Archive for Playing Together – Page 2

But Jesus Is IN There!

42082As Joseph waited expectantly for my wise answer, I scrambled to think quickly but truthfully.

I was preparing dinner one afternoon, when five-year old Joseph came running up to me with a serious look on his face. He was always full of energy and mischief but he also had a delightful spirituality that was not taught but inborn. Once again, Joseph had another theological question for me,

“Mum, does Mary live in my heart?”

I did some fast thinking. Heaven is within us and Mary is in heaven, I thought. So I answered,

“Yes sweetie, Mary is in your heart.”

Joseph sighed and concluded the discussion,“I guess that means that God is in my feet.”

I laughed silently to myself and thought that was a very theologically correct concept since God is our foundation. I had no idea what went on in Josph’s head after that answer but I soon found out.

It was about a week later, when all the kids who were old enough (and one who wasn’t really old enough), were playing hide and go seek.

When Joseph pinched his toe with a closet door he ran up to me again, this time he was sobbing. Although I tried to calm him down, while he sat on my knee, he wouldn’t stop crying. Finally I tried to reason with him,

“Joseph, you are fine. Look there isn’t even any blood. There will be just a little bruise.”

“I know”, he cried, ”but Jesus is in there!!”

Play Is One of Our Best Parenting Tools

I came across this wonderful short video featuring Tina Payne Bryson, co-author of the Whole-Brained Child.  She gives us a few tips on how having a playful attitude with our kids can help us avoid power struggles.  Instead of “commanding and demanding” (get in your car seat right now), we turn the tension into a fun exchange (oh, good, if you don’t want to get in your car seat, I’m going to sit there — then we get in the car seat).  I love this approach because you are actually strengthening your connection with your child by handling it this way (kids love it when we’re big goofballs).  I know it’s hard to do this every time you child is resisting your expectations, but it’s one of the best parenting tools to keep in your pocket.

For more great tips on being a playful parent, check out Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen.  Cohen’s book is one of my favorites.

The Battle of the Screens

91911223I’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.

screens open-closed

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.

What’s Your Excuse?

87490642My kids and I rediscovered the joy of reading together this summer.  We learned new words, gained knowledge about unfamiliar topics, and felt a sense of accomplishment as each page was turned.  But there is one hidden benefit of reading that surpasses all of the others; one benefit that occurs naturally but is still surprising; one benefit that makes reading “Elmo’s Favorite Things” for the hundredth time completely worth it.

The transformation is almost magical.  I open a book and four crazy, distracted, bouncy kids refocus their energy on the story that is unfolding.  They start to gravitate closer to me, and even my older children can’t help but be interested in what they thought was a “baby” book.  Suddenly, their desire to see the pictures on the pages become a good excuse.  An excuse to sit a little closer to me; an excuse to lean their heads on my shoulder; an excuse to snuggle into the crook of my arm.

Before I know it, we are one big pile of Mommy, books, and kids, all enjoying the excuse to be physically close to one another as we fill up our stores of love just by reading a good book together.

Whether eight or eighteen, our children need our physical affection to survive in this world.  They need to feel pure, authentic, physical love often so they will know immediately when they are tempted by false affection and perverted notions of intimacy.

Observe the genius of our heavenly Father.  Did He not create “excuses” for us to physically lean into His love when He established the Seven Sacraments?  It is by taking advantage of these wonderful gifts of the Church that we can see God’s welcoming arms as His love flows over us in Baptism, cry on His shoulder in Reconciliation, and literally experience a taste of union with God through the Holy Eucharist.  We feel His comforting embrace lift us to a new level of grace and inspiration through Confirmation, our hearts are united to His in Matrimony and Holy Orders, and we feel Him take our hand to lead us home through the Anointing of the Sick.  We can’t help but fill up our hearts with God’s love by embracing the fullness of these sacraments.  And when we participate in these physical signs of God’s affection for us regularly, that love overflows into our souls, minds, and bodies.  We truly become temples of God and feel as close to the fulfillment of heaven as we possibly can while still on earth.

In his book, Beyond the Birds and the Bees, Dr. Greg Popcak says, “For both boys and girls, a disordered sexuality has its roots in emotionally stingy homes.  Boys and girls of every age have deep needs for touch and affirmation, needs given to them by God.”

