About Me,  Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  Living Humanae Vitae,  Marriage,  motherhood,  NFP

But what do the neighbors think? {Living humanae vitae part 8}

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little mental exercise I like to call “what if there’s a nanny cam?” Now, being the queen of my domicile and the only avid Amazon clicker in the house, I can be reasonably confident this is only a mental exercise. However, it has borne some fruit when I play it out in my imagination to the logical conclusion and pretend there are tapes that we’re going to be playing back later tonight, after business hours, assessing my performance.

Did she keep her cool? Did she raise her voice? Did everyone feel seen and heard and cherished? Did someone learn a new curse word today?

Another less fanciful game we play, my inner monologue and I, is “what do the neighbors think?” — less fanciful because we are hemmed in on three sides by other suburban homes with human dwellers, most of whom are quietly retired and whose tranquility has been routinely shattered since August last when our noisy infantry rolled into the subdivision.

This morning I tossed the crushed wrapper of a pack of Marlboro Reds into the recycling bin. Yesterday it was lying in the middle of the street as the late afternoon rain poured down. Today it was lying 10 feet into my front yard, helpfully tossed there by a passing pedestrian who figured we were the hot mess it belonged to.

Fair enough, passing pedestrian. Fair enough.

I play this game at a higher level in the grocery store and the post office and oh my gosh do I play it on those rare and furtive visits to Whole Foods to retrieve 12-pack cases of LaCroix, marked down 60% thanks to their unholy alliance with Amazon. Keeping my eyes fixed on my offspring, we sweep quietly through the exterior of the store to toss magically-priced organic raspberries ($.99 cents a pint!) and sparkling water into the tiny cart already crammed with human cargo; I know that this of all places is where I can still reliably count on the questions and commentary.

Eyes down, children accounted for, clothes neat and applied correctly to body parts. That’s the best I can hope for.

I feel the weight of the entire reputation of my subversive cultural group on my tired, baby-wrenched shoulders during these errands. All the digital ink spilled on electronic page can’t undo a single poor impression made by an actual family in actual public, or so I tell myself.

Do I care less about appearances than I did when we first started our family? Yes, and no.

I have less time to worry about what random strangers think, but more time to worry about the impressions we’re making on our real neighbors, the barista at my local Starbucks, the teller at our bank. When we’re a recurrent fixture in their lives and they see it all, day after day, the solitary impressions adding up to a lifetime of reputation, what must they think?

Does she love them? Does she like being a mom? Gosh, she must have wanted a ton of kids. Are they all getting enough attention? Gosh, those two siblings seem spaced really close together. I wouldn’t want a life like that. Seems chaotic. I wonder if she’ll ever lose that baby weight. She’s really letting herself go…

And on and on it goes, the internal commentary viciously dissecting and passing judgement on my performance as a wife and mother and human being and all without anyone having to utter a single word!

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to embracing and living what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and children and motherhood. I spend too much time in my head critiquing and not enough time on my knees begging for the strength to actually carry on.

I worry about what my thin dual income/two-kids neighbors think of our hot mess and my large thighs, trying to present an attractive enough image to justify this way of life, even presenting it as a viable option that really anyone could do! (insert strained and vaguely insincere smile.)

I let myself believe the lie that this could possibly compete with what the world has to offer.

That living this way, apart from Christ, could have any real merit compared to financial stability and a healthy weight and an annual tropical vacation.

None of this makes sense apart from the Cross. But I never want to show the cross in public –  gore is so off-putting.

Why not lead with what’s attractive? A subtle interior voice whispers. You don’t want to make this look too difficult. It wouldn’t be right to show someone you’re struggling. Best they only see the highlight reel. Smile! Or else you could be the reason somebody decides to never have kids one day….

It is so obvious that the voice whispering so urgently in my ear for much of the day isn’t God’s.

But I almost always fail to identify it as satan’s until he has done his dirty work, the sneaky bastard.

