20 Songs on the Soundtrack of #MomLife

We have an Amazon Echo at home, and use it to play music during family downtime. (We listen to a little everything — from Alanna Boudreau to John Denver and Ed Sheeran to Jon Foreman — depending on who asks Alexa to play something first.) Our two-year-old asks for music almost daily now, and will happily dance around a little in between games and meals and tantrums. Even our nine-month-old will clap and bounce along when a good song comes on.

On the rare day when both kids are sleeping at once and I have a few minutes of downtime, I’m always struck by just how quiet the house seems. The hush that I once rushed to fill (looking at you, always-have-the-TV-on-even-just-as-background college years) is now equal parts peaceful and bizarre. It gets crazy and I’ve probably suffered some amount of hearing loss already, but I love the chatter of my kid-filled house these days.

So here’s a fun little post for a Monday. In no particular order, these are the sounds of my daily life. Too bad most of them aren’t particularly good for dancing (except maybe #13, depending on your settings).

1. Screaming.

So much screaming.

2. Embarrassingly loud, public baby farts.

Loud enough to make you and your husband look at each other and whisper, “Was that just a fart?”

3. Giggling.

Melts your heart every time.

4. The slamming of little feet all over your house.

Whoever called it a “pitter-patter” had poor language skills. (It’s still cute, though.)

5. Breakable items falling from their careful perches.

Another one bites the dust.

6. Tearing paper.

Why do they rip all the paper?

7. Pudgy little limbs running into furniture, walls, and so on.

Followed by “You really should watch where you’re going, honey.”

8. “Pleeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase?”

Sometimes it’s cute. Sometimes it drives you crazy. Context is everything.

9. The scrape of furniture and/or toys along your new hardwood floors.

I don’t even care anymore.

10. Coffee percolating.

Why does it take so long?!

11. The oven/microwave/Crock-Pot timer chiming the sound of a nutritionally complete meal — which no one will want to eat.

It’s okay. You tried.

12. The long, tense pause between when a child falls and when (if?) they start screaming.

Sometimes partly filled by desperate pleas like “Good fall! Everything’s fine! What a brave baby!”

13. Your alarm clock sounding a full hour after you’ve actually woken up.

Maybe tomorrow you’ll remember to turn it off before insult adds to injury yet again. (Probably not, though, because sleep deprivation makes you forgetful.)

14. Yet another unsung hero ringing your doorbell.

What moms did before pizza delivery and next-day shipping on diapers is beyond me.

15. Incoherent babbling.

This covers cooing babies, toddlers with poor pronunciation, and parents who are very, very tired.

16. “Cha-ching.”

Kids are expensive, and I’m bad at budgeting.

17. The phone ringing at the worst possible time.

It’s uncanny. It never rings unless I don’t want it to.

18. “I love you.”

Whether it’s from my kids or my husband—this one is soothing to the soul.

19. Everything you say, repeated.

“Gosh, do I really sound like that?”

20. “MOMMY!”

What’s my name again?


What “tunes” did I miss? Which are your favorites (and least favorites)? Let’s chat about it on Facebook or Twitter! Use #momlifemusic to join the conversation.

5 Secrets to Good Momming

Being a mom is hard. There’s no role more rewarding, but boy, is it difficult sometimes. Every mom I’ve ever spoken to can identify with that truth.

Sometimes we forget this. Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in everyone else’s happy social media feeds and think, “Am I the only one who’s struggling today?” or “She looks perfect and tidy and her kids are always smiling. Am I just bad at this?”

I follow a lot of mommy bloggers and am not proud to admit that I’ve often thought to myself, “How does she look like that?” or “How can she possibly achieve so much every day?” or “I’ll never be able to keep up with that kind of awesomeness.”

But comparison is the enemy of confidence, and confidence is a key to happiness. My success is no less than anyone else’s; it’s just different. Your achievements are no smaller than your peers’; they are uniquely yours.

So, for me, the very first step to good momming is to set aside the urge to compare yourself and your family to others. God has made each person on this Earth different than the last, even over thousands of years of human history. That means every family has never been known before, and will never be repeated.

