Holding Me Back

Chelsea - holy family

Chelsea - holy family

I don’t try to hide the fact that I have a larger than average family, but I don’t usually volunteer the information, either. It’s not that I am ashamed. I am just tired of having to either defend my choice or explain personal details of my life to an openly hostile or friendly but overly-curious public.

I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.

This is a good thing because it builds our empathy as a society. It is my job to be kind to people and decide on my own personal boundaries for what I will and will not share.

This week I had an unusually negative encounter. I helped to chaperone a field trip for my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. After touring the museum, we went to a park with the kids to eat lunch and let them play a while. A few of the parents and grandparents were talking around a picnic table when the conversation turned to pregnancy. I let slip that I was expecting our tenth child. I’m not sure why I did that, but it came tumbling out of my mouth. After clarifying that I did, indeed say “tenth” an older man told me, “You know, the Pope said you don’t have to breed like bunnies.”

I confess that I have been expecting this “helpful” advice since the Pope made those statements and have read some well done blog posts about the context of them in preparation. I still wasn’t ready. All I could stammer out was, “Those remarks were made in a much larger context.” He replied, “I don’t even know what that means.”

My cheeks were feeling hot, and I wasn’t thinking all that well. I just told him that there was a lot more that the Pope said about families during that conversation and the ones that came before it in the Philippines. And then I just waited and hoped that the subject would die there.

Maybe I should have been more ready to evangelize, especially since this man had just been talking about sending his granddaughter to a Catholic school next year. But I was tired, slightly nauseated, and had just spent two hours helping to keep track of a group of 5 year olds in a crowded museum.

The conversation didn’t die there. It got much worse. He then asked me something I have never been asked by a stranger before, “But don’t they hold you back?”

My mind reeled. Hold me back? How dare he suggest such a thing! I said, “Of course they don’t. My family is my life.” And I could almost feel him thinking, Silly girl, children have to grow up sometime, and you have to do other things besides raise children. Or maybe that was just the echo of my own thoughts. I excused myself from the conversation then, and went to help round up the children.

The problem with what he said wasn’t just that it was rude and intrusive, it was that I had that exact thought when I found out I was pregnant this time. Everyone was potty trained. Outings usually didn’t need any kind of stroller or special gear. Bedtime was a constant thing and I could expect a time every night when the little kids were all in bed, giving me time to read or unwind.

I had several mornings a week when everyone was in school and I could work on writing, shopping, or catching up with the general work that needed to be done. I didn’t have to pay for babysitting when I went to the women’s group at a local parish. My family is big and complicated, but suddenly I was finding a little space for myself to breathe and to get caught up on sleep. Not being sleep deprived is a wonderful feeling!

As I stared at those two pink lines that morning, I saw all that slipping through my fingers. My plans to spend the coming year writing and building my Etsy shop began to evaporate. I would wait a little longer to lose the baby weight. I was being held back.

I spent some time pouting about this and praying for a better attitude. Mixed into all this was the fear of another miscarriage. I knew I didn’t want that at all. A baby may be complicated, but it is not a time of physical and emotional suffering like a miscarriage. It was all tangled in my heart and mind.

The idea of “Holding Me Back” became like a rock in my shoe. It poked me, it irritated me. It was always present, and I didn’t like it. Finally as I began to revise the goals I had for the upcoming year, I decided it was time to let it go.

My family is indeed my life here, my marriage is my vocation. They have been my path to God and to the discovery of what I was put here to do. How could I then say that was holding me back? Could that possibly mean that these other ideas were holding me back from truly serving my family wholeheartedly?

This isn’t a new lesson for me. It seems I need to be retaught this one every few years. My heart gets restless and the mundane, repetitive parts of my life begin to drain my energy. I start to look around for ways to use my talents that can be seen by others, that are worthwhile to talk about among adults who have jobs. Then I am reminded that those others aren’t the ones I was put here to serve or impress.

This time my lesson came in the form of a beautiful book that has been instrumental in changing my heart: Into Your Hands, Father by Wilfred Stinessen. This book has been helpful in pointing out when my thinking starts going in circles.

For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide me closer to Him.

That conversation threw me back into turmoil for a few hours, but I was able to remember why it wasn’t a problem. I will still pursue outlets for my talents and interests, but I will be more careful now of letting them hold me back from my family, especially from delighting in this precious new baby who is truly a gift.

My family does hold me back, mostly from my own very selfish heart. I hope that I can learn to not hold myself back from them.

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13 thoughts on “Holding Me Back”

  1. You are to be commended for your faithfulness to God’s calling on your life. Your story blessed me. May God richly bless you and your family.

  2. This was inspirational to me and just what I needed to raise me up above those “mundane tasks” draining my energy and making me forget the gifts I have! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Congratulations, Jenni on your tenth child!

    “Don’t you know that the Pope said you shouldn’t breed like bunnies?”

