“Here there be dragons” is a phrase found on some medieval maps to describe dangerous or uncharted territory, sometimes accompanied by a picture of a dragon, sea serpent, or other mythological creature.
While our modern day physical world is well mapped out, our society faces other dragons that seem to be multiplying rapidly. Marriage, religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family are all under attack. And while we witness the daily attacks on these God-given institutions, we wonder where it is all headed. We wonder what will be attacked next, and how serious the persecution will be.
I often wish I could put on my armor and slay those dragons myself. But how do I go about doing this? How can I convince the world that Hobby Lobby (or the Catholic Church, for that matter) is not out to render women powerless, that a “marriage” between two people of the same sex is not really a marriage at all, and that life from conception to natural death is sacred?
The truth is, I can’t.
I can continue to teach the truths of the Church and hope that hearts will be open to accepting them, I can live the example of the joyful freedom that accompanies the practice of these truths, but I have no power when it comes to people’s hearts. Only the Holy Spirit can bring the mystery of conversion home. Only God Himself can enlighten a heart charred by the fire-breathing dragons of this world.
And so, parents, we must pray. Parenthood is a battle. Not a battle with bed times, tantrums, and picky eaters (although some days it feels that way!), but a battle with the “evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” (Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel)
We are in a spiritual battle, and the world needs our prayers. Our children need our prayers. But when to do it?
As parents, we have our own dragons to slay on a daily basis. Dishes being pulled from the kitchen cupboards by toddler hands, a seven-year-old sobbing in the corner because he isn’t a Master LEGO Builder, and a nearly potty-trained three-year-old copping a squat in the middle of the living room rug are all normal parts of my day right now.
It’s difficult to find time. It’s difficult to find silence. But we must persevere in our prayer life. The devil wants nothing more than to drive a wedge between us and our Lord, using our own children as leverage.
I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if I can’t pray an entire Rosary in one sitting, I just won’t pray at all. Or, sometimes I simply don’t feel like praying. If I don’t feel the immediate consolations of God, or hear an answer from Him while in the midst of prayer, I succumb to the temptation of spiritual sloth. And before I know it, a whole week has gone by, at the end of which my prayer life is malnourished and thirsting for attention.
Sticking to a daily lifestyle of prayer, and simply remembering to keep God at the forefront of my mind helps me through those challenging periods of dryness, as well as those times when my children keep me so busy that I’m not quite sure how to squeeze God in.
The following is a list of the five times of day I try to remember to devote to God in prayer. Choose one of the suggestions below each time frame, depending on how your day is going and how demanding your children are being on your time and energy. The point is to do something–to spend some amount of intentional time with Our Lord and His Mother throughout the day, and trust that the answers and consolations will come when you need them most.
Rise early, say a Rosary, and read the day’s Gospel or another Scripture passage.
Read a short quote from a saint and say a decade of the Rosary while eating breakfast (Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss is a wonderful daily devotional with Mom-sized meditations).
Simply say, “Good morning, God!”, and ask Him to guide your choices that day while you grab a few minutes alone in the bathroom or nurse the baby.
Finish your Rosary, say a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and/or do some spiritual reading or journaling while baby sleeps and older kids have some down time with books or screens.
Take a moment to step outside and listen for God in the silence. Dedicate the rest of your day to Him.
Say a Hail Mary while you nurse the baby to sleep.
Pray the Angelus or a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Pray a decade of the Rosary while doing dishes or folding laundry.
Have a cup of coffee or tea, and ask God to clear your heart and mind of any tension that has been building throughout the course of the day.
Take a few moments for yourself while your spouse spends time with the kids, and pray the Evening Prayer (I like to use the Magnificat publication for this).
Offer your kitchen clean up or last load of laundry to the glory of God and a special prayer intention.
Pray grace with your family before and after dinner.
Mentally review the events of your day, make a good examination of conscience, and say an Act of Contrition before going to bed.
Do some spiritual reading while sitting with a child who needs some company to fall asleep (or pray quietly if the light is too dim for reading).
Pray an Act of Contrition while nursing the baby to sleep. Give your day to God and ask Him to renew and refresh your spirit as you sleep.
Of course, we all have days when our families require the bulk of our time and attention, but I find that if I strive to keep prayer a priority, God seems to increase my time so I can fit it in. Do your best, and you will keep your relationship with God thriving, even during the busiest seasons of parenthood.
Now, put on your armor, and go slay those dragons!
A month or so ago, with the birth of my second child fast-approaching, and the idea of changing double the amount of diapers looming in my mind, I decided that it was time. My son, recently turned two, was going to learn to use the potty. No more diapers.
Of course, I read up on all the methods available, got tons of advice from friends who were successful, then just went for it. The method I had chosen suggested that the first few days of training (or “learning” or whatever you’d like to call it), you really need to watch your kid like a hawk, to pick up on their cues and then follow their cues to get them to the bathroom. So, you clear your schedule for a few days, gather some fun activities to do together, and prepare to basically just give your child some undivided attention for a day or two. Sounds simple enough, right? After all, I have ONE child, I’m able to be home with him during the day, and since he has a tendency to be, well, rascally, I’m used to keeping a keen eye on him most of the time. Or so I thought.
