Thursday, January 12, 2012

Moms can thrive too

Me and Brad Pitt in Rome.  :)  And yes, I'm holding a sippy cup on my trip to Italy.  It's 'cause I'm a thriving mom.

You need to read this excellent post by Jennifer Fulwiler, who is hands-down one of my favorite bloggers. 

She's given voice to some things in this piece that I've long thought, but have not been able to articulate or put my finger on.  That is what good writers do, of course.

See I've noticed that ever since adopting my twin sons (propelling us from one to three children nearly six years ago), people have come to have some odd expectations of me and my life.  Now of course we have seven kids, and ohmygoodnessgracious, the COMMENTS. 

"Oh WOW, you don't LOOK like you have seven kids." 

Do you hear the crickets?  What is a mom to seven kids SUPPOSED to look like?!  Thank you, person-I'm-meeting-for-the-first-time, for sizing up my appearance and making me uncomfortable.

When I share about something like how I'm not all crafty or creative or _________, I get a lot of ,"Well you don't have TIME with your seven kids!"

Or, you know, I just totally stink at crafts.  But thanks for coming up with an alternative explanation for why I can't cut straight with scissors or why I don't know how to work my sewing machine.

These things have always bothered me--and for more than a few reasons.

Ultimately, I don't like feeling discounted as a human being. 

Yes, I have seven children.

Yes, four of them are adopted.

Yes, three of them are biological.

Yes, I also have two children who live with Jesus, which means I've been pregnant five times.

Yes, we are practicing Catholics so most likely there will be more pregnancies and babies at some point.

But I'm still me.  I like reading good books and watching old Seinfeld reruns, and I straighten my hair most days and I typically wear makeup when I leave the house.  I probably don't look so different from you on the outside, unless you see me pull up in my big van with my passel of kids.  Then you can cue the circus music.

Being a wife and a mom-to-seven is a funny thing.  I'm not one of those people who thinks a good wife is obligated to spend a bunch of time on her appearance or look a certain way.  I actually can't stand when Christians attempt to make a Biblical case for women "not letting themselves go".  Yuck.  But I've shared before about how I do feel a certain responsibility?  compulsion?  pressure?  to look halfway decent when I'm out with my children. 

And, friends, this is why.  The low expectations.  The disdain for a culture of life.  The assumption that raising more than a child or two robs a woman of the opportunity and ability to thrive.

THAT is what bothers me so much.  And THAT is why you'll find me wrestling my kids through Costco with hair brushed and makeup on.  And THAT is why you won't see me in yoga pants at McDonalds.  If I go somewhere by myself, absolutely.  Hair pulled back, no makeup, and some sort of comfortable, ill-fitting clothing.  But not when the kids are with me.

And I know, it's ridiculous.  And kind of pointless.  And completely vain.  But when I put effort into my appearance, I somehow feel like I'm sticking it to all the people who think being an open-to-life mom must be a drudgery and misery worthy of perpetual frazzled-ness and stained sweatshirts.  Of course you better believe that there are moments spent in survival mode and days when I don't get out of my pjs.  (Which is perfectly A-OK in my book--sorry conservative Evangelicals.)  But I can still be a woman overall who laughs, has authentic friendships, enjoys being married, and loves life.  Oh, and who poses with a wax replica of Brad Pitt on a trip to Rome with her husband and 18-month-old. 

 There were a few people in the comments section who disagreed with Jennifer's article, insisting they are simply surviving, and that this point of view places an undue burden on moms.  I comPLETEly understand where they're at--like I said, I have those days/weeks/phases/years too--but I don't think the premise was that we OUGHT to be pursuing hobbies and fitness and such, but instead that we should be sending the message that motherhood is not mutually exclusive with quality of life.  Not to mention, it is precisely in those times of survival mode where God is building virtue and humility and discipline and charity.

So that is actually a form of quality of life too.  Perhaps even moreso.  Hmmm.

I suppose if I could send one message to newly married or engaged women, it would be the oft-quoted words of Blessed Pope John Paul II: Be not afraid.  Don't be afraid to live, to be fruitful, to look motherhood straight in the eye.  Don't be afraid of what it's like with five kids when you only have one, and don't be afraid when your days at home changing diapers feel meaningless and miserable. 

Because sometimes things are hard, sometimes things are really good, and all of it has the potential to bring forth beauty and holiness in your life.  See it as such.  Thrive where you are, when you can, in your own way.

And friends, please, don't assume that all moms hate their lives.  There can be a deeply held sense of joy and purpose even in the darkest of suffering.  A woman may look stretched thin on the outside, but you can be sure God is doing a mighty work on the inside.  That's the beauty and mystery of vocation, and of faith in the unseen.  And if that's not reason to thrive, then I don't know what is.


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