Archive for Theology of the Body – Page 2

Valuable Lessons

Charisse’s son James

James is my imaginative, creative child.  At six years old, he’s the child who can become so engrossed in  his personal fantasy worlds that he doesn’t hear anything anyone says to him until he’s brought back to reality by a tap on the arm.  He can play for hours with a paper clip as he bends and shapes it into whatever  he imagines it can be.  And when I asked him once, after reading a scripture passage, what he would do if he knew Jesus was coming for a visit, he simply looked at me and said, “But he’s already right here with us.  We just can’t see him,” with a childlike faith and acceptance that is one of the most wonderful fruits of his vivid imagination.

An imagination is a great gift from God.  The human imagination gave birth to some of the greatest inventions the world has ever known; it can create a compassionate and sympathetic heart and allow the soul to accept without a doubt what the mind cannot comprehend.  An imaginative spirit can open the door to a passionate and unbridled faith that believes with complete confidence and hope in God’s ability to do anything.

Like any great gift from God, the imagination can also quickly lead one down a treacherous path of unfounded fear, superstition, and sin.  It must be guarded carefully against one who would love to see it used for evil rather than good and for our own personal glory rather than God’s.

As I continue to explore my unique and unrepeatable children’s dispositions with them, I try to remember to see them as God sees all of His great creation.  “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)  Or, as Blessed John Paul II reminds us in the Theology of the Body, everything has “value.” (TOB 2:5)  This simple yet powerful word, “value,” causes me to pause and reflect.  Do I make sure my children truly feel that they have value every moment of every day?  Cuddling and nursing a sweet-smelling newborn baby, praising a toddler for his first steps, and cheering on an older child from the sidelines of the soccer field are all ways to boost our children’s confidence in themselves, but parenting does not always consist of these relatively easy moments of recognizing their value.

Even in the most difficult moments of parenting, we must affirm for our children their inherent goodness, or value, so they will continue to grow in the knowledge that God truly created them for greatness.  We are called to teach our children how to turn vice into virtue and to have patience when they are struggling in the midst of temptation.    When we remain calm and encourage them to use their tendencies for good, we are demonstrating that we have faith in their ability to become the people God created them to be.  As parents, we have the wonderful obligation to learn with our children how God intends to use their varying personality traits.

I love seeing my son James’ imagination take hold of his heart when he looks with awe at the Eucharist during Mass and whispers, “I love you, Jesus.”  I see so much potential for unwavering faith that just wouldn’t be the same if his creative spirit were not allowed to thrive. So we work with James on discerning when it is appropriate to get a swept up on the wings of dreams and when that spirit needs to be channeled in a different direction.  I try to remember to tell my child that I love a particular quality about him, but that God means it to be used in a particular way:  to love and serve Him.  I hope to never send the message that any of my children’s personality traits are bad, but that God made them that way for a reason, and that reason is good.

It is the vision of who God created each of us to be that will serve my children well throughout their teenage years as their interest in the opposite sex evolves into t emotions that they’ve never known or experienced before.  I want my children to understand that God created them to have these feelings for a good and valuable reason.  As a parent, by learning along with my children how to direct their impulses and desires along the channels God intended, I hope to convey that God created them to feel attraction and longing because they can see the value of their peers who were created in the image and likeness of God.  God gave us these desires so that we might be reminded of the deep love we hold for Him–a love that can be so beautifully realized in the sacredness of the vocation of marriage or through a total dedication to God’s work in the single or religious life.

As I watch James’ eyes light up with joy while we ponder what heaven must be like, or his deep concern as he questions me about “the bad place,” I am reminded that his vivid imagination is not there to simply annoy me as I try to get him to finish his chores or get dressed for school without being distracted. God created this unique and unrepeatable child with qualities of great value that can be used to serve Him with a deep and unrelenting love.  It’s up to me to make sure that flame is kept burning strong and fanned always heavenward.

After the Show: Helping Our Child Make Amends

Children have conflicts.  Sometimes our child is the guilty party in starting the conflict or inflicting harm on another child (either emotional or physical harm).  How do we handle these situations so that we can guide our children and help them accept responsibility for their actions?  We can actually see these difficult moments as opportunities to guide our children in empathy.  I talked about this topic with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life on September 27th.  You can listen to the archived show here.

Dr. Popcak pointed out on the show that forgiveness is messy.  I think apologies are messy, too — for all of us and especially for children.  Children sometimes don’t understand why they’re being asked to apologize or they feel they haven’t done anything wrong.  Even if they recognize they were wrong, it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing to face the person they harmed, to apologize for their wrongdoing, and to ask for forgiveness.  We can help our child deal with the fallout of her actions through patience, mercy, and compassion.