Comparing one family to another isn’t apples to oranges—it’s apples to ostriches.

Comparing one family to another isn’t apples to oranges—it’s apples to ostriches.

As for comparing one mom to another, how do you compare a rose to a hydrangea? A cherry tree to willow?

This is something I try to remind myself of regularly. It’s a mindset change, so it’s hard to catch myself before the thoughts come tumbling in. But it’s important.

So, when I can remember to embrace that mindset, I’m a better mom. And there are a few things, behaviorally, that help me get there.

1. A supportive, like-minded tribe.

That old saying about how it takes a village to raise a child still rings true. But today’s village looks a heck of a lot different, and it took me a relatively long time to find mine.

When we’re no longer living side-by-side with extended family, the way we seek help in caring for our own families changes. My family—both my husband’s side and mine—are wonderfully helpful when we ask for them to babysit, give advice, or provide emotional support. It’s a blessing that makes the challenges of life so much less intimidating. Those frequent visits, daily text messages, and regular family gatherings shed a lot of light on my tired soul. But the tribe doesn’t have to end there.

I found a lot of support and joy in an online tribe of like-minded, Catholic moms who are trying their best to get their families to Heaven. It’s a fundamental goal we all share. And the sheer size of that network of hundreds, spread around the country and around the world, is so comforting. I can be present there somewhat anonymously, but still be my authentic self and feel connected to moms in roles just like mine.

Whether it’s among your family, in your parish, or on Facebook, find the tribe that makes you feel like the proud, self-assured mama bear you are.

2. Taking time for yourself.

Call it self-care, alone time, a break, or a quiet hour—but whatever you do, find some peaceful moments with just yourself for company. Do it daily if you can, weekly if you must, monthly at the very least. Do it for you, but do it for them, too.

Sometimes, after I first became a mom, I felt like I didn’t recognize myself. In a day packed with nursing, diaper changes, naptime battles, reciting the same adorable but very simple books over and over, and spending every waking moment ensuring that tiny person in my arms had every single need met—well, it’s easy to lose track of yourself. It’s easy to forget that you have a life and a role and an identity outside of (and complementary to!) “Mom.”

It’s easy to forget that you have a life and a role and an identity outside of (and complementary to!) “Mom.”

I find myself again in simple things like a dance party in the shower (preferably to music that, out of everyone else in the house, only I like), a trip to the town square for shopping and coffee, a long visit to the bookstore, or a quiet read in the little lounging nook in my bedroom. Taking this break doesn’t have to be a huge hurdle; it can be easy and very restorative.

3. Finding a creative (or intellectual) outlet.

Having hobbies is important. I forgot just how important it was until recently, when pursuing a little arts and crafts has started to help me remind myself of my creative side. It’s refreshing to put my mind to work in a way that’s just for me. It’s nice to really focus on something other than my job, or innovative ways to trick a picky toddler into eating her vegetables.

I also find a lot of reward in reading non-fiction these days. I always enjoy fiction (and it’s often part of my go-to activities for secret #2), but exploring some theology or biography or sociology when I have the time and energy to spare is a lot more refreshing than I realized.

So whether you’re kinetic, academic, or both—keep doing and keep learning. It helps.

4. Allowing yourself to indulge.

This one seems obvious but gets so much flack. Sometimes you need to go easy on yourself. Sometimes you need to ignore the pressure to perfect your body and habits to meet everyone else’s standards, and instead enjoy them just for yourself.

Eat a cookie. Have a glass of wine. Get some ice cream. Drink an extra cup of coffee. Make your favorite dinner instead of everyone else’s.

The definition of motherhood is giving. Everyone else gets everything in you. Sometimes, it’s okay to give something to yourself, too.

If your diet is limited, treat yourself to a little something that will brighten your day without busting your budget. Even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers or a colorful pen.

The definition of motherhood is giving. Everyone else gets everything in you. Sometimes, it’s okay to give something to yourself, too.

5. Embracing prayer in the tense moments.

Now for the hard one.

I can talk about “me time” and quiet moments and Facebooking and treats all I want. Those things are simple (even if some of them take temperance and planning).

