Archive for Real v. Ideal

The Little Way of Lunches and Laundry

“The world lies to us so readily, telling us that the work of God is outside our homes. That the Lord’s work is gloriously big and newsworthy. That to find those who need us, we must look elsewhere. But, the reality is that the work of God begins inside our homes, for those who need us most are those we share our homes with. Because our spouses and our children go out and face the world armed with the same charity we’ve given them at home.”

“A toddler makes it difficult to do God’s work,” I lamented to my husband not long before Christmas. Our parish offered ID-100264365several opportunities to grow closer to Christ during Advent, and with Christmas around the corner, it seemed I’d be unable to attend a single one.

I’d specifically been planning to attend nighttime Adoration, but our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter needed me. She was still dependent upon me to nurse her to sleep, and though I very much wanted to sneak out the door, I could hear the exhaustion and desperation in her cries. I sighed and slipped off my coat, picked her up, and cuddled her in my arms. Instead of consoling the heart of Jesus at Adoration, I consoled my baby girl. Instead of getting spiritually fed by our Lord, I fed my daughter as she drifted off to sleep.

I’d like to say I did these things for my daughter with the love and compassion of our Blessed Mother, but I’d be lying. On the contrary, I did these things reluctantly and begrudgingly. I did these things for her with a quiet resentment.

Isn’t this always the way of it? So often I desire to find silence so I can pray, and yet, with children running around the house, silence is nowhere to be found. Many times I wish I could take a half hour to read a snippet of any of the myriad spiritual books lining my shelves, books that I’d long ago planned to crack open, and instead I see them boasting their perfectly un-creased spines. I’ve told my husband on at least a few occasions that I was going to take some time to go to the local soup kitchen to feed meals to those in need. I’ve yet to find the hours to go. And for all these things I counted as spiritual losses, I have looked at my children at some point and thought, “Yes, children indeed make it difficult to do God’s work.”

But, then, early this morning, as I attempted to get up to begin my day with some quiet prayer, my six year-old son came into my room, snuggling next to me to get warm, and whispered, “I want you.” Internally, I sighed, Even at 5 in the morning, I can’t steal some time alone. And though my body was tense, my son relaxed into me. He put his arm around my waist and I noticed a smile on his lips.

This is God’s work, I heard from somewhere within me. This is God’s work, came the whisper again. Because I needed the repetition.

My mother had been trying to tell this to me for quite some time. Always when I lamented that I felt the desire to be at church, she reminded me of my need to be at home. But my stubbornness had blinded me to what she wanted me to see for so long:

That to do God’s work, we must be content to do His will, even if that means being at home to tend our families instead of at church to tend to parishioners.

That raising our children and taking care of our families is God’s work.

That while facilitating a Bible study might be God’s work, telling our children the stories of Noah and King David and St. Paul is God’s work, too.

That while working at a soup kitchen to feed the homeless is certainly God’s work, standing in our own kitchens, feeding our families, is God’s work, too.

That while praying before the Blessed Sacrament is God’s work, praying with our children is God’s work, too.

As parents, we do God’s work in so many little ways.

A few years ago, when I read a book about Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta and of the volunteers who left their First World riches behind to tend to some of the poorest souls on Earth, I felt I’d missed my opportunity. After all, I was now a mother of a young son. There would be no Calcutta for me. No chance to bathe those who couldn’t bathe themselves, to feed those who couldn’t feed themselves, to clothe those who couldn’t clothe themselves.

But the irony of it is that while I wondered when I’d be able to do these works, I was actually doing them already. After all, aren’t I up early each morning, packing my son’s snack and lunch to nourish him during the school day ahead of him? Don’t I spend hours each week, cleaning endless piles of laundry so my family is appropriately clothed? Don’t I change diapers several times a day, and bathe the children every night? Don’t I clean the house constantly throughout the day so that my husband, who works so hard for our family, can come home to a place not of chaos but of peace?

The world lies to us so readily, telling us that the work of God is outside our homes. That the Lord’s work is gloriously big and newsworthy. That to find those who need us, we must look elsewhere. But, the reality is that the work of God begins inside our homes, for those who need us most are those we share our homes with. Because our spouses and our children go out and face the world armed with the same charity we’ve given them at home.

Blessed Mother Teresa knew this well. She instructed, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home, and love your family.”

Doing God’s work, I’ve realized, really is as simple and as important as that.

image credit: “Happy Mother and Son Playing” by photostock (freedigitalphotos.com)

When Your Two-Year-Old Crawls Like a Dog Down the Communion Aisle (and Other Pathways to Holiness)

Christmas Eve Mass was a disaster this year. At least it seemed that way. With my husband and two oldest children involved with the music at Mass, I was left on my own to manage a six-year-old, four-year-old, and two-year-old.

I should have known that things would get messy when, upon pulling into the church parking lot, my two-year-old promptly got out of the van and climbed to the very top of the nearby school play equipment. She may have been able to shimmy up a climbing wall in her Christmas finery, but her mischievous smile and gleeful chortles mocked the limitations of my high heels and slim-skirted dress. Fortunately, by the grace of God, she decided to come down on her own and walk with us to the church.

The pews were crowded and the air was stuffy, but the altar was beautiful and a sacred joy was present. We settled in and, aside from the expected wiggles of excitement, we did pretty well for awhile. But, of course, the wiggles escalated and so did my children’s voices. I finally had to take the four-year-old and two-year-old out, and the rest of Mass was a blur.

I know that at some point I had to convince my four-year-old to stop using a stair railing as a tightrope, but the most horrifying moment was when it came time to receive Communion. Sandwiched into the line, we started creeping down the aisle when suddenly, out of nowhere, my two-year-old decided she was a dog. She dropped to all fours and started scurrying down the middle of the aisle. I managed to grab her, and she went from dog to limp noodle instantly. Trying not to injure anyone around me, and still making our way down the aisle, I tried whispering to her and I tried distracting her, but she was firmly set on being impossible. If I held her, it was either acrobat or limp noodle. If I put her down, it was dog.