Ensure you have both sides of the story: 

Ask questions about what happened.  Sometimes you’ll discover there are two very different but true sides to the same story.  For example, teasing is mean and frustrating.  If one child is teasing another, the teased child might haul off and smack the teaser.  It’s unacceptable to threaten or use violence against another person, but the teasing is a factor in the conflict, and this mitigating factor needs to be recognized and discussed.  Similarly, it’s easy to assume an older sibling has wronged a younger sibling when the younger sibling is injured or crying.  But respect your older child by hearing her side of the story alongside the younger child’s.  Sometimes both children may need to apologize for their part in the conflict.

Connect with your child even when she’s wrong:

Recognize that your child’s position or underlying motivation in the conflict may not have been malicious or evil, however irrational it might seem to you.  Your child may have had sensible reasons for his actions – at least in his mind, at his particular developmental stage.  Listen to his point of view without judgment or grown-up analyses.  This requires a patient, empathic, merciful kind of listening that is both difficult and valuable (valuable for all your relationships, not just the one you have with your child).

When you extend this kind of respect to your child — which he sees has taken your time, love, attention, and consideration — you gain his trust.  Now a small crisis becomes an opportunity to guide your child in the Christian virtues. The point here isn’t to make excuses for your child.  After all, even if her basic intention was understandable, her behavior may still have been unkind, unwise, or inappropriate.

For example, if your ten year-old daughter joins other girls in teasing a new girl at school, this choice is very wrong.  But after discussing the facts with your daughter, she may relate to you that she was searching for acceptance in the group of girls doing the teasing. You can connect with your child by telling her how hard it would be to be the only one in a group of girls not joining in teasing another child.  However, we also share with her why mercy and justice require us to do the right thing even when it’s difficult.  The behavior issue becomes an opportunity to build your parent-child bond and to disciple your child in the Christian virtues.

Lessons in empathy: 

Explain to your child the position and feelings of the person he harmed: how he feels, what he lost, and what he hoped in the friendship with your child.  Recently my six year-old son blamed a friend for what he had mostly done himself.  It involved a big candy stash and his sister’s private nightstand drawer.  After the event, the nightstand was about the only thing left.  ‘Nuf said.

Dominic explained that he hadn’t meant to get his friend in trouble; that he only wanted to keep his sister from getting mad at him!  At Dominic’s age, this short-sighted thinking isn’t surprising.  He is still pretty ego-centric and learning a great deal from his experiences.  If I had blasted him for lying, spanked him, or scared him into apologizing, I would have missed an opportunity to reach his heart.  I wanted to ensure that he understood what he should have done instead of taking the candy and then lying about it, and how his lie hurt his friend.

Children are born with a God-given capacity for empathy, but unless they experience empathy themselves and learn to recognize the emotions and inner experiences of people around them, that capacity will lie dormant.  When our children hurt others, we can view it as an opportunity to train their hearts and minds in the great lessons of love.  When I explained to Dominic the consequences his friend suffered because of the lie and how disappointed his friend was that Dominic hadn’t considered his feelings, Dominic was better able to see the situation from his friend’s perspective. He felt genuine remorse and it became an opportunity to teach Dominic about trust, honesty, and reconciliation.

Require an apology, but it’s okay to wait:

We want to teach our children gently that when we harm somebody, we have sinned:  We cause a rupture between ourselves and God, and ourselves and the person we hurt. We want to repair those ruptures.  Now, clearly this is a big concept for little people to understand, but they can begin to learn it, think about it, and eventually they will understand it.  The spirit of darkness would like nothing more than for our child to develop pride and to refuse to admit his wrongs or to made amends for them.

When we have sinned against God and brother or sister, we need to make amends to both.  Our child can reconcile with God through prayer and through the Sacrament of Confession if she is old enough.  Even though God forgives us for our sin against Him when we go to Confession, He still requires that we seek reconciliation with the person we harmed.

God wishes to heal the rupture to community caused by our sin, but I suggest we use discernment in requiring our child to apologize to the person he hurt.  Dr. Popcak pointed out at the beginning of the show that when somebody has hurt us, sometimes it’s prudent not to rush to forgiveness because we may have work to do before we’re prepared to let go.  We think we’re doing the right thing by saying “I forgive you”, but our bodies can give us clues that we are still conflicted and in pain.  The Theology of the Body reminds us that we need to contemplate our physical responses to these kinds of events.  Similarly, science tells us a lot about a child’s body when they are in distress, and I think that information gives us a reason not to rush them to an apology.

