It’s rare these days that I have all my children with me when I go anywhere other than church but there once was a time, before I had any older kids to help babysit little ones, that I took them everywhere with me. We were a regular sight at the grocery store, little ones in the buggy, bigger ones holding on, strolling around getting the things we needed for the week. We’d often see people stop what they were doing and use their fingers to count the children in tow. The counting never bothered me, in fact, it amused me, but the comments that would often follow did. Some of the comments were made with genuine interest (“Wow! Are all these kids yours?”). Some were made in jest (Don’t you know what causes that?”). But still others were made out of ignorance or meanness (“You’re overpopulating the world!” “God, you must be Catholic. You don’t have a choice do you?” “I feel sorry for you.” “Your husband must be so controlling.” “Wow. That’s ridiculous to have that many children.”)
My children were always well behaved. They were quiet and obedient, sweet and respectful. I could take them anywhere with me. I can still take them anywhere with me and know that they will behave even though I now have eleven children. These comments that people made to me were not because they were being rowdy and wild; they were made to me just because there were so many. They were also made because our society has deemed having many children as an oddity, a burden, and a disgrace.
I’ve often wondered where people find the courage to say the things they do to others. I can remember a woman in the elevator on the way to the doctor’s office saying to me, “Are all these kids yours?” When I replied yes she said, “Wow, you probably need to stop having children.” At the time I had six children, 5 girls and 1 boy, and was largely pregnant with my seventh child. I told her that we trusted God to help us decided when we had enough children. She said to me, “Then you might want to talk to Him because obviously He doesn’t know what He’s doing.” I told her that I trusted that He did in fact know exactly what He was doing. She looked over my children and then said with disgust, “Well, it’s too bad that you didn’t have more boys. Maybe it would have been worth it then.” I quietly told her that I thought God gave us exactly the children we needed, when we needed them. She looked at me as if I were pathetic and exited the elevator. My sweet 5 year old Emma would cry later asking me if I thought the woman was right and that it would be better if we had more boys. I hugged her closely and repeated what I had told the woman… God knows what is best and He thought it was important that we have a lot of girls and that I loved having so many girls. I also reminded her that God doesn’t make mistakes.
To be honest, in those years, it was often hard for me to go to the store, the doctor, the park even. I knew wherever I went I would be followed by comments. It was one thing if they were said just to me but many times my children would overhear them as well. Some people I believe wanted our children to hear their comments. It was hard to know what to say in response to them. Oh how I wanted to shoot something off to them that would make their jaws drop open! I wanted to shock them every bit as much as they shocked me by some of the things these strangers were saying to me. But I didn’t. I held my tongue and said a quick prayer that God would guide my words. I did this more for my children’s sakes than for these people but in the end I knew that those watching us would be witness to God’s love better that way than if I were to be ugly back to them.
One particularly hard time was in the grocery store where I had children clinging to the buggy, little ones sitting in the seat, and a “bigger” kid pushing a second buggy for me. I was tired and just wanted to be done for the day. A woman coming down the opposite way saw us, the little girls giggling and playing, and loudly said, “Are all these kids yours?” I told her they were. She stopped, looked them over and said, “Oh! I feel sorry for you!” and began walking past me. I looked at her and asked, “Why? Why do you feel sorry for me? I certainly don’t.” She paused, caught off guard and said, “What do you mean?” I told her that I didn’t feel sorry for myself, after all, look at these amazing kids, I was blessed more than most! I looked her up and down, smiled, and turned to just walk away. Suddenly she was following me, “Well… I mean. I don’t. I… well.” She was at a loss for words. She called out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.” I turned, smiled at her and walked away. I knew that nothing else needed to be said.
I have found that while I have a whole list of things I would love to say back to people when they make comments, often the most powerful thing to say is “I am happy with my life” or “Look how blessed I am!” It won’t change the minds of everyone we encounter but for some, like the woman on aisle 5, it might make them reevaluate what they have said or how they think. If by keeping my composure others might see Jesus, well, then I suppose those snarky comebacks will just have to stay in my back pocket.
These days I still hear many of those comments that I did when my children went everywhere with me, but now I’m normally the only one who hears them. My kids aren’t subjected to them quite as much, although they do still hear them sometimes. I’m thankful for that. It hurts me when people look at my family and decide that some of them shouldn’t be here. I see value in each and every one of them; it baffles me how others might not!
Jesus calls us to be witness to Him in many ways. Sometimes it might be in the place we least expect it. Sometimes it might be on aisle 5 when we are tired and ready to go home and encounter that person who just can’t understand our buggy full of children, food, and love.