Author: samanthabock

3 Conversations to Have During Pregnancy for Better Postpartum Intimacy

Every pregnancy and every child has taught me something new. As the L&D nurse who taught my childbirth class in 2015 often said, “no two mother-baby couplets are the same.”

But one thing is true of every pregnancy and new baby: I have to lean on my husband a lot, and I’ve had to relearn how to do that, again and again, amidst the transitions of new motherhood.

For all couples, welcoming a child is an intense and emotional time in a marriage—in good ways, mostly, but in stressful ways, too.

It will be difficult to have big, emotional conversations during the sleepless and chaotic months of life with a newborn. But if you can lay the groundwork for better intimacy now, you’ll be more prepared to support each other and will feel more loved once baby arrives—and that will make for a much more blissful transition as a growing family.

Don’t forget to touch on each of these topics before baby arrives. You’ll be so glad you did!

1. What are you family planning needs, and how often should you touch base and discuss whether they’ve changed?

Talk openly with your spouse about whether you anticipate wanting to avoid pregnancy for a period of time after this baby is born. Are you hoping to have children close together, or would you prefer to have a bit more time between pregnancies?

First thing’s first: You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. Delayed return of fertility is not a given, and many women conceive before having their first postpartum period. Please don’t assume it can’t happen to you! And don’t assume you and your spouse are already on the same page about whether you want it to happen. A surprising number of couples believe they’re in agreement about this issue without discussing it, or simply don’t think about it until after the birth—and that can make for a lot of conflict.

I have encountered two types of couples when it comes to family planning postpartum: “whatever happens, happens” and “we are not ready.

Both philosophies are valid. Neither is wrong. I, for one, tend to land in the second group. The newborn stage is hard on me, and it takes a lot of focus to stay afloat.

Of course, any baby would be welcomed with open arms. Every child is a gift and will be received as such! But, so far as we can be, my husband and I are intentional about delaying pregnancy in those early postpartum months.

If you’re more the type to go with the flow and conceive when you will, that’s great! It’s good to be on the same page either way.

Most importantly, no matter what you expect to feel or want before this baby is born, be sure to establish some targets with your spouse about how frequently you should revisit this topic after the birth. Things can and do change—either because your feelings are different than you anticipate, or something health-related happens that introduces new factors—so you’ll want to communicate well on this as your family grows.

If you do hope to delay pregnancy, have a good strategy in place. Charting for natural family planning often looks drastically different postpartum and while breastfeeding, so be prepared for a learning curve and some follow-up courses with your instructor—even if you’ve been using the same method without issue for years.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • Do you need to urgently delay pregnancy for a period of time after this baby is born? Or are you comfortable not charting for fertility? Does this differ from what you were used to pre-pregnancy and, if so, are you feeling prepared for that change?
  • What will you do if something about the birth, or mom’s or baby’s health, forces you to change those plans? How can you support each other if this change in plans is upsetting?
  • What NFP method will you use, if necessary?
  • How confident are you in that method?

2. How will you prepare for sex to look or feel different while you’re still healing and your new family responsibilities are placing extra demand on you?

Parenthood changes a lot of things in a marriage. Certainly these changes are beautiful, and a welcome part of growing together with your spouse. But there are also some growing pains involved.

One common challenge is with physical intimacy. The large majority of couples enjoy a normal sex life after the birth of a child, but there can be an adjustment period. Lingering discomfort from delivery (especially if there were complications), the drastic hormonal changes that come with birth and breastfeeding, a lack of sleep for both parents, new stresses, complexity with NFP, and simply less time in the day can mean sex is less frequent, less easy, or less comfortable for a while postpartum.

To prevent hurt feelings and miscommunication in the moment, it’s important to address these possibilities with your spouse before baby arrives. You might have a tough time talking about it in detail in advance—it’s difficult to imagine what all of these complications might be or feel like, especially if this is your first child—but it could be even harder when sensitivities run high after baby arrives, so it’s good to open the lines of communication early.

Be open about your fears and anxieties on this subject—including not just those involving physical difficulties, but emotional ones, too. In particular, talk about how you might help soften the blow for one another on the occasions you’ll need to turn down sex. Encourage one another to be open to intimacy, even if it’s not top-of-mind, when you’re able, because the opportunity to reconnect and draw closer is more beneficial than you might expect if you’re not immediately in the mood.

You should also be comfortable discussing how you can be more receptive to each other’s needs, help each other enjoy sex, and what you’ll do if any ongoing issues arise and need medical attention.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • How long is too long without intimacy? Are you willing to be generous with each other in this way, while respecting each other’s need for rest and space?
  • What will you do if sex is initially painful once you’re postpartum? How can you emotionally support each other through it?
  • Do you have medical resources lined up to address painful intercourse if necessary? Will you want to pursue them right away, or take more time to heal on your own first?
  • What insecurities or concerns are you feeling about how sex might be different after the birth of a child? How can you help soothe them for each other?
  • How can you ensure you’re communicating openly and often with one another about this subject? Can you agree on some codewords or phrases to help break the ice before discussing it, in case you find it difficult to bring it up in the moment?

3. What types of nonsexual intimacy will help you stay close to one another if sex is not an option?

Whether you need to abstain in support of physical healing or NFP, or simply aren’t up for sex as frequently for a while, it’s absolutely critical not to let the separation get between you and your spouse. Sex isn’t everything, but it is good for an awful lot of things, and that’s not something to be discounted—especially in a time as stressful and exhausting as life with a newborn.

It is especially beneficial to discuss this one well before your due date. As pregnancy progresses, sex may become uncomfortable or self-conscious or tricky. Even if you have no restrictions during pregnancy, your medical provider is likely to instruct you to abstain for the first six weeks postpartum. That may be a longer dry spell than you’re used to as a couple, so being well prepared will help.

The biggest thing here, as cliched as it may sound, is to deeply understand one another’s love languages and how to fulfill them outside of physical intimacy. Practice your skills in other areas: kind words, helpful gestures, exchanging gifts, and spending focused time together. Be open about what helps you feel loved and appreciated, and what you tend not to notice.

If one of you has physical intimacy as a primary love language, but the other doesn’t, talk about that in detail. Does cuddling or other physical touch help during periods of abstinence, or do you find it frustrating? If you’re at odds on those preferences, how can you compromise so neither of you feels rejected in the moment?

This is also a good time to talk about what it means to feel “touched out,” and how the physical neediness of a baby might interfere with your physical closeness as a couple. For Mom, it can be simply exhausting to hold, feed, and rock a baby all day and night. For Dad, the messy diaper changes or looking after older children solo while Mom tends to the new baby could zap a lot of energy. These are normal feelings, and it’s okay to want some additional personal space during this season. But it’s important to be gentle and generous with one another about communicating and fulfilling that need, so no one’s left feeling unwanted.