Sometimes our child may be so upset that it’s impossible to talk to him rationally about what he’s done wrong and why he needs to make things right with the person he hurt.  Young children’s brains are so immature that their logical brain is “off-line” when they’re emotionally charged and the more primitive impulsive parts of her brain are in control.  If your young child seems out of her mind when she’s upset, that’s because it’s sort of true!  In these cases, connect with your child, help her calm down, and help her talk through her emotions.  Now her logical brain and the emotional brain are communicating. At this point, she will be receptive to guidance and more capable of self-reflection.

Our primary goal in these situations is to teach our children about how to handle themselves better in the future and how their actions can affect others.  If the children are relatively calm, you can help your child apologize on the spot. If your child can’t or won’t apologize on the spot, ensure the hurt child receives what she needs from you or the other parent.  You can apologize to the child yourself: “I’m sorry Jane squashed your clay dog. You must have been so shocked and hurt, and you worked so hard on your dog.”  If the child isn’t your own child, ensure you connect with the other parent with an apology, too.

When you discern that the time is right (whether it’s five minutes, days, or weeks), require your child to apologize to the person he hurt even if it requires a lesson in the virtue of humility.  Now we have an opportunity to teach our child that we must make our wrong right with the other person when we’ve hurt them. Discuss with your child how she would like to do that.  You can give her a choice in how she’ll make amends, but not on whether she’ll make amends. Allow her to make cards, pick some flowers, etc. to offer to the friend.  The apology should be in person so that both children have closure over the situation

Modeling: 

The best way to help your child develop the humility necessary for an honest apology is to exemplify that humility yourself.  Be an example to your child by apologizing to them, to your spouse, and others when you’ve been wrong in the way you’ve treated them. This modeling is the most powerful way to reach your child’s heart. We all experience regret in our relationships. Showing our children how to handle these regrets with humility will help them internalize the same loving, compassionate humility.

Photo credit: Vadim Kozlovsky (photos.com)

Helping Our Children Make Sound Moral Choices

I came across this superb article  on the brain chemistry of moral reasoning, authored by none other than Dr. Gregory Popcak.  In the article he explains how “extravagant affection” from parents actually trains the “moral brain” of a child. It’s one more way that science is confirming what Catholic theology has already announced: Human beings were made for love.  Children thrive best when their parents use their bodies self-donatively in generous acts of love.  Awesome!

Photo credit: Zhu Difeng (photos.com)

Leading Me Closer to Him

There is something about that moment.  That moment when the knowledge that has gradually been creeping into my mind is suddenly confirmed in the depths of my heart.  That moment when an awareness of God’s hand playing a significant role in the intimacy of my marriage becomes a reality.  That moment when I just know that the beginning of a new life is taking hold within the protective walls of my own body.

Suddenly, I am sharing the great gift of the body God gave me with the gift of another.  I am inspired to treat my body as the sacred, special entity that it is because God’s creative work depends on my care.  I become conscientious about getting more sleep, adequate exercise, and only consuming nutritious, wholesome food and drink.  I’ve done this four times before.  I know the routine.

But Baby Tierney #5 has already stirred the depths of my heart to a new awakening.

I realized with dismay that I had always avoided receiving Jesus’ Precious Blood during pregnancy as if it were a mere beverage that held the potential to cause my baby harm rather than the blood shed for our sins that it truly is.  The fact that I have taken the privilege and significance of this sacrament somewhat for granted my entire life hit home as soon as I suspected I was pregnant.

Created as the unique and unrepeatable people that we are, God chooses to reveal Himself to each of us in different ways.  My pregnancy allowed Him to reveal Himself to me through the gift of His Blood at Mass, which in turn gave me a full awareness of His Presence under the species of bread as well.  While “communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace” (CCC 1390), I also sensed that, for me, “the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly.” (CCC 1390)  Yes, God knew the perfect way to convert my heart to a deeper union with Him!

I have always believed with my mind in the Real Presence at Mass, but God’s revelation during the first days of my pregnancy led me to an awareness and belief that now rests firmly in the depths of my heart and soul.  I now know with my heart that it is not a symbolic piece of bread or cup of wine, but it is Jesus Himself present in the Eucharist, and I feel as if I have unlocked the joy of the fullness of the sacrament.

