Rachel Lloyd is a British journalist who has ridden the well-known roller-coaster concerning children:
Two years ago, when I turned 40, I felt a surge of relief. My exhausting thirties were over. That agonising decade with the relentless tick of the biological clock ... was finally behind me.
At 35, if you are single and childless, there is an assumption that, while you may have been wasting time thus far, you might still manage to find a husband and have a baby. But at 40, the fertility window closes in and if the clock hasn't quite struck midnight, it's likely to be very nearly there.
At 40, I was finally able to acknowledge that I wasn’t ever going to be a mother. I cried, I laughed, I talked it through with friends. The life script I’d always taken for granted – that I’d have a family (along with a semi-detached house and large dog) was no longer relevant – through circumstance, rather than choice.
Once I’d begun to make peace with this idea, I felt I could start moving forwards. And I discovered I was far from alone. There were plenty of us so-called ‘NoMos’ (Not Mothers) out there.
So far, completely normal, given that men are less likely to commit, intimacy doesn't correlate to child-bearing, and that many women are happy to postpone the question of physical motherhood until much later than a century ago. But it's the next few comments that reveal the reason why most women miss the boat completely on the gift they've been given to share with the world.
Noting that she had no purpose without a family, that she felt herself to be on the outside of respectability (something that doesn't happen to childless men) and that there was a sense of grief not to have children of her own, she discovered the positive side of "failing to breed," and has a new mission:
After the grief, I started to feel anger at the prejudice experienced by childless women. This also helped dissolve my shame.
Today, I am proud to call myself a childless woman – and a spinster at that. I have learnt to embrace my experiences and make the very best of things. I look at the positives: namely freedom and choice.
So I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and start speaking up for myself and my peers. Hopefully, as more childfree women find their voice we will start to reverse the prejudice. So here’s to a new dawn for NoMos – and if you’re one, then welcome aboard.
I would suggest that the "prejudice" that she senses is not a flaw in our culture that needs to be eradicated, but a nod to the most natural of phenomena: that women are created to love and nurture others. Her own ambivalence -- wanting to find a wonderful man and to create a family -- was not a social construct put in place to levy guilt over those who don't have children, but a result of the a well-inclined heart that was thwarted in the one practical dimension most people understood.
What is missing from the secular world's equation -- babies or bust -- is the understanding of spiritual motherhood. Her generosity of spirit, all of her inclination to love would indeed have fulfilled her, and was still available -- and could still be offered to others, because when a woman gives a gift of herself, it's a maternal gift. Women's love, properly understood, is mother love.
Instead of heaving a sigh of relief after the child-bearing years have passed, a woman should recognise at that point that all she has is spiritual motherhood. Whether a biological mother, an adoptive mother, or childless, a woman will find that extending herself to the persons around her -- children, neices and nephews, students, co-workers, neighbours, or friends -- will reap marvelous rewards if the love is truly free (not coerced).
The world is suffocating for lack of spiritual motherhood, and so many women are available to offer it. Instead of rallying behind one more slogan -- "childless and happy!" -- women should consider why they had the angst in the first place, and consider whether or not they have the maturity for spiritual motherhood. It's challenging, it's selfless, and it needs to be offered with no strings attached -- strictly for the good of the other. And in giving it, they will receive. In the gift they will find their best selves. And in embracing that vocation, there is no agonising over "failure," for every effort is a success.
When schedules change and families spend more time together, we are given an opportunity to have important conversations with those we love. Whether during slower days at home, get-togethers at vacation spots, or traveling to visit distant relations, discussions often turn to shared events of the past--which can be the occasion of laughter, bittersweet recollections, or dredging up old conflicts, with all their baggage.
When families gather together and reminisce, one is often shocked by how others remember particular persons and events. We carry with us an eclectic composite of memories that have shaped us over the years, and that have colored our opinions about how the world works, but occasionally two persons will remember an occasion or encounter so differently that they have trouble recognizing the shared experience [continue reading].
Dom Kirby, prior of Silverstream Priory in County Meath, Ireland has a wonderful meditation on the fall of Judas, which he explains was a gradual process. There were aids along the way that could have helped him with his frustrations and misunderstandings about Christ's mission. Surely he could have talked to Our Lord himself, or to Peter or John. But his opportunity to talk to Mary remains for all of us. Consider her availability then and now:
Judas had another recourse, but he was too proud to make use of it. He could have gone to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even before the words of Our Lord to Saint John from the Cross, “Behold, thy mother” (Jn 19:27), Mary was a true mother to each of the Apostles. She knew them as any mother knows her children, and she loved them, even with their weaknesses and repeated failures to believe in her Son, to hope in Him, and to love Him. Any one of the twelve could have gone to Mary at any time for counsel, for comfort, for encouragement, and for a mother’s blessing. She loved each of them because her Son loved them, and chose them, and called them to leave all things and follow Him.