This was the eye-opener for me. This is where I realized how distracted I typically am. As parents, we get so used to multi-tasking that we rarely actually give anything, even our child, our complete attention. I’m not saying this is wrong, or bad, or even less than ideal. It’s often how things have to be so that a household can keep running smoothly (or rather, just run). And frankly, by the end of that first day of watching my son’s every move, playing, snuggling, and loving him up without trying to do anything else, I was fried. Completely and utterly exhausted.
We had made lots of potty-training progress and had had a nice day together, but I was shocked at how difficult it had been for me to put everything else on hold. I found myself having to fight the urge to go wash up a few dishes from breakfast, check my e-mail for just a minute, or make a quick phone call to the doctor’s office. While I was sitting reading my son an endless pile of books, I was running through my to-do list in my head. When we were sitting on the floor playing with blocks, I was sorely tempted to check my Facebook account.
By the end of the day, exhausted and spent, I really started contemplating how all of my usual multi-tasking was affecting me and my family. I’ve never thought of myself as an over-achiever (I’m not), but after a day of solely caring for my child, I realized how much other stuff I usually attempted to cram into my day. Sure, the dishes need to get done eventually, and the living room should be vacuumed and everyone needs to be fed. These are realities. But what I’m talking about is being fully present in each moment during my day. So often, I find myself scattered… doing several things at once and not doing anything to the best of my ability or with as much joy as I should.
Frankly, most of the time, I don’t care if I’m vacuuming my living room to the best of my ability. But I sure do care if I’m giving my family the best and most joyful of my attention. The dishes don’t crave my undivided consideration- my son does. The laundry doesn’t need me to sit down and quietly listen- my husband does. I realized I’ve even got into the habit of praying while I do other things. Which is wonderful in the sense that we can pray at any time, but not so wonderful if that’s the only time I find to pray. My relationship with God needs moments of peace and devoted attention, too. And God has put me in this life to serve and love the people around me.
Paying attention to that responsibility is vital to my feeling of fulfillment in my vocation. Because when I’m doing too much multi-tasking, I feel distracted, lost, and unsatisfied. I can never seem to finish my to-do list, and everything seems like a burden on my limited time. My son seems more demanding and whinier to me. My husband seems less helpful. God seems less responsive to my prayers.
Of course, none of this is the case. My son seems whinier because I’m not giving him the attention that he needs. It’s hard for a two year old to communicate all of his big thoughts and feelings as it is, and when I’m trying to do something else, he can tell that I’m not really trying to understand. The same holds true for my husband. He’s not actually unhelpful, but when I’m constantly trying to do too many things at once, he can’t keep up. He shouldn’t be expected to keep up with the thoughts and plans whizzing through my head at any given moment.
And it’s the same with God. When I am quickly sending up prayers as I run into the grocery store, God is listening… I’m just too distracted to get the reply. I’ve already moved on and failed to listen. God answers prayer and speaks to us constantly, but we have to be paying attention. Our answers may come when we are playing with our children or talking with friends- but I bet you’ll rarely hear those answers if you are not fully present in those moments.
So taking the time to be fully present with my son isn’t only important because my child needs me to be present, but also because God needs me to be fully in that moment as well. When we accept the vocation of parenthood, we have to realize that God is going to speak to us through our duties within the vocation. We need to slow down. Complete our tasks in peace. Give our attention to the people and tasks that really need it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I think we should all just blow off our other responsibilities and sit around on the ground playing endless rounds of knock-down-all-the-blocks with our kids all day. First of all, I’d lose my mind. By the end of the first few days of potty-training and watching my child intently, I was pretty sure I was going to lose it. It’s a lot. Variety is the spice of life. I like doing other tasks throughout my day, and my child needs the independent time to explore on his own, as well. However, my biggest epiphany was that the time I spent with my son needed to be free of all the distractions. When I sit down to read him a book, I don’t want to get up to check something in the oven or look at my phone when I hear that I have a text. It can wait. He deserves my full attention for those few minutes.
And what’s really amazing is how much I learned about my own child, who I spend all day, every day with, just from watching him without distractions for a few days. I noticed the funny little things he does, the way he concentrates on something until he has it figured out, how determined he is to get it right. I noticed the funny face he makes when he sees a bird outside or the eye roll he does when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I was truly amazed at how much I was missing out on (me, a stay-at-home mom!), by constantly doing two or three things at once.
Potty-training, while not exactly a picnic, gave me the opportunity to slow down and remember why I’m doing this whole parenting thing in the first place. It served as a reminder to pay attention and witness the miracle that is my child learning and growing, so proud of his accomplishments, daily becoming the person God intends for him to be. What a gift! A greater gift, even, than not having to change two sets of diapers.
Last week my husband and I attended a workshop led by a couple who had once been on the brink of divorce. They had everything the world told them a successful family should have: two children, a giant house, a vacation house on the beach, and nice cars. Yet they were miserable. Their message: the world’s definition of success is a lie. For them, saving their family required them to leave their stressful jobs and focus on raising their children. We can all benefit from reflecting on the true nature of a successful family. So, what is a successful family? How do we achieve that vision? I explored this issue with Greg and Lisa Popcak on Thursday, March 27, on their radio program More2Life. If you missed the show (“Parenting Success”), you can access it in the Ava Maria Radio archives here.
