“When we decide to stop having hot sex,” one of Pia de Solenni’s multi-childrened friends answers when someone asks them when they’re going to stop having children. Another friend would say, “I don’t know. How much is in your bank account?”
Pia herself borrows this line when people ask her when she’s going to have a baby. One man, having asked for her and her husband’s procreative plans and in return been asked how much money he had, complained that hers was a personal question. She explained to him that his was also a personal question.
We had only four children, but when they were small, strangers would accost my wife and many of those strangers were not just impertinent but vicious. Sometimes they offered faux-concerned questions of the prosecuting attorney’s type and sometimes they gave lectures, often with references to their own rectitude in having just one or two children. The people who did this were almost always later-middle-aged women and they almost always struck in the grocery or in a department store where she couldn’t get away from them.
No one ever did this when I was around. A couple of times as I rounded the end of the aisle with whatever I’ve gone off to find, one of those women would see me coming and quickly scuttle away, and my wife explained she’d gotten another rude lecture. I always wished I’d been there, so I could have said with a concerned face and voice, “Oh, I’m soooo sorry for you. We like our children.” Or something ruder. But like all predators, these people waited till their victim was unprotected.
Judgmental comments are something you have to expect when you live even a short ways outside the norms and expectations of mainstream middle class society. Many people don’t care and others like seeing people live differently, but some other people feel the need to shame those who don’t live by the norm. When our children were younger I was insulted in conversations for not having a television, which I had thought was the kind of artsy, crunchy-granola choice most middle class people would appreciate and perhaps admire. But only sometimes.
Homeschoolers get such remarks all the time, especially about their children’s alleged lack of socialization. The remarks come in the two forms I’ve already mentioned: the concerned question and the straight-out denunciation. In my experience, home-schooled children are if anything too well socialized. They’re at least very comfortable with adults, and hang around when you’d like them to go away.
The critical questions and comments come often from people who’ve met your children and know them to be well-mannered and capable of conversation, and who themselves have sullen, lumpish public school-educated children who can’t relate to adults at all, or surly ones who clearly don’t want to. It’s a bit much being lectured on socialization by people whose children are a few short steps from juvenile court.
Along with homeschoolers, couples with large families are the most often hit. As Sylvia Bass, the writer whose HuffPost article spurred Pia’s comments, explained about peoples’ response to her having four children, which she calls the “stock portfolio approach to child-bearing.” “There seems to be some unspoken rule that you are only allowed to have two children: one girl and one boy, about 2-5 years apart. If you mess up and fail to meet the gender quota of one of each, you are permitted to go out on a limb and have a third. However, you will risk endless ridicule from strangers if you really mess up and end up with (God forbid) THREE of the same gender.”
Christians, and others who for reasons of principle live a somewhat counter-cultural life, should get used to this. It’s not going to get any better. Some of the public expressions of Christian commitment will become increasingly more eccentric to mainstream middle-class culture as that culture becomes not only more secular but more worldly, and the conflicts more practical. The people who claim to speak for freedom, choice, and pluralism don’t mean it as a principle to be indifferently applied. Their criticisms will only grow.