Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Phrases You Should Never Say to a Mother" And Other Toe-Stepping Notions

We love lists, don't we?  I know I do!  When I spot an article that says "17 Ways to Keep Your Toddler Busy" or "5 Ways You Can Declutter Your Home", I don't even read the introduction.  I scroll down to the numbered items, and feast on quick information that probably won't change how I think or behave in any way... but I can't help but want to read them.  I will admit that I have become a lazy reader while online.  But let's face it, these lists are getting out of hand with "Things You Should Never Say to..." or what you must stop posting about online or whatever else someone has been offended by.  Let me explain that this isn't really what this post is, in spite of the title.  And I'm sorry that this won't be as succinct as a numbered list.  But, yes, we should watch what we say and write and post.  We should be cautious with our words, not only because it may offend someone (of course, these days everyone is offended by everything), but for deeper, more important reasons.

We need to make sure our thoughts, words, and actions line up with the things we say we believe.

Yes, I am going to tell some true stories and give phrases that people have actually said to mothers, but there is something deeper going on that must not be ignored...

A year ago, I was digging through the stack of mail that had been accumulating on the unused end of the dining table.  I saw a letter from my sister, and I was very puzzled because my sister and I rarely have time to talk on the phone, let alone write each other a letter.  I opened it, wondering if her daughter had sent a drawing or something for mine... but what I saw when I opened it made me stand silently in shock.

It was a card with the words "Martin Baby #3 coming October 2014!"

Baby #3?!  My sister is 5 years younger than me.  She was married 5 months after I was,  and we had our daughters 3 months apart.  Baby #3 by October 2014 would mean 3 kids ages 3 and under for her!  Poor Kaitlin!  Why would she do this to herself?!

Yes, that was my honest, instant reaction upon getting the news that I was getting another new niece or nephew.

I am ashamed that this was my first reaction, and I regretted it almost instantly.  But my second thought was just as bad.  I started to think 'Well if Kaitlin doesn't mind and is happy, what is it to me to have an opinion about it?'  Which sounds good, and I meant well, but now I see that that is the wrong perspective too.

For about 6 months before my sister mailed me this announcement, my heart had been pricked by the horrific truth of abortion.  I started to read anything and everything I could find about it.  I started to feel that I should be doing something more to end this abominable practice that is either celebrated or ignored in our modern society...

And then after developing such a passionate belief to honor life, no matter if a person is in the womb or deathbed, no matter their race, no matter their gender, socioeconomic status, or even if their beliefs differ from mine... all life matters.  But there I was judging my sister for having a 3rd child so soon?!  Or then thinking I should be okay with it if she is okay with it?!  That sounds very Pro-Choice to me!  But these were my natural thoughts, which made me question how consistent I am with my beliefs.  If I believe that "People have sex, but only God makes babies" and that " "He knits each person in his or her mother's womb", then why was I not celebrating?  Why was I not trying to find words of encouragement?

I realized within a few days that my attitude came from a place that I didn't even know existed within me.  All this time I was thinking that I wasn't a "know-it-all".  But the fact is, for most of the time, I like to think that I have it all together and am doing pretty well.  I am not humble, and if I was very honest, I would admit that I think I am wise.  I think I am smart.  I think I know better than others.

The problem with this situation was that I didn't think it was wise, in her best interest, or convenient for her to be having that many children so close together.  I had several reasons that came to mind very quickly.  But what I was ignoring was THE BABY WAS ALREADY CREATED AND IN MY SISTER'S WOMB.  What good is it to even think through why she shouldn't have another baby so soon - she already was having a baby so soon!

About a week after my sister made her announcement, a friend of mine (who has 7 children) who had no idea what I was struggling through, approached me about reading a book and discussing this certain topic with her.  The book told 10 married women's stories of how they used absolutely no birth control and attempted no interference with getting pregnant.  And pregnant they were - a lot!  As I was reading the book, I jokingly called it "Letting God have His way with your womb".  And while all these women had babies in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, sometimes up to 10 or more children, they tell of insensitive jokes or phrases people said to them.  But they also spoke of how God helped them meet the challenges of having so many pregnancies, children to feed, souls to guide, and how they managed to still enjoy life and marriage while parenting so many kids.

Just because you think it would be hard, doesn't mean it is insane.  Or wrong.