Judas could have gone to Mary and said, “Mother, behold, my life is filled with wicked desires, with anger, and jealousy, and pride. Mother, I am ashamed to confess this to thee, but I am losing confidence in thy Son. I cannot accept His way of doing things. I am hardening my heart against His teachings. Mother, help me! And Mary, moved by an immense compassion, would have caressed his cheek, and opened her hands in prayer over his head. Mary was then, and remains even now for us, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the Mother of Mercy, the Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and above all, our hope in this valley of tears. She would not have condemned Judas. She would not have been angry with him. She would have felt an immense pity for him, the pity of a mother for a wayward child. Mary could have saved him from the terrible fate that awaited him. But Judas did not seek her out. And so Mary would weep for him bitterly.
One can go to Mary at any moment, with any temptation, any weakness, and any sin. Our Lady hates sin, but loves poor sinners. She is disgusted by evil, but is merciful towards those held in its grip. She is repulsed by vice, but full of compassion for those who struggle to become free of it. Seeing us in our sins, she weeps over us, allowing her tears to soften and purify our hearts. Turn to her and she will crush the head of the serpent who plots our ruin. It is enough to look at her image with confidence, enough to say her blessed name, “Mary, Mary!”
She is the model of "loving the sinner and hating the sin," because the first commitment (to the sinner) is compromised by the latter (the sin). While they seem juxtaposed (love/hate), they are the same thing. Anyone who really loves another despises those elements which assail or compromise who he is called to be, and we want everyone to be his best self: the one in God's mind at his very conception.
May we turn to Mary at all times, and may we in turn imitate her ability to be a refuge for others, so that they find in us wisdom and strength in their difficult moments. The strength, of course, is not our own (nor was it Mary's) but it was that "tabernacling" of God, who gives strength to us all.
After decades of distracted catechesis on the faith, many contemporary Catholics have discerned two pressing needs: to learn why Marian
devotion is such an integral element in the life of the Church, and to find a
comprehensive (but accessible!) written work to offer to others who believe that there
is no need to include Mary in their journey towards God. In this entirely
readable text, Walking With Mary: A
Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross, Dr. Edward Sri provides just such a tool to reintroduce Catholics to the Mother of God, and to lead them to an appreciation for the particular beauty of Mary.
One of the delightful attributes of this book is its
wonderful balance that operates on many levels. Dr. Sri explains the overarching
reverence in which Mary has been held by the faithful over the centuries while
showing that her witness as Jesus’ first disciple is a model for all
Christians. He reveals how her singular role in salvation history was
foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament while at the same time her fiat provided the means for an entirely
unexpected event. Moreover, there is an explanation of how her spotless soul shows
the magnanimity of God while simultaneously explaining that her humility is an
essential component in putting on Christ. Finally, the author shows how Mary can be
both mother and queen while living as apostle and witness to generation after
generation of her spiritual children.
One might think that little can be known of Mary because of
her quietness throughout the Gospels—she speaks so rarely!—but reliable Biblical
scholarship shows us how both the setting in the events of her life and the particular phrasing of the scriptural texts provide magnificent details that would otherwise be missed. Even words that we may regularly gloss over, such as “on the third day,” “hour,”
and "woman” are themselves charged with meaning, providing more essential clues.
Dr. Sri synthesises the original Greek
texts, related Biblical passages, and sentence structure, as he reminds the reader of the virtues being revealed and Divine promises kept. While it is a truism that “ignorance
of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” the very same can be said about our
knowledge of Mary, the first fruit and most perfect image of the Church.
Every faithful child of the Church is a child of Mary (whether
or not he or she is aware of the relationship) but readers will discover how Mary’s maternity is particularly instructive for a world that rejects
both motherhood and fatherhood. In the end, her fiat—which was renewed as
events unfolded—included the call to nurture each of us, who are thereby enfolded
in her mantle of mercy. Her fidelity to her children, her concern for our joys
and sorrows should encourage and console us. In fact, her fiat is a warm, motherly invitation to
persevere in the demands of love, no matter the cost.
This book is a delight, and would make a wonderful gift for any serious Christian. If we can see our way to Mary, the rest of the journey
will be a road of familial joy and fortifying communion. I heartily recommend Walking With Mary!
