But oh, the laughing children,
Recently, I came across some amazing articles thanks to the blog Making Home. I have a hard time coming up with words on my own, but thanks to the many godly people who write, most times I don't have to :) The articles I will be quoting today talk about children, and they put, ever so eloquently, something I have been wrestling with in my mind ever since I became pregnant with my daughter when my son was nine months old.
Let me start quoting (and I will be bolding the things that especially spoke to me):
First is an article that appeared on Rocks In My Dryer. It was written by Jenni, a Mama of 12 children:
First, and perhaps most obviously, many people with larger families encounter negative attitudes almost daily. Snide comments from strangers, nosy questions about their private lives, or unsupportive extended family all combine to make the members of a big family feel more like a circus side-show than legitimate members of society. The announcement of a new pregnancy is very often not met with joy, but with condemnation (if you are on the receiving end of such an announcement, be the exception and offer a simple congratulations). I could compile quite a list of all the obnoxious things that have been said to those of us with a passel of young’uns, but I'd rather not go off on that tangent. You'll just have to take my word for it that for many people, there does not appear to be any sort of regulatory gizmo betwixt their brains and their mouths. Yet I persist in believing that it's really not that difficult to be kind, or at the very least, silent!
Along those same lines, it often seems that families with lots of children are viewed with a more critical eye than those with the standard two. **If a child acts up, it is of course because they come from such a large family and obviously don’t get enough attention. If their clothing is threadbare, it is because the parents must be financially strapped. If the baby has a dirty face, it is apparent that no one cares enough to clean it. Whereas a smaller family might be given the benefit of the doubt (all children throw tantrums at times, like to wear one item of clothing until it consists of three strands, and smear food upon their faces), for the larger family it becomes an opportunity to criticize.** A mother pregnant with her second child is offered sympathy as she struggles with morning sickness and fatigue, but ask a mother pregnant with her fifth if she was offered any. This makes it difficult, even in a church setting, for those parents to share any difficulties they are having. I personally struggle with painful varicose veins that are aggravated during pregnancy. However, asking for prayer has sometimes been met with the attitude that such are my “just desserts” and so why would God heal me? I suspect the same attitude crops up when rebellious children, or money woes, are the issue.
Parents of large families are not out to prove anything. We’re not vying for your admiration, we aren’t trying to win any awards, we don’t view childbearing as some sort of contest (someone asked my husband during our last pregnancy if we were trying to “beat the Duggars”), and we don’t think you’re less spiritual than we are if you have fewer than we do. We aren’t asking anyone for special treatment, but it doesn’t seem too much to ask for common courtesy. Resist the urge to count out loud as you see us go by. Don’t marvel that we do, in fact, know all of our offspring’s names (even—given a minute or two—their birthdates)! And for the love of all the little green men on Mars, don’t ask us if we know what causes that. We do. And we enjoy it, although not as often as is (oddly) assumed.
Almost as difficult to deal with, in a way, are the effusively positive attitudes. Yes, this seems like a really strange thing to say in light of the previous paragraph, but having to decline imminent canonization is not pleasant. People who squeal, gush, flatter and insist that I must be, I simply MUST BE the most patient/organized/disciplined/loving/spiritual being ever to walk the earth wear me out. I have stopped volunteering the information regarding the numbers of my offspring mostly due to these reactions. I don’t have time to field a barrage of OMG!’s from the checkout lady at Wal-Mart while my ice cream melts. Plus, I don’t think it wins me any friends in the line behind me.
Please don’t put me on a pedestal. Honestly, it’s really lonely up there. We are called to be iron sharpening iron to one another, and in order to do that we have to be able to get close to somebody. When the comments run along the lines of “You’re my hero!” and “I could NEVER do what you do! You’re a saint!” I have to wonder what, exactly, the commenters think I am doing that gives me that status. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a woman trying to do her best with the family God has given her, and I deeply value the support of friends who don’t expect me to have all the answers. You might be surprised to learn that the average mom-to-a-gob lives her days in much the same way as you do: she gets up, sees what needs doin', and does it. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.
