Virtue is Habit Forming

Blogger Monica Bielanko urges readers to delay procreation:

Consider waiting until your thirties to have children. Make your twenties all about you! Be selfish! Get it all out of your system so you are really, really ready to give yourself over to your kids. Kids are demanding and tiring. I absolutely cannot imagine having a baby at 25. At that age, I don’t know how I’d handle the rage that taps you on the shoulder when your child claws you and pulls your hair in the midst of a very public tantrum not to mention the many, many sleepless nights that are chained to parenthood. That’s saying nothing about the overwhelming expense and responsibility kids introduce to your once-simple life. Yeah, yeah, you want to be a “young mom.” That’s overrated. Being a responsible, patient parent who isn’t wishing they were out at the club with friends is way better than being a young mom.

She mentions the actvities that a twentysomething should engage in when waiting for marriage and children: travel, partying, dating multiple men.

It’s a common view in our culture that selfishness is something we should indulge to the fullest during our youth, because only indulgence can exorcise selfishness from our souls and allow us to (eventually) attain charity, prudence, and moderation.

But, according to Aristotle, “moral virtue . . . is formed by habit” (Nicomachean Ethics II.1.15). We have the natural capacity for virtue, but it must be developed through activity. The best way, then, to attain a virtue is simply to practice it now–not to put it off and assume it will materialize in the future.

Perhaps women with an excellent natural disposition can circumvent this sort of cultivation. Perhaps that is why Monica Bielanko was able to party through her 20s while still becoming a good mother in the end. I doubt most women, myself included, would benefit from such advice. After all, the SAHM lifestyle doesn’t magically confer unselfishness, and a decade of caring only for yourself is unlikely to help with the transition to a true life of service. Even if you do manage to learn–in a very short window of time–to put your family’s needs above your own, you still may never learn how to expand your newfound charitable attitude beyond the family. Proverbs 31 tells us that a good wife also “stretches out her hand to the poor”–so we are evidently called to visit our sick neighboors, to help the needy, and to love others, in addition to our primary vocation of caring for the family.

Moreover, there’s a reason why the Bible condemns coveting–because our selfish desires are never really sated. No matter how many “life experiences” you acquire, there are always more places you haven’t traveled, more alpha badboys you haven’t dated, more music festivals you haven’t piled in your college roommate’s pick-up truck to go see. There are obscure fuzz-pop bands you haven’t name-dropped yet and exhibitions of Soviet propaganda posters you haven’t attended . You could spend a lifetime in the quest for the next new experience without ever reaching that inner conviction that you’re “done,” that you’re ready to quit searching and settle down–because the more you view life as a “thing” to be polished and perfected and displayed, the more alienated you become from the truth that the meaning of life consists in a gift, rather than a hoarding, of self.

If I could give my own advice to single women, I would say: Attend daily Mass–you may not always have the opportunity to do so once you have children, and you need to draw on the graces of the sacrament as much as possible while you still can. Make a habit of regular volunteering, so you can more easily continue it once you have a family. Discern what God wants of you. Don’t be afraid to get “burned out” on self-sacrifice–the more you give yourself to God and others, the easier it gets. Practice the virtues. Love much.

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