Recently, when I rang my children’s grandmother to tell her the exciting news that my son and his girlfriend are expecting a baby, I was very surprised by a comment she made.   Once she had asked me the appropriate questions about when the baby is due and so on, she said “I do hope he makes an honest woman of her”.  I was momentarily speechless and confused by what she said as my brain tried to sort out what she meant.  It has been a long time since I heard that expression.   Despite her 86 years, I was shocked at this old fashioned point of view from her.

The comment stayed with me as I thought about her life and the unhappy lives of some of the women in her family.    I thought too about others I have found in my family trees: the two bigamists who made “honest women” of all the mothers of their many children; the young girls who had their children taken from them for adoption or taken by the family and raised as a sibling.  What shame and guilt marred their lives because of society’s idea about what made a woman “honest”.    (No mention, of course, about honest men).

I decided to look back through the dates of my female ancestors to see if any of them had been made into “honest women”.   No surprises there.  I lost count of the number of women who married when they were two or three months pregnant, perhaps some to men they did not want to spend the rest of their lives with.  Of course, those women who were err….. dishonest….  and went ahead with the birth without a husband, had the word “illegitimate” stamped clearly on their baby’s birth certificate for all to see – to, not only add to the mother’s shame and guilt, but also to inflict it on the innocent child.

I would never say anything to my (ex) mother-in-law but I would be very happy for this beautiful, young mother of my first grandchild to make her own choices in life. Whether she ever takes on the label of my daughter-in-law or not, our lives will be intrinsically linked by a very happy occasion.  And I am sure this will make my female ancestors smile.

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