Thank you for the news about Mary’s high school graduation. She is beautiful. Her picture is on our refrigerator, so we may enjoy her smile and remember to pray for her. I have great memories of my visit with your family when she was a baby.
I’ve been thinking through something and would appreciate your input. The Atlantic recently published a review of a book of essays entitled Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. Did you happen to see it? The essays are meant to combat the stigma of elected childlessness and counter the criticisms conveyed in the book’s title. Fair enough.
What concerns me is the over-arching message of the Atlantic article, expressed in various excerpts from the essays and summed up in predictably defensive quotes and authorial insights. The article doesn’t make me angry: It perplexes me and makes me sad. My own worldview is so very different from that of the voices in the anti-children essays.
In a quote from the editor we hear that while "people who want children are all alike," "People who don’t want children don’t want them in their own way.” Can this be so? How could my desire for children be the same as that of a woman nearing 40 who is unmarried but yearns for a child? Or someone who thinks of a baby as a plaything or companion? Truthfully, we are not alike in either our desire or our particular reasons for wanting children. We are as different as the children who are born to us.
I had Marie when I was 24. I did want her with my whole heart and soul, even though the timing of her arrival wasn’t “planned” or convenient. For me and Frank, children were a welcome and expected part of family life. We had no great plans for our future that would be ruined by having children: no negative trade-offs loomed menacingly on the horizon. We were thrilled to know that our love and God’s grace combined to bring about new life. Our love for and welcome to our new daughter was neither cliché or predictable. Why? Because it was honest and true, and also brand-new. No one had ever given birth to Marie before, seen her or loved her. She was a unique, new creation. Each child is just that: a fresh, innocent, original human being. How amazing.
The issue of the stubborn stigma of elected childlessness fails to arouse my pity. Why? I’ve had a job fending off those, perhaps including no-child-choosers, who stigmatize me for my own family choices. First came the stigma of having more than two children, especially since we already had a girl and a boy. How about the stigma of having eight children? If I had a dollar for every time I encountered a rude remark, question, or raised eyebrow, I would have a second home, mortgage-free. The choice Frank and I made is little admired in the wider world. I often encounter curiosity about how we live, or why we are who we are. Being the mother of a large family tells others something about me, for good or ill.
It is also the case that elective childlessness says something about a person. Our choices reflect something true about our nature. They reveal us to others. While stigmatizing anyone is not charitable, drawing conclusions about a woman or man from the life choices they hold fast to is reasonable and fair. If someone wants to live purposefully for their own pursuits and pleasures, they should own the label that fits.
How sad to read that Sophie Gilbert, who authored the article I am referencing, tells the world there are “inextricable links between increased education and intelligence, and opting out of procreation.” She bases this on a feminist essay in the book. I guess we represent “weak links,” Ellen: you with your PhD and me with my Ivy League law degree. Funnily enough, we each know many other well-educated, smart, and savvy women who desired and chose motherhood and manage quite beautifully to live authentic lives. Education did not predispose us to weigh our options and just say "no." We just don’t worry about over-population. We do more than our share to keep the economy going. We eat and drink, love and laugh, and quarrel and cry with those who are our own flesh and blood. Maybe this reveals my Italian roots, but does it get any more real than this? This is not a description of “the great human experiment,” but of something genuine and uniquely human and life-affirming: life under the roof of a husband and wife and their progeny.
Thanks for hearing me out, Ellen. You have long been a good friend, and I value your input. Give Tom my best, and enjoy graduation and the attendant festivities.
Love and prayers,