Anyone interested in our website probably knows already that success has nothing to do with the size of your bank account or the square footage of your house. A successful family is one that lives out God’s plan for the family, which is to build a community of life and love. The successful family nourishes the well-being of the family as a whole and each individual member as unique, unrepeatable persons. Our culture tells us that certain things will make us happy or nourish our families when they don’t. Having a vacation house isn’t wrong, but it cannot bring the kind of meaning and joy to our families that God’s plan for our family will.
Anyone interested in reading this probably also knows already that successful families should pray together, attend holy days of obligation, and fulfill their sacramental promises. But here are five signs of a successful family many of us forget on occasion. They form the acronym GRAIL: Generosity, Resilience, Acceptance, a clear Identity, and Laughter.
The parents and children in successful families think in terms of WE instead of ME. The couple we heard speak admitted they had both been entirely focused on their own need for external approval – to be the best, the richest, the most admired in their circle of friends. They decided instead to prioritize the needs of the other spouse and their children. They began asking each other, “What do you need from me today” instead of “What have you done for me lately?”. They also opened their hearts and arms to five more babies! The most radical choice we can make as Christian families is to live for each other instead of ourselves, to practice self-donative, generous love. Children learn this kind of self-donative love through the modeling of their parents – how parents treat their children and one another.
Every family will face hardship and setbacks. Oftentimes, this is where the rubber hits the road, when we find out how strong our family connection really is. How do we treat one another during those times? How do we get through them? Successful families know they are not alone: they have a strong enough rapport to come together during crises to face the road ahead together with the assistance of God. Rather than coming apart at the seams, successful families are actually strengthened in adversity through a shared sense of determination and unity when faced with setbacks. Studies show that families who already have strong communication skills and a respect for one another develop resilience.
We all makes mistakes; we are all sinners. Successful families learn to forgive, to embrace one another even in our ‘not-finished-yet’ state. When our children make a mistake, we don’t have to pretend like it didn’t happen, but we can lovingly and gently show them a better way to handle big feelings or frustrations in the future. Instead of hurting or scaring our child with a harsh punishment, we can empathize with her experience while at the same time giving her the skills she needs to succeed in the future. When we foster this kind of loving acceptance in the home, families serve as a sign to the Church and to unbelievers of the mercy of God.
Successful families make it clear up front what they’re about – which virtues and values are most important to them. Then they can see more clearly how they want to spend their time and money. Coming up with a family mission statement is a fun and effective way to concretize your family vision.
We too often forget how important laughter is for creating a joyful, vibrant home. In our achievement-oriented culture it’s easy to get caught up in pushing our kids to work night and day to become successful academically or in sports. Good grades and sports are fine, but not at the expense of our child’s heart or our family’s sense of mirth. Jesus surely laughed with his disciples when he gathered with them around a table for a meal. Becoming a family that laughs together doesn’t take any extra time: it’s an attitude, a way of making ordinary moments of connection light-hearted and fun.
So there we have it: GRAIL. Hopefully we can all remember to foster the GRAIL in our families this week!
“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”
I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t. I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually. When I first read this, I thought to myself, “Wow! How validating! My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”
And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”. I have often felt this way myself. Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty. I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room. I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper. I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch. And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected. And where the heck were my vacation days?!
Oh yeah, and you can’t quit. Ever.
Recently, I started questioning how I could make this job not seem so hard anymore. I tried tricks for becoming more organized. I created activity schedules for my toddler. I attempted to make more time for some of my hobbies that had taken a backseat. And while some of these things helped for a while, I still could not shake the feeling that I was stuck in a really hard job. Even when I was feeling appreciated by my spouse, and validated in what I was doing for my child, some days I felt like too much was expected of me. When we found out we were pregnant with our second child, and the thought of no maternity leave and more work loomed, I realized that I needed a change in the way I was approaching motherhood.
I decided to stop looking at motherhood as a job, and start seeing it as a vocation. So many stay-at-home moms, myself included, feel the need to justify what they do every day by labeling it as “work”. My husband and I had made the decision for me to stop working outside the home soon after our son was born, and in a way, I felt the need to prove to myself that it was worth it for my family. Talk about a high-pressure work environment! I believe women who work outside of the home can also feel the need to justify the time they spend mothering by putting pressure on themselves to do it all both in the workplace and at home- or as I’ve heard it described, “two full-time jobs!” For me, it was partly how I thought society was judging me, and partly my own ego that was causing the problem. I wanted to be the hardest worker in my chosen field.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t how motherhood works.
When we think of vocations, we often picture priests or nuns, or maybe we think of the lifelong commitment of marriage. True, all of these are vocations. But as I started to ponder what it meant to commit to a vocation, the more I saw that this was how I needed to approach motherhood.
