Catholic women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant stand to benefit from others’ experience. This was the thought that motivated me to post some readers’ emails on my blog addressing the struggle to remain open to life in marriage and the difficulty of accepting an unexpected pregnancy.
“Let’s encourage one another,” I wrote on the blog.
I intended to invite experienced mothers to share their wisdom, along with stories of embracing God’s will for themselves and their families. I wanted them to encourage others to do the same by describing the ways in which they were blessed by remaining open to new life, however unexpected. I wanted veteran moms to share the ways in which they have learned that God truly does challenge us sometimes, but that He never will abandon us.
And I got some of that. But, rather quickly, I also got some aggressive accusations and angry name-calling. Why did some commenters charge others with selfishness, while other commenters insisted that they were being judged and hated by people who dared to suggest that God would provide for them? Why did I have to park myself next to the computer screen and monitor the comments section carefully for hours — my mouse carefully poised over the “delete” button — so as to avoid playing hostess to incivility?
Because nobody can tear a vulnerable woman apart quite like another woman, that’s why. But why do we do this to each other?
A few years ago, I was standing in line at the pharmacy with my then-two-year-old Stephen when he began a predictable whine-fest for gum.
“No gum today,” I told him.
But the line was long. And he was persistent. His threw his small body to the floor and pulled at my pant legs.
“Want guuuuu-uuuuum,” he argued convincingly.
A tantrum was starting to swell. I did a quick cost-benefit analysis and decided to cut my losses — I handed the child a package of gum. As I did so, however, I heard a loud sigh behind me, and turned around in time to see a young woman rolling her eyes at her companion.
I knew what she was thinking: “If you reward whiny, demanding behavior with a package of gum, how on earth can you expect a two-year-old to learn not to be whiny and demanding?”
I knew her thoughts with clarity, you see, because I used to be that woman. Yes, it’s true. I once was a smug, unmarried person with a recent haircut and perfectly polished fingernails who also happened to be a perfect parent . . . if only some of those insanely stupid actual parents would listen to my practical advice.
In the pharmacy, however, I was not perfect. I was only embarrassed. I spared the disapproving woman my true thoughts, but I might have explained to her that my entire family was suffering from strep throat and desperately needed the lozenges, Tylenol, and coloring books I was waiting to purchase. I might have told her that Stephen, though we love him ferociously, has always been an exceptionally needy and volatile child. I might have told her that while we were working on correcting certain behaviors with him, “Don’t beg for gum in line at the pharmacy” had not made the short list. We were focusing instead on “Don’t throw glass” and “Don’t bite the baby.”
My exasperation in the pharmacy that day was relieved, however, by a different woman — one who responded to my plight with support instead of superiority.
“He’s a tough kid,” an older woman smiled in my direction. “That kind of grit will take him places.”
I smiled back.
And that was all I needed. I was renewed. I was empowered. I was a positive parenting force once again. Bring it on, my darling Stephen. Bring it on.
While it’s true that no one can tear apart a vulnerable woman quite like another woman, it is equally true that no one can build up and encourage a vulnerable woman quite like another woman. We can’t ever truly know another’s plight and particular challenges. It’s important to stand up for the truth, and there is a place for admonishing the sinner, but that never means using others’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities to feed our own egos.
These days, I ask God to help me become more like the second woman at the pharmacy, and less like the first. Because, truth be told, I am a little of both. Valiant women of faith are a great gift to each other, but only if we allow ourselves to be.
Let’s encourage one another.