By Laura Simon
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we thought Laura’s post was so fitting to run today as we reflect on, celebrate, and encourage differences in others. Enjoy! – Katie
The comments started the moment my second pregnancy was visible to the average person. The stranger would look at the squirmy baby I was holding, scan to my obvious belly, and say something like, “Oh wow. Was that planned? You’re going to have your hands full, you know?”
And once baby number 2 arrived, strangers would look at my two beautiful boys and say, “You really need a girl, you know? Girls always take care of their mamas.”
And when I did eventually have a girl, the comments shifted to, “Oh, thank GOODNESS you FINALLY got your girl,” which I can only imagine makes my equally precious boys feel like piles of crap every time they hear it. Seriously, there should be a chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting that warns expecting mamas of the comments to come. It would be great if that chapter included appropriate come-backs, because words rarely find me in the right moments.
There’s really no way to avoid the comments, no matter how you build your family. I’m an only child, and I wish I had a dollar for every stranger (and friend) who told my mom she needed to have another baby so I wouldn’t be a spoiled only child. In front of me. Without knowing about her decade-long battle with infertility or how desperately I wanted a sibling.
And my friend, who has an eighteen-year-old and a one-year-old (yes, same father, and no, none of your business) regularly gets asked if she knows where babies come from. In front of her kids. Another friend, a fair-skinned blond who adopted her sweet boy from Ethiopia, could write a book on the things people say to her in the grocery store.
The thing is, most of the people making comments are good people. Often they’re elderly and they’re really making an attempt to interact with me and my kids. Sometimes, they’re even other moms. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ve said things to friends that are accidentally inappropriate. You probably have, too. We are curious by nature. When we see a large, small, or diverse family, I suppose it is natural to want to hear their story. In general, I’ve decided to give grace to the ridiculous opinions and the people who voice them, but I also want to make sure I’m not part of the problem. And there is a problem.
Consider the child that hears the comment. This is perhaps what makes me angriest when people applaud me for “finally” getting my girl. How does that feel to my boys? Does that make them feel like afterthoughts? Like they were a means to end? Like maybe they wouldn’t even be here if their sister had been born first? Obviously, no one means to imply that, but the meaning is there nonetheless and kids are darn perceptive. I always try to respond, loudly enough that all three kids can hear, that my boys are and always have been the apple of my eye. And I tell those strangers that I would have been delighted to have another boy just like them, although I’m pretty stinking tickled that I got my daughter instead.
Fortunately, my kids don’t have years of trauma related to our family structure. Kids who have been adopted….do. Yes, adoption is amazing, but it only happens because of great pain. At some point, that child was most likely either lost or was abandoned by a parent. No matter the ending, changes are good the beginning was probably not very happy, even if the child did not realize it. And no, it isn’t any better to laud the adoptive parents as heroes; that makes their children feel like charity cases, and they aren’t. They are sons and daughters. And that’s it. So while I might be mighty curious about the family sitting next to me in church, I don’t get to ask. If they want me to know, I’m sure they’ll tell me.
What should we say when you see a family with a lot of small children, or a big gap between children, of children of different ethnicities, or…well, any family at all? There’s always the option to say nothing, but, I think any mama at any stage would really love to hear our encouragement. Not our observations. Not our judgements. Not our opinions. Just the kind words that we would offer to any other human on the planet: “Wow, what a lovely family.” “Your children radiate that they are well-loved.” “You are doing a knock-out job of teaching your children to be respectful.” “Good for you for not giving in to a tantrum.” (Every mama with a tantrum-prone child needs to hear this.) “I love watching you interact with your kids.”
If we really want to be revolutionary, we can follow it up with, “Here, let me take your cart back for you.” In the past few weeks, three different adults have dropped everything to carry my groceries so I could hold my kids’ hands. Bless them. None of them mentioned the relatively small age-gap between my young children or the fact that they have blond hair when mine is brown. One gentleman did comment on the theatrics of my five-year-old, and he chuckled and said he hoped he’d see him accepting his Oscar someday. Bless his heart, he just might. All three encounters brightened my day more than those folks will ever know.
For whatever reason, our culture is big on opinions and low on encouragement, and I want to change that. I can’t control every person you’ll meet in Target, but you know what? I think you’re rocking this motherhood thing, whatever it looks like for you. Can I help you with that cart?