Archive for Ages & Stages

Let Me Do It

child hand and cookies

 

It’s a desire that is expressed in many ways.  “I want to help.”  “I do it myself.”  “Let me do it.”  When these words come from my three-year-old, I have to admit that I usually feel a sense of dread.  Because these words, if I indulge them, are usually followed by splattered brownie batter, laundry that requires refolding, or a simple task that takes ten times longer to complete than I had anticipated.

But I read something recently that changed my entire perception of these words:

“You may hear Jesus a hundred times a day, saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  In your difficulties, in your problems, in all those things in your daily life which are sometimes so difficult, so distressing, when you ask yourself, ‘What shall I do? How shall I do it?’  listen to Him saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  And then answer Him, ‘O Jesus, I thank you for all things.’  And it will be the most beautiful dialogue of love between a soul and the all-powerful and all-loving God.”  –Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbee, I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux 

St. Therese’s theology is so applicable to us mothers!  It’s easy to feel that our lives don’t live up to the worldview of “success.”  Maybe they don’t.  But when we forget what type of success we’re supposed to be striving for, all we have to do is see Jesus in our children, hear Him in their voices, and surrender ourselves to Him through their hearts.

Our days can be overwhelming.  The messes, the piles, the crying, the tantrums, the exclamations of “Look at me!” and the drawn out “Mooooooommy!” that seems to come every 30 seconds.  There are many days when we want to just get everything done, get the kids to bed, and sit down!

But Jesus isn’t calling us to only get the laundry done, do the dishes, and resolve arguments and tantrums.  He’s calling us to grow in patience, kindness, and gentleness.  He’s calling us to greater love and unity with our family and with Him.  He’s calling us to heaven.

So when I start to have thoughts of “What shall I do?  How shall I do it?” as I list off my seemingly insurmountable tasks for the day, I try to hear Jesus when my three-year-old says “Let me do it.”

When I surrender my laundry, my cooking, and my cleaning, it is the first step in surrendering my heart.  When I favor relationships over chores, Jesus steps in and takes over.  He multiplies my time.  He makes little miracles happen within the humble walls of my home.  Like my three-year-old spinning an elaborate story about a dream she had.  Or my eleven-year-old sharing his hopes and dreams for the future.  Or my seven-year-old finally opening up about a worry that has been weighing on her mind.  I build my relationships, and somehow the truly necessary work still gets done.  I let Jesus in, and He does it.

It is when we hear Jesus in the simple conversations of our day that the dialogue between us and our children becomes that beautiful dialogue between us and our all-merciful, all-loving, all-powerful God.  And there is no sweeter success than that.

Photo credit: mccartyv via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Jesus Is a Baby Whisperer

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde (1884)

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde, 1884

The best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with, and through the Holy Spirit because Jesus was an infant Himself.  However, unlike human adults, I do not think Jesus has forgotten what it was like to be a preverbal little being. In this sense, God could be called the perfect baby whisperer because He is in tune with how baby’s think and feel.

If an adult wants to learn how to become a baby whisperer, it is a good idea to approach infants and toddlers in the presence of the Trinity.  Our heavenly Father is not only our Father, He is a Father to our infant’s as well; He has a real and vital relationship with them.  Jesus and His gentle Spirit will teach us if we stop and listen by approaching our baby in a spirit of prayer, yes, but most of all with a spirit of mutual respect because we are in the presence of a fellow sister or brother in Christ. If a mere horse whisperer can learn how to read a horse’s cues and respond in a way a horse can understand, using body language and voice tones, how much more can humans learn how to relate to an infant’s mind, emotions but also to their inner spirits. In fact, we can become holy baby whisperers who actually nurture our infants inner spirit.

Infants are complex little people who see, hear, touch, communicate, receive information and who above all, remember. Of course, we can readily see babies react to loud, sharp or deep voices but a newborn will even turn to look at a voice he remembers hearing in the womb. It was amazing to watch my first granddaughter turn towards her mom and dad’s voices in recognition. When her parents cuddled her, she calmed down immediately because she was constantly reassured of their love and devotion while she was still in the womb. Now out in the world, she knew she is safe and protected especially in their arms. This is why all babies are sensitive to the approach of a stranger.