So what’s your excuse to get close to your kids?  A good book, a piano duet, or a playful wrestling match?  Playing a video game while seated next to each other on the couch?  A pat on the back as you pass each other in the kitchen?  Get creative, especially with your older children.  Give them opportunities to fill up their hearts with your love and affection and encourage them to take advantage of them.  Fill their hearts until they overflow, so that instead of seeking superfluous physical fulfillment in the dark corners of the world, their hearts, minds, and bodies will be capable of enlightening the shadows with the purity of God’s love.

Recommended Resource for Parents: 

Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Dr. Greg Popcak

Books I’m enjoying reading with my preschool through elementary school-aged kids:

Hooray!  I’m Catholic!  by Hana Cole

The Princess and the Kiss:  A Story of God’s Gift of Purity  by Jennie Bishop

The Squire and the Scroll:  A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart by Jennie Bishop

Image credit:  Hemera Technologies (photos.com)

The Hunger of Our Hearts

They’re out there.  Circling about like vultures, trying not to let me see them glance through the window as their mouths water in anticipation.  I scoop the last of the freshly baked cookies onto the cooling rack and brace myself.  3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . My six year old bursts through the back door, his love for cookies overtaking his already limited sense of decorum.  “Cookies!  Can I have one?  Can I have two?  Can all of my friends have one?”  As I watch my afternoon’s work being devoured in two minutes flat, I wish I had the ability to multiply my cookies just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish.

Kids in summerMy summer days are filled with opportunity.  I am constantly surrounded by young hearts that are all hungering for the same thing:  the bountiful goodness of God’s gracious love.  Not only are my five children on summer break from school, but so are the other 15 or so neighborhood kids who seem to gravitate to our backyard most of the time.  Many of our days are filled with laughter, delighted screams, water fights, and epic Nerf gun battles.  And while they usually play amicably and safely together, there are also the inevitable arguments, scraped knees, requests for snacks and water, and even the occasional fist fight.

I have to admit that I do enjoy the times they are all playing well together outside while I do some much needed housework, but it is in their times of need that my response can create the ideal play place for them.  A place where they are made free by rules that keep them safe; a place where they are respected and taught how to handle disagreements in ways other than using their fists; a place where they know they will be nourished, both body and soul.

While our primary responsibility for guiding souls to heaven lies with our own children, we are also called to touch the hearts of others in a way that will lead them closer to our Lord.  Our children’s peers give us the opportunity to play a part in saving souls that are still in the tender years of formation.  We are not to take the place of their own parents’ guidance, of course, but while they are in our presence, we can be a light for them.  Just as Jesus took the few loaves and fish that man could provide and demonstrated God’s generosity in making up for what we lack, so too do our kind gestures reveal some knowledge of the love for which everyone’s souls hunger.  Who knows what floodgates of grace God will open if we but unlock them with a kind word, a bandage, or forgiveness for wrong doing?

It is by building good and trusting relationships with our children’s peers that they will feel comfortable and welcome in our presence.  Our children and their friends will trust that we are always looking out for their best interests as they seek the environment of a household where love is freely given in a manner of total self donation–an environment where hearts are faithful to the laws of God as manifested in the fruits of kindness, charity, and generosity.

And so I will continue to feed their hungry little bodies with cookies and nurture their hearts with love.  May my children and their friends always feel that by walking through the front door of our home, they are walking into the arms of Christ Himself.

Sibling Rivalry (or “when’s that baby going back to her real house?”)

90056894When I was eight-months pregnant with my second child (my daughter Claire), my oldest child Aidan announced, “I don’t really want a sister.”

Now, why wouldn’t any child want a sibling?  Why wouldn’t he want somebody to ride bikes with, somebody to dig in the dirt with, somebody to open presents with on Christmas morning?  Well, because he was a normal four-year-old for one thing.  We’re looking at sibling rivalry here.  What is sibling rivalry really and how do we deal with it effectively?  This is the topic I explored today with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life, produced by Ave Maria Radio.   (If you missed the show you can find the entire program in Ave Maria’s archives!)

Every parent I know who has more than one child has faced sibling rivalry.  Sibling rivalry is the competition and fighting between siblings brought on by a child’s jealousy or insecurity about how his parents feel about him compared to his siblings.  It’s easy to ignore sibling rivalry as just part of a normal childhood, but true sibling rivalry is very different from squabbling.  This kind of jealousy can become poisonous and painful if left to fester.

