Motherhood

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.

3 Ways to Be a More Childlike Parent

Following my post on why parents should strive to be more childlike in their faith and in their families, let’s take it a step further: just how are we supposed to do it? In what ways should we really be more like our children?

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

(I’m still digging into Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar with this post. Please pick up a copy to explore if you want to go deeper.)

Emulating the Mind of a Child

Of course, I know on an intellectual level that there are many qualities to be admired in children. Their innocence, for one; their delight; their unquestioning devotion. And yet, it seems to me that so many of these qualities are either unattainable (I am a sinner beyond the age of reason; innocence is not my strong suit) or paired with not-so-desirable features (it’s easy to be delighted when the world revolves around you, but how can I savor the small things when there is so much else to worry about?).

Without doubt, there is something inexplicably beautiful about childhood. Children are a wonder to behold and their intellectual landscape is both fascinating and inspiring. But, having grown into adulthood and “[given] up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11), how could I have any hope of reclaiming that youthful wonder for my own sake?

Reading von Balthasar’s little book opened my eyes to the many ways in which our souls are made for that childlike nature. As it turns out, becoming like a child when it comes to faith is an even holier pursuit than I imagined.

Among much fruitful insight into what “Christian childlikeness” means, von Balthasar points out a few lovely examples of the youthful qualities all followers of Christ should pursue and embrace:

1. Practice easy, virtuous giving and receiving.

On page 22 of the book, von Balthasar says:

For the child it is natural to receive good gifts, and so docility, obedience, trust, and sweet surrender are not for him virtues to be expressly achieved, but the most unreflectedly natural things in the world. This is so to such an extent that the child adopts the mother’s giving attitude unquestioningly as the right one, and he gives spontaneously when he has something to give. He shows his little treasures without hiding any of them; he wants to share because he has experienced sharing as a form of goodness.

All parents can spot this sweetness in their children. When your toddler finds something delightful or fascinating—a stone, a stick, a bug—isn’t her first instinct to share it with you? To show it to you? To give it to you (even if she expects you’ll immediately give it back)?

This is a beautiful statement on why Christians are called to be like children: we are surrounded by such profound Love that we should be in such a place, intellectually, that we can’t help but emulate it. We should always remember that “sharing is a form of goodness,” and that we can bring that goodness to the world so easily.

Of course, this also means being thankful for what we receive. Gratitude—in prayer, for others, to oneself—can be improved with maturity. We should give without pause like small children do, and give thanks without ceasing like the saints do.

2. Have unfailing trust in our Parent.

Throughout this work, von Balthasar uses examples from the Holy Family to talk about what it means to “become like this child.” In many cases, he highlights the familial relationship between Jesus and the Father as one we can, in some very important ways, recognize and emulate in our own families—and in ways we should emulate in our relationship with God.

For instance, from page 31: “In the Son, the Spirit keeps alive the unshakable trust that the Father’s every ordinance … will always be an ordinance of love, which the Son, now that he is a man, must reciprocate with human obedience.”

This is a message we hear from Christ throughout the New Testament. One of my favorite examples is Matthew 6:25-26, where Jesus says: “‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’”

For children raised in a happy home, as God designed it to be, there is simply no reason for them to doubt they will be kept safe, comfortable, and healthy under their parents’ care. They don’t fret over tomorrow or the next meal or the weather. They simply go about their day and, even in difficult or hungry or scary moments, they never hesitate to cling to their parents and wait for them to make things better—and they never, at this childlike stage, lose faith that things will be better.

How beautiful life would be if we could retain for ourselves that unshakable trust in our heavenly Father—that simple confidence that, no matter what, He will care for us and everything will be okay. If only we were as eager to please and as easy to comfort as the children we once were.

3. Adopt a playful, unworried sense of time.

One further example. In the fifth chapter of the book, von Balthasar says:

The child has time to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. … Play is possible only within time so conceived. … And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a ‘free moment’ or a ‘time of prayer’ that must constantly be rescheduled. … God defines himself as ‘I am who I am,’ which also means: ‘My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of being.’

I’m not sure what’s harder to achieve in my life today: that absolute trust in God’s will, or this utterly unstructured treatment of time.

Certainly it’s impossible to completely de-compartmentalize our time as adults. Anyone who works full time, goes to school, has household responsibilities, pursues personal hobbies, or otherwise goes about an independent life understands that. To some extent, we can’t regain that childlike abandon. Our schedules are a necessity of modern, grown-up living.

But how do you spend your moments? Do you find yourself becoming pulled constantly in different directions by distractions, or waiting for the next appointment on your schedule such that you don’t accomplish what you meant to right now, or dreading the end of your “free” time, or putzing around with your phone when you should be focused on the memories unfolding in front of you?

I know I do.

And do you always open yourself up to prayer throughout the day, no matter what persona you have to put on in a given moment, so that your conversations with God can be free-flowing and constant rather than confined to a Sunday morning and a bedtime routine?

Too often, I don’t.

A child is only ever himself in any given moment of any given day. He moves from experience to experience—sometimes easily, sometimes not—always with his full self invested in it. I want that authenticity and the rewards that come with it, too.

Go Home and Love Your Family

It’s not easy to follow Christ’s commands, and the call to become more childlike in a world that strips even our children of their youth far too soon is no exception.