In my last job, I had the pleasure of working in a facility where an order of nuns lived and worked, taking care of elderly patients in a nursing home. The work they did was physically demanding, mentally exhausting, and I’m sure, often felt thankless. And yet each time I would pass one of these sisters in the hall or see them praying in the chapel, they seemed so joyful and full of peace. A smile was quick to come to their lips and they were always kind and pleasant. I often marveled at the serenity with which they did such hard jobs. But in the back of my mind, I thought of them as being different, because this wasn’t just their job; being part of a serving order was their vocation. This is what they gave their lives to.
So when I started thinking about a different way to frame my life as a mother and wife, they were the first people to come to mind. They didn’t look at each task to be completed as just another job for which they weren’t going to be paid. They didn’t seem to be calculating how much they would be getting compensated if their circumstances were different. They just kept working, for the glory of God and for love of their fellow human beings.
The more I prayed about this, the more certain I was that this is how God wanted me to view my days. I am not a housekeeper, a babysitter, a cook, and a laundress. I am a mother and a wife. My main priority is to serve my family in a way that reflects God’s love. Yes, on most days that will mean folding their laundry and cooking their meals. But the clothes and the food aren’t the point- the love and servant heart with which I fulfill these tasks is the real goal. On days when none of those things get done, I can still be peaceful knowing that my role as a mother is not wrapped up in my chores, but in who I am to my family.
Once I started trying to think this way, the effects became apparent pretty quickly. Frustration at not being able to accomplish as much as I wanted to during the day diminished as I shifted my priority from “getting things done” to “doing everything with love”. Tough days were a little easier to get through when I was able to reframe the struggles of life with a toddler as opportunities to offer up those struggles to God. My relationship with my husband certainly improved once I stopped comparing how hard I worked at home to his work outside of the home. And finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that God has called me to motherhood not to do chores and run errands, but to be a loving, consistent, and holy presence for my children.
Did you catch that? Holy.
Yeah, that’s heavy, isn’t it? In some ways, I feel like I’ve taken a big pressure off of myself only to put a bigger one on. But the thing is, God is generous with his graces when a mother strives to be a holy influence on her children. The days when holiness seems just out of reach, God can give us the grace to be just as holy as we need to be.
This doesn’t mean that being a mom is suddenly easy. I still have to do all the things I did before. (Although I don’t get quite as upset about a messy house or getting behind on the laundry the way I used to.) But when I stop looking at parenthood as a job that has me on call 24/7, and instead look at it as the vocation that God has called me to, my daily tasks take on a purpose that allows me to complete my work not only more gracefully, but sometimes even joyfully. I still have plenty of room to grow; I am nowhere near perfect. I am not always humming happily as I change yet another diaper. But at the end of the day, more often than not, I am able to thank God for blessing me with the physical and spiritual ability to do the work he has called me to do at this point in my life.
And that sure feels like a job well done to me.
How often do we as mothers project an attitude of just surviving through the daily grind of parenting? We sigh and say we don’t have time for this or that; we go through our days disheveled and dressed in yesterday’s sweats, our houses are a mess, and we wonder every day how we will manage to get dinner on the table–and all because of these needy little leeches we call our children (who, we have to admit, we love so much we would gladly die for if we had to).
Sure, we love our children. Sure, we want to do everything possible to give them a wonderful childhood–a foundation that will carry them through the rest of their lives. But, in the process of accomplishing that, our home organization doesn’t have to completely disappear. Our personal dignity and self-maintenance don’t have to be pushed to the side for the next 18 years. We don’t have to resort to ordering out for pizza every other night. It’s good for our children to see us take care of the gifts God gave us, and these include our homes, our talents, and our very selves.
We have been called to the vocation of motherhood! This is supposed to be our path to holiness, not our path to “Who is that exhausted, stressed lady staring back at me from the mirror?” and “When did my life get so out of control?”
Of course, we all have difficult days, weeks even, no matter how long we’ve been a mother. I think I spent the first three years of my motherhood much like the women I described above–wondering where in the world the organized, put together, under control person I thought I was went.
But then I started to turn a corner. I started to make showering early in the day a priority. I’ve recently discovered more efficient ways to maintain order in my home. But things really happen when prayer is the number one priority every day. I’ve been a mother for almost ten years, and after five children, I have gained some insight into maintaining my sanity on this earthly journey to sainthood through my vocation as a mother.
The following list will evolve more over time, I am sure, but these are all little bits of wisdom that I have gained thus far in my parenting journey. I hope some of them can help you, too, not just to survive, but thrive, in your holy vocation as a mother.
Incorporate short prayer periods throughout each day, beginning as soon as you awake in the morning. Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss and a subscription to the Magnificat are wonderful tools for getting the most out of your prayer time. You don’t have time not to pray.
Take your to-do list to prayer each morning and decide what is most important with God as your focus. Accomplish your most important task first and trust that everything else will keep until another time. The book, Walking With Purpose by Lisa Brenninkmeyer has helped me immensely with this.
Allow your priorities to create routines in a rather unpredictable vocation. FlyLady.net can help you create routines for a more efficient, orderly home. I run down my morning routine list (beginning with prayer) as my children allow, and I usually accomplish most of it by lunch time.
