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Having children is not for dummies

In comparison, being prime minister is a piece of cake

By on Friday, 29 June 2012

Babies: worth it CNS photo/Darren Whiteside, Reuters

Babies: worth it CNS photo/Darren Whiteside, Reuters

I have to take issue with journalist Petronella Wyatt. I am reluctant to do so as I am also a woman engaged in journalism and I want to be loyal to the sisterhood. But her recent article in the Daily Telegraph, entitled “Single, childless and very proud” really got under my skin. It’s best to voice my objections in open court.

Ms Wyatt describes herself as a SAC (i.e. single and childless). Using the same acronym-type language, I am a MAM: “Married and Mother”. She is annoyed by society’s habit of ignoring people like her in favour of people like me, pointing out that her numbers are “on the rise”. (This is true, actually. I was reading a book the other day by a chap called David Pullinger, an active (single) Anglican layman, entitled “A desire to belong: thinking about single people in church”, and he states that one in three adults in Britain are now single. It strikes me as a pretty disquieting figure.)

Ms Wyatt’s article goes on to tell us she is fed up with being treated as a social Cinderella and has now come out fighting; she is proud of being a SAC and can see lots of advantages to this state. That’s fine by me and good luck to her. But what was offensive was the way she deliberately denigrated us MAMs along the way: apparently we inhabit a smug, Jane Austen world where marriage is the only possible goal; when the goal is achieved we sit around in self-satisfied, middle-class, Mumsnet-type coffee mornings talking twaddle.

“Getting married and having children is not normal, it’s just very common” she announces, adding that “the notion that reproduction is the highest calling for a female is utterly outdated”. She quotes the TV historian Lucy Worsley who said in a recent interview, “I have been educated out of the natural reproduction function. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy.” Ms Wyatt now thinks she has better things to do “than attend ante-natal classes. I thought of all the advantages I had over those who have lost their identities (not to mention their figures) by turning out children.” She ends on a triumphal note: “I have three men pursuing me, and each one respects me for my decision to be a person before a reproductive automaton.”

Wow. How to respond to all this verbal aggression? Leaving aside her deliberate use of demeaning language – “female”, “reproduction”, “turning out”, as if she were referring to rabbits, I’ll simply make the following points: getting married and having children is normal – indeed it is the norm, or should be, if society is to function at all and if civilisations are to be built. If it is true that one in three adults in the UK is now single it is a deeply unhealthy and alarming demographic trend. Again, the vocation to marriage and children is still a very high calling (though, supernaturally speaking, the vocation to the priestly or religious life is higher because it aspires more closely to heaven.)

Further, it is nonsense to suggest that higher education makes having children the option for dummies. Ms Wyatt, I understand, went to Oxford – “the other place” as we Cambridge alumni call it. After Cambridge I got married and went on to have eight children (without once attending ante-natal classes, I might add.) I have never for a single second regretted this choice – or the decision to stay at home to bring them all up (here I must thank the ever-gallant William Oddie for his blog defending stay-at-home mothers against career-woman Cherie Blair’s recent attack on us.)

As MAMs know, children demand every ounce of one’s physical strength and every shred of one’s intellectual resources. In comparison, being prime minister would have been a piece of cake. Again, becoming a mother doesn’t mean you lose your identity; indeed, it helps you to become more yourself. Pope John Paul II says much more about this in his great encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. I strongly advise Ms Wyatt to read it before sounding off again so intemperately.

This is a trivial point, but suggesting that mothers inevitably lose their figures is also simply untrue. I have the same dress size (10) and am the same weight (8 stone 4oz) since I was at school. As for being “pursued by three men” – what’s that to write home about? Right now I am being pursued by a builder who is doing some work on our house. He himself has six children, he tells me; they started out living in a 2-bedroomed council house along with his Nan but luckily, being a builder, he was able to knock down a few walls, knock up a cabin in the garden and add an extension. His wife sounds terrific.

Petronella talks about her new-found superiority as a SAC. Christian women know they are not superior to anyone, whether married or single: we all have a vocation – if only we can discover it – and we all have struggles, whatever our state in life. Being single can be hard – especially if it is not the life you would have chosen for yourself. Some women are single by nature; some are single through circumstances; and some are single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. We are all part of the same sisterhood. And now I lay down my cudgels.

  • Jackie Parkes

    Way to go Francis!

