Thursday, 26 September 2013

Do Mothers Have It All?

I am currently in a big how-did-my-career-dreams-end-up-like-this snit, so I probably focused on the wrong things while reading this article by Emily Stimpson. Mostly I am thinking, how come Emily (who writes about Single Life) turned her writing into "professional success" whereas I (who write about Single Life) have not? Seven shows with EWTN? I'm seriously impressed. Who does she know? Did she just call them up? Did she take the Catholic Match shilling? ARGH! I think she did.

But despite her success, Emily writes that she thinks everything she writes is ephemeral and means nothing in the long run because her blue eyes will not shine forth from a great-grandchild's face. This troubles me because every saint of the Classical world would shout, "Who cares? Children of the spirit are more important than children of the flesh! Arrrrrrrgh!" It also troubles me because now that nobody sews a big A on your chest for having a baby "on your own", having a baby "on your own" is a big enough temptation for Single professional women as it is. My goodness. When I was in theology school, a mother of two asked me if I would consider going down to a local bar on the right day of my cycle and "Just, you know..."

I wonder why men are not more terrified of women in bars than they are. EAVESDROPPERS! Stay away from women in bars!

The other thing that troubles me is that Emily (and, listen, in charity I am reminding you that this morning I envy Emily more than anyone on earth--writers envy each other, it is our besetting sin) is telling mothers that "they have it all" when she is not herself a mother and so can't possibly know what it is really like. As I wallow in my "What have I done with my life?" snit, I think of my own mother's frustrations with being a stay-at-home-mother-of-five-children-under-thirteen. She got married at age 23, which strikes me now as so young I am amazed, even though I hear a chorus of voices telling me this is still normal for Poland. (Twenty-THREE!)

In short, I am absolutely certain that my mother would have LOVED to have run away from the house, the children, the weekly grocery shop, the million shirts to be ironed, to write, speak and travel from time to time. Unfortunately, it would never have occurred to my mother that anyone would have been interested in what she wrote or had to say or in funding her travel. In the 1970s, nobody seemed to give a tinker's damn for housewives. Your value lay in how much money you made or how loud you were, and that was that.

That's when people should have been telling housewife-mothers how valuable their lives and work were. However, even so, there is the fact that 24 hour child-minding can be staggeringly boring, and if you are an intellectually honest woman like my mother, and really bad at lying, it is hard to hide from your children how staggeringly boring they are and how you wish you could have adult conversations beyond "I'll have 200 grams of the Black Forest ham." My mother is so much happier now that her children are adults, and two have married other adults, and now she is guaranteed adult conversation. My dad sent us all to university, too, so we all get the references to the things to which she thinks adults ought to get the references.

My mother also has a job now. I am not certain if it is a volunteer or a pin-money post, but she enjoys it. And she and my father travel a goodish bit. And I am tempted to say that my mother has it all, but only because--mark this--my parents are relatively well off--as well off as the average Canadian Baby Boomer couple could expect to be in their sixties if one made a good professional salary and the other was an incredibly good saver and manager of money. What my mother's life would have been like if my father had lost his job or died---well. I don't want to think about it.

When I was a child, I thought--and my classmates assumed--that we were rather poor. Ah ha ha ha! We weren't poor; for one thing, we lived in our own house. We just weren't consumers. And because we weren't consumers, my parents' so-called Golden Years are exactly that. In fact, I believe my mother now has it all, except--of course--youth and perfect health.

And there's the rub. Very few people start off rich when they're young. And very few people end up rich when they're old. And old age brings aches, pains, prescription drugs, insomnia--all kinds of things. The only sweeteners of old age that I can see are religious faith, money and family. And in countries where family means squat, you cannot rely on your children. And in an economy where, for the first time in history, American and Canadian children are expected to be worse off than their parents, you cannot rely on children to support you financially. And this is yet another reason why women must must must be rooted in reality and make their education and career decisions based not so much on dreams but on realities--realities than can be discovered with some research and expert opinion. (As for when to have children, science suggests that it's way hard if you start trying after age 35. And my mother loves to say, "I've had children at 24, and I've had children at 34. And at 24, it's easier.")

By the way, groundless fears are as dumb as groundless hopes. Instead of panicking that your education may have been useless, go talk to a professional career counsellor. No college education should be wasted; whatever communication skills they gave you will be useful to somebody.

Update: I will never write for a Catholic dating service because, to make a profit, Catholic dating services need Single people to feel badly about being Single. ("Don't be alone this Christmas!") And in her post, Emily denigrates her whole professional-single-lady career and holds up motherhood to a standard that goes even beyond Christian tradition. Could we always remember that the Catholic tradition holds up the lives of vowed religious, holds virginity preserved for the sake of the Kingdom, to be NUMERO UNO?

Update 2: I was going to say something snarky about the likelihood of your great-grandchildren sharing your recessive genes, but as a matter of fact I look a heck of a lot like my mother's father and not only do my great-grandfather's blue eyes shine from my face, his red hair springs from my head. So you never know. Meanwhile, I know next to nothing about his wife. My exciting great-grandmother was an unwed mother who fled Edinburgh with a bun in the oven, worked her whole life, never married and conveniently died before her savings ran out, at the age of 90. My Edinburgh ancestresses were reputedly all wicked working-class temptresses, and I love them.

Update 3: I think saving souls already made so much more important than making new ones, don't you? I'm darned sure St. Augustine did.

53 comments:

Sincerely, you spiritual daughter said...

I read her article. Wow. Just wow. (and you are not alone. I envy her too. 8 years her junior I feel I need to start doing more RIGHT NOW.) But anyway.
Auntie, if it helps soothes your snit...of the Catholic single lady books, yours is by far and away the one I recommend most, and you are a must-read 6 days a week. Thank you for your ministry.

P.S. I love Update 3. :)

Pearlmusic said...

My opinion is that you have it all whatever your vocation and/or state is, if you approach life with honesty, commitment, and openness to God's will. I don't think a mother who resents motherhood and treats her children badly still has it all just because she's supposed to live in the eyes of her great-great-great-children. Those children might as way end up miserable, as some of my sad family stories show.

Although some stay-at-home mums need to be reminded that their motherhood is no less important than a professional career and that's true.

To put it in a different way, you have it all if you have (and are are willing to give) what it takes.

Anonymous said...

To underscore one of your points, I know single women who are adopting frozen embryos so that they can have a baby (or two) even though they haven't married. I realize there is a great debate over the morality of embryo adoption...not my point. My point is that technology has made it possible for women to have the whole experience of motherhood without the trouble of marriage (and without the trouble of a broken romance). Yet another temptation for Single professional women.

Spiritual Mom

Pearlmusic said...

*as well, sorry for typing error!
Blessings!

Seraphic said...

Oh golly. I can see giving birth to a frozen embryo just to save his/her life. Oh dear, though. Oh dear, oh dear.

Kate said...

I completely agree about Catholic dating sites making singles feel badly about their lives - that's why I jumped at the opportunity to guest blog for Catholic Match. I try to write things from the angle of "Yeah, things kind of stink - but you know what stinks more? Diapers. Go do something with your life and stop whining." I am amazed at the incredibly personal attacks I get in the comments though....