The most obvious personal example of a stranger /infant situation  I can recall is my six-month-old daughter. I was holding her when a tall, slender, older priest, dressed all in black, gently reached out to hold her. He smiled and patiently waited while Mary tensed her little body, drew back and looked him up and down very suspiciously. She drew back a second time, even further, and once again glanced from his head to his feet and slowly looked back at his face again. A third time Mary repeated the process. Suddenly she relaxed, broke out into a wonderful smile and reached her own arms out to lean forward so Father could pick her up.

My baby was receiving unspoken messages from Father’s facial expression, his tone of voice, body language and emotional and spiritual ‘vibes’ which radiated from his inner spirit. In short, even though Mary was not talking yet, she was not an idiot. We tend to forget.

Michael and I were lucky because we somehow understood, right from the start, that we were relating to another human being when we communicated with our babies. I stopped and listened when they cooed and then I answered them when they finished cooing. It might sound foolish but I believe this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.

Sometimes family and friends were critical of my inefficient way of mothering. I just couldn’t make myself mother my babies any other way. Perhaps it was because I was not used to children. Basically, I just included the kids into our life as intelligent little people with feelings, opinions, tastes and preferences. If we respected each child’s preferences, they cooperated and worked alongside us better. In the end, this impractical, slow way of doing things made our home life run smoother. It was a way of relating which began on the baby’s first day in our family.

Some people are intimidated by babies and little children. Just remember, babies are not idiots but smart little people who just can’t talk yet. However, babies are in tune with the Holy Spirit. Babies spirits are alive in god. So, the best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with and through God.

Feeding the Kids with My Eyes Closed (and Other Reasons to Love Co-Sleeping)

cosleepingNot long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.

Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.

But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.

After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.

Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness  or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.

It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.

1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.

2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.

3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.

4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.

5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.

6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.

Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)

All Dress-Shopping Fathers Go to Heaven

My husband and I learned how to depend on Divine Providence to meet out kid’s needs, especially our fashion-conscious teenage girls because we had nine children and little extra cash.

melanie's teensWith the grace of God, we lived through scores of tragic-comic dramas as my saintly husband, Michael, shopped with our  six daughters. Since I was at home with a crew of little ones, dad was the designated chauffeur and shopping monitor in our family.  He is a smart man; he always prayed before driving into town with the girls.

Our oldest daughter  still remembers and mentions a miracle shopping trip when she was 14 years old. She had her heart set on black, Baby Jane shoes for her grade eight graduation ceremony. As they entered yet another massive shopping mall, Michael heard the Lord whisper, “Turn right  and go into the first shoe store you see.” Right in the entrance was one pair of Baby Jane shoes, in the right size and on sale for half price. My daughter was thrilled and satisfied with the rather plain dress her grandmother sent for her because she wore those shoes.

For my second daughter’s graduation from our small country elementary school to high school, Dad volunteered once again for the shopping expedition into the city.

Four hours later,  my  daughter barged through the kitchen door, glared at me and announced very dramatically,

“I am never shopping with him again!”

She stomped through the kitchen and slammed the solid wood door to the hall behind her with a dramatic flourish.

A few minutes later, her father slipped through the front door, shoulders slumped and silently communicated his exhaustion and defeat.

“So,” I queried tentatively, “How did it go?”

Michael sighed and began to describe one scene in a dress shop. He had picked out a few pretty dresses which he felt were appropriate. Holding up a flowered print dress with a high, round collar, he called out to his daughter, “This one is very pretty.”

Our daughter responded by rolling her eyes dramatically,“Daaad…that’s way too childish.”

The sailor style dress that Michael thought was perfect was similarly dismissed. Then, our thirteen-year pulled out a black, spaghetti-strapped, slinky, black dress and squealed, “Dad, this is exactly what I am looking for!”

Poor Dad sighed but allowed her to try the dress on. She emerged from the dressing room complaining,

“It makes me look fat.”

Right then and there, my poor husband’s only desire was to sink into a deep hole because the store attendant and her customer both weighed about 300 lbs. each. Both women chimed in and exclaimed to our 115 lbs. teenager, “Oh no dear, I don’t think you look fat at all!”

As usual. God managed to work out our dilemma.  Our oldest daughter came to the rescue. She borrowed a cream-coloured dress from a friend, embossed with swirls and a Chinese style collar that was decent but not childish. The dress delighted our daughter and calmed my husband’s nerves.

It was and still is an educational experience for one of my adult daughters to shop with one of her younger sisters. After a particular stressful shopping trip, my oldest daughter stumbled through the door, complaining about her hard to please sibling.  She rolled her eyes and sputtered, “Do you want to know what kind of dress she wanted me to buy?!”

