The modern world has a commercial mindset, and views every aspect of human life through the lens of money. Everything is an object or a service to be bought and sold.
For this reason, the modern world has difficulty comprehending things done for free. It has special labels for one-time donations of time and energy (it’s a Random Act of Kindness!), but sustained projects, where there is no profit or fame, are confusing to the world. Even those who begin projects just for fun begin to feel, at one point or another, that they should be making money at their project. They begin a fashion blog, just for fun, but before you know it, their blog is filled from top to bottom with affiliate links. They begin a cleaning/organizing blog, just for fun, but before you know it, their blog is clogged with reminders to buy their upcoming book or to hire them as a speaker for your next event. It’s too bad. Why not continue how you began, when blogging was thought of as another hobby, something done for personal enjoyment, and not for profit?
Even volunteering is coloured by the same what’s-in-it-for-me mentality. People want to know that their volunteering efforts will be rewarded with free pizza, a free drink or two, a good view of the main act, a chance to meet people and a cool t-shirt. Afterwards, they’ll include the details of their volunteerism on their updated resume. There’s no crime here, of course, but my point is that if you want me to be impressed with your volunteer activities, let’s talk about why you volunteered in the first place.
The world doesn’t try to understand what cannot be bought and sold, and doesn’t try to understand those who operate on a relationship model as opposed to a profit model. The world sympathizes with volunteerism, to a point, but those who sacrifice ‘too much’ are viewed as, well, not too bright.
The world sends the message that if something is without price, then it must be without value. It’s a message that, sadly, many people have accepted and internalized.
Far too many otherwise-intelligent men and women believe that those who earn less money have less value as human beings.
This belief, incidentally, is behind much of the discrimination against children. Children are treated as unimportant, and are quite openly spurned, laughed at and discounted. They are viewed as simple and transparent, when the reality is that their thoughts, feelings, struggles, dreams, wants and needs are usually quite hidden from view. The truth is that the nine-year old girl that you see before you is just as complex as you are; the five-year old boy that you see is as much of a mystery as you are. They are often more intelligent, sensible and wise than you are, and they are often holier than you. Dismiss them at your peril.
People value themselves and each other based on money — specifically, take-home income. You can’t say they are competing on net-worth, because people hide the amount of personal debt they have. They compete on perceived take-home income, assuming that the more you make, the more you’ll have.
And so it is that motherhood is undervalued. Motherhood is seen as a trade that earns no income, and so motherhood, on its own, is considered incomplete.
LIE #1: “Motherhood is not a real job.”
I wrote the lie this way because this is exactly how much of the post-feminist world views motherhood, society and the purpose of life. The lie takes for granted that the purpose of life is to succeed, to ‘define’ yourself by the money you make, and further assumes that you’ll be needing a job to define yourself.
By the standards of the world, things are ‘real’ when they involve money, and of course, the bigger the bucks, the ‘realer’ they are. This lie puts motherhood into the category of temporary work or volunteering, something which can be undertaken for a while, but which should ultimately be replaced (or at least supplemented) by something more dollars-and-cents-ible.
I disagree with those who try to win approval for motherhood by showing how similar motherhood is to familiar occupations. A mother, they say, is a short-order cook, a baker, a janitor, a nurse, an event coordinator, a personal assistant, a secretary, a mentor, a teacher, a gardener, a taxi-driver. They go on to say that the woman who stays at home deserves to be paid such-and-such an annual sum, when you consider that she works about 16 hours a day, is on call, and switches between all of these tasks at a moment’s notice.
No, no, no. By justifying motherhood by its workplace equivalents, and by coming up with some sort of a price tag, one is falling into the trap of quantifying economically what should not be quantified economically. Motherhood is not meant to be measured or thought of in economic terms. It must be viewed in terms of relationship, not in terms of commerce. People are, at their core, relational beings, not commercial ones.
Similarly, even if someone were to stand up and show graphs and charts, spanning generations, proving that there are long-term economic benefits to a society if mothers stay home to raise their children into adulthood, I would still caution against evaluating motherhood in terms of economic prosperity.
The truth is that motherhood is a gift.
TRUTH #1: Motherhood is a gift.
