Motherhood

The Worth of the Working Mom

The internet is a place for learning and community. It’s a place I’ve appreciated very much as a mother—especially as an introvert—and it’s full of resources I’m glad my kids can access as they grow up.

But it is also a place for jerks.

For example, there’s been a huge debate among Catholics on Twitter this month about the morality of mothers working outside the home. It began with an interview in which a Catholic man made some very sexist comments and radical claims about the Church’s teachings on working moms.

Why this is even a debate is beyond me. We have saints who were working mothers (looking at you, Saint Gianna!); we have popes who’ve praised mothers for their efforts within and outside of the home; and most clearly of all, we have no doctrine stating that mothers must stay home to fulfill their duties toward their children. (On these points, much has been written. Instead of trying to duplicate them, I’ll point you to an excellent read here.)

The Church and Job Discernment

Many of those outside the Church see Catholicism as a laundry list of rules dictating believers’ daily lives. And while it’s true that we hold ourselves to unpopular and often difficult moral choices, a lesser-known truth of the Catholic Church is that she leaves plenty of details up to the discernment of her members.

Such details aren’t inherently rooted in morality or theology. Rather, they’re rooted in how we—as unique children of God, made with specific talents and living in certain circumstances—practice our vocations and navigate the world.

For example, it is up to us to discern how many children to have and when (so long as our marriages remain open to life); whether purchasing a new vehicle is a good idea (so long as we’re not using it as a status symbol); which books to read (so long as we’re not succumbing to immoral or evil thoughts and behavior as a result of their influence); and so on.

Among these topics of discernment is the question of whether, where, and how spouses should work outside the home to support their families. Among the arrangements they may reasonably discern are:

  • Only Dad should work and Mom should be a full-time, stay-at-home-parent (so long as he’s able to provide for his family’s financial needs, his work is moral, he remains involved with his children and devoted to his wife in ways that suit his talents and meet their needs, and Mom can provide sufficient childcare).
  • Only Mom should work and Dad should be a full-time, stay-at-home parent (so long as she’s able to provide for her family’s financial needs, her work is moral, she remains involved with her children and devoted to her husband in ways that suit her talents and meet their needs, and Dad can provide sufficient childcare).
  • Dad and Mom should both work full-time outside the home (so long as they’re able to provide for their family’s financial needs, remain involved with their children and one another in ways that suit their talents and meet their needs, access good childcare, and maintain a healthy home).
  • Dad and Mom should both work, in some unique blend of full-time, part-time, outside, and at-home employment (you get the idea).

Today’s socioeconomic world is complicated. Frankly, it’s a difficult time for families to choose—or even have the option of—living on a single income. Some of us are well equipped for tight budgets and managing debt. Others thrive on stability and have costly priorities, such as sending children to Catholic schools. Neither of these “types” of families is wrong, and parents can fall into either of these categories without either failing to provide for their children or living in gluttony.

Is your family cared for virtuously, well-loved, and supported both physically and emotionally? If so, you’re doing a bang-up job—whether those 40 hours are spent in your house or out of it.

Thoughts for Dads

To any dads reading this, I’m sorry that you are so left out of this conversation. It may be true that mothers tend to be nurturers and have historically taken on the majority of childcare responsibilities. It may be true that your specific talents are best applied to the workforce. And it may be true that your career fulfills you as well as sustains your family.

But it’s also true that you are a parent as much as your wife is. Your contribution to the family isn’t—and shouldn’t be—simply financial. It isn’t simply biological, either. Your ability to spend quality time with your family and help raise your children well is immensely valuable and your effort in doing so is deeply appreciated. You are your babies’ hero.

If you’re following this debate and wondering whether the criticism and insults thrown at working mothers (“How could you spend such little time with your own flesh and blood?”) apply to you, too, the answer is simple: these insults apply to no hard-working, loving parent. Whether you support your family within or outside of your home, so long as they are your first priority and they know how fundamentally you love them, you are doing it right.

Thoughts for Moms

As women, we are fed so many lies by mainstream culture: that our bodies can’t be managed as designed, that we aren’t good enough, that our needs must come last. The lies we hear about our place in the workforce are exceptionally harsh, because they come from every direction.

We are told that our contributions are insufficient if we aren’t working outside the home: that our children will never see what an enlightened woman should be, that we’re sapping resources, that we’re taking advantage of our husbands’ hard work, that we’re lazy.

We are told that our contributions are insufficient if we are working outside the home: that our children will never see us, that we’re abandoning them to irresponsible and unloving caretakers, that we’re leaving our homes in filth, that we’re belittling our husbands’ masculinity, that we’re selfish.

Both “sides” of this debate can lob hateful bombs at the other. As with so many social disputes, the extreme minorities tend to be the loudest. And their aggression hurts everyone in between.

Those of us who are in between simply respect others’ choices and efforts for their families. We tend to be quiet because we’re working really hard and, not having participated in many of these unkind conversations, we don’t always know that our neighbors need our affirmation.

So I think that’s step one toward a better world for all of us: this silent but loving majority should get loud. Pat your sister on the back for staying home full-time and not losing her mind. Pat your cousin on the back for working elsewhere full-time and not losing her mind. Let the parents you admire know that they’re doing a fine job, no matter what their daily routines look like.

Work to Live

Friends, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” For parents, work is simply the means to the most important end: a healthy, thriving family and home life that nurtures its souls into sainthood. Don’t take your work—or the lack of it, if you’re a stay-at-home parent—too seriously, don’t put it first, and don’t let it torture you.

Don’t let other people torture you about it, either. You are doing good work for your family, and that is what matters. Use those labors to bring more fruit home to them, and don’t worry about the rest.

Welcoming the Scary, Sacred Gift of Siblings

I’m writing this as much for me as for anyone else. (Which—I won’t flatter myself—is probably true of much of my blog. But still.)

There are few changes more difficult than welcoming a new sibling for your child (or children). But there are also few changes more beautiful.

When I was pregnant with my son, I wept often over the thought of losing all the one-on-one time in the world with my firstborn. I ached to think that she might be confused by the amount of time I was suddenly spending with someone else. She was only 18 months old, and while she didn’t often show much jealousy when we were with other kids, I knew it would be different when it was all the time and in our own home.