Acrobat. Limp noodle. Dog. Acrobat. Limp noodle. Dog.

She was a force to be reckoned with.

I had no other choice. I picked her up and held her (very) firmly, and we finally approached the Eucharistic minister. And then, in the soft glow of candles and Christmas tree lights with the beauty of the creche at my side, I received Jesus on His birthday–while my 40 pound two-year-old yelled “Ow! Ow! Ow!” in my aching arms.

We made it back to the cry room (by now I was practically crying), and I wiped the sweat from my brow. We made it through the rest of Mass, and as we exited the church, our priest looked at me, smiled, and said, “You are earning so many points in heaven! Let me give your whole family a special Christmas blessing.” And right there, on the front steps of the church, we bowed our heads and received the blessing.

I’ve heard it explained that growing in holiness doesn’t mean that you suddenly stop sinning, or that life suddenly goes more smoothly, or that you are the picture of perfection to others. Rather, holiness is a deepening desire, a burning love, a longing for God and God alone–and a willingness to continue to try to overcome sin for the sake of our Beloved. But, as parents, we are still humans trying to raise other humans. There will be trials. There will be mistakes. There will be dogs and limp noodles. These are our exiles to Egypt; these are our “no rooms at the inn”; these are our swords that pierce our hearts. But if those swords pierce a heart that is full of love, then only love can flow out.

Life is messy. Parenting is messy. But a foundation of love is where real holiness lies.

I was cleaning up our Christmas mess the other day, and underneath bits of wrapping paper, toys, and new markers that had already lost their caps, I found a piece of artwork made by my six-year-old that simply said, “God I Love You.”

God I Love You by Hazel

Maybe Christmas Eve Mass wasn’t such a disaster. Maybe the blessings of that sacred day did take effect. Maybe we’re doing something right. Because in the midst of all the messiness, I continue to find 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.

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!

Finding God in Our Parenting Weakness

god's strengthToday didn’t go as I had envisioned.  Big brother was spending the afternoon with his teenaged pals, so I decided to do something special just for the littlies.  I envisioned a wonderful trip to our local wildlife sanctuary (The Lindsay Wildlife Museum) where my three youngest children and I would enjoy learning about the hospital’s newest patients and how they ended up at the sanctuary, observing the foxes, owls, and mountain lions being fed and bathed by the hospital staff, and even sitting on the bench outside the sanctuary in front of a giant cage housing a very, very ugly turkey vulture.

Instead, at no point did all three of them want to be in the same place in the sanctuary at the same time.  Claire and Dominic wanted to watch the live presentation and lecture about the golden eagle, featuring the gorgeous rescued eagle Topaz.  Lydia wasn’t interested.  The entire time she complained and wanted to leave.  Then we went downstairs to a large room with giant animal puzzles, art, and chalkboards because Lydia wanted to be there.  Now Dominic complained.  “How much longer?”  “Can’t I go upstairs by myself?” “I don’t want to do this.”  In both these situations, I tried to handle the divided interests of my kids the best I could, explaining that we had to consider the interests of others and that we would all have a turn to explore our favorite exhibits.

But the entire afternoon was one struggle after the next, one complaint after the next, one grumble after the next.  I was exhausted and crabby by the time we arrived at our van to go home, not only because of the constant negotiating and cheerleading required of me all day, but I somehow ended up holding a bag of STUFF from the museum gift shop.  How did this happen?  I am currently attempting to clear out piles and piles of stuff from our house, because we’re bursting at the seams with too many Lego, stuffed animals, torns books, cheap toys from the dollar store, and balls that have been partly chewed up by our dog.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.

How did this happen, then?  Because they all seemed happy together in the darned gift shop.  Can we have just one little thing?, I heard.  They smiled so sweetly, especially Dominic with his front teeth missing.  They looked around and were showing me small “treasures” that caught their eye.  A $3 necklace.  A 99 cent board book.  A $2 frog.  A Magic School Bus bug video on clearance for $5.  Now this stuff wasn’t expensive and as the gimmes go, it could be worse.  I mean, they wanted a video about bugs, not Sponge Bob, right?  I bought them these items, along with some pretty lollies, and everyone was happy.

But we didn’t need more stuff.  I wanted the treat this afternoon to be witnessing the beauty and power of the golden eagle, not the glitz and packaging of the gift shop.  I wanted the children to bond and connect over their passion for creatures, over the stories of rescue, recovery, and survival of these creatures against all odds, not over which video in the clearance rack was the coolest.

On the drive home I felt like a failure.  The voice of darkness crept in.  The kids are materialistic.  I have no backbone.  Why can’t I say no to the kids?  I’m not a strong leader.  I need to be more firm.  Then I remembered how we had left the house in complete shambles and I was even more down.  My inability to say no to my kids and my inability to follow through on chore assignments are two of my biggest parenting struggles.  It’s the underside of my real desire to make my babies happy.  But it’s the underside, because in the long run I’m doing them no favors by not setting firmer limits, by not following through on expectations.

Now, this essay isn’t about how I should set those limits.  Maybe I’ll write that down in the future.  You probably know the drill anyway.  What I want to leave you with is the story of how the rest of our day went.

When we arrived home I was so tuckered out I fell asleep on the couch practically sitting up.  The three rascals put on the bug video and watched it while I slept.  I woke up to my three year old kissing me with her tiny puckered mouth and saying, “ . . . but I love you Mommy.”   I’m not sure what preceded these words, but how wonderful to be awoken by them, especially when they are spoken in a tiny, exuberant preschooler’s voice.  For the rest of the day, we tidied the family room, then went out to our pool where the kids played and cooled off while I considered All These Things.