  • Caroline Farrow

    Very well said Francis.

    I used to work in Investment Banking and Private Equity. Being on the trading floor is an absolute doddle in comparison to looking after 2 children under 3, an 8 year old and a fourth on the way.

    My identity and personality has been transformed for the better by motherhood, the only instinct that has been subsumed is selfishness, which can be no bad thing, both in terms of my vocation as a Christian, a wife and a mother but also in terms of society as a whole.

    To be described as a reproductive automaton or my motherhood waved as proof of ignorance or poor education denotes a lack of respect for the choices and decisions of other women – an ironic betrayal of the founding principles of feminism. It also indicates a rather disturbing tendency to de-humanise fellow women as lesser beings due to the choices we have made. It’s why I loathe modern feminism which has become dictatorial and patriarchal in nature.

  • paulpriest

    It’s quite ironic that Ms Wyatt speaks of remaining single by choice when the vast majority of the single people in this country are rather [with a divorce rate heading towards 50%] ‘single by circumstance’.

    I have no desire to be derogatory to womenkind but a significant factor within all this is social engineering by government of both hues which have made divorce both easily obtainable and financially beneficial.

    Go into a nightclub on a weekend evening and you’ll find the walls thick with men in their thirties and forties gazing into their drinks – these are in the majority men who were married.

    Go into a MacDonalds at the weekend and you’ll find the place with a notable absence of one type of person..mothers! Divorced and separated fathers are feeding/entertaining their children while they’re using their visitation rights.

    Thirty years ago a walk through suburban streets would have led to encounters with mothers of all types networking and forming a community – children playing – everyone knowing whom everyone else is. The same could be found outside the primary schools – vast swathes of mothers networking/integrating/planning to socialise at later non-school related events. It kept the fabric of society intact.

    Social Engineering government policies brought an end to this…none more so vile than the invidious Sunday trading regulations.

    The majority of factories/warehouses/call-centres etc now work on a continental shift basis where men and women – fathers and mothers – are rarely able to have an entire weekend off work.
    Most retail employers these day when preparing contracts now normatively demand a prospective employee to work at least either a Saturday or a Sunday.

    Hence family meals disappear only to be replaced with ‘shifts’ of rushed plates on knees in front of the TV sometimes children seeing a parent briefly or not at all for days…and weekends have become wastelands of interrupted brief social interactions and mad rushes to either foodshop or the parents grasping the single weekly opportunity to socialise with people their own age in [usually] a pub [most other social outlets being now either obsolete or targeted at a younger, trendier or richer market]

    Hence communities and families rupture – and little wonder that divorce and single parenthood is a catastrophic result…

    …but what makes this worse is yet again another government policy of the sale of council houses.

    Previously in an average suburban street there would be some socio-cultural and financial inequality ranging from an underclass to a lower middle class – and a homogenisation ensued – poor kids would play with slightly better off kids and achieve some stability, integration and aspiration – across the community there’s be social cohesion and participation among those whom generally wouldn’t associate. This was real social diversity and to some extent an holistic multiculturalism.

    The option to buy council house led to the wealthier tenants selling up and moving on to pastures new…leaving those who could not behind…and replacement tenants would be of a lesser social status or immigrants [and it's far from racist to survive that the introduction of a vast amounts of those with a definite socio-culture, argot and language is ultimately disenfranchising]

    Then there’s the ghettoisation of those on housing benefits – as councils had to invest 80% of their house sales receipts they were financially restricted from building new houses – enter the housing associations with their extortionate rents – the only people able to be housed in such areas were those on full housing benefit – the elderly, the infirm, the ex-criminal, the unmarried mother and.more significantly – the re-housed newly divorced mothers…yet again more social engineering to fracture and dispossess those for whom life was already bad enough

    Hence we now have a socially-engineered society which is given as normative and treated by politicians, commentators, quangocrats, professionals in the socials services and academia …
    …as naturally evolved phenomena
    ….as if there’s been some Hegelian self-determination by individuals who have cast off old moral norms and become independent of old-fashioned notions of extended families and interactive neighbourhoods and thriving communities….

    …the implication is that this is one of moral and determined CHOICE by the individuals concerned.

    IT WASN’T!
    The majority did not make their choices – they were compelled by wilfully manufactured financially driven social coercion.