Put the baby in his high chair or exersaucer, give your toddler a basket of special “Mommy’s Tiime” toys, or put an educational video on for your children. It’s okay and healthy to take some time for self-maintenance each day–whatever you need to do to feel “put together”. Exercise, apply mascara, put on your “good jeans” and teach your children how to uphold the dignity of their bodies and their identity by the way you care for yours.
Take a few breaks throughout the day when the opportunity arises, even if you don’t feel you need to. Prevent burn out by having a cup of coffee while saying a decade of the Rosary, spending ten minutes reading a good book, or closing your eyes for a few minutes while baby naps. We can’t count on time to unwind at the end of the day when a wakeful child might need us most–take the breaks when you can get them.
This is so hard for us moms, but so important. Allow others to be Christ for you by accepting their offers of a meal, childcare, or a playdate. It takes a village, and accepting the fact that we all need help is yet another way our children bless us with the virtue of humility.
Go to bed at a decent time, nap with your baby, let your husband take the kids to the park so you can sleep in a quiet house. Lack of sleep is almost as bad as lack of prayer–it clouds our perception and threatens our patience. Allow others to help you get the sleep you need!
You’ve prioritized, created your routines, and determined how much sleep you need to feel your best. Now nurture the virtue of self discipline to stick with it! Find strength in prayer and through the intercessions of the saints. I recently taped a Miraculous Medal to the snooze button on my alarm clock to break a bad habit. Mary hasn’t failed me yet. There’s nothing quite like having your Mother telling you what to do!
In spite of our best efforts at routine, self discipline, and creating some sense of predictability throughout our days, our children are proof that anything ca happen. Milk will get spilled, toys will get stuck in the toilet, and kids will throw up. It is in these moments that we give it all to God and accept the day He has given us for what it is–an opportunity to surrender our will to His.
Kids will break your stuff, lose your stuff, and play with your stuff. They will interrupt your sleep, your shower, and your work out. While I try to teach my children to care for the things with which God has provided us and to respect others’ belongings and time, I inevitably have many reminders that we are to be in the world but not of it–that none of that “stuff” will matter when our time on earth has ended–that how I respond to the child who just broke my favorite (expensive) lamp is infinitely more important than any thing could ever be.
Have playdates, start a Mom’s Group at your church, visit with other moms while your child watches the puppet show at the library. Sometimes it does us moms a world of good just to rehash our potty training horror stories and relate the cute things our kids say to one another. Surround yourself with mothers who are supportive and inspire you to be the best mom you can be.
Don’t try to be Super Mom. Don’t compare yourself to someone you think is Super Mom. Every mom has her struggles; every mom has her weak points. Focus on just one thing you would like to improve upon at a time, and be patient as you establish new habits. Don’t have a prayer routine? Start with a short morning prayer at the first opportunity in your day. Get used to it, make it a habit, and build from there. Motherhood is a journey. Take your time and allow God to transform you at His pace.
Take time just to be with your kids. Enter into their world for awhile every day. Really listen to them and fully engage in their conversation, even if it’s just a conversation with your two year old about the amazing fact that everyone has a tongue. Play a game, read a book, cuddle with them on the couch. Love them. Share your faith with them. Connect with them.
Don’t forget you are not just a mother, but called to holiness through the vocation of marriage as well. Hire a trusted sitter, put the kids to bed early, find ways to focus on your husband and make him feel like you are not only the mother of his children, but also his wife.
You know you have them–other skills besides changing diapers, wiping noses, and nursing the baby. Get creative. How can you cultivate the talents God gave you even during this season of your life? Embrace your unique and unrepeatable self and the identity God gave you even if it just for a few minutes each day, and you will be a joyful, peaceful blessing to your family and all those you meet.
“I realized this year I was ‘serving up’ Advent to my family and friends like I was a waitress — watching them dine, but never participating in the feast.”
This week we, as a Church, rejoice with grateful wonder, “Christ is near.” But last weekend I awoke on the morning of the annual Advent Tea that I host for my daughter’s Little Flowers Catholic girls club and I thought, UGH. Now, mind you, this event has always been my idea. I love doing it. I take out my special dishes, use all the pink and pretty I have at my disposal, and make those girls and their mommies feel precious and pampered. So why on that morning, did I feel so completely, utterly Advented out? Pooped even?
Well, after Thanksgiving this year — a late Thanksgiving, right? am I right? — it was like a non-stop race through several projects and commitments. Boom, boom. Like fires to extinguish, even though I was a little grateful they were there. But then Advent was in the mix. SLAM. A little sweet brick in my face. Ow.
As I lay in bed that morning before our annual tea, I realized that this year I was “serving up” Advent to my family and friends like I was a waitress — watching them dine, but never participating in the feast. I was working hard to create just the right experience for those I love, but I was feeling spiritually detached.
My experience is surely familiar to other parents. As we enter the last days of Advent, I want to share some thoughts on how we parents can love our children generously while balancing our need for spiritual nourishment.
Rather than going through the motions of Advent, truly reflect on what it all means for you personally. If we do all the right things for our family, but forget why we’re doing it, we’ve lost something valuable. Acting out of duty is great, but acting from a disposition of love and generosity is even better. Jesus wants our hearts.
