Author Archive for Guest

Bringing Up Bèbè: A Critical Review by Jana Thomas Coffman

bringing up bebeAccording to Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bèbè, the French not only have us beat in the world of fashion, fine dining, wine, and culture, but they’re better parents as well. Druckerman claims French babies generally sleep through the night by 4 weeks, toddlers in restaurants sit patiently through 4-course meals, and parents set firm boundaries so they can enjoy a café and adult conversation while children amuse themselves quietly in the background. Her essay, “Why French Parents Are Superior,” echoes these same themes. How does Druckerman’s advice relate to AP? Is French parenting really superior?

For me, the answer is no. Let me start by saying that I adore France and the French people. I lived in France for a year as an English teacher, and as I write this I am in France again for a language study program. The French gave us Voltaire, Monet, Renoir, and a rich literary history such as Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Candide, The Phantom of the Opera, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. I find their language beautiful and nuanced. Their cuisine and their wine are superb.

However, as an AP parent and an avid people-watcher, I have come to disagree with Druckerman on many levels. French parents aren’t better. The French parenting I’ve observed is just as varied as American. Some parents are strict; some are not. Some parents have well-behaved children; some do not. While I’m sure we can learn some things from our fellow parents across the Atlantic, Druckerman’s overall view of French parenting does not fit well with AP. Let’s explore why.

Le pause. First, many French babies are sleep trained. Druckerman doesn’t call it sleep training; she calls it le pause. French parents don’t rush immediately to pick up their babies at the first hint of a nighttime squawk. Rather, they let them fuss to see if the baby will go back to sleep on his own, and only pick him up if he wakes up and really begins to wail. While I can agree a few minutes of fussing between sleep cycles is normal, Druckerman never really defines le pause. Is it one minute? Two? Ten? According to this review, it’s five to ten minutes. Ten minutes of a crying baby is not a “pause” to ascertain if baby will go back to sleep. It’s the beginning of sleep training. More alarmingly, according to Druckerman, if French babies don’t faire ses nuits (“do their nights”) by about 4 months, sleep training begins in earnest.

Dr. Sears and Dr. Popcak, gurus of the AP community, both strongly advise against sleep training. Here, Dr. Narcia Navraez, professor of psychology at Notre Dame, discusses how cry-it-out and other sleep-training methods negatively impact babies’ mental and emotional health. Babies whose parents respond quickly to their cries learn that they are in a safe place and that their needs will be met, leading to greater confidence and independence later in life. On the other hand, babies who are left to cry learn the opposite, leading to insecurity, fear, and mistrust. These children often become withdrawn, anxious, and depressed. While I can certainly emphasize with French parents’ desire to get a full night’s sleep, I prefer to prioritize my child’s desire for nighttime comfort and connection over my own convenience. Sleep training at a young age can lead to lack of trust and connection with caregivers, which leads me directly to my next point .

Lack of Connection. In my observations, in general French children are less connected to their parents than children in an AP home. This is not to say that French parents don’t play with, laugh with, cuddle with, and care for their children; they do. Yet I see some troubling signs. I’m currently living with a single French mother with a daughter exactly the same age as mine (3.5 years). This mother co-sleeps, but she only breastfed for 6 months. She expressed amazement and dismay that I breastfed for 18 months, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d actually let my daughter breastfeed for much longer than that. According to a 2014 study, French women breastfeed considerably less time than their Western counterparts. Only 10% of French babies are exclusively breastfed by 3 months, and only 39% are breastfed at all by that age. By six months, only 23% of French babies receive any breastmilk, and at a year the number drops to 9%. While the original article is in French, an English summary can be found here.

From these numbers, it’s safe to say a high number of French children are sleep trained and formula fed. While I don’t have numbers to back this claim, I’ve observed a lack of connection. French children often have les doudous. Le doudou is a toy or blanket the child sleeps with and carries for security. The daughter in my home cannot leave the house without her doudou, which is a scrap of blanket. She takes it to preschool, she takes it to spend the night at her uncle’s, she takes it to bed. We can’t even go out to dine at a neighborhood restaurant without the doudou. While many American children grow very attached to toys, my daughter never did. Sure, she had a favorite bear, but we never went through a phase where she could not leave the house without it. My daughter nursed for both nutrition and comfort on demand, and so she felt confident enough and connected enough to me that she did not need a plush toy or blanket for security. Of course, children with differing temperaments may naturally gravitate more toward a comfort toy, and some well-attached children may have security toys or blankets while others do not. The important thing is for security toys to augment, rather than replace, parental comfort. I wonder if so many French children, allowed to breastfeed and snuggle until they feel secure enough to self-wean and grown in independent on their own time, would need a security toy to sleep or leave the house.

Differing Social Expectations. The social expectations in France are different than in the United States. Druckerman expresses amazement at the well-behaved French children sitting patiently through (she claims) nutritious, 4-course meals. I haven’t observed that. I’ve observed French children screaming and standing on chairs in restaurants. I’ve heard parents admonish them 5, 10, 15, 20 times in the same patient, quiet tone without any change in behavior. The difference is, the people around the baby (both restaurant patrons and waiters) smile indulgently, as though to say, kids will be kids. At dinner one night, the 3-year-old stood on the bench and waved and shouted to people. The elderly couple behind us laughed and smiled, and the waiters laughed it off. We breezed out without leaving a tip, nor was one expected. In the U.S., parents are not given this much grace. Other patrons expect children to act like adults, and if they are going to act like children, the parents should keep them home. It’s unfortunate, but the pressure on parents in public dining is immense. No one would smile indulgently if my daughter behaved like that in public, nor would the waiters smile and wave away my apologies.

