Betty Duffy

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Cause for Celebration

People are nice to me on my blog. I've never been chewed out in my comment box even though I know people out there disagree with me on many many things. I feel lucky to have such a congenial group of readers.

Elsewhere on the internet, I received this comment to something I wrote concerning having a large family:

"You all are a bunch of freaks and emotional little girls who are retarded in many things.

I knew I was emotional, and immature, and also sometimes retarded about things, but so's everybody. It's the "freak" part of it that sort of stuck in my craw. I thought I was passing.

So I've been introduced as, "The crazy lady with five kids." If I need another crazy lady with five kids to stand in solidarity with me, I know where to find one. I've cased out all the Catholic Yahoos within a hundred mile radius. I spend most of my social time with other crazy ladies and our gazillion children, or with family and friends who've known me forever. In such friendly company, I've managed to convince myself that I'm relatively sane.

But when I step out of my subculture a little bit, it occurs to me that the majority of humanity is not on board with my philosophy of living--that by current cultural standards, I really am sort of a freak.

At a time when most people would rather flee the Catholic Church than accept it's teachings on sexuality, here I am, pregnant with my sixth child--like a weirdo. When the priesthood is mistrusted, here I am trusting my Parish priest with the most intimate details of my life in Confession--like a weirdo. Here I am writing about my dagburn Catholic faith again, try though I may to write about something of interest to the general population.

My faith becomes ever more central to my being, while at the same time, drawing me further out to the margins of society.

I'm not a natural hater of the cultural mainstream. I like to read pop fiction. I like to wear current clothing. I'll watch The Bachelor with you. And I'd paint my toenails green if it were the latest fad. Parting company with the mainstream does not come easily for me.

And yet, the mainstream has no trouble parting with me. "Oh, she's one of those kinds of Christians." I, too, have thought it about women who have more children than I can currently comprehend having myself. Yes, with five kids, I can still sort of pass, right? I just had a whoopsie-baby in addition to my intended sort-of-culturally-acceptable four. But any more than that? She has to be working at it.

A woman at Church, noticing that I'm hatching again, said to me in complete charity, "We're praying for you. We know you're the right family to do it" ("it" being have a bunch of kids). And as I processed the comment, probably for much longer than I should have, it made me sort of twitchy.

What makes us the right family? I beg to differ. We're a madhouse. We're chaos. There's no guarantee this is going to work out for us. Yes, please, those prayers--keep them coming.

And why aren't you the right family? Why not someone else? Is there such a thing as the "right" family to participate in God's plan?

Because believe me, there was no calculation going on in the Duffy house the night of conception. There was no budgeting. There was no deposit made in the college savings account. No plans in order for a bigger car, or an addition to our house. I didn't take my folic acid. My husband and I didn't put on our super-suits, and do sit-ups to warm up for our cosmic power coupling.

He said, "Wanna do it?" And I said, "OK."

At that very moment, I have no doubts that similar conversations were taking place all over the world. In the back seat of the folks' station wagon, in hotel rooms, in igloos in Antarctica, in my next door neighbor's house. People are probably having that conversation right now.

And the only difference between the Duffys and all the other supposed non-freaks out there having the same conversation is this one little issue of contraception.

But it's not a little issue, is it? It's the kind of issue that can bend like a hairpin an entire culture by 180 degrees in the course of a few decades. It's the kind of issue that makes people look ridiculous.

Most Catholics who wear their faith publicly do look ridiculous.

Who would want to be a priest when nearly every media venture in the last twenty years portrays priests as pedophiles and perverts? What mother would want to send her son to Seminary when she knows that once he is a priest, he'll be subject to the scrutiny of every eye in the pew, that even his most minor faults will be fodder for parking lot conversation and thinly veiled criticisms? Who wants to be a nun when she knows she'll be categorized on a spectrum of new-age-femi-nazis on one end and stiff-necked ruler snappers on the other? Who wants to advocate for pro-life legislation in Washington when they'll be called a right wing extremist?