Now, at this point, you might expect me to say that Jesus wasn’t born for the pretty in my tea party. Oh, but I think he was. Of course he was. He was born to show us that the entire spectrum our human senses are fantastic and even a sign of the Holy if we allow it. The problem was that I was trying so hard to force those girls to experience the Transcendent in Advent that I forgot who I was in the story of salvation. That morning before the Advent Tea, I honestly just wanted to “get through it” on some level. I wasn’t really in the mood for company and, after several days of neglect, my house was a mess. I was not in a good place. But I remembered why I love these Advent Teas so much: not so that I could show off a shiny floor, but so that I could open my home to human love and Divine Joy.
I also forgot who Jesus is to me personally. In my perhaps understandable desire to make everything “just so” for my human guests, I forgot the reality of my Great Guest. Grounding my family culture in the liturgical calendar has been one of the giant breakthroughs in my own parenting. But I can easily forget that I need one-on-one time with my friend, Jesus; that he loves me enough to wait for me to meet him all alone, by myself — just little ol’ me.
We parents need to pray. Not only in those family prayers, which are so precious to him, but private prayer as well. Busy parents may think there’s no way they can find time to pray, but consider your day and when it’s most quiet — and seize those minutes. The big point I want to bring home for my loved ones is that their Savior is near. He is here, in our midst, ready to love us, in our current reality, however broken or imperfect. He only asks for our trust, our yes.
So that morning before the Advent Tea I might have spent the hours scrubbing my (very dirty) floor and making everything picture perfect for those precious girls and their mommies, all of whom I love so. But I realized Jesus was calling me to prayer, calling me to sit a while with him in his arms. So I prayed. I prayed for a long time before I even got out of bed because I knew once I walked out my bedroom door, the excitement of the day would be flooding my home and carry me away (not in a bad way, but in a way that would make it hard for me to STOP and reflect).
My little and big girl guests arrived for the tea — dirty floors, dishes in the sink, little sandwiches still to be cut. My physical home was not quite ready, but that morning it was more important that I was ready — that my heart was ready — and after my time in prayer and reflection, I think I was — at least more than I was a few hours beforehand. We had a wonderful time. The girls had their pretty and we moms connected. One mom announced her pregnancy and we all cheered! Toward the end of the party, my friend Angela and I led the little girls in a craft in my family room, and what do you know, the other mommies cleaned my kitchen!
I put my feet up that night and knitted some slippers for Dominic while watching a movie with my family, thinking of the arms of Jesus, so big and powerful. So near. I hope for the rest of Advent I feel less like a waitress and more like a child of God. He has invited me, I know. I just need to figure out hour by hour how to live the invitation. Pray for me.
Photo credit: Nomadsoul1 (photos.com)
I’ve had it with screens. Computer screens, television screens, smartphone screens. Screens on toys, screens in homes, screens in restaurants, screens in stores. Wherever you go, the screen is never far away, threatening to lure you in and squander your time in a parallel universe where communication appears limitless even though real human interaction is non-existent.
Screens are like a magnet for our attention. Televisions in restaurants vie for our gaze no matter how much we love our dinner date; and it doesn’t take long to observe how much power the smartphone has over the virtue of self control.
Technology is wonderful in many ways. It allows us to keep in touch with long distance friends. It allows my children to see their grandparents who live on the other side of the country without ever stepping foot outside our door. It helps us grow in knowledge, and even helps us gain inspiration for more fully embracing our faith.
But how do we maintain a proper balance between the use of technology and the love of our human relationships? How do we ensure that ipods, smartphones, and computers are not interfering with the reception of God’s voice?
“Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which binds the passion.”–Thomas Aquinas
We must remind ourselves often of what our real passions are. I love God and I love my Catholic faith. I like to read about my faith in books, and on Catholic blogs and websites. But this is no replacement for time spent in prayer–for time spent just being with God. I love my family. I love my kids, and I am passionate about leading them to heaven. I like to read books, blogs, and Facebook pages that inspire me with ways to do this. But their journey to heaven can only begin when I spend time teaching them, loving them, and simply being with them.
Technology has its time and place. It’s even a wonderful tool for a bit of respite from the demands of everyday life. But it exists only to enhance what God calls us to do. It is not who we are.
“The things that we love tell us what we are.”–Thomas Aquinas
I am seeking to convey this truth to my children by the way we manage our screen time in our home. We have had days when I’ve been ready to literally throw all screens out the window. However, I recognize that technology is a part of our world, and it is up to me to teach my kids how to use it with temperance and prudence. Hence, the “unplugged” rule.
There is now a sign hanging in a prominent place in our home that reads, “Screens Are…” and just below it, space for a sign that reads either “Open” or “Closed”. This applies to the entire household, although some leniency is granted to adults who have legitimate “boring” work to do on a screen.
This rule is simple, clear cut, and easy to manage in a household of seven. It conveys the message that there are times to be plugged in and times to be unplugged. It allows our entire family to be available and in tune to one another at once, rather than always having one person who is using his or her “screen time” for the day.