Evidently there's a monstrous taboo facing women (even now, in 2013) concerning child-bearing, and those who choose not to have kids still must explain themselves. So says Helen Mirren in a Telegraph interview that has great merit for other reasons. First Mirren:
a woman reaches a certain age, she is expected to start thinking about
having children. If she doesn’t, society demands an answer. But why doesn’t
she have children, people will whisper. Isn’t she able to have children?
Doesn’t she want children?
In the past, Mirren has answered with defiance. “I have no maternal instinct
whatsoever,” she once said. “Motherhood holds no interest for me.” In her
latest interview, however, Mirren, who has been married for 15 years, admits
that she always expected to be a mother. “It was not my destiny,” she says.
“I kept thinking it would be, waiting for it to happen, but it never did,
and I didn’t care what people thought.”
Women, she adds, never gave her a hard time: “it was only boring old men. And
whenever they went 'What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it,
old girl,’ I’d say 'No! F--- off!’”
OK, so some old men from a previous generation have given her guff on occasion, but that's not exactly a leading indicator of current attitudes -- in fact she says women haven't bothered her. In fact, it would seem that between Planned Parenthood, Cosmo magazine, grrl power merchandise, and college statistics (where women outnumber men), motherhood isn't a top priority to most women these days.
One shouldn't overlook the sleight-of-hand in Mirren's comments, who says she's not maternal, then that she always expected to be a mother, and then that she found out that she couldn't have children. That's a monumental amount of information that leaves us with more a taste of "sour grapes" than "I did it my way." She's all over the map because her life has been complicated by many factors, not the least of which has been her position as a highly successful actor in an industry deeply conflicted about cultural norms.
Now that we have her personal story out of the way, there is a fascinating summary of the lives of women near the end of the piece:
A woman’s reproductive career has many phases, all difficult to negotiate. The
beginning is not easy, because she has to accept the idea that, for better
or worse, she is sexually active. Then she has to work out what she should
do to protect herself and her fertility from sexually transmitted infection
and her future from the arrival of an unplanned baby.
Just how hard this is can be guessed from the number of morning after pills
dispensed to young women. They shouldn’t be having unprotected sex, and they
know it, but they are more concerned to please the man they think they love.
Among the things they can lose at this precarious stage is the chance of
having a baby further down the line.
The next phase is when a woman finds herself in a committed relationship. The
decision about when to have children is one she and her partner should take
together, but there are no guarantees they think the same way. She may have
to force the issue, or she might be too decent to do that, and end up
waiting too long. Dame Judi Dench produced her one child when she was 37;
many women who try for a baby at that age will fail.
When a woman ceases to take precautions, with or without telling her partner,
the outcome is in the lap of the gods. As the biological clock ticks down
she may decide to ask for help in getting pregnant. She may even put herself
through the expensive ordeal of IVF; her partner may stay the distance, or
he may not. The decisions are hard and the circumstances keep changing.
Ah, welcome "choice." You'll notice in that summary that sterile uncommitted sex is the baseline for modern women (which is presently at the heart of the anti-mother sentiment). Women who pursue sexual "freedom" are at the mercy of their fertility, their hearts (which seek to please men), their career trajectories, the biological clock, the ravages of hormonal regimens combined with promiscuity, the lack of commitment from men, STD's, and the vagaries of technology.
This is the world that women have made for themselves -- indeed, they have insisted upon it. This, they claim, is far better than motherhood as a default option, marriage for life, the stability of traditional families, and habitual virtue. In fact, the choice to avoid motherhood isn't made in a vaccuum, but must justify itself with a little venom towards those who choose differently:
Their reasons for not having children are varied, often deeply personal – and
sometimes, like Mirren’s, circumstantial. The author Lionel Shriver is one
of a growing number of women who are childless by choice, also known as
“child-free”, or – as she puts it – an “Anti-Mom”. In response to criticism
of her 2005 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which some labelled “hostile
to family”, Shriver wrote a series of articles justifying her decision not
to have children. “I’ve had all the time in the world to have babies,” she
said. “I am married. I’ve been in perfect reproductive health. I could have
afforded children, financially. I just didn’t want them. They are untidy…
they are ungrateful. They would have siphoned too much time away from the
writing of my precious books.”
Most importantly, as Catholics, we must look at the feminine vocation in all its permutations and discover what is wrong with women who choose not to have children. It's not so much that they are not physical mothers (which can certainly be for a variety of reasons) but that they reject the maternal side of women as demeaning, a sign of weakness, or a patriarchal trap. The difference between a mother and and an "anti-mom" (to use Shriver's term) is the disposition of a woman's heart. A mother looks outwardly at others as persons who may benefit from her feminine gifts; an anti-mom looks inwardly, primarily at her own desires, but also how she can use her gifts to manipulate others.