Likewise, French parents I’ve observed are fairly lax with expectations. Yes, the preschools do serve nutritious, vegetable-rich, varied meals, but I’ve also watched the daughter in my home eat nothing but a plate of fries for dinner. Her cousin, a bouncy 2-year-old, was told 6 times by his parents and older sister to stop touching a public plant. Each time he ignored the request and each time he was gently and calmly reminded again. Clearly, he was in charge and he knew it. These children interrupt, scream at their parents, yell commands to adults (I’ve been yelled at to “Stop talking!” and the mother just chuckled about it and stopped our conversation), and cry the moment they don’t get their way. The parents rush in, apologizing for choosing the vanilla instead of chocolate ice-cream cone or for letting the building blocks accidentally touch. When they announce it’s bedtime, tantrums and wails of “Non!” are regular occurrences.

Clearly, in the U.S. most adults would not consider these behaviors acceptable. Normal, perhaps, but certainly not to be encouraged. For us, it’s a behavior to correct, not to ignore. While I appreciate that our French counterparts accept that their children are not adults and should not be expected to act like adults, setting clear boundaries for behavior and gently guiding them to better choices is always preferable to passive parenting without guidance or consequences. So yes, French mamans do enjoy their café au lait or espresso while chatting, ignoring or tolerating the frequent screams, interruptions, and demands. Yet this is not to say French children are better-behaved, only that their bad behavior is treated differently. As an AP parent, I prefer to spend the time necessary to teach my child the correct behaviors than ignore them so I can chat with my friends.

Secular vs. Christian Values. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, France is largely a secular nation. Once strongly Catholic, France is now one of the most irreligious countries in the world, with about 50% identifying as atheists or agnostics and only 10% identifying as regularly practicing Catholics. In Druckerman’s book, French parents have several stated goals: teaching patience and delayed self-gratification, encouraging autonomy, protecting adult time in the evening, and children “finding their path in the world.”

Clearly, these things are not enough for a Christian parent. I don’t want my daughter to just find her own path in the world, I want her to find the path to Jesus. Like all parents, I want my child to be polite, bright, happy, and engaged, but I also want her to serve others, honor God, study the Bible, attend Church, and live a holy, Christ-filled life. While I’m online researching community service projects to take my daughter to this summer and fun Bible lessons to familiarize her with the Word, French parents seem to be more concerned with training their babies to give them an uninterrupted night’s sleep and letting their toddlers amuse themselves so they can enjoy a coffee in peace.

In the end, Druckerman’s book is not for me. Nor, I think, is it for any AP family. Druckerman has some interesting observations on French culture and ideas about parenting, but in the end, let’s take the book for what it is: a sociocultural memoir, rather than a guide to attached, secure, loving, Godly parenting.

ABOUT JANA  

Jana and KaylieJana Thomas Coffman lives in Alabama with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. Jana is currently working on her Ph.D. with an emphasis in Spanish and Linguistics and a minor emphasis in French.

 

3 Techniques for Raising Children Who Love to Pray

GUEST POST by ALEXANDRA KUBEBATU

Prayer is the essential tool to help our children build a life-long relationship with God. Many parents believe children do not need to be actively learning to pray until they begin CCD, but that is not the case.  According to scientific studies, a child’s character and world-view is mostly established by the age of five.  For this reason, teaching our children under five how to pray is essential.

1.  Set-up a prayer altar in your home or child’s room

child praying2Growing up, my mother always set up a prayer altar and encouraged us to put one together in our bedrooms. As a little girl, I didn’t have much space sharing a room with my sister, nor did I have a small table to set it up on, so creativity was a must! I found a cardboard box, flipped it on its side, and covered it with my favorite pillowcase. Then I placed on it a photo of our Blessed Mother, a small crucifix, a small dish with Holy Water, and a Bible. I was so excited to have a small altar in my bedroom where I could pray on my own.

Children have a short attention span so the excitement of having their own prayer altar in their room will quickly wear off. The prayer altar should not be treated as a toy they can play with once in a while. We need to teach our children how to use it. One technique is to incorporate their prayer altar as part of the waking and bedtime routines. When they wake up in the morning, show them how to give themselves the Sign of the Cross and say a short prayer. Make sure to place a pillow or something for your child to kneel on comfortably. At bedtime, you can make it part of the routine by having them say their prayers at their altar after bathing.

Since small children are still learning to put thoughts into words, they will learn to pray at first by repeating after you. For example, you may ask them to repeat after you as you pray the “Glory Be,” then follow up with something simple like, “thank you God for another beautiful day. Please protect me and my family. Help me be a good girl/boy and listen to my mom and dad.”

Having your children’s participation putting an altar together and teaching them how to use it will help them begin to take responsibility for their own spiritual development and relationship with God.

2.  Pray in front of your children

There are few things that would make children more curious than watching you pray silently. Of course, the moment they see you at peace, you will get interrupted. However, in this case, an interruption is a good thing.