In my experience, the one that takes real discipline is prayer. Because prayer during those quiet moments can help, but for me, it isn’t where prayer can make the most impact.

The prayers that change the course of a day are the ones I manage to pause and utter in the toughest moments. Even if they’re just tiny mantras, those brief and humble appeals to God are the ones that can ground me. It can be hard to break a cyclone of negative thinking, set aside mounting tension, or let go of anger and force myself to practice a little patience. But when you can muscle it, it can make all the difference.


What’s your secret to being the rockstar mommy you are? Let’s chat about it in the comments or on Twitter.

Tender and Mild: A Mommy’s Mantra

Back in December, I came across a trend that interested me: choosing a “word of the year” and using it as a guidepost for personal development over a 12-month period.

As someone who has—in 28 years of life—yet to write down a new year’s resolution, keep track of that record, and think about that goal throughout the following year (let alone actually execute on it), this concept caught my eye. It seemed like the perfect alternative to goal-setting for someone who has a knack for procrastinating, tends to be disorganized, and may (if we’re being honest) be a tiny bit lazy here and there.

Turns out, though, that it wasn’t as simple an approach as it seemed.

Words are Hard

There are a lot of words, guys. Like, a quarter of a million of them (in English). Even if you cut that down dramatically and assume just 1 percent are potentially useful, positive, and relevant in this context, that’s still thousands of words to ponder. (How many thousands of words do I even know?)

Thankfully, I’m a lover of words by nature, so mulling them over doesn’t require a ton of mental focus. It can happen in the back of my mind as I go about my day. So I tried to let it happen without too much effort on my part. I didn’t want to overthink this theme for the year; I wanted it to emerge from the shadows of my subconscious and help me learn something about myself.

Ha. Turns out “the shadows of my subconscious” can be pretty sticky. Thus, the difficulty.

After a week or two of this mulling, I kind of gave up. I am impatient. Nothing was shedding any light in those little corners of my mind. Perusing lists of virtues and random word generators wasn’t stirring up any passion for me. I’ve been reading a few chapters of the Bible each day via an email series, and nothing jumped out at me there, either. I figured I’d just go back to my old way of vaguely thinking of things I should do for the year, then go on to achieve my reading challenge and little else.


Of course, the moment we stop dwelling on our issues is often the moment that their solutions make themselves known. (Someday, maybe St. Anthony will tell me why we find the little things we’ve lost as soon as we stop looking for them.)

As we settled into the Advent season and I saw the star of the Nativity on the proverbial horizon, I found myself in the very narrow window of time when I actually enjoy listening to Christmas music. For 50ish weeks of the year, I’m simply not in the mood for it. I get so irritated when radio stations are usurped by premature holiday tunes as soon as Halloween is over. But between about December 20 and the Epiphany, I’m as ignited as any Christian by a peaceful rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’

‘Silent Night’ is a long-time favorite of mine, and this past season, one of my favorite lines stood out dramatically as I listened: “Holy Infant, so tender and mild.”

Tender and mild. That’s what I need to be.

Being A More Child-like Daughter and Mother

We are called to be Christ-like. And we can be like Him in many ways, if we cling to faith and we try to be our very best. He was as human as we are, after all. But if you’re anything like me, you might be a little intimidated by His divinity in this effort to emulate Him. I have often asked myself a simple but looming question: “How can I, a sinner, try to express in my thoughts, words, or actions the holiness of God?”

The saints have long taught us that this is possible. But the saints can be intimidating sometimes, too, can’t they?

Christ gave us an antidote for this intimidation when He instructed us to have faith like a little child. I did some reading on this last year, and it opened my eyes to the concept. This is a beautiful subject for another day, but for now, let’s put it this way: doesn’t God deserve to be looked upon with the awed eyes, reached for with the soft hands, and loved unconditionally with the blind trust of His children?

I realized that setting “tender and mild” as my theme for 2018 could help me develop this innocent and deep faith in God. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that embracing a child’s unrestricted sense of love and joy would make me a better mom, too.