    Now I could go on for hours but I feel I have to finish with what i see to be the present farce in the fight over ‘marriage’

    Catholic teaching is very simple: Marriage reflects the Blessed Trinity where overwhelming absolute reciprocated Love is manifested to such an extent that it actualy overflows into an entire eternal third person of the Trinity.

    Hence in life it is not good for man [or woman] to be alone which is why a man leaves fater & mother etc..etc..

    ..and Husband & Wife become one on levels of both soul and body – two persons sharing in the one marital nature…the aim being to engage to the fullest in this loving nature – this entire giving of selves to the other results in being open to the gift of children from God in whom they also share in that single nature of love within the family….

    In other words as the aim is love..the love naturally overflows into a gift of children and the love intensifying exponentially into a family.

    The AIM of marriage is the bearing and rearing of Children.

    Now same-sex marriage advocates argue that no – the argument is solely about love of the two for each other forming a bond – children are both an irrelevance and a non-sequitur.

    With the authentic Catholic position we have a valid answer to that claim – that this narcissistic self-indulgence is NOT an entire giving of selves and by its very limitations and inner-built psychological, biological and spiritual aims is actually stunted, prohibited, compromised – and worse what is there is heopardised and potentially corrupted and damaged.
    The childless married couple are still performing all the actions towards one aim – the same-sex couple are doing that which cannot be and will always threaten by its absolute fruitlessness….

    But what have those who allegedly represent us in the defence of marriage appealed to?
    have they called upon authentic Catholic teaching to defend marriage?
    Have they used this natural law formulation which was present and actuated instinctively for millennia before religious understanding of its nature?

    They have twisted and distorted the nature of marriage into one where the very purpose is the bearing and raising of children.
    A utilitarian nightmare…almost something out of Huxley or the works of chairman Mao
    Where marriage is a baby-making function.
    We become like Dawkins selfish gene – solely here to make more gene.
    Chickens solely here to make more eggs…
    To use Chesterton’s analogy – we have declared the sole purpose of a hammer is to make more hammers…

    Bearing and Raising children is a natural consequential AIM of marriage founded in a unifying overflowing love.

    Little wonder when those attempting to defend marriage [the majority claiming to be informed Christians - or worse claim to be purveying orthodox Catholic teaching] have perverted the notion to such an extent that that which they are defending is alien to most people – a monstrous nightmare – human love being diminished to a photocpier or sausage machine!….

    …that Ms Wyatt has decided she wants nothing to do with it!

    What have we done? Where have we gone wrong?

    Maybe it’s time to actually reflect upon what this social engineering and socio-cultural brainwashing has wrought upon society – and start doing something about it to remedy it.


  • Lewispbuckingham

    A recent article in The Australian pointed out that the Obama feminism push had become one person thick.Apart from Hiliary all the rest of the high flying, well educated women running his think tanks had left to look after teenage boys or other children.Hiliary Clinton’s daughter,Chelsea was an adult now and did not need close parenting.
    As far as aspirations for heaven I always thought that any vocation,when discerned and followed was a gift from God.As such it is a source of completeness with the body of Christ.So there is no higher vocation or calling.The priesthood for a priest, the lay single or married state, the nun are all sources of sanctity. Grace is poured out like an endless waterfall.In as far as we fulfill our vocation, which we may never know in our life, this our path to sanctity.There is no Mazlow like heirarchy of fulfilled needs and aspirations leading to greater ‘actualisation’, or a higher sanctified state.
    Am I right? Is there a Constitution on the Laity that casts light on this?

  • paulpriest

    There’s a distinctly pelagian distortion of reality when speaking of life-choices and decisions to have children as if one is determining providence rather than participating within its graces.

    Now I’m sure there are going to be more posts by mothers on being mothers:

    But I have to state that I’m somewhat irked at this being considered as solely a ‘women’s issue’ when it is very far from it – yes the anti-reproductive era where women are readily available utilitarian sex-toys for men’s exploitation or sterile members of the workforce is grossly oppressive of women – the self-indulgent ladette vs narcissistic metrosexual regimes where masculinisation and feminisation either demeaned us or left us increduous compromised gender distinction and left everyone seeking some form of [what seem disenfranchised or alienated]..identity

    …but in an age where men are being increasingly treated as superfluous to parenthood – e.g. a significant percentage of young single mothers are single by choice rather than circumstance.