As you pray in front of your altar, do your best to stay focused and try not to let anything “move” you. When a child comes to interrupt, be calm, explain to them that you are praying to Jesus and to “please be a little patient.” Use a kind, gentle, and loving tone when you say this or you’ll send the wrong message. Continue praying and have them wait one minute for every year of age of the child. If they are two years old, have them wait two minutes, three years old three minutes, etc.

Depending on your child’s age, you may invite them to pray along with you, but make sure to continue on. I had my daughter posturing to pray on her knees with palms together starting at eighteen months. Of course, she couldn’t hold the posture for more than five seconds, but that’s okay. It’s a small beginning of something beautiful and life-long.

The goal is to impress upon children that nothing and no one is more important than praying and connecting with God – not even themselves. I developed this technique after reading Saint Teresa of Avila’s work, The Way of Perfection, which focuses on prayer and detachment. Practicing this technique repeatedly will help them cultivate the virtue of patience and lead them to think of the world outside themselves and up towards God. If we, as parents, model for them that our relationship with God is most important, hopefully they will also learn to put God first in their lives – above all relationships on this world.

There is no need to scold and/or punish your child for interrupting. Doing so will give them a negative association with regard to praying and make them feel neglected. They do not understand the significance of what you are modeling for them. As long as their physical and emotional needs have already been met at that moment and there are no emergencies, simply be calm, ask them to wait, and continue praying. Using this technique daily is key. However, do not beat yourself up for forgetting once in a while – “mom” and “busy” are synonymous.

3.  Develop a family prayer routine

Having a family prayer routine will help your children make praying habitual in their lives. Making prayer a habit means they have internalized the action of praying and connecting with God, our Blessed Mother, and the Saints. Just as someone can form a habit of checking their email first thing in the morning, we can teach our children to form a habit to pray.

It’s not about setting-up a “schedule” to pray. It’s more about recognizing opportunities to raise our hearts and minds to God (which is all the time by the way). Family prayer routines can vary in a million different ways depending on your family’s needs. You may forget a time or two, but once you are consistent, your children will be sure to remind you. Here’s an example of what your family prayer routine might look like:

  • Morning prayer
  • Prayer before meal – breakfast
  • Prayer before homeschooling studies
  • Prayer before meal – lunch
  • Prayer before meal – dinner
  • Bedtime prayer
  • Prayer in the car before the commute
  • Rosary Saturday

It’s never too late to start planting the seeds of faith and virtue through prayer in our children. The hope is that when they are grown, whether life is good or tries to tear them apart, they remember the love and peace with the presence of God as they prayed with you as children. We must always be leading them back to the Lord.

Pray daily, love gently, and nurture your Catholic faith.

ABOUT ALEXANDRA

alexandraAlexandra Kubebatu lives in Texas with her husband and two children. Having earned a B.S. in Instructional Design and Technology, she creates online courses addressing faith and family issues using adult learning theories and studies in early childhood development.

Alexandra has combined both her experience as a certified CCD teacher and academic education to homeschool her children. She enjoys and feels honored to share her unique perspective, experiences, and faith-based parenting techniques with CAPC readers. Alexandra is also an account manager for Lighthouse Catholic Media.

 Image credit:  Dreamstime.com

Traditions: A Pleasant Tie that Binds Us by Kassie Ritman

“After our faith, tradition is one of the greatest gift we can share with our children. They tether our memories and comfort us alongside the liturgical waymarks of our years together.”

As Christians, we are bound together as believers in Jesus. As Catholics, our faith holds us up with the everlasting grace and providence of the sacraments. Within our own homes, traditions are a pleasant tie binding us together as a family unit. We all have our own rich family traditions; belonging to us in whole or borrowed from others and refashioned into something we’ve made our own. After our faith, tradition is one of the greatest gift we can share with our children. They tether our memories and comfort us alongside the liturgical waymarks of our years together.

In my regular blog posts I alternate between writing about writing, and writing specifically to preserve family stories. One of the ways I’ve found to be most useful for gleaning stories for my readers and from my own relatives is to start conversations about traditions.

*Why do we always have Cherry Delight on the holiday table?

*Remember when we all had to leave our ties on until Dad got the perfect family photo in front of the bushes at St Agnes after Easter?

*When I was a kid, the littlest one got to lead the way down the stairs each Christmas morning, we nearly trampled poor Joe every year!

advent 2013 pic 1Think about your own family and the traditions that were either planned or developed in a more “organic” manner. How precious are these memories to you? As an icebreaker, how many of them can you share with relatives you haven’t seen for a long time? The years melt away once the beautiful repetition we call tradition begins.

I believe it is within our nature as Catholics to crave and seek the comfort of an ordered way of looking upon our lives. We cross ourselves with fingers dipped lightly into holy water as we enter into a room anywhere across the globe, look past a large table and up to see a crucifix and know, because of these symbols and traditions, that we are home. The language may be foreign, the setting unfamiliar, but we are assured there will be an order to this time, a set pattern of expectations and actions. A shower of graces is at hand.

Recently, I’ve run into a couple of bloggers who are doing something cool. I’m talking about preserving family stories. These clever authors are doing it “as it happens,” starting with babyhood for their grandbaby or own little one!

Longtime blogger Locksands welcomed her new grandchild with a round of thoughts describing the world, and the day, and the people she was being born into the arms of in contrast to her own years here. It was fabulous! What a terrific idea, certainly a way to go over and above presenting a blank and perfunctory “Baby’s 1st Year” album.