I let myself carry on, believing it is my own perfectionism whispering criticism in my ear all day long, not recognizing that the enemy of my soul has an axe to grind and a perfect opportunity to hit me where it hurts.

I long to do the good, and so he holds up an apparent good – impossible standards and all – and dangles it over my head, promising that if only I try hard enough, I can achieve perfection.

It’s pride mingled with a dangerous self reliance, all cloaked in a sticky sweet coating of good intentions and the desire for control.

My entire struggle with NFP can be summed up thusly: she wanted to be in control.

I don’t struggle with the theology of it. I appreciate the science behind it. I acknowledge the inherent dignity in it. And still, I wrestle.

If there is one thing I continue to ram up against, almost a decade into marriage as a practicing Catholic, it is the contradictory belief that I can both move peacefully and unobtrusively through this world and also fully embrace and strive to follow the teachings of Christ.

Silly me, I thought I’d get to choose my cross.

Being open to life is beautiful. But it’s not like, Instagram beautiful. There isn’t a filter strong enough for reality.


  • Hannah

    “It’s pride mingled with a dangerous self reliance, all cloaked in a sticky sweet coating of good intentions and the desire for control.”
    “Being open to life is beautiful. But it’s not like, Instagram beautiful. There isn’t a filter strong enough for reality.”
    And this.
    Just knocked me back on my heels.
    Will be musing on this all day.
    Thank you Jenny.!

  • Cecilia

    You are doing much better than you think you are. Truly. I guarantee you there are people who look at you and think, “It looks so easy when she does it! How come I can’t do that well?”
    I struggled a lot with depression, postpartum & chronic, when my kids were little (they are now 21, 20, 17, 15 & 12). I often felt on the verge of having everything fall apart. Then one day a coworker told me wistfully how easy I made it look!
    No matter how bad you think you look, there are people who see you and think “What a pretty mom and what a beautiful family!” Believe it or not, I often feel I’ve done an inadequate job of raising my kids in the faith when I read your blog. I find myself thinking, “Why didn’t I do that when they were little? It’s too late now.” Then I turn it over to God and try to cut myself a little slack and remind myself that none of them have been arrested; none use drugs or drink and none of them are having sex. And I keep praying for them.

  • Lynn

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and humorous words! I haven’t commented here before, but I certainly should have, because more than a couple posts have resonated with my experiences. Keep fighting the good fight! I’m in the trenches with you!

  • Kathleen

    Oh Jenny! So so true! Today I took 5 kids to the hipster IHOP with the young super cool single people for 60 cent Pancakes and it was an excrement show of epic proportions and I thought, “I think I scared everyone here out of having kids…!” But the truth is that the reality was so much better than the teething baby and the syrup covered toddle shows in that one moment. And by Gods grace I just laughed through the meal as I stood near the booth with the crazy fussy baby and tried fruitlessly to eat my omelette, which mostly landed on the baby’s head. My kids kept saying dinner was awesome. And I think it probably was! 😂🤪

  • Kathryn

    What a gifted writer you are, and how much I wish I had access to your column 20 years ago (I know not possible 🙂 ). You and your beloved family are a gift to your neighborhood. Wait and see…

  • M

    Something I’ve really reflected on this whole series for the first time is how much our God-given personalities & temperments must shape our NFP discernment & experiences. And how different it is for each of us! Not that God doesn’t call us outside our comfort zones but I do find it interesting how a situation that may seem very serious to me (a naturally overly cautious person) is no sweat to another more easy going family.

  • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Huge round of applause for this one Jenny. I play those games in my head too and dangle an imagine carrots of thousands of dollars if I can make through the stressful event without blowing my lid.