I laughed, “Oh, we know, sweetie, we know.”

The 12 Days of Christmas (Catholic Style!)

12 days of christmasHappy Christmastide! Did you know the “Christmas season” for Catholics is not the weeks prior to Christmas (as advertisements would have us believe) ending on Christmas Day? Nope, we’re just getting started with the celebration!

Christmas Season in the Church begins on Christmas Day and lasts for 40 days, ending on February 2 (“Candlemas”). “Christmastide” is the 12 days following Christmas, including the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on the Octave of January 1 and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (traditionally anyway; in some countries Epiphany is observed on the Sunday nearest to January 6). Over on our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I’ve posted some great links to help your family celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and Epiphany, so check it out.

And for those of you who love trivia, here’s a fun little key to the 18th century song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with suggestions for how the song teaches Catholic doctrine (from Ann Ball’s Catholic Sacramentals).

Partridge in a pear tree        Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves                    Old & New Testaments

Three French Hens               Faith, hope, charity

Four Calling birds                 The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings                 The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six geese a laying                   Six days of creation

Seven Swans a swimming     7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight maids a-milking           8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing             Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-leaping              10 Commandments

Eleven pipers piping             The 11 faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming      12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Live Like a Saint: Saint Nicholas!

Note from the editor: Charisse put together this lovely spread for our winter issue of Tender Tidings, but we are still putting together the issue and St. Nicholas’ feast day is on Sunday. So we wanted to release her spread here so you would have time to use her ideas. God bless!

st nick

St. Nicholas, the patron and protector of children, is known for his generous spirit, compassionate heart, and natural humility. Born during the third century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey, Nicholas spent the early years of his life enjoying the temporal and spiritual blessings of his wealthy and devoutly Christian parents. After his parents’ death, the young Nicholas took Jesus’ words “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” to heart and used his whole inheritance to help the poor and suffering. Create a St. Nicholas gift box and mail it to a grandchild or godchild — or place some of the suggested items in your own children’s shoes to be found on the morning of December 6, St. Nicholas’ feast day.

Here are some ways your family can honor St. Nicholas in your home:

1. St. Nicholas card with candy “crozier” and hot chocolate

While still a young man, Nicholas was named Bishop of Myra. As bishop, he was known for his concern for children, the poor and needy, and sailors. He also suffered for his faith under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Stir up a cup of hot chocolate with Bishop Nicholas’ candy cane “crozier” and reflect on the love and sacrifice of this heroic saint. Card image found at www.catholictradition.org.

2. Small toy and virtue card

Many legends surround St. Nicholas that attest to his love for children. Miraculous stories of boys being restored to life after a brutal attack, a kidnapped child being whisked back home, and children saved from an evil butcher highlight Nicholas’ concern for these small souls. Present each of your children with a small toy and corresponding “virtue card” to help care for their souls. (e.g. a small toy airplane with a card that reads “Charity: May you always lift others up with your words. ‘Your words have upheld the stumbler; you have strengthened his faltering knees.’ Job 4:4”)

3. Gold coins and/or orange

One story attributed to St. Nicholas’ generous heart tells of a man with three daughters. Unable to afford dowries for his daughters, the man worried that they would never marry. But, mysteriously, three bags of gold (or three gold balls) appeared, apparently tossed through an open window during the night. They landed inside shoes that were drying by the fire. Place oranges or chocolate coins in your children’s shoes to remind them of St. Nicholas’ secret and humble generosity.

Visit www.stnicholascenter.org for more ideas for celebrating St Nicholas Day.

What Adolescents Want (and How Attachment Parenting Gives It to Them)

teensMy 11-year-old always seems to be hanging around lately. Peering over my shoulder as I pay the bills, following me around as I search for a quiet room to sneak in a few minutes of prayer, and shuffling around the corner with a bored, middle school expression on his face right in the middle of a good conversation with my husband.

This is a kid who loves spending time with his friends. And there are times when I wish he was around a little more. But when he is home, I can’t seem to get rid of him. Most of the time, I love this. I want to spend time with him. I miss him when he’s gone. And I can’t help but feel a little worried that, one of these days, he’ll suddenly turn into the stereotypical teen and retreat into his bedroom or head out with his friends, never to be seen again.