I was so frightened that she would be hurt by my inability to immediately meet her needs. I have never been a helicopter parent—my daughter was delightfully independent at that age and didn’t need me to fulfill every tiny desire. But, with only her to look after, I was always there to quickly kiss ouchies and play games and read books. What would she feel when a newborn forced me to respond to most of her requests with “Give me a minute” or “I can’t right now, honey” and an exhausted sigh?

Of course, I knew that there would ultimately be more love blossoming in our family. I knew that a sibling would be the greatest gift I could give her. And I already dearly loved the baby boy I carried. But it’s just too hard to set aside the inevitable loss of something you know so well and focus only on the promise of something you can just barely see around the corner.

When her baby brother was born, my daughter excelled in her role as big sister. We had (and still have) incredibly difficult days, and juggling them both was no picnic on any day, but the bright spots far outshined the dark ones. We shared so much joy. It was true that I couldn’t always jump to meet my daughter’s pleas, but I did see her develop a beautiful sense of compassion when it came to the baby’s needs. And while we no longer spent so much uninterrupted time together, the time we spent as a family of four was even more fruitful than I imagined.

Given these lessons, I thought the change would be easier this time. I’m pregnant again, expecting our third child here on earth, and I spent almost the entire first half of this pregnancy afraid for this baby. But we’re 21 weeks along now, with all signs pointing to good health. As I’m feeling this little lady moving throughout every day, the reality of her impending arrival is truly sinking in. And as my fear for her safety begins to wane, my fear for the waves that are on their way to my family is growing.

This time, my kids are well accustomed to knowing that, sometimes, their sibling’s needs are more pressing than their own. They know how to share—toys, time, and treats—and they don’t expect to do exactly what they want to do all of the time.

But, as it turns out, this time I’m afraid and sad for different reasons.

Another baby will mean changing up sleeping arrangements, and I’m heartbroken to think about splitting up my kids into different rooms. They’ve been together for as long as they both remember, and I know it will be hard on them not to be.

Another baby will mean I can’t hold both my kids’ hands when they need me, or when we’re out and about and I need to keep them close.

Another baby will mean a new routine: no more all-at-once morning wake-ups, no more all-at-once evening bedtimes, and no more all-at-once afternoon naps (at least not for a while). My family thrives on routine, and I know the first few months with a new baby—when routines last no longer than a few days or a week before becoming obsolete—are extremely stressful for all of us.

There are birth plans, childcare logistics, feeding demands, sleepless nights, and many other complications to navigate. There are team dynamics to sort out with my husband, patience and sharing battles to negotiate with my children, and self-care routines to rediscover for myself.

As a rule, I’m not good at change. It makes me cry and shiver and stomp my feet. But, despite the challenges that lay ahead, I know that this change will bring great things to my family. Having embarked on a similar change once already, I have the benefit of hard evidence to help me feel more certain of that bright future. Doesn’t mean I’m not scared, though.

So we’ll see how this one goes. I’m sure that, with a lot of prayer and a lot of love, we’ll be okay. Even if we aren’t at every moment along the way.

 

How My Toddlers Break My Spirit (And Then Heal It Again)

Before I became a mom, I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be frustrating. But I had no idea how my own children could—without meaning to, and even though they’re just doing what little kids do—legitimately hurt my feelings.

It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to feel drained. It’s okay to feel beaten down. We all do, now and then.

What’s not okay is feeling stuck in that mire. Because, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that motherhood is humbling. And that is not a bad thing—difficult as it may be.

So here are the biggest ways my kids wear me down from day to day—and how that pain becomes so fruitful when examined in the big picture.

1: Screaming “No!” over the simplest thing.

It happens without fail: We’re having a perfectly pleasant morning, and then some invisible stone shatters my children’s patience and all hell breaks loose. Whether it’s that I chose her socks for the day instead of predicting she’d want that privilege, or I had the audacity to wipe his nose in the middle of an important game of “vroom,” the chorus of protests begins and is overwhelmingly difficult to stop.

I take deep breaths. I say a prayer (even if it’s only three words—“Help me out!”). I remind myself they have big feelings with little capacity to manage them. Sometimes these things work. Often, they don’t.

But you know what does help? When the simplest thing stops their meltdowns. When I recognize that I’m one of few people who understands them well enough to pinpoint that solution. And when I realize that they fully trust me to fix all the things that go wrong for them. Even if I can’t figure it out every time, the times I can, make up for the rest—if only until the screams begin again.

2: Fighting with each other.

My kids are three-and-a-half and two years old right now, and for so long, they got along perfectly. But a few months before his second birthday, they began testing each other’s tempers. It kills me to watch them hit, fight over toys, and pitch fits when the other comes too close at the wrong time.

I try to interfere only when things are getting out of hand. I think it’s important for them to work out their own dynamic—and excessive chastising only makes the situation more volatile (and encourages taddling next time). So it helps some to let them take ownership of their relationship, inasmuch as toddlers are capable of doing so.

But you know what helps more? How quickly they go right back to joy after an argument. I love watching my son recognize his sister’s sadness over his hoarding of a toy, changing his mind to share in the hopes of making her feel better. It warms my heart to see my daughter apologize and kiss ouchies after she’s taken their playful wrestling too far and her brother starts crying.

3: Refusing the special activity I had lovingly planned for them.

I am not a Pinterest mom. So when I put a lot of effort into a special activity for my kids—cookie decorating, finger painting, planting a garden—only to be met with boredom or outright rebuff, it really brings me down.

I know, I know—toddlers’ preferences are highly unpredictable and their interests change daily. I remind myself of these facts, and try to remember that it isn’t about my ego. But it’s hard not to feel let down.

It is the sweetest thing, though, when my kids light up at the little chores I do for them. My daughter gushes with thanks when I present her with clean laundry and ask for help putting it away. My son lights up when I take his hand and help him down the step into the garage that is just slightly too big for comfort.

Those moments remind me that motherhood is in the little, day-to-day moments much more than the big, Pinterest-inspired ones. It’s the little moments that inspire confidence and encourage growth.

