Using the word "just" when asking a working mom to do the impossible during a pandemic is insulting, and you're probably pissing her off.
Life Parenting

Why “Just” Is a Four Letter Word

Using the word "just" when asking a working mom to do the impossible during a pandemic is insulting, and you're probably pissing her off.

Sitting on a toilet, listening in on a zoom meeting, with the video turned off, I muted the call while my two year old son fought me to play with the tampon that I was trying to use. I was actively listening to the call, when I heard my boss ask, “Can you just turn your video on to be a part of the meeting?”

Adrenaline pumped boiling blood through my body, as I sat on the toilet, yelling at my toddler to let go of the tampon. Did my boss even realize what it took to join the call at noon, on a day off, while my two other young children waited outside the locked bathroom door?

A video would not demonstrate how I was actively listening in on the meeting that was scheduled an hour before, flagged as urgent, like every other meeting the last four months. Out of furry, I washed my hands, picked up the baby, turned the video on, unmuted the call, and let the baby’s piercing scream be heard by all, while I replied to the discussion, showing my active involvement, knowing no one was listening to a word I was saying.

There were so many reasons to be annoyed, but what triggered me was the use of the word “just.” There was nothing just about it.

On a regular workday, I folded myself into a corner of my daughter’s room, ironically the quietest space in the house. I propped my computer on top of a bassinet filled with barbie dolls to keep it stable. As I prepped for my presentation, I replied to text messages sent two weeks ago from parents that wanted to set up phone call chats for our children, while I also ordered presents on Amazon for my six year old, dreading the thought of sitting her down again to talk about why there was no party this year.

My presentation was on point, despite the fact that I was sitting on a faux fur tie dyed pouf, hearing the pitter patter of my three children running down the hall in the background. I knew they were about to burst into my meeting when my husband yelled “Oh F$#@,” after he realized what the children were doing during the 30 minutes he was in charge of looking after them instead of his phone. In lieu of mouthing an apology for the interruption, he asked, “Can you just hold the baby while I go to the bathroom?”

In that moment, I realized I preferred him yelling “Oh F#@$.” At least the swear words acknowledge an error. Unlike “just,” which minimizes the effort imposed on someone. For me, that solidified “just” as a four letter word.

Starting with my husband, I asked, “Can you please not use that word in our house?” Challenging him to rethink its use. “Seriously? What’s the big deal?” he replied.

The big deal is that the use of “just” diminishes the effort a task takes for someone else to do. Disguised as a simple word, it’s able to demean the weight of small tasks. In the mere use of the word, what you are insinuating when you use the word “just,” is that it is not asking a lot of someone else but in actuality, it’s implication adds up to an increasingly heavy emotional burden.

Trying to wrap my head around the “safer at home school year,” a friend suggested, “Just create a pod,” as the cure all for two working parents in 900 square feet, with a toddler, 1st, and 3rd grader. The recommendation simplified the effort involved in finding other families that have children in similar grades, same quarantine commitment, and can afford to pay someone to lead a group of children through what should be a public school education. The suggestion neglected to identify any difficulties I might face amidst a global pandemic, finding a qualified tutor that has been isolated, yet now willing to be surrounded by children of varying ages. Not even touching upon the yet-to-be-determined at home course work from the school, it dismissed the time involved in creating a schedule that meets all of the parents’ ever changing needs while also outlining the schedule for the children.

Decidedly, if you hear someone using the word “just,” I recommend you challenge them by asking, “Are you oblivious to the world around you?” Or “Do you like diminishing the efforts of others?” Remind them though, “just pick one.”


About the Author

Jessica Keith is a professional lecturer at San Diego State University and is the mother of three littles (ages 2, 6, and 8). When she is not raising her own tiny humans, she is getting paid to guide other people’s children in the classroom teaching Cultural Adaptation.