Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Generation gap

When I am out doing errands, with a a baby in the sling and two children either in a stroller or attached to both my hands, a large percentage of the people I pass choose to comment on our "large" family. Most of the comments are meant to be neutral, I suspect, but end up sounding rather negative. It is the tone, I think.

The interesting thing is that these neutral/negative comments come, without fail, from adults between the ages of 20 and 50. These are the career women, the parents of one, the bachelors.

Most of the time I hear "Wow, you have your hands full." My stock response to that is "yes, in the very best way!" Once I was shocked into silence, however, when "you have your hands full" was followed up by "I'm so sorry." Yes, that unfortunate woman was sorry that I have been blessed with beautiful children. I am sorry for her.

I respond with a smile because I want these people to know that I rejoice in my children, even on the hard days. I want them to know that my hands are full by choice and that I would not have it otherwise. But it is not their comment that makes me smile, and after the sixth one in an afternoon sometimes I want to grit my teeth and ask "did you think that comment was original?"

(Of course, I won't. But oh how I want to!) :)

Not everyone thinks that I have my "hands full" however. There are the teenagers, who usually don't notice anything around them, but if they do notice us, they think that my family is "awwww, just sweet!!!" (with all three exclamation points). And there are the elderly, who light up my day with their genuine smiles. From them I hear "Children are such a blessing, aren't they?" and "You have three boys? - what fun!" and "What a beautiful family you have." Many of them want to stop and chat; smiling at each child individually, telling Jonathan that he must be a so proud to be a big brother, asking Thomas how old he is; enjoying their chance encounter with these, the very newest generation.

What has changed? The elderly know the joy and the value and the very full hearts that come along with the full hands. The generations that followed them seem to have missed that truth, and I wonder why.


sarah marie said...

I'm sad to report that among my friends and acquaintances, when a couple in their early twenties announces a pregnancy, the first response is not elation but, "Was it an accident? Was it a surprise?" Sad, isn't it? The assumption is that all married couples want to establish their careers, reach their thirties, become homeowners, and have all their proverbial ducks in a row before having children. Anything else must have been a mistake. Still worse, people actually have the nerve to ASK couples questions like that!

Amber said...

That reminds me of a woman I ran into last spring that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. She was somewhere in her late 50's - early 60's and she was cleaning an apartment near us after the tenants had moved out. She commented on my children and said many admiring things about them, and then she commented on my rather huge belly. She told me that she had six children, and she sort of looked like she was expecting some sort of negative response. I quickly said something like "oh how wonderful! Children are such blessings, aren't they" and she was completely taken aback. It took her a moment to even process this, and then she said after thinking about it for a moment that they certainly are, and that it went by so fast, now that she looks back on it. She also commented on how much she missed those days when they were little. I had the feeling that she hadn't even really thought about it from that angle before - or at least not for a long time. She seemed like she was so used to some sort of negative response that she had even colored her memories in a negative light.

And then there's the old man I ran into in a grocery store after Gregory was born who started off very positive, then started grilling me on if we would have more... and when I said that we'd see what happened, he responded very seriously by telling me that there's a pill you can take these days to keep that sort of thing from happening again!! I was completely dumbstruck - I can't even remember how I got away, but I did so quickly!

Happy Thanksgiving!

mhcowen said...

What will it be like in the next 20+ years when these 20-50 year olds are the next elderly? Do you think that there is a sudden change...kind of the way that people turn to religion/relationship with Jesus when they are elderly...or do you think that this is a cold hard generation that will not see the soft gentleness that comes with the elderly title we know. I do not have a clue if this makes sense...tired and waiting for Mike to return from the we prep for Thanksgiving and it is 11:30pm...Happy Thanksgiving to you and your beautiful family!

Becks said...

I'm sure that must be very annoying when people make comments like that. What ever happened to people being polite and kind? It's crazy that people feel like it's ok to make judgments, about strangers, to their faces! How insulting! If it were me (and I am WAY more thick-skinned and probably more confrontational than you are) I would probably reply in such a way that let them know their comment was rude.

Linds said...

What if it's genuine empathy, Em? I mean, they don't know you, of course, but I know from witnessing all my tremendously fantastic friend who've become moms that motherhood is nothing if not demanding.

I don't know - I say don't invite insults until their unveiled. Life has enough opportunities to kick us in the teeth without that... :)

CP said...

I get the same looks and stares when I go somewhere with my children. I have 3 children 8 1/2, 3 1/2 and my youngest just turned 2. Like you I get the same shaking heads and "man you must be exhausted"s from people my own age, and "oh how cute they are, how polite they are, how great it is to have small children all around you"s from the older crowd. I love how people feel they have a right to ask you if I planned to have the last two so close together, or if we're having more, and if so "WHY would you do that?" I admit that I do have my hands full, but it's great. Being a Mother is one of the greatest things in the world. We are soley responsible for making sure these tiny little people God sends us grow up to love Him and to be kind and good and honest members of society...why would anyone purposely try to make us feel ashamed or bad about that. I say, yes you might have your hands full. Yes, in today's world 3 children is a big family considering most family have the 1 or 2 kid max now. But every second is precious and your heart is more full of love and purpose than those who feel parenthood is a burden, a "mistake, surprise, accident."