At first, I thought these women in the book were insane too.  But then I started to see what they were saying.  They weren't trying to get me to buy into their lifestyle for myself, but they were showing me how we can trust God no matter what.  That if God is truly in control and the Great Provider, Father, Savior, and Sustainer... then why would having more children be an issue that we pity or criticize people for?

I became so intrigued with this that I started watching "19 Kids & Counting' featuring the Duggar family.  And again, I never once heard these people tell their viewers "You should do this the way we do", but they do show their viewers how they make an effort to raise 19 kids to be kind and wise.  I have pretty much stopped watching the show, just because it is sort of dull to me, but I can't believe all the flack these people get because they have so many kids.  In fact, Josh Duggar, the oldest is expecting with his wife their 4th child... and here go the crazy comments online about how insane these people are for following in their parents' footsteps.  In an age where my generation's favorite verse is "Judge not, lest ye be judged"... we do a lot of judging and arguing and name-calling.

Now, don't get me wrong... I have not decided to have 12 kids.  I haven't really decided anything other than I want my beliefs to filter down from my thoughts into my words and actions.  And that goes for all of my beliefs, not just about personhood, motherhood, etc.  We have to be careful that if we believe a certain truth that we build our lives around that truth - consistently.  Across all compartments of our lives, they should align with our beliefs.

For me, I have found God to be irresistible.  He is holy.  He demands holiness from us, but we are fallen and broken people.  So He took on our flesh and sacrificed Himself to atone for all of our fallen-ness and brokenness.  Because I believe Him, I turn from choosing more guilt and shame, and I am free to enjoy Him forever.  I am still in the world, so I am tempted and fail.  I am still being made into who He intends for me to be.  I want to see the challenges others and myself are in the same way that God, in His wisdom, sees them.  And believe me, motherhood/parenthood is challenging whether you have 1 or 11 kids.  So we are all in this same boat, so why the put-downs and jokes?

I think if people who make such comments were honest, they would say things like, "Sometimes I just don't know what to say to people, so I end up saying the wrong thing."  "Sometimes I like to hear myself talk."  "Sometimes I go for the joke when I shouldn't, because I want others to think I am funny."  "Sometimes when I don't understand someone else's choice, I make fun of it or criticize it."  "Sometimes when I am around someone who I think is doing more than I am, or I feel is at least doing better at something than I am, I feel guilty or bad about myself, so I get defensive and mock that other person." Or "Sometimes I want to get to know someone better or want to understand them more, but I end up getting too personal too fast without thinking about how uncomfortable they are."

Many times we don't think through our words, because what is in our hearts is so deeply ingrained within us that it seeps out before we can cover it up with something more acceptable.  Have you ever said something you regretted and then later said, "That wasn't me."  Unfortunately, that IS the real you.  The selfish, angry, jealous, insecure, whatever horrible thing that came out of your mouth was the real you, and it just happened to get out when you weren't using your filter.  I do it, and so do you.  The Bible says that "Out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks."

So when we are tempted to criticize, poke into other's business, or give advice that probably wasn't asked for, ask yourself why.  What are your motives?  Is it to build someone else up?  Is it loving?  Or is it self-serving?  This can be applied to so many areas in life, but I really think Christians need to think through how they treat mothers - no matter how old or young they are, no matter how they gave birth, or if they adopted, or how many children they have, or how many children they plan of having...

I asked mothers of 3+ children to give me some quotes that have been said to them.  Sometimes it was a stranger at the store, a fellow church member, or a family member.  Most are meant to be jokes, while others seem so concerned for these mothers... but it makes me concerned for them.  Not just because they said the wrong thing, but because if that is what came out of their mouth then how much more is in their heart?  Have you ever said any of these?  Thought them?  Heard them?

Now, before you read these lines, imagine you are in the grocery store with 3 kids, ages 5, 3, and 1.  The one year old is either sitting in the front part of the cart, or you are wearing him.  The 3-year-old starts the trip at the front part of the cart, but has rolled underneath the cart twice now and just calmed down from crying for you accidentally rolling over his shoe (of course, if he would keep his feet where he is supposed to, then this wouldn't have happened).  The 5-year-old is helping most of the time by just strolling next to the cart, but also keeps asking for things that are way too sugary or expensive... and then here comes people full of... er, wisdom and comments to share with you:

