The Catholic Thing
Big Girl Pants Print E-mail
By Ashley McGuire   
Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sometime ago, I read an article here at The Catholic Thing by Mary Eberstadt about children and happiness. In it she had a memorable line about children ringing the death knell of the gym and martinis for the bourgeoisie. I no doubt read the article, closed my laptop, hit a Pilates class, and then met up with other D.C. folk for martinis.

The sun is setting on those days.

In three weeks, I am due to give birth to a little girl. And being a young, freedom-loving, gym-loving, martini-loving woman, it’s been hard to fight the culturally inherited anxiety that “my life will be totally over.”

I would argue that today, despite amazing advances in healthcare, there has never been a scarier time for a woman to be pregnant and bring a new life into the world. Why? Because young women like myself today live in a culture that pits mother against child: mother’s freedom versus child, mother’s happiness versus child, mother’s career ambitions versus child.

Childbirth is thought of as a kind of death for today’s modern, career-oriented city woman. At least that’s the way it’s been successfully framed. Pregnancy is the sunset before the dark night of parenthood descends.

Our self-obsessed culture views children as a threat to the self. Our culture endorses sex that is “safe” – from tyrannical babies. Our socially endorsed child-rearing techniques then warp “planned” childhood into just another means by which parents gratify themselves through their children’s success, from Baby Einstein to college admissions.

Childhood has become just another opportunity for parental consumption, the exploding shelves of stores like BuyBuyBaby bear witness to this.

And I’ll admit that I am no exemption to the temptations of turning the impending birth of my baby into an opportunity for consumption.

I have the Bob Revolution stroller assembled and waiting, a Peg Prego car seat standing by, and a Hoohobbers “moses basket” eagerly awaiting purchase in my baby registry.

Blah, blah, blah.

       Mother and Child by Gari Melchers (1904)

But back to the point. The point is found somewhere in a meditation by St. Josemaria Escrivá that I recently stumbled across. He writes in The Furrow:

Ideologically you are very Catholic. You like the atmosphere of the hall of residence. A pity the Mass is not at twelve, and the classes are not in the afternoon, so you can study late in the evening after one or two drinks. That “Catholicism” of yours does not come up to the real thing: it remains simply bourgeois.

 – Don’t you see that you can’t think like that at your age? Leave behind your laziness and your self-worship. . .and adapt to the needs of others, to the reality around you, then you will be taking your Catholicism seriously. 
In other words: get over yourself.

He was most likely writing that specific point to young, college-aged men. But his message translates just fine to a young, yuppie woman like me. The bourgeois life of gym and Trader Joe’s and happy hour is great. But you are too old to stay so self-centered. And your faith will stumble along so long as you succumb to the easy life.

And your happiness will suffer too. Leon Kass addressed this topic last week in one of the most exquisite talks I have ever heard, given at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner, where Kass was being honored.

Kass began by quoting Irving Kristol, who warned that, “Nothing is more dehumanizing, more certain to generate a crisis, than to experience one’s life as a meaningless event in a meaningless world.” Kristol acknowledges that bourgeois society has created prosperity beyond our wildest beliefs, but has brought with it a spiritual poverty that weighs heavily on our culture. Kass suggests that, “To be truly human is to be humanly-at-work, exercising our humanity to the full.” He continues:

We human beings are at work not only when we are occupationally working. We are also deeply at work in the activities of love and friendship, and especially when we are actively engaged in family life, the domain of private life in which Americans find the most meaning.
Chew on that, Hilary Rosen, you who described Ann Romney, a mother of six children, as never working a day in her life.

And what is fuller work in human terms that bringing new life into the world? And then making your life’s work the loving and nurturing of that life?

So though Kass is a secular Jew, he gets to the heart of a most Christian belief: love is our daily work. And love requires daily conquering the gnarly Cyclops that is our “self.” The self that today is painted as so threatened by the most loveable of humans, newborn babies.

And while babies may make it harder to get out for a martini, they provide us with the type of human work that induces a euphoria no cocktail can rival.

So I accept the challenge of this impending work and reject the proposition that my life is over.

I’m ready to put on my big girl pants and get over myself. A little girl awaits a shot at life. For now, I will enjoy the sunset. Or better yet, the sunrise. 

