The actress Hilary Swank has said that a woman can be maternal without being a mother – she’s 46 and doesn’t have children – and I totally agree with her.
No female educated in convent school harbours the notion that women can only be fulfilled by biological motherhood. Every convent schoolgirl has known nuns who were entirely fulfilled by their vocations outside of marriage and motherhood.
A schoolfriend of mine often recalls how one of her nun-teachers sat up all night making a special costume so the pupil could perform in a musical drama in which she suddenly got a role. That’s maternal solicitude!
Yet there is concern among demographic experts that so many women – one in five – of the generation born in the 1960s have not had children. Some did not want to be mothers; others postponed it too long and left it too late; some never met Mr Right (and perhaps rebuffed Mr Nearly Right); some encountered infertility.
What surprised me about the report was the disclosure that even in advanced societies like Britain, older people rely on their offspring for much “informal” care. The National Health Service was founded to address health issues, often numerous for the old, but there isn’t really a national caring service, as the Covid pandemic has revealed.
Even when older people are in a care home because of their health problems, they often depend on contact, visits and general cheering-up from their adult children and grandchildren.
The Office for National Statistics put it bluntly: the generation born in the 1960s will face old age without sons or daughters to look after them.
Actually, most of us, even from previous generations, don’t want to be a burden on our grown children. Nevertheless, it is great to have that connection, of taking an interest in their lives, problems, achievements, struggles. So it will be tough for many of the 1960s-born cohort if there isn’t that sense of continuity and life going on into the future.
Women certainly can be fulfilled without being biological mothers. But I would suggest to any young woman pondering the motherhood question: don’t ask yourself, “Do I want to be a mother?” but “Do I want to be a grandmother?” That will provide a longer future perspective.
Visiting an art gallery is nothing like it used to be BC (Before Covid). No more spontaneously wandering at your leisure – now you have to book a time-slot in advance. Everything is so much more regimented.
But on the plus side, social distancing means fewer people at one time in the gallery rooms. And it’s so comfortable to be able to view pictures without being jostled by heaving crowds or the greatest annoyance of recent years: endless tourists taking selfies of themselves before famous paintings. That, too, seems to have disappeared with social distancing.
And so, visiting “Gauguin and the Impressionists” at London’s Royal Academy (on till October) was a pleasure savoured in tranquillity. How quiet each room was, showing the lovely Pissaros, Sisleys, Eugene Boudins and Monets, besides Gauguin himself.
Though Gauguin sought his subject-matter in French Polynesia, other artists often just painted their own back garden, a nearby beach or a local clump of chestnut trees, illuminating the theme that inspiration can be found anywhere. And sometimes depicting what is most familiar can be brilliantly illuminating.
The death of John Hume in early August was an opportunity for the world media to honour the Derry politician who had striven to serve the cause of peace and reconciliation. He was rightly hailed as a great humanitarian, as he was.
But it was seldom noted, in mainstream media, that Hume’s values were fundamentally grounded in his Catholicism. He had first felt called to the priesthood and trained in a seminary; he then decided his vocation was to become a teacher, sometimes called “the second priesthood” in Ireland.
John was not only a regular Mass-goer (sometimes daily) but his political values were based on Catholic social teaching: he was an initiator of organisations like credit unions, which helped people of modest means to acquire homes and start enterprises. He was a humanitarian but that he was profoundly a man of faith was sometimes rather marginalised.