Seraphic said...

I hope they paid you well because I am thinking they must be making money hand over fist. Meanwhile, all those girls from the East Coast wasting so much time chatting with guys from the West Coast having simultaneous conversations with girls from Wyoming... Etc.

I was once considering letting Eavesdroppers advertise themselves here FOR FREE, but then some woman sued a dating website because the guy she met on it tried to kill her. Well! I don't think Hip or Swiss Guy (for example) would ever try to kill anyone, but really, the story scared the stuffing out of me.

Anonymous said...

One single woman I know who adopted a frozen embryo initially said she wanted to save his life. That I found utterly admirable, and I was really moved that out of the thousands who could have been chosen for her, God chose THIS child...and marveled over what He must have planned for this child that he should be rescued from a freezer.

But now she's talking about having another child. This time, it's not to save a life, but to give a sibling to the first child. Of course, that's admirable too. But...but...but...what about giving a DAD to this child? There's no talk of that. Her parents were divorced and she seems to have some issues with men. But she was desperate for a child. My original point: technology made it possible for her to have the whole experience of motherhood without the (potentially sanctifying) trouble of marriage. I know it's only one person's experience, but it seems typical of a trend.

Quite frankly, in the theological debate over the morality of adopting frozen embryos, I come down on the side of moral acceptability. I don't see any reason why a married couple can't save a life that is trapped in a freezer by adopting him. What's the difference between adopting a child who has gestated 9 days verses one who has gestated 9 months? So the baby in the freezer came into being in an immoral way. Probably the baby adopted after birth did, too.

I've had people ask me if I would ever adopt a frozen embryo. My response is that I think a child needs two parents. Dads die and dads leave, and that's all very sad, and God gives the grace necessary for those circumstances. But I do not have what it takes to deliberately choose to play the role of both father and mother to a child. That's not for me. On a broader level, I think women naturally long for children, and have historically embraced the challenges of marriage for the sake of becoming mothers (your recent poll results notwithstanding - and I fall in the category of the majority who are holding out for Mr. Right for Me). Now, women don't need the trouble of marriage to become mothers. They can do it their own way, though some hookup, through IVF or artificial insemination, or through adopting frozen embryos. That is a trend that troubles me greatly.

Spiritual Mom

Eva said...

Well I for one have never heard of that other Single Catholics author! I have wondered before if you would consider doing more interviews or other venues for sharing other than writing---have you ever read Pat Gohn's columns or listened to her podcast "Among Women" (about 200 episodes so far,going strong--it's fantastic)? I would love to hear your thoughts on dating spiritual motherhood, femininity, or anything else in a conversation with her. Again, thanks for your ministry--you are the writer I recommend, and I appreciate your protectiveness and thoughtful concern for your poppets.

Pearlmusic said...

"But I do not have what it takes to deliberately choose to play the role of both father and mother to a child".
Spiritual Mom, I think none of us has it :) We're supposed to be mothers and that's it.
I know a Single woman, not devout Catholic, but definitely a woman of good will who adopted a girl, who is now a teenager. She told me about her initial determination to be both mother and father to her child which had a very negative impact on both of them. Only when she realized that she is going to be just her mother, and that's OK if her child has got a Single mum instead of no family, she became capable of parenting.

Seraphic said...

I wonder what happened to the Mathew and Marilla style of adoption? When Marilla adopted Anne of Green Gables, there was no question that Anne would call her "Mother" or even "Aunt Marilla."

I'm not suggesting a return to the bad old days when poor children, especially poor British children, got (literally) farmed out to Canadian farmers who used them as cheap labour (or worse), but I am suggesting that adoption doesn't have to be about "being mother", even "being a Single mother." Nobody ever thought of Marilla as a "single mother."

Personally I have no problem with well-paid Single women adopting children who might otherwise be in institutions or (in the cases of the embryos) killed or used int scientific experiments. This strikes me as ENTIRELY DIFFERENT from intentionally creating a fatherless child. I really doubt an adopted child is going to say to he unmarried adoptive adult, "Hey, how come you saved me from an institution/the freezer/China; the foster care system when you weren't even married?" Uh, no.

Tess said...

Auntie, I feel sort of responsible since I'm the one who introduced you to that article by putting it on Facebook. I think you're right to point out that spiritual children are as real and important as physical children, and I do think Emily takes things a little far. Maybe she should have clarified that thanks to the blogging/online community, which gives today's moms an outlet for their intellects that moms in the 1970s didn't have, moms of today can have it all. I do think, though, that her article was refreshingly counter-cultural. In a society of "Lean In circles" and an explicit assumption that women will bounce right back to work after maternity leave, a culture in which the idea of leaving work long-term to care for a baby is considered a stupid and foolhardy decision, an article like that is a refreshing breath of fresh air. As a newlywed I have been experiencing pressure from both extended family and acquaintances to put off having kids or at least get a nanny/daycare once I have them. That article really was like manna for my soul and gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, fighting to stay home with my future kids (and it really will be a fight, unfortunately) will be worth it. So as much as I sympathize with your expressed points here, I'd also say that if you look at it from my point of view as a young, professional American woman who wants to stay home with her kids someday, that article was really what I needed to hear!

Seraphic said...

Well, my mother stayed at home with her kids at the least fashionable time to do it, and it paid off within 30 years. It all depends on what sacrifices you are willing to make. If you stay at home with your kids, that sacrifice could include pretty clothes, for a starter. My mother almost never allowed herself anything new and pretty.

As a married woman, of course your husband and children come before career satisfaction. But it is up to you to know whether career satisfaction is necessary to keep you from wanting to snap at your husband and children or weeping uncontrollably or, to mention the extreme, running away.

I don't mind at all married-with-kids getting a lift from Emily's post--or women who want to stay at home with their kids and they and their husband are absolutely confident they can get by on his income. (And that is THEIR business, and for THEM to decide--NOT their parents.)

But I do mind Single Catholic women thinking, "Yeah, stay-at-home mums DO have it all" when many, many stay-at-home mums DON'T. And the fact is that the longer you are out of the workforce, the harder it can be to get back in, let alone advance in it. It can be done, of course, but it is a struggle. So much easier to get a job at the grocery store--but that's hard word for terrible pay.

I've been in the UK for five years, and job offers have not been popping into my in-box, despite my education, publishing record, etc. And really I cannot complain because it was my choice to come here and it was my choice not to start at the bottom, like most immigrants. I know a Polish student who scrubbed floors to pay her rent.

Magdalen said...

I was talking to my mother about it, because she struggles with feelings of inadequacy compared to all of her high-powered lawyer, doctor, entrepreneur friends she grew up with, the only one who was a stay at home mum and the only Christian. She and my dad were married in 1983, and to decide to be a stay at home mum in 1983 must have taken a lot of gumption, especially as she does have latent feminist tendencies, just because it was in the water in the west coast when she was a teenager/young adult.

I thought we were poor growing up too! But no, I just have frugal parents who aren't interested in consumerism, spend vacations visiting family in Vancouver not going to the Bahamas, tithe, and give money to charity.