4: Being unkind to others.

Sibling bickering is one thing, but when my kids level an angry look or refuse to share or say something unkind to others, it cuts deep. This is especially true when they do it to other family—like their dad, who does everything he can to support them; or their cousins, who just want to play.

They’re still learning good manners, and how to control selfish impulses. They’re still learning the world can’t revolve around them. They don’t mean anything by it, and every teaching moment is immensely valuable. But still.

What I absolutely love, though, is how they care about other people in their world—even strangers. My son loves waving and saying “hi” and shaking hands with everyone he encounters. My daughter is so observant, whether it’s spotting (and wanting to comfort) a sad child at the park or recognizing another mother’s loving care of her baby. Clearly these kids are growing up with compassion—it just takes practice to make it a habit (and don’t we all know it?).

5: Acting crazy during Mass.

I want so badly for my kids to grow up full of faith, knowing how much God loves them. Faith has helped me through life—to be true to who I was created to be, even when it wasn’t comfortable or convenient to do so. They will need that, too, in today’s world. I believe the most basic way I can help nurture that possibility is to dutifully bring them to Mass every week.

It is a righteous exercise, but it is also a chore. Almost every Sunday, the kids are noisy, distracted, argumentative, and/or hyperactive during Mass. I try to ask them to point out Jesus around the sanctuary, or listen for God, or say their prayers. But for the most part, my husband and I must simply manage them while trying to absorb what we can.

When we get home, though, where the kids are comfortable and not overstimulated, I can see the fruits of this labor: sweet prayers at bedtime, well-recited blessings before meals, and excited recognition of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and others in art and books. That easy joy brings me hope for their bright, engaged futures in the faith. And that makes it all worthwhile.

When Pregnancy is Scary: Motherhood After Miscarriage

I am pregnant with my sixth child. But I’ve only met two of my kids.

Three were lost to back-to-back miscarriages, and while I’ve come to cherish the babies I’ve never held and the lessons they taught me, the pain of those losses has left me scarred. I am desperate to meet the beautiful child I’m carrying now.

For some time after the miscarriages, my husband and I chose to delay conceiving another pregnancy and focus on making sure I was healthy. It was a difficult choice, but it felt like the only choice. We were terrified of another loss. We were paralyzed by the thought of more grief. And I did not trust my own body.

After months of work and close consulting with a specialist, we regained enough confidence to try and grow our family again. My husband was stronger on this front than me—I was still so frightened and so distrustful of myself. Though our first two pregnancies were perfect and healthy, the next two were anything but, and I had no idea what to expect next.

It took longer to conceive this time than it did for any of our other pregnancies, and the waiting was very hard on me. The stress over timing and taking precautions just in case and not knowing for several weeks at a time, followed by the disappointment of failure, did a number on my anxiety and my self-confidence. Overall, our struggle was hardly that—it was only a few months more than we expected. But it gave me great empathy for those couples who face infertility. Those families are now in my prayers daily.

When we did confirm pregnancy this time, the real unease set in. I was hard on myself—strict about how optimistic I should feel, how far ahead I should think, how secure I should be in this new possibility.

I promised myself and my husband that it would be better after 5 weeks, when we lost Gabriel; it wasn’t. I made the same promise about after my hCG levels came back strong. After an initial ultrasound. After 8 weeks, when we lost Karol and Julian. And on and on.

It hasn’t gotten much better, although it has improved some. I still find myself guarded when I talk to this new child or rub my belly or think about plans for our expanding family. I’m currently telling myself I’ll feel better once I start feeling him or her move more consistently, but who knows?

The truth is simple: You can’t trust an anxious mind to find peace in anything. Even the most natural thing in the world. Even something you’ve done well several times before. Even a pregnancy that your doctor tells you seems, by all accounts, perfect.

Anxiety—especially maternal anxiety—isn’t about rational thought or logic or coherence. It’s about the dread of danger for your children. It’s about the fear of pain. It’s about feeling out of control. And it’s disordered.

Pregnancy after miscarriage is never the innocently beautiful experience it was before a loss. I can’t see the big statistics I fit into anymore—only the small, scary ones that might catch hold and drag me down. I can’t rest in this new motherhood. I complain about the nausea and the fatigue and the moodiness, but in some primal part of my soul, I am also deeply grateful to feel these physical reminders that my hormones are doing what they should be.

Instead of trying to hide my quickly growing belly under loose clothes, I take time to look it over in the mornings and hope it’s bigger than yesterday. I cannot stop questioning my body and its strength—cannot avoid a small, squeaky voice of panic every time I head to the bathroom or feel a twinge.

But I want very desperately for this baby to know that I love him or her more than words can say. I plague myself with guilt over my fear of connecting with this tiny, sweet person. I hate that it’s more scary than exciting to buy and start filling out a pregnancy journal this time. I hate that the first gift I’d like to buy for this new child is still sitting in my Amazon cart, waiting for some immeasurable milestone to embolden me enough for its purchase.

So, to this new life in my womb, I’d like to say some important things:

I am so sorry, little one, that my heart is too guarded to open the floodgates and let loose the love and devotion I already feel for you—that I’ve felt since the moment I knew you existed. Please know that the love is there, nonetheless, and behind these walls, I’m bursting with it. I promise to do my best to break down the barriers, brick by brick, so that I can show it to you.

The fear isn’t your fault, baby. It is no reflection on you.

I pray for you every moment of every day. I can’t wait to meet you. Hang in there.

From here, I want to be positive. I want to cherish every moment of time I have with this baby, even though I know none of them can be taken for granted.

So this is my honest confession about how it feels to be pregnant after loss. But this experience is still all about love—even if it’s the scary side of love most days. And I want this baby to know that.

If you’re a mom like me and you’re feeling guilty over feeling frightened, please don’t. I’m here with you. You’ll be okay. God and your baby are with you.

5 Reasons Stories of Traditional Romance are Still Valuable for Little Girls

I’ve been watching a lot of Disney movies lately.

(Or, more accurately, I’ve been watching the same three or four Disney movies a lot of times in a row lately. #lifewithtoddlers)

And it’s got me thinking.

