Monday, February 21, 2011

Motherhood as a Choice

The current issue of The New Yorker (Feb 14 & 21, 2011) features a humorous, thoughtful, and honest essay, "Confessions of a Juggler," by Tina Fey (p 64) in which the writer and comedienne holds forth on the many factors that float into the modern woman's mind, in her case even late at night, which are weighed in the decision to have a child.  The article is written and constructed in a style that is humorous not only in its wit and anecdotal components, but also in its almost flighty manner of reflecting the flood of considerations that rush through a woman's mind, maybe especially late at night, over such monumental issues as the relationship between career, motherhood, and her place in the world.  Fey's considerations on these questions inspire sympathy for her angst over the matter (and in turn for the angst of perhaps a whole generation of women) and respect for the seriousness with which she takes the responsibilities of both her career and her parental role.

On the one hand, there is the "guilt and panic" that overwhelm her when her daughter says, "I wish I had a baby sister."   A mother instinctively wants to give her daughter everything she might need, even everything she might want, so long as it is safe and good for her.  Along the way, the reader is treated to all that is involved in this guilt and panic, including thoughts about her own childhood, and indeed, her mother's childhood as well.  On the other hand, Fey takes with utter seriousness her responsibility to those whose jobs with her TV show, "30 Rock", depend on her.

Besides venting all of this worry in print, and apparently to her gynecologist ("I went for my annual checkup and, tired of carrying this anxiety around, burst into tears the moment she said hello. I laid it all out for her...") one supposes that her husband (Jeff Richmond) might certainly provide some sense of calm and relief, and thus be a needed emotional balance in her life.  I have no idea what kind of man Mr. Richmond is, so this is not an implication of him, but such an emotional balance and comfort in a marriage does assume that the husband is not as emotional as his wife.  This is not always a safe assumption.  Furthermore, the matter is not resolved merely by calming the woman who is so anxious.  Resolution of the questions, the issues over which one suffers anxiety, is not the same as sense of relief, whether temporary or permanent, from the worry.  A woman might feel much better in the morning about worries she had six hours earlier, but that doesn't mean the issues are resolved.  The point is that even the relief and calm that a husband might bring to a woman's worries does not guarantee that the right course will be taken.  Also worth considering here is the fact that the actual desire or reasoned opinion or wishes of the husband is not given any attention at all.

The strong tugs she feels, toward her career and to motherhood, are both commendable feelings.  It is worth considering the possibility, however, that these two responsibilities, that of wife and mother, and that of the TV star, are not equal.  Indeed, one is a divine calling, and the other is a career choice.

Motherhood ought to be seen as one of the chief creative arts.  For it is God's chosen vehicle for His continuing work of creation.  It is also a glimpse, a type, of the creation of children in the kingdom of God by the union of the eternal Word with His Bride, ie., our mother the Church.  Motherhood, in many ways, is an image of the holiness of the motherhood of the Church.  The Church is, to the Christian, alma mater, our nourishing mother.  She bears, cares for, nourishes, feeds and raises up her children, her "little Christs."  She does so by means of the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God, and by always being there for the Christian.  She is never off duty, never taking time off to devote to other causes or ambitions.  She feels absolutely no sense of independence.  Her whole identity is bound up with her relationship with her Lord, from Whose passion she derives her being. 

The rewards of motherhood do not compare with the fame and fortune that come with a career.  The former are far more valuable.  Many women will object to the notion that they have anything like fame or fortune, or that such things are their chief concern in the decision-making process.  Even Fey, with great wit, would surely even object.  Fame, even the famous tell us, is fleeting.  A show could get cancelled at any moment.  Fortune?  Fey could point us to many who make substantially more than she does.  Let us be brutally honest, however, and this is not against any one person.  The modern  upper class, and upper middle class American family, in order to go from two incomes to one income, would have to make sacrifices that are much more doable than they are desirable to the flesh.  For the flesh rather likes the name a woman can make for herself, and the income she can draw. 

Aside from losing that income, the woman would also lose the sense of fulfillment that comes with her present role in life.  One of the problems here is the cultural conditioning by which one is trained to feel fulfilled by using his skills in the form of a career.  One could just as easily teach oneself to feel fulfilled in another way.  The other problem is with the very concept of fulfillment, and the high value placed on it.  God asks neither success nor fulfillment of us.  He does call us to be faithful. 

Let us suppose for a moment that Fey were to come to the conclusion that she ought to choose to stop the juggling act, and leave her career altogether, and stay home.  What would happen to all of the people who rely on the show for their livelihoods?  What would happen is that they would find another job, or they would struggle for a time until they found a living that did not necessitate keeping a woman away of her familial responsibilities.  There is nothing wrong with struggling.  Too many people think (and too many theologians teach) that if one's chosen path has placed him into struggle and hardship, then it is a sign that he has chosen the wrong path.  Conversely, a sense of fulfillment can simply be misleading.  It can be from the devil, the flesh, or from the conditioning of the world, as we have said.  Unfortunately, by the reasoning of some (such as a pastor whose view of contracts can be seen in a comment to the previous post) if Fey were to suddenly choose to leave the TV show, she would be labeled guilty of breaking a contract, even one which might be inherently immoral in what it requires of her.

But most fundamental of all is the very assumption that what is important here is choice.  Fey is not making an argument in this piece; it is closer to say she is expressing the multifaceted complex of considerations of the modern woman who strives to be true to her maternal impulse and to her skills in the creative arts. However, if there is a point to it, I suggest it is that the article reinforces the modern woman's basic right to chose her own path in the world. And this is where I have profound disagreement with the writer.

Let us say that a woman chooses to be a mother, and not a careerist?  This happens all the time, blogs are devoted to it, books are written in defense of such a choice, etc.  There are two problems, however, with this concept.  One is that it assumes that all that is needed is for a decision to be made.  Just press a button.  The woman who does not have children, then, must necessarily be guilty of making a different choice than the woman who has children, and we are free to look down upon her for her feminist decision-making and worldview.  Here is where I appreciate Fey's point that one of the worst things you can ask a woman is "Are you going to have more kids?" though perhaps for different reasons.  It is a difficult, and gut wrenching choice, and either path involves much hard work, and no guarantees.  These are among the reasons Fey says it is a rude question.  And I appreciate that.  The reason I say it is rude is that no one has the right or ability to make such a choice.  A woman has the ability to say no to children, but she cannot bring about offspring by mere choice.  The spiritual analogy to this truth is that a man has no choice whether he becomes a child of God, a Christian, an heir of heaven.  This happens to him, by the work of the Spirit of God.  He can only choose to reject, blaspheme, and run away.

Much of the angst would be taken away from the modern woman if she would base her life, not upon choice, but upon vocation and calling.  We cannot judge a woman by the fact that she might have a career, or might not have children, for we do not know that either was her real preference.  Other factors may be at play in a fallen world, where we struggle amid all sorts of hardships, external and internal.  Fey might decide, Yes, I want another daughter.  Does that mean she will have a daughter?  Of course not.  Does it mean she will have a child?  No, there is no such gguarantee.  She can, however, conclude that her husband is making enough of an income for her to devote herself to her husband and daughter.  This indeed, is my prayer.  And if she were to come to this conclusion, it would in no way be a point of personal pride, for motherhood is not a choice. It, as with its more basic derivative, marriage, is a holy calling.

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