This week I want to talk about the second-guessing and beating up of ourselves that many women are particularly inclined to do. Why is that some of us get so darned defensive upon merely hearing about others who make choices for their families that are different from our own? Particularly when it comes to parenting and schooling? Do you know what I am talking about here?
The reason this is on my mind is because of some things I have been reading in the National Catholic Register in recent weeks. The NCR ran an article a few weeks back which was a positive profile of several different Catholic homeschooling families. On the whole it was a feel-good, positive piece which looked at these families, their choices, and their lifestyle in a positive light. Then—sure enough—the following week the paper ran a letter to the editor from a mother whose children attend Catholic schools. I wish I had saved my copy to quote from it, but now I can only recall that this person felt slighted by the positive look at homeschooling and responded angrily and defensively, as if someone had told her she was doing something wrong. But nobody had. It should be noted that in this week’s paper there was a letter from a different woman responding to the first and explaining her reasons for homeschooling.
This situation really struck a chord with me because it all felt so familiar. Without fail, I get exactly this kind of defensive response from some readers every single time I mention homeschooling. Every time I mention it! Along similar lines, I occasionally hear from mothers who have fewer children than I do or who do some other thing differently from the way I do, and their tone is hostile. In a defensive way. Which makes me wonder if the Register is going to receive any such letters after daring to publish a positive look at large families in this week’s edition.
This particular phenomenon frustrates me because I try always to reinforce the idea that there is no one right way to be a Catholic family. I try to encourage families to do what works well for them, regardless of whether or not their neighbors are doing it. I love reading about and hearing about Catholic women and families that are very different from my own. I can be inspired and encouraged by others’ experiences even when the particulars of their lifestyles are not at all those that I would choose for my own family. Ours is a big Church. There’s lots of room for variety here.
I know that there are obnoxious people out there who will try to tell you that their way is the only correct way, but I really do think these people are rare and unhappy birds. Most of us are just going about our business, caring for our families, making the decisions we deem best, and suffering the same insecurities and self-doubts as everyone else. The fact is, though, that when we make choices for ourselves and our families, whether it be about schooling, breastfeeding or toddler discipline, we are making a judgment. We are saying, “I have considered all the options and this is the one that is best for me.” I just think perhaps we all need to focus a bit less on the judgment part and a bit more on that best for me part. We need to have some confidence. We need to make our own decisions and feel good about how well they work for our own families, regardless of whether or not others are making exactly those same choices.
If writing for the internet has taught me nothing else, it has quite surely taught me that you will never please everyone. Not ever. Did you get that? Never. Consequently, in this discussion I do not hope to rid the world of all unreasonable reactions. I would like, however, for us to share our experiences with this automatic, unreasonably defensive syndrome and discuss some of our thoughts about it. Have you run into it? Do you suffer from it? What are your thoughts?