Dorian and her Mama are doing a bang-up job of documenting her little, adorable, wanna-smoosh-and-kiss-those-fleshy-baby-cheeks days via blogging as a team.

Here in “Mom-land,” I have a long standing tradition (let’s count here…my oldest is now in the 22nd grade…yes…I’ve done it now for 23 years). Annually, on the first day of school, I’ve made my Sweeties stand in front of the same bush at the front of our house to have a photo taken. For the sake of identifying the grade level, they’ve been directed to hold up enough fingers to correspond with the grade they were about to start… that part didn’t always work. Kindergarten was a zero made with their fingers to look like an “okay” sign. Freshman year of high school, we reverted back to one and worked our way back up to a four finger showing for senior year. As college started, again, the single finger for freshman year and so on. Siblings were added and absent from the photos as they aged in and out of the school years.

One summer we moved to a new house just before school started. Along with the excitement of their new rooms, the kids thought they would also be gifted with an end to the annual “photos and fingers” ritual. Sorry kids, a new crop of photo-shrubs came with the new home!

Some years the group was excited and compliant. Other years they were surly and down right grouchy. In many shots they seem to be cringing with embarrassment because cars were passing by on the street.

“What if someone sees us?!” they growled into my camera. But, kid after kid–year after year–Mom won. I got my photo!

My goddaughter’s parents came up with an exceptional idea for photos. Recently, we all enjoyed the fruits their dedication at their daughter’s wedding. Brit was born on the 22nd of the month. Starting in the first moments of her arrival and continuing monthly then, on each subsequent 22nd through her second birthday they filmed her for a few minutes. With imperfect (at times they missed by a week or so) but amazing amount of diligence, they were able to select a quick little 15-30 second snippet of video showcasing who she was on that particular day and what she was doing. First Communion, birthday candles on big pony princess cakes, Christmas mornings by the tree ringed knee deep in gifts we all cleverly edited in. Sort of like the bush in our “first day of school” photo shoots, their backdrops changed over the years. So did the video recording equipment and format. Eventually siblings started to appear in “cameos” on the “22nd” video clips– not to worry though, each of the younger brothers and sisters also had their own day of the month for “stardom.

They stuck with the task, keeping up with the giant (and often expensive) leaps technology took over the years. They had to constantly upgrade and transfer their precious moments from 8mm to Beta to VHS to digital and on to the “Cloud” and YouTube. The payoff came when we were all teared up seeing this near 30 year compilation roll by on a special screen at the newlywed’s reception. Certainly an awesome payoff for the proud in-house paparazzi.

My beautiful bride of a goddaughter was truly moved. I don’t think she ever considered that Mom and Dad were constantly organizing and preserving all those silly film clips into a larger work.

It’s never too early or too late to try something new or to revive a treasured custom from times long past. You can use these examples with your own talents to keep the memories alive via the loving ties of tradition . Whether you write, blog, take photos, share recipes and the stories behind them, or choose something completely different it will be appreciated (eventually). The real treasure here is in showing a connection from our past and then helping usher it into the future–as effortlessly as fingers blessed by gliding through holy water.

About Kassie

kassie ritmanKassie Ritman is a writer who happens to love family history. She authors a how-to blog and hosts workshops for others interested in recording life events and personal histories of family. Kassie lives with her husband, 3 kids, a granddaughter and a ridiculously unaware-of-his canine-condition Golden Retriever named Levi. She is also a regular columnist for the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors, a reviewer for Tuscany Press, and holds membership in The Catholic Writer’s Guild, and Indiana Genealogist’s Society. Her work has appeared on True Words Journal, Story Circle Network, and will soon be on Flying Island and the 2014 SCN Anthology (releasing January). See her blog at Maybe someone should write that down…

Pregnancy and Depression: You Are NOT Alone

Our guest, Jana Thomas Coffman, writes with raw honesty about her pregnancy and post-partum depression, and how she found strength in her friendship with the saints.

This is a hard article to write. Talking about post-partum depression and its effects on my life and the lives of the people close to me sounds easy, but it is very difficult, even over two years later. When we write about our weakness and sin we open ourselves to judgment and censure, and we admit frightening truths about ourselves. Yet I will start my story at the beginning, and hope some other woman will read this and know she is not alone.

The story starts when two happily married youngsters, both Catholics and practicing NFP, decided God was telling us we were ready to have a baby. As someone who had long struggled with depression and anxiety, and had more or less been on some sort of medication since I was 19, I went to the doctor to safely and slowly get off my anti-depressant medications and make sure I was 100% healthy and ready to have a baby when the time came to try. Shortly afterward, we were excited to see two little blue lines on an early detection test.

Thus began the most terrible nine months of my life.

Sinking Down

Pregnancy was horrible for me, both physically and emotionally.  Depression set back in, made even more potent by hormonal changes. Completely forgetting how we had wanted and prayed for this baby in the first place, I railed angrily against God for changing my life forever and vacillated between anger at the baby and paralyzing fear the baby would die. I worried constantly, obsessed with the million ways I might miscarry, terrified to do something wrong, yet contrarily feeling anger and hatred toward my innocent baby.

As I was struggling through this period, the church calendar that year changed to Lent. I had always given up something for Lent, but for the first time, I truly experienced the spiritual wilderness we Catholics observe during Lent. Although my senses told me God had abandoned me, I clung to my faith, which tells us God will never abandon us. Praying became harder for me, so I turned instead to snatches of a hymn, singing “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” under my breath as I moved about the house. This song spoke to me in those dark times.