There are plenty of mothers who manipulate, and plenty of gifted women who share their talents, but neither of these serve the needs of others -- as persons. Authentic motherhood is the gift of self -- not a writing talent, an ability to act, or business acumen. Motherhood may inform these things, but in themselves they are not motherhood.
Alternately, there are many women who don't have biological children who are tremendously maternal, who can read hearts and live compassionately. It's not about the babies, but the disposition of soul. Unfortunately, Mirren might have been a far better mother than she thought she would be (the grace comes with the vocation) but she turned her heart from motherhood and seeks to help others do as well.
In 2007, Dame Helen told the famously intrusive Australian talk show host
Andrew Denton that she had been deeply affected by a film on childbirth that
she saw as a teenager. “I swear it traumatised me to this day. I haven’t had
children, and now I can’t look at anything to do with childbirth. It
absolutely disgusts me.”
The fact that modern women still feel that they are living in a world devoted to motherhood, and that they are on the ropes to define their choice to avoid children is fascinating. Since devoted mothers throughout the Western world feel as though THEY are constantly being marginalised in every quarter of society, I would have to wonder if it's an ingrained mental construct that will not leave the "anti-moms" at peace.
All women are called to spiritual motherhood, to live in complimentary relationships with men, and will be most fulfilled by a true gift of self. Ultimately, this may be the feminine form of "God haunted."
Thirty years ago called--they want their banners back. Cherie Blair (wife of former UK Prime Minister) leads the charge into cultural oblivion:
Blair suggested that children raised in households with a full-time mom lack a sense of independence and can’t make their way in the world because their moms don’t have “professional ambition.” “I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me,” she remarked.
Soooo, that essential education is supposed to start in infancy -- by dropping the child with paid caregivers who will begin the task of explaining that mother has better things to do? And then extensive pre-school programs, and then after-school care until the child is old enough to be a latch-key kid, and then ... hope for the best? Why not just set up state-run orphanages with weekend visits for parents?
Every psychological serious study screams that this woman is wrong (the same woman who not only wants her children not to need her, but told the world that her fourth was a contraceptive snafu).
But, all that said, I think we need to consider the frightfully small demographic she's targeting: the "yummy mummies" who "describe young, attractive women who live on their husband’s wealth, staying home full-time with their children."
Adding that women who decide to get married to rich men and “retire” at home are unfulfilled and “dangerous,” Blair said, “you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is.”
Ignore the fact that many women sacrifice a great deal to be home with their children; ignore the fact that tight economies make it increasingly difficult for single-income families to persevere; ignore the fact that more than half of children are not sharing a home with their biological fathers; ignore the fact that marriage is often not on the radar screen for many couples with children (refusing even the attempt to establish stabibility for the sake of their children); and ignore the fact that, until this generation, marrying a man with a steady income was considered highly prudent. What has possessed these women not only to abandon their own children (while calling it the best formation possible) but to insult all women who choose differently?
Such is the insecurity of feminists -- and it always has been thus. Getting an education isn't enough -- feminists must also rig all the schools so that boys are handicapped and girls surrounded by hyper-esteem programs. Being pro-abortion isn't enough -- feminists must also indict those who choose to bring their crisis pregnancies to term, calling them selfish and unworthy of the "sisterhood." Enjoying the workplace isn't enough -- feminists must also trash all those who prioritise their children, even for the few years when the children are quite young and benefit by their mothers' presence.
Ah well, like all pro-choice women, only some choices are valid, and those are justified by pummelling all the rest. The story includes this non-surprising factoid:
Blair said her view of motherhood was shaped by her own experience of her father abandoning her mother when she was a child.
Woe to those who scandalise the little ones... Poor dear.
Yes, I'm a Mad Men fan, and here's an article about this week's show:
What I saw in the episode were two seemingly unrelated stories coalescing into one. Besides the tragedy of Lane’s choices, there was the story of Sally, an angry young girl caught between two self-absorbed parents, Don and Betty. She endured their eventual divorce and ensuing marriages, with each seeing her more as annoyance than person. Since she didn’t want to go on a ski vacation with her mother, Sally acted out in the most insolent way possible, ramping up the decibels of rudeness until her mother relented and sent her to spend the weekend with her father. There—unannounced and inconvenient—she could proceed with a surreptitious plan to meet with a young man.
Spoiler alert. The rest is here... [and the most compelling discussion, as ever, here]