I often take all of my children on errands and really, I enjoy having them all with me. The local grocery store, Trader Joe's (definitely my happy place) and various other establishments are visited on a fairly regular basis. Something I have been mulling over the past few months are the very obvious stares, comments and frequency of quiet laughs I get from various people while we are out on the town. Now don't get me wrong--I'm not here to complain about this at all. And really, we are quite a crew so I can kinda see where some people are coming from. Usually I've got my two-year-old on the front of the cart manning the list, my nearly four-year-old inspecting the grocery cart items checking the items in the cart against the list in his brother's hand (this does get tedious at times) and my little baby riding comfortably on my back so I am not denying that my cart is full--of children that is. And in fact, many people are generally very kind offering words of encouragement and such. But why are we so strange? I only have three children. It's not like I'm leading a crowd through the grocery store...and all my boys are fairly cheerful throughout. Why so many looks of wonder?
While I'm not totally sure, I do have some theories that I think are worth pondering. One is that three children (and more) has become a "large" family to many. I'm not here to knock various people's opinions about how many children to have etc...I just have to note though, how our society has really shifted. When I was growing up, not too long ago, three to four children in a family was fairly average. I grew up in a family of three and I never thought we were a large family. I had a few friends who came from families of 6 and that was more "large" in those days. Nevertheless, they always seemed to have tons of fun probably due to how many playmates they had at their disposal and I never thought they were strange either. And really, six was probably fairly average a generation or two before that.
Over time the average family size has dwindled and currently there are some countries that have birth rates that are so much in decline that parents aren't even replacing themselves anymore. You can check out Albert Mohler's blog for more information on that topic http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=323. Yet are people happier? I know I'm speaking generally here but are all of the other pursuits worth it? These are things I ponder after many trips to the store. And I'm really trying to figure out what's really going on.
What's really at the heart of the issue here? It's not how many children a family has that is the problem I think but rather how we think about children. Are they there to give us a tax break, be shown off as trophies, be indulged so much that they end up feeling entitled to anything and everything, to make us feel good? Of course, none of these reasons are why God has given us children. God has given them for a blessing. And they're all a blessing whether it's one or fifteen (again we're not debating numbers here). I'm not sure that our society values children as much anymore and dare I say that those of us in the church don't as much as we should either. It's one thing for the world not to do so, but we know better. Jesus made it very clear that in order to be saved one must become like a child and He regularly spoke about children receiving the Kingdom. Jesus was often found tending to the children in a crowd. I must ask myself whether I am valuing my own children like Jesus did or am I letting my culture influence how I think about them. Do I think of them as a nuisance and just people to raise so that I can get on with my life afterward? Or do I think of them as my life (after God and my husband of course) worthy of all of my attention, love and care? These are things I think about.
But here's another side as well...I don't just get comments about how many children I have and pathetic stares of pity and such, I also get many older women who approach me and tell me how much they miss their own children at a young age and how they fondly remember carting their own throughout the store. Many tell me how many they had (a lot of times it's manymore than 3!), what they're doing now and all about their grandchildren. I think to myself, "Will I lament later? Will I reminesce and miss this stage of life when all of my boys are off on their own?" I know it's cliche to say but I must cherish this time in my life. It only comes once. I have the miracle of feeling an unborn child kick mysteriously inside my body. I, as a woman, get to see the satisfaction my babies get while being comforted on the breast. God has given me this time to impart life to my family. I must learn from these grocery store experiences that I need to live for today and not for tomorrow when it supposedly will all get easier. Oh to have that wisdom!
My two-year-old threw his arms around my neck the other day, kissed me and said "I love you Mommy" and it was the first time he's ever said that without being prompted. I wish that I could remember his look and smell forever. I want to soak up these times like a sponge and ask God to give me the grace to appreciate them for all they're worth. As hard as life can be with little ones underfoot, God has given me enough grace and enough blessings to enjoy the ride. And really, I better get used to it, because Lord willing we'll have more children so the comments can only get worse. I just pray God will keep teaching me things from these experiences. I never knew I could learn so much from mornings out at Safeway.