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Archive for Balance

Study: 4 Things Every Mom Needs to Thrive

moms-thriveMotherhood is a profound blessing. We moms know it. But motherhood can, at times, bring us to our knees. A mom regularly 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?

One intriguing study identified 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.  With Pinterest and HGTV blinking at us, it’s easy to forget that our children, husbands, and friends love us and cherish us no matter what color our kitchen cabinets are.  Sometimes when I’m expecting guests, I practically stage my house like a realtor before an open house!

And this extends to our “performance” as moms. The fact is, we will make mistakes on our mothering journey. When we fall short, we need to know we will still be loved and accepted. Moms need the freedom to make amends, find new hope and direction, and still be cherished for the unique, unrepeatable person 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.”  I think every mom I know has at some point felt they couldn’t go on, that they were at the limits of their ability to cope, and this feeling is very distressing for them, because they have children depending on them to “keep it together.”

We need somebody who can comfort us in the way WE need when we are struggling. This support helps us gain perspective so that we don’t dig ourselves deeper into a hole. Sometimes we just need an ear so we can vent; we don’t really need anybody to rescue us.  At other times we need a hero. We need somebody to swoop in and save us, oftentimes through physical relief (a nap, a chance to get out of the house for an hour to clear our head).

3.  Authenticity in Relationships

Moms who are drawn to gentle, responsive parenting can put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect moms. We can even judge other moms who aren’t doing the gentle thing “right.” Let’s try to get over this! Every single day our ideal for ourselves as moms doesn’t match up with reality on some level or at some moment.

Mothering is messy. When mothers feel like they have to be perfect around their friends and family, when they can’t be honest with anyone about their struggles and concerns, they are at a much higher risk for depression. When you can’t be authentic, you cannot thrive. Being authentic requires humility, surrender, and trust. Every mom needs a few people she can be authentic with.

I’m grateful that I can be authentic with my husband.  Once when my third child was a newborn and my two older kids were still very young, he 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, and not merely 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.

You’ll notice all four of these factors are related. I need the humility to be authentic in order to allow others to accept my unconditionally. And only people fully capable of unconditional love can love us unconditionally and allow us to be authentic.

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 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.

Most significant, one relationship this study doesn’t consider, but which is the most important factor to our thriving, is a mom’s relationship with God. I can see a direct link between my commitment to prayer and my satisfaction as a wife and mother!

Back-to-School Traditions for Your Catholic Family

back to school2

Family traditions give our kids a little lifejacket in the often unsteady waters of childhood. As we approach the beginning of a new school year, it’s a great time to think of ways to honor our child’s big step in starting a new grade and offer a nod to the enormous blessings and graces of education – of books, numbers, maps, bugs, play dough, or whatever else may occupy our minds this year.

As some of you know, my family homeschools. The very first year we homeschooled, my oldest child, Aidan, was entering kindergarten. Our family was embarking on a life-changing adventure and Aidan was very proud that he was officially starting school. So, in recognition of the momentous occasion, our first day of school began not with practicing writing the letter “A” or learning about birds; it started with a celebration. We had balloons, games, and a pretty tablecloth, and we baked a cake together. Then we cracked open our perfect, crisp, new books, imagined together what the year would bring us, and talked about our hopes and fears.  

That first day of our first year of homeschooling was many years ago. This year Aidan is a high school senior, and I have three more “students” in the 8th, 4th, and 1st grades.  I’ve added a few things to our annual back-to-school celebration, but to this day we still bake a cake, play games, look at our books, and we preview and talk about our year. 

As I look back on those celebrations, I can see clearly that we weren’t just making a party, which bored and wayward frat boys do regularly. We also weren’t engaging in mere routine, like brushing our teeth or putting our shoes in the closet, as important as those habits are for my kids to learn. Our annual back-to-school tradition grounds my children, gives them a sense of shared history and identity, and perhaps alleviates some of their anxiety about facing new challenges in the coming year. Because we give it “A Moment,” my kids know that the start of the school year is no ordinary day and that no matter what the year brings, we are in it together.

Whether your kids attend traditional school or home school, starting some kind of back-to-school tradition is a great way to signal the transition from summer days to school time. Your tradition won’t look like mine. Perhaps your family will enjoy dinner out at a favorite restaurant, make a trip to a bowling alley, or stargaze on the evening before school starts. Your traditions should reflect your family’s unique identity and interests. 