There’s an admirable trend in recent Disney princess movies that removes a traditional element from the genre: romance. Moana, Frozen, and Brave, for example, set aside the trope of ending in “married and living happily ever after.”

Moana ends up leading her people into adventure. Elsa settles into her position as queen with no need of a king, while Anna has a love interest that is delightful but still somewhat casual when Frozen ends. At the close of Brave, Merida is a princess allowed to live for herself and find love on her own terms—whenever that may be.

Of course, these aren’t the only ladies who’ve discovered their independence and didn’t end their stories with weddings. Mulan and Pocahantas can relate.

I’m not the only one to notice this evolution, of course. And I agree that it’s a good thing to recognize that princesses—or any women—don’t need to be rescued by or married off to wealthy, handsome men to be happy.

But I also dearly hope we don’t veer too far in this direction with the princesses (and generally heroic young women) who will star in future animated features. Because traditional romance is still a valuable thing of beauty that little girls deserve to see and admire in their fictional heroes.

I have no misgivings about unconsented kisses from strangers or the value of disobeying and then abandoning one’s family for a guy (looking at you, Ariel). But romance is inherently good, because it teaches our daughters (and sons!) some very valuable lessons.

#1: Teamwork

In my favorite Disney princess movies, the girl and her Prince Charming work together to get stuff done—whether it’s defeating the Hun or discovering her true identity.

I like that my daughter and son watch these movies knowing that it’s possible to find someone who’s willing to take risks, go on adventures, and fight for what’s right with you—someone who will stay by your side and add their talents to yours for the betterment of everyone.

#2: Chivalry

It’s not dead. Not every Disney prince has treated his princess as well as he should (*ahem* Beast), and some of them needed warming up, but many of them do provide examples of treating women with respect and admiration.

I, for one, still think it’s appropriate and lovely for a man to hold a door open for a woman, or let her take the last seat on the train, or prioritize her safety even when it causes him pain or puts him in danger.

#3: Complementarianism

Men and women are different. We were made to be different—both sexes fully express the beauty of human nature, but do so in different ways. And not just different ways. Complementary ways. In other words, both generally (across the species) and specifically (couple to couple), we balance one another.

I think it’s wonderful for kids to see examples of traditional—and less so—roles for men and women, and how they showcase the wonderful things about the sexes, the beauty in our differences, and the relationships between us.

#4: Fantasy

Kids should dream! They should put their big, beautiful imaginations to good work, drawing up the futures they have ahead of them and all the adventures they might go on in their lives. And it’s good and healthy for part of those dreams to be about finding true love.

Encouraging big dreams, exciting futures, and wholesome relationships is a good way to raise happier kids. It also gives them the ambition and confidence they’ll need to learn the skills and life lessons that will help them maintain and achieve those goals (even after they learn they likely won’t involve magic or “happily ever after”).

#5: Agape

True love is an inherently good thing. We don’t “throw our lives away” by getting married or starting families—even if we choose to do so at a young age (ask me how I know). Women don’t give into the patriarchy or subvert our independence by pursuing a vocation of marriage, and men don’t suppress women by wedding us.

Can the pursuit of true love lead us to bad places? Certainly it can. But that’s why we need to give our children positive examples of healthy, selfless, self-giving love—even those mired in fantasy. Because I’d much rather show my kids “magical,” healthy relationships than the ones they’ll see on teen TV and reality shows in a few short years. Not every Disney movie offers this, but many do, and I’m not about to think less of them for it.

Introverted Moms: You Can Still Find Your Tribe

One of the most beautiful things about Catholicism is its quiet sanctity. There’s nothing like walking into a near-empty church, filled with the lingering scent of incense and the Holy Spirit, with Christ himself sitting in the tabernacle behind the silent but sturdy altar.

I am an introvert—quiet and solitude are almost synonymous with peace for me, especially in the context of my Catholic experience.

But while these moments are beautiful and deeply meaningful, the Church isn’t about solitude. She’s about community. And if you’re like me—no social butterfly, happy to stay home, easily stressed by new situations—that community can be hard to find.

In college I got my first big taste of Catholic community. I attended the University of Dayton, a Marianist institution where the word “community” is used at least as often as “study.” Having gone to college alone, five hours from home, it was difficult to jump into new friendships—but it was also easy, because I was with the same people most days and had no choice but to forge new relationships.

After college, I started working in a tech company and married my high school sweetheart. Though I enjoyed spending time with my coworkers each day, we didn’t have many common interests when it came to extracurriculars. And anyway, as a newlywed, I was happy to simply return home to my husband in the evenings and build our own little community—our domestic church.

It was a fruitful time for my vocation. Dedicating so much time to my marriage made me a better person—a more selfless daughter of God and a more devoted wife. These years prepared me for the sacrifices of new motherhood.

But you know what they didn’t prepare me for? The solitude of new motherhood.

And here I thought solitude was something I was good at.

Bringing home a new baby was surreal for me. It was beautiful, of course, but in many ways, also quite baffling. I would gaze at my sweet daughter’s sleeping face and think, Thank you, God, for giving me this child!

And then, the very next moment, she would scream and I’d think, Oh God, how could You think I could do this alone?

I’d heard that it takes a village to raise a child. I had no idea where my village was.

Please don’t get me wrong. My husband was especially wonderful during that time. Our closeness kept me anchored to myself in a season that was deeply confusing (Am I still me, or am I “Mom” now?). My family and friends were supportive, too.

What I realized, though, was that I knew no one in the same life stage as me. My girlfriends and sisters either had no children yet, or their children were much older than mine. My husband did so much for me but just couldn’t relate to my confusion about breastfeeding or my impatience with my suddenly unfamiliar body. When he was away at work during the day, I was alone with a baby who needed me desperately but couldn’t convey just what she needed.

So new motherhood was rarely the peaceful solitude I expected. Instead, it was something dimmer: it was lonely.

I knew having a newborn would be exhausting and stressful. But I didn’t know that hacking it alone would be so isolating.

I joined a local breastfeeding support group and investigated whether my parish had a mothers’ group (it didn’t, though I later found a neighboring one that did). Even when I managed to attend events designed to help me find my village, I struggled to build any sense of community.

