Archive for Intentional Catholic Parenting

Hanging by My Fingernails

Before I had the courage to let go of my whole way of living, two inner images rose up in my mind as symbols of my controlling behavior.

When my family was still young and I had only seven children from twelve-years-old down to a newborn, I earnestly strove to raise the best children I could. Yet all my effort was actually hindering their development because my anxiety and control acted like a barrier, a prison around them. I was, in fact, preventing my children’s inner, natural development into well-balanced, creative people.

broken-wagon-wheel-1405148000B82I did not take subtle hints, so a powerful inner image rose up from my subconscious which symbolized what I was actually doing by refusing to let go of control.

First I saw an ocean and a tiny black dot in the water. Slowly the image grew larger till I was face to face with a huge octopus.

The scene switched and now seven tentacles wrapped around each of my children with my husband in the eighth. All of them were grey, limp almost lifeless.

I suddenly realized that I was, in fact, the octopus; I was squeezing the life out of my family.

In this inner vision, a sword appeared in a blaze of light and severed each tentacle one by one. The severed tentacle shriveled and fell off each child. As soon as each one was set free, they began dancing and laughing in the sunshine. Soon all seven were joyfully playing.

The eighth tentacle was wrapped tightly around my husband. The kids stopped playing and kneeled on the ground, weeping, desperately pulling and tugging the tentacle but to no avail. Suddenly, in a flash of light, the sword of truth cut through the tentacle, my husband was released and came back to life.

Yet even after this appalling self-revelation, I still could not let go of control.

It was like I stood on the hub of a wagon wheel with my large family balanced on the rim. I crouched on the hub, frantically turning this way and that, grabbing all the broken spokes, desperate to hold the crumbling structured together.

I realized that I had to let go of this futile sense of responsibility and control but I was afraid to stop, afraid that one moment of inattention would cause my entire family to tumble down into the abyss.

I was trapped.

Yet, I realized that once again, my tension, my control acted like a wall, shutting out all life. My sincere concern and earnest self-sacrifice actually magnified everyone’s brokenness by freezing everyone and everything.

It took years, but I finally surrendered control. The broken spokes were instantly repaired. The kids and my husband started smiling. I was free. We were free.

I read a quote that said the worst sin against another human being beside hate and murder is trying to control and manipulate them because you are stealing their real identity, molding them into a false image. Sometimes we just need to “let go” of the things that we worry about (i.e. our children, loved ones, or family members). When we are able to do that, we (and the people we care about) can then truly experience the freedom of living!


The summer issue of our beautiful, free parenting magazine is now available! Click on flipbook to explore!

In this issue:

  • Natural Family Planning:  In Real Life
  • Navigating family road trips
  • Gentle discipline: the real root of misbehavior
  • Create a sacramental memory book
  • picnic recipes

The Art of Table Talk (with Kids)

“Too often we have a hard time with real dialogue, because we aren’t really very interested in what the other person is saying or who they are. We’re waiting for them shut up so we can get our point in.”

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is perhaps a good time to review the art of making conversation at the dinner table.  I talked about this last week with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life.  The topic of the show was “Talk to Me”:  the Popcaks offered listeners some great tips on communicating effectively.  If you want to listen to the whole show here it is; my bit starts about twenty minutes into the show.

I’ll focus on grown-ups making conversation with children or teenagers, but these tips apply equally to conversations with just about anybody.  Here are three things you’ll need if you want to become (or if you want your child to become) a great “deipnosophist” (somebody skilled in table talk):

1.  Take an interest in the other person in your table conversation (yes, even if it’s a kid!)

Listen: The most important element in great table conversation isn’t the talking; it’s the listening. Too often we have a hard time with real dialogue, because we aren’t really very interested in what the other person is saying or who they are. table talkWe’re waiting for them shut up so we can get our point in.  I know this only because I am guilty of doing it all the time!

Ask questions: Be curious about what your child or young guest is saying at the table. Repeat back to them what you’re hearing them say, even if you think you disagree with them.  You may discover something new and fascinating about your young conversation partner!

Let a problem simmer: When a child or teen is struggling aloud with a problem over dinner, we often have an urge to announce a solution immediately. When we do this, the conversation ends. Foster a child’s problem solving and speaking skills by guiding them through potential options or points of view, allowing them to explore and weigh solutions.

Becoming more attuned in our conversations at the dinner table not only makes the meal more pleasant, but helps us become better Christians, too.  Theology of the Body affirms that we are made for communion and self-giving love, and this requires the ability to both reveal ourselves and really see the other person.  The dinner table is the perfect place for families to practice this together, especially with kiddos.