If baking cakes and having parties aren’t your thing, here’s a super easy idea that might work for you, and your kids will love it. This year I’m planning to surprise my kids on our first day of school with a traditional German “Schultute” – a school cone filled with school supplies, treats, and trinkets.  This is a tradition dating back to the 1800s, and it continues to this day in Germany and Austria.  

As Lydia is entering the first grade, this is an especially significant school year because, traditionally, only children entering first grade received a Schultute in Germany, though nowadays siblings are included, too.  I’m glad I didn’t miss Lydia’s first grade Schultute and I plan to make her feel extra special on Monday morning when our new school year begins and she officially becomes a first grader. But I will definitely make cones for her siblings, too, including the high school senior! I’m sure these fun cones will become part of our annual ritual.  

Barbara at Praying for Grace has a super easy tutorial for making a Schultute out of poster board and tissue paper. 

barbara's schultute

Image courtesy of Praying for Grace

You can also just let your kids decorate the poster board like Becky did here. As we are Catholic, along with the school supplies and sweets, I’ll fill our Schultute with patron saint cards, some religious stickers for the younger kids, and a prayer book for the two older kids. You could also follow Becky’s example and make the Schultute for your child’s teacher as an act of love. Your child can practice the virtues on her very first day of school!

Whatever we choose to do to honor the Big Day, as a family we can pray for our students as they rise to a new grade and for their teachers (even if that means mom and dad). In this spirit, this weekend I will make a printable of this prayer for the beginning of the school year and I will tuck it into the Schultute:

Prayer to Begin the School Year

Blessed are you Lord God, Creator of body and mind and heart; you have sent the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge to guide your people in all their ways.

At the beginning of this new school year, we implore your mercy: bless the students, teachers and staff of [NAME OF SCHOOL], that together we may grow in faith, hope, and love as we learn from you and each other how to follow your Son Jesus.

Expand the horizons of our minds, that we grow in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; deepen our commitment to see the truth of your ways; and enliven our faith to reach out to those in need. 

Glory and praise to you, Lord God, in the Church in in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

Avoiding Distractions in Our Mothering: Tips from Pope Francis

87490642I was stuck in traffic recently so I tuned into Catholic radio.  The radio show host was discussing some advice Pope Francis gives to nuns in his apostolic constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere (“Seeking the Face of God”): he warned them about the dangers of social media and asked them to watch their hearts to ensure they weren’t using the internet to escape the demands of their vocation. How about that? Nuns struggle with overusing technology like everyone else!

I definitely struggle with it, so later I decided to take a look at that constitution. I found several helpful reminders that apply not only to nuns, but to all the faithful and I think especially to mothers.

1. Keeping Social Media in Its Proper Place in Our Mothering

Here are Pope Francis’s own words about social media:

In our society, the digital culture has a decisive influence in shaping our thoughts and the way we relate to the world and, in particular, to other people. Contemplative communities are not immune from this cultural climate. Clearly, these media can prove helpful for formation and communication. At the same time, I urge a prudent discernment aimed at ensuring that they remain truly at the service of formation to contemplative life and necessary communication, and do not become occasions for wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community. Nor should they prove harmful for your vocation or become an obstacle to your life wholly dedicated to contemplation. Vultum Dei Quaerere, 34.

There’s nothing wrong with using email, Facebook, and Twitter to stay in touch with friends, arrange our kids’ classes, and perform household tasks, but I am guilty of using the internet to “waste time” and to “escape” the routines of family life. How many times a day (. . . hour) do I really need to check my email? How many cartoons and cat photos do I really need to see on Facebook? Technology is definitely a distraction for me. Sometimes I can’t even cook an entire dinner without checking my email!

So I want to ask myself every day:

  • Is technology helping me live out my vocation or is it distracting me from it?
  • Does technology help me in my work of forming my children and running my home?
  • Does technology help me love the people God has placed in my path? Or do I use technology to avoid loving my neighbor in person?
  • Is technology drawing me closer or farther away from God?
  • If I’m using technology to escape my mothering duties, why is that? Why do I feel bored, distracted, or lazy? How can I allow God to breathe new life into my mothering?