Only a fool, or a freak.

As has always been the case in poetry, so too with Christianity: the more I'm willing to do for love, the more foolish I'll appear. There's no way to get around the fact that Christianity, done with fervor, makes people unlike the mainstream.

And yet for so many years I've been looking for a way to stay under the freak radar, to stay cool, to stay in touch. My sister says I was kidding myself to think I passed when I only had five children. So, fine, I don't pass anymore.

God said this might happen:

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in Heaven." (Lk 6:22-23)

So, hooray, I guess.


Eric said...

Amen sister! We are also expecting our 6th, we are also viewed as freaks, and I do not give a rip when the lady, fondling her checkout-aisle-copy of People says "Have you figured out what causes that yet. giggle-snort."

We are called to be different. Salt of the Earth.

I'm just glad we are not the only ones. And as we discover weekly, we are not the only ones who have not bought the world's view of normal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these words of encouragement. In my country, even saving yourself for marriage makes you a freak...

Regards from Slovenia, a freak :)

Ellyn said...

From my madhouse to yours...many congratulations!

Jordana said...

Amen! I too only realized I was a total freak with baby #6. Once a friend and NFP teacher told me that none of her children were conceived without a lot of prayer and consideration. It made me feel slightly guilty that our children were conceived not after such lofty thoughts, but rather when my husband kissed me hard and told me I was looking awfully beautiful that night.

Julia said...

It's kind of funny that the more we do what God calls us to do, the more others freak out over our choices.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I was just sitting here pondering (as I do most days after reading the local parenting email list) what we're doing in this crazy world. I'm so glad I'm a freak: homeschooling little ones and plugging my temp and mucus observations into my computer laptop and hoping and praying for #5. We may live on the fringe, but there are so many awesome folks out here with us!

Christy said...

I had 3 babies in my first 3 years of marriage and felt like everyone must think I was a total moron or a freak. I feel that another harsh side effect of birth control is a total lack of empathy from people towards those who are open to children. Good article!

Maggie said...

As someone fairly entrenched in the mainstream and wondering if I'll ever be brave enough to leave it, you are my hero.

Jeannie said...

"God knew..." Oh puhleeze. Let's not drag His Majesty onto our carefully planned idea that's our existence as tho He takes instructions from us, shall we...other than that innocent oversight, I like what you said. :O)

Anonymous said...

What makes you the right family is not that you planned or prayed or even thought twice.

Maybe what makes you "the right family" is that you were willing.


Winonah said...

thank you for this article. I am 8 months pregnant with baby #6 and I wanted to laugh and cry with your article... seeing the freak that I am! I read your article to my husband who thinks it could have been me writing exactly all those sentiments.

R- N- said...

Thank you for writing this. I too get tired of people saying things about being a "super mom" and that they could "never" have that many children (and I only have four). I try to gently respond to such comments, but it is not easy.

Thanks for expressing things so well.

- a Virginia freak

Katy said...

Mom of 5 here. Having been on both sides of the fence I can say with confidence that we are not the freaks. Among my contracepting "women are crazy if they don't work" friends all I found was superficiality, judgementalism and all around up-tightness.
Since becoming Catholic and truly embracing life I have never met more kind, real, and down to earth people than those who are open to life. Even among those with 8+ children who wear prairie skirts, God bless em.

priest's wife said...

...four kiddos in our part of the country makes me a super-freak....and I know what you mean about being 'with it' culturally, my girls have those silly bands (to trade with others at ballet), but they have never watched Disney channel

claire said...

Betty, I saw that comment on F&F Live, and I'm pretty sure I know who wrote it. If it is who I think it is, she is a mentally ill frequenter of that site. I know her from other Catholic forums; the first time I met her was on a Catholic infertility yahoo group. Her posts never make any sense, are always hostile, and she is clearly mentally ill. Who knows what it is about your article that inspired this particular reaction. But like I said, if it is who I think it is, don't take it personally. You are awesome!

Cathy said...