On behalf of my children, I’d like to encourage people to try to focus on them as individuals. It‘s easy to let your eyes glaze over when confronted by their sheer mass, but often it seems to surprise people when they discover that my children are actually different from one another. At some point, it seems a given that any child after three or four is simply going to be a carbon copy of one of the preceding progeny. If you know children who belong to a simply humongous family, make their day by assuming they each have singular personalities. Even saying things like “Aw! You guys look all alike!” makes them feel like they are clones, or part of the Borg. Get to know them! You might be amazed at how diverse they really are.
In the end, what I’d like for you to know is probably not that much different than what anyone else would say: when in doubt, extend grace. Grace is the Melanie Wilkes to the world’s Scarlett O’Hara: it believes the best even when it doesn’t understand, and is humble enough not to insist on explanations. I don’t know of a single situation where it wouldn’t be welcome!
The next article is from the InsideCatholic.com website (although she specifically speaks to Catholics in this article, this speaks to a much greater audience than just the Catholic church). This article is written by Danielle Bean, who is a Mama to 8 children. She asks us "Pro-Lifers" if we truly are pro-life. You do realize that being pro-life encompasses SO much more than whether or not you agree or disagree with abortion, do you not? I'll just quote the article, and again, I will bold what especially spoke to me:
I've read many different discussions about NFP where Catholics will debate its use and its abuse, its effectiveness and its complications, its rewards and its challenges. There is a time, however, when all the debates and discussions must fall silent.
When a battle-weary mother stands alone in her bathroom looking with disbelief at two tiny pink lines on a pregnancy test, it's too late for family-planning discussions of clinical effectiveness. We've got a baby to take care of. And his mother.
This is where all our pro-life and pro-family talk needs to be put into action. This is where we need to rush to the aid and support of a family in need. Are we a pro-life Church? This is where we will find out.
"I just found out that I am pregnant with my third baby in three years," one frazzled young mother wrote to me recently, "and I dread the way my friends, my family, and even the people at my parish will respond."
Shame on us.
"I am pregnant again and I really am excited," another mother wrote to me, "I want this baby, but I am not sure I want to tell people because it seems like so many people, even faithful Catholics, just don't get why you would be excited to have your fourth baby in five years."
Shame on us.
"Soon after I announced that we were (unexpectedly) pregnant with our eighth child," an older mom once wrote me, "I came out of Mass one day and found an NFP flyer tucked under the windshield wiper of my van. I even wondered if it was our pastor who put it there."
Shame on us.
Whether we love NFP or hate it, whether we choose to use it in our marriages or not, whether we have one child or 16 children, we Catholics have no business receiving new life with anything but charity and joy. We have no business labeling our fellow Catholics, in their time of need and vulnerability, as crazy or irresponsible.
It takes courage for many Catholic couples to continue to refuse contraception, to remain open to life in their marriages, even when their circumstances are already difficult and they are hoping to avoid another pregnancy. The "99 percent effective" number people like to throw around about NFP becomes a much smaller one when translated into "user effectiveness."
The fact is, sometimes even faithful Catholics who are doing their very best to avoid pregnancy while remaining faithful to Church teaching on openness to life will find themselves pregnant.
The jokes, the judgment, and the whispered conversations about "craziness" and "irresponsibility" have no place in our parishes and in our Catholic communities.
Over the years, I've done my fair share of staring in disbelief at tiny pink lines in the bathroom. Once, a few years ago, when I told a friend of a new and unplanned pregnancy and expressed to her my ambivalent feelings, her response to me was a simple, joyful exclamation:
"God must love you so much!"
Her words startled me. Not only because most people's reactions to my latest news had been somewhat less than joyful, but also because of how true I knew those words were, deep down inside, in spite of my doubts and fears.
When God gives us babies, planned or unplanned, He gives us innumerable physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges. But He also gives us a glimpse of Himself. It's God's face we see in a helpless baby's smile. It's God's voice we hear in their needy cries, and it's God's enormous love we feel wrapped around us when we nurture them within us, when we hold their infant bodies, when we accept them as He sends them, whether it was part of "our plan" or not.