2. Building Our Families into a Community of Love, Not a Group of Selfish Co-Habitants

It’s easy for any family to fall into the habit of living parallel lives under the same roof, everyone doing their own thing, concerned with their own projects and goals without involving or considering anybody else, maybe even viewing other family members as a problem to be dealt with rather than treasured gifts from God given to us to help us know him and his love better. I do wonder whether this is actually becoming the norm in modern families. Kids often communicate and share more with their peers who are physically located in other houses than they do with their own parents and siblings who are located in the next room.

As Catholic mothers, we can allow God to use us like magnets to continually draw our children toward the center of our homes – sometimes literally into our family rooms and kitchens where we play, pray, and dine together, but also into relationship and mutual self-giving.

Pope Francis talks about “fraternal communion” – the building of community and companionship, and the cultivation of mutual support and a shared purpose. “[A]ll members must see themselves as builders of community and not simply recipients of its eventual benefits. A community exists inasmuch as it comes about and is built by the contribution of all, each according to his or her gifts.” Vultum Dei Quaerere, 25. Maybe we moms can remind our families about our real purpose and calling. Maybe we need to start at square one and work on understanding what that even means.

What is your family’s special, unique mission? Are you building a strong identity and mutual history? The family is a visible witness of the communion of the persons of the Trinity and the depth of God’s love, and this is most fully revealed through our deep connection and tender care for one another, through our shared good works, play, and unwavering solidarity.

Pope Francis reminds us that building strong communities, especially communities of love, requires acts of mutual self-gift. If family members are only concerned about themselves – trying to do the least possible to get by or merely avoid conflict – our shared purpose is diminished and our family identity is weakened. And guess what? Mutual self-giving means shared giving – not mom doing all the giving while everyone else sits around poking buttons on a remote. Our kids aren’t crowned royalty. Even children have gifts to contribute to the common good of the family.

According to Catholic social doctrine, we should prioritize the needs of the weaker members of our families (little children, the elderly, the ill), but weaker persons should be empowered to contribute to “the good of all” as they are able. See John Paul II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 39.  Obviously a toddler can’t mow the lawn. We have to consider the limitations and special needs of very small children, but as they mature, they have an increasing capacity to contribute to the common good of the family, and we actually do our children a disservice when we don’t give them a chance to make such contributions.

Each family member, according to his or her gifts and capabilities, can be part of building up our families and not simply receiving its benefits. It’s in our care that our children will develop the capacity for self-giving love, for living fully in relationships of communion when they are adults, whether in the religious life or in marriage.

3. Cultivating Connection and Faith, Not Super-Duper Efficiency 

I appreciated this reminder from Pope Francis about balancing work and prayer:

As the great contemplative saints have warned, work must never stifle the spirit of contemplation. Your life is meant to “poor in fact and spent in hard-working moderation” – as your solemnly professed vow of evangelical poverty requires. For this reason, your work should be done carefully and faithfully, without yielding to the present-day culture and its mindset of efficiency and constant activity. The “ora et labora” of the Benedictine tradition should always be your inspiration and help you to find the right balance between seeking the Absolute and commitment to your daily chores, between the peace of contemplation and the effort expended in work. Vultum Dei Quaerere, 32

As mothers, we are very busy with work – noble, holy work that can seem like drudgery at times because some of it is repetitive and not terribly interesting. We will never really finish laundry, will we? As soon as the sink is clear, it seems another dirty plate appears. This work, for me, has led to greater humility. I’ve learned that I need this work to keep my inflated ego in check. God gives me graces through laundry and dirty plates. Because of the intensely physical nature of mothering, I’ve gained a keen awareness that work can be a form of prayer.

On the other hand, I can definitely fall into the trap of “efficiency and constant activity” that Pope Francis warns about. I have my to-do list like most moms; my calendar is front and center on my kitchen counter (my command central). Because I homeschool four children and teach classes to other homeschooled students, I have to be very organized and efficient with how I use my time. But there’s a difference between using my time wisely and being so efficient that I actually short-change my family relationships and my prayer life.

Sometimes when my husband isn’t home for dinner, I give my kids their plates and I eat dinner standing up at the counter so I can clean the kitchen while I eat. I know this isn’t a mortal sin, but I think it’s a symptom of what Pope Francis is talking about. Sometimes I have a hard time just relaxing because I’m anxious about I left to do in my day or even what’s on my agenda the next day.

