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The Mom and the Sacristan: A Lesson in Mercy

year-of-mercyI’m in the narthex of the church again, trying to pay attention to Mass while G stumbles around stacking and unstacking the brochures on the display table. Pretty much the same place I am every Sunday, at one point or another. I’m cool with it.

But this Sunday, about 20 minutes into Mass (yeah, we didn’t make it that long in the pew this week. Sigh.), I glanced out the window to see a woman crossing the street, holding the hands of two small children, pulling them along, looking determined and in a rush. She made her way across the street and into the church. But she camped out in the back with me and a few of the other parents of young kids. I gave her a quick, sympathetic smile. I tried to imagine the circumstances that culminated in her pulling her two boys into church 20 minutes late, the hustling and frustration and finding shoes and making sure everyone had breakfast. I noticed her boys, the younger probably around 2 or 3, and the older boy, who was 4 or 5, who had Downs’ Syndrome. She gently took off their coats, found a spot against the wall, and then started to attempt to calm the boys down.

They were being very . . . how shall I say? Well, very much like YOUNG BOYS. They were running back and forth, hand-in-hand at times, but not being so loud that they could be heard within the church. She was doing her best to get them to behave, be still, pay attention. I could see her frustration mounting. She was having one of those days. But she was trying. She was there! In that moment, I prayed for her and her boys, thanking God for wonderful moms like her that showed up on Sundays despite all the reasons it would be so much easier to stay home. I prayed for graces for her, who so clearly had her hands full, but was soldiering on valiantly.

No sooner had I finished this prayer than a female sacristan, intent on some task that brought her across the narthex, gave this poor woman a withering look, shaking her head in disapproval. I saw this mother’s face fall, and she looked like she might burst into tears. And then, I heard her say, “You guys, if you can’t behave yourself, we’re leaving.” She quickly gathered up their coats, bundled them up, and walked out the door.

I’ll admit, my first reaction was anger. Anger that this unkind sacristan had driven this woman out of our church. That when faced with an opportunity to welcome or to chasten, she chose the latter. How unkind! How very unlike Christ! This mom, who had dragged her kids to church on this cold, windy day, was “turned away” before being able to receive communion. “Is this how we welcome people to our family of faith?!” I fumed.

As I sat and prayed through the rest of the Mass, I realized that being angry at that sacristan was not only pointless, but it was also as unkind as what she did to that mother. I don’t know what pain or anger or frustration was in her heart. Who knows what she overcame to be there today. Maybe it was more than any of us. That’s between her and God.

But I did keep thinking about it, and the more I reflected, the more I questioned where in my life I had been the sacristan in that situation. Where had I met an annoyance with condescension or impatience? When had I put myself at the center of the proverbial room, caring little for the hearts of others? When I thought about it this way, I realized we are all guilty of this. We all fail in charity at one time or another. And while this experience today was so poignant because this women literally walked out the doors of the church, we do this all the time on a broader level. When we demonstrate a lack of gentleness, kindess, or peace, while professing to be Christians, we are indeed driving people away from the Church. Maybe not literally, but certainly just as effectively.

Instead of judging ourselves or others harshly when we fall short, let’s call on God to give us the grace to fill in the gaps for us. Where we are impatient, He is forbearing. Where we are quick to anger, He is tranquil. Where we are unkind, He is merciful.

I wish I knew this woman’s name and had her phone number. I wish I could tell her, “Hey, great job today! I could see you were really trying to do something important for your boys. Come back next week and our kids can trash the children’s chapel together? Yeah?” I know I can’t do that. But I can be more mindful of where in my life I’m drawing people into God’s love, and where I’m driving them away.

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.

Tweens and Decision-Making

I recently read an interesting article by Jennifer Powell-Lunder over at Psychology Today about tweens (kids aged about ten to twelve) and motivation.  Her big point is that sometimes we have more influence over the views and decision-making of tweens than we may realize.

Tweens are at the funny age of push and pull. They often shirk at your simple suggestions yet seek out your input and advice when you leave them to make their own decisions. One minute they don’t need or want your help, the next they are hunting you down to show them the way.

She goes on to say that tweens can seem irritable or angry when a parent tries to offer guidance to a problem.  She encourages parents by pointing out that these kids are still internalizing a lot of our advice and viewpoints.  Sometimes they will make the choice we recommended without realizing they are acting on our advice, because they aren’t conscious of this internalization:

It is not uncommon to hear a tween own an answer that clearly came previously from their parent. Quite often the response is information that the tween seemed to reject or ignore when their parent initially offered the proposal.