Bring these questions to this conversation to help you cover everything:

  • How can you connect with one another when you’re feeling distant but can’t be physically intimate?
  • What good habits can you establish to stay close as you adapt to your new roles as a family?
  • How can you express the need for space or time to yourself without being hurtful or feeling guilty?
  • What sorts of physical touch help you feel close when sex is not an option, and what’s too much?
  • Which love languages do you share, which differ between you, and how can you better practice them for each other starting right now?

Life Stages of a Healthy Marriage

My husband and I are celebrating our eighth anniversary this week. Naturally, my mind is full of memories of our wedding, honeymoon, and the almost 16 years we’ve spent together.

Every year, our anniversary is also a time to reflect on how much we’ve grown over the course of our marriage. This marriage is still young, but we’ve experienced a lot in that time.

How do you think healthy marriages age? I see it lining up pretty closely to human years (which makes sense, of course—we’re not dogs!). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s the metaphor I like best—maybe because it’s so deeply relevant to our life right now, with three kids at three different stages.

It seems apt, though. Consider:

The first year or so is full of awe and rapid growth and sleeplessness, setting the stage for lifelong bonding and changing everything about your life. Just like babies, newborn marriages need a ton of care and attention to mature well. Sometimes that care and attention are difficult and take a lot out of us. Often it’s an absolute delight. But always, we are rewarded tenfold.

Then there are the toddler years, full of youthful energy and excitement about new experiences together. Spouses in this stage need to talk through feelings often and have those feelings validated, as well as learn to listen to one another with respect and restraint. It’s a great time to learn each other’s languages, and start communicating in big ways.

In the preschool years, new settings are both exciting and, at times, overwhelming, and we have great fun and some shaky moments, too. The playful adventuring is how we gain confidence in ourselves and trust in each other after the newness of life together wears off, and the challenges of the real world start to look bigger. There’s still so much reliance on one another for support and guidance, but expectations are higher, too.

The school-age years of marriage are busy and creative, as we learn to look beyond our relationship and see how our family unit plays a broader role in the world around us. Many couples have children at this point, and/or greater commitments to their careers or local communities, and juggling these responsibilities in addition to managing their own emotions and relationship can be tricky at times. It’s much like a school-age child learns to pursue new interests and gain more independence—but still needs a restful home and loving family to recharge with. If a marriage is nurturing, it’s a comfortable place to call home in stressful periods.

I imagine the adolescent years as busy and transformative. These will be the years when we have older children in activities, a bit more freedom to pursue our own interests, and maybe career moves and retirement planning to think about—that sort of transitional phase where so much of our focus is on near-term stress for long-term gain (just like high school, right?). I think it’ll be easy to feel like teenagers who want to be independent and taken seriously, which will make it all the more important to check in and reconnect frequently. We’ll need to harness the intensity of it all for good, and not let it spiral without structure.

And maturity in marriage? Those will be the years when things feel a bit more steady. Certainly plenty of circumstances will come along to rock the boat, and, like any long-married couple, we’ll need to continue practicing all the skills we’ve learned to help us stay sharp. Maybe there will even be a crisis or a curveball that will force (or inspire?) us to change and grow more than we thought we’d need to, so far in. But above all, being ourselves—together—will come a little more naturally, and there will be an even stronger foundation to lean on when the world feels shaky.

Anyway, this is how I imagine it. At eight years, our marriage is firmly school-age. We haven’t encountered the rest yet. But I find myself really anticipating the adventures ahead and looking forward to the growth that remains before us, as well as the comfort.

What I do know is this: None of the beautiful qualities of any of these “life stages” in marriage are a given. Just like people of all ages can lose themselves if they and their loved ones aren’t invested in their health and wellbeing, so, too, can marriages at any stage. I pray every day that my husband and I receive the grace to be selfless, attentive, and patient enough to keep investing in each other.

Marriage is the foundation of society. It’s the most central way we build families, lift up our beloved, help each other get to Heaven, and instill faith and compassion in the next generation. It is a privilege to live this vocation. It is also a lot of work.

Sometimes we take this critical relationship for granted. We see and work with our spouse day after day, and we may find ourselves expecting their help more than their affection. It’s so easy to fall into that trap—to make the beautiful normalcy of marriage into a thing that fades into the background. I pray it may it never be so, for my marriage or for yours. Because our spouses deserve better, and it is our great privilege and duty to give them the very best of ourselves.

There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage. After the Holy Eucharist, it has a power beyond anything that we can imagine. – Cardinal Raymond Burke

15 Unique Ways to Celebrate Your Anniversary From Home

Much like birthdays, anniversaries can become smaller and smaller events as the years go on. The busyness of daily life just takes center stage, leaving these special occasions a bit overlooked for many couples.

But even if a pandemic, financial constraints, or just the chaos of your usual routine make it difficult to go out and celebrate, it’s still so important to rejoice and remember the start of your marriage with your spouse.

To help you reconnect, here are a handful of ways you might find the time to make it an event this year.

1. Watch the first movie you ever saw together. You can browse your DVD collection, streaming services, or digital rental platforms to find it, then settle in on the couch and feel like you’re dating again. Sometimes, this first shared movie will be just as you remember it—but often, you might have a very different perspective on it now than when you first watched. After it ends, talk through these impressions.

2. Write up a family mission statement. Whether you’re a family of two or ten, it all started with your wedding day—so why not make this, your anniversary, a new starting point as well? Sit down together to draft a family mission statement that can help you capture your love and values, and tell the world who you are. It’s a project, but it can be so fruitful.

3. Dress up to stay in. Staying home doesn’t mean you can’t get fancy. If it’s something you or your spouse enjoys, plan to put on your best clothes and get dolled up. You can set a timer on your phone’s camera (or have a family member or neighbor help you out!) to get a great picture, and then you can either get back into comfier outfits or stay fancy for the rest of your evening. It’s a small but effective way to make a day feel special!

4. Go through your storage boxes of old mementos. You probably have boxes somewhere in your home, full of sentimental items from your early years together, wedding gifts you don’t use very often, or things you each brought from your childhood into your shared life. Take an hour or two to peruse them. It’s a fun way to rustle up new memories to share with each other, and reminisce on moments you haven’t thought about in a while.

5. Take turns making each other’s favorite meals. Preparing your spouse’s favorite food is such a simple but significant act of service. Try to plan ahead so one of you can make breakfast, and the other can make dinner—and be sure to serve your spouse’s very favorite things when it’s your turn (without asking them what they want first).

