Mythbuster#1: The Irish Don’t Love Children

There is  a rumour being promulgated that Irish people love children. It irks me because, like many myths, it simply isn’t true. So let me take this opportunity to set the record straight; as a nation, Irish people do not love children.

I think this myth springs from the fact that Irish people had so many children – due, primarily, to the lack of availability of reliable contraception. Until years after I was born (conveniently) the rhythm method was the only method legally available to generations of Irish mammies and daddies. Let’s face it, using ‘natural’ contraception is a bit like saying that playing Russian roulette with a machine gun is safe once you know what you’re doing.  So Irish mammies and daddies had loads of children that they never touched – except to hurt; and rarely spoke to – except to give them orders, give out to them and give them an idea that they were, generally, worthless.

Irish people don’t love children, they tolerate them. If Irish people truly loved children, then the abuses that were visited upon this nation’s babies by members of the Catholic Church would not have been tolerated and condoned the way they were.

If Irish people loved children, they would not have allowed the Catholic Church to have sold their ‘illegitimate’ babies – which they did until the 1970s.

If Irish people loved children, we would not have heard Michael Murphy on the Late Late Show telling Ryan Tubridy very matter-of-factly and with great dignity about the abuse he suffered as a child.

What made Michael’s story worse was his acceptance and understanding that there was nothing at all unusual in an Irish child being abused physically and sexually by an adult within the home or close by it. It happened. It still happens – and it will continue to happen until we learn to love our children.

Of course, most individual mothers and fathers love their individual children, but our national identity cannot include a love of children because it doesn’t exist. It will not exist until our government does more to uphold the rights of children instead of merely paying lip service to them. It will not exist until children who are being abused are removed from abusive situations and properly cared for – which doesn’t happen. That cannot happen while our social workers struggle under huge caseloads. It will not exist until every child receives a decent education, which cannot happen where there are more than 22 children in the class. It will not exist until we accept that, as a nation, we have been getting it very wrong for a very long time – and we learn how to do it better.

My friend Noelle Harrison, wrote in her new novel (The Adulteress) that to be loved is to be treasured. How many Irish children went to sleep last night feeling treasured? I’ll tell you – not enough. Not nearly enough.

This is my first time……please be gentle with me!

Motherhood is not a career move. Not even for sixteen year old school girls who want a flat and enough money to survive on. Because that’s the thing – Lone Parents’ Allowance is just barely enough to survive on. I have never met a single mother who has had a child in order to ‘earn’ money. I have met women who have had a baby thinking that would ensure them the attention and affection of their beau.  I have met women who had babies because they got drunk and then pregnant, and wouldn’t contemplate having an abortion.  I  have met women who got pregnant in order to escape a dreadful home life. I have met women whose marriages have broken down and they have had no choice but to accept social welfare payments in order to raise their children.

Still, along with the ‘those foreigners stole our jobs’ brigade the ’single mothers should be forced to work’ brigade are clamouring to be heard. Talkshow hosts give them air time and consider their views. There are several ‘interesting’ ideas about how unwed (or no-longer-wed) mothers should contribute to society. How they should have to work for their payments, or how they should not receive as ‘much’ as they do.

What all these opinionists fail to recognise – and what has yet to be pointed out to them by any radio host I have heard – is that Bunracht na hEireann protects a woman’s right to raise her children. Article 41 (2.2) states  that:

‘The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

It would, therefore, be unconstitutional for any legislation to declare that women who have children and no partners must work outside the home.

Some people think this Article is demeaning to women. They interpret it as a reflection of the misogynistic view that “a woman’s place is in the home”. Personally, I see it as recognition of the valuable job that mothering is. A woman’s right to mother her children is upheld by the Irish Constitution. I actually think that’s quite progressive. The Irish Constitution itself recognises that, while motherhood is not a career move, it is the most important job any woman will ever undertake.