Are all of these kids yours? (none of your business! and do you think I would just tell a complete stranger if
                                      these weren't mine?!)
You've got your hands full! (and you've got a mouthful!)
Don't you know what causes that? (I love one mother said she responded with, "Do I need to explain it to
Don't you guys have a TV? (oh, you are so clever!  and I guess you never have sex but watch a lot of tv)
You should've stopped a long time ago! (wow - thank you so much for saying that within earshot of my
                           children!  they have ears and brains and can hear you say that you wish they weren't alive -                             thanks!)
You're awfully young to have so many kids! (and you're awfully opinionated to be speaking so frankly with a                           stranger)
Well, you just turned into a baby factory, huh? (and I guess you have a word quota to meet every day)
How do you afford to feed all these kids? (do you have friends?  because that is a very personal and nosy
How do you do it? (this one MIGHT be encouraging, if the mom has the energy to reach for the compliment
                          that she is doing a lot... but you are also implying that her kids are too much of a problem)
Ya know, kids cost money and are a lot of work... (yes, so please let me get back to my work please)

I mean, you are there to get your grocery shopping done, and here are all these comments and staring eyes... how encouraged do you think this mom is when she hears this?  Which of these phrases lets her know she is doing the right thing?  Most of these were said by strangers - how absurd to think that a mother would want to hear any of this.

Or imagine you just had a beautiful baby that you can't get enough snuggles with, and your own mother-in-law says she thinks you are addicted to having children.  Yes, you have 7 kids, but instead of being a grandmother who considers herself to be incredibly blessed (because BELIEVE ME, there are so many people out there who cannot have children and desperately want to), she sees this as an appropriate time to suggest paying for counseling for you.  She fears you need professional help.


Or when the nurse at the hospital on the day you are in labor about to deliver is asking you if you want your tubes tied... and then another asks.  And then another asks.  And then another asks.  And you start to wonder if there is some government conspiracy where they require hospital staff to strongly suggest mothers tie it up so they can't have more than 3!

One I have personally heard a lot since having Keegan is "Oh, you've got your girl and your boy!  So you're done, right?"  Or if someone has all boys people say, "You don't have to try for a whole baseball team, ya know!"  Or "Please stop trying for girls, you might just end up with more boys." Again, what these statements imply, even if unintended, are rude and insensitive.  And the children are usually right there to hear that they are too much to handle or are only in existence because mommy and daddy want the other gender and got you instead.

Do these people realize that they are basically saying that they think that having one child of each gender should suffice, and then you should want to be done? Probably not, because they aren't making sure that what they truly believe is consistent in their words and actions.  Or they do believe it, and they are wrong.

When I take my two children and the baby girl I babysit to the library and someone asks, "You had another one already?!" It makes me wonder how they would react if I told them I had.  Or if I had adopted this baby.  Or if she were my foster child.  I would hope they would be kind, and even joyful that there are people who love to take in and care for children they did not give birth to.  A mother who adopted her daughter told me that she often hears, "Didn't you want to have any of your own?"  Do they realize what they are saying?  Is her daughter not hers?  Of course she is!  There are better ways to ask why someone chose to adopt rather than implying that adopted children don't really belong to their adoptive parents.

And there are the opposite situations too.  Perhaps you shouldn't ask the woman who has no children why she doesn't, because it is personal and possibly painful to discuss.  Perhaps one shouldn't expect because you have a lot of children that they should too.  God's plans for each of us are not cookie-cutters.  And we should appreciate that.

If you sat these nosy, opinionated people down and asked them, "Do you think you know everything? Do you think these women are terrible mothers? Do you think society would be better without these children in them?"  I would hope that they would say, "Of course not!"

Then why do they say them?  Think them?  Do they believe them?

I hope not.

My friend Janece, who has three little ones, said, "A few comments that feel like water to my weary soul" are phrases like "You'll get through this, mama", "This season will fly by, I promise,", and "You're doing a great job."  She explains, "They communicate understanding, empathy, and encouragement.  Rather than some comments that feel condescending, judgmental, and derogatory."

Will people keep saying things like this?  Probably.  Almost guaranteed.  As mothers, we need to check our hearts too.  Do these people deserve our forgiveness?  Or grace?  No.


But neither do we.  As mothers we know that our children are blessings, yes, even when they argue with you or have a diaper blowout all down your front in public... Don't hang onto comments from those who do not either care for you and your kids enough to be kind, or they just speak too flippantly.  Either way, they need the same grace that God has offered to us.  And our kids need to see us forgive.  They need to see that even when we are hurt, we forgive.  Because they are watching.  They are listening.  They will be hurt too.  And because God is worth it.