6. Light every candle you can, slow dance to your first song—and then fast-dance to your favorite wedding party songs. Both a dimly lit romantic moment and a playful one, taking some time to share this intimacy and silliness will be a great reminder of why you fell in love and what it was like to be called “man and wife” for the first time.

7. Talk about how your wedding might look different if you planned it right now, with your current tastes and more recent trends. Do you think you’d change anything? Might the venue be bigger, or the food fancier, given your budget and preferences today? Or would you want every detail just the same? There are no wrong answers—your wedding is the start of your marriage, not the heart of it, and you might think another kind of party would appeal to you in your current life stage.

8. Get a large map, and mark all the places you’ve explored together—and where you’d like to visit next. Make it a map of your state, your country, or the whole world. Whatever you do, dream big—but make these dreams as attainable as possible, so you can work toward them instead of only wishing.

9. Pretend you’re writing your marriage memoirs, and think up an appropriate title for each year’s installment in the series. Consider major milestones, look back through photos to spark memories, and try to come up with the words or phrases that define each year of your life together so far. Do you each have different ideas on these, or are you mostly in agreement on what they should be?

10. Think back to what you expected marriage to be, and talk through what you were right and wrong about. Sometimes, these disparities are hilarious: “Did you really think that you would be the one to wake up first every morning?” Other times, they might be more thoughtful. Either way, these reflections will help you remember how it felt to look forward to marriage and all of its promise—a precious feeling every married couple should take care not to forget.

11. Laugh over funny “what if” conversations. What if you had to choose one language for speaking, and a different one for writing and reading? Which would they be and why? What if you had a new baby right now? What would you name him or her? You can find loads of these prompts online. When you’re with your spouse all the time, it might feel like you’ve talked about everything—until you ask him something like, “What if you woke up tomorrow and, instead of using spoken language, everyone just acted out popular GIFs to express their thoughts?”

12. Share one way your spouse has helped make you a better person. It is the great duty of marriage to help our spouses get to Heaven. Give them the gift of pointing out how they’re fulfilling this great and holy task. Bonus points if you take an extra minute to get vulnerable and share where you’d like help next—taking care to refrain from criticism, whether or not they return the gesture.

13. Recall some of the other weddings you’ve attended since yours and discuss what you loved most about them. What did you think about witnessing marriages as a married couple, and how was it a different experience than when you were single? What family weddings have been the most fun to attend? These are family-building events, and it’s such a delight to think of your extended family in your anniversary musings.

14. Discuss lessons you’ve learned about marriage from the example of other couples. What are some qualities you admire in your parents’, grandparents’, friends’, or siblings’ marriages? With this in mind, what are some things that help you take pride in your marriage when chatting with these loved ones? And what do you hope to teach your own children, grandchildren, friends, and siblings about married life?

15. Create something together to help you mark the occasion. Can you work on a puzzle, a paint-by-numbers, a couple of simple paintings, or a collage together? It doesn’t have to be something you hang up or display, but it could be a fun project to share between just the two of you—and something to put in your box of mementos to make activity #4 more interesting next year.

Why Catholics are More Enlightened Than You Think

The Church is more scientific, universal, intellectual, and merciful than you may have been led to believe. Here’s how.

We believe in social justice.

The Catholic Church has the utmost respect for human life. That’s all human life, at all stages, with all kinds of needs:

  • We support a living wage because denying people the ability to provide for themselves and their families puts money above the wellbeing of our neighbors.
  • We support immigration and the responsible, generous, and charitable protection of people who are asking for help to improve their lives and escape danger.
  • We serve the poor and vulnerable because socioeconomic status does not devalue the inherent worth of our brothers and sisters. It is our duty and our privilege to affirm this worth.
  • We reject racism and any other attempt to make one person appear less valuable or worthy of life and liberty than the rest, because we are all made in God’s image.
  • We oppose the death penalty because cruel and unusual punishment violates the dignity of the human person.
  • We respect the earth and serve as thoughtful and responsible stewards of the environment and all of its inhabitants, because Creation is among God’s most beautiful and generous gifts.
  • We defend the most vulnerable among us—including the disabled, homeless, sick, dying, and unborn—from abuse or undignified and violent death, because no one’s impulses or preferences outweigh the gravity of life itself.

Examples of these virtues are abundant in the saints, and such generous and beloved souls as Pier Giorgio Frassati, Oscar Romero, and Frances Xavier Cabrini.

We believe in the dignity of every person.

A defining characteristic of the Catholic Church is her universality. The Church welcomes people of all backgrounds, races, and life stages. Each of us has a unique place in the Body of Christ, is made in God’s image, and is gifted with the ability to make this world a better place.

The diversity of saints is an excellent reflection of this truth. Our faith community has been blessed by wonderful people across many ethnic, social, racial, and cultural backgrounds, some of whom are now canonized. Read about some of these examples of Christian unity here and here.

Additionally, the Church upholds the valuable contributions of each of her members in the daily operations and success of our communities around the world. Vowed religious individuals and devoted laypeople, as well as priests, are at work running our churches, schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, and other networks every day. We are all called to serve, because all of us are worthy of being served and all of us are capable of having an impact that cannot be duplicated by anyone else.

We believe in the beauty of the human body.

Despite popular thought, the Church upholds the perfect beauty of both sexes. Men and women have unique roles in our faith, as well as in our domestic families and in roles of public ministry. Though the priesthood is a vocation specialized for men, women play an extraordinarily important role in the life of the Church.

After Jesus—who is, of course, the truly perfect incarnation of God as well as man, and the only human we worship—the human most beloved by Catholics is Mary. As the mother of God, Mary represents an ideal of not just womanhood, but humanity. She was obedient to God, as we all must be. She persevered in the face of adversity, persecution, and danger. And she was strong, intelligent, and devoted enough to raise her child into an educated, worldly, and loving man who would change the history of the world.

And after watching him die a criminal’s death, she went on to support his friends and help grow the community he built like only a woman could.

Additionally, also in defiance of popular accusations, the Church is passionate about the goodness of the human body and the beauty of human sexuality. In fact, Church teaching asserts the divine nature of sexuality and insists everyone who participates in it puts their partner’s joy above their own—demanding a mutual respect that has simply disappeared from popular discourse around sex.

We aren’t influenced by groupthink.

The Catholic Church is a 2,000-year-old institution. Many accuse her of being outdated and slow to adapt to modernity.

And maybe, in some ways, they’re right. But these things are not inherently bad.

The Church has withstood the test of time, despite the atrocities that have afflicted humanity and the shame some members and leaders of the Church earned for themselves along the way. Jesus promises the disciples in Matthew that evil will never prevail against the Church. Ours is a ship that is truly unsinkable—despite the deeply imperfect people at the helm.