So, this year, when I find myself dwelling on the grown-up, made-up stresses of daily life; when I lose my patience for whining children who won’t eat their dinner; when I am tempted to put my own exhaustion above my husband’s well-earned need for my attention—in these times and many others, I have a new mantra to repeat in my mind and under my breath:

Tender and mild. Tender and mild. Tender and mild.

So far it seems like a peaceful way to be.

Do you have a word of the year for 2018? How are you embracing it, now that we’re two months into the year? Share it in the comments or on my new Facebook page!


A Different Kind of Lenten Observance

“Catholic guilt” is a sentiment so common, it has its own (relatively lengthy) Wikipedia page.

In many circles, the term is considered a criticism of Catholic culture. But many more Catholics I know would tell you it’s a healthy response to the sense of responsibility and accountability instilled in our hearts by our faith.

Either way, I think Lent is the season in which so many of us feel this tug most acutely. Even many non-practicing Catholics I know embrace some very popish traditions during this time: receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, abstaining from meat on Fridays, or giving up a favorite treat.

Lenten practices include fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. All are meant to help us remove our focus from ourselves, contemplate the suffering of Christ, and unite with one another in prayer and selflessness.

Pope Benedict XIV has had a lot to say on the importance of this season: “The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. … Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls.”

So it’s kind of a big deal.

Can Self-restraint Become Selfish?

In past years, I have fallen into the trap of letting my Lenten observances become self-centered. I ask myself, “What should I give up for Lent this year?” with little or no regard for the impact I can and should have on my community. I even think (though I hate to admit it), “What bad habit can Lent help me break this year?”

Those aren’t bad questions, but they don’t really achieve the “prove myself not to be an enemy of Christ” purpose all that explicitly, either. So this year, I tried to ask myself some different questions as I discerned what penitential practice to take up between February 14 and Easter:

  • How can I devote more of my mental energy to others?
  • In what ways can I show God and neighbor how grateful I am for them?
  • Is there an opportunity to substitute some neutral or bad habit with prayer on a daily basis?
  • How can I ensure that any small sacrifice I make stays vivid, instead of becoming less thought-provoking as the season goes on and the sacrifice becomes habitual?
  • What are some ways to incorporate more prayer into my bustling life as a working mom of two small children?

Finding the time for prayer seemed simple, if I do it in conjunction with whatever sacrifice I make: every time I want to reach for that thing, I can say a prayer. And incorporating others into those prayers was simple, too, because I can offer that prayer for whatever intention I choose.

However, during past years (except the year I gave up cheese, because that was HARD), I thought less and less about whatever treat I gave up over time. As the season of Lent went on, the lack of that indulgence became a matter of habit, so those small opportunities for prayer and reflection became relatively infrequent.

So I wanted, this year, to be more intentional about the sacrifice itself, as well as the prayers I’m offering up in those small moments of want throughout the day.

A Schedule of Observances

With this in mind, I settled on a very different approach, and I’m nervously excited to see how it goes.

In short, each week I’ll give up something different so that the sense of sacrifice feels novel throughout the season. The prayers will feel fresh because I’ll have a particular intention to keep in mind each week as well.

Here’s the “schedule” I’ve put together:

  • Week 1 (2/14-2/20)
    • Fast: cheese
    • Intention: the unborn
  • Week 2 (2/21-2/27)
    • Fast: condiments
    • Intention: the poor
  • Week 3 (2/28-3/6)
    • Fast: sweets
    • Intention: the reversion of those who have strayed from the Church
  • Week 4 (3/7-3/13)
    • Fast: Facebook
    • Intention: my children
  • Week 5 (3/14-3/20)
    • Fast: coffee
    • Intention: souls in Purgatory
  • Week 6 (3/21-3/28)
    • Fast: snacks*
    • Intention: my husband
  • Paschal Triduum (3/29-3/31)
    • Fast: social media
    • Focus: glorifying God

*I’m nursing and don’t want to risk my milk supply, so when I say I’m giving up snacks, I’m talking eating between meals for pleasure. I’ll still need to eat if I’m hungry, but I’ll keep it to non-indulgent things.

