Friday, March 1, 2013
People are Watching ...
We have received many varied reactions to our family over the years. Some people smile and say how blessed we are to have so many children. Others look at us with horror and give a litany of excuses of why they wouldn't dare have more than one or two kids. We're used to it and it rarely fazes us anymore. But this trip and specifically the reactions we have received in California have surprised us.
A lot of people have been quite negative in their comments to us. One woman boldly ordered that I had better not be working outside the home. I agree, but not for the reasons she apparently thought important. To her it was the work load of having this many kids that was daunting. For me it's the eternally significant task of being around to teach and train them.
We have had people stare open-mouthed and even point at us as we unloaded from the van at rest stops and parks. Many, many people have asked about my pregnancy and the sex of this baby - only to express extreme disappointment and condolences because we're having another boy. We're not disappointed and we'd prefer congratulations. This is another precious life given to us.
The most shocking rudeness came as we waited for the elevator in a hotel. An elderly lady was also waiting to use the elevator. When she saw us, she blatantly informed us that she'd rather not ride on the elevator with us. No one else was waiting, it was just our family and her, and the elevator could have easily held twice that many people. Josh and I bit back a few choice words and agreed to wait while she took the elevator alone to her floor. (And this was after she had already yelled at David who kindly helped her push the button when she couldn't get it to light up.) We then tried to explain to our bewildered children what had just happened. Frankly, I don't think we understand it!
But in with the bad, there has also been some good. Many couples have stopped to count as we file past. Sometimes, they get a big grin and tell us how wonderfully blessed we are. We always smile, heartily agree, and thank them. We have received several comments on the good behavior and helpfulness of our children. That always makes our hearts glow! And we received one comment that really caused us to stop and think.
We were eating dinner in a buffet-style restaurant. We had all gotten our food and were enjoying the meal when a family walked by on their way out. The husband and wife stopped next to where Josh and I sat and said, "Your kids are so well behaved! You must be religious."
It took us a few moments to recover from that statement. No stranger has ever made the jump from good kids to faith-based training before. Josh thanked them and told them that he is a pastor and we enjoyed a nice conversation with them for several minutes. We didn't exchange names or much information, but their comment has stuck with me and caused me to think about the reactions our family receives and how we ought to respond.
There are three things that come to mind as I reflect on the varied comments our family receives:
1. People really are watching. It may seem that you move in obscurity. It may seem that nobody is noticing you. But even strangers see you. Whether out of curiosity or boredom, self-pride or admiration, people do watch and make judgments. Many of those people-watchers are willing to share their opinions of you as well - solicited or not. Be sure that you are acting in a way that reflects well on who you are because opinions are made in the space of seconds.
2. Those who don't want to listen, won't. We recently had a conversation with someone who specifically asked where we are from. We informed her that we had driven from Wisconsin. In the next sentence, she instead identified us as being from Utah. Even after being corrected a few times, she continued to talk of the "fact" that we hailed from Utah. Apparently a family this large must be Mormon! People who have made up their minds are often unwilling to listen. Just move on.
3. Given that people are watching and often ready to share opinions, be ready with your response. Sometimes you'll be thrown a curve-ball like we were as we waited for the elevator. But many comments are repeats. For those, your response is likely the only chance you'll get to reflect what you believe. As a Christian, my response either represents Christ well or has the power to do damage. Be gracious, be slow to judge, point to the One from whom all blessings flow. For us, most comments are directly related to family size. We expect people to say things like, "Wow! How do you survive with that many kids?" or "Don't you know what causes that?!" The latter is my personal favorite. Josh and I have started responding with a sly grin, a knowing nod, and a "Mmm hmmm". That usually shuts them up. But for questions that deserve an answer, we try to think carefully before responding. Sure, we have bad days with our kids and sometimes people catch us on those rough days. But we are still thankful for the opportunity to raise them, know them, and influence them. Our response to comments rude or kind should reflect our thankfulness - not our rough day.
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.