So our faith is one of slow evolution and cautious change. We do not allow the latest controversies or fad philosophies to dictate Truth, and we do not give in to current whims at the risk of damaging the faith and salvation of millions. Scripture and tradition guide us, as they should. Theology is a place of healthy discourse and respectful debate. Teachings are not altered lightly. And dogma can never be contradicted.

We resist peer pressure, reject negative influences, and are true to ourselves—always.

We are artists, architects, scientists, scholars, servants, and teachers.

Catholics have served in virtually every role of society. Some of the most beautiful masterpieces originated with our love for God. A majority of the world’s non-governmental healthcare is provided by our love for our neighbors. Many of our greatest intellectual traditions have roots in the Church. A host of extraordinary scientific advancements can be attributed to great Catholics throughout history.

For more, start by Googling any of these Catholics and their contributions to society:

  • Teresa of Calcutta
  • Dolores Hope
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • Gregor Mendel
  • Georges Lemaitre
  • Dorothy Day
  • Fredrick McGhee
  • Mary Kenneth Keller
  • Thomas More

You may be surprised by how deeply this faith has influence literature, the arts, mathematics, life sciences, physics, and more. There is no curiosity and intellectual insight quite like that which is inspired by a devotion to the Maker who designed it all.

We know our weakness.

The Church is clear on many things when it comes to right and wrong. Catholics live by a moral code and a formed conscience, and sometimes we are made unpopular by the worldly things we reject (looking at you, HBC).

We also know that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. In many ways, humility is a hallmark of our faith. We know our limits.

Thankfully, our limitations aren’t the end for us. We have an incredible wealth of history, tradition, and theology to help us overcome personal barriers. An abundance of grace has brought forth many bright Catholic minds, who have assembled lasting resources to benefit the faithful around the world.

These minds compiled the Bible. They established sacred Tradition, which passes down the teachings of the apostles from generation to generation. They have helped establish the forms of our liturgy, inspired many devotions and prayers, and taught us about the beauty of the sacraments. I could go on and on.

But, in her wisdom, the Church also leaves a lot of choices to the discernment of individuals and families. A massive theological library, many papal documents (of varying subjects and authority), and insights from saints aid in that discernment. But ultimately, on issues of vocation, hobby, work, family size or routines, and more, we Catholics have the benefit of a clear moral structure that helps us recognize right from wrong—and then pursue the life we were made for, the life we love.

We are guided by love.

Above all, Catholicism is a faith defined by love: love for God and, thereby, love for neighbor. We actively seek to see and resolve our neighbors’ suffering, because we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father—and we are here for each other.

As Pope Francis has said, “Today more than ever, there needs to be a revolution of tenderness. This will save us.”

Family and Self in a Work-from-Home World

As someone who has been working from home full time for several years, the current conversation around remote work in the time of COVID-19 has fascinated me.

Now, as the pandemic stretches out and companies continue to keep their offices closed, conversations are turning to whether the work-from-home shift is a permanent change.

I’m all for it. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest productivity is just as good—if not better—for employees who work at home, so the hard business data seems to support it also.

But there is a cost. Even if they’re more productive, not everyone is happier at home.

Lowly Workers

There is an immense amount of strain on people in the working world right now. Between adjusting to a new office environment, managing the stress of an uncertain economy, feeling fearful for personal and public health, and under pressure to keep productivity high in order to protect their job security and tackle pandemic projects they never anticipated—it’s a lot. For all of us.

We are all in the unfortunate position of redefining work-life balance—and fighting for what matters most when we’re expected to give a lot more than we have in our mental and emotional reserves.

Some companies are taking this burden on their people seriously and trying to minimize their contribution to it by being transparent with and supportive of their workforce.

Unfortunately, not all companies are providing the same support. I know people who’ve heard little to nothing from their leaders about what the months—even weeks—ahead will look like in terms of working locations, travel policies, job security, and company health.

There is also an unsettling trend of increased surveillance on workers who are logging on at home—a belittling overreach, and a downright unethical privacy violation to boot.

Whether it’s mistrust, mistreatment, or maladjustment, a lot of working adults are just feeling less human when it comes to their careers lately. It’s hard to feel like a unique person of worth when your stability—economic and emotional—depends on some numbers on a spreadsheet.

Now, add in an overdose of collapsing self-worth. Between the unrelenting demands placed on us in a consumerist society, and the increased tendency of people—especially young people—to hinge their self-image on their work, so many of our neighbors are feeling their emotional foundations collapse.

This tendency is known as “workism,” and it’s a plague all its own. COVID-19 has merely brought its effects to the forefront. Why do so many of us place all our self-worth on our careers?

There is an abundance of scientific evidence that the human mind is predisposed to religiosity. (Of course, to people of faith, this makes sense: we were created with an inherent love for and desire to seek out our Creator.) Psychologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and more see a common desire to belong, understand our place in the universe, and work toward a greater good.

Absent an upbringing or personal perspective steeped in faith, many of us find this sense of meaning elsewhere. Sometimes it’s in our relationships. Very often, it’s in our work. “What you do is who you are” becomes a natural assumption when no one teaches you that “You are who you were created to be, regardless of what you do.”

In times of plenty, the former definition of self is a valuable one. We feel productive and effective, confident and admirable. But in times of want, if your identify is dependent on your output, it’s hard to see your worth when you’re not even “doing enough” to get by.

Lonely Homes

Worse than fiscal fears, and just as devastating as crumbling self-worth, is the pervasive sense of loneliness reported by many work-from-home professionals in the COVID-19 economy.

Just as so many of us have our identities tied up in our work, we have our social support systems there, too. When you hold yourself to high standards of “hustle,” an increasing majority of your time is spent at work. Ultimately, the people you speak to and connect with most are at the office.

Today’s young adults are getting married at later ages. They’re starting families later, too. And, around the world, more and more people are living alone.

So where else are we finding community, if not at work? And even if your network of friends extends beyond the office, it’s not exactly easy to hang out while social distancing effects remain in place all around us.

Of course this is a recipe for loneliness. Who wouldn’t be lonely if they suddenly found themselves alone, 24 hours a day, without the freedom or safety required to connect with anyone outside their household?

Again, intensive economic demand and unaccommodating workplaces make it increasingly difficult to pursue family life for many young adults in the 21st century. It’s a benefit to your employer if you stake your identity and your community within their four walls, isn’t it? Then you never want to leave.

But a move away from family values has also contributed to this shift:

Whatever the reason (and, to be clear, there certainly are plenty of legitimate reasons to delay marriage or having children—I’m not suggesting everyone get married at 18 and start having babies immediately), having a family later in life can mean years of living literally or figuratively alone. And while independence is a good thing, isolation is not.

