Where did this cultural shift come from?
Chances are Pope Francis ruffled some feathers last week when he addressed 15 married couples during a Mass at the Chapel of Santa Marta in the Vatican. The Pope preached that a fruitful marriage raises children, and not just pets.
“It might be better, more comfortable to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it," the Pope asked. "Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His Church fruitful.”
Why did the Pope address this issue? Is he worried about a declining birthrate worldwide? Is he only concerned for the future of retired workers receiving their social security benefits? Or is it something deeper? Perhaps, as a priest and bishop, he has observed a significant shift in the framework of society over the last 40 years and the function of the family.
Francis went on to say:
“This culture of well-being from ten years ago convinced us: ‘It’s better not to have children! It’s better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free.’”
Where did this cultural shift come from?
Shannon Ciesla, a senior psychology major at The University of Illinois, is just a few months shy of 21. She is fed up with her generation and its devotion to the “hook up” culture. “My generation is the generation of now. Of immediacy. We’ve made the selfish decision to want things now without any further commitment.” She says this has had an affect on the way her generation values having a family in the future. “The nature of sexual activity has changed. It is for immediate pleasure — not for building a family. We don’t have to have children in order to have sex anymore.”
Shannon says that some of her friends already have plans to wait to marry until age 35. “They believe they will be financially stable at that age. And since they can be fulfilled sexually without any commitment, they can afford to wait to build a family. It is human nature to want to have something to protect and comfort and take care of — but maybe by the time they are financially stable enough, it is too late and they choose a pet.”
"Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy" suggests that those who were born between the late 1970’s and mid 1990’s are unhappy because their expectations do not match the reality with which they encounter. This current generation expects a quick path to success without much effort. However, Baby Boomers recognized the requirement of hard work over the course of many years in order to yield stability. Could Generation Y’s mentality about hard work contribute to the lack of desire to raise children?
Susan Sperlazzo has been married for 28 years and says she sees a connection: “Having children requires sacrifice and this is not what many young people want.” A parent herself, she has observed that parents have raised their children to be soft. “It used to be said that life is the school of hard knocks. Today, parents try to prevent their children from experiencing any hardship or disappointments. Soft children yield soft adults who are not equipped to take on the tough challenges of family life.” Susan says that “men and women must discover that happiness is not based on the ever rapidly changing and prevailing thought of the day. Family, marriage, children and grandchildren are the spice of life. Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self — imitating Christ’s gift of Himself to the Church. It is so sad to see people passing on this and being deceived into thinking that the easy way is the right way."
Marie D’Urso, 57, of New Jersey and mother of two 20-somethings, yours truly included, thinks along the same tract. “From what I see with people who marry, they want to have children. They see them as an extension of their love for one another. However, I do see that most people who marry young are waiting to save money before having children. They have a financial goal in mind before conceiving. Things aren’t always perfect because that is life and there may be financial challenges with big families. When my grandmother was young with teenage children and older they all chipped in financially. They had paper routes after school, worked some kind of job and pooled their money together into the family fund.” Marie’s hope for her daughters is that they accept willingly the children that God blesses them with not according to the pressure of a timeline other than God’s plan for their lives.
“It’s not all for financial reasons,” says Luke Carey, 31. As a Catholic Youth Minister, Luke observes that an adolescent mentality rules the culture of even men his age. “Some men my age don’t want to move on. We just want to keep having fun. It is a fear of responsibility and a fear of screwing up a child.” What then needs to be said to the young men tasked with forming the future? Luke says he plants the roots of his ministry firmly in creating an environment for strong, faith filled families. “In order to feel fully alive your vocation calls you to step outside of yourself. We tend to think ‘if I live for myself, I will be happy.’ But the reality is that if you live for others, you are going to be happy.”
Cassie Butrico married at what would be considered young, age 26. In addition to that counter cultural move, she and her husband conceived right away. “Anthony was totally planned and expected. So two weeks after getting married, when the test said positive, we felt very sure that things were supposed to happen this way for us.” However, being a member of Generation Y, Cassie has felt that the result of the feminist shift into education and the workplace transformed the school systems from a place where women took Home Economics to a place where they have been expected to prepare for a career.
This is not to say that a woman’s only place of contribution is the home. St. John Paul II wrote to women on the 28th World Day of Peace in January of 1995: “the growing presence of women in social, economic and political life at the local, national and international levels is thus a very positive development. Women have a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed.” But Cassie does feel that she was somehow under prepared by society in general on how to survive family life. “Our mothers didn’t have time to teach us what to do in the kitchen or how to deal with spousal resentment. I had to Google many of my questions in the moment with my new baby because I was never taught or exposed to the trials of breastfeeding or the juggling act of a marriage and a child.”
But is society totally at fault or is it a crisis of faith? Is it a crisis in understanding the value and dignity of human life? “I think the greatest impact on our culture in terms of marriage and family stems from God being eradicated from every sphere of public life,” comments Sperlazzo. “As a result we have a blatant disregard for the poor, downtrodden, helpless and most vulnerable in our society. Our current culture devalues caring for the elderly and abandoned children but encourages warehousing both.”
The Catholic Church has always been the ambassador for the preservation of the culture of life. She has always taught that God as the author of marriage has ordered its purpose to be for the good of the spouses to have a shared life and for the procreation and education of children (CCC 1601). In this way, children are viewed as a gift from God. The 1930 encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, states that “it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock.”
At what point did society begin to view children as a financial burden and hardship rather than a manifestation of the love between two spouses? There is no denying that the task of raising children is not an easy one. That is why God ordered that the first purpose of marriage is to share the burden of life with another.
Cassie says that the benefits of watching their son grow outweigh any challenges: “It has been almost a year with our new babe. And our worlds have been totally disrupted and turned around in every way as we navigate this new calling as parents! But the immeasurable joy of watching our son, co-created with God, tickles us. Anthony is an incredible meditation on how Christ lives in me (through carrying my son in my womb) and how Christ loves me. When I see Anthony clamor for his mommy and daddy, I see myself clamoring for rest and total surrender into the arms of Christ."
Gina D’Urso, a Catholic educator and speaker, holds a B.S in Education and an M.A. in Catholic Theology both from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.