If confronted a tween will often deny that their thought or action came from a previous conversation with a parent. It is not because they are lying, trying to take credit for something that came from their parent. More often instead, they really don’t recognize that they have internalized their parent’s recommendation. This is in fact quite common.

I do wonder, though, why a child would be upset or angry at the mere thought of finding meaning in a parent’s tween and momwords of wisdom and then following that advice.  I guess it is good news that they internalize our voice even when they feel hostile toward us but why would they feel hostile?

Powell-Lunder seems to suggest that this rejection of parental input is somewhat natural as they turn “to their peers for direction and approval.”  I disagree with this position wholeheartedly.  No child — no matter their age — should be turning to their peers for direction and approval to such a degree that they would reject or resent a parent’s input.  I think this may be the NORM in our culture, but it is not healthy or optimal.  Until quite recently in history, children primarily found meaning, direction, and inspiration from their parents and older family members  While they had friends, the friends were peripheral to the child’s life and sense of purpose. This is the thesis of Gordon Neufeld’s book “Hold on to Your Kids”.  From the press release for the book:

Children today [look] to their peers for direction—their values, identity, and codes of behavior. This “peer orientation” undermines family cohesion, interferes with healthy development, and fosters a hostile and sexualized youth culture. Children end up becoming overly conformist, desensitized, and alienated, and being “cool” matters more to them than anything else.

I highly recommend Neufeld’s book; it’s powerful and persuasive.

I am not naïve.  I have an 11 year-old daughter (Claire) who teaches me every day to be humble, to examine again everything I thought I knew about older kids and teens. I see that kids this age can be grumpy as they navigate through the strange and turbulent waters of early adolescence.  Claire sometimes huffs off to her room and slams the door; she becomes angry with her younger siblings when they make mistakes that are normal for their development.  I have to dig down deep to understand my own feelings about her in these moments.  More likely than not, before I can figure out a solution to Claire’s problem, the cloud over her passes as quickly as it formed and I find her singing through the house or painting with her little sister by her side.

Despite this, Claire is very different from the kind of tween described in the article.  Claire has friends and she enjoys them, but she continues to come to us for advice and direction. I think she still finds her sense of safety and well-being in her relationship with Philip and me.  She does not seem to possess the deep resentment toward her parents that some people think is normal and I hope I can maintain my rapport with her so that never happens. I am working with her on managing her frustration and communicating her feelings respectfully, but she cares about my opinions and seems to seek my guidance quite naturally.

Is it possible that Claire will become nasty, rude, rejecting?  Of course.  She has her own will and we live in a fallen world.  I am glad I don’t have to have all the answers.  I don’t have to understand Claire completely.  I know God not only loves Claire, but he is actively working in her life and her heart, working through the people in her life, through her gifts and talents.

However, I do choose to reject the cultural view that teens will by nature look to their peers for answers about the world and about their own value; I expect more from my relationship with my children. While I cannot predict Claire’s choices and attitudes with precision, I can cooperate with God in his action in her life by respecting Claire and by taking the time to nourish a warm and open mom-daughter relationship with her.   Ultimately I want Claire’s motivations and decision making to be rooted in her right relationship to God.  Ultimately I want her to internalize the Christian virtues and God’s love for her, because I know this is the true path to joy.

For great advice and guidance about raising tweens and teens, I recommend:

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld

Positive Discipline for Teenagers by Jane Nelson

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel

Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong through the Teen Years by Eliza and Sil Reynolds

Giving Our Love, Time, Interest, Concern

Giving hands


I am pondering today this passage, read last night in my prayer book:  “If someone who has worldy means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” 1 John 3:14.  The thought after the passage reads, “The poor are all those who stand in need of our love, our time, our interest, our concern.”

Wow.  My love. My time. My interest. My concern.  When I have the means to offer these to those who need them, and I don’t, I fall short.  I think especially today of my children.  How often have they been trying to tell me that a foot hurts or about a scary dream they had, and I just “uh huh” them, not really paying attention to what they’re trying to tell me?  This is really one way I am withholding the love, time, interest, and concern that they need.  I’ve been trying to be better about stopping and really looking into their eyes when they are sharing something with me, so that they know I’m listening and that I care.