After I had finally struggled through all of my pregnancy, I arrived at the hospital to give birth thoroughly mentally, spiritually, and physically exhausted, feeling a sense of doom.  Labor was hard and terrible; I had a panic attack when the nurse gave me my IV and then again with the anesthesiologist. After 30 hours with no sleep or food, I finally gave birth to a perfectly healthy redhead, but when I looked at her I felt none of the joy and love new parents usually describe. I felt… scared. I did not want to hold her. She looked 164383406strange and wrinkly, not pretty at all. I was in so much pain, requiring over two hours of stitches, and so, so tired. When I was finally wheeled into a bedroom at 2:00 am, all I longed for was sleep. When the nurse curtly told me to set my alarm for two hours so I could feed the baby, I almost wept.

My hospital stay was equally difficult.  I cried almost constantly. I was afraid to hold the baby and afraid to be separated from her. I had never imagined being in such pain; after five rows of sutures, I could barely move, could not walk alone, and could certainly not use the restroom or shower alone. Still, I refused pain medication, paranoid if I took anything it would hurt the baby. I was overwhelmed by all the visitors, and just sad, sad, sad. My husband helped me limp around the hospital wing and I burst into tears when I saw the room where we’d given birth. The nurse told me it would take three weeks for my stitches to heal and I started to cry. At one point a nurse found me, bleary-eyed with sleeplessness, wandering the halls forlornly in my gown, petrified the nurses would give formula to the baby or think I was a horrible mother for letting her go to the nursery so I could try to sleep.

When we got home, I was paralyzed with fear. I could not sleep because I was convinced the baby would die. I sat awake, exhausted, while my husband and the baby slept. I was so anxious I could not eat a bite, but tried futilely to gag down one bite of bread and butter to help my body support my daughter. When I tried to sleep, the nightmares came, and I saw my baby killed a dozen different, horrible ways. Desperately in need of sleep though I was, I became afraid of night time and the nightmares, having horrible panic attacks when it got dark and fighting sleep with every ounce of power I had. My parents, divorced, put aside their differences and both stayed several nights with us, taking shifts at night to sit up with me and hold my hand through my panic attacks or sleeping in the chair next to me while I stared zombie-like at the clock and could not sleep.

To say my faith was all I had left at that time is no exaggeration. In the throes of despair, I lost sense of time and reality. Family members who tried to help me could only look on as I struggled. I became suicidal and so sleep-deprived I feared my husband would have me committed.

I was in the worst spiritual crisis I had ever encountered. I realized what I needed now were friends—faithful people of Christ who would pray for me, lift me up, and plead before God for my case.

Calling Out

I had never been a Catholic who prayed to saints, and I wasn’t even really sure how, but I knew I needed an army of prayer warriors on my side. Yes, I had people here on Earth praying for me—but what about people in heaven, people who had already successfully overcome Earth’s obstacles and were right now in the throne room of God, ready to pray and interceded for me? People whose example I could follow and whose faith I could emulate. I knew I needed all the prayer I could get.

One night, a few nights after the baby was born, I was limping out of the car and preparing to head into the house while my husband unbuckled the baby from her car seat. Suddenly, I felt another attack coming on. Terror flooded through my body and my eyesight went black. I was still conscious; I could hear the sounds of night and feel the concrete of the driveway under my feet, but I could see nothing. Waves of panic began to envelope me.

Still blind, I groped out and felt the car. Leaning against it for support, I called out into the darkness, “Mary, mother of us all, pray for me!” She is a Mother; she will know what I’m going through. She has been here before. “Saint Joseph, father of us all, pray for me!” He was the earthly father of Jesus and our spiritual father; surely he must care for me. “Saint Michael, leader of God’s armies, fight for me!”  He fights for God’s people; he will defend me with his sword.

A woman lost and alone on a chilly night, I reached out my hand into the darkness and called out blindly to friends when I needed them, friends I had never called on before but whom my faith told me I could rely upon. And I trusted my faith.

With the intercession of Mary, Joseph, and Michael, I was able to make it into the house and calm down. I can’t say that night was the end of all my depression, but it was a turning point. Slowly, the anxiety subsided and gradually became manageable. I was able to sleep, first just in snatches, and eventually more and more.

Through God’s blessings, I had a wonderful OB who, thankfully, realized what was happening was not just a normal case of hormones. When he visited and found me sitting in bed next to a perfectly healthy baby, crying my eyes out while my husband and parents looked helplessly on, he diagnosed me with post-partum depression and referred me to a psychiatrist. She listened to my story, diagnosed me with not only post-partum depression but also post-partum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and prescribed me some nursing-friendly antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

157651447Life wasn’t easy for the first several weeks of my daughter’s life, and I did not return to normal for several months. But I was, at least, able to cope with my worries and fears. As the Bible says, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), and as my anxieties slowly melted away, I began to have room in my heart for love: love for this tiny baby girl, healthy and beautiful and glowing, things I had not been able to appreciate before when I was so unhappy and worried.

Moreover, my newfound prayer warriors have never left me. Grateful to the first three saints who’d so generously helped me, I began to turn to saints more when the need arose. When my daughter had her first bout of illness, I looked up the patron saints of children, illnesses, and throat maladies and prayed before her crib. I looked to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for help with family members, St. Giles for increasing my nursing supply, and St. Francis for my ailing cat. Now, St. Anthony helps me find lost phones or keys and I call upon St. Christopher during my travels.  I’ve gotten to know St. Joseph as the giver of a happy death and St. Mary as the wife and mother I ask for advice when I’m ready to scream.

