Family, Dignity, and Biting My Tongue

It started out as a perfectly mundane shopping trip. Our youngest (nearly one) sat in the front of the cart and our two oldest (two and a half and four, respectively) were riding in the basket. I was at the helm. It was last winter and we were shopping for sweaters. Our oldest was calling out the color of each sweater on the rack. His sisters clapped with hearty approbation. A woman approached me and, with more than a soupçon of disbelief and disgust, asked me, “Are those all yours?”

“Yes,” I replied, “These are all mine.” She stopped. She stared. She shook her head and clucked her tongue in disapproval. She walked away. I prayed (Oh, Lord did I pray) for the self-control to not pummel her with the diaper bag and assail her with language below the dignity of Christian womanhood. I bit my tongue. Our oldest looked up at me with hurt and confusion. “It’s ok,” I said. “We’re ok.”

Yes, by today’s standards, our family is (kind of) big. Yes, our children are relatively close in age. Yes, we are a large, loud, interracial, Catholic family. And watch out, by the grace of God, we might just get bigger. Yes, I am a woman with an elite graduate education who (of her own joyful volition, I might add) is a stay-at-home parent. That’s how we roll. That’s our family. I’m sharing this story because it brought something home to me. Families — and I mean all sorts of families — have dignity. Family is about people loving each other and supporting each other and committing themselves to each other. Family is complicated. Family is essential. Family needs to be celebrated. No one deserves to be publically humiliated because their family doesn’t fit into somebody else’s domestic ideal. No child should ever be made to feel like the people who love them, cherish them, and support them are less than a family. If a certain domestic situation doesn’t fit your religious, political, or socio-economic model of what a family ought to look like … fine. Fair enough. The thing is that none of us have the right to denigrate people who love, respect, and care for each other. Loving homes — whatever their make up — make this world a better, safer place.

This week — the last week before the beginning of Advent — let’s pray for families. All families. Let’s hold in our hearts the image of the Holy Family (made up of a virgin, a celibate, and, well, God Incarnate … not exactly “normal” by most standards). Let’s do our best during this season of family, office, and church get-togethers to remember the dignity of each family we encounter. Remember, it’s not your job to judge. You are absolutely and unequivocally unqualified for that job. Jesus said so. It’s your job to love. Love big. And have the humility to see God’s love reflected in a family that doesn’t look like your own. (Also, keep your commentary to yourself. You never know when the diaper bag of righteous indignation will crash down upon you.)