Balance: The Ultimate Question

At any stage in life, there’s the struggle to find balance—between work and school, school and socialization, work and family, family and self. How you find it and what that balance ultimately looks requires deeply personal reflection and adjustment, which no one else can dictate for you.

But all of us deserve the freedom to find it. Our rights are to life, liberty, and property—and the pursuit of happiness.

This is a defining moment for the next several decades when it comes to our political, social, and economic culture. I hope it swings more toward the human side of the spectrum than the commercial.

Saint Joseph the Worker, pray for us.

Drawing Inspiration from JPII on Reconciling Suffering in Our World

Pain is a reality for us all. It is the sad truth of our world that perfection is out of reach.

(Far out of reach, actually. Most of us can’t agree on what perfection even is.)

And there are many kinds of pain: the sorrow of loss, the sting of hate, the ache of loneliness, the distress of being unwanted. Some of these things I have felt. Some I’m privileged not to have experienced for myself. But each of us has a story to tell, and every one of those stories features pain.

Whatever your experience, all suffering is a tragedy. And all of it has shaped us—for better or worse—into the people we are now.

Sometimes we shroud our pain with silence, feeling averse to vulnerability. Too often, we feel like our pain is weakness—as if we should be able to “let go and let God” or “rise above” or “focus on gratitude.” And to some extent, that mind-over-matter attitude is important.

But it can also negate the redemptive promise of our suffering.

Did Christ not suffer for us, more deeply than anyone? Was he not shamed, whipped, mocked, tortured, and nailed to a cross to pay for the sins of others? Did he not weep? Did he not die?

Suffering is not worthless. Pain is not weakness. No one is stronger than Jesus, and it is by Christ’s trials that we are redeemed. So, by our own trials, we can feel him and the depth of his love for us. And that is powerful.

But Why?

I, as I’m sure you do, sometimes catch myself in abject disbelief in the face of pain. Why does a loving God let a neighbor hate his neighbor? Why does the Divine Physician let a pandemic run rampant?

Why did the Father deliver his Son into the hands of murderers?

The answer is not simple. And, put simply, God does not send any evil or ill wishes upon any of us. Our world is broken by our own free will and the imperfections of reality on this earth. Imperfect people just cannot expect to live in a perfect world.

I recently read a book of essays from Saint John Paul II—recently published, though written before he became pope—called Teachings for an Unbelieving World: Newly Discovered Reflections on Paul’s Sermon at the Areopagus. In it, the great JPII discusses the nature of belief in God in a culture of unbelief.

John Paul II explains how God made us in His likeness: “God creates the human being both rational and free, wanting above all to express his image and likeness in the human person. Even at the cost of abusing the great gift of freedom” (page 31).

We are free to do as our rational thought compels us. God wants this freedom for us—because, without it, how can we truly, deeply experience love? Love never arises by force.

That freedom, though, comes with responsibility. It means that God can’t dictate every development in our journeys or the world around us. It means pain is a part of this life.

What to Do?

Central to a handful of JPII’s teachings in this book is the notion that suffering does not separate us from God—indeed, it actually unifies us to Him in a bond that reflects the two-fold nature of Christ, who is both God and man.

God is the creator of both the ultimate justice and the ultimate love—and sometimes, these concepts are difficult for us to reconcile. Isn’t judgment inherently hurtful? Isn’t love inherently joyful?

But this is not so—not at the heart of what these virtues entail. As John Paul II outlines in this book:

God himself is the “reconciliation” of justice with love. … All that Jesus “did” and “taught” testifies to the “reconciliation” of justice with love in the dimension of God himself, just as the Cross and the Resurrection constitute its supreme witness. (51-52)

Take, for example, the sacrament of Confession. Just as God holds us to high standards when it comes to doing what is right, He is delighted by the prospect of wiping our slates clean again and again—no matter how many times we fall—and drawing us into His embrace.

Likewise, God can work joy into our lives through the pain we endure. The way He created us might have allowed for suffering to enter the world, but it also allows for more authentic love between us and Him, and us and each other.

After all, without death, we would have no need for Christ. And oh, what we would be missing if Christ had not come for us.

In the miracle of Christ’s humanity and divinity, comingled in one truly perfect person, we are given a glimpse of what it means to be human and what it means to know God. In his suffering, we can see how justice and love are, in fact, quite easily reconciled—even if the depth of that reconciliation is beyond our understanding. JPII explains:

During his prayers in Gethsemane, “Christ united himself to the Father in a special way, and in a special way drew near to him, entering into the eternal dimension of the redemption of the world. However, it must also be emphasized that in this prayer Christ also drew near to humankind in a special way. The words: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” testify to his participation in the suffering of all people from the beginning to the end of the world. Christ united to the father—“Yet, not my will but yours be done”—is at the same time united to every human being, and is in “solidarity” with the destiny of humanity on earth. In this prayer, Christ opens, so to speak, a special space in which every person can find himself in the most difficult and crucial moments. The prayer in the garden of olives remains the specific paradigm of the “universalism” of Christ in the history of humankind. (104)

I love this. I love how, with faith, we can see suffering not as pointless pain in an empty world, but as an opportunity to grow—into better versions of ourselves, into more principled people, into closer relationships with Jesus, and into gratitude for the salvation that will ultimately deliver us from every kind of pain.

Suffering Quote

St. Paul touches on this in Romans 8:15-18: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (emphasis mine).

May we all endure suffering with our eyes toward Christ, do what we can to lessen the suffering of our neighbors, and offer up our pain for the salvation of the world. It is a heavy cross to bear, living in these times. But great rewards await us. Justice—and love—shall prevail.

Clarity and Confession: Reflections on Penance

You can’t pick a favorite sacrament. You just can’t. Each has its own beauty and wonder and draw. But there is something uniquely moving about Penance.

That’s not something I pictured myself saying back when I was preparing for my first confession. Or in the almost-decade I spent avoiding another one. Or even the first few times I returned to the confessional after that. But it’s a sentiment that’s dawned on me over the last couple of years.

I bet nearly all of us cradle Catholics have vivid memories of anxiety and embarrassment leading up to our first reconciliation. What adolescent, after all, looks forward to announcing their sins to another person—let alone a priest? There’s so much pressure to deny what is “bad” about us at that age, when we want so badly to be liked and loved and trusted.

And for adult converts, faith formation is a process of incredibly personal self-discovery. It isn’t easy to lay bare the ways we fall short to another person.

