Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) was one of the remarkable documents of the Second Vatican Council, whose closing fifty years ago we currently commemorate. Perhaps an unexpected source for Mother’s Day tidings, this Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) gives winsome, concise statement of Catholic teaching on the family. For instance, this:
By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.
With breathtaking economy that sentence connects love, marriage, childbearing, and catechesis into a seamless whole—or really, identifies them all as aspects of one thing, the family. It declares that this is how eros works: moonlight and roses open onto labor, delivery, and lessons given around a table, teaching children how to read, count, pray, use knife and fork.
Motherhood gets glamorized sometimes more than others. Celebrities flaunt baby bumps, magazine moms say having kids is a blast, and even women dazzling with accomplishments might choose children as an appealing component of a successful life package. Curiously mother’s day seems to emphasize the less glamorous aspects of maternity, at least in its reigning commercial idiom: “mom does lots for you, so buy her something nice.” All that stuff moms do can be onerous as well as joyous; Jennifer Senior’s excellent book sized up American parenting as “all joy and no fun.” This does not so much come from the needs of children per se but from the current culture of childrearing in middle-class America, which lays on heavy burdens grievous to bear: themed birthday parties, monogrammed tooth-fairy pillows, fun snacks, phone upgrades, obligatory gifts for made-up holidays.
1 Family life is shared life, not the employment of adults designated as coaches and servants to children.
GS: “The family is a place where different generations come together and help one another grow wiser and harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life.”
2 Kids won’t remember many things parents do for them. Some things therefore can be skipped, as long as the big things get done.
GS: “Inspired by the example and family prayer of their parents, children…will more easily set out upon the path of a truly human training, of salvation, and of holiness.”
3 It is hard to know which things done on behalf of children will work and which will not. But the process itself is edifying.
GS “The family is, in a sense, a school for human enrichment.”
4 Childrearing bears goods both to parents and children, in the present moment and—here’s hope—the future.
GS: “Children as living members of the family contribute in their own way to the sanctification of their parents. With sentiments of gratitude, affection and trust, they will repay their parents for the benefits given to them and will come to their assistance as devoted children in times of hardship and in the loneliness of old age.”