There are three vocations:
1) Married life
2) Religious life (priest, brother, sister)
3) Single life
Motherhood is distinct from the mothering instinct, the latter being something which comes with being female. The mothering instinct can be evident through the stereotypical expressions, such as wanting to take care of dolls or wanting to hold babies, but it is not limited to these expressions. The empathy, compassion and tenderness that a woman feels towards friends, parents, communities and nations are also expressions of the mothering instinct.
Motherhood is a natural result of married life, which is one of the three vocations, but openness to motherhood, in and of itself, does not guarantee that one will become a mother.
Motherhood is, after all, a gift. It’s not something that you earn, or that you’re entitled to by right. It’s a free gift of God, and it’s one of the biggest gifts a human being can receive: another human being.
When it comes to gifts, there are right ways to receive them and there are wrong ways.
Accepting the gift of motherhood properly means accepting it with your whole heart, and accepting it as a relationship. It means treating it with awe and respect, and giving it a preeminent spot in one’s life. Indeed, very little should come before it.
God is first. Family life is second.
Everything else can scramble for third place.
Motherhood must not be viewed as a burden, and evaluated according to how much money it costs or how much it hampers your earning capacity. It should not be viewed as a temporary occupation which takes you out of the workplace, aka ‘the real world.’ Motherhood is not something that interrupts your life. Motherhood is a gift of life, and a gift of relationship.
LIE #2: “Children need to go to school.”
When I think about schools, I hardly know where to begin.
The problem with schools is that most of society has stopped thinking about them. Children spend the best part of their daily lives there, for years, and society turns a deaf ear to children who say they don’t enjoy it.
Your opinion, if you are young enough, just doesn’t matter.
Let’s think about schools.
Let’s think about everything about them. Let’s think about the average day of a student. Let’s think about all of the decisions that are made about their lives by people who don’t know them and who don’t care about them.
You will see that most of the rules which shape the life of a child in school are designed to make the child ‘manageable.’ Any time you have a group of living beings confined against their will, the trick is to make them manageable. Consider prisons or asylums or zoos.
Various measures are put into place in order to maintain control over children in school. Children are divided into different rooms and these rooms are governed by adults (‘teachers’) who are assigned to them. The children are told when and where to sit and stand, and occasionally they are told to lie down on the floor. Sometimes they are told not to run, and sometimes they are told to run. They are required to participate in various physical activities at times chosen by others (‘physical education’). They are told when they may or may not eat. They must request permission to drink water or to use the washroom. They are made to stand in lines, and younger children are often told to put their hands behind their backs while they stand or walk in these lines. Silence is enforced repeatedly, using various techniques. These are the physical elements of control.
Most teachers will tell you that all of this control is necessary.
Teachers like control because it makes their job easier. Teaching is, after all, a job.
Once control is achieved, after a greater or lesser struggle, requiring minimal or great amounts of time, and minimal or great amounts of psychological manipulation, the goal is to deal with the minds of the children.
Let’s think about that part too.
Students are required to learn things that they don’t care about, using resources that they haven’t chosen and methods that may or may not be interesting. They are required to complete craft projects at a moment’s notice with almost no latitude for artistic freedom, and read ‘literature’ that virtually no adult would willingly inflict upon himself. They are made to stand in front of the class to give presentations and answer questions. They are made to write about things that don’t interest them. They are shown movies that they haven’t chosen (often on a daily basis because many classrooms nowadays use videos as a babysitter during lunch, free-time, and indoor recess) and they are required to sing songs that are wretched.
Now let’s think about the teachers.
The teachers are there because they are paid to be there. If you took away their salaries, they would not volunteer to do what they do.
A teacher is an average person, to the extent that there is such a thing as an average person. A teacher is, for the most part, of average intelligence. It is not particularly difficult, in the U.S. or Canada, to become one. Getting into the faculty of education has always been easier than getting into most other faculties, and once you’re in, the courses are not difficult. You’d be surprised and a little disturbed to see how many courses are about psychology. The student graduating with a Bachelor of Education degree believes that she has learned a lot about how to get children to behave the way she wants, using cutting-edge psychological ‘tools.’
