Family Matters: Responding Positively to Negative Comments
The President of France recently voiced doubt that any educated woman would willingly choose to have a lot of children. Unfortunately, he is not alone in holding such an opinion.
Over the years, I’ve heard from many young mothers whose friends and family treat them as if they’ve lost their mind whenever they announce another pregnancy.
Knowing how to respond graciously and lovingly to people who think you’re crazy or stupid or both can be a challenge, but here’s what historically worked for us:
First, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Especially when dealing with family or friends, assume their comments are coming from a place of love for you and concern for your well-being.
When I found out my own dear father pulled my husband aside after our third child was born and tried to talk him into getting a vasectomy without my knowledge, I was incredulous. Had Doug actually taken his advice, I probably would’ve had a harder time forgiving Dad for his attempted intrusion into our personal lives.
As it was, I reminded myself my third pregnancy was by far the most difficult (they got progressively easier after that), and although my father’s worry was unwarranted, he was genuinely trying to protect me by giving what he considered wise counsel to his son-in-law.
Instead of focusing on what Daddy said and getting upset about it, I thought about why he said it, which made it easier to respond graciously (which, in my case, meant keeping my mouth shut and treating him as if I didn’t even know about his conversation with my husband).
Second, hold to your principles in humility.
Anytime you make a choice that differs substantially from the choices your friends or family members are making, it can put them on the defensive. This is especially true when it comes to parenting choices:
Will you use birth control or leave the family planning to God? Deliver at home or in a hospital? With or without an epidural? Breast or bottle feed? Stay home with baby or go back to work? Choose public, private, or home education?
The list goes on and on. Others tend to interpret your choice to do things differently as a statement against the choices they’ve made, even when you have no such comparison in mind.
To keep peace, hold to your convictions in humility. You needn’t apologize for your decisions, but neither should you be prideful or self-righteous about them.
Try to focus on the positives of your choices rather than the negatives of the alternatives: I want another baby because “I love being pregnant/ miss nursing/ enjoy having a little one to cuddle,” not because “I think only children get spoiled/ birth control is inconvenient/ having an empty nest at forty would be unbearable.”
When you couch discussions in those terms — almost as a personal preference rather than a matter of principle — your family members will not feel as threatened by your choices. And when you take a genuine, heartfelt, nonjudgmental interest in their lives, as well, they’ll be far less likely to write you off or freeze you out of their conversations.
Third, understand the undercurrents.
Keep in mind there may be things going on under the surface that you don’t know about. You’re excited about the prospect of having another baby and baffled by your family member’s response. But that response may have very little to do with you.
Perhaps she’s had a string of miscarriages, and her hardness is a façade to hide her heartache. Maybe her kids are driving her crazy, and she can’t fathom wanting any more. Maybe your kids are driving her crazy, and she doesn’t think you can handle any more.
Perhaps her marriage is on the rocks, and she thinks the stress of another pregnancy might do it in. Maybe she’s struggling financially and doesn’t think she can afford another baby.
Maybe she wants another baby, but her husband is resistant to the idea. Maybe her husband is pressuring her to have a baby, and she fears your pregnancy will add fuel to his fire.
The point is, there are all sorts of thoughts circulating in other people’s heads to which we are not privy. Just be aware that their negative reactions are influenced by far more than your simple announcement.
Fourth, treat others as you wish to be treated.
Even if you are 100% certain the rude comments you’re hearing aren’t motivated by love and concern for you and don’t stem from personal doubts or griefs, please don’t give in to the temptation to respond in kind. Never repay insult for injury.
Jesus calls us to treat others as we’d wish to be treated, to do good to those who mistreat us, and to turn the other cheek. Certainly this includes people who make untoward comments about our family size.
Fifth and finally, let your life win them over.
Realize you’re unlikely to change anybody’s opinion in an afternoon. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. Convince them with your life.
Be Joyful. Loving. Patient. Content. Pour your energies into raising courteous, capable, compassionate children. Even if onlookers don’t embrace your choices, they will likely come to respect you for making them.
Jennifer Flanders believes the decision to have a lot of children is one of the smartest choices she’s ever made. For a short summary of several scientific studies that back up this opinion, visit http://bit.ly/9-smart-reasons-for-having-babies .