Why I’m Removing “Can’t You Just” From My Vocabulary


As women, and as moms in particular, overextending ourselves is a way of life. It’s made harder by the fact that not only do we try to shoehorn more in, but there’s the perception that we need to make more time to fit in little things.  Especially when “Can’t you just…” is thrown around like we need to do more, to be more.

I’ll let you in on a secret. A very public secret. Those three words are my least favorite words in the English language. I hate them more than “Mo-o-o-o-m!” and “NO, I’m not going to!” and preschooler tantrums. And what’s more, I find myself uttering them from time to time, as well. So I’m making a conscious effort to strike them from my vocabulary. And here’s why:

Whether you’re Type A, Type B, or somewhere in between, you probably try to find a way to cram it all in. Some of us have a tightly scheduled life where even the slightest deviation can throw us into a tailspin. Others just have a giant to-do list (mental or written) that we scrape through as best we can. And it’s easy to add a seemingly small task to the list, especially when someone asks “can’t you just…?” But they add up fast, especially when you are at the end of what you have to give, whether it’s time, whether it’s mental power, or whether it’s emotional availability.

So the words “can’t you just” can really feel like a direct affront. And even though whoever utters them usually has great intentions, it’s implies we’re not giving it our all. “Can’t you just” implies that we are not doing enough, not being enough, and that we really need to take on more in order to get there.

And while we can almost certainly do better and whatever it is, because there’s always room for improvement and none of us is perfect, nearly always we are enough. Especially as parents. Because we are doing our best to hold it together, to raise kids who grow into productive members of society, and to do so without losing our sanity or our tempers. 

One More Thing to Worry About

For many of us, “can’t you just” may just be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Maybe “can’t you just” is unsolicited advice: “Can’t you just get your kid to bed earlier?” (spoiler alert: my kid has a mind of his own.)

Maybe “can’t you just” is trying to add another task to your day: “Can’t you just swing by X, Y, or Z on your way home?” or “This won’t take long, can’t you just take it on?”

Or, maybe “can’t you just” is about finding a way to do something for yourself: “Can’t you just take 15 minutes to stretch before bed?” (Also spoiler alert: not when you fall asleep with the baby every single night.)

The hardest part about “can’t you just” is that it isn’t intended as a harmful or derogatory statement. In fact, usually the person saying it is really only trying to help. And they definitely don’t mean to imply that if you “just” do this one thing, it will change your life. After all, most of us aren’t a walking self-help article.

What Can You Say Instead of  “Can’t You Just…”

Well, you could always keep your mouth shut. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when some of us (ahem, raises hand) are really good at talking and just want to help!

If someone is looking for solutions, you could say: “Have you tried…” or “My experience wasn’t quite the same, but doing X really helped me achieve Y.”

On the other hand, if someone is simply venting, you can acknowledge that you’re aware they aren’t looking for advice, but you have this one idea that might be worth trying.

The Bottom Line

I’m make a concerted effort not to take things personally. And I know in my head that “can’t you just” isn’t personal, but I’m still trying to remove it from my own vocabulary. Because I catch myself saying it periodically, and then I cringe, because I know how much I dislike hearing it.

As a hot mess mom who is trying hard to be enough to my husband, my kids, and my job, and generally feel like I’m not enough to any of them, I get it. Maybe I should be able to just… but the last thing I need is one more thing to do (or not do). If someone says “Can’t you just…” to me, I may say no. Because the reality is that sometimes, no I can’t just do whatever it is you’re suggesting.

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