Satan would love for me to remain stuck, to accuse myself of being a failure, to feel so disheartened that I give up.   Alone I would have to give up.  But we are never alone in our parenting.  Not only is God right there parenting with us, but God parents us through our children.  I continue to consider All These Things which unfolded today, but tonight I reflect on these lessons:

  • I am not called to create perfect experiences for my children.  I am not called to create a perfectly tidy house for my children.  I am called to lead my children to heaven, even when it’s messy, inconvenient, and downright infuriating.
  • I am not called to be perfectly, blissfully happy every moment of my mothering.  My feelings of frustration are not a failure. They are merely a human response to stress, a sign that I was headed for my “yelling mommy” voice, but in the end I did not yell, I did not threaten as I have done in the past.  I endured the imperfect connection we had this afternoon and helped my kids navigate it.   In fact, that my children wanted to experience different things at the museum is quite normal.  I see how in the future I can set expectations in the beginning of these visits so things will go more smoothly, but even though we were not in perfect synch this afternoon, we were together, we struggled through our human weakness, and at the end of the day, we played and splashed together, laughing as the sun went down.
  • I am not called to rely on my own strength in my parenting.  Alone, I would surely fail, but if I align my intentions as a parent with those of God, then he will always lead my family forward, always bring us healing, always draw us to the cool refreshing waters of joy and hope after a time of disconnection and struggle.

One of the most beautiful blessings of gentle, empathic parenting is that temporary disconnects are not a disaster.  We love generously, occasionally lose touch, but we find our way back again to one another’s love.  Tonight as children are winding down for bed, I am teary with gratitude and praise for my heavenly Father, who still loves me in my weakness, who calls me forward, who lets me rest on his lap when I’m weary.  I close with this passage from Isaiah:

Do you not know or have you not heard?  The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound . . . They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, the will soar as with eagles’ wings;  They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.  Isaiah 41: 28, 29, and 31.

At a Moment’s Notice

Cross CloudI have a crazy two-year-old.  Henry is able to open almost anything labeled “childproof,” can climb to any height in our house, and seems to find great joy in harassing his baby sister until she squeals.  Being a stay at home mom of five young children does not lend itself to a peaceful, orderly, and contemplative way of life.  While I’ve learned to find peace in the noise, order in the chaos, and contemplative moments in the piles of laundry, I still find my heart yearning for a moment of pause–a time to find myself in God again and return to my vocation refreshed and rejuvenated.

Mother’s Day weekend was just such a moment for me.  Two-month-old Faith and I pushed the pause button and entered a world of serenity, joy, and a feeling of being constantly wrapped in the loving arms of God.  The Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas hosted a Mother’s Retreat with guest presenters Kris McGregor and Teresa Monaghen.  We prayed, attended Mass, heard inspiring stories, and enjoyed meals with other faithful women.  I had time to focus on my relationship with God and with the newest member of my family.  There wasn’t a television in sight, and the religious artwork and natural beauty displayed throughout the Center kept my head and my heart centered on God.  I started to walk more slowly, speak more deliberately, and I soaked in the silence that allowed God’s voice to be heard.

Discernment was the theme of the retreat as we explored the Magnificent Mystery of Motherhood.  Like our Blessed Mother Mary, we don’t have all the answers.  We don’t always understand our children, our spouse, or why God allows our lives to evolve the way they do.  Like Mary, we too must ponder these things in our hearts.  It is in these moments of silent pondering that we become aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Holy Spirit that we are enlightened with the wisdom of what God wants from us in every moment of every day.

Once while St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, “What would you do if you were suddenly to learn that you were to die at sunset today?”  He replied, “I would finish hoeing my garden.”

Are you doing what God wills for you right now?  Do you know what He wants you to do after reading this article?  We must cultivate our awareness of the Holy Spirit through prayer, reflection, and moments of pause.  I often find myself asking the Holy Spirit things like, “Do you want me to fold laundry or clean the bathroom now?” or “Does my four-year-old really need me to play a game with her right now or would she be receptive to a lesson in patience and responsibility while I finish the dishes?”  Our many daily tasks can be so overwhelming, yet it is through the practice of managing them by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to recognize the will of God when a big decision arises.

When we know that we are doing the will of God in any given moment, we will find the joy in our vocation.  Indeed, this is the means by which all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit begin to manifest themselves in our character.  Our stress levels will diminish as we rest in the peace of knowing we are truly doing the very best we can–that each day ends with knowing we accomplished God’s will for that day even if we didn’t check everything off of our list.

Being attentive to the Holy Spirit also allows us to embrace the elusive ability to truly live in the present moment.  When my two-year-old falls off of his bike while I am trying to get some housework done, I am called to love, comfort, and soothe him until he is calm and confident enough to entertain himself again.  My heart and mind are created to be fully devoted to him during that time–not anxious and distracted by the work that is unfinished.  When a child is feeling deprived of our love, or an older child suddenly brings up a topic that needs to be discussed, we are called to drop everything and treat that moment as if it were our last moment on earth.  Treat that moment as an opportunity to refocus our priorities and see Christ in the person who needs us.

Whether we are hoeing a garden or changing a diaper, we will rest in the peace of knowing we are ready to meet God during any moment of our day–ready to be enveloped in the grace of our Lord as He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

For more information about the retreat center and presenters mentioned in this article, see:

http://catholicdioceseofwichita.org/slc

http://www.discerninghearts.com/

 

Changing Gears: Re-Attaching to Your Children by Anne McDonald

My three year old insists on pouring the milk himself and is ready to fight me to the death to do it.

My five year old’s default mode seems to be “hit first and ask questions later.”

My seven year-old daughter can’t seem to answer a request without starting first with a good, satisfying  “UGH!” and world-class eye-roll.