Many of the mothers there were already close, and I’m not skilled at inserting myself into conversations as the “new kid” in the room.

Most of the other mothers were stay-at-home parents, but I was only on maternity leave—in a few weeks, I had to begin my work-at-home mom life. That meant, though I would be home each day, my daughter would be with a babysitter while I worked a full-time job on a rigid schedule. Any daytime playgroups I was invited to simply weren’t in the cards for me.

And the evening meetups? Well, frankly, those meant swapping precious little time with my husband for time spent with relative strangers (either with a newborn who obviously wouldn’t be doing any “playing,” or with the new-mom stress and physical discomfort of leaving a breastfeeding baby at home).

I just couldn’t make any of it work, and it made me feel like a failure. It made me feel like I just needed to hack it out on my own—that that’s the kind of mom I would always be.

As weeks passed and interpreting my daughter’s needs consumed me slightly less, I spent what time I could on Facebook. That was a safe social connection—a way to feel close to my friends and family, on my own time, even when I wasn’t physically with them.

But when you’re checking your phone every fifteen minutes and most of your friends are adults with day jobs, your timeline quickly runs out of new things to show you.

I went exploring and discovered groups—most notably one that was dedicated to support around the Creighton method of natural family planning (which, thanks to postpartum changes and my difficult adjustment to motherhood, had suddenly become a high-stress part of my life).

The sheer number of like-minded, thoughtful people who were there to answer questions about NFP and other struggles related to Catholic life was staggering and so deeply helpful. Eventually, I found a larger Catholic group that focused on even broader topics.

I had a place—a safe, not too in-my-face, unscheduled place—to ask questions about my growing family and even my faith. It was rejuvenating, and it made me feel more confident as a new mother.

Eventually, I joined a group for young, Catholic mothers that has since taken up a firm, cozy place in my heart. I consider the other members my friends. They are my tribe now—my village. They’ve been there to answer all my questions, laugh at my jokes, pray for me, and support me both emotionally and physically in the darkest of times. I am so thankful for them. I hope I’ve done a decent job giving these same gifts right back.

Their friendship has also made me more confident in finding friends “in real life.” Having a readily available and supportive social outlet makes me feel stronger and more worthy of new friends when I attend local events for Catholic moms, or see a family I’d like to get to know better at Mass on Sundays. Slowly, I’m building a network of local friends, too, who can add to my village in more tangible ways.

I’m here to tell you that you can be introverted and be a member of the greater Catholic community. I’m here to tell you that you are worthy of faith-centered friendships in whatever context you seek them—whether that’s in online forums of like-minded women, or in-person groups where you might be the only fresh face.

Take baby steps if you need to. Send a text to an acquaintance just to say hello. Compliment a woman you’ve admired from afar (we all see those familiar, happy faces Sunday after Sunday) as you’re leaving your parish this weekend; next week, smile at her as you see her family arrive at Mass; the week after, introduce yourself.

Search for Facebook groups that line up with your vocation. Once you join them, let loose your questions and, even more importantly, provide loving answers to others’ questions. Comment on Instagram posts by people who embody the kind of woman you’d like to be. These platforms can be abused, but they can also be used to give glory to God and to build the Church in today’s always-connected world.

When you feel ready, find out when your parish (or another one nearby) has their next mothers’ or young women’s gathering. Ask for whatever help you need to make attending a reality. Bring cookies or another goodie to share, introduce yourself with confidence, and be an attentive and thoughtful listener when others speak. Exchange phone numbers and make plans right then and there.

If these things are hard for you, I understand. I am right there with you. Turn to Christ and ask for his help in forging the relationships that will make your burden lighter and your journey straight. He won’t lead you astray.

Why I’ll Teach My Daughter Real Fertility Lessons (Which She Won’t Get in School)

We all remember sex ed, at least in bits and pieces.

The giggly trip to the health center as elementary schoolers, separated by gender and learning about “our changing bodies.”

The awkward days in middle school health classes, when we cringed at the thought of walking around with cotton sticks up there and didn’t know how to ask the questions that were really on our minds.

The stiff conversations in high school health, where at least one class clown made crude jokes and cackled immaturely when the middle-aged (or, even worse, young adult) teacher first said sexual intercourse.

And do you know what I—and so many of my peers—took away from those classes?

That’s mostly it, actually.

The awkward memories and sort of icky feeling of it all. Some vague understanding of sex, of contraception, of “being safe.” The difference between boys and girls. A deep-seated fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A certain sense of taboo curiosity about it all: What does that feel like? Who’s doing what? Why can’t we just be adults already? Why can’t we just go back to being kids?

I learned that boys were “slower to mature” than girls, and that girls could take the Pill to treat acne and painful periods (even if they “didn’t need it” for contraception). I learned that “miscarriage is when a woman thinks she’s pregnant, but then she isn’t anymore.” (Yes. Seriously.) I learned that boys were driven by their hormones and girls should take good care of themselves.

What a load of junk.

Because you know what I didn’t learn?

How my body actually works, independent of how it may be of use (or at risk) in sexual intercourse.

I did not learn about the patterns in which several different hormones rise and fall during my cycle, ensuring my health and ability to carry a pregnancy. I did not learn how cycles are naturally irregular early on, but tend to normalize over time—and, if they don’t, doctors can help achieve proper function instead of just slapping on the bandage of hormonal birth control. I did not learn that hormonal birth control often causes depression. I did not learn that taking birth control could have lasting effects later in life, or that menstrual problems likely won’t be “fixed” when I stop taking it. I did not learn that there are many ways to understand my own fertile patterns instead of assuming I’m fertile all the time, always.

And I certainly did not learn that all of this is worth knowing well before you decide to have a baby, and regardless of whether you’re sexually active. Because you’re entitled to understand how your own body functions, even if no one else is using it at the moment.

In short, sex ed taught me that my fertility was a burden to be managed with birth control and feminine hygiene products, until the time came that I chose to become pregnant—at which point, everything will likely function normally and conceiving will be easy as pie.