Preschoolers 

Let’s begin at the beginning, because sibling rivalry most often begins before the second child is even born, just as it did for Aidan nearly ten years ago.  These feelings of ambivalence about a new child coming into the family are very normal.  But if parents ignore those feelings or if they shame the child for having them, it can set up a dangerous dynamic between the two children.  I think it’s imperative that we recognize how authentically threatened little children are by the arrival of a new baby.  Before the baby arrives, they hear Mommy and Daddy talking “the baby” a LOT ( and what’s a baby? who is it? where is it coming from? what’s it gonna say or do?).  They watch Mommy rubbing her baby belly, witness the joy in the faces of strangers when they talk to Mommy about the baby coming, and watch Mommy and Daddy shopping for cool stuff for the baby.  Then the baby comes.  Well, goodness.  Now they see Mom gazing into the baby’s eyes, cooing at her, nursing her.  What’s to like about that when you’re a little kid?

CAPC’s second Building Block to a Joyful Catholic Home™ is empathy.  Empathy requires us to put ourselves in our child’s shoes so we can understand things from his perspective.  Empathy allows us to respond to our child with more awareness of what they need from us.  Quite simply, our kids are not us!  They have their own thoughts, temperament, and ideas.  If I had considered Aidan’s struggle only from my own perspective, I would have told him to knock it off and get with the program – we were having a baby whether he liked it or not.  However, when I looked at Aidan’s problem from his perspective – the perspective of a preschool only-child with health issues and two overwhelmed parents (I was in law school and Philip was a post-doctoral researcher) — no wonder he was freaked out thinking about a new family member coming.  He felt unsettled, threatened, and unsure where he would fit into the picture after the baby arrived.

Aidan is no different from any other small child facing the arrival of a new baby in the family.  All of us can acknowledge our older child’s feelings and do what we can to give them the reassurance and love they need to help through this transition. Here a few tips to help your little ones cope with their anxiety when you are expecting and welcoming a new baby into your family:

  • Include big siblings in preparations:  When we were expecting new babies, Philip and I got in the habit of calling the baby “our baby” or even “your baby” when talking to our older kids about the baby.  (“When your baby is crying, she might be hungry or uncomfortable.”)  This gave our children the feeling that they were included in the giant excitement ahead.
  • Gentle first introductions:  When baby finally arrived, when my older children came to the hospital the first time to meet baby, I asked my husband to phone me when he was on his way up so that I could put the baby in the hospital bassinet.  This way, my arms were free to hug my older children and I could introduce them to the new baby gently.   I also had “big sibling” gifts waiting for my kids when they arrived at the hospital.
  • Involve big siblings in baby care:  Older siblings will bond better with the baby if they are permitted to hold the baby, help with diapering and bathing, etc.  They feel less sidelined and more important.
  • One-on-one time:  It really helps older siblings feel special when we make an effort to spend “just you” time with them after baby arrives.  When I was recovering from my 3rd c-section, I made the mistake of ensuring my older kids had lots of special time with Dad and Grandma, but failed to take that time myself.  Two-year-old Claire was very jealous of Dominic for several months. I had to heal my relationship with her first before she was able to open her heart to Dominic.  (Now they’re great pals!)

Older Children

Beyond the baby years, older children can struggle with sibling rivalry, too.  My discussion with Greg & Lisa was part of their broader presentation of the problem of resentment – specifically the ways in which we can become mired in our anger and sense of powerlessness about certain relationships and circumstances.  When sibling rivalry is a problem in the relationship of two older siblings, this element of anger and powerlessness is very clear.  The siblings can actually feel hatred toward their sibling, exaggerate affronts, and react to small annoyances with emotional hostility and even violence.  I think this irrationality comes partly from a place of fear and powerlessness.

Older children are striving to demonstrate how they are special and unique.  They are trying to define themselves apart from their siblings.  Siblings can become jealous, angry, and competitive with one another when we fail to affirm them for the unique children of God that they are.  Here are a few tips for quieting the rioting between your big ‘uns!

