I Am the Mother of My Children, the State Isn't

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Children learn from home, April 21, 2020

One assumption popular in Israel is that we bring lots of children into the world because the state encourages us to do so. According to this perception, a demographic cheering squad here urges us to have more and more children, and so having children isn’t the parents’ choice but a product of collective brainwashing.

It’s interesting that the people angry at the government for elbowing its way into our bedrooms are unwittingly adopting the same narrative that they are opposing. In her op-ed last week, “Women of Israel, it’s time to close up shop and not have kids,” my Haaretz colleague Shira Makin writes: “But during these times it is truly not clear why we have to continue to sacrifice ourselves and our wombs on the altar of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.”

The truth is, I have never considered the act of bringing children into the world an act of sacrifice to anyone or anything. I didn’t sacrifice myself or my womb, I didn’t give birth on any altar or in the name of any commandment. I brought children into the world because I had a profound desire to be a mother and start a family. The products of my womb are not a sacrifice, just as they are not a gift that I am granting the state. It makes me sad to think that there children whose parents think this way.

Nor do I need the compassion heard from all sides about the fact that I and people like me are now shut up in our homes with young children locked out of school.

I chose to bring children into the world in the knowledge that I would be responsible for them and their welfare both in times of crisis and in ordinary times. I imagined that I would have to function as well as possible as their mother even in less routine times, even if I couldn’t imagine exactly what those times would be like. This unnecessary compassion should be saved for those who haven’t chosen their fate.

Another aspect of the notion that “the state is getting into our wombs” is more covert but no less erroneous. It posits that if we had children because the state encouraged us to do so, the state must take responsibility for our children.

True, the government must take responsibility for our children, but not for that reason but because we pay taxes and expect in return to receive essential services such as health care and education. That’s our right because that’s how properly run countries operate, even those that don’t encourage childbirth.

Makin ends her article with a call for a revolt against childbirth: “I suggest that until they treat women in general and young mothers in particular like an important part of society whose needs must be met, we should close up shop and not have any more kids.” Again there’s an incomprehensible belittling of women here and their decision to have children.

I didn’t bring children into the world to receive preferable treatment from society. I fight for this treatment by other means. It would be tragic for children to be brought into the world as peons in a protest campaign that their parents are waging against society or the state. Newborns aren’t weapons in a battle, and what they need most is a parent or parents who care about them out of love, not for any other reason.

I am the mother of my children, the state isn't. For ideological battles or patriotic gestures we should opt for other means, not children.

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