The Triduum—that is, the three days leading up to Easter—is technically not a part of Lent. It’s a single celebration in three liturgies (check out this page from the USCCB for more info), and its focus is on the final days of Christ as well as the Resurrection. So instead of a prayer intention during this time, I’ll utter some extra Glory Bes and similar praises.

Additionally, I’m also hoping to give more life to this blog during Lent, like I did last year—it’s a very positive channel for reflection and prayer for me, and writing each post is a labor of love. (If you’re following along, you’ll notice a fresh design and you’ll probably see more frequent, more casual posts moving forward. I’m making this more of a mommy blog to help me stay active with it.)

Finally, Erik and I are going to say a family rosary every week—either all at once, or in decades at a time—with the kids “participating” as well. The family who prays together, stays together, and we want to be better about building this practice with our babies.

A Prayer for Lent

I hope you’ll join me in a prayerful journey of fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving this Lent. Here’s a good one I found to help set the stage in our hearts.

God, heavenly Father,

look upon me and hear my prayer

during this holy Season of Lent.

By the good works You inspire,

help me to discipline my body

and to be renewed in spirit.


Without You I can do nothing.

By Your Spirit help me to know what is right

and to be eager in doing Your will.

Teach me to find new life through penance.

Keep me from sin, and help me live

by Your commandment of love.

God of love, bring me back to You.

Send Your Spirit to make me strong

in faith and active in good works.

May my acts of penance bring me Your forgiveness,

open my heart to Your love,

and prepare me for the coming feast

of the Resurrection of Jesus.


Lord, during this Lenten Season,

nourish me with Your Word of life

and make me one

with You in love and prayer.


Fill my heart with Your love

and keep me faithful to the Gospel of Christ.

Give me the grace to rise above my human weakness.

Give me new life by Your Sacraments, especially the Mass.


Father, our source of life,

I reach out with joy to grasp Your hand;

let me walk more readily in Your ways.

Guide me in Your gentle mercy,

for left to myself I cannot do Your Will.


Father of love, source of all blessings,

help me to pass from my old life of sin

to the new life of grace.

Prepare me for the glory of Your Kingdom.

I ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,

Who lives and reigns with You

and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever.




It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Message to My Children

If there is anything indisputably true about the human condition, it’s that no relationship is flawless. We can’t always treat each other well. We can’t always meet each other’s needs and expectations.

The relationship between a mother and her children should be the closest one to purity. We are joined like nothing else can be. You are mine as much as I am yours. A mother and her Son were the only two people to live in this world without stain. But even their bond was not without pain.

In fact, there is much pain between us. The day we meet is, by its very nature, both exuberant and excruciating. The weeks and months after are not much easier. You need me so, and I can’t give you everything your tiny heart desires without also giving away pieces of myself. Eventually those pieces add up, and I feel lost. I find myself angry, or annoyed, or simply quite tired. Sometimes those weak moments come out of nowhere—when I wish I could sit down and eat a meal in peace. Sometimes they come in the middle of what I consider a battle between us—when you just won’t sleep, and I just can’t breathe. Really, though, there should be no battles.

My precious babies, I must tell you a difficult truth: I am woefully inadequate to be your mother. My patience is too thin and my head is too big. Please know that this frustration is my shortcoming and never, never yours. You are delightful and innocent and all things good. I am weak, and it isn’t your fault.

Please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

The times I come to your room, frustrated and less than gentle, and ask you “Why can’t you just sleep?!”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I cry as you cry, begging “Please, please, just stop”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I sigh an exasperated sigh at another stinky diaper or uneaten meal—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I seem to prefer my phone or a little solitude over your need for cuddles and warmth—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

Sometimes I need a little space. Sometimes, though I always love you, I find it hard to be physically attached to you. Sometimes my feelings—and yours—are so intense that they scare me. But that’s not your fault. It’s mine.

I hope that you know, despite these moments, that I love you with my whole soul. I hope that you know that you are the utmost blessing and the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. I hope that you know that my love, second only to God’s, is the one you can count on for as long as the clock ticks.