So during those times that I really need to get bills paid, or I’m trying to concentrate on a Skype meeting with some fellow writers, I don’t put up too much of a fuss. I let him look over my shoulder. I let him sit next to me and invade my personal space. Because I’m not raising him to be a stereotypical teen.

I’m raising my son to look to my husband and me first as he figures out who he is in this world. When he was little, I taught him that he could trust me by responding promptly to his needs and always being there for him. He believed that I cared, and he believed that I understood him. I gave him a lap that was always ready to hold him, a bed that was always open to his presence, and a home where faith and love welcomed him with open arms. He knew he had a place where he belonged. By showing empathy towards his needs and responding to his cries, he learned that I am someone with whom he can always share his feelings. I am someone with whom he can be himself without fear of judgement or criticism. And, as a baby and toddler, he usually tagged along on most of my grocery shopping trips, social outings, and church activities. He learned to enjoy and absorb the world, while following my guidance as he learned how to live in it. These were all needs that my young son had, and they were fulfilled through intentional parenting. And as he grows up into a young man, I’m realizing that those needs haven’t changed.

The YDisciple parish youth group program outlines the five driving needs of adolescents in this way:

1. THE NEED TO BE UNDERSTOOD

The need to be understood is a great psychological need for us as human beings. Unfortunately, the majority of teenagers do not believe that adults understand them. When an adult takes a genuine interest in a teenager and seeks first to understand, that adult earns the right to be heard. If adults want to hand on the faith to teenagers, they must seek first to understand what is going on in their minds and hearts. Teenagers don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

2. THE NEED TO BELONG

Teenagers are driven to meet the “need to belong” before higher growth needs like understanding and living the Christian faith. In fact, it is often the case that teenagers will compromise the morals in which they have been raised in order to belong somewhere. If adults don’t help teenagers build healthy, life-giving relationships with one another, then teens will find a way to meet that need themselves. On the other hand, if adults create an environment where teens are known, loved, and cared for, they create an ideal environment for discipleship.

3. THE NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT

Teenagers rarely have the freedom to be transparent today, especially with one another. It is too dangerous to be vulnerable in a peer-dominated world focused on image and popularity. Teens long for the opportunity to be transparent about their doubts, concerns, fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, and to have the confidence of knowing they will not be judged, but loved and supported. In fact, this is necessary in order for them to grow in self-awareness and self-esteem.

4. THE NEED TO ENGAGE IN CRITICAL THINKING ABOUT FAITH AND LIFE

Teens are transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking and are able to conceptualize ideas such as love, justice, fairness, and truth. They are also capable of pondering the big questions in life such as: Is there a God? Do I need religion? Can I know God’s plan for my life? In addition, they are in the process of establishing independence and becoming their own person. Deep down they desire to be treated as adults and no longer want to be told what to do or what to believe. They are critically evaluating what they have been raised to believe and are not that interested in answers to questions they are not asking. Thought-provoking questions, lively discussion, dialogue, and freedom of expression engage teenagers in critical thinking.

5. THE NEED FOR GUIDANCE

Teenagers need dialogue, collaboration, and friendship with adults in order to become adults themselves. Relationships with adults help them answer deep fundamental questions like: Am I lovable? Am I capable? What difference does my life make? They are naturally idealistic and desire to be challenged to greatness through the direction, encouragement, and support of caring adults. It is a well-known educational principle that young people will rise to the level of our expectations of them. Teenagers will give their lives to Jesus through the witness and encouragement of loving, faith-filled adults.

While the YDisciple program is designed for parish youth groups to carry out in small group settings, the five driving needs of our adolescents are still there when they return home from their church activities. In fact, adolescents especially depend on their parents to fulfill these needs in the home and help them create peer groups that do the same. Meg Meeker points out in her book Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets To Raising Healthy Boys that “in one survey, 21 percent of kids said that they needed more time with their parents. But when the parents of these kids were polled, only 8 percent responded that they needed more time with their children. We become so absorbed with keeping up with our daily lives that we miss seeing what our [kids] really need, which is simply more of us: our time and our attention.”

When we spend more time with our kids, whether that be by taking them out for ice cream, playing a game with them, going on a bike ride together, or simply working side by side on a household project, we send the message that we understand them, they belong somewhere, they can be who God created them to be around us, we’re willing to converse with them about whatever is on their mind, and we care enough to guide them through our Christian witness.