And I have been told many times that I look outrageously similar to my mother's mother's mother, the only German ancestor I have in a sea of Celts and Brits.

Seraphic said...

I think tomorrow I will write a post about how the Best (Perpetual Virginity) is not the Enemy of the Good (Married Motherhood and the Satisfied Careerwoman) and how the two Goods are not the Enemy of Each Other. (Or shouldn't be!!)

Mostly what annoyed me is that ES wrote that her career success--which she lays out in detail that makes me and other Catholic writers drool--is nothing compared to the fact that her genetic legacy will not be passed onto great-grandchildren.

Um, no it isn't.

She also assumes her writing will pass away.

Well, I don't assume that of my writing at all. And also thank heavens I know that, as poorly paid or as non-paid as my writing currently is, I have made a difference in the lives of other women--sometimes, thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit, a very serious one.

And this helps me deal with the fact that I probably won't have children. And I need to deal with it not because I think my life is meaningless without children, but because I am fond of children, and really very badly wanted B.A.'s.

Anyway, as much as I think mothers should be honoured--and indeed they should!--and that their choice to stay at home with their children should also be honoured--I do not think that this should be done in a way that denigrates the contributions of Single/Career women.

Anonymous said...


In fairness to the author, we all have bad days and I felt for her on reading that article. Maybe she is having a rue-the-day moment about a man she let get away or choices that led her to her current state in life. Sometimes a bit of hyperbole may wake up a woman who thinks a job (not single life) is preferable to marriage/motherhood.

Seraphic for someone so talented I do wonder at your lack of pensionable newspaper columns. I remember suggesting to you that a stall in the RDS for the International Eucharistic Congress would be a good idea. That place hardly had room to move and there was a lot of networking involved. You would have sold cases and cases of your book, never mind the contacts to be made. I don't think you can rely on us alone to buy your books and spread the word, it's all about networking too. I don't know what you're doing to break into Poland but I wish you had the same success in Ireland, a bit of cop-on from a woman in Catholic newspapers would do us the world of good. I'd be delighted to read your columns on the single life here and I doubt I'd be alone. If you are interested Alive!, Catholic Voice and The Irish Catholic are the main ones here.

Sinéad.

Sheila said...

What silly talk! What if a woman sacrifices everything to raise her children, and one leaves the faith, one lives an immoral lifestyle, and one dies unbaptized? What if she has kids, but never grandkids or great-grandkids and what if she has them but they don't have her eyes? Does it make it all a waste?

Or, conversely, we could each work in the vineyard the Lord has put us in and let God take care of what the effects will be 100 years from now. You'll find out in heaven. Imagine you or the author of that article finding out about every single soul that found enough encouragement in your writings to become or stay Catholic. Or the women who stopped feeling sorry for themselves, started LIVING, met their Mr. Right, got married, had a dozen kids, some of those kids became priests .... all because of your blog? How is that less important than someone having your blue eyes?

Hmmmpf.

Anyway it's rather cold comfort to be told you're doing The Most Important Job in the World when it comes with zero pay, no sleep, lots of vomit, and zero respect or appreciation from people you meet. To be told "anyone can push out a baby, it doesn't make you special" or "I didn't ask you to have kids, why should I have to put up with them?" while Ms. Single Author is getting feted for her second book. Sure, every vocation is valuable and if we follow God's will, it's always worth it. But some vocations come with more creature comforts than others. And sometimes, yes, we struggle with envy because other people seem to have babies AND respect AND a full night's sleep, when others of us have to choose, or didn't even get to choose.

We could moan about it, or choose to be thankful. I doubt St. Catherine or St. Theresa spent time sobbing about how no one would get their blue eyes -- they might have had moments of sadness, but they knew they'd chosen the better part. And though St. Therese of Lisieux's mother had wanted to be a nun, I'm sure she was able to see God's hand in the vocation she ended up in as well.

Anonymous said...


But Sheila St. Catherine and St. Theresa had a vocation to be a nuns and fulfilled that vocation. That writer has a vocation to marriage with children to follow if God wills it and that hasn't happened. They are completely different scenarios.

I wonder why I'm seeing this article so differently to the rest of ye today. The woman strikes me to be in a bit of mourning and isn't that normal when faced with the reality of a situation beyond your control?

Sinéad.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic, I agree that a single woman rescuing a child from a freezer is entirely different from intentionally creating a fatherless child. And you're probably right about the child not really caring that his adoptive mother wasn't married. I myself considered fostering/adopting the daughter of a friend of mine who died, because the father was abusive. So I absolutely see that there's a distinction between a moral evil & a less-than-ideal situation, and I don't mean to make a blanket judgement against any woman (or man) who opts for single parenthood out of altruistic motivations.

I'm afraid I sound argumentative about this and I don't mean to at all. It just strikes me that this is a new dimension of temptation for single women who have fears or hangups about marriage/men to sidestep nature's way of motivating them to work through that. And I think a growing perspective in our culture is that a child doesn't really need a mom and a dad...2 moms or 2 dads or just a mom or just a dad...it's all the same. You're right to distinguish between moral/immoral ways of those situations evolving, and I didn't make clear that I get that. I'm just worried about how this new situation plays into a larger thought trend about the importance of marriage for children.

Sorry to comment so much on something that was really a tangental comment in your post to begin with. I didn't mean to create a rabbit trail!

Spiritual Mom

proverbialgirlfriend said...

Anonymous/Sinead (17:50): I certainly can understand and appreciate how this personal essay reflects one woman's mourning (I've been there too). While I am glad at least one mom with kids drew comfort from it, I found it rather annoying that Emily, never having had children, proclaims from her position as a well-read, well-liked, well-publicized Catholic figure, that motherhood is having it all. My sister with three would disagree vehemently--she thinks I as a single woman with all these opportunities and possibilities for men, travel, and success have it much better. It's also unnecessarily divisive, as we engage not in support, but debate over each other's opinions.

I was also annoyed that she said "life has made that choice for me", which is representative of her other writing and interviews I'm familiar with--namely that God has given her a vocation to marriage, and it is being missed--one phrase she's used is "God didn't see fit to give me a husband." It is my personal opinion we are given desire for marriage and the actual call when we discern marriage with an actual man...that is being, as she says, who God calls us to be in each moment. Plus, it also conveys to single women that we have little to no agency in our romantic lives...there probably are potential husbands in church pews, at group events, online, etc. And yes, I know this is hard, especially with lax social mores, but I found I am much more seraphic about my single state if I believe God is trying to show me a worthy man; I just have to discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit and be open to opportunities.

Oh, and Kate, thank you for your articles! They also need a "how to date when not every guy you meet at Mass or in the city will be as formed in the faith as you"

Jackie said...

I remember getting Emily's book about single Catholic women -- it was one of the recommended ones that show up with your own, Seraphic. And while reading your own book, I kept thinking, "This lady has such a merry heart!" And this was with the book ending as a single woman (until the post-script ;-) )!

When I read Emily's book, there was tons of good information, well-disseminated and with a great sense of humor... and still it felt so mournful at the end. I went back and read it again to see if it was just me, and it still had a kind of tangible sadness that she wasn't a homeschooling mother of 10.