So it’s no surprise that I have come across some misunderstandings of the purpose of this sacrament, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To be clear:

  • Confession is not an opportunity to impose guilt.
  • Confession is not a mechanism by which the Church holds control over your relationship with God.
  • Confession is not a conspiracy to dig up dirt in order to keep you “on the hook.”
  • Confession is not an exercise in self-defense, in which we try and shore up our value despite our sins.
  • Confession is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, given to or by someone merely for intoning formulaic words like a magic spell.

“The Human Heart is Heavy and Hardened”

Make no mistake: Sin is a heavy burden. We are obliged to live in accordance with what is morally good not for the sake of following rules, but because it is in our nature to want and to be what is morally good.

This is why our conscience speaks loudly when our courage fails to do so. It’s why we like to say that an act of kindness “restores our faith in humanity.” It’s why giving feels good. It’s why love is the pinnacle of human connection.

Catholic or not, most of us believe that someone who is kind and genuinely devoted to doing the right thing is a healthy and well-ordered person.

When we don’t live according to this inclination toward goodness, it weighs on us. We feel depressed. We feel ashamed. We feel lost, or helpless, or unworthy. And that feeling spirals, doesn’t it?

It is painfully easy to look back at the laundry list of things we’ve done wrong and think, “Well, too late now.” We build bad habits and “fall off the wagon” again and again, and eventually, it seems like the only path forward is one big, ugly circle back to where we started. There is temptation, maybe subconscious: “What’s the point in trying to do better? I fail every time anyway.”

Sometimes, we choose to cope with this via mental gymnastics that attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance by convincing us (and others) that our vices aren’t so bad after all. But, when our conscience is well-formed, this self-indulgence rarely keeps us happy for long.

And then there are the burdens that settle on our hearts through no fault of our own. Burdens that weigh heavy on us, interrupting our spiritual practices and our perspectives on ourselves, the world, or God Himself.

In 2020, as a multitude of global and social crises overwhelm us with sorrow and frustration, we know how tumultuous simply living in this world can be. It is backbreaking work, and none of us can do it alone. Deep in our stormy thoughts, it is so difficult not to simply lean into that despair and lose sight of what is still good and true all around us.

“God Must Give Man a New Heart”

How can any of us hold up the weight of the world alone—especially while dragging our own hopelessness along, too, like boulders fettered to our ankles?

The answer is, of course, that we can’t. We’re never meant to carry the whole world alone. But we are woefully incapable of lifting even our own little share in it effectively when we are restricted by sin and the suffering that plagues us when we turn away from the Lord and his boundless love.

If you have a toddler, you know what it’s like to watch someone attempt the same task in the exact wrong way, over and over, while not just refusing your help, but completely snubbing your suggestions for how to get themselves sorted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gently explained to my son that the easiest way to remove a shoe is to push it down his heel first, only to watch him fruitlessly tug on his toes whilst screeching his frustration right back at me.

Think how God must feel when we refuse His guidiance.

As Catholics, the sacrament of confession is our opportunity to turn our ears toward God. He wipes our slate clean, yes—and it’s a delightful relief every time that gift is given—but He also speaks to us in and around the confessional. Through the priest who ministers to us, or the quiet moments of prayerful penance afterward, or the newly opened curtains that let His light shine on rooms in our hearts that had been darkened by sin—He speaks to us.

The grace bestowed through Penance is one that restores our hearts to what they were designed to be. We become white as snow, receptive as Mary was in the moment of her Fiat, unwavering as John the Baptist as he taught bystanders that he must decrease as the Son of God must increase.

Sisters and brothers, I beg you: As soon as you are able, flee to the Lord in this generous sacrament. I promise you won’t be sorry.

It’s Okay to Be Wrong

Have you ever had a real doozy of a day and just collapsed onto the couch to treat yourself to a few minutes of laziness? You open Instagram on your phone, wanting to scroll through bright colors and the happy faces of friends and family.

But soon, all those snapshots of happy faces, perfect ponytails, handmade masterpieces, and messages about working hard and “soaking up every minute” make you feel like an abject failure.

We know that social media plants seeds of damaging perfectionism in our hearts. It is a blessing to connect with others from afar, to be sure. It is a joy to see their joys. But sometimes, when we only see everyone’s most polished moments, it’s easy to feel like every scene of our lives should be tailored toward impressing others. It’s an impossible standard.

Trying to meet that standard crushes self-esteem, triggers anxiety, and even influences suicidal ideation. It makes us feel like we aren’t enough unless we constantly exceed all expectations.

Thankfully, in my circles, friends and family often share the less-than-ideal memories they make each day, not just the perfect ones. We commiserate and laugh at ourselves daily. And I hope this is the case for you, too, so we can embrace social media for its supportiveness instead of defining ourselves by its embellishments.

But another type of perfectionism has sunk its teeth into the social media age. And it is just as damaging.

Social Sanctimony and Cancel Culture

I don’t follow the news closely. This isn’t to say I’m ignorant to the goings-on of the world around me; it’s just that I’m not cut out to be a news junkie.

I dislike the 24-hour, for-profit news cycle. From my viewpoint, it has encouraged journalistic integrity to step aside so that bias (specifically on political subjects) and view-earning drama can step in. I can’t completely trust any single source of news, so I have to peruse many to get the big picture on a story—and even then, I must accept that my perspective is limited.

This is true of mainstream media outlets, many of which have presented consistent partisan leanings in one direction or another. And I can’t even express how damaging it is from downright fake news outlets.

In the same way the idyllic images on social media make us feel pressure to always “live beautifully,” the slanted language of the nonstop news we are served makes us feel obligated to believe a certain way, or form a specific opinion, or hold up one version of the truth without examining every side.

Then there are social pressures like “cancel culture” and imposed relativism, which suggest a need to protect ourselves from perceptions of bias that could hurt us—at least when it comes to biases that go against the mainstream.

So we speak loudly on issues we haven’t fully explored, or jump on board with shaming others for saying something counter-cultural or making a bad joke or being ignorant—while neglecting to seek important context and first-hand perspectives. Then we decline to engage with those who disagree because they are simply wrong, as far as we know. Which is, in today’s narrative, about the worst thing you can be.

To be clear, on some issues, what’s socially acceptable really is the right answer. It’s never okay to be racist, or to kill, or to bully (to use a few examples that should be painfully obvious).

But many other issues—economic policy, education reform, gender roles, social support systems—deserve healthy and respectful debate. Their positive evolution is, in fact, driven by that debate. Too often, though, popular culture labels one or another position as “unacceptable.” And then cancel culture kicks in, or at least debasing comments that all too often attack the individual instead of the issue.

It is a vicious cycle. The inherent bias we ingest from the news and day-to-day conversations gives us a sense of being unwaveringly right in our understanding. Next, social pressure pushes us to demonstrate to other people that we’re right (lest we be ostracized for being wrong, or for being too quiet). This leads us to share the biased content as if it is unbiased proof, which presents it to someone else—and the spin continues ad nauseum.

