This has been rolling around in my head for quite some time, but before I go on, I must write a disclaimer. We're fine. I have no trouble with telling people when life is hard or being truthful about what life looks like... and most of the time it actually looks pretty OK. So, if you read this and are suddenly concerned that it is a desperate, silent cry for help... it's not. Still, others don't quite feel as comfortable sharing when life is hard (often for a reason) and that is what I want to address.
I have contact with a lot of different people. It won't surprise you that many of them of mothers of large families, mothers of adopted children, or both. When more than a few of these mothers get together, there is often a common theme that arises in the discussion. That is, when they are with other people who 'get' them, there is a freedom to kvetch and share the hard stuff. Now I know that this is natural. When you are with a group of people who have the same experiences as you, there is a level of understanding that just doesn't happen anywhere else. There is nothing wrong with this and it is healthy. But there is something else going on here. These mothers feel a freedom to share the truth with each other because they know that no one will say to them, "But you chose this." (I have only heard this line once or twice. People tend not to say it to me, it seems. But I know others hear it quite a bit or hear its implied meaning in other veiled comments. Trust me when I say it's a 'thing' and it happens.)
There seems to be the mistaken assumption out there that because someone chose to have more children than usual (or chose to adopt children) that it means it can't be hard or there can't be moments where you don't enjoy it or you can't complain. Nothing else in life works this way. In politics we are told the only way we can complain about something is if we had a voice in the choosing. People choose their spouses and complaining about them seems to be a national pastime. You often choose a career and complaining about your job is second only in popularity to complaining about your spouse. Yet I have heard innumerable stories from mothers of many that if they voice anything along the lines of how hard it can be sometimes, they are are shut down and essentially told you made your bed, now lie in it.
What I can't figure out is why this is. Parenting can be hard; it doesn't matter how many you have. We love our children and want the best for them. We want them to be healthy and happy and preferably not screaming at us. But they are little human beings with all of a human beings faults (just like us adults) and they will do things that annoy us and irritate us and scare the heck out of us. It's all a part of parenting. If you've ever parented, no matter how many children, you understand this.
So if parents of one, two, or three children get to complain about parenting and hard and crazy life can be, then why not parents of eight, nine, or ten? Mothers of large families feel as though they carry a burden to constantly defend their choices... life must be always wonderful, easy, beautiful... or somehow it feels it makes these choices invalid. Some mothers feel this pressure to an unhealthy extent and the consequences can be devastating.
We must decide to get rid of this image of mothers of large families or mothers of special needs adopted children as somehow more superhuman than your average mother. Because if you want the real truth. We're not. Not one mother who fits into these categories (and I know more than a few) feels as though she is any better or more equipped than any other mother, regardless of family size or dynamics.
The truth is, we have more practice so some things are just easier (laundry, cooking, navigating schedules). These are learned skills that anyone who practices them consistently can learn. There is nothing superhuman about it.
The truth is, that as much as things can be difficult, we also have the possibilities for a lot of joy. I get a lot of hugs and kisses and pictures and "I love you's" throughout the day. The different number of personalities makes for great entertainment and laughter and there is always someone to do something with. There are a lot of good things and these good things can get you through the day.
The truth is, things can also be hard. Stomach flu through a family of 12? Really not so fun. When you have so many children you are opening yourself up to greater possibilities of being hurt. At times the worry for each of these precious children can be overwhelming. When everyone is grouchy? Having a lot of grouchy people around isn't fun.
The truth is, it doesn't matter how many children you have, you will experience the same things. The mother of many will just experience each of them to a greater degree... both the good and the bad. If she complains or is having a hard time, allow her the space to express these feelings. Treat her as you would any other mother. Because when she says something is hard, it has no reflection on anyone else. It also doesn't mean that her choices were wrong. Just because raising many children can be hard, doesn't make it wrong. Just because opening your home and family and life to a child with special needs is hard, doesn't make it wrong.
We are not superhuman. No one is. We may have just learned a little bit better that we do nothing in our own power. I may not be amazing, but my God certainly is.
Another new article: Word of the Year: Beautiful