See How Big Families Love

shutterstock_150499106I do not exaggerate when I say that every time I go out, somebody remarks on the number and/or spacing of my children. I grew up as one of four and have always known families with more children than my own so I don’t really feel that the large label applies to our family yet, but the truth is I have more kids than most people are having.  Also I think we get the large label because people make assumptions about the likelihood of future children based on our age and the close ages of the kids we already have.  It’s a good bet more will turn up eventually.  Anyhow, when I say large here I’m going to mean something a bit broader than sheer number I think.

The point is, we mothers of “large” families have a bit of a chip on our shoulders.  We swap clever comebacks to the old “don’t you know what causes that?” line, or share a good snit over the audacity of someone asking “aren’t you done yet???” like our fertility was personally offensive to them.  Let me tell you what, we’ve come up with some zingers in rebuttal.  I started to list some here, but already that was taking my essay in a direction I didn’t want to go.  This isn’t a complaint piece or a PSA for what not to say to moms of many.  A general rule is to try and remember that whatever you say, they probably have heard before, and to ask yourself if it is something that might hurt if they’re having a bad day?  Does it imply judgement or support?

The rest of this though is for those moms themselves.  There are a few things we need to think about in these exchanges.  If you’re offended ask yourself why.  Sometimes a person really is way out of line.  I do not need a speech on carbon footprints or overpopulation right now, thanks.  I don’t need things said in front of my children that might put in their heads the idea that they are a burden to me or some sort of social faux pas either.  I also don’t need to give them The Talk because of something a stranger said to their mom at the restaurant.  On the other hand, about nine out of ten of the comments we get aren’t that outrageous.  Why is it such a big deal that someone points out the dead obvious?  “Wow you’ve got your hands full”? Nothing in those words actually said there was anything wrong with that, and nothing in those words requires some sort of secret passive aggressive comment on our children’s behavior.  “I don’t know how you manage”.  Heck that’s practically a compliment!

Even the jokes, while maybe not in the best of taste, are usually good natured and maybe even something we would laugh at amongst friends.  Granted a stranger or passing acquaintance should probably keep them to herself but this is just a gaffe not an attack.  So here are some thoughts.

1) Are we feeling judged because we judge?  Are we making assumptions about others based on how many kids they have?  If it’s wrong when someone does it to us it’s just plain wrong.  We don’t know why anybody has the family size they do and even if we are privy to personal information it’s none of our business to make judgements about it.  So do unto others etc etc.

2) Are we suffering from Older Son Syndrome?  This is what I call it when we are ticked off for not getting recognition for doing something “right”.  It’s one of my besetting sins and comes from this part of the story of the prodigal son:

Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing.  Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about.  The servant told him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we had been fattening because he has got him back safe and sound.”  He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; but he retorted to his father, “All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.

I’m not comparing people with less children to the prodigal son here by the way!  See thought 1 re: judge not lest ye be judged.  I’m just saying sometimes we want some sort of kudos for following the rules of our system of belief.  Problem with that is, we shouldn’t really be doing things just because them’s the rules and we certainly shouldn’t be doing them just to get some kind of medal.  Kids aren’t just a duty, or something we can check off a list of requirements.  They’re people!  People we better have created because we love them each for themselves.  Which ought to be its own reward. (Here are mine being all rewarding and utterly marvelous.

3) Are a stranger’s thoughts striking too close to home?  Look, some days it’s really really REALLY hard to be a mother.  Some days it is just about zero fun.  On those days, hearing a tossed off remark can sting because of a guilty feeling that part of us agrees, this IS crazy.  It’s also hard to hear these things and realize nobody is faulting you or your kids when you’re feeling exceptionally aware of all those faults.  Try and remember the guy in the grocery store line isn’t in your head.  Your thoughts are on you, not him.

4) Are we feeling desperate for a chance to explain ourselves? Look, you haven’t gotten to this point without being judged or at least misunderstood somewhere along the line.  We all know somebody somewhere thinks we’re irrational, irresponsible, repressed, brainwashed, unhappy, you name it.  It’s frustrating to feel pigeon-holed or stereotyped and to feel like if you could just sit down with this person and tell them why you do what you do they’d see things differently.  But you don’t get to have that conversation. All you have is, oh about ten seconds of interaction.  And that leaves just enough time to leave one brief impression.  Given that fact there’s really only one thing you can do.  Smile.  Swallow whatever clever comeback you may have.  Swallow whatever justification you’d like to blurt out.  Smile.

“Wow you’ve got your hands full”

“Haha, I sure do.  But it’s worth it”.  Smile

“You must be crazy!”

“Must be!  But we’re enjoying it!” Smile

“I don’t know how you manage”

“Thank you, it’s hard but I’m doing my best.” Smile

“Are you done yet??”

“Gosh I have no idea.  We’ll see.” Smile

“Don’t you know what causes that?”

