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?

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22 thoughts on “Defensive?

  1. NomadLibrarian

    So this post and Thursday’s post have prompted a lot of thinking for me. Moving around with the Air Force, I’ve seen how local cultures often conflict with the more homogenized Air Force culture, and yet when I visit home, I feel quite a bit of culture shock. And that’s not even touching my Protestant families opinions about Catholics and large families…

    Essentially, I think it comes down to not judging people who aren’t in your shoes. I’ve been struggling with feeling judged by other people for not having children yet, but your post made me realize that I am being defensive, and with no real need. I am not passing judgement on others, and I’m secure in the fact that my husband and I are walking the right path for us. So yes, I do take things personally- sometimes more personally than other people intended. Something to work on…

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh, “good Catholics” do say the most judgmental things about those who have been married for more than 9 months and don’t have any children! Thankfully the comments don’t bother me because it typically seems like people are just trying to “help” me in an area that is so important, and it isn’t their fault that they have no idea about my reality. But I can see how they can be incredibly hurtful to others. Hopefully you at least have support from your Protestant family, even if they don’t understand your reasons!

  2. Sarah

    Great thoughts here! Growing up, I had a similar defensive attitude that eventually got too judgmental and out of control. After a while, I tired of always concluding that those around me were falling short of my virtuous ideals. Then I swung the other way and tried too hard to be accepting and non-confrontational so people would like me. Now I’m hunting for that happy medium of sticking to my values but also meeting people where they are. You are absolutely right that there will always be someone who disagrees with your decisions!

  3. Sarah Joy Albrecht

    “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.”

    Nailed it. Exceptional post, Rae.

    And, you totally could have taken out my quoted tweet and STILL have nailed it! (Although, I’m quite tickled… how sweet of you to mention me!)

    As my mother in law (who has had 7 children, and 7 miscarriages) says, “Take the best and leave the rest.”

    Leave the rest. Not stew. Not SPOIL your day.

    Lolz… which reminds me of Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables… who could not simply be happy for others… which also comes from having a deep spiritual peace.

    [RACHEL: Thomas! Isn't that Matthew Cuthbert driving that buggy?
    THOMAS LYNDE: Appears to be.
    RACHEL: Well, he never goes to town this time of year, and he never wears a suit except in church.
    THOMAS LYNDE: Maybe he's going courting.
    RACHEL: Don't be so utterly ridiculous, Thomas. He's not going fast enough for a doctor. Oh, my afternoon is spoiled! I won't have a moments peace until I know what that man is up to. Wearing his suit. Marilla is simply going to have to explain all this.]

    Much love,

  4. Sarah Joy Albrecht

    PS: Your dad is absolutely correct — confidence, and being able to laugh off criticism in a gentle, head-patting sort of way, comes from knowing that you are in the right.

    It is when we are doubtful if we are doing the right thing that we question ourselves and get bent out of shape when people disagree.

    Alexander Hamilton’s sentiments, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything,” could be tweaked for this illustration to say, “Those who stand for nothing will be felled by anything.”

  5. Young Mom

    I think I am wired to be a bit more defensive. Even though criticsm seemed to roll off the backs of my parents, I felt that it was us against the world in almost every area of life. We were so bizarrly different and told over and over again that everyone else was wrong that I think it fostered a sense that everyone was out to get me and I had to defend pratically every choice I made!
    Now that I am truly making my own descisions for the first time in my life (getting married doesn’t mean you are free of the system!) I’ve found that the more confident I become in the choices I am making for myself, and the more accepting I am of people that make different choices than I do, the less I feel defensive.

  6. Sarah

    I’m usually too much of a wimp to be defensive. :/ But, I have a feeling that having a child will force me to be more willing to stand up for the way we live if/when we are criticized. I’ll want to give her a good example, and show her that she has nothing to be ashamed of/defensive about.

    I guess one area where I’ve felt somewhat criticized (though not personally, but in a “general” sort of way) is in the area of childbirth choices. Knowing a lot of bloggers who do things like all-natural and/or home births, etc., and knowing I can’t (and probably wouldn’t even if I could), and also knowing how strongly their opinions on those things are, I *could* get defensive. But I also know that when they’re holding a healthy baby in their arms and so am I, no one will care. I am rambling. Sorry for the novel!