    …and in so many instances for men once having performed their roles as financial supporter and secondary child-carer for young children are cast out as surplus-to-requirement once the children hit adolescence and alimony/child-support ensure they are a fungible entity. law might claim to be directed to the best interests of the child but this normatively leads to an extreme rather than a justifiable bias towards the mother.

    Anyone have the statistics of children living with either no father or in a house with an adult male who is not their biological father?

    …and are there any statistics on primary schools without any male staff and ergo an an absence of male role-models

    I may have some bias being my children’s primary carer by default as my partner was seriously ill for three years with post-natal depression – and being their primary carer in their teenage years as their mother had to travel on business – but I have to say I feel distinctly awkward in being the only real day-to-day father figure in my ‘foster’ son’s life as his meetings with with his step and biological fathers are infrequent

    How this can be deemed as patriarchal is beyond me!

    ..but a society which has systemically assaulted the very nature of the nuclear family by eliminating the male from the equation?
    It’s not merely going to distort male appreciation of the nature, function, role and aims…

    It’s also going to alienate women from a fulfilment as spouse and mother.

  • Jackie Parkes

    Way to go Paul! As you know I suffered severe post-natal depression & my husband had to care for the children for a very long time. You raise a very important issue.. – that of the role or non role of fathers. Your insight is as always very valuable & enlightening! I had 6 under 6 & they were very happy days indeed. Like francis, I have no regrets giving up a well-paid career to raise my children & have no regrets whatsover about having ten. My last came at a great price to my mental health – but so worth it!

  • Angela

    Well said! I graduated from university then married at 21 and had 6 children, fortunately I had no student loan to repay and my husband was able to support all of us on his salary sadly not an option for most young people today.

  • Stuart @ eChurch Blog

     Yes, well said Paul Priest.

  • maryp

    Amen to all the above Francis. Motherhood is the greatest vocation for women. Let’s hope Ms Wyatt doesn’t leave it too late before she realizes this.

  • JByrne24

    And well said to you too Angela! As you rightly say the world is very different now.

    But from all of this I think we may conclude that many women (and men) like to bring up babies – and that there is nothing like a new-born or one a few days old, and that it’s totally exhausting bringing up children generally: physically. emotionally, financially, intellectually (but, it’s said, easier from the 3rd child onwards).    
    However some others are not so keen on the idea (and it’s nice to have some variety).

    But I believe we should all be grateful that most women have only 1, 2 or 3 children – even if they have the finances for more.

  • paulsays

    ‘we inhabit a smug, Jane Austen world where marriage is the only possible goal; when the goal is achieved we sit around in self-satisfied, middle-class, Mumsnet-type coffee mornings talking twaddle.’
    mmmmm I would think there might be some truth in that!!

    I think ‘single-motherhood’ should not be celebrated as such, certainly not as a life choice. But where it is inevitable or unfortunate – we should be there to lend a caring ear, a sympathetic shoulder.

    After all, its the men that leave, it should be them that receive the full force of our disgust.

  • JR, Sydney, Oz

    What  a nasty little snip at Ms Wyatt from maryp.  Motherhood is NOT the greatest vocation for women; it is not a vocation at all. For many of us it just happens ( and yes, like the estimable Ms Phillips, I’m a MAM too although my children are probably a lot older than hers).  Nice to know that she remains slender but this happy state of affairs may not go on indefinitely, watch out for the postmenopausal years, Ms Phillips!

    It is just as well that some women choose not to have children; some because like Ms Wyatt, they are SAC , some because they eschew marriage to earthlings to become brides of Christ. Some, of course, cannot conceive. Makes it easier for the grand multiparae of our middle-class world to wear their progeny as so many badges of honour.  No women HAS to have children in out world, thankfully; quite another ballgame in other less fortuante societies where children are a guarantee of maintenance in( the mother’s) old age, or else burnish the husband’s escutcheon.  You have only to read the Old Testament to see how terrible was the plight of the childless widow.

    Dear people, Ms Wyatt is entitled to her views, just don’t descend into smugness. paulsays does have a point; but he would wouldn’t he, being a bloke and all….