My oldest son is obviously bugged about something and determined to be tight lipped, and my second oldest son is even more bugged and even more determined to be tighter lipped.  Until they start throwing words at each other.  Then punches.

And the baby?  Well, she’s just adorable.  But she won’t stay out of the kitchen trash can.

Of course, this all happened within the past three minutes.

In a house where “get to the corner NOW!” is heard more often than “I love you,” the stress of parenting can wear you down until you find yourself dissolved into tears on a regular basis, wondering why things are so horribly wrong.

Much of the last eleven years of my parenting career has looked like this, and let me tell you, it’s not a good place to be.  If this sounds like where you are now, I’m here to offer you hope.

I’ve recently realized that my insecurities have colored my reactions to my children’s behavior, and in the end, my children have suffered for it.   How many of us have felt the stinging, disapproving looks of other parents when our children aren’t behaving as well as theirs are at the playground?  Many times, we feel the pressure to follow our own parents’ orders when they watch a full-blown tantrum from a small child spiral out of control, and they insist that a strong hand is needed to get control of the situation.  Or maybe we’re just home with the kids, all day long, and no matter how many times we send the kids to time out or yell at them to just behave for five minutes, we can’t seem to get past the idea that we’re just not cut out for this.

I responded to all this pressure by doing whatever I could to try to get a handle on the situation.  Unfortunately, many of the “tricks and techniques” offered to us on how to get control of our children don’t work.  I think the primary reason is because we’re not here to control our children.  Our job is to lovingly guide them.

Yeah, that’s nice, you’re thinking, but all I hear is yelling, the kids don’t pay attention to me, and I just want to enjoy my family, not merely endure them!  Attachment parenting would have been great if I started with it, but isn’t it too late?  Thankfully, it isn’t.

I kept asking, begging God for answers on what to do, so that I could enjoy my children again.  The answer didn’t lie in another set of parenting techniques or getting it through my children’s heads once and for all that my husband and I were the ones in charge around here.  Our children needed to know that we loved them.  Really, really loved them, and that we are on their side.

That’s where attachment parenting comes in.  I have to admit that for years AP didn’t appeal to me.  It turns out that I didn’t understand what it was at all.  What I saw as a checklist of things to do to be an attached parent were really the effects of attaching yourself to your child.  For example, I had associated co-sleeping and extended nursing to be two such things that a “good” attached parent does.  In my mind, if I didn’t check those off the list, then I wasn’t an attached parent.  In the case of my oldest, he was a little furnace and gave up nursing on his own at fourteen months.  It made no sense to force him to conform to my checklist.  I had been missing the point of attachment parenting:  meeting my child’s needs, whatever they are, is at the heart of AP.

Getting back to the tight-lipped, eye rolling, fighting kids: what do I do with them?  I show them love. Whether it’s helping them learn how to communicate with each other instead of beating up on each other, feeding the hungry child instead of yelling at him to stop whining, or reading one last book to my daughter at night because she just needs some extra mommy time, I’m learning to take the time to go outside myself and my wants, and enter into their worlds more and address their needs.

My purpose in writing this isn’t to show that I’m an expert.  Heaven knows, that isn’t the case!  What I want to pass along to other parents, especially the ones who have been parenting with more traditional or mainstream means, and who find they aren’t meeting with success, is that there is a better way.  Even if you have a whole slew of kids whom you feel like you’ve been shortchanging for years, you can turn things around.  I know from my own experience that you can enjoy your family more, and they can enjoy you as well!

Here are some of my favorite books on attachment parenting:

Parent Effecctivness Training:  The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr. Thomas Gordon. This book introduced me to the concept of “Active Listening,” where the parent empathizes with the child when he has a problem, and helps him to come to a mutually acceptable solution, instead of demanding the child obey the parent’s solution to the problem.

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.  This is a great, “full-picture” explaination of parenting that explains how to effectivley problem-solve with children, how to encourage children, and really drove home the point that “… and encouraged chidl does not need to misbehave.” (pg 78)

Parenting With Grace by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak.  This was the book that I’ve had from the start of my parenting career, but didn’t have the faith to follow for the first ten years. I wish I had! The Popcaks explain Attachment Parenting through the lens of Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, and give tangible ways to implement it through every stage of your child’s development.

Hold on to Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More than Thier Peers by Gordon Neufeld.  In his book, Neufel shows how children (and really, everyone!) need to be attached to someone, and how they will attach themselves to thier friends if they don’t find that secure relationship with their parents. This book is also helpful when you are reattaching.

Anne McDonald lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 12 years, Jonathan, and their six children. After years of struggling with behavioral problems with their children while following more traditional parenting methods, Anne and her husband found that Attachment Parenting, or more specificaly, Catholic Attachment Parenting, was literally the answer to prayers. She and her husband have been working to reattach with thier children and break some bad habits that the family has aquired over the past 11 years, and are really seeing the fruits of thier labors starting to flourish.
 
After receiving her BA in English from Christendom College, Anne went on to work in public relations until her oldest was born, at which point became a stay-at-home mom. She currently homeschools (with some away-schooling this year) her children, and helps out in her parish homeschooling group, having led a pre-school co-op this past autumn.

Losing Control

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing control.

Take today, for example.  In the time span of just a few hours, I heard about some less than enthusiastic support within our parish for the Theology of the Body for Teens class that my husband and I teach, I slipped in a toddler-made puddle of water and all 140 pregnant pounds of me crashed to the floor, my husband won tickets to a college basketball game for the same night we had a much needed date planned, and a cup of milk was spilled all over my lap at lunch time.  While none of these were catastrophic events, they all added up to give rise to a multitude of emotions, many of which held the potential to lead me down a path filled with the snares of sin.

Sometimes we work so hard to lead others to the beauty of the truth of God’s plan, to nurture our relationships, to take good care of ourselves, and to practice virtue through our daily tasks, when we realize that any one of those abilities can be taken from us in the blink of an eye, even if only for a moment.