And so I allow my son to breathe down my neck while I sort the mail. I answer his questions while I balance the checkbook. And my husband and I continue our in-depth conversation about our faith even after he walks into the room.

Because he’s growing up, but he’s still learning. He knows that my husband is the one who can teach him how to be a man, and that I’m the one who can teach him what to look for in a wife. His parents are still the people who he trusts to answer his questions and help him navigate the world, and this trust is what keeps us honest and shapes us into better people.

Our son depends on us to grow into the person God created him to be, and we depend on him to do the same for us. This is the beauty of family, of relationship, and of a firm foundation of trust and love.

Who Mothers Mommy?

Maternal Kiss (Mary Cassatt)Motherhood is a profound blessing and should be deep source of meaning for women, but a mom also faces sleepless nights, strained schedules, and the competing needs of her kids, her spouse, her extended family, her community, and finally HERSELF! What allows some moms to thrive and to find deep satisfaction in motherhood despite the inevitable challenges while others do not thrive emotionally?

Two researchers at Arizona State University asked this question and in a newly-released study they cite 4 key factors that protect mom’s well-being and sense of satisfaction:

1.  Unconditional Acceptance

Moms who can say, “I feel seen and loved for the person I am at my core” do better in motherhood than moms who feel their value depends on their performance or appearance.  Every mom needs people who will allow them to be honest about their failures, make amends, find new hope and direction, and still be cherished for the unique, unrepeatable persons they are. And this happens to be the model of the love, mercy, and reconciliation that Christ offers us.

2.  Feeling Comforted When Needed

Moms need to be able to say, “When I am deeply distressed, I feel comforted in the way I need it.”  When you are a mom and you feel distressed it is very scary. You have these little people in your care and their very lives depend on you. We all need somebody who will really listen to us and then comfort us in the way WE need when we are struggling so we can get a little perspective on the problem. Sometimes that means somebody will just listen to us without trying to fix the problem — we just need emotional comfort.  At other times we need them to fix it in some way – perhaps through physical relief (a nap, a chance to get out of the house for an hour to clear our head).  Only somebody with some level of empathy will be capable of tuning into a mother’s real need. Without this capacity for attunement, the other person will tend to do what they think we need or what they would want themselves.

3.  Authenticity in Relationships

Feeling like you have to put on a show all the time is really depressing — literally. All mothers will have moments when her ideal for herself as a mom does not match up with what’s on her mind. You love your children but at some point you will probably feel depleted or desperate or even downright irrational. When mothers feel like they have to be perfect around their friends and family, when they can’t be honest with anyone about what they are feeling and thinking, they are at a much higher risk for depression. When you can’t be authentic, you cannot thrive.

Once when my third child was a newborn and my two older kids were still very young, my husband went on an extended work trip. At one point I was talking to him on the phone and I had not slept in two days because my older kids would not go to bed and the baby was still waking every 2 to 3 hours. I felt desperate and helpless! Well, I told him how I was really feeling not what I thought he wanted to hear. I was starting to feel a little kooky and I was not coping well. I was at the if-these-kids-don’t-go-to-sleep-I’m-going-to-smack-them point. When I shared with my husband how I felt, he cut his meeting short, got on an airplane, and came home. He didn’t shame me or say “what the heck is wrong with you?” or pat me on the head with a “you are so strong you can handle anything.”  He came home and I went to bed and then I felt better. I am grateful that I could be honest with him about my REAL feelings even though they fell short of what I hoped for myself as a mom. Because I had that freedom, it allowed him to comfort me in the way I most needed — physical relief (see number 2 above).

4. Friendship Satisfaction

Moms do better emotionally in motherhood when they have a few friends in their lives who can give and receive love.  I think particularly for women, the quality of our friendships has a deep impact on our well-being.

The bottom line: nurturing adult relationships keeps a mom “happy, healthy, and able to give or herself.” And you will notice that all four factors are essential for a child’s flourishing as well!  Children need unconditional acceptance, they need to know they will be comforted when distressed, they need to know they can be authentic in their relationship with their parents, and they need people in their lives who are emotionally free enough to give and receive love. In many ways, we cannot give to our children what we don’t have. So, if our adults relationships are impoverished, we need to find a way to build up the love and support we need in order to love and support our children.

Not the Whole Story . . .