  • theroadmaster

    Ms Wyatt seems to trumpet being single as a badge of honour, and creates a false opposition between it and marriage, in terms of advantages/disadvantages.  Singlehood can be a noble condition if lived out in an honorable and selfless way, but marriage is a unique institution which sustains the societal, demographic and religious health of global communities.  The current trend of people opting for the single state rather than matrimony is alarming, and could impact negatively on the social cohesion and stability of western societies.  A healthy balance needs to be struck between the two, with the greatest support given to marriage, because of the innate qualities which it brings to society as a whole. 

  • theroadmaster

    A very erudite and perspicacious piece, Paul, on the present parlous condition of marriage.  I was struck by your thoughts on the reasons why the defense of marriage has been presented  by some, to it’s disadvantage, as primarily a baby-making institution, as distinct from it’s main function to unite the husband and wife in mutual love.

  • Jeannine

    I ‘m glad there are choices out there for women to live out their lives.
    We share our lives & goods with 1 another.  We are communal by nature. Being married & having children puts those in a position to share, (although sometimes not by choice, that’s another issue).
    There are some who truly have the calling to be SAC & tend to be very active in their community by volunteering, babysitting a friend’s children who need an occasional break, or devoting more time to making the world a better place. Again this involves the sharing of oneself.
    I find it troubling that there are persons & seems to be increasing by the year, who choose to be SAC because they have no desire to share their lives with anyone who will not give them something in return.—-It’s about “Me, Me, Me.” How very unfulfilling, how very sad.

  • JessicaHof

    Ms. Wyatt was complaining not too long ago about being on the shelf, so I am glad she’s feeling better and has some suitors, but sad she felt she had to have a go at married mothers. Writing as a MAC (married and childless) I’d love to join the ranks of the MAMS but have to accept that (after many test) that that is not going to happen. Fortunately I have female friends with young children and am an honorary aunt only too happy to baby sit!

  • Nesbyth

    Francis  Phillips (someone I Know) is way past the menopause and she’s always been the same size. She lives a frugal life and is not going to pile on the pounds….to JR from Oz!

  • Nesbyth

    “…we should all be grateful that most women have only 1,2 or 3 children…” Is this because of overpopulation?

    I read an excellent article by Catherine Pepinster (Editor of The Tablet) in which she explains how the problem of the earth’s resources is as much, or even more, to do with
    the over-consumption by the West, than of African women having many babies; or indeed of women in general having a large family.

    Professor Ian Roberts, who reported on the Rio Earth Summit last week believes this . He put it “It’s not how many mouths we have to feed, it’s how much flesh we have to feed.”

    Many in the West are drowning in chip fat, red meat in all its guises, bingeing on popcorn, crisps, chocolate, fizzy drinks and then driving around in bigger and better cars which means taking less and less exercise and therefore piling on the pounds.
    In the West we use massive amounts of energy in central heating or air conditioning, street lighting, shop lighting, advertisement lighting; we use airoplanes for all those holidays and business trips and so on and on and on……

    It’s a disgrace in fact at how much the Western world does consume and now China is following suit.

    But, as Catherine Pepinster remarks, “overeating’s much harder to solve than dispensing condoms or contraceptives”

  • am-s

    ‘In other words as the aim is love..the love naturally overflows into a gift of children and the love intensifying exponentially into a family.’
    Beautifully put, Paul!

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  • Jackieg64

    I combined motherhood with a career throughout my married life and definitely don’t view motherhood as a vocation but as one choice among others.I for one am glad that women have so many options open to them than was the case years ago. Ultimately it is up to individual women to decide what it is  they want to do with their lives.
    I have encouraged my daughters to pursue higher education and to enjoy all that the single life offers them, advising them not to consider marriage until  they are at least 28-30 years.

  • Jackie Parkes

    I have EIGHT daughters. The eldest is a Doctor & has been married for one year. She is 25 now & praying for a large family of her own. My second daughter obtained a First Class honours Degree age 20 & is studying for her Masters whilst working part time. All our children are highly educated & have as their main aim a vocation to marriage & motherhood.

  • Jackieg64

    If your daughters consider marriage and motherhood to be their main aim in life then good for them,but the fact remains that many women don’t, and as I have previously stated it is up to them to decide what they want out of live.
    I would not like to see my daughters take on the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood too early in life and my daughters know this,they also know that their father and I will support them if they decide otherwise.
    My eldest daughter age 22 is about to enter her final year at  university and has said on a few occasions that she doesn’t think she will ever marry and that she doesn’t want children, she may change her mind in the years to come and she may not, again we will support her in whatever decision she makes.