In Praise of Motherhood
The other day, in an idle moment, I was reading the Spectator and came upon a rather shocking piece on motherhood, a shocking but a brilliant piece entitled “What does Gen Z have against motherhood?” by the wonderfully talented young writer, Freya India, who, responding to the now pervasive distaste for motherhood amongst the young, observed:
This phenomenon is by no means unique to Britain; fertility rates are collapsing across the developed world. There are all kinds of reasons for this: financial insecurity, feminism, loss of religious faith, rising infertility, and even fear of a coming climate apocalypse.
Whatever the cause of the plummeting birth rate, there’s certainly been a palpable shift in the way young women think about motherhood. Increasingly, millennials—and my generation, Gen Z— see parenthood as restrictive, inconvenient, and somewhat irrational. Many view falling birth rates as a sign of women’s liberation: not only are more of us prioritising our education and employment, but living more fun and frivolous lives. Motherhood, something once viewed as inextricably difficult but ultimately rewarding, is now passé—even a little puzzling.
Nowhere is this attitude better captured than on TikTok. Collated under the hashtag #childfree, which has over 242 million views, thousands of women wonder why anyone would choose to have children and forgo their freedom to party, go on guilt-free girls’ nights and maximise their income . . . .
Perhaps fear of motherhood is inevitable in a generation more accustomed to comfort than any other throughout history, and conditioned to think that life should always be carefree.
Of course, in the increasingly barbarous times in which we live, we see a lot of the norms of civilization falling away. Fewer and fewer people dress properly; read the great works of world literature; patronize the opera or the symphony; entertain; dine out in good restaurants; pay any mind to etiquette; pay any mind to self-respect, without which love of neighbor, the bond of any lasting civil order, is impossible.
These are the humanizing norms of civilization. When they go, as they are going now, people lose the ability to be responsibly free. They become fodder for tyranny—the tyranny of lifelessness. In New York, where I live, the only people who keep up any of these norms are my Eastern European neighbors, immigrants, for the most part, from the vassal states of the former USSR. Having seen when they were children their own cultures laid waste by their Russian overlords, they know how vital it is to keep such norms in trim. Then, again, refugees from Italy and their families are moving into the neighborhood as well, and they, too, understand the vitality of such norms.
Too many New Yorkers—cowed, masked, compliant—have succumbed to the dictates of the slave compound. Heather MacDonald is good on this in City Journal:
One might have imagined that even progressives would be ready to say: “Enough of this! We’ll take our chances. Let’s get back to normal life!” But it turns out that many people have a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for fear and risk aversion, especially when linked to control.
Yet, as bad as this new conformism has become, the assault on motherhood is worse. Not delighting in Puccini is one thing, but failing to see that our entire Western Civilization comes from the Motherhood of Mary is another altogether. Here is a new turn of the screw of our accelerating decadence: Our vicious techno-culture is now producing people who actually hate motherhood.
Why should I be so exercised about this assault on motherhood? Well, for starters, if my wife had not had some interest in motherhood, I should never have been a father, and I rather like being a father. Just this morning, I was reminded of how amusing it is to be a father when I was looking up the word “piety” in my splendid corrected first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1961). Asking my bright young son, Sebastian, whether he wished to look up the word with me—whether he wished to run his fingers along the print on the page (of course, the thirteen volumes were printed on a press, not lithographically)—the four-year-old boy replied: “Not yet, Daddy.” Not yet—maybe when I am five or six. And then, shortly afterwards, my daughter Sophia came tearing into the study and cried, “Guess what, Daddy? I was just listening to the national anthem of Colombia. It is so beautiful! So stirring! And one of the lyrics [translated into English for her non-Spanish speaking Daddy] is: ‘We understand the words of Him who died on the cross . . .’” Sophia’s grandmother is a native of Bogotá and Sophia consequently adores everything Colombian.
Now, without motherhood, I ask you, how could I ever be blessed with such conversation? Gentle reader, it would not be possible.
Then, again, if my own mother, that redoubtable, irreplicable lady, had never involved herself in motherhood, I would not be alive. And the horrors of New York notwithstanding, I enjoy being alive. After all, despite all of the sins on my head, I want to get to heaven. And in the meantime, I want to continue to enjoy listening to Finzi’s “Clarinet Concerto” while writing little online pieces for the Human Life Review. I want to revisit Balzac’s great novels, Eugenie Grandet, Old Goriot and Cousin Bette to see why Henry James reveled so in this most obsessive of artists. I want to gaze upon the mother of my children, the girl of my dreams, who is now lovelier than ever.
This is why I praise motherhood: It has given me all that I most prize. It has given me the sense to see the grounds of my rejoicing. It has put the cry of thanksgiving in my heart and on my lips. Thanks be to God for the blessings of motherhood. Life is good. Motherhood is good.
During this Lenten season, let us go out to the poor young captives of Googleland and explain to them the birds and the bees. No motherhood, no life. And then perhaps when we have their attention—when we have succeeded in prying them free of their beloved walkie talkies—we can recite this lovely poem of Patrick Kavanagh’s to them:
In Memory of My Mother
I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily
Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle—’
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.
And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town
On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.
O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.
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