  • Don’t compare or label your kids:  Never compare your children! (“Why can’t you be a good ball player like your brother?”)   This is a no-brainer.  Most parents I know have risen above this terrible habit because it was one that their parents haunted them with in their own childhoods, but I must make this declaration anyway in case there are few stragglers out there:  Comparing children – their talents, faults, attractiveness – is toxic!  Similarly, labeling your kids is very limiting.  Were you called “the clumsy one,” “the smart one,” “the pretty one,” or “the black sheep” in your family of origin?  Labels like this can hurt feelings and constrain potential.  I think parents get in the habit of labeling kids because they’re trying to create a family identity and sense of cohesion (however strange).  But these labels can create stagnancy and bitterness in family dynamics.  Yuck.  So avoid labels and be open to whatever your kids have to teach you about who they are and where God is leading them.
  • Help your kids discover their talents:  God has a special plan for each of us.  When we help our children see that they are unique and unrepeatable, with talents and gifts of their very own, they won’t feel like they have to live up to their siblings achievements.
  • Have plenty of family fun time:  Reserving special time for the whole family to play together fosters connection and family identity.  When your children regularly laugh together, they are better able to handle their conflicts later.   
  • Don’t forget one-on-one time:  Just like younger kids, older children benefit from me-and-you time when they can experience your love and recognition apart from their siblings.
  • Require and model kindness in your home:  Cruelty and sibling abuse is a reality and it can lead to life-long psychological harm.  We must never accept or tolerate violence or bullying in our homes.  This means we parents have to model the behavior we expect to see in our children.  We have to treat our children and our spouse with respect and love if we expect our children to internalize those values.

None of us wants to see our kids fighting or bickering, especially when it’s motivated by a lack of confidence in our love for them.  Sibling rivalry is avoidable!  Understand where your kids are coming from, meet their needs tenderly and mercifully, and reassure them that everyone’s needs will be met to the best of your ability.  Love your kids without limits, every day, at every opportunity.

Image credit: Arne Thayson (photos.com)

A Peaceful, Pregnant Pause

“Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater wishes and so on; so that children have very little time for their parents; parents have very little time for each other; and the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”  –Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

The third trimester of pregnancy has always been difficult for me.  Maybe it’s because my small frame feels stretched to its limit while bearing relatively large babies.  Maybe it’s because I feel a bit anxious that my history of early deliveries will repeat itself with less favorable outcomes than I have had in the past.  But the biggest challenge of my third trimester is to live in direct contradiction to my natural inclinations of perfectionism, hard work with little rest and infrequent breaks, and a slight tendency towards over-commitment.  While my previous pregnancies and the nature of big family life have helped me gain a healthy control of these personality traits, I still find myself struggling to rest my weary body when there are dishes to be done, piles of laundry to be folded, and clutter to be picked up.

86529015Realizing that rest is essential to the welfare of my baby and me, I have a choice to make.  I can either sit and stew about the dirty bathrooms, the activities I wish I had the energy to do with my kids, the never ending piles of laundry, and all of the thousand and one other things that I seem to think I should be doing, or I can look at these next two months as an opportunity.  An opportunity to simplify, slow down, and invite the gift of peace into the often accelerating tempo of our family life.

I frequently find myself praying for the gift of greater joy as I go about the sometimes mundane duties of motherhood.  I’ve come to realize that the answer to this prayer will not be in the form of sudden excitement over the prospect of changing yet another dirty diaper, or a happy thrill upon seeing ground-in grass stains on both knees of my son’s new khaki pants.  Perhaps joy is a closer relative to the stillness of a peaceful heart than to the elation of a child on Christmas morning.  For is not the elation over acquiring the things of this world simply a fleeting moment of happiness?

A peaceful heart is filled with space that is waiting to be filled by God and His will.  A peaceful heart remains joyful even in the midst of unhappiness, as there is no greater joy than enduring anything for the love of God.  A peaceful heart has mastered the art of being in this world, but not of it.

How can I help my family be this oasis of peace in a world that praises multitasking, full social calendars, and long hours of work in the pursuit of materialism?  When we keep such tight schedules that there is no room for God, our sense of peace becomes almost non-existent.  A true sense of joy is stifled by the more superficial high of happiness.  We float about on the cloud nine of this world instead of proceeding with the steady footsteps of faith towards the infinite realms of God’s love.