But that’s just not how it works. Fertility isn’t always “typical” when we decide to take advantage of it. And conceiving is not easy. In fact, 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting or staying pregnant—and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

So many women end up in an awful position as adults. When they’re finally encouraged to become familiar with their fertility for the very first time, the stakes are as high as they’ll ever be. Their dreams are spreading out—or being cut short—in front of them. Their family is on the line. Their marriage is being tested. Their unborn child’s life is at stake.

I don’t accept that path for my daughter.

It is nuts just how many circumstances must perfectly align to achieve ovulation, let alone conception. The interplay of hormones, physical function, emotion, and general health is staggering. We should not feel obligated to interrupt a perfectly healthy process so that we can minimize inconvenience, for ourselves and especially not for others. If that process isn’t functioning perfectly on its own, we should feel entitled to medical care that will find a root cause and fix it.

If my heart wasn’t working well, I would find a doctor and he would want to help me fix it to restore good health. If my ovaries aren’t working well, I should be able to find a doctor who would want to help me fix them to restore good health—not just turn them off because “I’m not using them right now anyway.”

Fertility, perfect or otherwise, is not something to be squashed like a nagging bug.

So when my daughter hears about the birds and the bees, she won’t just hear about what’s convenient or inconvenient about her changing body. She won’t be told only how her fertility needs a man’s fertility to make a baby.

She’ll learn how her body performs a quiet ballet each cycle, and how that function affects other aspects of her physical and emotional wellbeing. She’ll learn to observe how it’s all working, and what understanding she can take away from her unique patterns each month. She’ll see how my fertility has changed over time, so she can be prepared for how hers will, too, and ask me whatever questions she may have.

And yes, she’ll learn that sexual intercourse makes babies and, if pursued improperly, can put us at high physical and emotional risk. But she’ll also learn how intimacy means loving a whole person—not just the pieces that are convenient at the moment—and why she deserves so much more than what’s being pushed in her face by a broken and lonely world.

What do you think about this? Join the conversation on Facebook and let me know!

7 Reads Every Catholic Mom Needs on Her Bookshelf

I love learning about the rich traditions, history, and teachings of the Church. But let’s be real: it’s difficult to find formal educational opportunities when your schedule is mandated by two rambunctious toddlers and a full-time job. (And even when I have the hours available in a day, my inner introvert rarely has the energy for more than an occasional retreat.)

Still, I don’t want that learning to go undone “until I have more free time.” So, a few years ago, I decided to devote part of the time I spend on my favorite self-care activity—reading—to my faith.

Committing to more spiritual reading has been incredibly fruitful for me. Along the way, each of these titles has had a profound effect on me as a Catholic woman and mother.

#1: Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

The constant sleeplessness of the newborn phase or the piercing, repeat tantrums of a toddler—worse, the pain of seeing your child in pain—can sometimes dim the light of hope in your day-to-day.

When you haven’t had time to invest in devotions or prayer, that burden can sometimes make Christ and his sacrifice for you feel like a distant dream.

These are the moments I turn to Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich’s God-given insights into the profound love Christ has for each one of us are uplifting and life-changing. Julian’s humble, joyful words make me feel closer to Christ and more attuned to the many ways he is present and loving me each and every day.

#2: The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn

Marriage is the foundation of the family—a little community so important we call it the “domestic church.” But the significance of marriage doesn’t end there.

In this book, Scott Hahn uses his well-learned yet down-to-earth style to illustrate the many ways in which marriage has been an underpinning of civilization as we know it. I particularly enjoyed the way he describes how the sacrament’s graces enable us to live well not just within our families, but among our neighbors.

In the busy routines of life, it can be dreadfully easy for a husband and wife to forget to invest in one another. This book reminded me just how important that investment is.

#3: A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

On stressful days filled with noise, I sometimes long for the quiet of single life. Plagued by guilt in those moments, I don’t doubt my vocation—but I do doubt whether I’m fulfilling it as well as I’d hoped.

Flannery O’Connor is an icon in literature, and for good reason. Her writing broke norms and pushed readers to contemplate important subjects that were rather controversial in her time.

She was also a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual woman. Reading her prayer journal gave me insight into how she lived her faith in the context of her vocation—and how even the most admirable, successful women are plagued by moments of self-doubt and “what if” thinking.

#4: One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler

A well-known personality in Catholic media, Jennifer Fulwiler is funny, insightful, and relatable.

Adding to her very honest online presence, Jennifer shares, in One Beautiful Dream, the story of how she grew into her writing and speaking career not in spite of her vocation as a wife and mother, but in cooperation with it. Like all of us, she faced disappointments, but by engaging with her passions and serving (and being served by) her family, she found harmony for the many “categories” of her life.

Jennifer’s story taught me that the seemingly incompatible interests of person (myself) and place (my role in the family I’ve built) don’t have to conflict at all. When we stop pitting them against each other, we learn to see how complementary they can be.

#5: Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar

I’ve spoken on this one before (specifically here and here), but I can’t emphasize enough how lovely this little book is for any Christian—especially mothers.

Covering scripture, theology, and tradition, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about what Christ meant when he urged us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3). His insights are powerful reflections on the beauty of childhood, the gifts and wholesomeness of divine grace, and the nature of faith.

The lessons I’ve learned from this book have given me an even greater appreciation for the devotion and innocence of my children, and inspire me to emulate them in my conversations with the Father.

#6: Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri

Also appearing in a previous post, this book by Edward Sri is a primer for Catholics who find themselves needing to defend their beliefs, their lifestyle choices, and their stance on the issues of the day.

So, basically all of us.

Edward Sri is an inspired mind of our time, and his insights on why the most prevalent nomenclature in today’s typical debate—for example: “That’s not the choice I’d make, but why would I limit someone else’s choices?”—are eye-opening. If you’ve ever felt backed into a corner by someone who insisted your moral framework just can’t be universal, this is the book for you.

#7: The Assembler of Parts by Raoul Wientzen

Full disclosure: this book is a doozy and should come with trigger warnings on loss and childhood illness.

That said, The Assembler of Parts made me cry incredibly cleansing tears. Though some of its philosophical nuances must be taken with a grain of salt (it is, after all, the only novel on this list), the story is profound and moving in ways that are important for humans in general, and mothers in particular.