    1. Mama Kalila


      I’m sorry you’ve felt somewhat criticized by some of us for natural birth… I honestly don’t get why so many people feel that way because most of us (by far the majority) are really just for women to have the choice and not be bullied or lied to by dr’s and such. It happens (I can honestly say that as it did to me my first pg). There are also times that a woman needs interventions and we’re glad they’re there for those instances.

  7. Mama Kalila

    Another great post :-)

    I do tend to get over sensitive about stuff. No, that’s not right… it happens a lot. I over think everything and take things personally even when I shouldn’t. I try not to care what other people think.. and I succeed sometimes, but not often enough.

    On the other hand, I’ve had my words twisted/misunderstood quite a bit too. Apparently (esp with parenting decisions) having an opinion opposite someone elses, even when you don’t judge them for it or say anything against theirs, equals bashing them. Not always true.. I’ve got some great friends that we have different views on stuff of course lol, but it happens a lot. Mostly online, but my SIL and I barely talk because of it.

    As for my parents. I guess in a way I am. In an I wish I wasn’t kind of way lol. My mom takes every thing personally but to an extent I don’t… She’s always the victim. She also twists things to make her look like the victim, or whatever other purpose she has in mind. Its awful.

  8. Melody

    My dad is rather quiet, my mom was more outspoken. Both were a bit counter-culture. Mom was the one who would run for school board and things like that, and even ran for state legislature once (too bad she didn’t win, she would have had a blast!) I admired her guts, but used to kind of squirm about some of the things she did. I managed to talk her out of running for school board until after I graduated, saying I would be social kryptonite if she did (I was anyway!) I am in personality more like my dad. I don’t mind being different, but I don’t want to be noisy about it.

  9. Susan

    I like how you can write about your own experiences in a way a broad audience can relate to. Looks like I’m not the only one who’s oversensitive to criticism. You’re right–we’ll get grief no matter what we do. After all, it’s human nature to criticize and judge. (I’ve even found myself doing that…a good reminder to be patient with those who are harsh with me.)

    When you are criticized, know that some of your choices are perfectly normal in other circles; married 22-year-olds fit right in here down South! (Just like the “right” number of kids, as you said in your previous post, vary from culture to culture.) Also, if you made the choices someone wanted you to make, someone else would criticize you. I may be criticized for being single over 25, but if I had a spouse and kids, Lord knows someone would find something to pick at (me going back to work or whatever).

    “The best that I can do is to simply do the best that I can do.” –love it! Yes, it’s constant struggle to follow God’s will for us in spite of criticism, but He will help us if we turn to Him. Keep blogging! :)

  10. Elisa

    Well, haha, my husband says I’m very frank. My mother is the frankest…she will say anything at anytime to anyone, without exactly thinking how it might sounds. This could be because she is Swiss, or because even though she has been fluent in English since she was 17, there is still a tiny language barrier…or culture barrier…or something.
    Anyways, I was also married young. I was 1 month from turning 22. If you know, why wait? My husband has lovingly told me (after I blurted something out in public) that maybe that didn’t come across quite how I inteded and that it might have offended someone.
    For instance…I was a “secular” homeschool group pot luck talking to a person about strangers randomly coming up to you and putting their hands on your belly when you’re pregnant. I said that my neighbor whom I’d barely met, came up to me and put her hands on my belly and began a prayer. I was freaked out for an instance and thought to myself: “Who is she praying to? Is the casting a spell?” Then out loud, at the homeschooling group, I said: “Crazy wiccans”. Haha, well, there were 2 wiccans in the room (I didn’t know) and I got two dirty looks, at which point, I knew. I was not embarrassed but my husband was a bit and later told me I should think before I speak. I thought, “Well, you know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people bashing Catholics, but we never complain”. LoL. I try to be senstive, but the political correctness of today’s day and age is so absurd that people barely think for themselves. I’d rather be the one who thinks for myself but occasionally blurts out something that may or may not offend someone.

  11. Calin

    Great courage to get married at 22, but I can understand you perfectly and indeed, it is so counter cultural in almost any civilized society. My mother was 20 when I was born, but that was in the past so today is different.

    My struggle is trying to please everybody, and this comes from my people oriented attitude. It is very hard to fight against this natural (or God given) gift so I am trying yo channel it into its strengths. I am taking it really personally when not everybody is satisfied by my intentions, work, speeches, etc.
    On the other hand I am the one who’s picking at everybody around, my friends know me for this and sometimes I have blown it but I am lucky though my friends know my heart.