I think this research is very important and reminds us that God created us for community. I would add, though, that clearly we can identity other factors that set satisfied mothers apart from those who suffer.  In particular, many times our perception of ourselves as mothers impacts our ability to experience joy and satisfaction. Our culture doesn’t value mothering in the way it deserves. If we feel we need to live up to the world’s definition of success, we can struggle with our identity and sense of meaning. If we perceive motherhood as a drudgery, a drag, then we will bring that perception with us into the inevitable demands of motherhood. The first factor in the study sort of hints at this – we need unconditional acceptance. But I think we need people in our lives who value us not only as unique, unrepeatable persons, but also as mothers in particular — who recognize the unique gifts that mothers bring to their families that nobody else can give.

Transitioning Your Co-Sleeping Child to Her Own Bed (It IS Possible!)

transition bed

It happened so suddenly. We’d been talking about it for awhile, but yesterday, my husband took action. He emptied our older daughter’s bedroom. We organized, we tossed, we scrubbed, and we mopped. And, then, there it was. A sparkling clean bedroom with two twin beds with coordinating pink and purple comforters. Two beds just close enough for late-night sisterly confidences, yet far enough apart to air out the inevitable future disagreements. At two-and-a-half years old, our youngest daughter, our baby, was ready to move in to her sister’s room and move out of ours.

We’ve co-slept with all of our children. It took some getting used to at first, but after 11-plus years, I’ve grown to love it. Of course, there are rough nights. There are nights when I feel like a punching bag and nights when a king-size bed just isn’t big enough. But those nights are no match for the smell of a freshly shampooed head lying next to mine on the pillow, or the feel of a snuggly little body warming mine while the dead of winter yields its worst outside, or the opportunity to gaze at my precious child’s face in the glow of the night light while time disappears into irrelevance. I’ve loved these co-sleeping years, and my heart feels sad as we transition my baby into her own bed with no promise of another little one coming anytime soon.

But, it’s time. We’ve done this before, and here are some approaches that have helped us make this time of change go as smoothly as possible.

1. Plant the idea.

We started talking to my daughter about sharing a room with her sister and having her own bed several weeks before actually doing anything. When the time came, she was excited and looking forward to it.

2.  Let them choose something special for their bed.

It might be new sheets, a comforter, or just a fun pillow or stuffed animal. Letting our children make their bed their own helped them to want to sleep there.

3.  Give them some company.

My five children have two bedrooms. And they still often all end up piled into the same room by morning. Sleeping bags, pillows on the floor, three bodies in one twin bed. As one of my friends puts it, “As long as everyone sleeps, it doesn’t matter where.” We’ve found that siblings who share rooms are much happier together, day and night.

4.  Take it slow.

 Some of our children started sleeping in their own bed for naps only at first. With all of them, I kept the same bedtime routine of nursing them to sleep, then I just put them down in their bed instead of ours. The first time they fussed, I moved them into our bed for the rest of the night. Go with the flow. Don’t force. Over time, they will gradually sleep for longer periods of time in their own bed.

5.  Remember, it’s a “conversation.”

I love this description that Dr. Greg Popcak gives to dealing with children’s sleep issues. It truly is a conversation, unique to every child. One child might show interest in their own bed at 12 months, while another might not be ready until age three. Follow your child’s cues. The process will ebb and flow. Even my elementary school-aged children experience times when they need more parental comfort at night. But I’m finding that, by middle school-age, it takes a pretty ferocious thunderstorm for them to seek us out in the dark — and my 11-year-old now says nearly every night, “I’m so tired. I’m going right to sleep.” And he crawls into his own bed and goes to sleep all by himself. No problem.

And I can’t help but sigh wistfully and remember a time when a certain downy, sweet-smelling head wouldn’t sleep anywhere but next to mine.

10 Quick Tips for Parenting a Maniacal Toddler

toddler

Ok, that title was meant as a joke. But only a little bit.

If you have a toddler who is going through a phase of testing behavior and frequent tantrums, it’s not so funny. It can feel desperate, impossible, and disastrous.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from making it through to the “other side” of this phase of parenting a strong-willed, spirited toddler.

1. Stay Calm

Stay calm? Ha! Easier said than done, right? I know. I mean, I really know. It’s so hard. Toddlers seem hardwired to observe what sets us off and then push that button over and over, right? That’s why they call it testing. They are literally testing to see if their behavior will elicit the same response from you each time.