If you are a mother-to-be or new mom and you think you might be struggling with depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Do not let Satan lie to you: you are not alone. Others have been there. I have been there. I have been lost and blind and weak and alone. Yet in my weakness and sin, Jesus conquered. As He says to us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Jana and KaylieJana Thomas Coffman lives near Kansas city with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. She holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State University, as well as a M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.

A Lesson in Forgiveness by Anne McDonald

Editor’s Note:  Welcome back Anne McDonald!  In this new essay, Anne shares honestly and tenderly about what she has learned about forgiveness from her husband.

It was one of those arguments that you wish had never happened.  An argument where you’ve said such painful, hurtful words that when you look back on it, it makes you sick to your stomach.  However, it was an experience that my husband turned around and made into something so beautiful.

forgiveStewing over hurt feelings without talking to my husband about them was my first mistake.  Then I let them grow wildly while I gave him the silent treatment, and my imagination blew everything out of proportion.  Add a heavy dose of pregnancy hormones, and you’ve got the explosion that came out of me that afternoon.  I marched downstairs to the basement where he was working hard at finishing our basement.

And I yelled.

I only remember a few of the accusations I leveled at him about how I thought he had been treating me.  To this day, five years later, it hurts to think about how I took advantage of his love for me, how I assumed that I could dump out my feelings on him like I was ripping open a bag of trash at his feet.  Like I had some right to speak to him that way.

To his credit, he stood up for himself, but that meant telling me that I was wrong, and at the time, that’s what hurt me the most.  I had the audacity of being upset that my pride was hurt, and that maybe, just maybe, I was wrong.

I returned upstairs with the same dramatics that brought me downstairs, sat on the side of our tub, and had a good, long cry.  It was at that time that I realized what I had done, and how unfounded my accusations were.  If I had calmly told him, “I’m not feeling loved because…” that would have been one thing.  But that wasn’t what I said.  I told him that I doubted his love for me.  And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bringing myself to go back downstairs to him to feebly apologize was so difficult.  He didn’t look at me as he said it was alright and kept working at framing out the basement.  I stood there, feeling like an idiot for a minute, and left him to his work.

We had already planned to go to confession that Saturday afternoon, and confessing the way I had treated my beloved was both humbling and healing.  I walked out of the church feeling God’s love for me, sure of His forgiveness, but in my mind, how could my husband forgive me?

That evening, we worked quietly together, making dinner.  I apologized several more times for what I had said, how I had hurt him that day.  I didn’t believe him as he said that it was fine and that the episode was over for him; again, I was doubting him.

He stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “Its okay.  You forget…. I don’t hold grudges.”

And that was it.

At that moment, I took that leap of faith that he had forgiven me, and that he wasn’t going to make me pay for my childish behavior.  That argument was never brought up again, and in fact, when I mentioned it to him tonight, he didn’t remember it.

I learned a lot from him that weekend.  How many times have we had arguments, that I’ve drudged back up time and again, long after they should have been over.  I try hard not to do that, though, because of that lesson in forgiveness.  We’ve also come a long way in learning how to communicate better with one another, so that we don’t have long, drawn out silent treatments that end badly.  I’ve also learned that while I can rest assured of his love for me, taking it for granted is not an option.

The biggest lesson that I learned, though, is that our marriage will never keep going forward and continue to grow, if we continue to let ourselves be mired in the past of old hurts and arguments.  Once we’ve recognized how we’ve hurt one another, and sought and received forgiveness, we close the door on that pain and move forward.  And apparently, my husband lives up to the old saying, “forgive AND forget.”

Anne’s Bio

McDonald FamilyAnne McDonald lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 12 years, Jonathan, and their six children.

After receiving her BA in English from Christendom College, Anne went on to work in public relations until her oldest was born, at which point became a stay-at-home mom. She currently homeschools (with some away-schooling this year) her children, and helps out in her parish homeschooling group, having led a pre-school co-op this past autumn.

Changing Gears: Re-Attaching to Your Children by Anne McDonald

My three year old insists on pouring the milk himself and is ready to fight me to the death to do it.

My five year old’s default mode seems to be “hit first and ask questions later.”

My seven year-old daughter can’t seem to answer a request without starting first with a good, satisfying  “UGH!” and world-class eye-roll.

My oldest son is obviously bugged about something and determined to be tight lipped, and my second oldest son is even more bugged and even more determined to be tighter lipped.  Until they start throwing words at each other.  Then punches.

And the baby?  Well, she’s just adorable.  But she won’t stay out of the kitchen trash can.

Of course, this all happened within the past three minutes.

In a house where “get to the corner NOW!” is heard more often than “I love you,” the stress of parenting can wear you down until you find yourself dissolved into tears on a regular basis, wondering why things are so horribly wrong.

Much of the last eleven years of my parenting career has looked like this, and let me tell you, it’s not a good place to be.  If this sounds like where you are now, I’m here to offer you hope.

