Once I was in the checkout line at Walmart. I had two babies with me. One was in my shopping cart, the other in my belly. Both were uncomfortable—but not as uncomfortable as the cashier, a girl about my own age, who looked at me with awe and pity. Her gaze went from little Peter, eighteen months old, to the balloon that was my belly.
“Omigoodness,” she said. “They’ll be so close.”
I smiled. “They’ll be friends.”
“But it will be so hard,” she whispered.
“It will probably be hard in the beginning, but they’ll grow up as buddies,” I said.
I spent the next five minutes reassuring her that it was all going to be okay—as if she was the one with the burden to bear.
Now I have four children (with number five obviously on the way), and I can’t go anywhere without somebody saying something. I’ve got my share of “Better you than me!” and the old reliable “You’ve got your hands full!”
Before this pregnancy began to show, whenever someone would make a comment about my children, Peter would proudly declare, “There’s another one in there! In Mama’s belly!” What could I do but blush and nod?
Some folks are joking or being friendly. Or maybe, like the girl at Walmart, they’re just concerned. And yet, many really are annoyed, or even angry. Sometimes I get frowns, scowls, and rolling eyes. I’ve had people stiffen or turn away, as if it’s painful just to look at us. And some of the comments cross the line from playful to bitter.
Of course, these comments and looks aren’t limited to grocery store outings. At a recent holiday gathering I was talking to a family member about her work. When she was done telling me about her woes working a job she doesn’t like, she asked me if I work.
I gestured to my youngest with a smile. “I have plenty of work to do with these guys around.”
No response, not even a sympathetic grin. And that was the end of our conversation.
It can be hard to know how to sort it all out. How many of the jokes are malicious? How much of it is all in my head?
After all, we live in a culture increasingly hostile to God. I think about all the pressures against a woman like me—a housewife and a mother.
Women aren’t supposed to want children today. They’re supposed to want the world! I know my very existence, the fact of a pregnant young mom pushing a grocery cart with four children zipping around her, is a slap in the face to every person in that store who put career ahead of family, or got an abortion. No wonder they lash out.
I have to fight it in myself, too. It’s hard keeping track of a grocery list and eight wandering hands and feet, let alone dealing with looks or comments from strangers. I don’t want to feel shame. I have everything to be cheerful about and nothing to be ashamed of. Still, as a young mom at the grocery store, I’m in a battle.
Am I being Persecuted with a capital P? Well, it’s hard to compare some bad vibes at Kroger with whips and chains and burnings at the stake.
Still, I think of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Persecute is a big word, but insult and falsely say all kinds of evil are not so off the mark. In some very humble, very first world, itsy-bitsy, undeserving way, the blessing of that verse is mine.
Because a person can inflict shame as surely as he can inflict a knife wound. A person can inflict shame through a cross look when your kids patter by him in the produce section. A person can inflict shame through a twist of the lips when your baby won’t stop crying in the checkout line. The person may truly and consciously hate children and motherhood. Many people do. Many more people are just unthinking sons and daughters of their culture.
The shame is felt just the same, and it’s felt, in some small way, for the sake of Jesus. Because, for me, being a wife and mom is part of obeying Jesus. It’s a matter of trusting that God made me to bear children and children are His blessing.
And knowing the shame is for Jesus’ sake doesn’t make me feel it any less. To assume my faith makes me untouched by those darts would be as nonsensical as to assume the faith of every saint made him unaffected by fire or bullets.
However, before getting too swept up in my role as Young Mother and Walmartyr, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s only a trip to the grocery store. I don’t have to be ready with my dukes up, armed with witty comments and a defensive attitude—as if it’s me against them.
It’s true that our culture punishes young women for becoming wives and mothers. And it’s true that having to feel that pressure at the grocery store is a sign of the growing evil of our times. But at the end of the day, it’s not exactly whips and chains and fire. People are sinners, and sinners do sinful things.
And, really, my children are the best defense against whatever lies ahead. If Jake and I train them well, by God’s grace they will defend me from any evil, and they will be salt and light.
One kind, middle-aged lady put it best when she stopped me in Walmart. She smiled a big smile at all my babies and shook her head.
“I wouldn’t want to be a woman in this world without children,” she said.