I love your blog! You are so eloquent and you say just what I want to say but can't because I am not a writer. Thank you for keeping your blog and for all the great writing you do!
In Christ's Love,

Julie said...

This is the reason I keep coming back to your blog-you make me feel like I'm not the only other freak in the world. I have 6 children in 7 yrs (gasp!) I also love that you don't wear denim dresses down to your ankles and I presume you comb your hair most days (sorry for the mean generalization of large family mothers). I feel like a freak on both sides of the aisle, truthfully. I try to be cool and so I thought I was- but who am I fooling??

Anne said...

Love Julie's comment about being a freak on both sides of the aisle-there I am as well! Mom of five here leaving a nice comment-thanks for this post! Love it! Blessings on your little one on the way!

Dobrovits Family said...

YEE-HAW from a mom of six now adopting #7 - a child from overseas (big $) with special needs to boot!

They could almost handle us having all the cute, physically perfect bio kids.... But we are now certifiably crazy...

And undeniably Christian.

Tania @ Larger Family Life said...

We're expecting twins (#10 and 11) and if that makes me a freak then so be it. We don't use birth control and value life. If that makes us freaks then so be it. It does make you wonder how those contracepting and aborting became the "normal" ones though.

Tania @ Larger Family Life said...

Oh, and congratulations on your pregnancy btw!

Liz said...

I only have two children (adults now!)...can I still tell you how much I loved this article? :-)

Funny, funny, funny! And so true. Seems like being a practicing Catholic invites the Freak label. And I'm embarrassed to say that I'm so uncomfortable with it. Just keeping it real. I know what Jesus said about being persecuted for him. And yet...I still keep hanging on to that silly expectation that somehow I'll do the whole disciple thing in such a way that it will just make sense to everyone. Silly, I know. Unrealistic. And ultimately, impossible.

Thanks so much for this article. I loved it.


Zach said...


This is awesome writing.

What's a painful remark ..."you're the right family to do it"...? What nerve! Is that supposed to make you feel better?

Owen said...

Only 5? Lame. Dear Betty, the couple I wrote to you of before, they had eight and nine was the one on the way. And they weren't even Catholic. You better have more sex.

{I'm only kidding about five being lame. I know you know that but some reader might not so here I am over explaining it.}

The Cottage Child said...

You freak show, I only wish I was as freakily freakish as you are. We are considering adoption, now, but when we mention it friends and even fellow Catholics kind of give us the "three's already a crowd" half smile/half grimace that greets just about anyone with more than two kids. Yay! for fools such as yourself, indeed.

lissla lissar said...

I can't remember where I read it- maybe a Michael O'Brien novel?- Where someone said that it seems easier to us to contemplate painful martyrdom than social disapproval. The smaller sacrifices don't have the obvious heroism.

Congratulations and thanks for writing so well and so honestly. I only have two so far and we're already freaks just for answering the "How many are you going to have?" question with "Don't know!"

Leigh Ann said...

Congratulations! I am just a lurker. But love reading what you have to say. The Lord bless and keep you and this precious little one.

{People also say "You are the perfect mom to have an autistic child." And I am all "come again? you don't know anything about me." We just cover our mouths and take from the Lord's hand what He has given us.}

Leigh Ann

Erin said...

I loved this post. It's so true that anyone with a larger family is regarded differently--either as "Christian wacko" or "Christian hero." Now that I have 3 children (2 boys and a girl respectively) I get the comment all the time, "Oh, you got your girl so now you must be done." Um, no, NOT done. And it's so hard to respond to comments like that because I don't want to come off as crazy, overly-pious or anything else that might lead people to draw conclusions of any sort. So, I just smile and say something like ambiguous like, "We'll see!" Another question I get is, "So what will you do when you have a bunch of kids and KNOW you can't deal with having anymore?" (As if one's beliefs just fall away once things get hard!) Living a counter-cultural life is so tough. You stick out no matter what. Well, anyway just wanted to say that I'm happy to be a "fellow freak" with you. :)

JMB said...

