Monday, October 09, 2006

The Weight of Words

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.


Renee said...

God has blessed you with five wonderful boys. Always remember God knows what we as a person can handle, and God gave you five boys because he know you can love them and teach them to grow into Great Cristian Men one day.

C.M.W. said...

This story seems to fit your post:
Big Families in Dallas

Mom to Almost Four said...

Beautifully said and a wonderful thing to reflect upon. Words do have weight and often hurt, even when we know we are doing the right thing. May God bless you and all of your readers who are in the think of it and muddling our way through the plan God has chosen for each of us.

Kristen said...

It is so good to be reminded of the weight of words. We are all guilty of accidentally hurting others through our words on occasion, just like your friend, who I'm sure intended her remarks to be a compliment.

My mother once told me to "Always interpret people's words and actions charitably." Her sage advise has stuck with me over the years, and it works wonders in not being hurt by the remarks or actions of others. It can be used toward anyone--strangers, friends, and even our spouses. It also yields a wonderful, unexpected benefit: more love.

Anonymous said...

Words are double-edge swords - as much as they can heal, they can cut you down. I try to watch mine, yet I still talk myself into more problems than I solve. I think that's why they say that "Silence is golden."!

With 4 daughters, I know where you're coming from with "helpful" comments. I'm a single mom - only recently divorced - and I'm going to school to get an education so that I can improve my family's situation. How many times have I heard comments like "I only have X# of kids... I don't know how you do it!" (x being much less than 4...) On the one hand I feel like well "Yes, I do do a lot... Thanks for noticing." and on the other hand I'm left to wonder "What's so special about what I'm doing? I'm raising my family. I'm sure you would be doing the same!"

So then I remember a bit of advice that I once heard... "Everyone will give you advice and oppinions and comments about how you raise your family. Most of it comes from a good place. So smile, be honest and tell them that you'll think about what they said. Then if it doesn't fit your family - you can promptly forget about it."

You are doing your best to be the best mom you can be. Somedays it isn't easy - I know. The only thing we can do on those days is remember that "Tomorrow is another day, with no mistakes in it - yet!" (Loosely quoted from Anne of Green Gables - Lucy M. Montgomery) It points to our humanity, and that is what we are - human. Not super-mom (as I've been often called), not a saint, just human and trying to make our way through to another day.

So God bless you, my friend, we are both on a road less travelled these days. Today it is your turn to remember that Christ is human, and once travelled down this same road that we are - the one less travelled.

Jill said...

I can totally relate. Two of my children are twins. You wouldn't believe the amount of unsolicited comments I hear every day. Especially when they find out I exclusively nursed them. "Oh my God, woman. Did you feel like a total cow with two babies sucking on you?" "You're STILL nursing them? You're a saint." (Yes, apparently I've been canonized as well!)
Anyway, I always give my commenters the benefit of the doubt. I know they mean well. And if I don't know it, I make myself know it. Upon furthur conversation with the lady who likened me to a cow, I realized she was unsuccessful in her attempts to nurse her one baby, and was feeling half guilt and half awe of me when she made her comment.
People have suggested that I stockpile some comebacks for all the twin comments. The, "We're trying for another baby. I hope your situation (twins) doesn't happen to me!" could have some good ones. But, I have decided to smile and take each comment into my heart as a compliment to my beautiful children and the way I mother them.
But, you are right. It has caused me to choose my own words carefully. I have also suffered two miscarriages and got the gamut of responses from that. I know what words help and which ones hurt.
I, for one, think you have the most adorable bunch of boys in the world. The picture of the five boys in the tub is so precious I can't even describe it in words.
Frame that one and hang it for the world to see. (Until the boys are teenagers and too embarrassed!)

I discovered your blog via your sister, Danielle, and have enjoyed coming here to read about your life and your family. Blessed among men is a perfect name!

God bless,

Suzanne Temple said...

Thanks all, for your encouraging words!!

jerseygirlmama said...

Until my daughter was born, I struggled with the idea that I could be a good mother to a girl because all I knew where boys. My mom had three and all my cousins with the exception of one were boys. In fact, my father said when my daughter was born that he didn't think I even allowed myself to think for a minute I could have a girl. But a girl I had.

People asked me when I was pregnant if I wanted a boy or girl. No one understood that I honestly had no preference. After years of not being able to conceive and miscarriages, any child was going to be a wonderful gift. I was beyond even just hoping for a healthy baby. And I know as well as anyone that girls can be just as tough as boys. Being a mother and the love between myself and my husband and child were most important. All children bring their challenges and at the same time are miracles no matter how many or what sex they are or what type of capabilities they have. And all parents are blessed by God with the grace to raise each individual child.
God Bless you for being a mother and loving your children.

Anonymous said...

Jesus has been teaching me how to use words to lift up people. I have found that He is teaching me how to listen to each person and then........listen to Him for my response.
The results have been amazing. I have found less to say and more people blessed by what has come from my mouth.
All the glory goes to Jesus.

Suzanne Temple said...

That's beautiful, Karen.

Mb said...

I think having five boys is wonderful wonderful wonderful!!! My good friend is pregnant with her sixth and has five boys..she is getting the questions already and dreads them...she is thinking she will have a cute quip about having all boys when she is 90!
My husband's aunt had 8 boys and then 12 granddaughters in about 4 years...she said having granddaughters was better b/c she had more time to sew and just enjoy being with them. She said God knew exactly what He was doing. She loves her sons but can really spoil her granddaughters. :)
Your family is beautiful and your blog name is perfect!!! God bless.