  • Colleen

    “I long to do the good, and so he holds up an apparent good – impossible standards and all – and dangles it over my head, promising that if only I try hard enough, I can achieve perfection.”—Totally spot on!🙌🏻

  • Melissas

    Ugh the insecurity is so hard. I just had my fourth baby and I cannot stop imagining what people are thinking of us everywhere we go. And it doesn’t help that one of my older kids who has behavioral issues takes his frustration out on me by following me around telling me I’m a bad mom. It’s like that voice telling lies except that voice for me is actually someone speaking out loud telling me how awful I am and it plays right into all my fear and insecurity. It’s tough to tell myself the truth or even know what the truth is about my mothering.

  • jeanette

    “You don’t want to make this look too difficult. It wouldn’t be right to show someone you’re struggling.”

    Yes, you are right to see that as the whisper of negativity from satan. Because actually it is a good thing to show you are struggling. Because that is being honest. Because that shows you are still willing to do it even though it is a struggle. And because the reason you are still willing to do it is because you aren’t doing it all by yourself…you are entrusting yourself to the grace of God. And the person who is curious enough to inquire about how you manage it all (whether by genuine desire to know or by those ruder forms of comments that arise) give you an opportunity to share about that inner relationship between motherhood and trust in God. It shows that trust building takes time and effort in a relationship to God. And maybe that will have the net effect of helping them to entrust their struggles to God, too, whatever they may be, since we all have our struggles.

  • Kate

    Beautiful reflection Jenny. I loved the last line, a good reminder about what true beauty is and isn’t 😀
    Also, I want to encourage you that you never know when and how God will use you to plant a seed in someone’s life, your family is a blessing that this world craves and needs!

  • Mary Kerian

    I’ve never comments here but I just wanted to mention that satan’s temptation here is an attempt to to make you think badly of those around you: good people can see the beauty of siblings even when only one of the crowd is behaving themselves. Good people do not judge you even if your are making your life hard (that really is your business not theirs). Good people are not appalled when children cry, whine, make noise or sulk. So a big part of the temptation here is for you to assume the people around you are not good people, but selfish monsters that are offended by the existence of children being children… don’t let him do that. – God Bless,

  • Patrick

    Jenny as a man struggling to live the NFP life now expecting our 8th in 16 years of marriage this post was excellent. These feelings are similar to what I’ve felt too. Keep persevering and don’t get discouraged you are on the right track.

  • Vijaya

    Jenny, I rarely comment but I love how honest you are in all your posts. Thanks for showing us what it’s like. I always pray for all the young parents who are open to life. Your families, big or small, are a witness to a life surrendered to God. My husband and I came to the Church much too late (but it’s never too late), but what joy to read Humane Vitae and discover the true meaning of marriage (we were already married 15 yrs before). God bless you and yours.

  • Morrie

    Moms are the best bloggers. I think it is the inner dialog that goes on all day during parenting followed by putting it out there for all to see with usually very insightful conclusions drawn with the inspiration of Holy Spirit. I contrast this with a LinkedIn article this week about how to deal with Wednesdays. Their solution was a workout before work (weight training), a lunch engagement with someone new (an advertising rep was given as an example), an after work boxing workout, and ending with with a late night dinner out with friends or neighbors. The idea was to be social and physically active which is all well and good but I immediately thought that all is needed is to throw some kids in the mix. I never remember worrying about hump day and how to get through it when the house was full of kids.

  • M

    I have a lot of non-reglious friends whose lives more closely resemble a sex & the city character than Catholic mom. They definitely think NFP is crazy & have made mention that they don’t want kids of their own. I’ve been having health issues after the recent birth of my baby. It’s not my Catholic mom friends that have shown up to help me (I don’t blame them! They’re drowning in their own babies!), but it’s my friends who think I’m crazy that have driven me to doctor’s appointments, babysat my kids & brought me meals. It’s been a hugely eye opening experience for me to let these friends into my mess & let them show me Christ’s love (even though they don’t know that’s what they’re doing!). I’m honestly probably scaring them further away from motherhood, but I’ve realized that’s not really my job to worry about. They keep showing up & I’m going to let Jesus handle the rest.

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