I was looking forward to getting out with my husband, and I had even just secured a babysitter for our big night out.  I want to just mope a little and feel sorry for myself that I will have to sit at home with the kids for yet another night by myself while my husband is out, fancy free and footloose, enjoying the big game.

But my conscience is telling me something isn’t quite right about that attitude.  If I take the focus off of myself for a moment, I remember that Rob’s plan, if he won the tickets, was to take our eight-year-old, Owen with him for some quality father/son time.  How blessed I am to have a husband who doesn’t want to use the tickets as an excuse to escape from his family with a guy friend for the night, but wants to create a meaningful memory with his first born son!  And then it hits me–I’ve been praying God would grace me with that same virtue of generosity that my husband so readily displays, and I nearly missed a huge opportunity for growth because I was so caught up in feeling sorry for myself!

Here it is:  my big moment.

And so my heart turns from the darkness of anger and resentment and fills with gratefulness for a husband who is such a wonderful father to his children and example of loving generosity for me.

As for those other little mishaps in my morning?  I am inspired to continue to seek new and charitable ways to lead more parents to want their children to learn about the Theology of the Body.  I am also even more convinced of the power and importance of prayer and am ever hopeful in the great power of the Holy Spirit to turn people’s hearts to the Truth.  Conversion happens only through the power of God and not solely in what I say or do.  I am also more aware of what a blessing those are who support our mission to inspire our teens to holiness with the life changing words of Blessed John Paul II.

Baby is still kicking, so aside from a few bruises, I don’t think my fall caused any permanent damage.  It did remind me of how grateful I am for my healthy pregnancy and caused me to marvel at the amazing design of my body and its ability to protect the vulnerable life within.

And the spilled milk?  I’ve heard before that “God is in the details.”  All of those cups of spilled milk remind us that we are ultimately not in control at all.  I wish sometimes that I could force my life to go according to my plan, and that everything would work out the way I have it written in black and white on my calendar.  But it’s in the cups of spilled milk and the unexpected puddles that God reminds us to surrender our frustrations to Him.  It’s through the unavoidable changes of plans and criticism of others that we can be inspired to turn to a rich prayer life filled with confidence that, where we fall short, God and the Holy Spirit will fill in.  If we can’t offer up the little glitches in our daily routines to Him, then how will we be prepared to surrender ourselves completely to Him in the big decisions of life?

So although there are moments when I want nothing more than to “get it together” and have everything go my way, maybe God knows that losing control is exactly what I need.

GUEST POST: Our Gradual Road to Attachment Parenting by Jana Thomas Coffman

Editor’s Note:  Jana Thomas Coffman blesses us this week with her story about her long, surprising journey to attachment parenting!  Jana lives near Kansas City with her husband, Chris, and their baby, Kaylie.  Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League.  Jana holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State Universiy, as well as an M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.

The light of my life just turned 10 months old. She has my red hair and big dimples, her father’s sleepy face, and her own big blue eyes. She is also the lucky recipient of attachment parenting, not because AP is something her father and I decided to do, but because we gradually realized that was the philosophy that best described us.

It was a long road to get there.

I never started out planning to be an attachment parent.  I was going to parent my children the way my parents raised me: schedules, firm discipline, strict consequences, and spanking and guilt when we didn’t comply.  After all, there’s no question my parents loved my brother and me unconditionally, and we both turned out to be great kids with a good relationship with my loving, dedicated, affectionate parents.  So why not?

In discussing how we were going to raise our coming first baby, my husband and I half-jokingly used phrases such as “beat it out of them,” “let them cry,” and “I won’t accept that!”.  Like most people in our culture, we assumed parenting would take a lot of sacrifice at first, but we’d encourage the baby to be independent and adjust to our sleeping and living schedule as soon as possible.

And then we met her.

Suddenly, my preconceived notions about parenting didn’t seem right.  She was crying, and I wanted to comfort her.  “You can’t be feeding her again?” my parents, who had not breastfed either my brother or me, commented when she was only a few days old.  “She’s eating again? What was that, 30 minutes?” a well-meaning friend asked me. “If you don’t let her cry, she’ll never get to sleep without you,” my pediatrician told me.

Luckily for me, I had support. My hospital’s lactation consultant (who I later found out is a faithful Catholic with eight children of her own) encouraged me in those hard first weeks when my daughter was nursing almost constantly. “Jana, if it were always this hard, no one would ever breastfeed,” she told me. “It will get better!”  She told me about new research that shows breastfeeding mammals spend the first several weeks of their lives nestled up against moms, preferring to lie and sleep at the breast, even if they are not nursing. She gave me the encouragement to keep with breastfeeding when I was feeling drained and exhausted.

“Well, I have six weeks off,” I told her. “I have nothing to do for the next few weeks but lie around and let her nurse, if that’s what she wants.” I went home feeling like I could do it.  And, just as my Lactation Consultant predicted, my daughter eventually started nursing less often and I was able to have breaks in between, which was a blessing both for my poor body and for my sanity.

My husband was also a great support.  He saw that I had suddenly developed a motherly intuition about our new bundle of joy, and he respected it, even defending it against well-meaning questioners. “If you don’t want to let her cry it out, we won’t,” he told me. “Don’t worry about what other people think!” He gave me the courage to go against the advice of my parents, our family, our friends, and even our doctor, believing that as the parents, we knew best for our daughter.  When my pediatrician again insisted we should let her cry it out, my husband looked me dead in the eye and said, “That doctor sees our baby for 15 minutes every few months. We spend every day with her. Do what you feel is right.”

A few times I half-heartedly let her cry, hoping she would go to sleep.  Nope. Our stubborn little thing stood in her crib and yelled for me until I came in, as she knew I eventually would.  As I cuddled her, rocked her, and kissed away her tears, I realized I would rather give up a little sleep and fight my way through those horrible nights of walking, walking, walking the halls with a screaming baby than teach my daughter that the world is an untrustworthy place and that her parents can only be trusted to meet her needs during the day or when it is convenient for them.

