Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's MY life...

so why is it that people seem to feel free to tell me how I ought to live it?

Gabe and I took Jonathan to the pool this evening. Another family was already there, splashing away. I know the mother slightly, having passed and talked a bit on walks with our kids. Her husband was there too, reading a paper. I ended up sitting next to him, since I wasn’t swimming (my bathing suit doesn’t fit anymore, and besides, I was tired!) :) He was a nice man, and once finished with his paper he struck up a conversation with me. That was fine with me until we got to this part:

“So do you guys want to have more kids?”
“Yes, definitely.”
“Oh? How many?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I laughed, “lots. We’ll see what God sends us.” (I should mention that I knew that this was a Christian family, from my interactions with the mother. So I didn’t think that this answer would be considered too bizarre.)

His response?
“I disagree with you.”

I laughed and said, “well, most people do.” And as far as I was concerned, the conversation could have ended there. Scratch that - it should have ended there. Only he didn’t let it drop. He told me all about how hard it is financially to have lots of kids. He told me about how much work it is to throw birthday parties for kids. He told me about his friends at church who have been sterilized so they can’t have any more kids. He told me about how his wife works part time and volunteers at church and wouldn’t have time to do all these important things if she had more kids. And I nodded my head and said inane things like, “yeah, I see your point.” The last thing I wanted was an argument – in fact I really just wanted to end the conversation and go home, only I couldn’t figure out how to do it nicely.

There was a pause for a moment and I thought he was finished. But then he opened it up again by asking, “So do you think it is a sin to use birth control?”

Good grief! This is a man I met fifteen minutes ago!!!

I said something about how no, I didn’t think it was a sin, I just believed that God had told us to have lots of children.

Thankfully, right about then I was saved by outside events that required us to head home right away. But the exchange stuck with me and made me think. Why did my answer to his question cause such a discussion (dare I say: lecture?) to ensue? Why does a perfect stranger feel he has the right (and perhaps obligation) to set me straight on the glories of birth control?

My best guess is this: I think that people feel threatened by my belief in this area. Let me give another example. Have you ever observed a conversation between a homeschool mom and a public school mom? Here is what often happens:

PSM: So where do your kids go to school?
HSM: Actually, we homeschool.
PSM: Lots of stuff about why public school is good for kids and is perfect for their family and really actually necessary.
HSM: Um, ok. (thinking: ok, but we homeschool!)

It felt a lot like that today. For some reason, no matter the intent behind the statement, people seem to think that having lots of babies implies judgement on those who choose not to. Just like people who don’t homeschool tend to think that those who do imply judgement on them. And the fact is that neither is true – but I don’t know how to get around the assumption. Gabe and I want lots of children, and we believe God has called us to do so. This by no means requires that we think everyone who doesn’t share our belief is a “sinner”! Gabe and I want to homeschool, and we believe that is the best we can do for our children. This does not require that we think everyone who disagrees is a horrible person.

But the fact is that I only know one or two people on the “other side” of those issues who don’t misunderstand us. I wish there were an easy, non-combative way to disabuse people of the notion that my belief for myself means I’m judging them. But I don’t know what it is.

Next time, I think I’ll just tell the stranger “oh no, we’re going to have 1.5 kids and a dog. Any more than that is just insane, don’t you think?”


Jess said...

Okay, so my mommy brain's first thought on reading this is: "I have a maternity swimsuit you could borrow." :D

But, to the real issue: it's probably more about him than you; it usually is (I think you caught on to this when you commented about the whole "defensive" issue). He's probaby feeling overwhelmed, and is overwhelmed by thinking of someone else being overwhelmed. Maybe the best way to deal is to throw it back on him, e.g., "So having two kids is really working for you, huh?" People like talking about themselves, and all that.

I'm sorry though, that you have strangers jumping on you while pregnant - don't they know you ought to be KIND and NICE and SWEET to expectant women?


Rebecca said...

On the other hand, growing up homeschooled here (I don't know what it's like in other places!) and having worked with homeschool families and students for the past six years, WOW, homeschoolers can be WAY judgmental! There is so much polarization on the issue of homeschooling, I can't even believe it. I can't tell you how many times I have heard the same conversation: Someone says something like "We homeschool our kids because we really love them and want the best for them." Whether they mean to or not, it just seems to imply that if you don't homeschool your kids, you don't really love them or want the best for them. Ouch.

Emily said...

Certainly you're right - the judgements can fly fast and thick on both sides. I'm just saying that this is the conversation I've most often been exposed to.

Elena said...

Another thing, I think, is that most people just have no category for the concept that anyone would actually WANT lots of kids. If you have more than two kids you are either a)uneducated about birth control, b)too irresponsible to use it properly, or c)you believe that everyone who uses birth control is going to hell.

I've successfully deflected conversations like this by talking nonjudgmentally about what we want out of life. "Yeah, it totally makes sense to have fewer kids so you can give them more... but we are just SO excited about all the rich relationships in a big family, and we've decided that for us, that's worth all the hard parts."

People become a lot nicer when the realize that you've made a thoughtful decision in line with your life goals, and that you have a lot of respect for others who have different roles to play.

Jess said...

It's kind of funny what qualifies as lots of kids these days. I was in the hospital with my secondborn, a whole year and a half after my first (which means we waited awhile before getting pregnant again) and I had nurses asking me, "Don't you know how these things HAPPEN?"

I wanted to say, "I only have TWO! Good grief!"

Instead, I settled for nice things like, "I have an inkling."


Linds said...

I usually fall on your end of the conversation -- with homeschoolers and people who want to have lots of babies being the once challenging my chosen path. In fact, I seem to remember some challenges from you on the subject of progeny my dear. :) Of course, the difference is that we actually have an established friendship, as opposed to 15 minute guy.

Oh, and Rebecca, most of my experience with homeschoolers or homeschooling parents has been the snooty end. It was pretty annoying to keep defending my decision to get a teaching credential while I was at Biola. :)

Amber said...

I agree with Jess - it really has way more to do with how he feels about his life than anything having to do with you. I think it all boils down to insecurity about his decisions which then leads to defensiveness which then leads to strange and overinvolved conversations with virtual strangers. I've had a number of them too, and I try to stick with something along the lines of "oh, well, we all have to what we think is best for our family" sort of thing. But I really dislike the whole monologuing thing that some people get into on these sort of subjects!

Emily said...

Yeah, the established friendship thing really does make the difference, I think. :) I mean, of the four VA girls, I'm the only one who holds these two opinions - and yes, we've certainly discussed them! But we've been friends for what, seven years now? It is the the perfect stranger monologueing about how I should live my life that I object to, not conversations between friends.