I have never measured the depth of my parents’ epidermises, but I suspect that it would be correct to say that they have thick skin. I grew up expecting others to question my choices, and well-prepared to respond with confidence as long as I knew that I was choosing correctly.
For years my father did all of the errands, and to give my mother “a break,” he would take those of us who were older than the current baby–but younger than the teens–along with him. I thought that it was normal for some people to comment on the number of children, and was amused by my father’s responses.
Q: Are these all yours?
A: Oh no! … This is less than half of my children.
As I got older and my parents were not around when people made comments about the size of my family, I would be polite but secretly think that the commenters were incredibly stupid. After all, even if they thought my family was a democracy rather than a dictatorship, it was not as if I could have been around to vote on the first 7 children!
Soon I started making my own “controversial” choices, and it seemed perfectly normal for others to question me. Some members of the hyper-conservative subculture in which I was raised were extremely harsh in their critique of my decision to go to college. I ignored them because I knew they were wrong in their most basic understanding of my life.
Then my choices began to clash with the broader culture as I got married at the age of 22 and worked in a place where the average age of first marriage for women is 27. I am now 25 and work in a place where the average age of first marriage for women is 29.9.
I expect people to be surprised that I am married. When they ask questions I respond by agreeing with them that I am unusual/a crazy risk-taker/extremely lucky/insane and then I assure them of my happiness with my state in life. I know that getting married before the age of 25 is basically asking for divorce. I know that it is stupid. I also know the reasons that caused me to make this “stupid” choice and that so far I am far more pleased with my choice than I expected to be when I made it.
I plan to make many more decisions which are at odds both with the subculture in which I was raised and the one in which I now live. I expect that others will be curious and critical. And that is as life should be.
So it is difficult for me to be sensitive to others’ insecurities.
A few weeks ago I realized that perhaps as a child I had misunderstood my parents’ confidence. So I asked my dad if my memory was correct, or if he was ever hurt by comments about his many children. He told me that he was never bothered because he always felt that he was the one who was blessed, and the questioner the one who was wrong.
Then on November 10th I saw a great set of tweets from the lovely (and wise!) @MrsAlbrecht:
If God is your fortress, why are your walls so high?
When you are your own fortress, you’re always on high alert, like the TSA, taking everything personally and ready to defend.
You don’t joke around while officers examine your passport and judge if you’re worthy to enter. Do people joke around you?
I thought that her approach to this issue was perfect. It is not simply a matter of self-confidence and knowing that what one is doing is best for oneself. It is a matter of a deep spiritual peace that allows for the security to enjoy both humor and openness to criticism. If one is confident that one is following God, then one can take what is useful and ignore the rest of others’ criticism or curiosity regarding one’s choices.
I know that no matter what I do or say, it will be wrong in someone’s view. That is quite alright. I am not perfect and the best that I can do is to simply do the best that I can do. And sometimes doing the best that I can do means doing something really stupid, like getting married at 22 or posting my thoughts for all the world to see.
All is well, so long as I do not have to carry around the weight of a chainmail suit.
Do you struggle with taking things personally and getting offended? Or are you one who struggles with offending others even though you meant no harm? Are you like your parents in this?
- Large Families
- I am thankful 11/21/2010