Some questions that our family reflects on and prays about before adding to or changing our schedule of activities are:

1.  Will this activity leave ample time for our spiritual obligations and family time?

It’s of the utmost importance that our family attend weekly mass together, receive the graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month, and have time for daily prayer and scripture study.  We also place a high emphasis on eating dinner together and having regular family fun time in the form of a game night, movie night, or day excursion.

2.   Does this activity help me use the talents God gave me for the good of others?

My husband and I visit this question anytime a new opportunity arises for us, whether it is a paid activity or a stewardship opportunity.  As for our children, we do our best to help them discern whether they truly have a strong interest in an activity.  After trying the new endeavor and following through with their commitment to it, we discuss this question with them again and decide together if it is worth a further investment of their time, or if God has gifted them with a different ability that they should explore.

3.   If this activity provides compensation for my time, is it worth the amount I’m getting paid, or is my time more valuable used in another way?

My husband is faced with this question frequently.  Sometimes he feels called to do something that pays very little, but is clearly a way for God to work through him for the good of others.  Other times, something he is doing simply isn’t worth the money for the amount of time it takes him away from his family.  In each instance, as long as he seeks out God’s will in the situation, we always seem to have enough money for what our family truly needs.

4.   Does this activity help me to be the best mother, father, student, co-worker, Church member, etc. that I can be?

When our family is over scheduled, Mom and Dad are stressed.  When Mom and Dad are stressed, so are the kids.  This usually results in something small, like a spill at lunch time, turning into a comment from my 8 year-old along the lines of “I bet sometimes you wish you didn’t have all of these kids to take care of!”  (Okay–maybe I sighed a little too loudly as I bent down to clean up the mess.)  The language of the body speaks volumes to our children.  Do I speak a language of stress, exhaustion, and burdened, or do I speak a language of loving servitude, peacefulness, and quiet joy?  We need room in our schedules for the flexibility that parenthood requires, for moments of silence with God, and for time to relax as individuals and as a family unit.

There are other questions I am sure I will find myself pondering as I guide my family down the path of the new year, but these will hopefully point us in the direction we should go.

Pope Benedict has declared January 1 World Peace Day 2013 with the theme, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  I hope our family can contribute to a greater sense of peace in the world by reevaluating our priorities, cutting out unnecessary activities, and living a life that is less hectic and more faith filled.  A life that teaches my children that space and silence are invaluable tools for hearing the voice of God.  A life that teaches everyone who we touch that the home can either begin the disruption or the restoration of the peace of the world.  In the words of Thomas A Kempis, it’s up to us to “first keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.”

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

Being Yourself

My three-year-old daughter, Hazel, has had a rough couple of days.  She has been a little more sullen and moody than usual, and my mommy instincts have been warning me that perhaps there is something disturbing her physical well-being in a way that I just can’t quite diagnose.

Despite her rather volatile temperament, Hazel, Henry, and I decided to head out to playgroup this morning, hoping that a change of scenery would cheer both of us up after two days of riding an emotional roller coaster.  As a mom, my children’s pain is my pain, and it’s difficult not to spend every waking moment searching for the secret to their interior peace when something is so clearly causing them distress.  My fear that I somehow wasn’t the mother that Hazel needed me to be combined with a feeling of walking on eggshells lest I trigger a sudden tantrum had left me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

We were the first people to arrive at our destination, and Hazel played happily enough by herself alongside her little brother, Henry, but it was near the end of the morning that the real transformation occurred.  She suddenly decided to accept a little boy’s invitation to play with him, and I watched them fall into a rhythm together as they shared their toys and played joyfully in a world that only the two of them could see.  It was as if, before my very eyes, she became more like herself again simply because she found someone she could relate to in this moment in time–someone who could give her exactly what she needed in order to rediscover her usual pleasant personality.

I realized that my worry that I wasn’t giving her what she needed over the last couple of days was unfounded.  I’ve been giving her everything a mother can give, when what she really needed was something only another like-minded three-year-old could give–someone who could play with her and relate to her in her world, and with whom she could reciprocate that specific type of companionship.

The Theology of the Body teaches us that we are all unique and unrepeatable beings who were created for relationship.  It seems to follow logically that this results in an infinite number of unique and unrepeatable relationships in this world, all of which contribute to our ability to fully realize who God created us to be.  It is in the reciprocal self donation of the different relationships in our lives that we are able to reveal the many facets of our own personality.