Ashley E. McGuire is the editor-in-chief of AltCatholicah.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Frank, May 10, 2012
Ms McGuire,
In the blink of an eye, or so it will seem, your daughter will be packing her things to leave your home be it for college or to start her life as someone's wife.
Our daughter, our one and only is home for the Summer from college. My wife and I were eight years married before she came to us. Both of us are hard workers occupied over the years with building a life and our careers that were and will remain for the next few years at least, part of the centrality of our lives although I must admit, retirement is beginning to look really good right now.
She was born in the middle of the night after 12 hours of my wife enduring an escalating labor. When she was born, I as the father, was relieved that it was over and that my wife and child were safe.
For the first three years, my wife worked a part time job share. When she returned full time, she too was in the balancing act of the "mommy track." Don't think it does not have an effect on fathers, it does because Dad if he's worth his salt as a Dad, picks up the slack so Mom can be the primary care provider.
Over the years, I watched the priorities of my wife change. When I married her, she was a hard charging career woman. Now, she can't wait to have her daughter home. I have observed over the years a miracle of change for I have seen a whole new dimension of my wife's love. The two of them, mother and daughter will lounge in the family room every Friday night watching re-runs of "Say Yes To The Dress," doing the woman thing making comments about whether this wedding dress looks good or bad on a pretentious high maintenance bride to be. I have to excuse myself to the downstairs to my wood shop and/or ESPN for there are some things well beyond the knowledge and emotional acuity men just do not have.
The years have passed and my wife has gone from career focused to mom focused and this transition has not been forced, it has come as easily and as naturally as breathing itself. So perhaps your worries are just that; worries only. Don't try to change or adjust what nature has been doing for thousands of years. Somehow, we think that with all this technology and information in real time, we are a special lot in civilization...we are not.
And yes you will change. You may not like or agree with Sarah Palin on a lot of issues but on the issue of "momma grizzlies," she's spot on. I watched the passive side of my wife change as she settled into her role as mom. I'd rather take on a couple of couple of gang bangers than get between a mother and her child. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING is as fierce and protective as a mom who senses or sees imminent danger for their children.
The sacrifices you will make for her will come easy and when you stop one day and take stock of the ease of those sacrifices, a small but significant window will open up providing you an important insight of how much God loves his children and sacrifices for them i.e. all of us.
A visit to Disney World with your daughter is on the horizon. When you're in Orlando, stop by the Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. I encourage you to visit the Mother and Child Chapel. I don't have to say anymore on this point, you'll "get it" when you visit.
As far as the martinis go; not to worry, my wife will occasionally ask me to make her one...I like Manhattans.
Congratulations, your life is going to change to a "new normal" and I assure you, as the time passes, you'll wonder why it did not happen sooner. A little life is about to love you in ways you never imagined. I know that much as a father.
And as for father's, let's wait for Father's Day. Right now, this time is for Moms.
written by Randall, May 10, 2012
Well said to both Ashley McGuire and Frank. My wife and I were married for 6 years before God saw fit to bless us with a baby girl. Two years later a baby boy followed. It was a major adjustment for our marriage, but my wife and I have never been both so tired and so happy. NOW I understand how much my father loved me!
written by DS, May 10, 2012
Ashley, you have just landed the best job in the entire world!

We received a card from a friend when our firstborn arrived. It simply said, "Now life begins."

At business social functions, I am always asked "Does your wife work"? I have learned to simply reply, "Yes." When asked, "What does she do?", I answer "She raises our sons."

This reply, along with the fact that she gave up a successful professional career to raise our sons at home, is greeted at times with a blank stare of incredulity, but I also often detect a degree of longing, particularly in the eyes of mothers who have maintained intense and demanding professional lives.

The Church would do well to provide detailed financial advice to newlyweds: if possible, try to live below your means and on one spouse's income and put away a nest egg, so you are not faced with difficult financial adjustments just as your children arrive.
written by Tony Esolen, May 10, 2012
Congratulations, Ashley!