Honestly, I hate the judgments from random people. Just live your life. Have as many children as you'd like, accept the ones that come when you're not prepared. So many Catholics I know either look down upon the small families or look down upon the large families. Just do it badly as my mother always says. It's better than not doing it at all. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

You got it, baby. I am told: YOU can do're such a saint. But it couldn't be farther from the truth. I am no more equipped than the people making the comment, and far from saintly.

And congrats on Number 6---you are blessed. Freaky and blessed. ;)


Anonymous said...

I just have to say: I love JMB's mother's comment. JMB....I wish I could meet and talk to your mother. Wow.


Karen said...

Congratulations! I'm expecting our fourth, and while I have friends who have three kids, I'm pretty sure that I'm edging into freak territory at least in some areas of our community.

Strangely enough, when I had just one child and belonged to a very conservative Catholic homeschooling group, they treated me as a freak. Everybody had at least three or more kids, and I could almost feel their pity. When they found out I was pregnant with #2, I got a lot of "Oh, we've been PRAYING for this!" which was funny because I hadn't asked them to pray for me to have more kids. I figured that was my job. The praying, I mean.

Mary said...

excellent! I've wanted to stay cool, under the radar, but with your encouragement, I'm happy (blessed) to say I'm a freak too!

Puffin Hen said...

I have 4 and would love 5. I quite long ago gave up on being mainstream acceptable, but I will admit that I am fearful of the reactions that I will get from family if I get pregnant again, including my older children who already feel that they are "suffering" because of our family size - i.e. they don't have their own rooms in a culture where this seems to be a given "right." And our house is genuinely too small by any sane measure. And we don't even own it. And we're pretty broke. But, if anyone out there wants to pray for me to have courage and follow God, do please feel free.

Erin said...

I don't mind being a "freak" Catholic girl, but reading that I'm not the only one out there... it helps. :) You inspire me.

Anonymous said...

All my siblings have 2 kids, and now I have 2 kids. I feel very unCatholic for only having 2 kids. Both of my kids are adopted, and to have more I'd have to adopt again. Part of me really wants to, but the other part is all "it is so hard and expensive to adopt, I can't go through that again." So we have our culturally acceptable 2 kids. I always thought I'd have a houseful of kids bouncing off the walls.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog often, but I have never commented. I like almost all that you have said here. It is true that just the simple act of being a faithful Catholic Christian pretty much automatically makes you counter-cultural.

My only complaint is when you say, "And why aren't you the right family? Why not someone else? Is there such a thing as the "right" family to participate in God's plan?"

What do you mean here? That to follow God's plan means having as many children as you can? To have more than is culturally acceptable? What if you are open to life and open to God's plan and still only have 1, 2 or 3 children?

Children are gifts. Maybe what that lady meant is that you are blessed, and seen as such, to be given so many children. Maybe she sees that gift, and maybe she's praying for you because she knows it's hard - to live God's plan - no matter what it is.

As I said, I've read your blog before, and so I don't think that's what you're trying to say, but I'm not sure you've phrased that quite well. It could very well be taken in the wrong light.

Also, in reading the comments I do start to get the feeling that some are very proud of the fact that they have 5, 6 or more children. It is never explicitly stated, but it is a feeling I get sometimes when reading the blogs of moms who have large families. I am not saying that you feel this way, or that I get that vibe from your post, but I am getting it from some in the comments. And that makes *me* sort of twitchy.

The whole idea that you somehow get to decide how many children you will have is ludicrous anyway. It is ludicrous from the point of view of those who contracept and it is just as ludicrous coming from those who use NFP (or nothing). I can tell you from personal experience - you don't get to decide. You sometimes very very painfully don't get to decide.

Be happy that you are the "right" family to give life to 6 children and just leave it at that. Because honestly, if you are a happy parent these days, you're a freak. It's not the number of kids you have that makes you a freak, it's the attitude you have about being a parent. Seeing your children as gifts instead of as burdens - that is counter-cultural.