“The Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father ‘that all may be one…as we are one’ (Jn 17:21-22), opened up vistas closed to human reason.  For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God’s children in truth and charity.  This likeness reveals that man who is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”  (Guadium et Spes)

This idea of fully finding ourselves through a sincere gift of self  leads me to reflect on exactly how I am teaching my children to relate to the people God has placed in their lives.  Rather than only focusing on how to respond in a virtuous way in a given situation, I am prodded to encourage them to take this a step further and ask, “How does God want me to give a gift of my own unique self to this person or circumstance?” or “What is something special that only I can do to love this person or make this situation better?”

As parents, we all want our children to be happy.  But we are only truly happy when we are fulfilling God’s calling with every fiber of our being.  It is through exploring our talents with prayerful discernment that we are able to determine how those abilities should be used to serve God by serving others.  It is when we surrender ourselves to the glory of God by returning His gifts to Him with limitless generosity that we reach a point of self-realization, or complete knowledge, acceptance, and peace with who God created us to be.

So how do we teach our children that their worth is so great and their unique personality traits so special that they have the ability to infinitely bless others and praise God simply by being who they are?  As parents, we must strive to get to know them better than they know themselves.  We can only achieve this by spending time with them.  Lots of time.  Not hovering or smothering, but putting in the time at every opportunity that arises.  Our children want us to watch their sports events and concerts.  They want to have “dates” with Mom and Dad.  Younger children, especially, deeply crave our attention:  it’s their way of saying, “Please help me figure out who I am and what I am doing in this overwhelming world.”

We need to observe our children in various settings, taking note of their personal strengths and weaknesses.  When they come to us with a problem, we can teach them to call upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom before speaking or acting.  In this way, they will develop the habit of always seeking God’s voice first in this often noisy and confusing world so that they might hear directly from Him how each relationship can bring out the virtues and abilities with which He specifically blessed them.

Lately I’ve been observing my children especially closely as we read scripture, pray, and discuss moral dilemmas together.  Being the unique and unrepeatable people that they are, I’ve come to realize that their individual qualities will affect their personal relationship with God as well.  One of my children is more logically minded and accepts the teachings of God and the Church simply because they’re “the rules”.  Another child gets caught up in pondering the mysteries of the Church and how great God is that He can work such miracles.  I hope to encourage them to continue to develop their relationship with God in their own unique way, even if it is different from mine.  It is only through this close personal connection with God that they will fall in love with Him enough to embrace His guidance and grace through the doctrines of the Church.

And when they fall in love with God enough to embrace all that He asks of them, to give a sincere gift of themselves to Him in all that they do and in every relationship they enter into, I will be able to send them into the world with confidence that they know exactly who they are and will be forever filled with the joy of giving.

“So abandon yourself utterly for the love of God,

and in this way you will become truly happy.”  Blessed Henry Suso

Little Ways to Give Thanks

This week Americans sit down around their tables to celebrate Thanksgiving.   Over the years I’ve learned about so many special ways our families can express thanks this Thursday.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Thanksgiving Day Hamper:  I read about this Victorian tradition in Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations of Comfort & Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  Victorian families would prepare Thanksgiving food baskets for the needy and deliver them on Thanksgiving Day.  This is a tradition worth incorporating into our Catholic homes.  When our children help us gather food for the basket and deliver it to a food bank or shelter, they learn about mercy and love of neighbor.

The Gratitude Box:  Place a box with a slit in the top on your kitchen counter several days before Thanksgiving.  Family members write down what they’re thankful for on slips of paper and place them in the box, but without identifying who they are.  During the Thanksgiving meal, Mom or Dad (or some other specially designated person) reads aloud the thankful notes and everyone tries to guess who wrote each one.

Gratitude Stroll:  On Thanksgiving Day morning, take a walk as a family to ponder the year and share with one another all that’s happened for which you are thankful.  You can recall each month and choose one thing you’re grateful for that happened during that month.  Even in months during which we faced adversity, indeed especially in those months, we can see the hand of God at work and his love for us.