If you can’t respond in a calm, gentle manner, it’s better to take a time out for yourself. Yes, even if that means that you both have to cry in separate rooms. I learned this the hard way. Better I deal with my anger and frustration and let my child spend a few minutes alone than allow pent up frustration to result in a less than desirable outburst on my part.

2.  Get Down to Their Level

It’s amazing how crouching down to a child’s eye level can change the dynamic of a tough conversation or meltdown. Look them in the eye and address the misbehavior, and give them an alternative as a distraction. For example: “I won’t let you throw that toy across the room. Would you like to go outside and throw a ball to get some energy out?!”

3.  Never Ask Why

Too often, when I toddler is getting geared up for a melt-down, they have no idea why.

“Why would you hit your sister like that?!” may seem like a reasonable question for an adult, but for a toddler, it’s like asking why the sky is blue. A better response might be, “I won’t let you hit your sister. Did you want to get my attention?” or “I won’t let you hit your sister. Are you feeling angry? Can you tell me what is making you angry?” And then listen.

4.  Identify the Root Cause

At some point last year, I was completely at my wit’s end with my toddler. We were having daily battles that ended with both of us in tears. I wanted so badly to understand why he was behaving this way, but I was so much “in the thick of it” that I couldn’t stop to analyze the situation with any clarity.

Looking back on it, I can see that it was an incredibly stressful time in our household; of course our bright, intuitive 3 year old was picking up on the tension. He was looking for consistent, reassuring reactions from me and wasn’t getting them, since I was so preoccupied with the emotional energy I was pouring into other things. Once these things resolved themselves and our entire household was more peaceful, the testing behavior diminished drastically.

The lesson here is not to underestimate how much outside stresses affect small children. They are incredibly intuitive, and when they sense stress, they need to be reassured by their parents that all is right with their world.

5.  In Calm Moments, Help Them Name Their Feelings

Toddlers are often frustrated because they have such big feelings and their limited vocabularies don’t have enough words to express them! Frustrated, Disappointed, Sad, Tired, Angry, Too-Silly are a good start. Being able to put a word to a feeling can take away a lot of it’s power for a small child and help him regain control.

6.  Practice Methods for Calming Down

Again, when they are happy and calm, talk about some ways to start feeling better if they’re upset. Show them how to take nice deep belly breaths, sing a sweet little song, have a sip of water, or make a silly face. (You’ll have to see what works for them- all kids are different!) Once they get the hang of it, you might be amazed at how they can do some of these things without any prompting from you.

7.  Make Sure They’re Well-Rested

Did anything good ever come of an exhausted toddler? Enough said. Same goes for hunger.

8.  Model Saying Sorry

I’m not proud of it, but while we were going through a particularly challenging time with our toddler, I often lost it. I yelled. I was desperate and angry and acted from those emotions. But each time — without fail — once I had calmed down, I sat down and said, “I’m sorry I yelled, buddy. I’m going to try not to do it again, ok?” Almost always he would respond, “I’m sorry, too, Mama.”

In this way, I was able to model both repentance and forgiveness. Being a parent doesn’t mean never acknowledging your mistakes to your kids. It’s ok to tell them you behaved in a way you know you shouldn’t have. It lets your kids know that it’s ok when they lose their cool sometimes, too, and it’s never too late to apologize and move on.

9.  Give Yourself Some Grace

I can’t stress this enough. While it’s important to say sorry to your child when you lose your cool, it’s also important to forgive yourself. Feeling guilty about mistakes you make as a parent will only make it harder to go through a tough time with your child. If you say or do something you regret, apologize, try not to do it again, and move on. Treat yourself with the same gentleness that you want to give to your child.

10.  Pray

Do you feel like it would take a miracle to get your child to stop having melt-downs and pushing your buttons?! Then pray for one! You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to pray a full rosary, but when you sense things “heating up,” pause for a moment, and simply say, “Holy Spirit, please guide my words and actions.” Or, “Mother Mary, help me to be patient and loving, giving my child what he/she needs in this moment.” This immediately puts me in a calmer, holier mindset, and we can move forward with the graces that even a simple, short prayer affords us.

Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici (freedigitalphotos.com)

There Goes My Baby Part 2: How to Cope When Your Child Leaves for School

first day of school fancy

It’s inevitable. Our children are going to grow up. In a previous post, I shared my own mixed (okay, pretty sad) feelings about my oldest son starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. And, although he’s ready for it, I’m not so sure I am.