It feels wonderful to receive both Jesus’ Body and Blood, knowing I am filling not only my own body, but also my developing baby’s body with God’s grace.  I am so thankful for the teachings of the Theology of the Body that led me to this point.  By embracing the fullness of the marriage sacrament and being open to God’s plan for our family, I also opened myself to the fullness of all of the other sacraments.  If I had not been open to saying “yes” to God’s calling to conceive another child, I would not have been open to the gift of this little person who has taught me how to recognize God so fully in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  This amazing life that is but a few days old has already accomplished a conversion of heart before even being visible to the outside world.

I guess that’s often how God works.  He accomplishes great things through the smallest, the most vulnerable, and the silent.

I pray for a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery, but even if unforeseen tragedy should occur, I am so thankful.  Thank you, Baby Tierney #5, for being a messenger from God and leading me by your tiny hand ever closer to Him.

Photo credit: photos.com ( 92833190)

Tomorrow on More2Life

Kim will visit with Greg & Lisa Popcak tomorrow on their radio show More2Life.  She’ll talk about what we can do to tame those chaotic family moments when it seems madness is taking hold.  You know what I’m talking about: The kids wash the baby’s hair with toothpaste, stick the toilet plunger to the fridge, play tug-of-war with the toddler, and somehow get into the crawl space under the house — all within the last hour. Hope you’ll tune in!

More2Life is on 9-10 EST, produced by Ave Maria Radio.  You can listen live on your local Catholic radio station.  If you don’t get More2Life in your area, you can listen live online by going to AveMariaRadio.net or by downloading the FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App.   Or you can download the podcast for later listening at AveMariaRadio.net as well.  Check it out!

 

After the Show: What Is Conscious Catholic Parenting?

On August 30th I joined Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak on their radio show, More2Life, which helps us understand how the Theology of the Body can help us live fuller and more abundant lives.  You can listen to the whole show here.

I’m honored to announce that I’ve been invited to be a regular guest on the show: I’ll be visiting with the Popcaks every other Thursday to talk about some aspect of Catholic attachment parenting.   To make these discussions even more fruitful, I’ll be following up each show with a CAPC article summarizing what we discussed, including adding necessary clarifications and helpful resources.

So with this article, I’d like to discuss the main point we were exploring on More2Life on August 30th: What is conscious Catholic parenting and what does it have to do with the Theology of the Body?

Conscious Catholic Parenting:  Meeting the Needs of Children

Conscious Catholic parenting is an approach that depends upon a loving responsiveness to what infants, children, and teenagers need.  I used the term “conscious parenting” on the show, because apparently the term “attachment parenting” is controversial in the media world, but that’s what I’m talking about.  Attachment parenting, conscious parenting, connection parenting, empathic parenting, natural parenting: These are terms used by different folks to talk about a similar concept, namely parenting with an awareness of the optimal conditions in which children thrive.

Our goal is that our kids don’t merely survive childhood: We want our children to discover their value and unique identity, and to connect with others on a deep and profound level.  Now, any parent will say, “Of course that’s our goal. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?” But the sad fact is that, despite their hopes, many parents parent without a real awareness of what kids really need and they often parent the way they were parented without exploring whether that approach or those parenting decisions are wise.  I say this without any judgment whatever.   Parenting is hard, life gets complicated, and if somehow you are led to a place where you begin to question what kind of atmosphere you want to provide for your family, then you are blessed and the Holy Spirit is working.

So, again, conscious parents seek to understand what our children actually need physically, spiritually, and psychologically to thrive.  We hope to create a home atmosphere that can best meet these needs.  The Theology of the Body brings so much to this discussion.  Science confirms what the Theology of the Body announced: Human beings are designed for relationship and interdependence, not radical independence.   One of the central gifts of the Theology of the Body is that it reveals to us the ideal way for people to relate to one another, including parents and children. John Paul II calls us all to “self-donation” –using our bodies, minds, and spirits to meet the needs of others with love and tenderness.  Well, goodness, this is conscious parenting, folks.  And guess what?  Through self-donative love we not only help children thrive, but we discover our true identities in Christ, because it’s only through love that our true selves are revealed.  Awesome!

Needs Are Not Static

Of course, what children need changes over time depending on their developmental stage and their temperament.  Needs are not static.  What a 3 year old needs to feel safe, inspired, and loved is very different from he’ll need when he’s 10.  And if you have more than one child you know that what one 3 year old needs to feel safe, inspired, and loved is frequently different from what another 3 year old needs!   On the show I shared the example of my third child, Dominic, who had me tapping my forehead trying to figure out what he needed from me when he was a little tyke.  After about 8 months, he didn’t want to co-sleep, didn’t like to be cuddled, kissed, or even held very much, and he was very “serious” and quiet.  My first two children were cuddly, cooing bundles of slobbery kisses who wanted nothing more than to be close to me.

