Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Are Those All Yours?": A Social Commentary

When I was a child I distinctly remember my mother criticizing a driver for displaying a “Jesus” sticker on the car bumper. Sooner or later, she explained, that driver was bound to make a mistake on the road that would bear negative testimony on Christians.

Large families must recognize that they bear witness to the Culture of Life. Our very existence makes people stop and notice. Our public behavior will be the basis of others’ judgments about bearing children. Therefore I believe that we hold a huge responsibility in how we conduct ourselves.

(I include myself in the “large family” category not because I think of 4 as a large number of children – I know of several families with 5, 6, and 7 children – but because many other people here on Long Island seem to perceive us as such.)

Although I address myself here primarily to the larger family, my observations apply to those with one child or more. Misbehaving children cause strangers to point their proverbial finger and mutter to themselves or their neighbor, “That’s why I don’t want any kids,” or, “That’s why I’m not having any more.”

I recall a tired-looking father who was in front of me on the line at my local Wal-Mart with three lively, robust sons. I forget what the problem was – maybe his credit card wouldn’t go through – but he commented, “I’m such a loser.” Usually a silent onlooker, I felt the need to speak up. “Please don’t say that,” I said gently, “You have a beautiful family.” Hopefully my words encouraged him on some level.

We all have our moments of children’s misbehavior in the store or doctor’s office – some more than others. I am the last one to give you dirty looks if your child is acting up in church – my baby could be the next to cry. If you were in the optometrist’s office with me this week you might have shaken your head at my children playing with the glasses instead of sitting quietly in the separate waiting area. (Remember that even Jesus’ parents once lost him back in the Temple?) But for the most part, people come up to me and, after asking, “Are those all yours?” with wide eyes, comment very positively.

Typically it is the very senior citizen, who then reminisces about his or her five children, seventeen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. “No one has large families any more,” they say. In church this Sunday a woman came up to me and said, “I just have to tell you that I’ve been seeing your family at Mass for years. You have such a beautiful family – and they are so well-behaved! I had three children and always wished I had a fourth.”

I hope our family helps to make a more positive attitude toward large families in our town. Our pediatrician loves us – “Everybody else just has two kids”, he recently said with an approving smile. When I first found a local optometrist and pediatric dentist, they would not book appointments for “so many” at once – they wanted the children to come on separate days. But, now that they have gotten to know us, we are favorites and they do not mind seeing us all at once.

I did have one negative comment made by a cashier at our local grocery store. When I was starting to “show” with my fourth, she looked at my belly and said, “That must have been a shocker.” I said, “Excuse me?” not because I hadn’t heard her – I couldn’t believe my ears. She repeated herself. “We wanted to have another,” I said (as if it was anybody’s business). “Most people would have stopped at three,” she commented with a shrug. “We enjoy our children,” I replied. There was a stony silence as I bagged my groceries and she continued her scanning.

“Most people view children as a burden,” my husband explained to me later.

How does your family come across in public? Is everyone well-rested, well-fed, and expected to behave? Or do you go out with children who are tired, hungry, and apt to misbehave? Do you appear to delight in your children – or to view them as a burden?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Matthew 5:14

Pictured above:
Photograph of the Von Trapp Family
Recommended reading:
"The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" by Maria Augusta Trapp,
1949, Harper Paperbacks, 320 pages, softcover, Catholic


Joanna said...

This makes me smile. You DO have a beautiful family and I love that you enjoy motherhood so much!

Leticia said...

Well said, Elizabeth!
And I love the Story of the Trapp Family Singers, my fourteen year old daughter is currently reading it and I love discussing it with her. Maria Von Trapp was my inspiration to become a writer after 40!

Loren Christie said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I can relate to your feelings about the forward comments people make regarding your children. People have told me that I am "brave" to have three children close in age, but I say I'm blessed.