Perhaps you’re going through something similar. Maybe your youngest is ready to start kindergarten in homeschooling and you’ve just realized you have no more babies coming up after this one. Maybe you have a child starting middle school, high school, or – gasp! – college. How did we get here? More important, how do we make it through these exciting, bewildering, and, yes, heartbreaking transitions?

Here are some ideas to help us – and our kids -to make it through:

Share our children’s excitement. No child wants to (or should be made to) feel guilty for looking forward to the next chapter of her life. Sure, our inclination might be to freeze time and keep our kids right where they are. But, since we can’t really do that, our next best bet is to have fun with our children as they get ready to turn the next page in the book that is their life. So, have fun together shopping for a new backpack and lunch bag, or decorating school folders. Kids heading off to high school might more so enjoy shopping for new clothes. And any child leaving for college would be happy to stock up on everything essential for dorm living.

Stay rooted in old rituals. As I think ahead to the long days my son will be spending at school (and away from home), I quickly calm my sorrow with reminders that we’ll still enjoy nightly family dinners, weekend outings, and long holidays and summers uninterrupted by strict school schedules. When I think back to my own transition of leaving for college, I still remember that the knowledge that I could return home on weekends or that I’d be home for a long winter break before I knew it helped ease my homesickness. If your child’s only mildly excited about her upcoming milestone, try reminding her of all that’s going to stay the same in her life so she realizes her whole world isn’t being turned upside down.

Enjoy new ways to bond with your child. As parents, we’ve been doing this one from the start. With every new development in our children’s lives, we’ve had to rediscover our relationship with each other. This new milestone asks the same of us. I look forward to the new conversations my son and I will have as he begins the school year. Already, we’ve played on his school playground and chatted about my own school experiences. If you homeschool a new kindergartener, look forward to this new dynamic of your relationship with your child. If your kid’s off to college, send him care packages, cards or letters just to let him know you’re thinking of him (what college kid doesn’t love getting mail?)

Enjoy what this milestone means for you. With every transition our children face, we, parents, experience a transition ourselves. Though you may be saddened by your child starting kindergarten, middle or high school, or college, don’t feel guilty for appreciating the increased one-on-one time you might get with a child who’s still home, or for feeling mild excitement at the thought of taking up that hobby you always wanted to master, or for looking forward to more quality time with your spouse.

When life isn’t constant, remember that God is. Times like these, when it feels like our children are slipping from our grasp, it’s easy to feel uneasy. But, recall that even when we’re shaken, God isn’t. We may be tempted to worry or fear, but the Bible reminds us not to give into it but instead to trust in God, “with whom there is no alteration” (James 1:17). And nothing should bring us more peace in these quickly changing days than our Father who, thankfully, never changes.

Pre-Natal Memories

Sleepy Baby Mary Cassatt

Sleepy Baby by Mary Cassatt

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

And before you were born I consecrated you.”

— Jeremiah 1:5

The day Ruth turned two, her godmother dropped by to celebrate her birthday. Since Ruth was articulate for her age, her godmother wanted to try an experiment she had about read in a hospital newsletter. The article stated that if you asked a young child, when they knew enough words to communicate but before they were ‘too old’, they could tell you about their life in the womb. So we decided to test this premise.

Ruth was very tiny but smart, so she startled people with her excellent verbal skills. With her attention completely on her toy, my daughter answered in short, clipped sentences. I felt a bit foolish as I asked her,

“Ruth, do you remember when you were in mummy’s tummy?

She answered, “Yaaa.”

So then I wondered if she remembered any details,

“What was it like?”

Again Ruth could only spare a one word answer,

“Warm.”

“What else was it like?” I questioned.

To which Ruth answered quite succinctly, “Dark.”

“What could you see?” I probed, but Ruth was frustrated by my dumb question,

”Nothin; it was dark!”

So I scrambled, “What did you do in my tummy?”

Ruth said nonchalantly, “Dwimming.”

I checked to make sure I understood her, “Swimming?”

Ruth nodded.

“Did you like living in my tummy?” I asked.

She nodded again.

Then I thought of a really good question.

“Do you remember coming out, being born?”

Ruth scrunched up her nose and sighed, “Yaaa.”

“What was it like?”

She stopped playing, looked up and said in disgust, “Like a B.M.!!!”

(This is how we referred to a bowel movement with our children.)

That answer shocked me into silence. I looked over at Ruth’s godmother. She raised her eyebrows and mouthed one word.

“Wow.”