I see you looking at me as I herd my handful of kids into the supermarket. I know that reaction well. It usually goes like this: the eyebrows raise, then the eyes look down, and then either a silent whistle or a chuckle to oneself. The body-language reflects the other all-too-common and maddening comments:
“Better you than me.”
“You got your hands full.”
“You’re a busy woman.”
All of them are wrought with sarcasm, and I never understand how a passer-by would find these things helpful to say. Are they trying to evoke some sympathy?
Listen. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t say this out of anger or defensiveness, waiting to pounce on the slightest good intention and label it as misguided. I REALLY don’t want or even need your sympathy. And you know why?
Because I am actually happy.
It was completely unexpected for me too.
It may surprise you, but I never envisioned having a large family. I don’t consider myself someone who is particularly good with little kids. I used to be completely ambivalent about motherhood. Sure, I wanted to be a mom. I guess. Someday. But here I am, four children in tow, and you may be feeling sorry for the plight of my overburdened, frazzled, lost sense-of-self life.
Even though I may look less than graceful as I guide my darling little strong-willed versions of myself through the aisles, I am ultimately happy with my lot in life. The scene at the supermarket may be intensely chaotic, but I have some other more peaceful moments in my day. Don’t feel sorry for me. Really. It turns out I am actually quite happy.
But do you know what I feel sorry for?
I feel sorry that motherhood is considered merely a side show of a woman’s talent and education.
I feel sorry that our children have become the next measure in the keeping up with the Jones’. No longer is merely a big home and fast car the signs of success. Now our kids’ academic load and athletic promise are lumped into the high stake game of comparing ourselves to others.
I feel sorry that any woman with more than two children spaced 2.5 years apart must be either a religious freak, uneducated, or both. I am sorry that for the sake of choice we have left women feeling so pressured to plan the perfect family, creating yet another measure of success to be compared.
I feel sorry that the high costs of a college education, owning a home, and day care have all bore an overwhelming fear in young couples looking to get married and have kids.
I feel sorry that there is a mentality that pervades our society, namely the equation that children = burden.
I feel sorry that I believed all these things for so long and completely overlooked the potential for joy in my life.
Because for all the responsibilities, worries, and frustrations that come with having kids, I have also experienced a whole new dimension to life’s purpose, and that happiness and love ultimately override the fears.
So please don’t feel sorry for me. I should not be the focus of your sympathy. And even if I may not exactly be smiling right at this moment, please know that I am truly happy.