It’s Okay to Be Wrong (As Long As You Want to Learn How to Be Right)

What we’ve forgotten is that it is downright impossible to be correct in all things, at all times. Just like it’s impossible to be Instagram-ready in all things, at all times.

It is tempting to see history as a line on an upward slant: a neat chart that shows us starting at zero and growing to perfection. We want to see human progress as black and white, beginning with the dark ages and ending with paradise.

But this simply isn’t reality. History, though positive growth is certainly clear, is also a squiggly line of peaks, valleys, progress, regress, goodness, and badness.

We may have markedly reduced poverty worldwide, but we’ve also notably increased the wealth gap in the last century. We may have 216 million fewer hungry people than we did 30 years ago, but obesity is contributing to the premature deaths of 4.7 million people every year. Global violence by genocide has declined over human history, but infant mortality for black babies remains 2.5 times higher than white babies in the US.

Human history is a relentless game of good versus evil, and we cannot expect to achieve perfection.

Now, I know it may not sound like it, but I am an optimistic person. We should always be striving to make the world a better place for our neighbors and children. I will always try to influence positive change, especially in regards to respect for human life. So I don’t point out these gaps in human progress to make you sad.

Rather, I outline them as a reminder of humility.

People are inherently good.

People are also inherently flawed.

There is no perfection in this life—not until we are saved from the shackles of death. Can we do better for ourselves and each other? Absolutely. But we can’t do it alone, and we certainly can’t do it by diminishing one another in the process.

So if you’re called out on social media for sharing a misleading article, or misrepresenting a counterpoint, or failing to see another perspective on an issue—I hope you’ll listen.

I hope the person who’s offering criticism is doing so thoughtfully, without vitriol. I hope your response is respectful, too.

I hope you don’t feel ashamed for being mistaken. I hope you aren’t scared of hard conversations or challenging research. I hope you know when to turn away from a discussion that isn’t productive without dehumanizing the person on the other end.

I hope the same for me, too. For all of us, growth takes grace.

Most of all, I hope you don’t let the despair of this world drag you down into the pit. I hope, instead, you can look up and marvel at all that is beautiful about this life—and know that you are not alone, and you’re not perfect, and no one should expect you to be either of those things.

You can always join hands with your neighbor, learn something new, and gain a better understanding of the many perspectives. You can minimize the alienation of “us” versus “them,” and unite as people who want to live in a freer, fuller world.

Even if nobody changes their mind.

This isn’t perfection. But it is progress.

Moms Can’t Do It All (But We Can Do An Awful Lot)

It’s widely known that moms tend to carry the bulk of the mental load for their families. Finding a division of labor that works in your marriage is critical to a happy home. If both spouses are good to each other, that division ends up about even—but that doesn’t mean every day or every category is equal.

In my home, I keep track of appointments, monitoring calendars, managing childcare, meal planning, keeping household essentials in stock, watching our future to-do lists—balancing a lot of short-term and long-term needs to keep the family functioning smoothly.

As a result, my mind is usually turning gears on five or six different machines at once in addition to managing my own needs.

It’s a lot. It’s definitely part of what makes motherhood so exhausting. Moms are practical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual. We are phenomenal multitaskers—it’s one of our many superpowers. But it ain’t easy.

Don’t Even Try Doing It All

Much of the advice I see about multitasking is deeply unhelpful: “Don’t do it so much.”

I can’t not do it. If I don’t do it, too many of the balls I’m juggling will hit the floor. Picking up the pieces will be roughly one zillion times more stressful than managing them preventatively, so it’s the latter I’ll continue to do. But how?

How do you watchfully keep so many balls in the air without losing sight of the bigger picture?

Partly, it’s about balance. But it’s also about accepting reality.

Let’s face it: We cannot do everything at all times. No one should hold us to that impossible expectation—including, and most importantly, ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we need to somehow just stop managing the many components of family life.

That’s where the balance comes in.

Some Tasks Pair Well. Others Don’t.

Occasionally, my husband and I enjoy a DIY wine and cheese night. After the kids go to bed, we open a bottle of wine and arrange neatly sliced cheeses alongside salami and crackers on a plate. It’s a fun way to be fancy without leaving home.

Now, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to pairing. But because I love wine and cheese as much as I do—both individually and together—it doesn’t really matter. I just enjoy the eating and the sipping and the bonding with my husband.

Multitasking is nothing like that. It’s not especially fun, and the tasks involved aren’t nearly as delightful as a creamy Havarti or a dry cabernet. It needs to be managed deliberately to be a bearable exercise.

To that end, here are some of my rules for more tolerable multitasking.

1. Combine a little bit from every category as often as you can.

If I’m trying to focus my brainpower on five things at once, they have to be broad so I don’t get too overwhelmed by a single role.

Example 1: I can run a load of laundry (housework) while I respond to emails (professional), with my favorite music playing in the background (self-care) and a few short breaks to check dinner in the Crock-Pot (housework) and go remind my kids they should be napping instead of jumping around their room like monkeys (momming).

This is a typical afternoon for me and isn’t particularly overwhelming. But what if all five of those things fell into the same role responsibilities?

Example 2: I can run a cycle of laundry (housework) while I get dinner prepped and into the oven (housework), cleaning the kitchen (housework) as I go. Meanwhile I’m packing my daughter’s lunch for tomorrow (momming) and folding the laundry from the previous load (housework).

If I have an open afternoon when I’m finished with work, the kids are actually napping, I’m feeling energetic, and my mind is clear, that’s a manageable list. But how often does all that happen at the same time? Almost never. So if I’m trying to do all the housework at once, I’m constantly distracted by deadlines I didn’t get to that day (professional); the kids making far too much noise instead of sleeping like they’re supposed to (momming); and the fact that I haven’t had more than 30 minutes to myself in three days (self-care).

Now, instead of feeling like I’m accomplishing a checklist of diverse tasks, I put all this work into one category just to watch it multiply (that next load of laundry won’t fold itself, and the dishes are piling up)—ignoring all the others even as they nag at me from every angle.

I need to focus on each role responsibility in bite-sized chunks. That way, I feel relatively on top of it all and can compartmentalize everything that needs to be done into separate, manageable spaces of time.

2. Accept that not every pony is going to be in the ring for every show.

Now, combining categories doesn’t mean that every responsibility gets my attention at all times. That’s just not possible. During business hours, for example, my brainpower needs to focus on work—and the other stuff needs to sit, undone, until I can get to it. When my kids are sick, momming must be my priority. Most of the time, I need to let a few things slide to make sure more immediate needs are met.