I didn’t mean to become an AP parent.  But there I was:  breastfeeding on demand, letting her set her own schedule, and following her lead on when she wanted to be independent.  We’re not against using toys or swings, but when she was having a hard time sleeping for a few weeks at around four months old, I read that wearing her in a sling could help and so we did.  We didn’t cart her around in a sling 24/7, but I did make an effort to carry her next to me at malls and in the grocery store, instead of letting her spend an hour or two in the shopping cart alone.

She slept better on the days we held her more.  And eventually, as all trials with babies do, her no-sleeping phase also passed.  Sure, she’s had them since, but now we know that in a few days this will all pass, and we pray for patience to give her what she needs in the meantime, as we take turns crawling bleary-eyed out of bed in the middle of the night to rock, pat, walk, or nurse her back to sleep.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard.  I see other breastfeeding moms who have their babies on a strict schedule. “I can’t have a playdate until 2, because he naps at exactly 12:30,” friends will tell me. “When does yours nap?” Well… when she’s tired, I think. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it to them.  Or I see a friend with a baby six months younger than mine, using the Ferber method and getting her baby to sleep through the night. Yet my husband and I hold firm against the temptation to sleep train her, determined to let her wake up and sleep on her own schedule. “You’re a working mom, you need to sleep,” my mom tells me.

“If you comfort her every time she cries, she’s going to start crying to manipulate you,” my dad warns me.

“Letting babies cry it out is no more emotional abuse than making them eat their green beans!” scoffs my pediatrician.

“She’s 10 months old and still waking up twice a night?” strangers exclaim in disbelief.

“When are you going to stop breastfeeding her?” my father-in-law wants to know, warily eyeing the wiggling and squirming going on under my shield.

Inwardly, I sigh.  “When she wants to stop,” I tell him. Yes, she still wakes up. Yes, she wakes up because she wants to nurse. No, she won’t go to sleep unless I nurse her first.  No, we don’t have a set napping schedule. Yes, we try to comfort her when she cries, within reason.  No, it’s not like I go leaping out of the shower soaking wet and spring to her side the second she cries.  If I know she’s safe and secure, and I need to attend to my needs or she has no choice but to be in the car seat, yes, we let her cry.

But in general, I try to make her first experiences in this world positive ones.  I want her to see the world as a good, trustworthy place with caregivers who respond to her needs and wants quickly and affectionately.  My husband and I want our daughter to feel secure and to let her know when she is upset, we will respond to her needs. I want her to see the world as a safe place and her parents as people she can trust and rely upon.

The goals of other parenting approaches seem to be parent-centered, such as making the baby be independent or teaching the baby to sleep through the night, whereas the goal of attachment parenting is baby-centered, meeting the baby’s needs and letting independence come at the baby’s own pace and in the baby’s own style.

Once I found the CAPC website, I thought long and hard about why we had ended up, completely by accident, as attachment parents. “You know,” I told my husband, “I think attachment parenting really matches our faith.” Our Catholic faith calls us to good works, to a life of sacrifice, to taking up our cross and carrying it daily.

How can I better show my daughter the love of Christ than by learning to empty myself, slowly giving up my own selfish desires so that I can lift her up? So here we are:  Catholic parents, attachment parents, parents who are madly in love and sadly in need of more sleep, but praying and working through it, because we are learning to love our daughter more than ourselves. We are learning to love her like Christ.

Photo credit: David Kilian (photos.com)

GUEST POST by Sheila Jenne: Parenting While You Snooze

Sheila Jenne is a young, Catholic writer and lucky mama to 2 little boys.  Sheila was homeschooled and raised by an attachment mom!  You can visit her on her family blog at  http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com

I often tell other people that my number one reason for attachment parenting is that it makes me feel good.  At a time when my soul and my hormones alike crave closeness to my baby, I listen to them and snuggle up.  Though I never planned to cosleep, I find it’s my very favorite AP practice.

My mother practiced attachment parenting herself, and I saw her dealing with having my younger siblings in bed with her.  She always woke up tired, and transitioning them to their own beds was a source of stress.  So I resolved that my own children would sleep in their own beds from day one.

Day one came, and I found myself second-guessing my choice.

Here I was, just home from the hospital with a two-day-old baby, and I was popping in and out of bed all night, sitting on the edge of the bed, freezing, so that I could nurse my baby when he cried.  I was exhausted.  I tried putting the baby in bed with us once or twice.  Trouble is, none of us could sleep that way, least of all the baby.  I didn’t know how to nurse him lying down anyway.  So it was back to the crib.

I figured my efforts to keep him in his crib, not to nurse him all the way to sleep, and encourage him to pacify himself would all pay off in a great sleeper.  And they did – for about a month when he was three months old.  When he turned four months old, he was having trouble getting enough to eat, and he started waking again.  There was nothing for it but to keep feeding him at night.  Months went by and I became more and more sleep-deprived.  He started waking up every time I put him back in his crib.

One night, addled by exhaustion, I was fruitlessly trying to get him into his crib the dozenth time.  My husband stopped me.  “Just put him in bed with us.”  So I did.

It wasn’t all roses. The first night I only slept in snatches, despite my exhaustion.  I am just not used to sleeping while touching anyone.  And he still wouldn’t nurse lying down, so I sat up in bed with him every time, slowly sliding back down once he was beginning to drift off on the breast.  But after a few days, I realized I was actually getting sleep.  I took the side off his crib, shoved it tightly against the bed, and called it good.  I started him out for the night in his crib, brought him into bed to nurse, and sometimes rolled him back into his crib again so I could stretch out more.  Sometimes he spent the whole night in our bed.  It didn’t matter all that much to me.  I was getting sleep!

