’m asking how you are, not what you are.

When you say you’re busy once, I feel you, because same, girl. SAME. When you say you’re busy every time we talk, that’s bordering on martyrdom. I’ll be the first to admit that my life is busy as a working mom of young children, but when someone asks how I am, that’s not my response. Because my busyness doesn’t define me. It shouldn’t define anyone.

I know there are certain obligations we have no control over, so yeah, life can feel busy AF, but there’s a difference between being busy and letting it define your life. Unless you were born into a pile of money, you’re probably chasing the ever-elusive work/life balance. (I’m convinced this balance is mostly bullshit, but that’s a story for another day.) The truth is, I don’t know that it’s possible to be a parent and not feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions all the time. You probably are busy, because we all are, but you’re a lot of other things too. Those are the things I care about, and those are the things I’m asking about.

We aren’t in competition. You don’t earn any extra points for racing from event to event any more than lose points for spending an entire afternoon on the sofa. In fact, if you got to spend an afternoon on the sofa I want to here about it, because that sounds amazing.

Tell me about your worries or your stress, the happiness you find binge-watching your favorite show after the kids are in bed. Maybe tell me about your shit-bag ex, or your hilarious best friend, I really don’t care what you tell me, as long as it’s genuine, because life’s too short to just be just be busy.

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