Combining categories does mean, however, that things come up about equal on a typical day. Maybe none of them is done perfectly or completely, but none of them is neglected, either. So when I have a day or time block that requires my full attention on one category, it’s less painful to stay focused and temporarily set aside the rest.

This helps immensely with a couple of common plagues: mommy guilt, prioritizing time for myself, keeping the house reasonably tidy so that I can hustle-clean if unexpected company comes over, and so forth.

3. Keep an eye out for looming existential catastrophes and stop them before they stop you.

When someone is literally juggling, if she’s highly experienced and relaxed, a ball or two may fall to the floor without disrupting her flow. But if she’s new or nervous, seeing a ball fall may throw off her game—and all the other balls might come tumbling down after it. Even if she’s exceptionally centered, she’ll probably need help to put a dropped ball back into the rotation.

In terms of multitasking, few of us can stay completely level-headed when we fail to manage something important. We are naturally and emotionally invested in each of the burdens we bear. So our knee-jerk reaction will be to overcorrect, which means the other things get much less attention—which means the whole routine may collapse. It’s a domino effect. If we let it get out of hand and simply watch this collapse happen around us, we tend to question whether we’re capable of fulfilling our roles and our families’ needs.

Step one in preventing such a crisis is staying humble. We need to expect that things will fall out of place here and there—sometimes due to our own fault, sometimes due to circumstances outside our control. We need to lean on God and constantly remind ourselves that we are loved regardless of our faults, we can always improve with His help, and we are not in this alone.

The next step is self-awareness. It is so important to be honest with yourself and your support system about what you’re managing well, and what may be starting to slip. A frequent examination of conscience (and Confession!) can be helpful in many ways here: you’ll monitor which areas could use some extra attention and take good care of your soul.

The final step is to ask for help. Ask for it early—before things start to crumble—so you can articulate your needs, minimize the burden on others (you shouldn’t feel guilty about this anyway, but don’t we all hate sharing our crosses?), and not have to set down other important priorities to put out fires. Even a little bit of help (from your spouse, or your neighbor, or your older kids) can make a huge difference in getting back on track before things go off the rails.

How do you manage your multitasking? Visit my Facebook page to share your tips and tricks with other busy moms!

Do Not Be Discouraged: Domesticity and Virtue

Note: This article was originally written for and published by Chaste Love. It was an honor to be invited to write for such a wonderful resource, and I’m very happy to share my article again here. 

Growing up, I always felt called to marriage as my vocation in life. I believed that God had a romantic path in mind for me: true love, a happy home, a wholesome family. I never really considered religious life. I just never felt drawn to it.

That is, not until I experienced just how hard family life can be.

Cloistered religious life, specifically, never seemed attractive to me until the noisy, hectic unpredictability of raising toddlers took over my daily experience.

I think we sometimes fail to see the beauty in other vocations until we deeply know the difficulties of our own. But while I may, here and there, yearn for the solitude and quiet devotion of a religious sister, I know in my heart that God made me to be a wife and mother.

Still, the struggles of this life have surprised me. I didn’t realize motherhood could be so lonely. And I failed to anticipate how the devil might trick me into thinking all my domestic labors are empty, circuitous, and invisible to the rest of the world.

Labor of Love

I can’t tell you how deeply I feel like my days are filled with little more than cleaning up messes and watching them be made again.

The work of raising a family is full of monotony and seemingly petty demands. Though the blisses of your wedding day and your children’s first smiles or laughs are enough to make these labors worthwhile, the responsibility of it all remains a heavy burden to bear. It’s difficult not to feel completely spent by the end of every day.

Then, when you’re feeling exhausted and frustrated, it’s so easy to let your spiritual growth fall to the wayside. Tapped out of energy and patience, the silence that fills your home after the kids are finally asleep seems like an invitation to nothing but your own bed. And attending Mass? It’s more about wrangling the children than it is about encountering the Divine.

Before you know it, weeks go by before you realize you can’t remember the last time you uttered a sincere prayer. And suddenly the guilt of neglecting your Father is added to the guilt you feel over your impatience with your children, the tasks you’ve left undone, and the mistakes you’ve made along the way.

Your Work is a Prayer

Know this: These negative thoughts are how Satan exploits your vulnerabilities. The real truth is simple: If you’re living according to God’s law and raising your children to love Him, your every effort is a prayer.

Our world is a busy and self-interested one, and it’s easy to feel like your contributions are miniscule and obsolete compared to the goings-on of the culture around you. But God sees your labors and He loves you for them. He sees your contributions to His kingdom—and there is no greater work than that.

So long as you’re living as His daughter or son, doing your best to fulfill His will and glorify His love with devotion to your family, your life is a prayer and He knows the needs and good intentions of your heart.

But don’t take my word for it. The Church and the saints have much to say on this subject.

Find Assurance in the Faith

In fact, Church history is chock-full of praise for the family. As the domestic church, the family is the most foundational microcosm of what the Church herself should be: a community of devoted brothers and sisters who put one another’s needs before their own, and place God’s will at the center of their life together.

Pope John Paul II, who had many wonderful things to say about the beautiful work of building a family, expressed this so well:

Catholic parents must learn to form their family as a “domestic church,” a church in the home as it were, where God is honored, His law is respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example, and everyone shares the hopes, the problems, and sufferings of everyone else. All this is not to advocate a return to some outdated style of living: It is to return to the roots of human development and human happiness!

There are also plenty of examples in the catechism—a comprehensive catalog of the central beliefs of our faith.

Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household” (cf. Acts 18:8) (CCC, 1655).

The home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life (CCC, 1657).

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC, 2207).

As for the difficulties of this life? As we Catholics know better than most, suffering can be sanctifying—especially when it is endured for the sake of others. I can’t think of a better way to validate the sacrifices we make for our spouses and our children in this life.

So, rather than descend into complaint or self-pity over these struggles, we can endure them with patience and selflessness and thus transform them into a very special kind of prayer. Lifting up our pain—physical and emotional, petty or profound—to God is a boon to our growth as well as the growth of our families.

What’s more, bearing our trials with humility breeds the kind of virtue this world so desperately needs. “Do everything without grumbling or questioning,” Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world” (Philippians 2: 14-15).

Finally, in our efforts to see the holiness and virtue-building goodness of this repetitious and often frustrating domestic life, we can pull inspiration from the saints. Their insight on the love of God and the righteousness of submitting to our families’ needs is enough to motivate all of us to greater selflessness:

Know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans. – St. Teresa of Avila

I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues. – St. Therese of Lisieux

They who, by a generous effort, make up their minds to obey, acquire great merit; for obedience by its sacrifices resembles martyrdom. – St. Ignatius of Loyola