This rule allows us to relate to one another, to work through disagreements together, to learn who we are through each other, and to give space for God’s voice to be heard.
Establish household technology rules that work for your family’s schedule. Monitor what your children are doing during their screen time. Model moderation of technology to your children and they will follow your lead. Establish your own set times that you will respond to e-mails, answer texts, and check your Facebook page. Then shut down and turn it off. Spend the rest of your day soaking up this glorious world God gave us. Truly be present to your kids and spouse and show them that they are, indeed, more important to you than that screen you’re holding. Because when the screens are closed, our hearts are open–and that is the kind of reception with which we should never interfere.
You can find some helpful resources here, including the slides from Lisa Hendey’s presentation “Raising Faith-Filled Families in the Digital Age” that I heard recently at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference.
I am not a morning person. Many early morning hours of my life have been spent rushing around, scalding my throat on hot coffee, and running out the door with a hope and a prayer that I didn’t forget anything important I might need for the day–all because I didn’t get out of bed when I should have.
Over the years, the early morning hours have become more precious to me. I love slowly sipping a cup of fresh coffee as the sun extends its fingers over the earth. I love the peace and silence of my house before anyone else is awake. I love feeling like, for a few moments, it’s just me and God.
But I still struggle. Four active young children, a nursing baby, and a full household to manage often makes it difficult to convince my body to do the will of my spirit. The snooze button on my alarm clock is my vice. I consider myself to be fairly self disciplined in many areas of my life, but between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 am, the snooze button is master.
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all.” (CCC 2342)
Yes, the snooze button reminds me every day that I am an unfinished work, slowly being formed according to God’s will. It reminds me that there is a fine line between improving ourselves and turning ourselves into “object[s] of manipulation” (TOB 123:1) by the many artificial means that exist to do so. The pursuit of perfect self-mastery allows us to acknowledge there is a higher power than ourselves on whom we must rely to overcome our inherent concupiscence of the flesh. Self-mastery allows us to live in the freedom of the Spirit rather than living as slaves to the urges of our bodies.
It is in these moments of glaring humanity, these moments of defeat and frustration, that we are on the brink of the perfection of divine strength. For the Lord tells Paul in 2 Corinthians that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul continues by saying, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians: 9-10)
It is in these moments that we are extended an invitation to throw our entire selves into the arms of God, where the desires of our flesh become opportunities to grow into the infinite expanse of God’s vast love for us. It is in these moments that we can surrender ourselves to God and become truly free by the power of His grace.
What a glorious thing true freedom is! The freedom of self-mastery allows us to have patience with a child who doesn’t want to go to bed at the end of a long, tiring day. Self-mastery allows us to manage our busy households in a way that keeps schedules running smoothly and laundry under control. Self-mastery allows us to love our spouse according to God’s law through the beauty of openness to life and natural family planning. Self-mastery allows us to be free to pursue the deepest desires of our hearts.
Aren’t these the things that make us who we are? That make us persons, distinct from every other living creature on this earth?
“Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself.” (TOB 123:5)
We should relish in the fact that we are not slaves to our physical beings as the animals are. We were created with the capacity to choose love time and time again. We were created with the ability to practice self-mastery in even the tiniest choices of our daily lives in order that we might better form our will to God’s–in order that we might become a living image of Christ Himself in the way we conduct ourselves and live out our vocation.
“…self-mastery is indispensable in order for man to be able to ‘give himself’, in order for him (referring to the words of the Council) to be able to ‘find himself fully’ through ‘a sincere gift of self’ [Gaudium et Spes, 24:3] “ (TOB 15:2)
In order for one to give a gift, that person must possess the gift first. Let us seek to obtain self-mastery in every moment of our day. Let us seek to possess the gift that will allow us to realize the full potential of who we are when we give it to others. For it is only when we seek to know ourselves as God does, as a gift to be given, that we will become who He created us to be.
Image Credit: Mike Manzano (photos.com)
I walk through the kitchen with a basket full of dirty laundry, and I catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. Hands clasped, big baby blue eyes gazing intently at me, patiently waiting in her bouncy seat as I complete some tasks. Suddenly, my arms are painfully aware of the weight of the cold, hard, plastic basket, and I long to snuggle the bundle of baby chub to my heart.
She waits so patiently, my baby Faith. She seems to know that I often feel so busy and pulled in so many different directions at once. It’s as if she has already accepted her little cross that comes with the joy of being the fifth baby: the cross of sometimes being a bit overlooked when older children are vocalizing their needs more loudly than she is; the cross of sometimes settling for a few minutes of entertainment from older siblings rather than the immediate comfort of Mom’s arms; the cross of learning the meaning of sacrifice and self-donative love at the tender age of three months.
But my darling Faith bears her little cross with the grace of a seasoned saint. Her even tempered personality is ever joyful with a ready smile and the sweet baby coos that delight the heart. She seems to have already accepted God’s will for her as she fulfills her role of fifth child, and I find myself wanting to remind her that it’s okay to listen to the desires of her heart–it’s okay to cry out in thirst not only for my milk, but also for the only type of love that can quench our arid souls.
