I’m using Mondays to work through the messages stacked up in my mailbox. Here’s the one for today:
I’ve emailed you before and love your blog. I’m curious as to your response to negative individuals as your family grew….
My husband and I are considering a third child. When both of my sister-in-laws found out, they immediately treated me like I’d grown a third eye, and one went so far as to inform me that more children meant I could do less and less for the ones I have.
I was discouraged because I believe children need love, stability and the knowledge of Christ more than stuff.
Will you share how you would (or did) lovingly handle those who want to discourage a growing family?
Thank you so much.
Thanks for your sweet encouragement. Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. Maybe by now you’ve had that third baby and are working on a fourth. 🙂
I’m sorry about the negative responses you’ve received about wanting to grow your family. We got more than our fair share of negativism and unsolicited advice, especially early on (before people finally realized their protests weren’t making any difference in our family planning decisions and decided they should probably just save their breath. Ha!!)
It’s bad enough dealing with rude comments from complete strangers, but when the cutting remarks come from family members, they can be particularly hurtful.
It is often a challenge to know how to respond graciously and lovingly. Here are the things that have helped us over the years whenever that sort of situation crops up:
Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt
Assume your family’s comments are coming from a place of love for you and concern for your well-being.
When I found out my own 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 (whom, for the record, I love very dearly) for this attempted intrusion into our personal lives.
As it was, I reminded myself that my third pregnancy was by far my most difficult (they got progressively easier after that), and although my father’s worry was unwarranted, he was genuinely trying to protect his daughter 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 this case, meant keeping my mouth shut and treating him as if I didn’t even know about his conversation with my husband).
Hold to Your Principles in Humility
Anytime you make a choice that differs substantially from the choices your friends or family members have made, it can put them on the defensive. This is especially true when it comes to parenting choices. Will you:
- Use birth control or
breed like rabbitslet God determine your family size?
- Deliver at home or in the hospital?
- With or without an epidural?
- Breast or bottle feed?
- Stay home with your 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 made/are making, even when you have no such comparison in mind.
They assume that you do what you are doing because you think your way is better — and they’re probably right. To keep peace, you must hold to your convictions in humility. You needn’t apologize for your decisions, but neither should you be prideful or self-righteous about them.
As much as possible, 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 are spoiled/ birth control is evil/ 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, nonjudgemental interest in their lives, as well, they will be far less likely to write you off or freeze you out of their conversations.
- Use birth control or
Understand the Undercurrents
Keep in mind there may be things going on under the surface that you don’t know about. You are excited about the prospect of having a new baby and are 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.
- Perhaps she’s been brainwashed by zero-population-growth proponents and believes having more than one child is a selfish abuse of natural resources.
- Maybe she’s struggling financially and doesn’t think she can afford another baby.
- Maybe she’s dealing with guilt over a past abortion, and your baby-talk is a reminder of a choice she now regrets.
- Perhaps she has difficult pregnancies and doesn’t relish the idea of being sick for nine more months.
- Maybe she wants another baby, but her husband is resistant to the idea.
- Maybe her husband’s pressuring her to have a baby, and she fears your getting pregnant 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 your sister-in-laws’ reactions to the news that you and your husband are trying for a third baby are influenced by far more than your simple announcement.
Treat Them as You Wish to be Treated
Even if you are 100% certain that the rude comments you’re hearing are not 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. Do not repay insult for injury.
Yes, that even includes sister-in-laws who treat us like we’re crazy.
Let Your Life Win Them Over
Finally, realize this isn’t an argument you can win in an afternoon. You are 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 they don’t embrace your choices, they will likely come to respect you for making them.
In the meantime, find like-minded friends who share your love and desire for children. Announce pregnancies first to those who will rejoice with you over the news instead of rolling their eyes or launching into another lecture about why having more children in a bad idea.
If you don’t have any friends like that, write and let me know when that third (or fourth or fifth) is on the way. I promise to be happy for you! 🙂 I hope these thoughts will help you, even if your extended family doesn’t rejoice with you over such wonderful news!