It made me feel badly for her, not because she's not married yet. (And I hope she will be soon!) But because all the non-marital good things in her life seemed to be "lesser than" instead of being recognized for the miracles they were/are.

Maybe I just have a weirdo perspective on it? Both my parents were seriously ill from a young age. My initial goal was not marriage or children, but living to 40. (In my 30s and going strong, woo hoo!)

Being here and knowing that God loves me is enough. I am definitely open to marriage and children and in the meanwhile I am trusting in God and enjoying all the good that exists right now.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for trying to show me where I may be missing the problem ye have here Proverbial Girlfriend, for I am a bit perplexed today. I dislike the passive agency angle always, although I'm not a fan of thinking God is showing us Mr. Rights on a regular basis either. For it takes 2 to cooperate with that and God doesn't force His will on us.

I suppose I don't see why there is a problem with her expressing her feelings on this. Some may disagree with her but for her this is her reality and her regrets are part of it. Why not express that? It may have cut close to home for some of us but so what? I don't see why we always have to be supportive at risk of sidelining the truth. What is wrong with debating and differing?

As for your sister's point of view, well I seriously doubt she'd swap a child for a life of free travel. Having children, if it's for you, is not equal to a successful career and that's what I took from her article. She'd swap her success in a heartbeat for a baby, I'm sure. Few mums would do the opposite and there's the rub for those of us who are still hoping and waiting. It's a hole in the heart no job title can fill.

Sinéad.

Kate said...

I agree with Sinead -- I certainly don't think being a mother is the greatest thing for all women, but I do think it can be maddening if you think it's your vocation and it's not happening.

Also, while I've been lucky to have a job I mostly enjoy and find interesting, I don't see anything I do saving souls or changing the world, except insofar as I'm trying to do my work in a spirit of offering up to God or some such. Whereas I feel that if I had kids, it would feel more concrete: That I would know that the people I'm helping need me, not that I'm doing random stuff in a spirit such that it could be made useful, if that makes any sense. Of course, I haven't been a mom, and I'll defer to moms about whether that's what it actually feels like or not.

But sympathy with some of Emily's position aside, I'm grateful your talk about singles has such joie de vivre to it, Seraphic.

MaryJane said...

I haven't had a chance to read all the comments but I did just want to say that Catholics (and others of good will) who are interested in the topic of embryo adoption might consider reading Dignitas Persone, particularly paragraph 19.
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html

Seraphic, I think it would be lovely for you to get on EWTN and talk about all sorts of things like boys who use seminary as an excuse to use NCGs and how important spiritual children are.

Anonymous said...

So I suppose I'm supposed to discourage my (future) sons and daughters from the priesthood and religious life in order to have grandchildren?

It's all a question of vocation and how we are called to love. For some, that is through career, writing, small interactions with people at work, etc. For others, it is mainly through their family. But a life of love is a life of love: neither is superior. Both have excitement and both have parts that are mundane (and sometimes these parts may be years). No one "has it all," we are limited, finite beings, but that isn't the point! When need to ask how we are called to give ourselves in love to others, not how we can achieve different goals (though the goals might enable us to love better, in some cases).

Tess, I'm glad you found encouragement from the piece. If you and your husband decide that you staying home is best for your family, as it is in many cases, do it, even when others aren't supportive. You will find at least a few people who are supportive. Staying home full-time is good, if that's part of your vocation to motherhood, because it is a path to love your family- but that doesn't make it easy.

Kate & Sinead: if getting married is not happening, it is not your vocation, at least not right now. Feeling like it is your vocation and it not happening can be maddening (there were times when I felt like this during my years as a single adult), but, again, our vocation is how God is calling us to love. Right now. Which may- scratch that- will be different in the future, whether you end up married with kids or not.

-Anamaria

Anonymous said...


Oh Lordy, I'm probably showing my doziness now but I thought that your vocation was the best way God has for you to get to heaven? Marriage, the convent or consecrated singledom. I think I may be at odds with some on that, that's ok. It's the commitment of vocation that matters to me.

Vocation doesn't chop and change and I probably have already passed by a number of suitable men and won't meet another 'til I'm 50. But it doesn't chop and change from one year to the next, it's a waiting game. In the meantime, live your life. No point in denying the reality of a denied/unfulfilled vocation though. That's what gets my goat more than anything actually, it's shocking cruel to sort of gloss over the reality of that frustration. Let the woman express her disappointment as she sees fit, sometimes it's best to just sit and listen to a person in pain instead of trying to solve or salve it. At work we say "pain is what the patient says it is", we can't interpret it for them. She is communicating that regret, all her success means nothing when compared to her unfulfilled vocation. That makes sense to me. I don't understand the problem with her article.

Sinéad.

Anonymous said...


Anamaria,

If your grandchildren want to be priests/religious then encourage them. If they want to be married encourage them. If no community that they want to join will take them on then it's normal for them to feel grief. Likewise, if nobody they would want to marry will give them a fighting shot then it's normal for them to feel grief.

Motherhood follows marriage (or ought to) and the writer has not been married so as a devout Catholic is denied motherhood. Her article is reasonable in her circumstances, I don't see the problem. I feel very sorry for her.

Sinéad.

Pearlmusic said...

@Sheila - I do absolutely agree with you! I hope you didn't get me wrong when I said about children ending up miserable. What I meant was to emphasise that there are really bad, bad mothers who don't even remotely live up to their vocation. But of course, I don't assume that a child's failure is mother's fault and it makes all her motherhood a waste. No, of course not! :)

Seraphic said...

Wow! 28 comments (including my own). I go away to Polish class, and things go nuts.

Perhaps it's vocations talk? Before Vatican II, there was not a heck of a lot of talk about vocations other than nun/monk/priest--although sometimes priests talked about marriage as a vocation, and that was considered very "Ooooh! ahhha! marriage a vocation!!! Oooh! Food for thought!"

Back then when people talked about "missed" or "ruined" vocations, they meant single men who seemed to them would have made good priests, or maybe an unhappily married ex-seminarian!

The primary vocation, of course, is the universal call to holiness. That is permanent and solid and totally up to you--subsequent to the action of prevenient Grace, of course.

Whether you get called to religious life, married life, consecrated Single life depends on pther human beings calling you. A guy who wants to become a priest has to be approved by a concrete bishop. A woman who wants to become a nun has to be approved by a concrete religious community. A woman who wants to be a consecrated virgin has to be approved by a bishop. A woman who wants to dedicate her life to L'Arche has to be accepted by L'Arche. And, dagnabit, a woman who wants to get married has to wait until she is asked by, or is accepted by, some man. Only then can she really be said to be called.

Of course most women feel a very strong desire to marry. Marriage and reproduction are the natural (not the supernatural) end of the human person. But because the Sexual Revolution may have prevented as many men from becoming real adults as the Second World War killed off husbands and sweethearts. And this is why there seems to be such a shortage of men, and yes, that is AWFUL.

And yet any one of you could probably get married within the year just by advertising in the newspaper of a poor country, and yet you don't. (And I'm glad you don't!) There are many men who would jump at the chance to marry a nice, educated, salary-earning, Western (in most cases) woman and live with her in her beautiful, comparatively rich country and do... Well, whatever.

