Better full than empty

It was the week before Thanksgiving. I was taking advantage of the sales to finish my Christmas shopping. It was one of my first attempts at shopping alone with two little girls in tow.

The aisles of boutique shops are rarely wide enough for two people to stand side by side, let alone for a mother to carry an infant car seat on one arm and try to hold a toddler’s hand with the other. I kept turning the infant seat, which meant relinquishing my hold of my little girl’s hand. In addition to lacking a nap, someone was not exactly having her most obedient day ever.

“Keep your hands in your pockets,” worked so well outside in the cold, but in the store it only meant elbows sticking out near the breakables.

“Do not touch,” I instructed her once again, as I tried in vain to find the perfect Fiesta dish for Katie in cobalt blue.

Meanwhile, my daughter was taking me literally. She wasn’t touching. Instead, she was smelling the breakable dishes—which necessitated sticking her entire head in the shelf!

Short though the afternoon was, it was a very long day in town. By the time we left Goodwill, both girls were crying. I heard, “She has her hands full,” more than once. And somehow, I always knew it was referring to me, even if not directed to my face.

I got the Christmas shopping done. But I was a frazzled wreck by the time I got home and told my husband about it. Later I posted something on Facebook to the effect of:

Note to self: don’t attempt Christmas shopping (for breakable gifts, no less!) with two little people, one in an infant carrier, and one running around beside you. You may frequently hear comments to the tune of “She has her hands full.”

My friend Amanda, herself a mother of two girls each slightly older than mine, posted a reply that stopped me in my mental tracks:

My mom would always answer, “Better full than empty!” I’ve taken up that statement myself now, on the ultra-rare occasion that I make such a venture out myself.

“Better full than empty…”

I have friends with empty arms. I know they would be only too grateful to trade their unhurried hours of shopping for a fussy babe to hold. I know they would gladly exchange their leisurely days at home for my days filled with dirty diapers and endless laundry. I know they would rejoice to sacrifice their time with friends for a baby’s needs. I know they would gladly give up their restful nights of sleep if only there was a little person to wake them up at night.

Forgive me, Father, for complaining when I should have been counting my blessings. Forgive me for letting the stress show on my face when my heart should be overflowing with happiness as a “joyful mother of children.”

I’ve been to town several more times since with my girls. And it’s been yet again necessary for people to point out to me that I have my hands full. Even if I’m a bit stressed, their comment reminds me to be thankful. I haven’t said it out loud yet, but I am thinking to myself as I smile in reply, better full than empty.


  1. What a beautiful, truthful post, Gretchen! After almost a year of hoping and waiting, and many more years of wanting children before I got married, we are finally pregnant! I can tell you, having to wait a bit longer than normal and face the fears that there might be something wrong and we may not get pregnant for quite a while longer totally changed my perspective. Children are truly from God, and they are blessings from Him. I am so glad that in 6 short months, I will have my hands full, rather than empty!!

  2. Lovely reminder – thanks for posting that! I too often hear people telling me I have my hands full. If I feel talkative enough I tell them that I was the oldest of 7 children and that 3 is hardly many children! But I think I prefer the “better full than empty” and will try that next time! I find here in the UK that people can be very negative to children – especially once you get past 2 children (even worse since I had a girl and a boy first – which means I had the “perfect and complete family, since I had one of each”!) Seems people think I have my hands full with 2 boys in a stroller and a 4yo little girl walking along side down the road/sidewalks – I can only think what comments I’ll get when it’s more obvious that I’m pregnant with my 4th blessing! 🙂 I often find the times people make such unwanted comments, I often feel the most under-control/un-frazzled – and think, if only they saw me at other times! LOL 🙂

  3. I am smiling at this… as one whose arms are “empty”, I have come to love it when others can recognize that they are blessed beyond compare.
    May your children rise up and called you “Blessed!”

  4. I tell people that God, in His wisdom, gave me my two children twelve years apart so my daughter was old enough to help watch her little brother when we were out shopping.

    That same daughter is expecting #5 in just a couple of weeks. Her brother was good training (he’s in college now). 🙂

    She does leave the kids home with Dad when shopping for items where there are a lot of breakables. Two of her kids in particular (one boy and one girl) are very…. shall we say… hands on?

  5. I have a dear friend who has more babies in heaven than on earth and I am sure she would agree with that statement…thanks for that article Gretchen!

  6. Thanks for the reminder, Gretchen! I have three little ones aged, 2, 20 months, and two months, and going out to run errands isn’t exactly my favorite thing in the world either! But you are so right. Our children are blessings and that’s how I need to live.

  7. What a blessing, Gretchen! Though my hands are not full twenty-four hours, thank you for reminding me why I teach little ones, why I high-five their sticky hands, why I hug precious children even after they frustrate me, why I listen when I can’t understand a word they’re saying, and why I smile at them when I’m feeling frazzled. Thank you so much!

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