How long, how long will it take before people remember that if you are talking about freedom and you are not talking about love, you are not talking about freedom ...
written by Chris in Maryland, May 10, 2012

As a father of 4, with a great wife who is a devoted mom...I simply say...WELL SAID!! And welcome to THE FAMILY !
written by Teresa Acosta, May 10, 2012
Congratulations, Ashley! I was overly blessed to have my joy surprise me on Mother's Day, 5/14/2006. He will be 6 on Monday. And I remember having those feelings (fears!) you were expressing earlier in your piece, but let me tell you that nothing seems more over-rated than "a career" once you have a little one in your life. Society tells us we are supposed TO LOVE being career-oriented, model-figured, and that we're supposed to grab whatever gusto comes our way--but it's so much more satisfying to get over all of that nonsense and love what matters most. Be a rebel! God bless you and your family!
written by PSmith, May 10, 2012
Bravo and bon courage'! Comments so far are as amazing as your post. Life goes on.... I am a father of 4 and really a Mr. Mom supporting my primary breadwinner wife. As I watch my last child progress, mature, and succeed and complete high school and head off to college in fall I reflect on the times of my life and realize the most productive were in keeping and acting as Mr. Mom and trying to do the right thing. I have 2 each, sons who are growing into independent and reflective young men and daughters who are mega-stars like their mom; strong, independent, smart, and ambitious. My observations or my circumstances; guys are guys, sometimes a bit silent and slower to decide what and where to go for it (possibly my own example)while my daughters are full speed ahead. Eventually they/or those characteristic tracks will merge and each will look for solace in their complements however defined. Enjoy the phase and reflect on the energy required and inspired by the joy, burdens, and blessings that parenthood brings. You did not mention the father, please mention him as we always need reassurance no matter what stage/phase of life we are in. Children bring God closer to we adults who have forgotten where we come from. Enjoy, live, love, and learn!
written by Éamonn, May 11, 2012
Congratulations! It only gets better and harder from here, and then better again. I'm a father of two girls (the one-year old kept me up till 4am - teething!) but even when sleep deprived, I'll maintain there is nothing more worthwhile and ultimately rewarding.
written by Wendy in VA, May 11, 2012
Congratulations! The oldest of our 6 children is 18, and the youngest is 9 months. I remember being shocked at how much my life changed in those first few months. I know now I'm a better person for it, and wouldn't trade one second of my crazy, overflowing life. You have a grand adventure ahead of you.
written by Louise, May 11, 2012
Dear Ashely,

Congratulations on the start of your very own family.

Your description of self-serving contemporary parenthood is right on. However, as to all the rest and the comments as well: I am amazed that you are amazed. All that amazes you and is so counter cultural to contemporary parenthood is what my generation took as the norm. It is what we looked forward to with great anticipation. We could hardly wait to start filling our hope chests.

All that you describe follows from the sexual revolution of the '60s, set in motion by the Baby Boomer generation. who were born in the late '40s, a mere 15 years after my birth in 1933. Who would have believed that a mere 15 years could witness the utter deterioration of our culture. Unfortunately, it will take many more years than that to return it to sanity. However, you and those who commented here are a start.

The sad thing is that the B.B. generation had all the world laid at its feet: peace (at least in our country), a booming economy, intact families, prosperity, a general social optimism and hope for the future, an understanding and appreciation of our Christian roots and a common, shared acceptance of Christian values and virtues, and they threw it all back in their parents faces. Who can make sense of it?
written by kathleen monaghan, May 11, 2012
I remember feeling the way you do now ... 8 short months ago! One of your comments above said you have landed the best job in the world ... they are so right. I have a masters degree, lived and worked in Spain, France, and Puerto Rico, won awards, blah blah blah. I have never been so engaged and so fully alive as right now, caring for my son. Best wishes for you and your daughter and husband.
written by joe, May 12, 2012
Swoosh! Slam dunk. What a great piece!!!
written by Coast Ranger, May 12, 2012
For a married man and woman to engage in natural sex and have a baby is a modern-day living parable.
written by Beth, May 14, 2012
Congratulations on your baby! All of these mental gymnastics about what your life will be like, how it will be changed, will you be able to 'handle' it will all melt like a springtime snow when that baby is born. You will then say to yourself, I never really knew love until now. An just when you think you cannot possibly love your child more than you do at that very moment...your love grows. It is just supernatural--above nature. It's gotta be God.

Swim in it...

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author