"I'm fine" and other myths we tell ourselves

I don’t know about you, but there’s one phrase that I say so frequently I might as well have it tattooed on my forehead.

“I’m fine.”

It’s my default auto-response.

I can’t blame my “I’m fine” dependence strictly on motherhood because I’ve been I’m fine-ing my way through most of my adult life.

  • How’s your job treating you? 
    • “Oh, it’s fine!”
  • Heard you had laringitis, how are you feeling?
    • [Whispering] “Great, ship-shape, fine!”
  • Hey, your kid just puked down your back. Shall I grab you a napkin? 
    • “He does that all the time! No worries! This is machine washable! We’re fine.”
  • Uh, looks like your apartment’s on fire, do you need some help? 
    • “Nope, got everything under control! Let me grab the hose. Totally fine!”

Sound familiar?

When and why did it become so hard for us to admit we need help?

Certainly, we desperately want to believe ourselves when we say we’re “fine”. The sheer messiness of life is hard and glossing over the chaos can feel easier than facing it head-on.

But, we run into trouble when these two little innocuous-sounding words prevent us from recognizing that in fact, maybe we’re NOT fine.

For a long time, I used “I’m fine” as an anesthetic to reassure myself that I had everything under control.
It was never an accurate representation of how I actually felt.

As moms, we put ridiculous pressure on ourselves. Even when work and household duties are more-or-less evenly distributed, women and mothers instinctively bear a huge mental burden of caring for their families.

In too many ways, we measure our value and our parenting ‘success’ by what we are able to provide for our families and children. Whether it’s perfectionistic tendencies, familial or cultural norms, or perhaps even your own unspoken expectations, many mothers strive for perfection yet feel guilt and disappointment when this inevitably leads to burnout and resentment.

When I had my son, my proclivity for perfectionism rose to the surface in certain ways. For example, I struggled against my own expectation that I’d continue to prepare home-cooked meals like I did pre-kids. I've always loved to cook and I pictured myself effortlessly serving delicious food to my smiling and grateful family night after night 

You can stop laughing now.

I relentlessly shopped, planned and prepped. I’d sprint out of work to pick up my son on time and then race home to prep dinner.

You know where this is going. Soon enough, I started to hate cooking. I resented it and any poor soul that happened to wander into the kitchen when I was frantically trying to get dinner on the table. God help them if they offered “to help”.

I was trapped by my own dinnertime expectations and what I felt I was supposed to be doing to provide for my family.  But I kept forcing it, week after week, growing more resentful each passing day because I felt like I couldn't keep up. What kept me in this spiral for far too long was my tendency to “I’m fine” my way through the day and any situation that felt uncomfortable or stressful. 

I was so adept at dismissing my own feelings - as many women and mothers are - that I refused to admit I felt this way. I had blinded myself to the fact that my evenings felt so stressful and unenjoyable because I was taking on a burden that was too great to bear on my own.

And that is how something as seemingly simple as dinner can be turned on its head. Without the self-acknowledgement, I let my resentful thoughts poison my evenings. 

Once I acknowledged the cause of how I felt and that it was a direct result of one of my own unquestioned expectations, the issue was easy to address and I was able to ask for help. 

And now? We eat a lot of eggs for dinner. Maybe one day I'll get back to more complicated recipes during the week. But probably not today. And that's cool. 

So, when you look at your days and where you feel resentment and stress, ask yourself where it's really coming from. And do yourself a favor and ask for help when you need it. 

Because your forehead really looks much nicer without “I’m fine” tattooed on it.