The book The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman helped me to understand the significant differences in the way we all prefer to give and receive love.  I realized that Dominic became more animated and talked a lot more when we did puzzles together, built block towers, or something of that nature.  Now, at 6, he becomes very talkative and warm when we go on private outings together.  He rarely sits on my lap or holds my hand, but on these outings he naturally does this.  Dominic feels most loved by spending one-on-one quality time with Philip and me.  That’s how he feels valued.

It’s this sensitivity to our child’s heart and mind that makes the difference.  In addition to learning how they most feel loved, we learn to understand the fears and needs underneath their behaviors and we prioritize our connection with our child over other commitments.  We do what’s right for our child even when it’s hard, inconvenient, or unpopular.  Children need to know that they’re valuable and their needs matter to us.  That’s an extraordinarily Christ-like way to parent.

Needs and Wants Are Two Different Things

One of the myths about attachment/conscious parenting is that it’s a permissive parenting style, in which the child controls the household and gets whatever he wants.  Conscious parents set limits and boundaries.  While we always try to meet a legitimate need, we often have to say “no” to a child’s wants because we can’t afford it or it’s just a bad idea for some reason.  The fact is children need these limits to thrive.  However, we can set and enforce these limits with tenderness and love, always protecting our child’s dignity.

Conscious Catholic parenting is not a big give-a-thon.  As Catholic parents we are called to lead our children to mature into empathic, loving adults.  In the daily life the family, all members of the family learn to respond to the Church’s call to self-donative love, including children.  As their maturity level permits, they join the family in keeping up the house, cooking, washing and folding clothes, and meeting the needs of younger children or those who are sick or in need.

Finally, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect.  Despite our best efforts, hopes, and dreams, we all make mistakes with our kids that we regret.  We are learning about ourselves as we learn about our children and what it means to be a loving parent.  When it’s hard, we can struggle alongside one other; when it’s joyful, we can celebrate together.  We can all create a more abundant family life by learning from one another’s experiences and calling on one another for prayer and support.

Photo credit: Stockbyte (photos.com)

CAPC on Radio TOMORROW!

I’ll be a guest tomorrow morning on Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak’s radio show More2Life, which focuses on the Theology of the Body.  The show is on 12-1 EST and I’ll be on at about 12:20.  Hope you can tune in!  If you can’t, the shows are always archived.

We’re so fortunate that Greg & Lisa both support CAPC and our mission.  Thinking about tomorrow’s show has led me to reflect on the Theology of the Body and what it can teach us about parenting.  The Theology of the Body is, in fact, at the center of what we are trying to explore at CAPC.

The Theology of the Body reveals to us the ideal way for people to relate to one another:  through self-donative love.  Self-donative love is a generous, heroic love that the secular world has a difficult time comprehending, but it reveals the truth about who we are and where we’re going.  We are made to love.  We are going to heaven to be with the source of All Love.

At CAPC, we explore the ideal way to relate to our children so that they can thrive in every way.  Science confirms that John Paul II was right:  Children thrive best in an atmosphere of self-donative love.  And guess what?  As we create an emotional atmosphere of openness, acceptance, respect, and generosity, our children mature into empathic and compassionate adults.  Incredible.  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.  This is why CAPC parenting model is unique: it’s family centered, not child centered or parent centered.

Parents.  You read these posts because you have an inkling that you’re on to something important, that the Holy Spirit is leading you to a theology of parenting that is transformative and powerful, even in its simplicity.

You are right.  Let’s continue this journey together.

An Identity of Her Own

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

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

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

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

Hazel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom to Choose

My eight year-old son’s eyes sparkled with anticipation as he struggled to keep them focused on my husband’s words.  After repeating the last rule, “No complaining when my screen time is over”, Owen reached out his hands to receive his prize.  He was free to enjoy 30 glorious minutes with the iPad as long as he obeyed the rules.  After all, a monopolized or broken iPad is no fun for anybody, right?

My children learn that true freedom is gained within the parameters of natural rules constantly throughout their day.  The sooner you complete your morning chores and get dressed, the sooner you are free to go out and play.  If you go pee-pee in the potty, you’ll be free from wearing diapers.  If you pick up your toys off the living room rug, we will be free to spread out the Twister mat and see how fast we can get Mommy tied up in knots.  Let’s face it: our households simply run more smoothly when there are some rules and boundaries to which we all adhere.