The overarching themes I pulled from this novel echo the cardinal virtues that are so critical for every vocation: faith, hope, and love. Add in a good dose of trust in the divine will of God and steadfastness in the face of adversity (two qualities I have an especially tough time emulating), and it’s difficult to tug at my heart strings any harder.

 

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? And please let me know what must-reads that I’ve missed, either in the comments or on Facebook!

Have You Seen God’s Face?

Did you know that “face” and “presence” share the same word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament? A priest—Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin—shared this fact with some young moms on a recent retreat I attended. In speaking to us about prayer and seeking the Lord, he emphasized that, to meet God, we must approach Him face to face.

That happens in prayer, but, truly and physically, we are given an earth-shattering encounter with Christ in the Eucharist during every Mass and hour of Adoration we attend.

The Eucharist is not iconographic of Christ—it is Christ. His face looks out at us from the hands of the priest at the consecration during each liturgy. Do you see it?

Real talk: sometimes I don’t. And it’s my own fault.

The Mass and My Mess of Distractions

It’s not that I don’t believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Although this truth is the deepest of mysteries, I have faith that it is the truth nonetheless. I believe it with all my heart. How could I not, when our Savior told us this explicitly?

But sometimes, I forget.

I forget that Jesus is standing before me, showing me all his love all over again, week after week during Mass.

How is that possible?

Turns out it’s easier than I ever realized.

My children are beautiful. They are perfect blessings and I’m thankful for them every day. But if toddlers can be considered specialists at anything, it’s attracting all of the attention in a room to themselves. They are tiny, sticky attention magnets.

We moms are good at multitasking. We’re good at wrangling the two-year-old before he destroys a hymnal while whisper-screaming at the three-year-old who keeps trying to leave the pew. We’re good at opening a desperately needed snack for the kids (with minimal crinkling noises) while picking up the coats they’ve knocked to the floor. We’re good at managing distractions before they become too bothersome to the people around us.

This is a noble and holy effort—this shepherding of tiny humans so that they can be part of the Communion of the Church. This is something parents are made to do, difficult as it may be.

That said, work is work. It is a cross that we bear in our vocation—yet another way we give less to ourselves so that we can give more to our children and their participation in the world.

It is not easy to be a parent of small children at Mass. And yet our work doesn’t end with the distractions while we’re there, does it? We are called to be present despite them.

Am I Seeking God’s Presence?

This is not to say that our struggle to draw spiritual nourishment each week is something we can simply set aside. It is most certainly not easy to fully participate in Mass—it’s not easy for anyone. Everyone carries their cross to the liturgy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: Christ asks us to lay down our crosses at the altar and rest in Him.

But we aren’t so good at that. We resent our crosses and, as we carry them begrudgingly to church on Sundays, we are tempted to let them distract us. It’s all too easy to feel pestered by my children during Mass and let my mind focus on that inconvenience instead of what’s happening right in front of me.

Jesus told us that his “yoke would be easy and his burden light,” in part, not because it really is easy to live as a Christian in a fallen world, but because it becomes a lot easier if we truly believe he carries the load with us. When we focus too deeply on what’s difficult, we fall into the trap of lamenting that difficulty. We turn our faces downward to focus on our own effort and away from God.

And it isn’t just the kids, right? Given a structured hour each week to spend in quiet, following ancient rituals over which we have no control and deprived of our chosen distractions (our smart phones, a book, whatever), our unchosen distractions become louder.

Left unchecked, our minds fill with complaints (“Why isn’t my husband holding this kid right now?”), questions (“What is on my calendar for tomorrow?”), and random thoughts (“I hope I switched the laundry before we left this morning…”) and suddenly, that hour is over. Jesus is back in the tabernacle, the motions have been gone through, and we return to “normal” life.

But that’s not was Mass should be. We all know that, in our heart of hearts. It just takes discipline to keep our faces turned to God throughout that encounter—to seek His face and show Him ours in return.

When we do look up at Him—to give thanks for His love, to give glory to His might, and yes, to ask for His aid—the load really does become lighter.

Give It Up

Okay, you might be thinking, this is all well and good. I feel sufficiently guilty for not seeing Christ’s face in every second of the Mass each Sunday. But what am I supposed to do about it?

The first thing is, don’t feel guilty—we all do it. God knows it. He loves us anyway.

The second has to do with a phrase that is, admittedly, infuriatingly vague: we have to “offer it up.”

What does that even mean?

To be honest, I’m not sure if it means the same thing for me as it would for you. But here’s where I’ve landed with it.

Suffering—even small, seemingly petty suffering, as torture by toddler may sometimes feel—is not inherently bad. It is painful, yes. It is frustrating. It can be infuriating and heartbreaking. But it invites us to grow—to see beyond ourselves and our own pain and understand, on some infinitesimal level, the pain the Christ endured to save our souls and bring us home to the Father’s house.

Each moment of distraction during Mass or pain in daily life is an opportunity.

It is an opportunity we can use to our detriment, by focusing on our own hurt and drawing our attention downward to the harsh reality of this life.

It is also an opportunity we can use to our benefit, by checking our negative feelings and pausing to recognize that, yes, those feelings are valid—but Christ endured worse at no fault of his own. He humbled himself exclusively to suffer the greatest pain, just so he could bring us joy and fulfillment in the Kingdom.

So when I struggle to lift myself out of the noisy, irritating messiness of managing young children at Mass, I am going to try very hard to physically turn my face toward God. If only for a fleeting second before I have to reach out and grab one or both children, I am going to gaze at the face of Our Lord and say thank you before I turn back to the work of this world. Because in truth, I know that this work, especially, will be so fruitful. I am going to catch myself turning down toward distraction and negativity, and shift the direction of those thoughts upward—to prayer, to opening my ears to the homily in whatever snippets I can catch it, to resting in the silence of a beautiful moment in God’s house.

I am raising future saints. And, for at least an hour out of every week, I get to do that in the presence of Jesus himself. What better help is there than that? Even if I hardly hear the homily and stumble through the Gloria because I’m expending most of my brain power monitoring two toddlers, I am seeing God’s face and He is seeing mine. I am bringing Christ under my roof and he is holding me tight.