So I drop my laundry basket and scoop her up. She snuggles her sweet baby cheek next to mine as her little body relaxes in the love of my embrace. Sometimes attachment parenting isn’t just about being in tune with the needs our children know how to express–it’s about revealing to them the needs that lie in the depths of their hearts. It’s about teaching them that just as we long for their love, so does God long for us. Were not two of Jesus’ last words, “I thirst”? Even after being beaten, humiliated, and abandoned, He expressed to us not only His bodily thirst, but also His thirst for souls–His deep longing to be one with us in heaven.
And so my house will remain in its seemingly constant state of toys strewn about, piles of laundry waiting to be folded, and muddy footprints in the bathroom. My primary task is to take the time to show my children the glorious love that awaits them in heaven, the type of relationship that can turn two into one, and the ever present hand of God that is continuously and persistently reaching out to us.
I will continue to try to know what my children need before they ask me, just as our Father in heaven does, and I will encourage my children to seek what is good for them–to seek that for which they truly thirst.
I have a crazy two-year-old. Henry is able to open almost anything labeled “childproof,” can climb to any height in our house, and seems to find great joy in harassing his baby sister until she squeals. Being a stay at home mom of five young children does not lend itself to a peaceful, orderly, and contemplative way of life. While I’ve learned to find peace in the noise, order in the chaos, and contemplative moments in the piles of laundry, I still find my heart yearning for a moment of pause–a time to find myself in God again and return to my vocation refreshed and rejuvenated.
Mother’s Day weekend was just such a moment for me. Two-month-old Faith and I pushed the pause button and entered a world of serenity, joy, and a feeling of being constantly wrapped in the loving arms of God. The Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas hosted a Mother’s Retreat with guest presenters Kris McGregor and Teresa Monaghen. We prayed, attended Mass, heard inspiring stories, and enjoyed meals with other faithful women. I had time to focus on my relationship with God and with the newest member of my family. There wasn’t a television in sight, and the religious artwork and natural beauty displayed throughout the Center kept my head and my heart centered on God. I started to walk more slowly, speak more deliberately, and I soaked in the silence that allowed God’s voice to be heard.
Discernment was the theme of the retreat as we explored the Magnificent Mystery of Motherhood. Like our Blessed Mother Mary, we don’t have all the answers. We don’t always understand our children, our spouse, or why God allows our lives to evolve the way they do. Like Mary, we too must ponder these things in our hearts. It is in these moments of silent pondering that we become aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are enlightened with the wisdom of what God wants from us in every moment of every day.
Once while St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, “What would you do if you were suddenly to learn that you were to die at sunset today?” He replied, “I would finish hoeing my garden.”
Are you doing what God wills for you right now? Do you know what He wants you to do after reading this article? We must cultivate our awareness of the Holy Spirit through prayer, reflection, and moments of pause. I often find myself asking the Holy Spirit things like, “Do you want me to fold laundry or clean the bathroom now?” or “Does my four-year-old really need me to play a game with her right now or would she be receptive to a lesson in patience and responsibility while I finish the dishes?” Our many daily tasks can be so overwhelming, yet it is through the practice of managing them by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to recognize the will of God when a big decision arises.
When we know that we are doing the will of God in any given moment, we will find the joy in our vocation. Indeed, this is the means by which all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit begin to manifest themselves in our character. Our stress levels will diminish as we rest in the peace of knowing we are truly doing the very best we can–that each day ends with knowing we accomplished God’s will for that day even if we didn’t check everything off of our list.
Being attentive to the Holy Spirit also allows us to embrace the elusive ability to truly live in the present moment. When my two-year-old falls off of his bike while I am trying to get some housework done, I am called to love, comfort, and soothe him until he is calm and confident enough to entertain himself again. My heart and mind are created to be fully devoted to him during that time–not anxious and distracted by the work that is unfinished. When a child is feeling deprived of our love, or an older child suddenly brings up a topic that needs to be discussed, we are called to drop everything and treat that moment as if it were our last moment on earth. Treat that moment as an opportunity to refocus our priorities and see Christ in the person who needs us.
Whether we are hoeing a garden or changing a diaper, we will rest in the peace of knowing we are ready to meet God during any moment of our day–ready to be enveloped in the grace of our Lord as He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
For more information about the retreat center and presenters mentioned in this article, see:
Love this repost of a great article on attachment parenting and working over at Attachment Parenting International. As I’ve said before, an attached lifestyle isn’t only for at-home moms. I think especially when Mommy is working away from baby for part of the day, attachment practices will benefit that sweet babe.
The article gives general tips for practicing an attached lifestyle while working then focuses on pumping while at work. The author suggests moms begin pumping well before they return to work, then pump on a regular schedule while at work.
When both parents work away from home, it’s especially important for Daddy to participate in keeping the home running smoothly, especially focusing the care of older kids and directing their evening routine while Mom sits and nurses baby. This commitment shared by both parents can only bring them closer together as long as they have the right perspective. Instead of asking each other”what have you done for me lately,” start with “what can I do for you today to make your life a little easier?” All parents share a joint mission in creating a safe, loving environment for everyone in the family while balancing the needs of the children and parents, but I dual earner couples have to be especially aware of this mission.