In his book, Theology of the Body for Beginners, Christopher West defines freedom as “The capacity to choose and determine one’s own actions.”  Blessed Pope John Paul II summed up this definition in a single term, “self-mastery.”  (Jan. 16, 1980)  Isn’t this the ultimate gift with which we want to empower our children?  It is the ability to choose good over evil that will determine whether or not they will enter the kingdom of heaven.  As parents we strive to teach this valuable lesson to our children throughout their entire lives.  We give them the freedom they desire to the extent with which they possess the self-mastery to use it for the good of themselves, others, and society as a whole.

From our beginnings, God seems to be protecting us from our original sin through restrictions that require us to hold another’s hand (ideally our own parents’) until we possess the self-mastery to choose to cling to His.  God creates us in the restricted confines of the womb, that in our vulnerability we might have the freedom to grow and gain enough strength for the outside world.  A healthy newborn baby is most content snuggled tightly against Mom, knowing that the loving confines of her arms will give him the freedom to safely learn about the brand new world into which he has been thrust.  An older baby thrives on being “worn” in a sling or baby carrier, held, and generally kept close to mom and dad day and night.  This gives him the freedom to further explore his world even though he doesn’t yet possess the self-mastery to walk about, feed himself, or comfort himself when hurt or frightened.

As parents, we continue to provide these boundaries, never extending them until we can see that our children have the self-mastery needed to choose what is best for themselves.  In this way, we give them the freedom to grow according to God’s plan–the freedom to choose the path that He has carved for their lives.

Imagine a toddler who is learning to walk.  He knows he can move his legs and that they will take him places.  At first, he truly seems not to care where he goes, as long as he is going somewhere.  You might call him a slave to the impulses of his body.  He has very little control.  Gradually, he does seem to think ahead to where he would like to go, but it is still difficult for him to get his legs to connect with what he is thinking.  He wants to turn the corner into the next room, but lacks the self-mastery to do it well.  He has no choice but to follow his legs wherever they take him, even if it is right into the wall.  This, of course, is not freeing.  This is painful.  It can be downright heartbreaking to watch our frustrated child trying so desperately to choose what is good and right, while lacking the self-mastery to do so.  And so we take his hand, wipe the tears from his face, and we see joy return to his face as we physically guide his body to do what he wants it to do.  In this way, we are physically teaching him mastery of his impulsive little legs, so that he will one day have the freedom to choose to walk safely through the rest of his life.

This is what I hope to impart to my own children through the way that we parent:  God provides that guiding hand through the teachings of the Church in hopes that we will have the freedom and the self-mastery to choose what is best for us.  My husband and I try to make our household rules carefully, that upon deeper questioning it becomes clear that those rules exist because we want what is best for our children and because we love them deeply.  In this way, our restrictions cause our children to feel protected, safe, and free to choose what is best for themselves, rather than feeling confined to their human impulses and urges.

We pray this self-mastery will carry them chastely through their teenage years and into a sacramental marriage of free, total, faithful, and fruitful love.  Through the practice of Natural Family Planning and openness to life, we want our sons to have the self-mastery required to leave them free to respect the way their wives’ bodies were created.  We want our daughter to appreciate the glory of her femininity and the freedom to have the confidence and security to settle for nothing less than a man who will see God’s glory in her as well.  We would also be delighted if God called one or more of our children to the religious life, where well developed self-mastery would be absolutely essential to answer God’s calling.

This is real control, awesome power, and true freedom:  to give our children the gift of self-mastery, that they will go out into the world one day well-armed and free to fight the forces of evil so that they might triumph in the ultimate prize of heaven.

“The Body Expresses the Person”

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

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

Charisse’s darling boys, Henry & Owen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Response to the Boobs

What extended nursing really looks like

The TIME cover photo and story “Are You Mom Enough” have gone viral and achieved the sensation and blabbering attention the editors were looking for.  I agree with Dr. Popcak’s remarks about that cover photo.  It obscures the real issues and merely reinforces inaccurate perceptions people have about attachment parenting.

My family was actually being considered for that photo shoot.  Can you imagine?  We were not selected; The Holy Spirit was working in that one.

TIME provided several articles on-line when they released that cover photo; most of them focus on extended breastfeeding.  Why extended breastfeeding?  Why not show photos of mothers nursing their young infants, as breastfeeding on demand in infancy is one of the central recommended practices for securing an infant’s attachment?  Why narrow the focus to one practice at all?   By focusing on extended nursing, and choosing to highlight mothers who breastfeed well into the preschool years, TIME moves the discussion away from the heart of attachment parenting. It’s like walking up to a Ferrari, sitting down on the ground, and staring at the hubcaps. You miss the beauty entirely.