I’ve recently realized that my insecurities have colored my reactions to my children’s behavior, and in the end, my children have suffered for it.   How many of us have felt the stinging, disapproving looks of other parents when our children aren’t behaving as well as theirs are at the playground?  Many times, we feel the pressure to follow our own parents’ orders when they watch a full-blown tantrum from a small child spiral out of control, and they insist that a strong hand is needed to get control of the situation.  Or maybe we’re just home with the kids, all day long, and no matter how many times we send the kids to time out or yell at them to just behave for five minutes, we can’t seem to get past the idea that we’re just not cut out for this.

I responded to all this pressure by doing whatever I could to try to get a handle on the situation.  Unfortunately, many of the “tricks and techniques” offered to us on how to get control of our children don’t work.  I think the primary reason is because we’re not here to control our children.  Our job is to lovingly guide them.

Yeah, that’s nice, you’re thinking, but all I hear is yelling, the kids don’t pay attention to me, and I just want to enjoy my family, not merely endure them!  Attachment parenting would have been great if I started with it, but isn’t it too late?  Thankfully, it isn’t.

I kept asking, begging God for answers on what to do, so that I could enjoy my children again.  The answer didn’t lie in another set of parenting techniques or getting it through my children’s heads once and for all that my husband and I were the ones in charge around here.  Our children needed to know that we loved them.  Really, really loved them, and that we are on their side.

That’s where attachment parenting comes in.  I have to admit that for years AP didn’t appeal to me.  It turns out that I didn’t understand what it was at all.  What I saw as a checklist of things to do to be an attached parent were really the effects of attaching yourself to your child.  For example, I had associated co-sleeping and extended nursing to be two such things that a “good” attached parent does.  In my mind, if I didn’t check those off the list, then I wasn’t an attached parent.  In the case of my oldest, he was a little furnace and gave up nursing on his own at fourteen months.  It made no sense to force him to conform to my checklist.  I had been missing the point of attachment parenting:  meeting my child’s needs, whatever they are, is at the heart of AP.

Getting back to the tight-lipped, eye rolling, fighting kids: what do I do with them?  I show them love. Whether it’s helping them learn how to communicate with each other instead of beating up on each other, feeding the hungry child instead of yelling at him to stop whining, or reading one last book to my daughter at night because she just needs some extra mommy time, I’m learning to take the time to go outside myself and my wants, and enter into their worlds more and address their needs.

My purpose in writing this isn’t to show that I’m an expert.  Heaven knows, that isn’t the case!  What I want to pass along to other parents, especially the ones who have been parenting with more traditional or mainstream means, and who find they aren’t meeting with success, is that there is a better way.  Even if you have a whole slew of kids whom you feel like you’ve been shortchanging for years, you can turn things around.  I know from my own experience that you can enjoy your family more, and they can enjoy you as well!

Here are some of my favorite books on attachment parenting:

Parent Effecctivness Training:  The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr. Thomas Gordon. This book introduced me to the concept of “Active Listening,” where the parent empathizes with the child when he has a problem, and helps him to come to a mutually acceptable solution, instead of demanding the child obey the parent’s solution to the problem.

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.  This is a great, “full-picture” explaination of parenting that explains how to effectivley problem-solve with children, how to encourage children, and really drove home the point that “… and encouraged chidl does not need to misbehave.” (pg 78)

Parenting With Grace by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak.  This was the book that I’ve had from the start of my parenting career, but didn’t have the faith to follow for the first ten years. I wish I had! The Popcaks explain Attachment Parenting through the lens of Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, and give tangible ways to implement it through every stage of your child’s development.

Hold on to Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More than Thier Peers by Gordon Neufeld.  In his book, Neufel shows how children (and really, everyone!) need to be attached to someone, and how they will attach themselves to thier friends if they don’t find that secure relationship with their parents. This book is also helpful when you are reattaching.

Anne McDonald lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 12 years, Jonathan, and their six children. After years of struggling with behavioral problems with their children while following more traditional parenting methods, Anne and her husband found that Attachment Parenting, or more specificaly, Catholic Attachment Parenting, was literally the answer to prayers. She and her husband have been working to reattach with thier children and break some bad habits that the family has aquired over the past 11 years, and are really seeing the fruits of thier labors starting to flourish.
 
After receiving her BA in English from Christendom College, Anne went on to work in public relations until her oldest was born, at which point became a stay-at-home mom. She currently homeschools (with some away-schooling this year) her children, and helps out in her parish homeschooling group, having led a pre-school co-op this past autumn.

Attachment Parenting for Working Moms by Jana Thomas Coffman

Editors Note:  In her latest guest essay, Jana Thomas Coffman offers her experience in being a successful attachment parent while still working.

When I read about attachment parenting online, most of the moms posting, blogging, and commenting seem to be stay-at-home moms, often homeschooling their children. Yet as a working mom, I can say attachment parenting does work for us, although perhaps with a few tweaks and modifications to the more “traditional” model.

I teach full-time at a local high school, and I love my job.  I find working with my students rewarding and stimulating, and doing something I enjoy makes me a happier, more well-rounded person in general, which I believe translates directly to me being a better mother. Teaching plus my extra-curricular duties do keep me busy, but my husband and I have persisted in attachment parenting with our 14 month old. Here are a few ways we keep it up:

1.  Find the right caregivers. When you have to be away from your child for eight hours a day, my advice is this: don’t just find caregivers you trust, find caregivers you love!  I prayed hard about finding the right babysitter for my daughter, and I interviewed several people when pregnant.