Because she said "yes" to God, Mary once found herself poor, alone, misunderstood, and pregnant. But she wasn't irresponsible -- only faithful. Even though it was hard.
Will we abandon pregnant mothers in their time of need? Will we shame them, shun them, and laugh at them behind their backs?
Or will we remind them how much God loves them, remind ourselves of the abundant, undeserved blessings He has given every one of us, and simply be grateful?
My sister-in-law has 6 children. Honestly, almost every.single.time. I see her, I ask "are you going to have any more?" or "is this it?" It wasn't until this pregnancy (and even a little when I was pregnant with my daughter) that I realized how inappropriate that question is! Seriously, this is a matter between God, a husband and a wife, and that is it. It doesn't concern your neighbors, your school district, grandparents, friends, no one!
To know her, is to know she was not "unplanned." Look at her! Yes, I had fear - I had experienced postpartum depression with my son, and was just starting to feel better. In my selfishness, I didn't want to take the chance of going through that journey again. But, of course, the Lord used the pregnancy with my daughter to bring about much healing from that depression. I would never have guessed that the Lord would use another baby to bring healing, but as always, the Lord's ways are always right and perfect, and far better than mine (thank you Jesus!).
Speaking of selfishness, if I had stopped having children once I felt I was starting to take on more than I could handle, then I would have turned my first son in! (I say this completely sarcastically). I felt more overwhelmed and out-of-control with him, than I do with three and one on the way now. That is not because I have become a super-mom by any stretch of the imagination (ANY stretch!). In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is by dying to myself throughout the day, every day; it is by leaning on God through prayer and reading His Word; and it is through absolute surrender that this or any other matter in life can be handled.
Once I stopped looking for the breaks and for some "me" time; once I slowed down and stayed home most of the time; once I stopped looking to sleep in all the time (I have to say here that my dear, dear husband lets me sleep in on Saturdays, and lately Sundays too - thank you honey!); once I stopped getting aggravated when my kids tried to bother me when I was trying to do something (notice the I's and me's here?) - THAT is when I started thinking "hey, wait a minute, as I lean on God, I CAN do all things THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH." Imagine that! Again, thank you Jesus! I don't get this right every day, I wish I did. Thankfully through God, any day can be redeemed, even if I've messed up for the majority of that day.
Getting back to the topic at hand, when I became pregnant with this baby, our fourth, people asked and continue to ask, "were you trying" with their eyes rolling back in their heads and looking at me like I'm a freak. Think with me folks what "trying" means. That really is a matter I would bet most women don't feel comfortable talking about (at least I don't and I hope other women don't!). It is a private matter!
A mother of many children warned me that once you are pregnant with your 4th, it no longer is a joyous thing. People assume it was a mistake, and that you will do everything to not have any more. Sad to say, she is right. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect anyone to gush over me whatsoever, I didn't expect that with any of my children; but as the writer of the first article said, at least give the common courtesy of being silent. You know that saying that your mom taught you "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
When I was in hard labor with my daughter, and being wheeled up to the maternity ward, the gentlemen pushing the wheelchair asked my husband when he would be getting his vasectomy. Throughout the course of her birth, the anesthesiologist and my doctor asked the same thing. How sad. How really, truly sad. People continue to ask us this.
Its not our business if someone wants as many children as God gives them; also, it is not ours to judge if someone has one or no children. You never know how God is dealing with their hearts, if that person is letting God deal with them at all. It is simply between a husband and wife and God and for us to get involved at all, is just not right. In fact, the Bible talks about being a busybody:
"And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house;
As with any matter of self, it takes a lot of work, and only with the power of Jesus Christ, can we change old habits of getting involved in others' matters. So its with that, I close, and pray, that I can lay this at the feet of Jesus, and just enjoy others and their children, thanking God, once again, for all of His beautiful blessings.