But it’s hard sometimes.  There are dishes to be done, intellects to feed, tummies to be nourished, and I do need a shower on occasion. I must guide the children to have the same care and concern for me and for other members of our family.  I don’t want to create a community of takers with mom as the Great Giver.  I expect each family member to contribute to our domestic church, and in this way we might become a community of love, each family member contributing to the needs of the other family members as we all grow in virtue.  The call to virtue and to self-gift doesn’t only apply to mommy.

As Lent proceeds, I am thinking too about my almsgiving plans.  Almsgiving involves not just a giving of our financial resources, but also our care and concern for those who need them.  We cross the paths every day of human beings in pain, suffering in ways we don’t always understand.  We can take an interest and take time to be present, and if they’ll allow us, we can step in to relieve the suffering in whatever way we are called.  This kind of love is a powerful witness to our little ones, who will learn to recognize and comfort those in sorrow or in trouble, those oppressed by worry or loneliness.  Those impoverished in these ways desperately need our love, time, interest, and concern.

Finally, as I recognize my own limitations in resources, both financial and personal, it helps me to see how God’s resources are limitless and what an extraordinary gift that is.  I am grateful for the great generosity of Christ, his love and concern never running dry, even on the the road to Calvary, even as he hung dying on the cross — ridiculed, betrayed, alone.  As I try to parent my children to have a heart for Christ, to guide them to holiness, I pray for the patience and endurance to love even a little like Christ loved us on that long, sorrowful weekend.

Photo credit: Artem Meshcheryakov (

Toddlers: Building Trust

As mentioned in my earlier post on toddlers, according to Dr. Gregory Popcak, the primary goals of toddlerhood are:

1) Continuing to lay the foundation of basic trust (started in infancy)

2) Beginning to take independence

3) Developing physical competence (mobility/toilet training)

4) Exercising the will

In this post I’ll focus on the first goal: continuing to lay the foundation of trust. This foundation was initially established in infancy when Mom and Dad were responsive to baby’s cues, Mom breastfed baby, wore baby close to her during the day, and slept close to baby at night.

As baby has grown into a toddler, she’s becoming more independent.  She can spend longer periods alone and away from Mom. Dad can begin having an important role as the toddler learns to trust many adults in her life.

Although the toddler is becoming more independent, we don’t want to push it on her. You can’t really force independence anyway; it just happens naturally. We have to continue to read the cues of the child, and not what some chart says. If we push the child or force the child, it’ll backfire.  Parents of toddlers are especially concerned about nursing and sleep issues.  So, when should the toddler be weaned and when she should learn to sleep in her own room?

You’ll find no dearth of opinions on these topics, but trust common sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Each child is so different in temperament, living in different circumstances and experiencing different challenges. Illnesses, moves, deaths in the family – these sorts of upsets can delay a child’s readiness to wean from the breast or to move into her own room.

Some kids are ready far before we expect it. My Dominic was such a kid. At 10 months he preferred to sleep in his own bed in our room. He would roll over and go right to sleep. Shocking! But Aidan slept with us until he was 5. During those 5 years, we had moved 3 times, I had attended law school, and we had a new baby. He needed reassurance and he got it partly by this night closeness. (He’s now a very independent, interesting, loving 13-year-old.)

Part of the equation is what Mom and Dad need as their toddler is becoming a bigger kid. If you are ready to wean, but the toddler is not, there are gentle methods of gradual weaning that take into account the legitimate needs of the child. I read in Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” that weaning is not a negative thing. It’s a ripening, a coming of age, a transition into a new stage of life. It means something good is coming to end, but let it end in a loving way.

You can aid the transition by allowing Dad to do the night parenting as you withdraw the breast at night if you are still doing night feeds. Stay busy during the time of day when your toddler usually nurses. You can fingerpaint, go to the park, craft, or have a playdate. Don’t offer the breast, but don’t refuse it either. Gradually, the number of nursing sessions reduces and then you can wean altogether.

If you are ready to move your toddler into her own room, but she is hesitant, find a middle ground. Try placing a crib mattress at the foot of your bed and allow her to stay in your room provided she goes to sleep quietly. Eventually you can move the mattress closer to your door, then into her own room. Let your child help you paint and decorate her room so she’ll be excited about going into her big bed. But don’t expect perfection. Even we adults need comfort and nurturing at night some times.

Finally, if the parents and child are all content to continue nursing and co-sleeping beyond toddlerhood, that’s fine!  Mom & Dad should be confident in their choice. Let us love and support one another as we seek to obey God and live grace-filled lives.

Photo credit: Jupiter Images (