On the mornings that I teach my classes, I often forgo my morning prayer because I’m frazzled – or maybe it’s a passing mutter as I race off to the shower. God loves our prayers, no matter how short, and I do know that he looks with soft eyes upon mothers who grapple with so many competing demands on their time. But I think I can be more mindful. I know that even five minutes with God can transform my anxiety and help me gain perspective about my day and my work.

If I don’t surrender everything to God –even my calendar and cleaning lists – I will never have enduring peace. Efficiency without faith is depressing. Mothering work is truly holy work – all of it – and when I surrender it to God he truly helps me recognize his own gorgeous, continual laboring in this world. So, yes I should sit down with my kids to eat when my husband isn’t home –perhaps particularly because he isn’t home. Yes, I need to watch the balance of ora et labora in my own life, especially on teaching days when I’m anxious.

Thanks for the reminders, Pope Francis. And thank you for the traffic jam, God. You always have my back.

Wednesday Links

A few links to articles that can help us love more intentionally with our children!

Love

10 Signs of Love by Darcia Narvaez.  An exquisite but brief exploration into the nature of real love.  “Love is … not a choice, or a dream, or a romantic novel. It’s a fact: an empirical fact about our biological existence. We are born into relationships with people and with places. We are born with the ability to create new relationships and tend to them. And we are born with a powerful longing for these relations. That complex connectedness nourishes and shapes us and gives us joy and purpose.”

Balance

Does Pregnancy Make You More Stupider?  Yup, it seems we lose some cognitive ability when pregnant and that our brains might actually . . . shrink!  Aaagh!  In this article, Gwen Dewar tries to explain why that may be the case and she offers some suggestions for boosting brain power during pregnancy.  Take care of yourselves, mommies!

Radiant Faith

Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?  Here’s a great, balanced article on Halloween. “Every year, a debate rages among Catholics and other Christians: Is Halloween a satanic holiday or merely a secular one? Should Catholic children dress up like ghosts and goblins? Is it good for children to be scared? Lost in the debate is the history of Halloween, which, far from being a pagan religious event, is actually a Christian celebration that’s almost 1,300 years old.”

All Hallows Eve by Mary Reed Newland.  This is an excerpt from Newland’s classic family faith book The Year and Our Children.  “One of the nicest surprises of living around the year with the Church is to find that Halloween is part of it.  Not that the Mass of the day has mention of black cats, or the Divine Office of witches, but for so long Halloween meant nothing but parties and vandalism that when someone first proposed that it came out of the liturgy, I asked: ‘Are you sure?'”

All Saints Day Scavenger Hunt:  Jessica over at Shower of Roses has a fun All Saints scavenger hunt!

Wednesday Links

Balance

Depression During Pregnancy: How It May Impact Baby Brain Development.  “Children of depressed parents are at an increased risk of developing depression themselves, a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. These children also display alterations in the amygdala, a brain structure important for the regulation of emotion and stress.”  Self-care is always important, and especially during pregnancy.  Having a strong support system and being honest with our obstetrician about emotional suffering can help us deal better with prenatal depression.

Radiant Faith

An idea for a hands-on activity during Advent:  A Jesse Box.  Love this!  Inspired by “Jesse Trees”, this box is”a new and exciting way to teach your children salvation history through an interactive diorama that lets them act out the story.”  This is definitely going on my “must have” list!  Available on Amazon.

Jesse Box

Jesse Box

Christmas Is More Than a Temporal Celebration, an article exploring Pope Francis’s homily on the first Monday of Advent.  The Pope encourages us to encounter Christ during Advent with the heart, with life, to encounter him alive.

Helping Our Children Encounter Christ During Advent:  In this CAPC article, I responded to Pope Francis’s invitation to Christians to encounter Christ during Advent by asking what we can do to help our children encounter Christ.  I suggest children do this through love, play, and prayer.

Keeping Christ in Christmas.  Another CAPC essay.  Christina Kolb considers ways to keep her family Christ-centered amid all the trappings of the Christmas season, both in how we celebrate and in how we prepare our hearts.

Welcome to Intentional Catholic Parenting

kimlydiaWelcome to our new website devoted to exploring the concept of “intentional Catholic parenting,” especially through “The 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home” parenting model.  This site will offer articles and links to relevant resources and research on how we can live intentionally with our children.

Here’s a description of “intentional Catholic parenting.”