Personally, my high school plan era plan was to go to Warsaw, but then the Berlin Wall fell and ruined that idea. Also, I was popular enough in college that I figured I would not have to resort to Green Card marriage! :-D

Seraphic said...

@Sheila. I'm horrified that people say such nasty things to you! That's just awful. Your children are the continuation of the Church on earth and of the US of A, and if either Catholics or Americans are being nasty to you because of your children, then they are traitors to their Church or their country. Or both!

proverbialgirlfriend said...

Oh dear, I did not mean for my comment to be insensitive or to imply something uncharitable about my sister. She would never trade her children back for my type of life. She just wants me to recognize how where I'm called to be right now has its own blessings and joys, which I will have to sacrifice and will probably have to mourn. I feel like her perspective is less annoying than Emily's because unlike Emily, my sister has seen both sides, and affirms my dignity and my role in the world .
My particular issue is that sometimes, like others have noted from her book, this focus on our mourning or sadness is not especially helpful to single women who are already upset. Emily, whether she realizes it or not, has great power because she has so much presence in Catholic media. Her essay did not seem entirely like a personal mope but a salvo in the debate brought up by some other article she references, and it could be very easy for single women to continue to feed negative thoughts about their state because this woman who seems to have credence, doesn't find her life or work meaningful without children. I, too, like others, have felt this, but a prayer of mine is to have God help me understand that I am loved and worthy simply because I am his. That my earthly life is meaningful, regardless of my secondary vocation, because I am striving to be his love in the world.
Sinéad, yes, one of the secondary vocations (marriage or consecrated religious life) is a path by which we get to heaven. Thankfully, all of us have a primary vocation, which is to know God, love him, serve him here on Earth.

Iota said...

> I think saving souls already made so much more important than making new ones, don't you?

I feel kind of silly answering this question, but ... um, no? I’m profoundly happy that my parents had me… :-) (also, technically, parents don’t really “make souls”, God does - right?)

My take on this is that the whole “What’s more important” question misses the point. I honestly dislike it, because I think (at least for me personally) it draws me away from where I am now and either tempts me to pride or to pity, neither of which are very constructive.

There is obviously a point to ordering goods into a hierarchy in the abstract, but I prefer not to think too much about that hierarchy when it comes to actual, individual lives.

----

All the saints had mothers. All of them had fathers. Parents are very, very important.

At the same time, many saints were single (and that was important because it gave them the chance to commit to something else than raising a family). And even in a purely secular sense, people who don’t have their own kids are important, because they have free “resources” (time, talents, sometimes maybe spare money) to give to those who do not have good families or to dedicate them to other worthy goals.

Also to be honest, I kind of entertain the hope that parents, may receive, by God’s mercy, a portion of the merit of the good deeds of their children. Not because I’m a parent – I’m not and I’m extremely unlikely to ever be one. But because, as someone’s grown up child, that is what I would have wanted FOR my parents.

(It is also something I would want for anyone who isn’t my parent but assisted me in any way – if they helped me, they deserve a just reward).

Anonymous said...


Ah ProverbialGirlfriend, I am the opposite. I am surrounded by a Pollyannish attitude towards singledom and the idea that a dead-end job can fulfill you if you just close your eyes and think happy thoughts. No misery allowed for single Catholics, just ignorance by nominal Catholics towards the genuine sadness about it all and discomfort that leads believers to feel guilty and stay silent about their dating frustration. When I open the can of worms it's amazing how many women say YES!, I would love to be married! So I'm glad to see the likes of Emily broaching the topic and wish more would do so. Filing paper (when marriage is for you) is not the same as rearing your own child and it's not mad for thinking that mam with child has it all.

Sinéad.

Seraphic said...

When I say that saving souls that actually exist is more important than making new ones (and the soul is the form of the body, so there is no human soul before there is a human body--I think if God lets us make people, he is letting us make souls...Must consult Aquinas...), I am underscoring that WHAT IS is more important than WHAT IS NOT, or privileging the ACTUAL over the POTENTIAL.

Although it kills me to say it, since the earliest days of the Church, reproduction has not been considered the be-all and end-all of Christian life. The attitude for centuries (at least) was, well, the Incarnation has happened, so it doesn't matter if there are any more people. There were BIG debates in the 3rd and 4th centuries whether marriage was okay for ANYBODY. (St. Augustine, a moderate, said yes.)

Anyway, I am just underscoring this because it happens to be the tradition of the Church. The saints of the Classical era would have been delighted if every last man, woman and child in the whole world had converted to Christianity and all gone into strict religious life. This would have meant the end of the world, and thus the Second Coming. Hooray! Maranatha.

We, of course, are delighted this has not yet happened, because we are glad to have been born. But we actually exist, unlike "our future children." I am actually very pro-future children. But I don't want Single people panicking and feeling like their lives will have no meaning if they don't have them.

Of course, you may FEEL that way, but FEELINGS ARE NOT FACTS. The facts are being St. Monica trumped being St. Monica's mother, even though St. Monica could not have existed without her mother. It is more important to be a saint than the mother of a saint, if you see what I mean. And sainthood is not contingent upon having kids or not having kids. It is attached to everyone's primary call to holiness.

But, yes, many childless have bad days when we think we would sacrifice everything to have kids--but we don't. We don't go down to the pub and get knocked up. We don't go down the IVF route. We don't because we know there is something more important than having kids, even though it hurts like hell that we don't have them: obeying the will of God. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15).

thepinkeminence said...

Hmph hmph hmph. I have a lot of respect for Emily Stimpson and for her work but have moved on from her writing to yours and have no desire to go back. I think you manage to convey the message that I know is true at my better moments: that I should apologize and feel bad for my sins and my mistakes but not for WHO I AM and who I am right now is single and that is FINE and likely part of Providence (unless I've thwarted Providence, but I doubt I could pull that off.)

I also VERY much appreciate your skepticism about Catholic dating sites. My intuition says they are BAD and I am glad it agrees with yours.

I briefly signed up for a trial CM account YEARS ago (5?) but balked at leaving my real first name. No, I am not completely crazy, I just have an EXTREMELY unusual given name, and live by myself in a very dangerous city. I substituted a nickname that is less identifiable but that I am actually called in my family. When CM found this out they blocked my account and contacted me with a pretty stiff letter. I explained that I had no intention of being dishonest but couldn't compromise my personal safety for more interesting weekends. I got a pretty cold note back indicating they believed me not in the slightest, in no way took my concerns seriously, and were worried I was misleading their young men. They volunteered to change my account name to my name (which they then knew) on my behalf. ACCOUNT DELETED.

I suppose it was naive that I had to figure this out, but I walked away from that thinking, "Gee, those people do not have my best interests at heart."

And then I ended up here...
:)

Anonymous said...

