Aiming for self-discovery? Have children. CNS photo/Reba Saldanha, Reuters

Kids are bridge between contrition, compassion

By  Andrea Mrozek
  • December 2, 2022

“I cannot believe I ever complained about being tired in the company of friends with young kids. Please forgive me!!” So tweeted new mother and journalist Bari Weiss, complete with double exclamation marks.

I see your apology, Bari, and I raise you several more. 

The experience of becoming a mother late in life is cause for celebration, and, as it turns out, a boatload of apologies. Yes, there were the complaints of my own fatigue in front of parents of one, two, three and more young kids. This is not to mention the “I would never do that” file. These are the things your non-parent self sees your parent friends doing — things you believe you’ll never do. 

My non-parent self-imagined parenting a child as something one can control, much like planning a luncheon on an excursion. Example: I would never chase my child around with a spoon trying to get her to eat. (Yes, I would.) I would never let my child stay up so late. (Hello, 9 p.m. and counting.) The list goes on. I never spoke these thoughts, but I certainly had them. Please forgive me!!  

I did spend time with small people before I had a baby. Many times I entertained much beloved babies and toddlers. As I drove away exhausted, I actually believed I was particularly tired because these weren’t my children and it wasn’t my routine. If I were the parent, of course I’d be ready for all they threw at me, figuratively and literally. 

I was wrong. “Routine” cannot compensate for being awoken two, four, six, even eight times a night (who do we appreciate: Mom! Mom! That’s the cheerleading section of newborns in the middle of the night talking). 

But why swim in this stream of apology? In an era of decreasing fertility, fewer people have the experience of parenting. This leads to a couple of outcomes. One is that we have one less commonality on the landscape. A once ubiquitous shared experience gone, at a time when we really so badly need unity. I’ve had the tough-talking dad on our block offer consolation and advice for my newborn fatigue. Parents can commiserate even when their politics, faith and worldviews differ. 

The numbers show women are becoming mothers later in life, and that fewer women want to become mothers. There are many reasons for this, but one is that our culture demands we accrue enough experiences before “settling down.” Language alone fails to convey that having kids is, in itself, an experience, worthy of a dozen backpacking tours through Asia. 

Once upon a time, motherhood was a very compelling proposition, and most desired to share in it. “I knew that had I been born in 1946 instead of 1936, I too might have been susceptible to the idea that there was something better than getting married and raising a family,” writes Ruth R. Wisse, professor emerita at Harvard in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Based on her credentials, we can assume she had a captivating career. 

She was not “trapped” in motherhood through want of other options. Yet she speaks of being grateful she was not seduced into believing that anything could be more important than family. Some decades later, reading that line is like reading a strange bit of time travel fiction. 

This is not to say those without children have less value or do less valuable things, that they are never tired, or that they should have children. Family is not everyone’s vocation. However, it’s probable that vastly more people are missing out on the experience of family than those whose actual calling lies in career. This may explain why women today are less happy than those of previous generations. 

I try not to compare myself to others, but comparing myself now to myself previously is fair game. There’s a gap between me pre-daughter and today. My daughter’s birth launched a thousand prayers that I might become a woman worthy of her respect. Religious people call marriage and family sanctifying, not without reason. 

The sadness of today’s world is that we aim for self-discovery, as we denigrate one of the key ways to achieve it — by having children. A decade from now, I’ll be asking forgiveness for new reasons. For now, I’m hoping to convey the idea that our children act as a bridge to new compassion. To the long-time parents in my life, all those instances I said I was busy, tired or that I just needed a break — please forgive me!! 

(Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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