First of all, the Ginormous Disclaimer:
I know that 99-Point-A-Gigantic-Decimal-Value-That-Means-Almost-One-Hundred-Percent of priests and deacons are sensitive men of God who do not make hurtful assumptions, and even if they occasionally do, they do not make them to demolish anyone. They do it because they are human, as the rest of us are. And we've all made assumptions that could be hurtful to someone we don't know well. So, we're all guilty of this in one way or another. I've been on both sides of this hurt.
But recently I received a comment on my post, A Good Catholic Family, and it broke my heart.
The commenter (who has had nine miscarriages) said:
We were leaving the chapel and walking behind a mom and her six kids. The deacon saw them and said, "Oh how wonderful, what a blessing your children are!" He looked at me and my two kids, turned away and said nothing.
"Ouch" doesn't begin to describe what happened here. I had something similar happen after my fifth miscarriage, and it took everything in me to hold myself together in the moment and get through it. I told myself that the person reacting to me didn't know me, and didn't mean to be hurtful but I was living with some intense grief, and grief magnifies everything.
The commenter went on to say:
I sometimes feel that the clergy and the Church treat large families as being more holy or blessed than small families. It can be very lonely, especially as a homeschooling mom where the more kids you have the more you seem to be valued in the group and within the Church.
I know this whole thing gets tricky to even talk about because this stuff leads to defensiveness on both "sides." But there are no "sides" when it comes to large families and small families. There are merely realities.
And since, when we are faced with the visible reality of many kids vs. few-or-no kids, we cannot possibly know what the invisible reality is, we also cannot possibly make a judgment about what's going on in a family, and why would we? It's really none of our business. As I pointed out in "A Good Catholic Family" there are struggles (and losses and pain) in all families -- large, small, and everything in between. Large families have to put up with rude comments about their visible fruitfulness, and their openness to life has often led to miscarriage and other loss in their families, just as it has in the families that have remained small. And there are struggles for those who are single, struggles for those widowed, or divorced, or .... you get the picture. Life is a struggle. For all of us. Let's look for the places where we can build each other up, not judge each other down.
The final hurt this commenter recounted was this:
Another homeschooling mom of six pointed to my children and said,"These aren't your only two?"
Again, I can only sputter that, having been on the receiving end of such things, it, it, it ... hurts when someone assumes she knows why I have the children I have. Please don't assume. Dear Father, Dear Deacon, Dear Acquaintance, Dear Homeschooler, Dear Fellow Catholic, Dear Me (as I always need my own advice) ... don't assume.
Instead, befriend. Listen. Understand. Be Kind. We're all fighting great battles. Do we really need to fight each other?