2.  Allow time for real conversation to unfold

You (or your child) won’t learn the art of conversation by taking a class. You learn it by doing it with real people, and kids will learn it by doing it with people they love and trust.

When I first met my husband, one of the things I loved about him was the way he could talk about just about any subject – politics, literature, religion – in depth, respectfully, and with passion. When I visited his family in New Zealand it all made sense. His family not only talks a lot while they are eating, but the sit around after dinner talking – sometimes for hours. I am grateful Barb & Ric prioritized table talk, because now I’m married to somebody who is helping our children enjoy it too.

We are all busy these days, often for good reason, but perhaps we can prioritize table talk at least one day a week. Ensure you aren’t rushed during dinner and allow time for debates and deep conversations to linger.

3.  Have something to talk about:  conversation starters

Some families have tons to talk about, but if you’re a quiet family and need some help getting started, plan conversation starters ahead of time. Have a basket of questions in the middle of the table. You can find conversation starter questions on-line or buy them (“Chat Packs” and “Table Topics” are bundled cards you can purchase), but you can also just make them up yourself. We featured conversations in two issues of Tender Tidings last year. You can find them here and here. The basic idea is to ask very open-ended questions: “What do you like to smell and why?”; “If you could have dinner with anybody in history, who would it be and why?”.

Another idea: If your children are older, read a newspaper column aloud at the beginning of dinner and then get their opinions about it. You can do something similar with poems. I’ve read a poem or saints story aloud to my children at lunch for many years.  Sometimes they just think about it, and, to be frank, occasionally they seem distracted, but often they want to know more about what the poem or story means.  A conversation begins.

Happy chatting!

Image credit:  Monkey Business Images (

Links for Intentional Catholic Parents


Over on our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I just posted some links to great articles that can help us parent more intentionally, including two articles on Halloween.

Should Catholics allow their children to trick-or-treat?

Also, don’t miss the link to Gwen Dewar’s article on pregnancy brain.

ICP Wednesday Links


Just posted some new links/resources over at our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, for all of you intentional, gentle, and attachment-minded Catholic parents.

Discovering the Fountain of Youth (through Mothering!)

Advertisers have tapped into a universal craving to stop the relentless ravages of time in the human body by pushing countless gimmicks to keep us youthful. These products may sometimes keep us healthy, but the secret fountain of youth is not a thing to buy but rather an attitude, an inner way of living in Christ.

Youth is not found in a bottle of vitamins or in a jar of face cream.

Youth is found when we connect with the source of all life deep within, in the ground of our being.

There are countless ways to connect with the Holy Spirit but as a mother, I discovered a secret, a secret few people seem to recognize.

Living with little people keeps you young.

"Mother and Children" Friedrich von Amerling

“Mother and Children” Friedrich von Amerling

Children live in the present moment, filled with awe at the discovery of a ladybug, fascinated with observing how sand spills through their fingers or completely absorbed as they create a clay sculpture. Mothers concentrate on giving love and nurture to their offspring, but if we don’t allow our little ones to nurture us we can become tired, empty and even resentful.

An infant touches our hearts when we gaze into their guileless eyes, but there is much more grace that we can receive if we relax and allow their love to flow into us!

In the early, hectic years I would focus on trying to carve out quiet time to sit and replenish myself.

One day while nursing one of my babies, I experienced a powerful surge of love pouring into my heart from my baby to me. I started smiling, heaviness and exhaustion lifted and joy started to bubble up from deep within me! In fact I discovered how to let my infant’s love, in union with the Love of God,  fill me, replenish me, energize me and infuse my heart with a fountain of youth.

ICP Links


I’ve just posted some links to great articles and resources for gentle Catholic parents over at our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  Lots of awesome stuff, including a fascinating article on tiger mothering and another one on why kids with warm relationships with their parents make better friends.


Parenting Lessons from “The Divine Mercy”

This Sunday we celebrate the much-anticipated canonization of Pope John XXIII, the pope who opened the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, the pope who helped us understand the Council better. It’s no accident that JPII’s canonization occurs on Divine Mercy Sunday: as pope, his first canonization in the new millennium was that of Sister Faustina Kowlaska, who introduced the world to the devotion known as The Divine Mercy of Jesus.

So, what is “Divine Mercy” anyway and how can understanding it help us in our parenting vocation? Father Ed Broom wrote a great summary of the main principles of the doctrine of Divine Mercy on Catholic Exchange yesterday. Here’s a little summary of his main points with some commentary from me:

1.  God Is Rich in Mercy

God’s greatest attribute/virtue is His mercy. No matter how grave and numerous our sins, God is always ready and willing to forgive us if we simply say: “Jesus I am sorry and forgive me!” In a heartbeat Jesus is ready to forgive even the worst of sinners.

