When our twin boys were first born, I felt I had achieved B-list celebrity status. I couldn’t walk through a supermarket without having multiple people engage in conversation with me. I usually also had our four- and two-year-old daughters with me and people couldn’t help but have something to say. I joked to my husband that I was going to get a T-shirt made that read: ‘Yes they are twins. No, they aren’t identical. Yes, I can tell them apart. Yes, I know how they are made and yes, they are all mine!’ It certainly would have made popping out to get some milk easier!
Whether you have a large brood with you or just one baby you have no doubt experienced strangers having something to say to you that reflects their feelings about parenting. Whether it’s the knowing smile and a ‘You’ve got your hands full’, or an ‘Enjoy every minute, it goes way too fast’. Sometimes the comments can even be quite rude, like ‘Don’t you wish you’d got a girl?’ or ‘Don’t you guys have a TV?’.
Little ears are listening
How you respond to these comments probably depends on your personality and just how thin your patience has worn that day. I know I’m pretty conflict-averse and like to be agreeable, so I would normally answer questions politely, and smile at the attempted jokes. When someone used to tell me that I had my hands full, I’d laugh and say, ‘I sure do!’.
However, I’ve come to change the way I handle these little interactions with strangers, mainly because I realised it was affecting my kids. One of my daughters started asking me quite often if I liked having five children. Or if she ever heard me give a deep sigh she’d comment ‘Having lots of kids must be really hard, Mummy’. I began to realise that she was listening in on all these little interactions with people and coming to the conclusion that having lots of small people must be a negative thing for me.
A month of memes
We don’t have to look very far in our world to see what the general consensus about children is. One month last year I decided to take a screenshot of every meme that popped up in my social media feeds that spoke about parenting. The overwhelming sentiment was that kids make your life miserable. Most were actually pretty funny, using sarcasm to bring parents together in an ‘us versus them’ mentality against our children. Here are some of the ones I collected:
‘It may take a village to raise a child, but it’s going to take a vineyard to homeschool one.’
‘Where’s the unsubscribe button on a teenager?’
‘I think my favourite part of being a mother has been sacrificing my body, career, mental stability and physical appearance to wait on them hand and foot. Only to be met with “YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING FOR ME” when I ask them to pick up a fruit snack wrapper. It’s very rewarding.’
Of course, these memes are designed to make us laugh; but as I have read back over them I’ve actually found them utterly depressing. Whether on the internet or from the strangers at the shops, the message the world has to say about having kids is that it’s a lot of hard work with very little payback.
A biblical view of children
The Bible paints a much more positive picture of what having kids means: they are a gift. From the beginning of Genesis, mankind is purposed with being fruitful and multiplying. Part of the blessing of keeping the covenant in Deuteronomy 7:14 is that no woman shall be ‘barren’. Indeed, we see the great sadness that infertility brings throughout the Old Testament to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Samson’s mother. In Psalm 127 we read, ‘Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him’. Jesus himself made a point of welcoming children and teaching that the kingdom of God belonged to the childlike (Matthew 19:14; Mark 9:37).
It’s important to note that Jesus also de-emphasised the necessity of marriage and child-bearing in his new covenant family of disciples, giving a new and dignified place to the single and the childless. Those who mourn for the children they lost or never had will be comforted—in this life, by the family of believers, and in the next life, by God himself.
But those of us who do have children ought to see them as a precious gift from God. This isn’t to deny the fact that having and caring for children is difficult—it is overwhelmingly so at times. God loves to use children not just to bless us, but also to refine and sanctify us. But just because it is hard doesn’t mean we should start to view our children as burdens rather than blessings.
There is great joy to be found in continually choosing to view our children as blessings from our loving Father rather than tyrants sent to ruin our lives. We do this not just by our actions but also by the way we choose to speak about having children. And if we Christian parents do this, we will offer the world a very different picture of children than that of the snarky memes.
The change I’ve made
To help me hold out a better vision of what parenting is, both to the world and to my own kids, I’ve tried to change the way I speak to both strangers and friends. Now, when someone tells me I have my hands full I reply, ‘Full of good things!’. If someone comments on how large my family is, I aim to express how much I love that. When someone remarks ‘I’m glad their yours and not mine’, I’ll tell them, ‘I’m glad their mine and not yours too!’. It’s a little bit awkward and a little bit twee but I want my kids to overhear how wonderful it is to have been blessed with them. Even with my friends I’m trying hard to share the difficulties where appropriate, but not be unnecessarily grumbly about how difficult parenting is. And I’ve stopped giving those memes a like, even if they do make me giggle!
Jocelyn Loane is married to Ed, and together they have five children. They have been serving in full-time ministry in a variety of contexts since 2008. They are a part of Naremburn Cammeray Anglican Church.
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