Sinead, I am in no way trying to diminish the suffering that women who want to be married but aren't feel. That is a particular kind of suffering, especially if you are in an environment that says you should be fulfilled by your career, etc (geez, even Sex & the City doesn't say that!). No one can be totally fulfilled in her career... but also no one can be totally fulfilled on this earth, and to the extent we are fulfilled it's through following the particular path that is given to us and striving towards love and holiness in that path. Everyone is offered a path, some more difficult than others, some with particular difficulties that others don't share- but these also provide other opportunities.

I feel a lot of pity for Emily S. It is clear that she is suffering. But I think her saying that to a friend and writing it publicly are two different things, because it is based on how she feels and not reality. And while for some women it may feel refreshing to read, because they feel like that, too, for others (and maybe them, too) it increases self-pity rather than inviting peace and joy in the life that is given.

-Anamaria

Iota said...

@Seraphic

Personal stuff first, to clear the air:

> But, yes, many childless have bad days when we think [...]

I’m either too young for that yet (somewhat below thirty), of a different temperament, God gave me this grace, or I’m just plain stupid, but I don’t have this reaction. I have a very, very low chance of ever getting married and consequently, of having children (due to a significant disability). The prospect of never having a family does send a chills down my spine sometimes, but it never gets a quarter that bad. I guess I mostly feel/think "It is what it is, and God has been VERY good to me already".

Now for the theoretical bits:

I feel very inadequate discussing this with you, because I just might be saying something really idiotic. But maybe you’ll have the patience to correct me if necessary (and I apologize in advance).

I understand that the saints of the Classical era would have rejoiced if everyone converted and became a monastic. Thing is it didn't happen. God apparently allowed people to procreate, so far for 20 centuries and counting.

And I'm wondering if that's not just a thing He allowed, but maybe actually a good thing. That is, I'm thinking of the possibility that God doesn't actually WANT everyone to be a monastic, even though the early saints would have though this the best thing.

So that while the greatest good in the abstract might be single, celibate, monastic life, the actual greatest good for a particular John or Mary might be to be a father of four. Or a single, celibate, holy layperson. Because that happens to be the thing they are supposed to be doing.

I’m not sure I’m making myself clear but I see a difference between the hierarchy of vocations in the abstract, as part of the Tradition, and the actual worth of a vocation of a particular, living person. They are what they are, and if it is good, I'm inclined to assume it's meant to be that way.

> It is more important to be a saint than the mother of a saint, if you see what I mean

I think I do. But I'm not sure if we have any proof to suggest St Monica's mother is not a saint, i.e. if there is actually any "beating" involved. If I remember correctly, the canonised saints are the ones God has seen fit to give us as visible models. The other saints, ones who aren't canonised but are in Heaven, are venerated on All Saints Day. I.e. that a person isn’t canonised doesn’t mean they aren’t a saint.

Of course if, Saint Monica’s mother died in mortal sin, her daughter’s sainthood wouldn’t help her. But if she didn’t, then unless I misunderstand something, it’s possible they are both in Heaven and the details of whose sainthood if “greater” are known only to God. Right or wrong?

Julia said...

I've read Emily Stimpson's book and I liked it, but your book is funnier, Seraphic. And if it's any consolation, your book sits on the exact same shelf as Emily's book at the Catholic bookshop at which I bought them both over here in the Antipodes. Yours cost more, too :)

Seraphic said...

Very well articulated Iota, except for one thing--presumably you already have a family, yes? I always correct people when they say "maybe I'll never have a family" when what they mean is "maybe I'll never have a husband and child." Me, although I don't have children, I have a blood family of parents, siblings--including my s-in-law, and the kids of my siblings. They're really far away, though, so BA and I maintain friendships almost to the level people do in high school.

One way to see what God wants is to look at history, and see the good things (e.g. not war). Marriage and babies are in themselves such good things and they continue to such an extent, that we can be darned sure that the continuation of family into the next millennium is indeed the Lord's will. This, of course, was never threatened or eroded to the same extent as religious life has been--first by enemies of the Church, then by, err, trends in the Church--but monastic life is so still so beautiful, especially where it flourishes, that we can be sure it's continuation is also God's will.

The best must not be made the enemy of the good. The reason why I am stressing the primacy of virginity over marriage in the tradition of the Church is because the tendency right now (as it was definitely not in Augustine's day) is to act and think as though chaste Single life is vastly inferior to marriage. And unfortunately one reason why we are made to feel this way is society's obsession with sex.

Anonymous said...

I have corresponded with Emily Stimpson, and she is lovely! She couldn't be sweeter or more humble. She is thoughtful and smart. I have wished many times that I was her neighbor; she is that kind of person. She lives the single life magnificently, and actually she is much like you, Seraphic, in that her hospitality is well known among her friends. I suspect that some day she will marry, though she is obviously very sad that it has not happened yet. But whether or not she marries, it does not matter, as she has Jesus as the center of her life. She is pursuing her primary vocation to holiness, and that inspires me. I don't believe that she has written for Catholic Match, though if she did it wouldn't bother me. She writes for Catholic Vote. Seraphic, you are a very talented writer, and I love your blog. I am a married lady, but I love reading your columns. I suspect that if you were here in the USA, you too would have many guest appearances on EWTN. yours, Lisa

Iota said...

> I always correct people when they say "maybe I'll never have a family"

I kind of both agree and disagree (I remember your post about that).

My family is huge and sprawling. I have an astonishing number of uncles, aunts, cousins. And in Poland, those family connections do count somewhat. So I obviously have (a large) family, and there is no danger of me literally "never having had one".

BUT, if I hypothesize about myself 25 years form now, it's almost certain that my renaming parent will have died, a high risk that so will have my only direct sibling, and that most indirect relations (aunts/cousins) will not play a large role in my life and I in theirs (for predictable, legit reasons).

In a shorter timespan, my closest family will probably be alive, but (again, for legit reasons) it looks like they will be taking care of me more than I will be taking care of them.

And this, even more than not having children and a husband specifically, is what does send chills down my spine. Not having people who consider themselves your blood or (in any sense) adopted relations, in whose life you can play a long-term role and be offered human comfort and protection in return, and not being able to contribute "enough" (as much as I'd want to) in the shorter run.

Of course theologically I will always belong to the spiritual family of the Church (unless I go crazy and apostatize or something).

But I do think there's a real risk that needs to be acknowledged. Personally, I seem to benefit form periodically staring at what I'm afraid of and saying "Yes, this is a possibility with the following most likely consequences. But life would still be worth living, even if it happened." Sometimes to other people.

And I haven't found a short way to express it, other than "I won't have a family". The long way, with definitions and caveats included, seems a little unwieldy.

> The reason why I am stressing ...

Ah, this is something I never got into, given that the culture never had any idea what to do with me (I couldn't conform to the current norm even if I tried, both the one for Poland and the ones in the West, though in different ways).

If people try to lead good lives, they are by definition awesome to me.

Parents are awesome because they raise kids, kids are awesome because they discover the world. Childless marriages are awesome, because they are more free to share with those who don't have a good nuclear family, while loving each other. Single people are awesome for the same reasons, but with a different flavour.

Same thing goes for, e.g. a person's job.

Everyone has a potential to be a different flavour of awesome, all of them seem necessary, so long as we're here, so I always find discussions about whose awesome is what in comparison to others a little awkward. It makes as much sense to me as comparing myself to my sibling. Our lives are both unique, we aren't competing and there isn't even any standard of comparison between two unique things.

