Dear Auntie Seraphic:
I am in my late twenties, living the life of a Searching Single. I have many friends and interests, and would love to be married one day, but in the meantime I am attracted to a profession which I hope will help me to be useful and happy, whether or not my singleness becomes permanent. One of the things I like about this work is that it would be equally possible to continue if I married and started a family. I am beginning a graduate program that could potentially take me into my thirties before completion.
The fly in the ointment right now is my mother. She seems to be laboring under the delusion that there are scores of eligible Catholic suitors I have rejected in favor of becoming a Career Woman, and thus I am unmarried due to deliberate choice rather than circumstance/fate/timing/will of God. Her concern for ticking biological clocks has outstripped my own, and her disapproval of my graduate studies hurts my feelings. She has even gone so far as to try to set me up with the local plumber/repairman, although the differences in our interests and personalities leave us little in common.
Of course, she wants me to be happy, and she doesn't seem to realize that I could potentially find happiness even as a single, when she herself was so happy as a mom. Ironically, I'm sure she would have been equally concerned if I had gone to the opposite extreme, neglected my intellectual development, and started a family at age 18. I can't win.
Do you have any hints and tips for how I can charitably deal with this situation? I have hope that she might come around if I approach her right. I've always known that singles might have to make peace with the possibility of being ultimately childless and alone... I never thought Mom would have issues with it secondhand!
Miffed at Meddling Mother
Ah, mothers! Mothers, mothers, mothers.
There are a hundred women reading your words right now, nodding as they chew their lunch or snack. "You should meet MY mother," they are saying.
But one mother is enough, and how to deal with yours. Well.
Mothers sometimes lack imagination. THEY were happy as married women with babies, so they assume YOU will only be happy if you are a married woman with babies. Sometimes they think this even if their own marriages were miserable or just so-so. But the redeeming part of this is that such mothers want their daughters to be happy. Some mothers couldn't care less. But yours does, so you are lucky.
So the thing to do is to assure your mother that you are happy. Every time something great happens--you get an A, or your professor tells you you should publish your paper--call up Mom and tell her. Happy, happy, happy. If she speaks disparagingly about your successes, call her on it. Say "Mom, I'm happy. I wish you could be happy for me, too."
The fact is that sometimes mothers are envious, or just plain uncomprehending, about career and academic success. That's not really their daughters' problem, though. That's their own problem. But daughters want moms to be perfect moms, like Marmee in Little Women.
Mothers are who they are, and not who you want them to be. But just as you owe your mother honour no matter what, she is not allowed to exasperate you. That's in the Bible, too. So don't be afraid to use the gentle art of verbal self defense, including "I'm happy, I wish you could be happy for me, too." Oh, and telling her that you want her support because you love and respect her and want to believe she is proud of you probably would not go amiss, either.
Do not call up your mother when you are having a bout of Single Woman angst and complain to her about your Single State. This will only encourage her to worry about your happiness and give her tacit permission to nag you about marriage. Call a Single friend instead.
I find your mother trying to set you up with the plumber touching and rather funny, although if I weren't married, I wouldn't sneeze at a plumber or any skilled tradesman. They make great money, and sometimes they spend it on season tickets to the opera and read Plato at night. It all depends on the plumber. Of course, this plumber and you have nothing in common, so never mind him. It was nice of you to humour your mother.
To cheer yourself up, give Mom little gifts from time to time. For some magical reason, we feel better about people when we give them something. So bring her some tulips one day, and chocolates another, "just 'cuz."
Finally, the clock isn't really a problem until you're 35. Thirty-five is when (apparently) fertility begins to pack it in. And although people (including fertile women married to infertile men) are sometimes childless, we will never be alone. Every crucifix says "I will always be with you even until the end of time." So do not be afraid. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders.
Meanwhile, I haven't read her work, but I believe Dr. Christine Whelan (see "Marry Smart Blog" link on my sidebar) argues that the more education a woman has, the more likely she is to marry well. She might have some consoling words for your mom.
Grace and peace,