Alright. So you have an average person with an average intellect going to work. The workplace is physically clean and safe, the physical demands are minimal, and the chances that one will be injured or die on the job site are next to nil. The hours are typical for a white-collar occupation, and there are many days off. The government pays the salary, and the salary is better than decent, with increases based on seniority, and not on performance. There’s no fight for clients or customers. Job security is good. As for status, it’s excellent. Society smiles upon teachers, believing the lie that it takes a whole village to raise a child.
There are two things that are very difficult about being a teacher.
The first is that it is very difficult to secure control over a group of individuals who are being confined against their will, and being made to follow someone else’s game plan. Unlike teachers, students are not being paid to be there. They have no choice.
The second is that a teacher must interact with other teachers and staff. In almost any school, the internal conflict between the adults is apparent within a few hours of interacting with the staff. Almost any observant person will soon see that the staff at a school is divided in many ways. Various factions vie for recognition and perks. Teachers watch for opportunities to expand their own circle of influence, so that their opinions about who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad,’ will have the desired effect. The teachers who are unpopular are avoided, talked about, taken advantage of, not helped, and even sabotaged. Teachers smile and fawn upon the principal or others who seem powerful (“Ooh, I love your hair!” “You need to go home and get some rest!” “Of COURSE I’d love to help you out with that!”), but it’s artificial, and they’ll tell you what they really think, if it would be to their advantage. Indeed, if you’re in a school when everyone seems to have gone home, you may stumble upon Teacher A griping to Teacher B about Teacher C, or about the principal. And in a school where the women outnumber the men, the men become the sounding-board for the grievances of many female teachers; they expect the male teachers to take their side, husband-style. These men learn to sound sympathetic, because that’s the game they play.
I believe that schools suffer from in-fighting and back-stabbing more than the average business because businesses generally need to move and operate more quickly than government institutions. Businesses are like rivers, flowing constantly and changing to adapt to the customers, which is their environment. Survival is less of a sure thing, and false moves may mean that the company dries up. By comparison, a school is like a stagnant pond, where nobody is there because they want to be, but where everyone can safely predict the school will go on. Sure, politics are everywhere, and social climbers play games everywhere, but some places are worse than others. Schools are some of the worst, and I sympathize with teachers who are there to teach.
Dealing with the parents is popularly seen as one of the difficult aspects of being a teacher, but for the most part, parents are quite afraid to rock the boat. Parents are generally compliant when the schools make rules about what their children are allowed to have in their lunch boxes, and what their children must do for homework, and what money or objects the parents need to supply. The parents generally don’t protest when the school dress code changes or when the pick-up or drop-off rules change. The parents generally hide their frustrations from the teachers and school administrators. Once at home, however, the parents become easily exasperated about homework issues, and parents often live with the fear of being judged by the school for any number of things (will the school think I’m a bad parent if . . . ?).
Indeed, anyone looking at the situation from the outside would think that the child and the parent exist to please the school.
The lie is that children need to go to school, but the schools and the teachers are the ones who need the children. The government gives money to the schools based on how many students are enrolled. No students means no money, which means no teacher salaries.
School administrators are tempted to see children as dollar signs, and this applies to administrators in the public system, the private system and the homeschool system. More students means more money.
I write all of this about schools because the lie that children need schools is damaging to motherhood and family life. Sending your child to school damages the bond that you have with your child because it drastically reduces the time that you have to spend together. What time you do have with your child will be spent satisfying the schools. Your child’s sleep schedule will be based on what works best for the school. Your child’s evenings will often involve homework, assigned by the school. The energy of the child is consumed by the school; there is far less time for family life. Further, when the parent sends the child to school, the child learns that the parent will not be there to assist him. He is to fend for himself in all of the experiences of the school day, and there are many. It’s called ‘learning to be independent,’ but independence is misunderstood when it comes to children. When you want to be independent, you break away. Children are not breaking away when they go to school. They are being sent away. There’s no choice involved; it’s compulsion, approved by the state and almost all of society. Children have no choice but to deal with everything with little to no help. The child learns to turn to friends to share what can be shared, but the painful experiences aren’t easily confided, and so the child is sometimes left to carry these burdens alone. The suffering of children is so often hidden. Mainly, they pretend they aren’t suffering.
Not long ago, I told a teacher that a student was crying. She was dismissive: “Someone’s always crying.”