AP isn’t about a list of things you have to do to belong to some club.  It is a conscious decision to parent based on what a child needs so that they can grow up with a deep sense of well-being and “rightness”.  What a child needs varies by child depending on many factors, including their temperament and developmental age.  Children’s needs change over time.  The media has raised questions about the intensive nurturing required of attachment parenting and ask what kind of life the mother will have away from her child. The intensive needs of an infant are quite different from the needs of a toddler; the needs of toddler different altogether from those of a school age child.  Fathers also play an increasing role as the infant moves into older babyhood and toddlerhood.

Parenting is tiring in the early months. I’m sorry, there’s no getting around it.  But, it amuses me that people think co-sleeping, nursing, and babywearing are so arduous for the mother when in fact it makes our lives easier.  Much easier.  You know what I would find exhausting?  Getting up every 2 hours and walking down the hallway in the middle of the night, trying to calm a frightened infant crying without relief, strapping a baby into a bouncy seat every time I want to get a cup of coffee.  And as our attached infants grow into toddlers and older children, their sense of peace and connection makes them much easier to parent.  That initial investment of love pays off.  Why are we so afraid to give these tiny souls what they deserve?

Many of the statements about AP in those on-line articles were simply wrong or misrepresentations; a video statement by Kate Pickert, the author of the main article about Dr. Sears, is also disastrous.  Clearly the staff failed to perform adequate background research or they merely chose voices of convenience, like an interview they published with the mother who is on the cover of the magazine.  That’s the best they could do?  Why not interview one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International who synthesize and analyze information every day about AP?  Why not interview the unflappable Mayim Bialik, actress, neuroscientist, & AP advocate, who would have provided some of the scientific evidence they needed and the glitz they wanted for that article.

Kate Pickert, the TIME journalist who wrote the main piece in the magazine about Dr. Sears, makes several strange statements in her video release, such as:

  • Dr. Sears “basically invented attachment parenting.”

(Of course he didn’t invent it.  He merely observed these practices in other cultures which produce peaceful, well-adjusted adults.  He put this together with what he knew about attachment theory in the field of psychology, which was developed by John Bowlby.)

  • Co-sleeping is a “new phenomenon.”

(Of course it isn’t a new phenomenon.  Most of the rest of the world co-sleep with their children.  Also, co-sleeping isn’t a litmus test of AP.  Many parents let their kids sleep with them who don’t practice AP — they’re just tired and let the kiddos climb into bed with them.  And while co-sleeping is practiced by many AP families, not all do so for various reasons.  I would hope a journalist would ask more questions.)

  • She makes a disturbing leap in logic with the following train of thought:  “It turns out that a lot of what [Dr. Sears] has taught is intertwined with his personal life . . .”  Both Dr. Sears and his wife Martha “had difficult childhoods.”

(I imagine his decision to focus on gentle parenting may be entwined with his personal life,  including difficult parts of it.  That’s true for all human beings.  Why is that a problem?  Isn’t it perhaps the Holy Spirit working to turn something dark into something beautiful?  These two lovely souls, Dr. Sears and his wife, uncovered practices that may  have been lost in our culture or at least been more difficult for the average family to find.  Pickert uses this information to make the following bold leap:)

  • “A lot of people attracted to attachment parenting are reacting to their own childhoods as well.  A lot of people who get into attachment parenting think they need to do it for their babies, but if they did a little examination they would see it’s about a lot of their own issues.”

(If you asked a portion of any group they would tell you they had difficult childhoods.  The other portion would tell you they had pretty good childhoods.  So what?  Our childhoods inform many of our choices and assumptions, sure.  I’m sure some AP parents had difficult childhoods and some had wonderful childhoods.  But if you asked a group of parents who use more child training type approaches you will get the same or similar statistics.  I’m not sure why this leads her to conclude that AP parents choose to nurture our children not because of what our children need but because of some unresolved issues we have ourselves. 

In fact, parents will tend to parent the way they were parented unless they come to a conscious decision to do things differently with their own children. This is something to be celebrated! I think it’s more likely that attachment parents from difficult backgrounds come to the approach not unconsciously and because of unresolved issues, but quite deliberately after research and comparing their options.  They choose attachment based parenting because they are willing to do what is best for their children no matter the costs, including adopting some practices that may be counter-cultural and unpopular, even misunderstood.)