Treated respectfully and pondered thoughtfully, that’s more than enough fuel to last even the most exhausted mom a few days or a week, isn’t it?

25 Ideas for Habitual Self Care

Moms work hard. We give a lot to our families. And while we receive far more in return, it’s still important to take care of ourselves—to reenergize and choose rest where we can so that we can be better at fulfilling our vocation.

Self-care has become almost trendy, and that’s a good thing. The popularity of the practice and the near-universal recognition of its necessity help us feed our souls week to week. But we talk so much about setting aside time for this care and, sometimes, taking that too literally can lead to bad habits.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we compartmentalize this priority into a few desperately planned hours a week, which we (especially me) then expect to totally save the day when we’re running on fumes. That’s not how it works.

Instead of waiting until you’re drained, try adding a couple of these self-care habits to your routine so you can keep your tank as full as possible.

#1: When you sit down to read, aim for finishing 1-3 chapters at a time (depending on their length). It’ll be enough to excite your interest, but setting a small target will help ensure you aren’t disappointed if your reading is interrupted.

#2: Get dressed up—whatever that means to you—once a week or once a month, even if you’ll only be spending the day at home and you’re the only one who’ll notice. You are beautiful and you deserve to see it.

#3: On Monday nights, call dibs on the TV after the kids go to bed so you can watch your show(s). It’ll give you something silly and easy to look forward to on the dullest day of the week.

#4: Go window shopping whenever you’re out running errands and have some spare time. You don’t have to spend money to enjoy yourself, but once in a while, if you see something you love and it isn’t too expensive, buy it as a gift for someone you love or admire.

#5: When you’re solo with the kids and need to pass the time—especially if it’s too cold or rainy to play outside—go for a long drive to nowhere in particular. Take this time to explore a new area of the world right around the corner. You’d be surprised how beautiful things can be just a few miles over, and you might discover new things to do when the weather improves.

#6: Don’t just treat yourself to a favorite food or drink when you’re desperate—regularly nourish your body and your spirit. Barring any health concerns, try not to get hung up on “good” and “bad” foods. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Give thanks for it and feed yourself in moderation without guilt.

#7: Speaking of food, keep a stash of minis of your go-to candy in a secret place and have one, guilt-free, during the hardest part of each day (first thing in the morning, during the afternoon slump—whenever). Share when you’re feeling generous and the kids are being good.

#8: When you wash your bed linens, pull them out of the dryer and make the bed just before you lay down for the night. The only thing better than a fresh bed is a warm fresh bed. This makes the hassle of that extra load of laundry well worth it.

#9: At least twice a week, light a pretty, scented candle just because. Just for you.

#10: Commit to date nights several times a month: with your husband, with your friends, with yourself. We all need some time to just be adults. Even if this means an at-home date night after the kids are in bed, schedule it and plan a fun activity. You’ll get way more out of this intentional act than another night in with Netflix.

#11: Make a habit of sharing the load when it comes to chores, so your husband can lend you a hand with tasks your dread and you can get some perspective on what he does each day, too. For example, if you usually cook, give him dinner duty on Tuesdays. In exchange, you can vacuum for him on Fridays or cut the grass every other week.

#12: Introduce a few of your favorite (clean) musical artists to your kids. It doesn’t have to be all “Baby Shark” and “Be Our Guest.” (My kids love Ed Sheeran and The Cars.)

#13: Don’t buy all your books on Amazon. Once in a while—maybe every third book, maybe every fifth—go wander around a bookstore and take your time choosing something that delights you. More of a library person? Don’t only visit when you have the kids with you. Your library card is your own.

#14: Support local businesses with your purchases and with positive reviews. Building community and recognizing others for their hard work is a great way to fill your soul with a little extra joy, too.

#15: Once a year, write a letter to your past self. Tell her how proud you are of how far she’s come. If you’re the organized type, stash these away and reread them every five years or so.

#16: Pick up your favorite book again. Sometimes enjoying a familiar story can be like chatting with an old friend.

#17: Make gratitude a part of your routine. Begin or end every day with a one-minute reflection on what’s wonderful about this life. Hold onto that little bit of thankfulness as you go about your day or settle down to sleep.

#18: Find a hobby to engage with at least once a week. Don’t feel obligated to monetize it; not everything has to be a hustle. Just do something productive that you enjoy and see where it takes you.

#19: Fish for compliments once in a while. It’s okay to ask, “Does this look okay?” or “How did I do?” or “Did you see this thing I made?” to someone you love and trust. They can’t read your mind or predict your need to hear this positivity. Accept their kind words gracefully. They mean it, even if it took some prompting.

#20: Take up journaling, but it doesn’t have to be literal. Do you like writing but hate your penmanship? Use the computer. Love drawing but not great with words? Sketch your thoughts and experiences from each week. Have trouble sitting down to record your feelings each day? Use your phone to create audio recordings while you’re getting ready for the day or settling down for bed.

#21: Sing and dance in the shower. If not every time, at least half the time. With or without musical accompaniment.

#22: Share your time, talent, and treasure with others. Donate to causes that speak to you without second guessing the cost. At the start of each season, pick out some clothes you don’t need—the good ones, not just the stained ones—and take them to a women’s shelter. Add an extra item to each grocery list for your local food pantry. Giving is a part of who God made us to be.

#23: Never stop learning. Whether you like reading, watching videos, taking free online courses (Coursera has a ton), or attending book clubs or Bible studies, prioritize the ongoing engagement of your brain. Pursue topics that interest you and always be hungry for more.

#24: For 10 minutes out of every week, instead of scrolling through your phone, tap into your own memory. Reminisce on the innocent joy of your childhood or a difficult but formative experience. Think about loved ones you’ve lost. Keep these precious memories alive.

#25: Pray, for yourself and especially for others. Pray without ceasing, even if it’s just three words at a time (try “Come Holy Spirit” or “Lord have mercy” in moments of stress; “Thank you Jesus” or “Grant us peace” in moments of repose). It’s the best way to remember you’re loved and are never alone.