Ultimately, I settled on two choices: my mother keeps my daughter once a week, and the other four days she stays with in-home caregiver less than a mile from my school.  This arrangement is perfect for us! She loves the built-in Grandma time every week, and I rest easy knowing my daughter is being cuddled, played with, cherished, and absolutely showered with attention from a doting, adoring family member.

At first, I was a little more nervous leaving her with the babysitter, but she has proved to be a Godsend.  It is obvious she adores my daughter.  Every time I pick her up, even at unannounced times, my daughter is being cuddled, or having her diaper changed, or being fed, or playing happily. I get a detailed update on all her activities throughout the day. The babysitter sends me text updates, photos, and videos throughout my workday so I know what my daughter is doing and can enjoy her smiles and grins even at work. She has also been very supportive of my desire to breastfeed and has been flexible with me showing up unannounced to breastfeed when I get a break.  I love our babysitter and feel she is a perfect fit for our family. Even when her father and I aren’t with the baby, I know she is being cared for and showered with attention and affection in an environment that is very compatible with our attachment-parenting philosophy.

2.  Remember why you work. Many moms have to work for financial reasons, and many choose to work. Either way, keep focused on why you are working. I keep a photo of my daughter right by my desk so I can see her and remember I work, not just because I enjoy it, but also so I can support her, provide her with a fabulous insurance plan and medical care, enjoy holiday vacations and long summer breaks with her, and have a family-friendly workplace that understands when I take sick days to be with my ailing baby.

3.  Make the time you do have count. Although we’re not with my daughter all day, my husband and I make up for it in the time we have with her in the evenings. We follow the CAPC building blocks of baby bonding, empathic response, playing together, and gentle discipline. We fill our evenings and weekends with playtime, cuddles, and family bonding. I nurse her on demand, one of us rocks her to sleep, and we bed share for at least part of the night so she can nurse more at night to make up for the time we miss during the day.

4.  Advocate for yourself and your baby. Some elements of attachment parenting, especially breastfeeding, are made more difficult in a full-time work environment. I solved this problem by becoming a self-advocate. As a teacher, I have a set lunch hour and planning period and cannot take several short breaks throughout the day as many breastfeeding websites recommend. While this was not ideal for pumping, I made the best I could out of the situation. I insisted on having my own space to pump, and with the help of our school’s wonderful secretary, finally found a closet/office space with privacy and a refrigerator. I had another teacher watch my lunch class so I could pump longer. When my supply started to dwindle, I prayed hard about it, and I also tried herbal supplements, lactation tea, and a higher-powered pump. When that did not keep up with my growing daughter’s intake, I prayed harder, and I also started pumping hands-free on the car ride home and waking up at 1 am to pump. Thankfully, these measures allowed me to exclusively breastfeed my daughter until her 6th-month birthday, at which point I gratefully stopped stressing out about my supply and started supplementing her diet with solids and formula as well as continuing to pump.

I was also not afraid to stand up for my pumping rights myself during in-service days, parent-teacher conference nights, or on field trips, when I had no planning period to pump. I simply told my principal where I would be and disappeared for a half hour, and my school leadership was very understanding.

When the next school year came around, I asked the counselor to arrange my schedule to better space out my pumping breaks. She bent over backwards to accommodate me, and I was very pleased to be given a schedule with two evenly spaced breaks to pump, as well as a free lunch hour so I could continue breastfeeding my daughter for longer or leave to feed her in the middle of the day.

5.  Prioritize. Finally, my husband and I had to prioritize. God comes first, followed by each other and our family, followed by everything else. I enjoy holding leadership roles at work and church, and when I wanted to take part in committees or extra-curricular activities, we prayed about it and discerned which opportunities to accept and which to pass up. I accepted an offer to be a dance coach at my school, with the understanding my husband would pick up the baby after work and bring her to dance practice to spend time with me or take her home to have much-needed Daddy time. I also happily agreed to go to a professional development weekend in New Orleans, where I maintained my supply by pumping. However, we decided to pass on the opportunity for me to attend a weekend conference for the National Teachers Association, not willing to spend too many weekends away from home. At church, I decided to volunteer my time as a cantor and Eucharistic minister, but regretfully declined to be a group leader for a new women’s Bible study, citing my busy schedule and need to spend some time at home with my daughter. For every opportunity, we try to balance our work, church, and social lives with our daughter’s needs and our time together as a family.

As attachment parents, my husband and I strive to make our time with our daughter precious. We try to maintain a balance between our need for professional development and social time, and our daughter’s need for love, attention, and affection. We’ve found that if one of us is working or busy on a weeknight, it’s a great opportunity for her to have some quality alone time with the other parent or with one of her grandparents. It also helps that we’re both blessed to have very family-friendly jobs that let us off early (my school day ends at 3:00 pm and my husband gets off work at 4:30) to spend our afternoons and evenings with her. Both my parents live near us, so we’re lucky to have helping hands around whenever we need a break.

We also try to watch our daughter to gauge how well we’re meeting her needs. If she is sick, or tired, or simply acting clingy and whiny for a day, we realize that’s her way of telling us she needs some undivided Mommy and Daddy time, and we cut back on our schedule to really focus on her and her needs. For us, it’s the perfect balance of work and family.

Jana and Kaylie

Jana Thomas Coffman lives near Kansas city with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. She holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State Universiy, as well as a M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.

Childcare image credit (childcare):  Diego Cervo