By Samantha Wilde
When the news broke many months ago that the U.S. birthrate had hit its lowest level since 1920, I didn't know it. I was too busy changing a diaper, mending a tutu and giving penmanship instruction to my first grader. A month or so later the baby, minus his diaper, escaped my arms and turned on the TV in the middle of CBS This Morning to the tune of Jonathan V. Last selling the dangers of the demographic cliff in his new book "What To Expect When No One's Expecting."
"Pets have become fuzzy, low-maintenance replacements for children," Last writes in the opening pages of his book. According to Last, educated, middle-class women like myself have pets, not children, a fact that has comforted me no end. I always wondered why my children act so much like animals. What a relief to know that it's because they actually are. That should help at meal time. I will no longer need to admonish them for eating off the floor.
Here's my problem: Has anything changed since the old woman in the shoe? What are children for, anyway? Do we agree with Last who states in America's Baby Bust-- "while making babies is fun, raising them isn't"--that children are un-happy-making machines necessary for the U.S. to stay a world super power? Or are children, as some teach it, tools of the patriarchy meant to inhibit a woman's ability to compete economically with a man? Who has sex that lasts long enough even to think that thought? And anyway, my kids get really angry when I tuck them in at night and say, "If it weren't for you, I'd make as much as your father. Sweet dreams."
You get to the end of that line of thinking and the really important question comes begging: what are women for? That's a good one because we've only debated it for the past several thousand years. It's possible to pretend that the debate concerns a "cliff" or the "population" or the "economy," but since we're talking sex with one another, we might as well get honest. Every discussion about reproduction centers on the point of a woman. I'm a woman, and that's a question I ask myself all the time: what's my point?
I do have a point, but, counting interruptions, it took me sixteen days to write that last sentence. If you think that's outrageous consider the fact that Last shared in his article: "Last year, for the first time, the Japanese bought more adult diapers than diapers for babies." Anyone feel like investing? Here's the catch: choosing to have or not have children for political purposes, much like the continuous complaining about the hardships of child-rearing, turns women who might joyfully embrace motherhood into vessels for economic success. Any political incentive to make a baby or stop making a baby smacks of oppression to me--and if you're going to smack me, I want it on the lips.
"If we're going to reverse this decline," writes Last, "we'll need to reintroduce into American culture the notion that human flourishing ranges wider and deeper than calculations of mere happiness." I couldn't agree less. If you want more children, a situation that relies entirely upon the self-definition of women, we need to revise our cultural assumptions about mothers. We either infuse mothering with a deep sense of legitimacy, redefine the role as something broader, more profound, and more essential than diapers and tutus, or we keep selling the thankless, inconsequential, impossibly hard work of mothering to people who won't buy it. Here's where MotherWoman comes in. They are infusing motherhood (and so womanhood and familyhood and peoplehood) with a deep sense of legitimacy and redefining the role as something broader, more profound, and more essential. Politically and personally the organization humanizes the forces bent on dehumanizing mothers.
As a motherwoman, I have engaged in a world pregnant with meaning, interest, challenge, insight, and power--and that was just during a Twister game. Childhood is not an empty can meant simply to be counted and amassed. Motherhood is not a vehicle to sell books and newspapers, countries or culture. The world of the child and mother possesses no language of bought or sold, doom or security, bestselling or flop, cliff or economy. For most of us, our children bring us the purest, most unadulterated, complete joy of our life--at least sometimes. If we are willing, our children will make us better people. I have already become more patient, understanding and long-suffering, and that's only this morning.
My toddler made a bar graph on the topic. Here are the results: children exist for their own sake. Oh, yes, and mothers do too. MotherWoman, in idea, in deed, in practice, reaches out to the mother and to the woman, to the human person, and reminds her, with conviction, that she exists for her own sake. That goes one better than populating the planet. It populates the hearts of those on the planet with the strength, love and hope to keep nurturing a better world for all our children. And, of course, for the mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and cousins and neighbors and strangers, too.
WATCH this video featuring Samantha Wilde and Alysia Cosby, with a really powerful 'Motherhood is Meaningful Manifesto," Written by Samantha Wilde and performed at MotherWoman's May Fundraising Breakfast.
Samantha Wilde is the author of I'll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home. The at-home mother of three young children, she is an ordained minister, a yoga teacher, and a graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School. You can find her on Facebook, read her Wilde Mama blog, follow her on twitter @whatshehas and check out the trailer for her latest comic novel about envy, motherhood and friendship.