Saturday, June 2, 2007

An Authentic Show

The other day I was talking to a friend, the mother of nine, and she mentioned that when you have a big family, you just can't drop the ball on anything. You know, things like forgetting a school lunch or not having the right soccer jersey or missing a dance recital or being late for a musical. Her comment gave me some pause, and I thought, she's right; I put that same pressure on myself. What it is, I think, is that although everyone is late now and then, or forgets or misplaces things, when a mother of a big family makes some such error, we think that others will believe that obviously we have too many children -- too many children to care for properly. The pressure increases, too, when there are all the more people, places and things to keep track of and be on time for, it can make one's head spin!

I guess that is one of the little things that makes having a big family in this culture more difficult. Just the natural assumptions, biases and misunderstandings people have about big families. I imagine it would be nice to live in a society where big families were the norm, a society where we mothers of many could show up in public, late, with a mismatched toddler, a forgotten permission slip, and a little boy with grubby hands, without anyone thinking that we're not up to the task of parenting.

I have been struggling with this for a while. Where I live, for various reasons, our family has been in the "public eye" of our community a good bit. Of course, I want to make a good impression and represent big families and my Catholic faith well, but how do we find the balance between wanting to give a respectable presentation, which is a good thing, while avoiding the sins of pride and vanity?

I think it is important to live authentically, that's where we find the balance. It is important to teach our children to be well mannered and dress appropriately. It is important that we, as mothers, work hard to stay organized and practice being responsible and prayerful about our priorities. If we're doing theses things during our hours and days at home, it will "show" when we're out --- and it won't be a "show" either, it will be real. However, at the same time, if our littles are displaying their authentic selves with ice cream dripping down their shirts, or a couple of our authentic preschoolers get into a fight in the check out line, or we are late for Mass, we can't get all hung up on these failures. They are lessons in humility. And, let me tell you, it's especially humbling to make these public foibles when you look up and notice all the eyes are on your family, fingers are pointing, and mouths are silently counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.