The Empty Chair:  This one really gets me choked up. Arrange a place setting before a chair that will remain empty.  That seat is reserved for somebody your family wishes could have joined you for dinner but couldn’t, perhaps because of death, illness, or estrangement.  Have the children make a place card for the missing person.  You can also have this be an empty seat for several missing guests.  Family members and those joining you for dinner can create simple place cards for the person they most miss and all the place cards can be placed before the empty chair.

In my home, my children always make homemade place cards.  As a mama, I love these and treasure them.  They’re like little mementos of Thanksgiving Days past.  If I can get my caboose in gear I’d like to take a gratitude stroll with my family on Thanksgiving Day morning this year.  Whatever our family traditions, the chatter, warmth, and aroma of delicious food is something to be grateful for and something our children will long remember.

If you want to read more about how we can give our children the gift of gratitude in our Catholic homes, be sure to check out my gratitude essay in the Fall 2012 edition of Tender Tidings.  (The link to launch the flipbook is right up top on the front page.)  Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving Day!

Photo credit: Ingvald Kaldhussalter

 

An Identity of Her Own

My heartstrings ache as my husband carries our sobbing three year-old daughter into the next room.  Today was going to be “My Day”.  My day to waltz out to my van free of diaper bag, car seats, and children.  My day to drive for a full 30 minutes without music that instructs me to rub my belly or jump up and down blaring from the stereo.  My day to have uninterrupted adult conversation.  My day to eat lunch at a restaurant that does not give away toys with their meals. Yes, I’ve been looking forward to this day of long overdue reconnection with my best childhood friend while my kids have a fun “Daddy Day” at home.

But my daughter Hazel’s cries instantly replace my gleeful anticipation with feelings of dread, worry, and sadness.  Now I am anxious about this day, because I won’t know from minute to minute if she’s still crying and if the reason for her tears is that she’s missing her irreplaceable Mommy.  I am worried that my day away will cloud her joyful world with anxiety and doubt.  I am sad because my eight year old has given me enough perspective to know that these young years go by in the blink of an eye, and at times like these, I am struck by how fleeting these precious, innocent years are.

There are times when we can teach our children the lesson of self-donative love by allowing them to meet our need for some rejuvenating space of our own.  At other times this lesson is best learned by giving ourselves to them when their needs exceed ours.  Today my heart is telling me to teach Hazel about love by continuing to sacrifice for her.  I know the opportunity will arise again for her to learn the true meaning of love by sacrificing for me.  That’s the beauty of being so in tune to the inner workings of our children’s hearts and minds.  We know the difference between a want and a true need at every age and developmental level.

My darling daughter doesn’t just want to go with me today.  She needs to go with me.

Hazel

Hazel is at an age where she is starting to realize she has an identity of her own–an identity entirely different from the four males in our household.  Just as a baby will partially awaken in the night to “practice” crawling or some other such milestone that consumes her little brain and body, so Hazel is feeling the need for almost constant connection to the feminine role model that only her mother can be.

The Theology of the Body teaches us that we are ‘created for relationship’ and that it is through the interplay with the various people God has placed in our lives that we find our own identity.  Instead of leaving for “My Day” alone feeling anxious and worried, I choose to find peace in the part of my identity that rests in my relationship with my daughter.

Hazel and I agree that she will be on her best behavior while Mommy enjoys some time conversing with an old friend, and you know what?  She is.  She is as good as gold the entire day.  Hazel respects my need to enjoy time with my friend because I am respecting her need to be with me.

We look at pretty, fragile, impractical things in specialty shops and boutiques, we try on clothes, and we enjoy lunch in a rather grown up setting.  We explore what it means to be a woman in all of our God-given glorious femininity together.  Hazel learns that window shopping can be as pleasurable as buying everything in sight (and much easier on the budget), and that trying on clothes means sticking with fashions that are modest while simultaneously flattering the body God gave us.  While she licks the frosting off a star-shaped cookie the size of her head, Hazel listens intently to what it means to be a real friend:  someone who listens to all of your joys and fears without judging or questioning, someone who helps you uphold the moral foundation of your life, and someone who completely understands that being a mom is not a role that can be pushed aside simply because you’ve made a lunch date.

By the end of the day, I feel rejuvenated and restored in not just one but two very important relationships in my life.  I realize that my heart wasn’t aching for a break from my daughter, but for greater communion with her in a setting that allowed us to relax and explore our identities through one another away from the stresses of everyday life.