After a while I started cosleeping for naps, too, to help him sleep longer.  And that’s when the unexpected benefits started popping up.  First, I was better rested than I’d been since he was born.  Second, my milk supply shot up.  Even if he didn’t nurse at night, his presence seemed to stimulate more milk.  And last of all, I found myself brimming with extra patience and love for him.  That snuggle time every day made it so much easier to deal with any issues that had cropped up during the morning.  I tried napping separately for a while – it just wasn’t the same.  Sleeping snuggled up to him was so much better.  Plus, he would wake up slowly and happily, giving us such a nice start to our afternoon.

There are other advantages, too.  It’s so much easier to travel when your baby will sleep easily anywhere you are.  And when the baby spikes a fever, you know before he even wakes up.

At a year old, we moved him into his own room.  I’m sad to say that he’s two now and still doesn’t always sleep through the night.  I’m realizing it’s actually a genetic thing – almost no one in my family, despite how they slept as babies, ever slept well until two or three.  I could have wasted an entire year trying to get him to sleep through the night, but instead I spent that time getting good sleep and snuggles.  Things got much harder when we stopped cosleeping.  A night waking might mean an hour of rocking him, or falling asleep crammed into his tiny bed and waking up two hours later with a crick in my back.  Cosleeping was a much better way for our family to get the rest we needed.

When I became pregnant with my second baby, there was no question I would have him in our bed.  Ideally I’d like to keep him there until he regularly sleeps through the night on his own – however long that is.  Once he was born, I was so glad I’d made that choice.  He simply would not sleep unless he was touching me for his first two weeks.  Sometimes he’d spend half the night latched on!  I couldn’t have coped with a busy toddler during the day while sitting up in a rocking chair nursing all night.  Now, at a month old, he sleeps a bit better, but he still sleeps the best with my arm around him.  It’s hard to tell for sure, though, because I no longer even wake up all the way when I feed him.  I wake hours later and find I’ve switched him to my other side and nursed him without even remembering it.  How nice it is to wake up after a good six-hour chunk of sleep (or what felt like it) and find you’ve been nurturing your baby at the same time!

Since my toddler is very active and demanding, I don’t get a lot of time to bond with my baby during the day.  Nighttime is our special time to nurse, snuggle, and build a strong bond.  If I’m feeling wide awake, I stroke his soft cheek and drink him in.  If not, I just latch him on and doze off again.  Either way, it feels good to know I’m meeting his needs without sacrificing mine.

For my husband, it’s more of a sacrifice.  But he benefits by having a wife who’s able to handle most anything during the day because she’s well rested.  And he has been known to join in the snugglefest at times.  It’s always a special joy to me to sneak out of bed early in the morning and come back to see him with a protecting arm around the baby.

Let me point out, lest I come across as laying more requirements on your plate, that cosleeping is in no way required for good parenting.  So long as you are responsively parenting your child at night – as long as you attend to their cries and needs, the same as you do in the daytime – it doesn’t really matter who sleeps where.  Still, if you haven’t tried bedsharing, I highly recommend you at least try it out, for naps if you aren’t comfortable doing so at night.  At the very least, there can be no possible risk in bedsharing if there’s another adult around who is staying awake and can check on you often.  Try it on the weekends when Dad’s around, or when your mother or friend comes to help you with a newborn.

But don’t miss out on the special kind of joy that comes from sharing sleep once in awhile.

CAPC’s Mission and 7 Building Blocks

First, apologies to subscribers for the weird transmission of 2 old posts last night!  I changed a setting on our front page to allow more posts to appear and the old posts were transmitted in the process.

Well, we finally have a page with CAPC’s mission/identity statement!  I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I needed to get one down on paper finally.  As these things go I might think about it for years.  I’m sure I’ll fuss with it and revise it over time, as I always do, but I’m relieved we finally something.  It reads:

CATHOLIC ATTACHMENT PARENTING CORNER supports Catholic parents interested in attachment-based parenting by providing education, resources, and advocacy. Our attachment parenting model is neither child-centered nor parent-centered; it is family-centered.

We believe Catholic theology perfects what is beautiful and just in secular insights about attachment parenting. In the daily life of the family, all family members learn to respond to the Church’s call to self-donative, empathic love — including children as they grow and mature. Through the parents’ responsive compassion, children learn to respond similarly to the needs of others. These children grow into adults who recognize suffering and feel compelled to respond, who are tender and merciful to those who are weaker than themselves, who are able to connect on a profound level with their loved ones, and who mirror in every facet of their lives the self-gift of Christ, the God-Man.

I have also created CAPC’s 7 Building Blocks for a Family-Centered Home™, which will help us focus our work as we look to the future.  We will explore each Building Block more fully in blog posts and articles and through links to external resources:

1. Baby Bonding

  • Your infant’s capacity for attachment is established early. She has an intense need for physical closeness, predictable comforting, and a sense of safety. Meeting these needs has a direct impact on her early brain development and helps her develop a sense of trust in later babyhood and toddlerhood.
  • Explore different practices that encourage and strengthen the parent-child bond, such as breastfeeding on demand, staying physically close to baby at night by co-sleeping and during the day by wearing baby in a sling or other baby carrier.
  • Respond to baby’s cues consistently & tenderly (without resentment or anger).

2. Empathic Response

  • Get to know each child as a unique human being.
  • Understand what’s behind your child’s eyes and in her heart at each developmental stage.
  • Recognize any of your old wounds so that you can parent your child appropriately and with awareness, and not from a place of fear or anger unrelated to your child.

3. Playing Together

  • Recognize that play is one of the most important ways children connect with us, work through their fears and frustrations, and build their self-confidence.
  • Enter a child’s play world on occasion on his or her terms. Be willing to be silly and goofy on occasion!