I realize that might not be the normal reaction for the readers of this blog, so don't mind me. :-)

Seraphic said...

I say not a word against Emily Stimpson, whom I have never met in my life. I merely take an issue with one part of one article that she has written, which is an entirely different thing. Obviously, Emily is not her article, or even her opinions about marriage and the single state.

Men sometimes tell me that men are much clearer on the distinction between self and work than women are. One Eavesdropper mourns that he can tell a man friend that his ideas are stupid and still be pals with that friend, but he cannot tell a woman friend that her ideas are stupid without arousing her unending fury. Keeping this in mind, I forgive him for all the times he tells me my ideas are stupid, but only because he is good-looking.

Seraphic said...

@Iota. If you can't express your experiences and fears about being Single on a Singles blog, then WHERE can you express them!? :-D

I agree totally that Poland has a whole different culture where Singleness is concerned. And this is a total learning moment for Poland and the Polish Church: what does it mean to be an unmarried Catholic Pole? How can she be served by the Church? How can she serve the Church? How is her inherent dignity recognized--is it? How is she protected in her vulnerability? What is she offered so that she doesn't--and Poland doesn't--fall into the traps in which Singles in the West struggle?

Both you and Sinead are making me think a lot about the experiences of women in countries where the Church is losing influence and the Sexual Revolution is managing, for the first time, to do widespread damage, managing to make the Irish and the Poles self-harm the way the British and North Americans have since the 1960s.

Iota said...

> If you can't express your experiences and fears about being Single on a Singles blog, then WHERE can you express them!? :-D

I actually prefer real people for that (my poor, poor friends! :D). Here I'm mostly doing on my "theoretician's hat" and trying to explain myself from a third person POV.

> I agree totally that Poland has a whole different culture where Singleness is concerned.

Bonus points in my case for having a visible, significant, physical disability (a form of cerebral palsy). And extra bonus points for being in a situation where I can, currently, lead a mostly independent life (live on my own) which is much more than most people with my condition can, but visibly less than healthy people can.

It's like not fitting into ANY box. If I were just very disabled, I'd mostly fit the "The Dignity of Suffering with Christ" box. But I don't suffer THAT much and actually have an (I'd argue healthy) ambition to live as close to the physical "norm" as possible. When the Church preaches about the dignity of suffering, I'm grateful, but when people preach it to me in the simplistic form of "just suffer with Christ" I have a sneaking suspicion they might be using theology to comfort themselves rather than me or, at the very least, don't really understand my situation.

On the other hand, I clearly don't fit the standard way of thinking about Single people, even to the extent there is one (either in the West or in Poland). Not least because many people would be anything from puzzled, through embarrassed to (maybe) horrified if I ever did suggest I might marry.

(and even the secular Sexual Revolution milieu would have issues with me - while my condition is not hereditary and people with CP do have healthy children and - at least now - can be competent parents, you can't allow abortion for any and all disabled, suggest euthanasia is a mercy and then jump from joy when THOSE kinds of people are "sexually liberating" themselves. It does not compute.)

So I dare suggest you don't take my comments as representative of Poland. My situations a little "sideways from normal" pretty much in every context. :-D

But if I am "making you think" productive thoughts, I'm very happy.

Mary said...

Seraphic, thank you for your wonderful, incisive clarity and perspective, as always! Your comments earlier about the best and the good made me think of that beautiful quote from St Augustine, "the Virgin Mary first conceived in her heart." I love that we are all called to be mothers in the spiritual sense primarily, and then some, or perhaps most, of us also physically, if God wills.

Sinead, I think it is healthy to mourn, and I agree with you there is no point women being dishonest about the enormity of the loss of not having our own babies and the pain of being unable to fulfil our vocations. If Emily wanted to have a good cry about that, I would be crying right along with her! But Emily's article still troubled me. While it is completely normal and natural to feel the depth of loss and longing for husband and babies, writing that her professional success is meaningless without them does not seem very humble or gracious to God, who is the author of her success and desires to form and bring souls to Himself through her gifts and talents. Of course, it is not the same as being a wife and mother, but in His eyes her faithfulness to this task is just as precious and meaningful.

A Catholic blogger who is childless wrote a beautiful post recently on "Things a(n) (Infertile) Woman Should Never Say" and I found her advice equally applicable and challenging to me as a single woman. As Seraphic rightly points out, no life "has it all". Every woman has her cross and her crown. Every woman has dreams that have died and been resurrected and transformed into something greater. This is the beauty and paradox of the Christian story - "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone". I have always thought Brideshead Revisited illustrates this truth so beautifully, especially through its heroines Julia, Cordelia and Lady Marchmain. Each woman is "thwarted" in her vocation, and yet by the novel's end we see that God has worked profoundly through each of them to love and bring souls to Him.

Katy said...

I think you have it all when you are fruitful and when you are filled with joy and gratitude. By fruitful I mean bearing spiritual fruit in the kingdom of God, which can be done many ways, but usually involves some sort of dying to self (a la "unless a seed...."). And joy and gratitude is really what we all are deeply seeking and feel absolutely wonderful.

I also read Emily's article and was just horrified.

Seraphic said...

@Iota. Aha! Your point of view is from, well, several points! Catholic, Polish, well-educated, Single AND with CP. It all adds up to an almost unique circumstance, doesn't it? I think under such circumstances, focusing on making friends and on sharing interests is so much more likely to create emotionally satisfying relationships (one or two of which might lead to marriage*) than the whole dating-for-the-sake-of-dating routine, e.g. through dating websites, where people's choices can't help but be based on people-as-merchandise. But meanwhile, if you don't mind doing it, I imagine there must be some satisfaction in challenging people's ideas about what it means to be a person with CP, e.g. that you hope to marry just as other people hope to marry.

*This is to point out that widows, particularly young widows, sometimes remarry.

Iota said...

Just to clarify: I'm not actually looking for advice (although I will consider any given) so you don't need to go into "Auntie Seraphic mode", unless you really want to. :-)

For me it makes no sense to "hope to marry". I can hope to finish a Ph.D. thesis (although it might require the intercession of St. Jude...). Or to travel internationally. Or to do anything else that depends on *me* with only some third party assistance. Marriage fundamentally depends on two people. I can't really "hope to marry" in the abstract. Somewhere out there there either are or aren't people for whom I could be a good spouse. If there are, I'll think about it when I notice them (and I hope the Good Lord is generous enough to place them right in front of my nose). If there aren't, I can’t hope them into existence.

So far as it can be discussed abstractly, the statistical chances aren’t promising. And my first response to any interest in those quarters would be to try and be (let's hope gently) discouraging, since the last think I'd want is a bad marriage.

That said, I firmly believe God has an interesting sense of humour. If there's an option of a good marriage somewhere down the road, I'll probably be a little terrified ("What if it DOESN'T work?!") but I think I'd take it.

