This summer, I was in a church service, and was singing the songs along with others and praying. Suddenly an image came to mind, of my own arm, getting a needle. I knew it was an inoculation. I kept right on praying and asked God for insight into what this meant. Immediately an answer came to mind. “This is an inoculation to protect you from caring what people think.”
Because I trust in God and know that His idea to inspire this in my life wouldn’t throw me into fits of narcissism, I thought, “Wonderful! I’ll take it!”
Soon afterwards, my husband and I both came to a realization that subconsciously, we had been caring an incredible amount about how people perceived us in one particular arena: the size of our family.
I literally just gulped as I typed that and am now thinking, “Maybe I will just write this out for my own expression of thought. I don’t know how I feel getting this real in a public way.”
But now I am recalling the inoculation.
Maybe someone else needs to hear this. Maybe there are some moms and dads out there that are subconsciously apologizing for their children’s existence.
We live in a world brimming with a mixture of adorable Huggies commercials and the scornful glares of strangers who count our children at the grocery store while we are there, buying said diapers.
I’ll never forget the nurse in the maternity ward who called me “brave” when she found out that the gap between my twins and this next baby was only 18 months.
“Thanks for not calling me crazy.” I said with a tremble in my voice as I walked slowly down the hallway in between contractions. My water broke a few moments later.
I’ll never forget her, because she didn’t hint at the often unspoken question, “Why would you do this to yourself?”
Now, I must pause here, because the faces of some very dear friends are coming to mind. For their sakes I need to say something:
When I was third-trimester pregnant with our fourth son, there was a Sunday morning that my incredibly-skilled drummer of a husband had gone to church early to be a part of the worship team. I love when he is able to drum, so I was glad about this, but it left me to get our crew fed, dressed and out the door into our Honda Odyssey. At the time, this was double 3 year olds and a 2 year old.
Three year olds, bless their hearts, have the attention span of a butterfly. Asking them to find their shoes is like asking them to find the lost city of Atlantis. Back then my morning routine included a trio of diaper changes, only to be followed up by another round of diaper changes like an hour later. RIGHT. AFTER. BREAKFAST. Then, dressing babies and toddlers is like dressing penguins. They’re slippery, rolling around, with evasive limbs and continual squawking.
Their toes wiggled as I tried to stretch socks onto them. There were noses to be wiped, faces to be washed, pants to be buttoned, and hair to be tamed. Not that any of that would have occurred without also encountering strong opinions about their vision for the morning.
I would have gotten them as ready as possible, then put on a cartoon so that I could quickly get up the stairs to my room to get myself ready too. All while doing my own waddling. (Just a family of penguins, hey?)
Need I say that I was feeling flustered by the time we walked into church that morning? I remember walking across the meeting room, with my little ones following behind, on our way to their Sunday School class. I was internally huffing. Admittedly, “flustered” had even become “resentful”.
The question, “Why do you do this to yourself?” was internally transmitting now as, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”
Just then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a kind woman watching us from a distance. Just sitting there, watching with a wistful smile on her face. I knew that she longed to be a mother. For unknown reasons, her and her husband simply had never been able to become pregnant.
Resentment quickly drained away, and was replaced by embarrassment for my lack of perspective. “I bet she would love to experience what I’m feeling right now.”
So, as I write today about the struggle that society has with having MANY children, let us not forget that there are other struggles that people are facing. I’m not trying to be reductionistic. Being a parent has unique challenges, but gratitude for the children we have will always take us further than obligation.
I remember an interaction with a friend of mine at the time. When I told him that Bryan and I were pregnant with baby #3, his first response was, “What? Are you Catholic?” He said it in a light-hearted way, trying to make me laugh. I don’t think I laughed though. I wasn’t trying to be rude; he just couldn’t have known how much I had mentally wrestled through in the discovery of this pregnancy.
You see, our first pregnancy had turned out to be identical twins, which kicked our butts in a profound way, driving us to our knees and to interdependence with one another early in our marriage.
We knew that we wanted more children though; it wasn’t even a question. When the twins were only 9 months old, I bought the pregnancy test and confirmed that, yes, we were expecting again. Joy flooded me once again, but I was no longer naïve to what we were about to go through. Right on the tails of joy was an incredible current of fear. I tossed and turned all night long, bombarded with internal chaos that came at me like a run-on sentence.
“What are you thinking? You can’t handle this! You are hardly surviving right now! What are people going to say? Don’t you realize how much money they say it takes? Bryan’s work is far from steady right now! You just started sleeping like, a month ago. You’re stuck now. It’s going to be, like, a decade before you can invest in your own dreams. You’re pretty much wasting your intelligence and life feeding dry Cheerios to ungrateful little kids. How do you know that they will even love you when they get older? What if they rebel like crazy and break your heart? THEN will this all be worth it? How is your marriage even going to survive this? When will you ever get a date? Forget a date – what about your body? How do you think your young husband is going to feel about your body getting all stretched out again? How will you ever be fit again? You know that they say you need multiple years between pregnancies to REALLY heal? You’re damaging your body. This baby is going to ruin you.”
I’m getting choked up just writing it all out. The flood always came for me. Every single pregnancy. I think it was about 6:00am that next morning that I finally found peace. It came from the Spirit of God. All He said was, “This child will be a growing delight to you.”
I clung to these words and chose to trust God and it has proven true.
And not just with that baby, who is now our 8 year-old visionary-administrative-artist who stands tall and processes quickly.
Every one of our babies has increased our joy. And I know that we could actually only be classified as a “small-large family” now, as opposed to the rock-star families who travel in 15 passenger vans and are raising twice as many future tax-paying citizens as we are. (You know – the future citizens who will carry the majority of the weight of the economy and allow you to retire if that’s something you’d like to do. Side note.)
Back to the point.
Our children have increased our joy, even while the echoing message around us all here in modern culture is often that children are a source of irritation, a cause for exhaustion and frustration, and a drain on our bank accounts. Our family even lives in a very “large-family friendly” area of the country, but we’ve still had our share of comments and glares.
It’s not really about the number of children in any given family as much as what our mindset is regarding children in general. Are they a worthy investment of our resources or aren’t they? Do they deserve respect as fellow humans or don’t they?
So, here’s where the “sorry not sorry” comes in.
I’m not going to apologize for the choice we’ve made to “do this to ourselves.”
I’m not sorry anymore that we take up a lot of chairs when we go into a coffee shop. I’m not sorry that we also naturally take longer to decide which treats we want. There are more people to coordinate, so everything is a little louder, a little messier, and takes a little longer.
We’re doing our best to respect the atmosphere that we walk into, but there are a lot of us. Our votes count, and we tend to alter atmospheres. We’re praying regularly for the strength to parent these boys in such a way that this fact will be a benefit to our world.
Our little ones won’t be little for long. Whether you have 1 baby or 12, they are the future influencers and contributors. They will be inventors, mechanics, artists, scientists, historians, builders, journalists, and politicians. They can become servants to society, using their strength to protect and skills to enrich. It is not really about what they accomplish as much as how they live their lives that will really matter. And they learn most of that from us, their parents.
These children grow to be delights to us when we treat them like we believe it is possible. What we believe becomes the reality.
As you invest into your children, remember that you are investing into the world.
Maybe instead of “Sorry”, we could say, “You’re welcome.”