The more I understand myself as a disciple of Christ, the more I am forced to shed my habits of self-delusion (failing to recognize my own sinfulness, my own darkness). It’s hard to face the truth sometimes, but, when I do, I open myself up to conversion, to renewal, and to mercy. Mercy is total gift, nothing that I deserve or have earned.  I have failed too often in my mothering: I failed to love, failed to be generous, failed to give. I have fallen as a wife, forgetting to give, refusing to forgive.  Recognizing this reality of who I am, it would be human of me to give up, to despair. True conversion is about seeing the truth of our darkness and failure, but also our potential for goodness when we turn to God, when we commit ourselves to his path, to his will for us.

As God responds to me so mercifully, I am able to become more the kind of mother and wife he sees in me.

2.  We Must Be Merciful

If we want to receive the mercy of God, then this is a two-way street, we in turn must be willing to forgive those who have hurt us and be merciful. Jesus once again teaches us: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

Catholic parents, no matter their views on parenting style, should treat their children with mercy. This takes two forms: we forgive their trespasses (merciful discipline) and we relieve their need or suffering (responding with empathy). Notice these two aspects of mercy are two of the 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home.

Merciful/Gentle Discipline: Shouldn’t kids get what they deserve when they do something wrong? Doesn’t justice require a harsh consequence for harsh infractions? Isn’t God a god of justice? Yes, but his justice is always balanced by loving mercy. When justice isn’t tempered by mercy, cruelty can result. God takes everything into consideration and tries to reach our hearts.   We should treat our children the same way.  Extending mercy toward our child doesn’t mean we let them “get away with” things. It means we take everything into consideration: their state of mind, their maturity level, their perspective of a situation even if they are wrong on the facts. It means we try to reach their hearts, which is about gently shaping their character through guidance and mentoring in the virtues. When they’re old enough, we explain which virtue was missing in their actions and how they can exercise those virtue muscles in the future.

Empathy: Mercy is not only about forgiving others for their offenses; it’s also about relieving their needs and suffering. This kind of mercy requires empathy – the gift we use to know another person. Sometimes as parents we assume we know what our child feels or needs, and we attempt to remedy the situation only to find we didn’t understand our child’s experience very well. We assumed what they needed based on our own perspective. Through empathy, we can understand and respond to our children’s needs and feelings better. Sometimes this amounts to asking them a few questions, remembering what we know about child development, or just doing our best to comfort them when we don’t have clear answers about why they’re sad or angry. Even without clear answers, we can mirror their experience for them: “I can tell you are angry. Should we sit down for a while in our quiet corner together?” or “Oh I am so sorry you’re feeling sad. When I’m sad I need a hug. Do you need a hug?” Children internalize this mirroring and affirmation and over time they’re able to regulate their own emotional experiences.

3.  Confession

God’s mercy is manifested most abundantly upon our soul when we have recourse to the Sacrament of Confession which can also be called the Sacrament of God’s mercy.  Jesus expresses mercy in the person of the priest. If you have not been to confession in years, return. Jesus the merciful Savior is gently and patiently waiting for you.

If you are queasy about the idea of Confession, just remember that it’s more an opportunity than an obligation. Scott Hahn penned a beautiful reflection on the Sacrament of Confession that I recommend highly.  He helps us see how practicing Confession is meant to move us along in our spiritual development, not make us miserable.

4.  Daily Acts of Mercy

In Saint Faustina’s diary, Christ stresses that understanding mercy intellectually is important, but we also need to practice mercy every day. He gave three specific daily practices: praying for others, offering words of kindness, and offering deeds of kindness. Imagine what our homes would be like if we really put these suggestions into practice? These daily acts require no extra time in our day, but they set the tone for how we live together and treat others beyond our front door.  This modeling so important for raising children who are naturally merciful and kind.

5.  Divine Mercy Devotional Practices

Father Broom explained several Divine Mercy practices that I had never known about or understood (I may not understand them clearly yet; let me know if I goof!). Here’s a summary:

  • Divine Mercy Image:  In one of her visions, St. Faustina saw Jesus with two rays of light coming forth from his heart — one ray was red, the other blue.  He instructed her to have a painting made of this image and promised to protect those who venerated it.


divine mercy

  • Prayer at 3:00. 3:00 is the hour of mercy because our merciful Savior died at that hour. Perhaps we busy parents can say a short prayer at 3:00 no matter where we are, asking for God’s mercy and searching our hearts for any resentments or anger toward others we are holding on to that day. An Our Father or the Divine Mercy chaplet, perhaps?
  • Divine Mercy Chaplet: This is a beautiful, stirring chaplet; some of the prayers come from Saint Faustina’s diary. Here’s a link to instructions on praying the chaplet.
  • Divine Mercy Novena: This Novena was established through the instructions Jesus gave to Saint Faustina; there are different intentions for each day of the Novena. Here’s a link to instructions and all nine intentions.

