We can do our part to make this world a truly safe and welcoming place for moms and babies.
Several years ago, when Pope Francis visited the Holy Land, he celebrated Mass in Bethlehem. I can’t stop thinking about a powerful statement he made from the pulpit, one that seems to speak directly to so many problems of today.
He began with a moving description of the Christ Child:
“The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world. The angel announces to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child …”
The Christ Child is a sign, and what Pope Francis says this means for us is both memorable and convicting. He turned his focus to the welcome given to babies and children in today’s society, saying,
Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a “diagnostic” sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human.
Let’s look at that again and really take in the full significance of what he said. How a society welcomes babies and children reveals how healthy that society is. You can judge a nation by how it treats its children (and other vulnerable members of society).
If we were grading our society by how welcoming it is to babies and children, we’d probably score very poorly. There’s a reason so many young people are opting not to have children that our birth rate is practically in free fall. Actually, there are a lot of reasons. Here are just a few.
- The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.
- Our healthcare system lacks comprehensive postpartum supports, leaving new mothers feeling overwhelmed and desperate during an incredibly difficult and vulnerable time.
- The U.S. is the only developed nation that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, forcing many women to get back to work before they are physically healed from childbirth or emotionally ready to be away from their babies.
- Economical constraints mean that would-be parents today must contend with “longer hours, lower wages, less consistent employment, high childcare costs, poor access to credit, and burdensome loans” than their parents and grandparents did.
- Increased societal mobility means that more and more parents are raising their kids without a helpful community, putting extreme pressure and strain on parents.
It’s no wonder that 85% of moms don’t think society understands or supports the women who are supporting the next generation. And if we don’t support the mamas, then how can we possibly claim to support and want the babies who are their responsibility?
The saddest part is that a lot more women would be having children if our society offered a more supportive environment for parenting. Research confirms that “no matter how creatively it is sliced and diced, no matter what data source is used, women have fewer kids than they say they want, desire, intend, expect, or consider ideal.”
We need to stop and ask ourselves: What is wrong with our culture that it so often feels like a hostile environment for moms and babies? What would have to change to create a culture that is robustly supportive of families and truly pro-life?
Comedian Jen Fulwiler described the problem so perfectly when she said in a viral video,
“In a lot of cultures, the sound of fussing babies is seen as a sign of abundance and God’s blessing. Instead, our dumb, postmodern culture sees babies as a burden. We expect women not to bring their babies into public spaces like restaurants, churches or planes or to get them to behave perfectly when they do. This philosophy is not only sad and the sign of a dying culture, but it places insanely unreasonable expectations on moms.”
When society doesn’t support parents and babies, that’s a sign that culture is dying. Or as Pope Francis explained, it’s a diagnostic marker that something is deeply wrong and unhealthy in that culture.
This time of year, I’m thinking of the most famous mom and baby ever, who couldn’t find a welcome at the inn in their own time and place. In honor of Our Lady and the Christ Child, let’s do our part to make this world a truly safe and welcoming place for moms and babies.
It’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to make the changes needed to welcome and support the families who are the future of our society, support we give in Christ’s name. How can we help to make “room at the inn” for mamas and babies in our world today?