I return home a better friend, a more in-tune mother, and a refreshed wife.  Now that’s one transformation that I simply can’t imagine daughter missing!

“The Body Expresses the Person”

Editor’s Note:  If you enjoyed Charisse Tierney’s thoughtful essay “Coffee Break” a few weeks ago, you’ll be delighted to know that Charisse has agreed to join CAPC’s regular writing staff!  Charisse is a professional musician, Catholic writer, and stay at home mom of four. She and her husband, Rob, teach Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body for Teens through their parish in Newton, Kansas. Their family enjoys living the attachment parenting lifestyle and growing in their Catholic faith together.  Charisse will be focusing on Theology of the Body in her CAPC articles.  Welcome Charisse! 

I just spent the morning enjoying God’s creation with my four children.  We hiked, we collected flower petals and leaves, and we delighted in spotting beautiful butterflies and creepy crawly roly polies on the woodland floor.  We laughed, told goofy jokes, and smiled at each other.  We did not sit and have lengthy conversations in which we poured out our love for each other in Shakespearean fashion, but at the end of the adventure we all felt closer to each other.  We felt joyful.  We felt loved.

Charisse’s darling boys, Henry & Owen

How was this accomplished?  Not through the words we spoke, but through the great language of our bodies. I watched as my children played tag, gave each other piggy back rides, and physically guided the toddler of the family back on track when a particularly interesting pile of dirt distracted him from the trail.  The joy emanated from their faces as their bodies moved through the beauty that God created. They danced in the sunbeams and leaped between rocks.  They exuded the security of being part of a family unit whose foundation lies in respect for the God who created them.

Just as we marveled at the deep yellow of a particular flower petal, so do we marvel at the way God made each of our bodies.  The patience of my older children to wait for a toddler’s little legs to catch up reflects the patience of my husband as he respects the cycles of my body while we navigate the intricacies of Natural Family Planning together.  The big sister’s hand that provides gentle reassurance for a toddler’s unsteady step reflects the nurturing my body provides to my nursing children.  The big brother who offers to carry a tired younger sibling reflects the comfort Rob’s and my bodies envelop them in as they sleep next to us at night.

These languages of the body can be explained in words, but they can only truly be learned through experience.  As Rob and I live our marriage sacrament and as we love each other with free, total, faithful, and fruitful love, our children can feel the love of Christ pouring out from us.  There is no fear in our children’s hearts of ever losing the graces of our marriage.  They are completely secure in our love for each other, our love for them, and our love for their future siblings.

It is assumed in our house that, God willing, one baby is followed by another.  There is never any doubt that any baby would not be fully embraced with love and dignity as one of God’s creations.  This is what makes my children feel so loved:  the knowledge that they, too, were loved before they were even conceived.

My husband demonstrates what it means to be a man by the way he wrestles with the boys, respects me for the way God made me, and cares for our home through manual labor and working to finance our future.  I demonstrate what it means to be a woman by embracing the “feminine genius” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women) and using my body for which it was created:  bearing new life, providing comfort and nourishment at the breast, and embracing wounded bodies and hearts with soft arms and a shoulder to cry on.

My husband and I demonstrate together what it means to love as Christ does by living the Natural Family Planning and Attachment Parenting lifestyles.  These lifestyles demonstrate respect for one another’s bodies, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others, and an openness to God’s plan for our lives.  The reality of these lifestyles consists not of tangible substance, but of an authentic truth that radiates naturally from the way our bodies interact with each other. 

It is a foundation such as this that gives my husband and me confidence to navigate the teenage years using the same principles on which we base our marriage.  Chastity, self-control, generosity, charity, and all of the other fruits of the Holy Spirit are demonstrated daily in our household.  When we fail to model these virtues well, contrition and forgiveness restore the grace we need to inspire our children to holiness.

Blessed Pope John Paul II was so wise when he said, “The body expresses the person” in one of his great Theology of the Body talks.  What does your body say about the type of person you are to your children?  It is this language that your children will most remember, look up to, and want to emulate.

The joy pouring out of my children’s bodies on our nature walk this morning was beautiful to behold, but the perfect ending to such a wonderful morning was seeing the peace on my toddler’s face as he nursed to sleep, savoring the love that flowed from one body into another.