    That is such a small-minded thing to say– not just rude or intrusive, small-minded. Truly. Because comments like that betray not just a lack of charity, or ignorance, but also a lack of an imagination. If we can just have the families that God means for us– be they no children, one child, two or more children, biological children, adopted children, or a combination of adopted, biological, and foster children– all of which is possible within obedience to the Magisterium– we will show how challenging Catholic orthodoxy is: orthodoxy thinks bigger, and therefore challenges our usual ways of thinking (and yeah, okay: it can mess with our heads, too, in the best way possible). When the Pope says that having child after child after child isn’t necessary to be a “good Catholic,” but big families are definitely okay, and that whatever God gives you is whatever God gives you, but no contraception is necessary, the rest of the world goes “…bwuh-huuhhhh?!” But we don’t have to. We know– or should know– how it all fits together.

    And as you write, that’s hard enough for us all. We often lack an imagination when it comes to God’s plans. So we always have some growing to do.

    “For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is
    God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my
    job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He
    has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide
    me closer to Him.”

    Bingo. A lot of the times, it can be a temptation to figure things out, because somehow if we don’t, we aren’t being aware enough of God’s plan. Simcha Fisher and Peter Kreeft have written some good things about discernment– about what it is and isn’t. It was a relief to read them, just as it is a relief to read you. Sometimes, we tie ourselves in knots trying to grow inward-looking eyeballs, whereby the temptation can be to think that we missed this one opportunity, this one chance, and now we’re scuh-rewed— we didn’t obey God’s will, we messed up God’s loving plan for us, and now He’s mad at us.

    Sometimes, we even have to let go of our ideas of how we’re going to evangelize and how God will use us. There are some Catholic women who can’t have as many children as they would like, or can’t have children, period, who were hoping to have big families and to communicate to their families that one needn’t be afraid of a big family–a deep desire for children is also natural. Except God had other plans. They see those with big families, some of whom say things that are just as small-minded and lacking in imagination, just coming the other way, and they likewise feel intruded upon when somebody, say, asks them out of the blue if they’re contracepting (because hey, we’re all Catholic here, right?), knowing that they’d be happy if God just gave them one child. Infertility can be confusing and painful, and often a silent cross that couples bear in our providentialism-or-the-pill culture (the elephant in the room in this whole thing is assumptions about the separation of faith and reason). Those Catholics who are willing to talk about it as they prayerfully puzzle through their frustrations and what God does mean for them sometimes don’t realize that they are witnessing so powerfully, even if it’s not in the way they earlier imagined.

  4. Birgit Atherton Jones

    Oh my goodness! What a beautifully honest account of life with arms and heart full. I wish everyone would read this.

    “I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.”

    What a great outlook! Yes, even I have spoken the ‘hands full’ comment. When I say it it’s a mixture of wishing I still had my hands full (thank God for lots of grandbabies who visit me often) and a compliment for doing the most important job in the world.

    God bless you and your family. Congrats on the two pink lines!

  5. God Bless you! Yes that is exactly what openness to life gives, unselfish love, the better good. You are choosing an immortal soul to live with God, everything else decays and blows away. God Bless you and your husband for such generous self-giving love.

  6. Congratulations on the new baby! I only have half your number but I still rehearse lines in my head for when I get comments about my family size. It’s a constant battle, that’s for sure.

  7. Dear Jenni-It was not a Catholic walking into the arena with full knowledge she was going to torn to pieces and eaten alive by wild beasts-but it was close. Easy evangelization could not have achieved what you did-this was tough-love evangelizing you did -the most prolife statement here today is a child-and a child acknowledged in the womb of its mother, publicly, is as prolife as it gets. You go girl-actually you two go girl. Thank you for suffering what you did.Your child wears the full armor of God, and the armor is you. Guy McClung, San Antonio ps-check out poem Holy Wholly Holy at CatholicLane

  8. SnowCherryBlossoms

    Big families are the best!! I loved your story and your openness. I have a sister with 8 children and she hears all these same things. Like you, she struggled with the same issue and has decided it is her calling. My daughter has 6 and wants at least 2 more and told me this when she was about 9 years old- her dream came true and her family is beautiful. She always knew this was her calling. Sometimes when she is grocery shopping people will comment on how many kids she has and she usually responds by telling them she plans to have several more and smiles as they squirm. My family is huge and none of us would ever want it any differently 🙂 The only issue I have with such a huge family is the Holidays are insane and crazy, ha-ha! Trying to squeeze 50+ people into a normal sized home and feeding in shifts is quite the sight to behold!
    I feel bad for people like the guy who so rudely spoke to you the way he did. The world is a very hard cold place sometimes and he has no idea what he’s missing out on. God Bless you and your family!

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  10. Grace--amoiesu.wordpress.com

    Hi Mrs. Groft! I didn’t know you were a Catholic Stand blogger! Excellent post! Praying for you and your newest child! — Grace Jezek

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