What I need to remember, each and every day, is that your smile is a miracle. The way you—even when I’m at the end of my rope and wish I could just sit down for five uninterrupted minutes—look upon my face with relief and comfort is a gift from you to me. I’m deeply sorry that I don’t always acknowledge that gift. I’m sorry that my goodness doesn’t match yours. Years of selfishness and independence have spoiled me into thinking that my time is my own, but it never was. Time belongs to none of us. But the love that you offer me each day, without thinking, does settle into my heart in the quiet moments. Please know that I adore you in return, though I’m not very good at expressing it sometimes.

When you show me your little grin during yet another nighttime feeding, I am rejuvenated. When you roll for the first time because you were looking for me, I am humbled. When you reach for me because you hurt, I am soothed. When you cling to me because you are hungry or frightened or confused, I am strengthened. And when you stare in wonder at my exhausted face, I feel beautiful. These are the moments that return all those little pieces of me tenfold—the moments when you give me more than I could ever give you. Every part of you reminds me of my purpose. Though I fail, each and every day, to embrace it, you are my greatest vocation.

Your Daddy and I helped make you with love and wonder. We awaited you with the liveliest awe. We care for you with the elation of two people whose joy has literally joined in the creative spirit of God. So while I may lack the devotion and selflessness to remember in each moment that you are the most precious part of my life, even as you live your whole life knowing that I am your favorite, please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

It’s me who forgets. It’s you who reminds me, day in and day out, what a delight our family truly is.

Please forget my weakness and remember my adoration. The love of our family is the most profound truth I know.

You can always come to me. I will always be on your side. And while you may hear words of untruth, of unkindness, of unwelcome from the marred world around us, please always remember these words from the mother who conceived, carried, birthed, cared for, and loved you always: You are precious. You are a gift. And you are always, always loved.

8 Pregnancy Lessons from My First Baby

Today marks 34 weeks in my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was rather breezy—we had no complications (except elevated blood pressure at the end, which required an induction that went very well). There was some discomfort here and there and, of course, the uncertainty of it all was scary at times—but I had very little to worry about from beginning to end.

But you know what I did? I worried. A lot.

Turns out it’s hard to be a new parent even before the baby starts demanding clean diapers and food and all that.

This time, I’m feeling much more relaxed about the whole thing. Knowing what I know now, it’s easy to let this pregnancy progress without a second thought most days. Give the belly a pat, smile happily at a big baby wiggle, and hope I don’t have to wake up more than twice to pee tonight—that’s life this time around. I wish it was more like this the first time. So here’s what I learned looking back, in case it helps another new mom take an extra breath today (although, let’s be honest—it probably won’t, because new moms are always going to fret!)

1. Everything seems like a big deal. Very few things actually are.

Can I eat lunch meat? Shouldn’t I feel nauseous? 280,591,056 of these questions hit me every day during my first pregnancy. The fact is, in a typical pregnancy, the answer is often “It’s no big deal, don’t worry!” Always ask your doctor. But know that eating well, being active, and staying hydrated are the best things you can do for your baby. Simple as that!

2. Follow your gut.

Medically, red flags during pregnancy tend to be pretty clear. But no matter what’s going on, never hesitate to call your doctor. Even if whatever is worrying you turns out to be nothing, there’s no peace of mind like the kind you get once everything checks out okay! You’re made to be a mom. Your body can do this. But your instincts will help.

3. Don’t give a bother what other people say or think.

The only opinions that matter are your doctor’s, your spouse’s, and your own. Take good advice where you get it, listen to people who have genuinely well-meant suggestions to offer, and ignore all the noise.

4. Give yourself a break—and don’t feel guilty for it.

You are pregnant and shouldn’t feel bad for needing some extra help (or sympathy) now and then. Stay confident, and buck up for the inevitable tough stuff. Every day it will get a tiny bit more exhausting, painful, or inconvenient. But you’ll get through it. So just give yourself some extra rest and a lot of wiggle room—physically and emotionally—when you need it, and you’ll be better able to handle it the rest of the time.

5. Attachment is different for everyone.

Some women “know” their babies instantly. Others do when they give birth. Or a week after baby arrives. Your instincts will help you care for and protect your baby throughout this journey, even if it takes your emotions a little while to catch up. That’s totally normal and okay. Hormones are weird!