4. Joyous, Shared Faith

  • Every family can enjoy a shared faith life that’s alive and downright fun! Such faith is a tremendous witness to other families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
  • Allow your home to reflect the abundant joy and hope of our Catholic Faith. Explore and celebrate Feast Days and Saints Days with crafts, special parties and teas, and sharing books together. Develop a family prayer plan and pray together regularly.
  • Children, especially young ones, will absorb our attitudes about attending Mass and growing in the Faith. If we’re excited and enthusiastic, it’ll be contagious! If we only talk about the Church and its Sacraments as a list of obligations that we must fulfill to avoid hell, kids are turned off and they may eventually tune out. The heart of our Faith is love and hope, and the opportunity for transformation and renewal.

5. Gentle Discipline

  • The heart of gentle discipline is the connection between parent and child. Without a secure connection, discipline will be a frustrating power struggle.
  • The goal of gentle discipline is for the child to build a conscience and self-control, not to break the child’s will. In an empathic, nurturing home a child is never humiliated or threatened as a way to coerce obedience.
  • Growing up can be confusing and frustrating. By learning what to expect at each developmental stage, you can empathize with your child better. We can’t expect a 3 year-old to have the self-control of 6 year-old. Each developmental age comes with its struggles and joys. Educate yourself about child development so that the balance tips towards joy!

6. Balance

  • Balance work, play, and prayer in your home. Do all these things as a family. Each family member contributes to the upkeep of the home and meal preparations as is appropriate for their developmental age. Even very young children enjoy being included in the routine with small jobs, like helping unload the dishwasher, mopping, or dusting.
  • Every parent needs a little time alone to refuel. How much time you can spend alone and how frequently depends on various factors in your home, including the availability of your spouse or a babysitter and how young your children are, but remember that you will be parenting for many years. Don’t run out of gas early on!
  • Take time to exercise and eat well. This can involve the kids! Children love to ride their bikes with parents who might be running or biking. Make a hiking plan and explore different hiking trails in your region. Children love to help with food preparations, like making salads and kneading bread dough.

7. A Strong Marriage

  • If you treat your child will tenderness and affection, but fail to model such tenderness with your spouse, your child may still enter adulthood with a relationship handicap. Your marriage models for your children how to treat others in close, intimate relationships. She’ll obviously be better off and very blessed for having received warm, consistent love from her parents, but it’s like she will have received only the appetizer to a delicious meal and missed the main course!
  • Speak about and to your spouse with affection and love; perform little acts of kindness to make his or her life easier. Be willing to serve even in small ways.
  • You and your spouse are called to help one another on your paths to heaven. See your spouse the way Christ does, as a precious and priceless soul on a journey to a Divine Destination.

Nobody can meet all these ideals perfectly. We all have limitations and every family hits rough patches. But having these ideals in our minds can help us move toward wholeness personally and as a family.

Pentecost: When We’re Weary and Heavy-Laden, He Will Give Us Rest

I know it’s May and our CAPC table topic is sleep, but my mind turns to the Feast of Pentecost, which the Church celebrates this year on May 27th.  Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles 50 days after Easter.  Christ had promised the Apostles that he would send his Spirit to help and guide them, and this was the fulfillment of that promise.

I’ve been really tired the last few weeks.  We went on a family camping trip for a week in California’s Gold Country and since we’ve returned I haven’t been able to get back into a rhythm.  Lydia, my toddler, isn’t sleeping well.  (Hah!  This post is a wee bit about sleep issues!)  This is a common problem when we travel, so I know it’s just temporary, but sleep deprivation stinks.

I’m not sure if it’s fatigue, sleeplessness, or something else, but I’ve felt spiritually dry and a little lost.   It doesn’t help that the camping gear is still sitting in our front entry, reminding me that I need to get my act together.  It certainly doesn’t help that I’m having a hard time honoring my commitment to prayer every morning and evening.

Most parents are afflicted similarly at one time or another.  Parenting is a tremendous blessing, but it’s hard too.  It tests our patience and endurance.  It tests us in a way that can refine us, can lead us to the truth and God’s will for us, but that refining can be oh so painful.  At times we have to allow our ordinary lives to be a prayer when we can’t find time to close ourselves away alone for prayer, meditation, and reflection.  At times we struggle to find time to refuel the ol’ tank just past “EMPTY”, especially when we have littlies to care for.

Do you feel the same sometimes?  Do you maybe feel the same today?

No matter how we feel,  we can find true comfort in the Pentecost: It shows us that we’re never alone, never powerless, despite what our weary bodies may tell us.   We are Christians; the physical body isn’t the limit of the strength available to us.  Pentecost is the story of the beginning of the Church, and it started with an awesome display of God’s power, mercy, and love.   Christ had Ascended 10 days earlier and the Apostles — who must have felt a little lost and confused themselves about where they had been and where they were going — gathered in the Upper Room with Mary to pray.

And then it happened.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.  Acts 2:2-4

Whoa!  The Holy Spirit didn’t come down in a sprinkle of fairy dust.  He came down in tongues of fire and rested on each one of the Apostles!  The Apostles at that moment received the spiritual gifts they needed to spread the Good News of Jesus.   Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they took to the streets and explained Christ’s message of love and mercy to people in their own languages.  In that first day alone, thousands became believers.  Now that’s power.

The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church and her believers.  If you’re a mama or papa struggling today, remember that the power witnessed on that Pentecost is the same power moving in our own lives today.  The Holy Spirit dwells with us, giving us what we need to fulfill our holy mission as parents.

For me, I must be willing to face my weaknesses; I must be willing to pray, to respond, even in this hour of darkness and uncertainty.   It doesn’t matter how I feel:  It’s an objective fact that the Holy Spirit is moving in my life.  Strength and clarity will return.

Photo credit (woman on beach): Lynn Morrow (photos.com)