“Why do you think we have so many?” Smile

Let’s be real here, we are freaks these days.  The worst thing we can do is scowl at people and leave them with the idea that being this kind of freak makes you a bitter angry person.  Let’s make being freakish look awesome.  Let’s leave people thinking, “they sure are crazy, but they really do seem to be enjoying it.”

image: Andreas Zerndl / Shutterstock.com

Caitlin Marchand

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Caitlin Marchand is a mother of four currently residing in Louisiana where her husband is an Air Force pilot.  She is a graduate of Christendom College and enjoys blogging in her spare time at theunrepeatables.wordpress.com

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  • Heather K

    My favorite comeback to “Wow. You have your hands full.” is “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!” Smile.

  • Heather K

    (And to the REALLY INCREDIBLY rude ones: “Do I know you..?”)

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    My wife and I have eleven kids. You’re right on the money with the notion that expressing joy through the large family is essential. The thing I’ve learned is that many people–including Catholics–have bought into the cultural lie that having a large family is next to impossible. The mere existence of such a family rocks the world view of many. The variety of comments (from rude to mild), as opposed to silence, makes this clear, and in my view it means that my family is living up to the “sacramental” aspect of marriage–my eleven kids are evidence of a grace-giving “outward sign” instituted by Christ. Often times this “sacramental” experience affects people like a “scandalon” (stumbling block) that you just can’t walk away from. The responses are less about “us” as a family than they are about shoring up the defensive “wall”, so to speak, that the commenter seeks to maintain against this “impossible” form of family. The comments, in my view, are very often defense mechanisms…
    Thanks for a good post on this!

  • I’m with HIM

    I’m 1 out of 8 children, and in the midst of those hurtful words or actions that can be said in public, my mom always made me feel wanted and loved. She knew and she lived it. It is more important what God thinks than what anybody else does.

  • Daniel

    This lovely article makes me quite sad. As a latecomer to the faith, a never-married 53-year-old man, I fear it is much too late to start a family at all, much less have a big one.

  • Kevin Bailey

    That is the beauty of the Catholic Church. You are already a part of a big family, brother! Be an older brother to your younger siblings of the faith. Volunteer to teach/aide CCD classes, Youth MInistry, Young Adult groups. Assist as a behinds the scenes servant for retreats (they always need cooks, dishwashers, janitors, extra hands, chaperones) at these activities for your local parish or diocese. You can do it! Welcome home brother, we missed you.

  • Lee

    I enjoyed this so much! You are lucky if those people are still looking you in the eyes with their remarks. During my many pregnancies, people would look at my middle, not my eyes, as they asked about my health. HA I really have a good sense of humor, so I got a big bang out of it.I would never give up any of the pure joy my family has brought me. Mom’s are tough, we put up with a lot and we are forever blessed.

  • Margaret

    And in every parish there are also young families without the blessing of extended family nearby. In those circumstances, big-hearted friends who help fill the gap are godsends.

  • Kelli

    With only a mere 7% at best, of our flock following the teachings of theology of the body I think it’s fair to say that we are being judged. We haven’t conformed to what society says is right. Smiling isn’t going to solve this. We all need affirmation! Make sure mothers that you have a place to receive this as well. Having had years to practice, I have seen the dangers of women isolating themselves and allowing the culture to invade places that were once precious to them. Do not be so foolish as to think you are strong enough to go it alone against the other 93%. It requires heroic prayer and a good friend to survive. After years of having faced the fire with a smile I choose to respond with a question or two back so as to have those conversations… to lead others to places were they are in discomfort and the mirror usually always reveals pain of some kind. Then I end with I’m sorry, that is not my experience what’s your name I will pray for you. If I’m going down today, I will be known as a true Jesus Freak!! Try smiling as saying, “what makes you say that?” It totally changes the game.

  • Larry Case

    You could try, “We’re doing what we can to make sure that Social Security stays solvent.”

  • Larry Case

    You could try, “We’re doing what we can to make sure that Social Security stays solvent.”

  • Therese

    You are so right to focus on the positive and wonderful. As a mother of 6 and now grandmother of 7, I have seen the effects of few to no children and no grandchildren on all of my co-workers of my generation. They are, quite honestly, sad at the absence of small family members. I have started feeling guilty when my children show up at work with my grandchildren. My students are enamored with the babies – most have never held one. They see and treasure the joy children bring.
    Since all of my own children put themselves through college and graduate school, that is also a sting to the old logic. True feminists put family first, realizing that a family is where the love and joy begin.

  • MSM

    I know a wonderful in woman in Atlanta that is 48 that would love to meet you!

  • angelfish

    I think what is so often forgotten in discussions of this sort is that some people, Catholic or otherwise, are just not cut out for large families and I don’t think they should be looked down on. It seems that people with large families always think they deserve a medal. Not to play devil’s advocate, but I’ve never understood how couples with very large families can find the right amount of time for each and all of their children.

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