Last month, I wrote about one of the ways Christians might be sabotaging the pro-life movement. I wish there was only one way but in fact, I think using exclusively religious language to frame our debate is only part of the problem. There is an even stronger method of self defeat in which we are engaging that has the potential to do far more damage to the cause of the unborn. And it’s something good mothers do every day…
* * *
Once upon a time, I was a typical, passionate activist. I stood outside the Planned Parenthoods; I engaged in debates on college campus; I wrote ardent letters to the newspaper, sought out discussions online and bought my pro-life checks. I did what I could to help further the Pro-Life cause.
And I felt righteous… checking off that box of good behavior and moving along.
After having a few children, my activity subsided. Some women can strap a baby on their back and buckle a toddler in a stroller and brave the elements to march the rallies. I commend and respect these women. But I was not one of them. See, I was busy sabotaging their efforts in the daily grind of my life. It took me a while to notice, but the reality is now clear as day; the fight to change our culture of death is fought on both the public and private fronts, and in many different venues. Where I was failing, and where so many ‘pro-life’ mothers also struggle, is in our attitudes. In what we show to the world, we are often sending the very opposite message that we want people to have: “Hey everyone! Parenthood is a horrible, irritating, exhausting thing… but by golly, you should choose life!”
How often do you go to the grocery store and see a woman who has more than two children, not looking frazzled or exhausted or not snapping at her children? Sadly, this is a pretty common sight for me; indeed I am shamed to admit that I have been that woman. Some of us walk around in such nasty, irritated moods that I wonder, “Is it really surprising that people view children as little more than economic burdens?!” What are we doing to change the public perception of motherhood? We have no idea about the people we encounter or who are watching us. There may be a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy looking at us and saying to herself, “I refuse to become that woman!” There may be an older woman who has already had an abortion thinking, “And THAT is why I didn’t want to be a mother!” These chance, public witnesses don’t get to see the sweeter side of our life— the parts that make all the struggles worth it. Very often, all many people see is the picture of miserable mother. And WE are responsible for helping along these depraved mindsets and allowing the roots of evil to embed in our societal perception of parenthood!
With six rowdy children, I know as well as anyone the challenge of taking my crew out in public. Frankly it can bring out the worst in any good woman. But even with all the reasons in the world to act frustrated, tired and annoyed, there is no excuse to do so. I used to think it was disingenuous to “fake it” by being cheerful when you were miserable or exhausted. Then I got to know Mother Teresa a bit better and learned how she very often felt depressed, tired and annoyed. Yet she had a smile to heal the world! Was she “faking it” as she was able to help the sick and poor and raise the dignity of the human person on an internationally recognized scale?! Not at all. She was simply mastering her own interior life and choosing to not entertain negative thoughts. She allowed grace to manifest itself despite her personal feelings.
And this is the burden and gift mothers have today. We aren’t all able to be out doing the protests with our more intrepid sisters. But we all have an incredibly important job to do in helping to heal the culture. When I’m out and about nowadays, I make very concerted efforts to control my facial expressions, to speak in a calm tone and a lower volume to my children, to smile and laugh with them often, to be slow to anger (when they rip open a package of Oreos they snuck into the cart or drop the glass jar of salad dressing all over Aisle 7). This takes a tremendous amount of self control. But I think to myself “I want people to think mothering is a lovely thing.” And I do! I know I certainly feel a heavy dose of admiration for mothers who appear happy to be mothers… who seem to be filled with joy even if you know their lot may be a tough one. And I want to be like them. I find it to be sad and absurd that the sight of a happy mother is a rare one. Let’s make it less rare!
Our job as Christians—better, our job as human beings— is to call out the lie that babies are nothing but burdens that lead parents to snarl and yank arms and grit teeth. Who wants to “choose life” when that’s the example of parenthood they see?!
The efforts will absolutely pay off. I notice that when I am the picture of sweetness and calmness, I generally receive positive feedback from the public. Sure there’ll always be the “Boy you’ve got your hands full!” people, but they are usually won over with a smile. And sometimes, people say really, really kind and touching things to me also. They share poignant memories of raising many children or smile and say how lucky my kids are to have such a nice mother or how they wish they would’ve had more children. The best part is that once you trick yourself into swallowing your nasty response to a child and being generous with the mercy and smiles instead… you really start to believe it yourself. A woman once remarked to me how amazed she was that I was so mellow with all my children. I couldn’t believe it. “Me! Mellow?! Lady, you must’ve mistaken me for someone else!!!” But why not? If I can master my interior frustration and act mellow, doesn’t that make me mellow? Wow, maybe I really can be a calm mother! And who doesn’t like seeing a calm mother?! Who can’t help but think well of motherhood when she is smiling and calm and clearly in love with her children?! Who might be given a glimmer of hope and courage that going through with a pregnancy might not be such a bad thing after all…
The power to change perceptions shouldn’t be taken lightly and it’s my hope that pro-lifers everywhere do more to consider the very simple, but very powerful ability we have to cause both harm and good in the eye of the public.