Picture this – you are going shopping at your local grocery store or at your most frequented retailer. You are pushing a cart and in that cart is a car seat with a 3-month-old sleeping boy. In the kid’s seat of the cart is a loud and happy one-and-a-half-year-old boy who is emphatically slapping your hands on the cart as you near the door. Walking next to the left side of the cart is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed 3-year-old girl asking you why the sky is blue, why the sun is yellow, and if she should wear a pink dress tomorrow. Finally, walking on the right side of the cart is a little 5-year-old boy who is repeatedly asking you if he can look at the newest Hot Wheels when we are done shopping. As you are approaching the door, a middle-aged woman comes out…looks at you…looks at the miniaturized bus known as a shopping cart…looks at you again and says, “Boy, you have your hands full!”
I have just described for you a common phrase I experience while shopping with my 4 amazing children. My wife and I have joked about this comment, but most recently, we have talked about it with seriousness and reflection. I feel the message that is trying to be conveyed is, “I can’t believe you have that many kids!” I have heard the phrase be delivered with a negative connotation, neutral connotation, and even an eye-roll and a scoff. I have heard it twice accompanied by a smile and a helping hand. This phrase was still the first reaction of these individuals in response to a “large” family. And it got me thinking, why is this the most common phrase I encounter when I am with my kids? Why do people joke with me that I can “stop having kids any time now!” Why does that all feel lighthearted and acceptable?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it seems to me that this overarching language and sentiment demonstrates a culture that is far from seeing children as a blessing. The phrase alone without any body language or inflection implies that kids are causing an individual more work. Now, pair that with any negative body language or inflection, and the phrase implies that the work that kids are imposing on their parents is unfortunate or – dare I say – wrongful. As a father of 4, I will not pretend that raising kids does not require dedicated work. My point is, do we want to have the association of “work” and “child/children” be the first thing we verbalize to a parent? Even with good intention (like the gentleman who said this phrase and opened the church door for me and my kids), this phrase implies work that needs assistance. And no, that last example is not a bad thing, but I still think it misses the mark; it misses a truly pro-life opportunity that goes beyond extending a helping hand.
Imagine if, instead of saying, “you have your hands full,” to a parent with kids, you said, “what a beautiful family!” I’ll tell you right now, my shopping days would be so much brighter if I heard, “what a beautiful family” instead of “you have your hands full!” The implication of this simple phrase is incredibly counter-cultural in my opinion. It not only identifies the beauty of parenthood, but also the immeasurable beauty of the children. It opens the door for a conversation, instead of a quippy remark. It can be followed up with, “can I help you?” and then you’ve hit a homerun!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I offer you this challenge to live and breathe the pro-life cause more deeply. Try and make it a habit to say, “what a beautiful family” to the next family you see. If we make this phrase common in our circle of friends, maybe even our hometown, and dare-I-dream, our states, then we will have cultivated a culture that sees the dignity and immeasurable gift of parenthood and children. If we want others to see the immeasurable gift of life inside the womb, we must actively seek out opportunities to treat life as an immeasurable gift to the stranger on the street. On top of that, the next time you see a mom or dad herding their kids through the store and trying to grab something on the top shelf: DON’T stare out of the corner of your eye, DON’T turn up the music in your headphones and ignore it, and DON’T walk away. Instead, go and encounter and become a part of that family for all of 30 seconds. Offer a hand and let them know how beautiful of a sight it is to have their kids in that store. Is this a massive challenge? Absolutely. It is one that will be difficult for my wife and me, even though we completely understand the effort it takes to raise a “large” family. But it is a challenge worth accepting. It is a habit worth correcting. It is a way to live pro-life in the simplest and most profound of ways.
“[Some] believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” Gandalf from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey