Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Any justification will do

Alan Howe writes a column for the Melbourne Herald Sun. On Monday he considered the issue of women in their 60s having children. He took as an example the case of Spanish woman Maria Carmen del Bousada, who gave birth to twins two years ago when she was aged 66.

Most people, I imagine, would think this a less than ideal arrangement for motherhood. It would not be easy for a woman of that age to meet the demands of motherhood; the child would never know a more youthful mother; the child would have no chance of knowing grandparents; and the child would most likely be orphaned when still young.

It seems so much more reasonable to secure the conditions for women to form families and have children when in their 20s.

Maria del Bousado died this month, so her twin children have been left motherless at the age of two. You might think that her death would be a sobering reminder of the pitfalls of leaving motherhood to such an age. But the liberal Alan Howe remains enthusiastic:

Del Bousada made headlines two years ago when she gave birth to healthy and deeply loved twin sons Pau and Christian.

She was 66 at the time -- the world's oldest mother.

... Tragically, it seems the drugs she bought so expensively to deliver her dream may also have encouraged the breast cancer that claimed her life this month.

... Women should be allowed to have the children they want when they want. The rash of suddenly fulfilled 60-something mums should be joyous news.

Of course, mum's time on earth with them will be limited. Kids often lose parents early.

Really? I wouldn't have said that children "often" lose their mums when they're only two. Nor would I accept so casually the idea that a mum's time on earth with her kids will be limited to two years.

But Alan Howe is a liberal who wants, above all, for people to be liberated from impediments to their will. This is what matters to him. So women electing to become mothers in their 60s is "joyous" for him. The human cost is brushed aside.

Nor is Alan Howe the only liberal to take such a view. Jacob Appel wrote a along very similar lines in the Huffington Post:

Our own concerns about later-life mothering may reflect our heightened expectation that children know their parents, and even grandparents, into adulthood, rather than any universal or socially-essential norm.

Parenting is among the most personal choices anyone ever makes. At the same time, no other individual decision has as significant a societal impact. Finding a careful balance between personal autonomy and the public welfare is often a considerable challenge. Fortunately, in the cases of sexagenarian and septuagenarian mothers, the private benefit is obvious - and the social harm, if any, is rather hazy. In some cases, women like Ms. Bousada will live to be 101. In others, tragedy may strike - much as tragedies also strike twenty-five year-old moms.

In order to make it seem reasonable for 60 something and 70 something women to have children, Jacob Appel:

a) Claims that it's not so important for children to know their parents and grandparents.

b) Claims that there is only an obvious private benefit and no private harm.

c) Claims not to be able to think of any clear social harm.

d) Claims that it is a "tragedy" (something that could not be foreseen) if a woman in her late 60s or 70s dies.

e) Suggests that women in their 20s are just as prone to leaving their children motherless as women four or five decades older.

There is no "careful balance" here in measuring the limits of personal autonomy. Jacob Appel is intent on justifying the idea of no limits. Just like Alan Howe, he is willing both to recast reality to make this possible and to brush aside the potential human cost of much older women having children.

Personally, I think it would be far more "joyous" if we took seriously again the idea of women having children in their 20s. The freedom to have children in your late 60s or 70s is a relatively trivial one. The much greater freedom is to be able to secure a good marriage and to have children in your youth. We don't have to kick against reality or natural constraints to secure this greater freedom. It's more a question of getting the culture right.


  1. "The freedom to have children in your late 60s or 70s is a relatively trivial one. "

    It is not really a freedom so much as something they have to spend thousands of dollars and jump through many unnatural hoops in order to accomplish. And the medical procedure doesn't even work in all 40-year-olds let alone 60-70-year-olds.

    Appel also supports socialized medicine. So he would approve of older women to exercise their choice at the expense of everyone else.

  2. "the medical procedure doesn't even work in all 40-year-olds".

    Liesel is right that you wouldn't want to rely on these procedures. They are intrusive, expensive, unreliable and put intense pressure on relationships.

    Again, the real freedom is to work with nature when it comes to family and children.

  3. "Personally, I think it would be far more "joyous" if we took seriously again the idea of women having children in their 20s."

    I can't agree more! Apart from the fact that young children are a horrendous strain on one's health at any age, there is a mentality that places value on fulfilling certain goals BEFORE having children, rather than placing value on having children per se. Instead of realising that children are more important than career ambitions, many women are taking the attitude that they are entitled to pursue their ambitions and then have children when they really ought to be grandmothers or great-grandmothers. They recognise they're missing out if they don't have children, but can't accept that the solution is to jettison the career and choose the vocation of motherhood at the most natural time, in their twenties. It's yet another case of women wanting to have it all... and thinking they can when they're in actual fact still missing out!

  4. I can see communal parenting on the horizon, wait a sec that's what child care is......

  5. Another link you might find interesting Mark that peddles feminist rubbish and attacks masculinity:,27574,25883589-401,00.html

  6. George, I saw that one. What a load of rubbish it is. We're supposed to believe that Swedish men do more vacuuming and that this leads women to more readily form families. It's rubbish because rates of marriage are low and rates of divorce are high in the Scandinavian countries. And it's rubbish because it treats the whole issue of being a good husband and father at such a low level. There's no mention of a man having a commitment to marriage and family, a strong work ethic, healthy paternal instincts etc. It's treating men unseriously as if they were mere adjuncts to women, there to prop up a female individualism. And yet the liberal authors of the study invoke the word "family" to lend weight to their argument.