The lie is that children need schools. They don’t need them. Teach your child to read when your child seems ready to read, and the rest will work out on its own. We’re in a very literate society now, and there are resources upon resources available to everyone. Being able to read unlocks millions of doors.
There is no need to separate from your child. Your child will be fine without school, and will learn at home everything that she needs to know and more. Given freedom, your child will discover what she’s interested in, and will astound you by becoming quite the expert. Let it happen. Don’t believe that schools are necessary for human development. The truth is that civilization has functioned quite well without schools. The modern school is a failed experiment.
If you want your child to be properly socialized, then develop a deeper relationship with your child. Be available to your child. Give your child the experience of a relationship grounded in unconditional love. Feeling loved is the best foundation to prepare your child for life. Feeling loved is the best education, because it gives a person the confidence to fully accept others, and it teaches a person how to build relationships.
This is an education that your child will not receive in school. It is a very rare thing for a child to feel loved in school. The varied friendships and ‘friendships,’ experienced by children are not loving ones. They are more like political alliances, fleeting and dependent on so many things. In a word, those relationships are conditional.
Teach your child what it is to be a friend. To be a friend is, first, to care deeply about the welfare of the other. When you genuinely care about someone — when you love someone — you want everything good for them, in this world and the next. To be a friend is, second, to share. This idea of sharing is barely understood nowadays, because we share so little, being part of an affluent society.
Let’s talk about it in terms of the family. The normal mindset is that a parent provides for the household, and provides for the children. The dynamic is understood as a system where the adults do all the giving and the children do all the receiving. Jokes abound about children as the annoying needy ones, which is so tragic. The parents are, on this model, the keepers of the treasure, and they must be very stingy with it, so as not to increase expectations and so as to avoid ‘spoiling’ the child. There’s a lot of tension with that mindset. It’s time to reframe this whole relationship. Think of the relationship in terms of sharing. Be wiling to share the things that you own in a non-grudging way. Be glad that you can share your home with your child. Instead of shining up your home for the upcoming book club and the party you’re going to host, think about sharing these nice things with your family. That’s your team. Your team is not your bible study group or your bridge pals. Currently, so many people trip over themselves to be good and generous hosts while asking family members to put up with that dull and ordinary second best whatever. It’s not right. Stop saving everything ‘for company.’ What’s the motivation behind that anyway? Is it really about being thoughtful to your guests? Sure, sometimes it is. But most of the time, it’s about impressing them with your ‘taste’ or talents or wealth. What a waste of time. Be glad that your hard work has allowed you to obtain food and other necessities that you can share with the family God gave you. Be glad that you can enjoy the little extras with your child. Be cheerful when you shop with your child at the grocery store; buying the things that look good, on the spur of the moment, can feel like a delightful conspiracy. So what if your cart is filled with chips and pop this time? Maybe you all have a craving; it’s nobody’s business. As much as possible, make household objects belong to everyone. You already live together; why not share? Mothers should be willing to make their items available for their daughters, especially if these items would otherwise sit unused most of the time. That purse, this necklace, those rings — who cares? Life is short and your daughter won’t forget your generosity and your healthy attitude towards worldly trinkets. What’s the alternative? She waits for your death in order to use your Gucci purse? That’s just gross.
Now let’s talk about other kinds of sharing. Talents are worth mentioning. Share your talents with your children. Let them into that part of your world, instead of waiting until they’re away or asleep to enjoy your special interests. Why does your best friend know more about you than your kids do? It’s time to open up. Cancel your girls night out and tell your no-longer-young daughters about dating and about the romances you had that were never meant to last. Tell them about getting engaged. Hearing your tales of what worked and what didn’t will be illuminating. They’ll be wide-eyed and laugh with you and maybe even cry with you. By the time you’re done, they’ll understand you so much better. They’ll get you. Hello, in-jokes. Hello, openness and communication.
