As we all know, Ladybird Books are not what they used to be. The secure middle-class world of Peter and Jane and their mother and father, living stereotypical roles in 1950s England, is no more. In a clever marketing wheeze the brand has been modernised, using the old-style illustrations but now reflecting the modern world. New titles include The Child Minder; The Stepmother; the Baby-Sitter and so on. As a news item in the Telegraph puts it, “Traditionally aimed at educating children on a wide variety of subjects, Ladybird books have recently found success with a light-hearted range aimed at adult readers.”
Even Prince Charles has joined the act and, according to reports, has co-authored a Ladybird book about man-made climate change.
This publishing venture would have passed me by if I had not been given a new Ladybird book, titled The Mum: How it works, for Christmas. It is quite amusing in the “light-hearted” way described. On the opening page we are told: “This is a mum. A mum has two very important jobs to do. One is to look after her children. The other is to do everything else as well.” The underlying theme is that having (small) children addles mother’s brains so that they are barely able to function any longer in the adult world.
All mothers can probably relate to this at certain times in their lives. At the same time I remind myself that the book is about marketing and women’s journalism rather than about reality. What the Ladybird book doesn’t say – why should it, after all? – is that motherhood is an amazing and demanding vocation, infinitely more important than almost anything else you can do. Women know this in their instincts; this is why a very great number of them go to enormous lengths and put themselves through many punishing ordeals in order to try and become pregnant.
When I last went to Confession, I was given for my penance the opening chapters of St Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary to read. As anyone who has read this classic text will know, it is a loving tribute to Our Lady’s role in salvation history. “By each Hail Mary we give Our Lady the same honour that God gave her when He sent the Archangel Gabriel to greet her for Him”, the saint writes.
Putting The Mum: How it works beside The Secret of the Rosary, brings home to me the almost unbridgeable gulf between a Catholic view of motherhood and the way it is portrayed in the media.
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