A friend of mine with at least as many children as I have, but of mixed gender, recently paid me this backhanded compliment, "Suzanne, I admire you soooo much. I could never have all boys and keep my sanity. You must be amazing."
The truth is, I know she's wrong. My boys may be "all boy" as they say, but they are also thoughtful, loving, obedient, well behaved and helpful. Life with these boys is an adventure I wouldn't want to miss, not the torment that would drive an otherwise strong woman to the looney bin that my friend implied. I consider my family and its unique make-up and structure a great blessing to us.
On most days, that is.
On bad days; days when the boys break something of mine with all that extra energy God gave them to save the world later; days when someone stabs the back of his mouth with a pencil, splits open his head, or yanks the teeth out of his jaw with a rope; on bad days I think my friend is probably right. I think a family of five boys is too much for one woman. And since I know that I am no more "amazing" than she, I think I have taken on more responsibility than I can handle.
While I know that this isn't true, it is a very discouraging thought.
I am not writing this to gripe about the comment or to complain about my friend, who, by the way, is a lovely person and only meant well, I am sure. I am writing this because this instance was an occasion for me to reflect on how our words affect one another. I think sometimes, within our small Catholic groups and communities, we take liberties with our words. We think that since others know and understand where we are coming from, we can speak freely and say whatever comes to mind.
When we discovered that we were expecting Jacob so soon after Alex was born an acquaintance said to me, "I would never say this if you didn't know that I am pro-life, but I suppose this pregnancy was a mistake, hu?" "No," I thought to myself, "precisely because you are pro-life, you should never have said this to me." The rude comments I receive from strangers about my family's size and make-up are annoying, but discouraging words from like-minded friends are a weight around my neck.
I don't think I'm alone in this. I think many others have suffered discouragement from those who should be offering support. I am sensitive to comments about larger families, homeschooling, and particularly about having all boys. Others I know are sensitive to comments about their smaller families, about having their children in school, about adopted children, about hadicapped children, and so on...and so on. We are all sensitive to the words of others, especially when those words seem to pass judgment on those we love or the decisions we have prayerfully made for our children and for our lives.
When we see the unique circumstances and trials of our neighbor we shouldn't criticize or pry, and neither should we declare her a "saint." We are none of us eternally beatified. We can't look back and laugh at it all just yet. We are all still in the thick of it, working out our salvation in fear and trembling, and we need all the encouragement we can get.
Neither is it my intention to declare my own innocence in these matters because, I assure you, I have not always governed my tongue the way I ought and I am sure I have hurt others. My point is that this incident has made me consider the weight of my words.
I found that my friend's remark discouraged me. It's bound to happen and I need to thicken my skin as much as possible, but even better than that I can learn to be more sensitive to other mothers. Rather than focusing on my own wounds, I can take this opportunity to reflect on the unique challenges of my friends and acquaintances and learn how to encourage them with my words or, in some cases, with silence.