    These words are so true: 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

    7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

  12. Kacie

    I struggle when I have offended though I meant no harm. I am too sensitive. I get this from my parents, yes, who have a high value on approval and being liked. I’m glad to have a husband who is rather the opposite. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other.

  13. Craig

    First, it may not be fair to draw self reflecting statements out of readers on their very first comment.

    Now for those nosy questions :)

    1. I pretend to be thick skinned when actually you can pierce my bubble with cotton ball.
    2. I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but someone once told me “I know that no matter what I do or say, it will be wrong in someone’s view.” So yes, I do sometimes offend unintentionally, but then always apologize in the most meaningful way I can.
    3. Both were thick skinned, one more than the other, and only one had a soft, kind, sweet, inside – under the chainmail.

    And I firmly believe that a marriage founded on 1 Corinthians 13 love will last a lifetime.

    Thank you

    God Bless you and yours

  14. Erica

    We got married at 22 as well. But here in TX, that’s not so abnormal. Most of the people we went to school with got married “young” as well. We’ve never gotten any OMG you were only 22. We celebrated 10 yrs this past August. I’m always really saddened when I hear of people our age-ish that get divorced, and amazed (not judging, just an “I can’t imagine” kind of feeling) at how many are already on second marriages.

    I agree with a previous poster, the older I get the more comfortable I am in my own skin. I don’t typically feel the need to defend my decisions. After having my first child I had to reconcile a lot of my choices with what other people would say, by the third child I couldn’t care less and have been able to come up with remarks like your dads when people say things they really shouldn’t. I’m a bit of a “hippie tree hugger” which is quite abnormal in this part of the country. I breast fed, cloth diapered, made my own baby food, didn’t let my babies cry themselves to sleep, didn’t circumsize my son, and a million other things that weren’t considered the “norm”. I’ve come to realize that no matter what anyone else says, we’ve always made the decisions for our family based on what we felt was best.

    I’m also guilty of trying very hard not to offend people. I often just smile and move on when I really want to say something. Mostly this pertains to politics. Again, we are not “normal” for this part of the country, a little more so now that we’re in a bigger city, but there’s still plenty of people that think very opposite of us re: politics. It takes me feeling really passionately about something, for me to say anything because I’m afraid of offending others with my opinion. I shouldn’t be, and I hate that…it’s something I’ve been working on and something I really admire about my husband. He’s so much better at speaking up than I am.

  15. Mark S.

    So much to examine and think about here. Well done!

    I am like Kacie above in struggling with offending when I meant no harm and have been working on thickening my own skin, which has worked over the years. I too had parents that valued getting along and fitting in and I am the oldest and was subject to the most criticism from them. Like you, Rae, married at 22 and we are celbrating 36 years this August.

  16. alisha

    such thought-provoking ideas. i am very prone to take things too sensitively,however i’ve learned that when i do, it’s ususally a red flag that i do not feel as confident in that decision as i should. all my good & healthy life choices never make me feel defensive.

  17. Marc Cardaronella

    One of the things I admire about you is your confidence and ability to be who you are boldly. That is a great trait to have. I have struggled with this most of my life. I’ve only recently been much better about it with the help of the Holy Spirit and a lot of prayer.

    I definitely didn’t grow up like you did. My parents were always worried about standing out in the crowd and not being noticed. Consequently, I grew up that way too–terribly self-conscious and always worried about what others would think. I grew up weighing all my options by how others would perceive them. It did not serve me well in life. Only recently in the last few years after my reconversion did I realize how damaging that kind of thinking is.

    I think you’re right. There’s always something you’re going to do wrong in other people’s eyes and you will always make mistakes. Better to live boldly and laugh than to live in fear hiding in worry. It’s more of what life should really be.

  18. Jordan

    I feel like I’m on both sides of the coin here. Quite often I am too sensitive, and had been told that all of my life (sometimes as a convenient excuse for people who actually did something worthy of apologizing for -> “Oh well you’re just sensitive anyway”). However, there are other times where I sort of throw that out of the window and become completely aloof from a particular person’s comments or about a particular issue, and I have to admit, those are the times where I feel most proud of/love toward myself. I’m sure it borders on or spills over into cockiness sometimes, but I do so love those times where I honestly couldn’t give a flying flip what someone thinks of me.

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