  • “There’s no evidence to show that wearing a baby in a sling or sleeping with kids is gonna change the way they turn out later when they’re adults.”

(Again, she misses the central goal of AP.  Attachment parenting isn’t about these little practices she is glomming on to.  AP begins with the rapport and relationship you build with your child in infancy, but that rapport has to be nurtured and maintained throughout all of childhood.  Pickert is equating AP with just 3 infant parenting practices, when that’s just a scratch on the surface of this story.  But here’s one article  providing scientific support for many of the practices we are talking about, including studies suggesting babywearing promotes attachment and others suggesting securely attached children have fewer behavioral issues and higher IQs.  Margot Sunderland’s book The Science of Parenting discusses what the field of neuroscience tells us about the importance of attachment.  In Sleeping With Your Baby, James McKenna, a world recognized sleep expert, encourages parents to sleep with or near their infants and presents the scientific support for this recommendation.)

Pickert is a health care staff writer at TIME, so this perhaps explains her clinical approach to parenting.  I’m not sure if she’s even a parent herself.  I’ve been walking through the day, feeling alternately angry about the article and relieved that I wasn’t caught up in it at that photo shoot.   Finally after prayer, time playing at the park with the kids, and a nap with my toddler, I think I’ve gained some distance.

I understand tonight that there are real humans behind the story:  writers with deadlines; editors struggling to have a life.  There’s the mom on the cover:  She’s one of the most famous women in America this week.  I wonder if she expected it.  Even though I wanted to kick their hineys earlier today, they deserve my compassion and my prayers.  But most important of all, there are children to be loved. They deserve our compassion, too, the most tender compassion, every one of them. Hopefully the article and cover photo will lead to fruitful discussions that will lead to increased wisdom in our homes and our society.

Photo credit: Anita Patterson-Peppers (photos.com)

A Response from Dr. Gregory Popcak to TIME Cover “Are You Mom Enough”

Editor’s Note: I deliver here Dr. Gregory Popcak’s response to the TIME cover that has caused such a stir today.  Dr. Popcak is the Executive Director of Pastoral Solutions Institute and the author of many books, including Parenting With Grace, a groundbreaking exploration of attachment parenting through the lens of Catholicism.  His book inspires our work here at CAPC.   

As you know, Lisa and I are big attachment parenting advocates (Dr. Bill Sears wrote the foreword to the 2nd edition of our parenting book), but I think the cover for the TIME magazine article on AP really sets the wrong tone for the discussion.

It is true that the world average for nursing is 5 years.  This is not the norm in the West, but in other cultures it is common enough. It is also true that children who nurse in some limited way even up to the full length of the world average do, indeed, stop nursing, grow up, claim their independence, and move on. In general, they tend to be more confident and independent than their peers.

So, there isn’t anything psychologically inappropriate about nursing this long as long as (a) it is actually a response to the child’s need for comfort and not being imposed on the child and (b) it is done privately and discretely so as to respect the intimacy communicated by this kind of relationship. The person is not a cup. Mom is not a cow. Nursing is not intended to be the equivalent of sipping from a water fountain. It’s a call to create a loving connection between mother and baby.

A woman is not a fountain.

My problem with the cover is that it’s intentionally provocative and misrepresentative. This isn’t what AP is about. AP is about investing the time and energy you need to put into your relationship with your unique child so that you can give that child what he or she needs to grow to be a strong loving, healthy person. It’s about modeling radical self-donation so that you can teach the child to be radically self-donative in his or her own relationships in both childhood and adulthood.

Despite what people think, AP isn’t a list of techniques, a series of “Must do’s” and “Shame on you if you don’ts.” It’s a call to foster a uniquely loving, responsible, and intimate relationship with your kids so they see you as their mentor for learning how to lead a life filled with love, responsibility, and intimacy.

It’s true that fostering this kind of relationship takes more of an investment than most parents put into their relationship with their kids. It’s also true that such a relationship might be more difficult for some. I just wish people didn’t find it so offensive or shocking that a parent would want to pursue that kind of a relationship with their child, or would want that kind of relationship for the children of the world.

To be fair, I do think the cover shot pretty accurately represents many non-AP parents’ perception of AP. That is, “Mom as slave to a set of techniques that turns her into a mere dispenser of bodily fluid and maternal energy for the spoiled little vampire-child who is being enabled to suck the very life out of her.” It saddens me that people would feel this way, though. Our families deserve better. Our children deserve better. We deserve better.

Dr. Gregory K. Popcak