6. Expect a new normal.

When I had my daughter, I spent the first weeks waiting for things to “go back to normal” after she arrived. News flash: they didn’t. Things change. But you will find a new normal and you will love it. Just enjoy the time it takes to get to know your new family dynamics, and experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

7. Go see so many movies.

Seriously. This is the one thing that my husband and I can’t really do anymore with a toddler in tow. You can bring your kids out to dinner, out on errands, and basically everywhere else—but movie-watching will never be the same with an adorable, wiggly babbler in your lap. So, while you can, and even if you go by yourself (especially then), go and enjoy it.

8. Knowledge is power (usually).

So much that’s scary about pregnancy, labor, and delivery is scary because it’s unknown. Read books and articles, and ask the doctor questions. Talk to other moms. But do not turn to Google when you’re worried about something. If you have bothersome symptoms, tough questions, or any concerns at all, talk to your doctor FIRST. That’s the kind of knowledge you need.

BONUS: A Lesson from My Second Baby

Already in this pregnancy, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from our new baby. The biggest is that nothing ever stays the same, and that’s okay.

I felt very different early on in this pregnancy compared to my first, physically and emotionally. My symptoms had changed. My body reacted in new ways. And I looked a lot different (and still do). I was sort of expecting that, because my doctor and everyone else had told me “Every baby is different” long before he even came along.

However, what I wasn’t expecting was how much different I felt. If you’d have asked me how often I thought about the baby while I was pregnant with my first, I would’ve replied, “I don’t think I’m ever not thinking about her.” And in many ways, that’s still true this time. But I’m not worried or anxious or dying of anticipation this time. Things feel more second nature. I have a toddler to worry about, and she keeps my mind very busy—so this pregnancy tends to fly under the radar more often than not.

At first, I felt bad about that. I asked my husband, “Should I be worried that I’m so much less worried about this baby than I was the first time?” His response was something I’ll always remember.

“No, not at all. You love this baby just as much as the one we already have. This is just an easier love. It’s less stressful, but it’s no less strong.”

He, of course, was right. I do love this little boy as much as I always loved our little girl. But, so far, this guy doesn’t freak me out like she did. I don’t feel uncertain about my ability to carry him safely. I love them both equally because my first taught me that I can do this, and my second teaches me that I can trust myself to do it.

I can’t wait to see what else I get to learn from these (and any future) littles in my life.

What My High School Sweetheart Taught Me About Love

My husband and I are high school sweethearts. We are thankful every day for the fact that we got to be each other’s first everything. We love that we grew up together and share more than a decade of memories already. And we have said more than once that God put us in each other’s lives early for plenty of good reasons—not least that we would both be terrible at dating.

In fact, sometimes we were terrible at dating—while we were dating each other. We weren’t always smart or responsible. We didn’t always treat each other well. Things were harder than they should’ve been for a while. We were selfish, silly, and ignorant on more than one occasion. But even though some of those memories are painful now, I’m thankful for them, too. Because they taught me all of this.

No one, at any point in life, is perfect. People aren’t unicorns.

Thanks to years of hard work and happy love, my marriage is strong. The soundness of my relationship with my husband is a permanent, comforting fixture in my life. We rarely fight (although we certainly bicker). We understand each other. We know each other so well that there is simply no doubt. Already, we’ve had half our lives to fall in love over and over.

But neither of us is perfect, and we are still very different from one another.

When he eats, it sounds (to me) like a water buffalo chewing mud. When I insist we each get our own meals when we eat out instead of agreeing to share one (even though we’ll never finish both entrees), it makes no sense to him. I can’t stand how he wants to listen to talk radio all the time. He is somewhat disturbed by my affinity for psychologically dramatic TV, movies, and books.

His opinions on the environment sometimes ruffle my feathers. My methods for quiet advocacy of my faith and morals sometimes aggravate him. Our minds work in vastly different ways.

In many ways, we don’t—and never did—hit many of the checkboxes on one another’s “list of desirable qualities in a spouse.” Before we started dating, I pictured myself with an artsy/alternative guy who would never condone hunting and would buy me flowers every day. He probably pictured himself with an athletic academic who loved physics and would talk politics for fun.