Why do parents think that their children will confide in them when they never confide in their children? Let’s be transparent, especially within our own families. Don’t pretend you were spotless when you were young, neither thinking, hearing nor seeing anything evil. Revealing what you learned and suffered will not create a license for them to choose wrongly. That’s a lie. Let’s talk about the past and the present. If you feel hurt by an outsider or by someone in your family, go ahead and say what you feel. You’ll get to the bottom of it, and your relationship will be strengthened in the end. Don’t be reluctant to reveal to your children what you actually like and don’t like. Don’t be scared; the truth is that everyone is embarrassed to admit they like certain things. Let them read your emails. Show them the draft before you hit ‘send,’ because their input might be mighty insightful. Tell your child about the future you dream of. It’s okay. Be vulnerable. If you feel like it would be really cool to be a rock star, or learn to speak Irish, go ahead and say it. And tell your child about the things you fear. Do you fear getting old? Are you afraid of looking stupid at the upcoming talk? Are you worried about finances? It’s okay. Be vulnerable. Secrets are part of being in relationship. Share your secrets. Show your children who you really are; develop an authentic and deep relationship that can weather distance and time.
A child learns about socialization by experiencing relationships. It is family life, and not school life, that offers the best opportunity to be in authentic relationships shaped by unconditional love. What a lie it is that a child needs to be in school in order to become socialized! School separates the child from his family for most of his young life. In exchange for strengthening his relationship with his family, a child is given hours within the artificial and constraining atmosphere of the school, always interacting with children his own age. These interactions are usually superficial and almost always fleeting. The lessons learned with such relationships are often bittersweet. Children learn to avoid seeming and being vulnerable; they learn that popularity can be achieved by certain methods, and that the cost of unpopularity can be very high.
It’s time to bring them home, mama.
Truth #2: Children do not need school to learn or to be socialized.
Lie #3: “In this day and age, children need to develop certain skills.”
This lie suggests to people that the prospects for future happiness (usually referred to as ‘success,’ as if financial success results in happiness) are increased in proportion to the number of skills that you acquire. You should have ‘marketable skills.’ You should be ‘marketable,’ it is said, as if you are for sale — as if you are a cantaloupe on display.
This lie hits parents hard. Parents want to line everything up so that their child will be able to compete in the ‘real world.’ They think about rounding out their child’s portfolio of skills. What shall it be? Hockey, football or basketball? Soccer? Cheer-leading or softball? Gymnastics? Something artsy? How about an instrument? Violins are great, but what about the viola? Accordion, anyone? How about singing or ‘speech arts’? What about a leadership club and how about signing up for the Save-The-Earth-on-Tuesdays-and-Thursdays-Club?
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t view these extra-curricular activities the same way I view schools, the most obvious difference being that they can usually be discontinued if they’re not working out. It’s good that these activities and the instructors for these activities are chosen by the child and the family, not imposed on the outside world in a heavy-handed way.
Nevertheless, there’s a pressure associated with the notion of skills. The message is that your effectiveness as a parent can be measured by the length of your child’s resume. Moreover, the child’s very image becomes very tied to his or her extracurricular activities. The extracurricular activities thus become burdened by considerations apart from whether the child is enjoying them, and before you know it, Dexter can’t drop out of hockey because of what his friends might think, and Kassidy can’t drop out of piano because of what her mother’s friend might think. Compulsion rears its ugly head.
So much has already been written about the over-scheduling of kids, so you already understand the issue. The issue is that the child and the family lose too much time which could be spent together. The modern notion of skill acquisition is an attack on motherhood because it changes everyone’s idea of what successful motherhood looks like. Instead of valuing time together and developing a meaningful relationship with her child, the mother feels pressure to have something to ‘show’ for her child’s years with her. It needs to be obvious that she ‘got things done,’ that she and her child were ‘productive.’ She made sure her child learned to swim, skate and ski. She put her daughter through dance and her son through hockey. Her daughter knows how to change a tire and her son knows how to cook — because the mother is up-to-date like that.
But I’m not quite done. I want to say three things. First, the mad scramble to quickly acquire skills underestimates the ability we have as adults to learn a lot and to have fun doing so. People enjoy learning things that interest them, and so there’s no need to act as though what’s not learned early won’t be learned at all. Second, many extracurricular activities are a bad influence anyway, raising false hopes and skewing priorities, and even fostering arrogance by giving children the illusion that they are experts. Third, sometimes God asks us to give up things that are perfectly good. He might ask you to give up something that you’re excelling at, and which you enjoy. He may ask you, either through prayer and reflection or through unavoidable circumstance, to give up something which you’ve always associated with being a good mother, such as having an organized schedule, making home-cooked meals, or reading bed-time stories to your children at the end of the day. It just may be that he tests you, to see if you can still say, “thy will be done.”
