A Reader’s Question
I am the only Catholic on my side of the family. I am also the only one with a large family. I recently had the all too common experience of attending a family birthday party on my side of the family. Also at this party were members of my sister’s extended family, various parents, step parents, siblings with their families. Everyone with their one or two kids. Of course the question gets asks, so how many do you have now? Eight beautiful kids And then the shriek, eight!!!???!!! With a look of fascinated horror on their faces. Quite honestly I felt like the freak at the freak show except at least the freaks get paid. I came home feeling really down.
Like most mothers of many, I can really relate to your feeling like a freak show. We get it at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, even sometimes at church. Maybe we even get immune to it in these places. When you get it from your own family, though, I am sure it smarts more than ever. It can be so painful to feel so misunderstood by the people we feel should understand and accept us the most.
Since you and your family do not share the same faith, you probably came to the realization a long time ago that you will have to find your structures of support elsewhere. I would suggest that you turn to friends who do share your faith when you need moral support, but expect nothing different from your family than you do from strangers at the grocery store. At least in their reactions to your life decisions. They just don’t get it. And they are shocked.
When people react to my life with shock and I feel embarrassed, I sometimes find it helpful to recall a time when I was shocked by someone else’s life. Before you had many children, weren’t you ever amazed upon hearing about someone else who had a dozen or so? Didn’t you ever feel absolutely astounded by someone else’s life circumstances or accomplishments? How on earth do people ever manage to climb Mount Everest, for instance? Or cut off their own arms when they’re pinned beneath a rock in an abandoned cave? And how on earth did those pioneer women ever manage to have a gang of children, grow their own food, and make their own clothes with no running water or electricity?
If you think about it, your initial reaction of shock in these situations is not really a put-down. Even though your slack-jawed expression might make these people feel on-the-spot if you met them, your shock and awe are really just a form of admiration. We want to know how they do it. And why they do it. And isn’t it just terribly awful? And if not, then what exactly is it like?
I also know the longing of just wanting to fit in sometimes. Just wanting to be “normal” for once. But consider what that would mean for you. To be your family’s kind of normal, you’d have to give up six of your kids. And maybe become a career woman instead of a full-time mom. And you’d have to make certain that your faith is not a tangible, noticeable part of who you are or how you live in any kind of way. Think how bland and empty and lonely that kind of life seems in comparison to the one you are living now. You don’t really want to be normal. And that is not God’s plan for you, anyway:
city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither
do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel,
but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto
all that are in the house. Let your light so
shine before men, that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
A city set on a hill is not going to go unnoticed and the light of the world is going to attract some attention. Perhaps you can offer up your discomfort for the conversion of your family or for the consolation of those who have just “one or two kids” but secretly long for a life like yours. As uncomfortable as it sometimes makes us and however much we sometimes long for it to be otherwise, this is God’s plan for us. This is our faith. This is our calling. And ultimately, deep down inside, we know that we are privileged, that we are richer, and that we are abundantly blessed for it.