But you know what? Lists change. My old list sucked. My new list starts with “His name is Erik” and ends with “He makes me love myself almost as much as he loves me.”

You absolutely must fight fair.

Our first few years together were not easy. We swung on a pendulum between blissfully spending all our time together and fighting like cats and dogs at the slightest missteps. As we learned to handle our own maturing minds, bodies, and personalities, we also had to handle each other’s—and to be forgiving and intentional throughout that period of growth. It was hard. We failed a lot.

Looking back, we know that we wouldn’t tolerate each other’s behavior from back then if we were faced with it right now. We needed to be together as teenagers because only teenagers are stubborn and strong-willed enough to cling to what we wanted as tightly as we did then.

What helped was establishing some ground rules for fighting. Here are a few:

  • Do not yell at each other.
  • Never curse at or insult each other.
  • Always say “I love you” when you say goodbye or goodnight, no matter how you’re feeling.
  • If one person needs time to cool off, they should ask for it respectfully and the other needs to respect it.
  • When you say you’re sorry, mean it—and do something to fix whatever you did wrong.
  • Do not bring up past mistakes or hold grudges.
  • Don’t generalize; it’s not fair or honest.

It’s a long list (and that’s not everything). We don’t always follow them perfectly, but once we started making a real effort, our arguments became fairer, more productive, and less frequent. It kept us together.

The person you love should push you forward (and help you get there).

“Good enough” shouldn’t exist in a healthy relationship. That’s how you get stagnant and stop growing. For me, the goal of marriage is to be comfortable, but never bored—to be at ease with your spouse, so much so that encouraging one another to keep improving and growing is a natural and positive process instead of a stressful one.

My husband pushed me to work harder in school, and my work ethic now is so much better for it. I pushed him to be more forgiving, and he’s a gentler man for that. We push each other to be better parents, better spouses, and better people. We have high standards for ourselves and each other. While we are compassionate in the face of failure, we always expect each other to keep moving. And we are always there to walk the path forward, together.

Two people in a serious relationship should never be hesitant to call out a mistake, voice a concern, or talk about the future. These can be some of the most fruitful conversations you’ll ever have with your significant other or spouse. They should not be shielded by fear or shame, and you should never feel like you need to walk on eggshells around the person you love.

Happiness is made when respect is shared and the self is given.

Bringing all of this together are two core concepts: respect and generosity. For a relationship to be long-lasting, healthy, and positive, both people must give one another an abundance of respect and an abundance of themselves. You need to take on an “us” mindset instead of an “I” mindset. This is important while dating, but it’s essential in marriage.

Because we were teenagers, it was very tricky for my husband and I to focus on giving respect instead of demanding it early in our relationship. We were easily hurt, but we hurt easily, too. When you lose track of how you’re treating someone because you’re waiting for them to make some change or move to “prove” that they deserve your respect, you lose yourself—and you lose them, too. Love needs respect.

In marriage, we are privileged to offer a full gift of self to our spouse. We set aside our selfish ways in favor of living as a couple, ‘til death do us part. Of course, we’re not stainless—I often fail to give my time as selflessly as I could, or to keep my patience, or to accept a change in plans because my husband’s needs have changed. But I try. And letting go of the self is a crucial first step toward a strong and cooperative marriage. Spouses are inspired by one another’s gifts and eager to return that love. It’s a happy cycle.

There are fine lines everywhere.

Finally, I think it’s important for everyone in a relationship to know that love is grey—it isn’t black or white. Each of us requires something special to feel fulfilled in a relationship. Each of us tolerates differences in our own way. And each of us deserves respect and generosity as a matter of course. So, as you’re dating and deciding on whether the person beside you is worth your whole life, it’s important to be honest and demanding about your needs, with yourself and your partner.

Ultimately, fidelity to your beloved, authenticity with yourself, and humility before God will all lead to a happy life and a happy relationship. It can be tricky to balance all three, but that’s okay. That’s the adventure. If we simply live it and are kind along the way (to ourselves and the people at our side), we’ll come out just fine.