But I'm certainly not going to look specifically for prospects of marriage just to change people's ideas (since, to be honest, I don't think all of those ideas are fundamentally bad ones - after all, there are even people whom the Church deems intrinsically unable to marry, so the idea that some people shouldn't try to marry, regardless of their own wishes, due to their condition, isn't entirely wrong).

Currently I'm mostly enjoying the vantage point that sitting sideways atop a bunch of different boxes offers. The view from up here is certainly VERY interesting. And yes, I do have a lot of satisfaction from (unintentionally) disrupting norms, preconceptions, standards etc. simply by existing.

Sheila said...

@Iota --

>"Everyone has a potential to be a different flavour of awesome."

This is something that dawned on me about ten years ago and changed my life. If I want to be a saint, I won't be like any other saint in the world. Just me. So when I try to become a better person, I shouldn't imitate some other person, but become the best ME I can. I love the way you put that.

Eve Tushnet had an article some time ago, which I can't find, about an idea of having some kind of Catholic ritual for the bonding of friends on the level of family. In other words, that you could take your dearest friend before the altar and promise to be family to them, to take care of them when they're sick or old, and so forth. I thought it was a beautiful idea, especially for perpetual Singles (as she is).

I don't object to Emily's article as such, if it's really a cry of the heart, her own regrets and all. But it seemed to me it was trying to make a Point about motherhood being objectively better than everything else, and the fact is there are upsides and downsides to everything. And I guess as a mother myself, it felt a little bit like the old "stop whining, at least you're married" thing I occasionally hear. My favorite thing any blog can say is, "It's okay if you're not loving every minute." No matter what your vocation is, it's nice to hear that.

@Seraphic, this is from non-Catholics, thank goodness. And no one's said that stuff to my face, just on the internet where no one seems to care how rude they are. But still. Motherhood isn't really respected, and even people who respect motherhood in the abstract always take issue with the way YOU'RE doing it, because no matter how you do it, you're always Doing It Wrong.

But in the main you get no feedback at all. Make breakfast. Do laundry. Make lunch. Do dishes. Make dinner. Do more dishes. And the only thing you hear all day is "where are my socks?" and "I hate yoooooooou!" and "what have you been doing all day, it's such a mess!" My own family is pretty sweet but the woes of other married women make me want to sob. Like this, for instance: http://motherhoodmatters.blogs.deseretnews.com/2012/06/22/the-invisible-woman/

I say all this not to say "motherhood sucks" but more, Mothers who choose to work don't do it because they think the work outside the home is more *important* than caring for their kids. It just can be more satisfying and has more room for a personal sense of achievement. And I don't think there's anything selfish about that. It isn't fair to say "Because you have a child, you are never allowed to do any job that is finished, that is evaluated, that you can say you succeeded at in your lifetime." My own mom stayed home with me most of my childhood, but when she got a part-time job when I was at school, I think it added a lot to her sense of self-worth.

This isn't to start some kind of "who has it harder" vocation war. I just meant to point out that every vocation has suffering AND importance. No one "has it all," no matter how perfect their life looks if you peek in their windows.

Anonymous said...

I realize that most of you have moved on from this conversation, however here I am sleepless, and I find all of these comments interesting to read and consider. My previous comment (that Emily is a lovely kind person, ect.) was written in haste as I was heading out the door, but I was compelled to write at that moment as I have had some small personal interactions with Emily, and I have become quite fond of her from afar. The mother in me just wanted to say something, anything, in Emily's defense. But this is a thoughtful discussion, and I should have offered something with a little more meat to it. So here is what I think. Because Emily's essay is so personal and she has made herself vulnerable, I think we need to take her at face value. Sinead has beautifully articulated this way of considering Emily's essay in comment after comment. Accept Emily's pain for what it is; she is being honest. Just because Emily has written a well-known singles book, does not mean that everything she writes has to be directed at singles. This essay was clearly written for mothers, and I suspect for any mother that is struggling in a bad marriage, with difficult children, or in dire circumstances of any kind, Emily's essay is a salve. ..Lisa

Iota said...

@ Sheila

> I thought it was a beautiful idea...

There are lots of different models in history for expanding a family by adult adoption, by self-elected servitude and so on. Granted, in the secular context a lot of that was related to inheritance laws, but the point stands: there are different ways to graft people onto a clan or family.

Thing is, I think those kinds of ideas won't fly today in the West (and I include Poland here, provisionally). If:
(a) The concept of a family gradually gets restricted to your direct biological family and direct family by marriage, while friendship as a lasting non-familial bond is less and less common

AND (b) you make marriage more and about just bonding with people you are currently sexually attracted to (divorce and remarriage, same sex partnerships),

The notion of "adopting" somebody into your family if there are no sexual motives and they are not a little kid, starts to make precious little sense.

The fact that emotional needs are being simplified to just sexual needs means the NEED to “adopt” people is less obvious too – a person can be fed, clothed and given shelter without having a family, and – to the extent a romantic/sexual partner is increasingly viewed as the single solution to most of your emotional needs >18 and <65, “adoption” cannot fulfil that need, as it is being perceived.

Catholics, who do recognise there are other reasons to be bonded with people, would still probably not all be very happy with returning to some sort of public adult adoption ritual, because people would still be primed to see it as a back-door for same sex partnerships.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. :-)

> But it seemed to me it was trying to make a Point

I think there is always a temptation to make General Thoughts about Life (and writing is a subspecies) directly from lived experience only. After all, my insistence on people being unique is partly the result of my lived experience.

If Ms Stimpson took advice from Random Internet People, I’d probably tell her that saying “I see clearly” is a very, very dangerous and overused statement. It gets even worse when the thing we profess to see clearly is the experience of a vast group of people (here all mothers) and bonus danger points if you are an outsider. Only God sees everything clearly. We, if we are lucky and have enough wisdom, see some *aspects* clearly, but very rarely the whole thing. Which is why attentively listening to people unlike ourselves is important – because it lets us see some other aspects of the same thing. Provided we don’t start out by discrediting what they are trying to tell us.

I’m assuming this is partly why people have such mixed reactions. What Ms Stimpson claims to see clearly resonates with some. And then it completely doesn’t resonate with others. Which should be perfectly fine and dandy, because that’s how life works (I think), except the article seems to leave too little room for legitimate disagreement.

Stay awesome, Sheila. :-)

Lena said...

I think what we have here is the grass is always greener syndrome, when it's not.

Urszula said...

I read your post, Seraphic, in the morning and by the time I got home in the evening, the combox had exploded and everybody had expressed so eloquently what I was thinking as I read Emily's article.

I guess the biggest problem I have is adopting the 'having it all' terminology. What does that even mean? Does mean 'having a perfect life' or even just 'having a life with the potential for perfect happiness and meaningfulness'? But as Catholics on this earth, and as rational beings looking around seeing obviously nobody who has that kind of life, shouldn't we dismiss the notion that 'having it all' is something to strive for anyway?

"Having it all" just seems extremely vaguely defined for me, which is probably why it's easy enough for a single woman to use it to define discontent or unhappiness with her current state as compared with the vocation she thinks she is missing out on. And that bitterness or sadness is completely understandable - nobody is denying her the right to express it. But the game of who has it all (or more of all) just doesn't seem very productive or helpful to anyone.