You can find lots of ideas for crafts and food for Divine Mercy Sunday on the internet. Catholic Icing has a darling idea for a “Divine Mercy Sundae”. I’ve never read St. Faustina’s diary, but now I’m intrigued and looking forward to reading it. Don’t forget that Pope Francis just released a book on mercy — I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

ICP Links

Some new links over at ICP, including one to a FREE parenting seminar and links for Lent.

The Art of Being

I was up late the other night with my teething baby.  We thought we had her asleep.  She was snuggled with Daddy, her little body was limp, her lips puckered in anticipation of the first middle of the night nursing.

But as soon as my husband gently lowered her onto our bed, she seemed to remember her sore gums and aching head with a fierceness that was manifested in an equally intense fit of crying.

sleepless babeShe wailed, she sobbed, the tears flowed, and her nose ran.  And every time I attempted my tried and true baby comforting technique of nursing, she just arched her back and cried all the louder.

The pain seemed to make her forget who she was, who I was, and what I could do for her to make her feel better.  There was really nothing I could do, and so I decided to just be.

I’ve been told before that if your baby is crying, it’s always better that she cries while being held in loving arms rather than alone in a crib or play pen (unless, of course, your tension level requires that you take a short break in another room while baby waits in a safe place.)

So we walked, and she cried.  We rocked, and she cried.  We bounced, and she cried.  And finally, little by little, the wailing lessened to sobbing, and the sobbing lessened to those little sniffles that, in spite of the injury they convey, can’t help but be supremely adorable.  Her little body started to relax and she seemed to realize who was holding her, who was being with her–her mother!

Her sun, her moon, her stars–her mother.

In her world, I am the reason the earth keeps spinning, I am the reason the sun comes up each morning, I am the reason her life is worth living.  Because God gave us mothers the ability to convey His love and strength to our children in a more intimate way than anyone else can.

In her book, What Mothers Do Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Naomi Stadlen says:

“Human comfort is one of the finest strengths that we offer each other.”

Perhaps it is because our humanity has been touched by the hand of God, and when we comfort one another, when we love one another, a glimmer of that Divine Presence shines through.

Our babies know it.  They know they are our gifts from God and that we are theirs.  This is why they demand that we fulfill our end of the reciprocal relationship even when it doesn’t appear very reciprocal.  This is why they require that we put aside everything that the world says is productive, powerful, and lucrative in favor of a busyness we can’t describe, a revelation of our own weaknesses (especially when sleep deprived), and sacrifice.

Because when we push through the sleepless nights, the tests of our patience, and the trials of every ounce of our physical and emotional strength, we reach a point one day when our baby looks in our eyes and smiles, our child hugs us with an impulsiveness that could only be propelled by real love, and our pre-teen says “I love you” just when he seemed to be getting too cool to do so.

These are the moments when we see what God sees.  These are the moments when we believe that passage in Genesis 1:31, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”  These are the moments when we realize the importance of our vocation–when we are filled with hope that perhaps we are sending forth beacons of God’s love into the world–that perhaps all of that being will create people who can make this world a better place.

As Naomi Stadlen says,

“Our whole society depends on the way each mother

relates to her child. This is her motherly work.”

Whenever someone asks me what I do all day, I find myself rather tongue-tied.  After all, how do you find the words to explain days seemingly filled with doing nothing but being everything for another person?  How do you explain work that is completely defined by relationship?  How do you define work that is so intertwined with our hearts that one moment it reflects the drudgery and despair of our own earthly sinfulness, and the next it lifts us up on the wings of angels to kiss the very gates of heaven?

I guess you can’t explain it, really.  But as I nestle my baby close to my heart in the still of the night, I know I have it right.  I know that all of this being is the best thing I could ever do.

Happy News for 2014: Intentional Catholic Parenting THE BOOK

Dear friends,

Kim and LydiaHappy New Year!  As 2014 begins, I wanted to announce some very happy news!  Pauline Books, a wonderful old Catholic publisher, has accepted a book proposal I submitted on “intentional Catholic parenting”!   The book will explore the 7 Building to a Joyful Catholic Home in depth.  I expect the release to be in late 2014, but I will keep you updated.

Pray for our gentle parenting ministry and all of our writers as we humbly continue to grow and learn what God has in store for each of us.  Pray for me, too, as I try to balance my writing with my devotion to my family.

In Christ,


Wednesday Links

Over at our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I’ve posted this week’s links to articles and resources for the 7 Building Blocks of a Joyful Catholic Home.