Truth #3: Skills, Schmills. God will use you where he needs you and you’ll be ready.
Lie #4: “You don’t want to be a helicopter parent.”
The phrase “helicopter parent” is meant to refer to a parent who is always around, hovering nearby, when the parent should be gone. It is a derisive phrase, obviously, and is typically used by those people who want to be alone with the child. They dislike the supervision and interference of the parent. Such parents are ‘getting in the way’ of a proper learning experience, or a proper social experience. It is also used by parents who are less involved with their children, who want to find a term which scorns and impugns parents who stay near their children.
Nevertheless, the negative motives of those who give the phrase its power are not the point. The fact is that the phrase exists, and it exists as a lie. The message is that if you knew better, then you would avoid suffocating your child, and stunting her development as a person. If you knew better, you would see the damage that you are doing to your child, preventing her from interacting with the ‘real world’ in a legitimate way. Your involvement is detrimental to your child, because when you are nearby, you are distracting her and unduly restricting her freedom.
Lies, lies, lies.
The truth is that a mother who loves her child is sensitive to her child and knows her child. In the context of a close relationship, numerous personal details have been worked out, and it is not for the outsider to determine what works or what doesn’t work for them. To judge by outside behaviour is to underestimate the ability of mother and child to understand each other. To judge by outside behaviour is to underestimate the goals of the mother and child. Does closeness between mother and child mean that the mother wants her child to become helpless, with no mind or will of his own? Does closeness between mother and child mean that the mother wants her child to be an imitation of her? Why these assumptions? What do you know about the preferences of each? What do you know about the extent of consultation and discussion that has occurred beforehand, and will occur afterwards? What do you know about the plans and goals of parent and child? What do you know about God’s plan for the mother and her child?
The relationship between mother and child begins as a hidden one. My point is that the quality of hiddenness can continue, long after outside observers fail to see the need for a connection. Jesus stayed with his mother when he was a fully-grown adult. I say this not in order to say that people should live at home until the age of thirty, as Christ did, but in order to say that Mary, the best mother the world has ever had, is distinguishable not only by the fact that she gave birth to the Saviour, but also by the fact that she was always there. She was always available to him.
Truth #4: The Blessed Virgin was a helicopter parent too.
Abortion and contraception are, of course, attacks on motherhood, but our society’s hostility to motherhood does not end there. This blog post has addressed four lies which attack motherhood. Each lie accomplishes this by separating the mother from the child, in order to reduce the strength of the bond between the two. Lie #1, that motherhood is not a real job, does the most damage, as it puts pressure on women to work outside the home, with the idea that ‘the real world,’ of commerce, is more important than relationships. The truth is that motherhood is a gift from God, and proper acceptance of this gift entails making God and family life a priority. Lie #2, that children need to go to school, is the other side of this false coin. School, in its present form, is a waste of precious time, because both learning and socializing are better done outside of it. These two lies, taken together, have the effect of sending the mother this way, and the child that way. Lie #3, that children need to develop skills, has the effect of eroding whatever remaining hours that the mother has with her child. The mother, far from being a destination for the child (along with the rest of the family), becomes the means by which the child reaches other destinations, and she becomes little more than the one who drives the child to a playgroup, a club, a practice, a job. Lie #4 is similar, in that it attacks the way that mother and child interact during free time. It challenges the nature and style of the interaction between mother and child, but also adds insult to injury, because it second-guesses the mother’s ability to make sound decisions for her child, and the child’s ability to communicate his preferences to his mother. The lie of the ‘helicopter parent’ is that you wouldn’t want to be one. To the extent that being a helicopter parent means being available and attentive to the needs of one’s child, we can safely say that Mary, mother of Jesus, was the best pilot of all. But before you picture her rising up and speeding away, let me bring you a different picture completely.
Look there. Do you see her?
There she stands, at the foot of the Cross. I suppose you could say she is grounded. She is sorrowful, yes, but she is also steady and strong.
She waits. Soon she will hold her Son in her arms again.
Blessed art thou amongst women.