There are a lot of posts that tell you what not to say to various groups of people. Many of these groups are ones I belong to: what not to say to adoptive moms, moms of large families, women with infertility, moms of kids with special needs, etc. I’ve even written about some of these topics myself. But here’s the thing– those posts should mostly be directed at strangers or acquaintances.
Strangers, you don’t need to know “how much those kids cost” or “why didn’t you have your own kids first” or “what happened to his real mom.” Especially not when you’re asking IN FRONT OF MY KIDS, which you usually do. The decisions my husband and I made about what infertility treatments to pursue are very personal and I may not feel like discussing them in the dairy aisle at the grocery store. If my kid is melting down in line for popcorn at the movie, that may not be the moment I want to talk to you about kids with quirks.
But all this cautionary wisdom flies out the window when it comes to my friends. My real, true friends.
Can I tell you about the offensive questions my friends have asked me? The rude things they’ve said? Can I tell you how grateful I am for those conversations? They have been so helpful and necessary as I’ve faced hard choices and needed support and wisdom. I need my friends to be willing to dive into the hard, awkward conversations with me.
I have six kids. That is a lot of kids and they require a lot of work, attention, time, love, resources, etc. I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that there won’t come a time when we’ll consider adding another child to our family (through foster care, adoption, or birth). That’s where you come in, Friend. It can be easy for me to just tuck my head down and barrel through my life– changing diapers, cooking meals, putting on band-aids, helping with homework. But you see the toll it takes and you may even see how one of my little people is getting lost in the shuffle or how my marriage is struggling or how God may want to use me in ways other than childrearing. Or maybe you see how God delights in bringing kids who need a safe home into this family and you think I just might have the capacity for one more. Tell me. Love me enough to let me know your thoughts and then support me even if I don’t make the decision you think I should. While there’s much conventional wisdom out there that says my family size is none of your business or tells you how rude you’d be to comment on such things, I’m telling you I want to know if you’re worried about me. I NEED someone who loves me to be able to give me perspective and wise counsel.
I have a close friend who has a daughter with a rare genetic condition. I am blessed by the way she lets me enter in to what that experience is like for her– what it means to parent a child with such an uncertain future. I’m sure I have asked her questions I “shouldn’t” have and she has been incredibly gracious as I fumble around trying to figure out how to love her and her family. I WANT to be educated and sometimes that means asking the dumb thing, saying the wrong thing, asking for forgiveness when I realize I did. And I commit to doing the hard work of educating myself– reading, listening, interacting. It also means I realize the limits of my understanding. I can ask her questions, I can learn, I can listen, but I’m pretty much never going to be in a place to offer her advice about this unique situation.
Friends of mine, will you be willing to step out and ask me the tough questions about my kids? Will you please talk to me if you think one of my kids is struggling? If my child used to be outgoing and bubbly, but now they seem sullen and withdrawn, will you ask me what’s going on? If you notice my little one isn’t returning social smiles or walking on time, will you risk the awkward feelings and say something to me? If my kid said something really rude to your child, would you please give me a heads-up?
And about my marriage– will you ask me about that, too? If my husband is being short with me, will you check in with me about that? If I’m always complaining about him, will you confront me? My dearest, closest friends, you get to ask me the questions no one else can about the intimacy in my marriage and I want to listen to your input.
If you see me retreating from activities I used to enjoy, let’s talk about it. If you’re worried about how I’m juggling it all because I seem to have bitten off way more than any sane person can chew, you need to tell me. Are you noticing a decline in my health? You may see things I haven’t even noticed yet. If I’m seeming more angry or scared or clingy or defensive than usual, you are the one I count on to push me for answers.
Even the “off limits” questions aren’t off limits for you. Do you want to know how much adoption costs? Why we pursued the infertility treatments we did and avoided others? Do you wonder how I feel about my child’s birth family or how we navigate open adoption? I do want to talk about these things with people who love and value my family, if I trust that you know how personal and private these conversations need to be.
So much of this comes down to speaking the truth in love. If I trust you love me, it is possible for me to hear hard truths from you and answer your difficult questions. You can say things that would seem rude or even downright mean coming from someone else. And after you’ve said the hard thing or asked the hard question, I need you to trust me to hear you and honor what you’ve said, even if I don’t do what you suggest. Give me grace and trust that we may have different callings, different capacities, different struggles.
We need community. We need fellow moms in the trenches, fellow wives battling it out, fellow brothers and sisters who can confront each other respectfully and with empathy when the need arises. My choices may not be ones you agree with. They may not be what God is asking you to do. But I want you to talk to me about those things, to hear my heart and let me hear yours. Don’t let the lists of what you shouldn’t say keep you from diving in to relationship.