But I think the important thing to remember is that it’s not about recapturing lost innocence or ignorance. It’s not about closing our eyes to the larger world and spending all our time at play. It’s about devotion, openness to growth, learning, and leaning. I think it’s pretty easy to see that, with the possible exception of their worst days, my children are much better than me at all of those things.

I want to grow with them just as they demand to grow with me.

Why Parents Should Be More Like Their Children

Some time ago, I discovered a little book that spoke very deeply to me.

Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar is a theological reflection on what it means to be childlike in faith, and how embracing that state of mind draws us closer to Christ and helps us to be better disciples, neighbors, and people.

I have read it twice now, and referred back to it more often than that, and I know I will continue to do so for years to come.

Why?

“Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Those are Christ’s words to his disciples. But what do they mean?

In a couple of posts, I’d like to examine that with you. Let’s begin with the basics: why is becoming like a child a worthwhile pursuit for a Christian parent?

Like My Children?

My three-year-old has recently developed a charming habit. She demands that both my husband and I go through a specific litany of bedtime well-wishes before she permits us to close her bedroom door and go about our hour or two of freedom before we’re too tired to stay awake ourselves.

After weeks of this, I still haven’t nailed down the precise order in which we need to blow a kiss, say “I love you,” “sleep good,” and “goodnight,” and wait for her to do the same before we can close the door without hearing her screech in protest.

And my 20-month-old son likes to play a fun game of his own. It’s called “Can you guess what this noncommittal gesture means before I scream my head off over your total ignorance of my needs?” and I’ve literally never won.

Naturally, I’m not generally inclined to believe children are unequivocally the admirable, obedient souls I picture the greatest saints to be.

So does Jesus literally want me to be childlike? Is he absolutely certain that that’s my way not just to heaven, but to “greatness” in heaven?

The Holy Love of Parent and Child

Though children may lack the reason (and reasonableness) we strive for as adults, they are, indeed, chock full of wonderful qualities we should be striving for, too. To begin with, perhaps the most touching lesson from von Balthasar’s work here is how the nature of human, motherly, parental love emulates the profound love that exists between God and his children.

In many ways, it’s the way children think that we should admire—maybe not so much the way they behave. We should be mindful of how they understand us, their parents, as we examine how we understand God.

Consider this example: On page 12, von Balthasar notes that “at first the child cannot yet distinguish between parental and divine love.”

How staggering is that? Our children can’t distinguish between the love we have for them and the love God Himself has for them. They can only know that they are deeply loved and cared for.

There is a reason the family is called the domestic Church. We emulate the Holy Family, the love in the Trinity, and the greater communities in which we grow and help others grow.

Your child looks up at you and sees the adoring face of God. This makes sense in many ways—you, after all, participated in his creation and have the charge of teaching him about the Faith and the God who loves him. Still, it’s a doozy to consider, isn’t it?

Similarly, I bet you look down upon your sleeping babe and see the face of God in him, too. No creation is more awe-inspiring than the human soul, and you have the profound gift of bringing one of those souls into the world and raising him up to be good.

This is an immense responsibility. We are everything to our children, and at times, that can be a heavy burden to bear. This vocation is no joke.

The Ultimate Support System for Parents Everywhere

Though this weight is heavy, it isn’t ours alone to carry. After all, at the same time as we are parents and leaders, we are children ourselves—children of the Most High, whom nothing can escape or overwhelm.

“To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another, and even in our adult life we never quite reach the point where we no longer have to give thanks for being the person we are,” von Balthasar says on page 49. How true that is.

We are only strong enough to nurture and keep safe our children’s love and trust for us because our God is, at this very minute, nurturing and keeping safe the love and trust we have for Him—whether we’re thanking Him for it or not.

In the final chapter, on page 69, von Balthasar meditates on Mary’s Fiat: “Mary thus learns that the Most High has ever borne a Son in his bosom, and that this Son has now chosen her bosom as a dwelling-place. If she were to reflect on her own possibilities aided by an ordinary ‘adult’ understanding, the result of her meditation would simply be: ‘impossible.’ … However, being a perfect child of God, she does not reflect upon herself but places herself at the disposal of God’s every action.”

Imagine what God can do in our lives if only we adore Him as a girl adores her Papa. What are some areas of life in which you struggle to give God your unconditional “yes,” and how can you work toward healing that struggle—toward becoming more childlike in your devotion to our Father?

No Greater Privilege

Finally, I want to close this first post with a quote (found on page 70) that sums up this book’s special relevance for moms. By emulating Mary in this journey, we can be true children of God and wonderful mothers. This is how we can ensure our humble vocations are truly integral in God’s plan for the world:

“She [Mary] will have to do both things at once: introduce her Child into the business of being human (and this does not merely mean teaching him how to walk and speak, but also introducing him to the religion of his fathers) and learn steadily more from her Child how one behaves as a child of God.”

May we all let our children teach us as much as they learn from us. For parents, there is no greater privilege than to walk this journey with our sweet babies, to guide them on their path—and be humble enough to let them guide us on ours.

Why I Hate/Like/Love NFP after Miscarriage

I’ve said before that my husband and I practice natural family planning (NFP) and it brings us closer together. Boy has that perspective turned upside down (and back again) over the last 12 months.

Before & After

It wasn’t always hard. For a long time, it was just plain easy.

In the early years of our marriage, NFP gave me the tools to understand my body. It empowered me to embrace my natural functioning and to admire the efficiency and the beauty of the female body. And it helped my husband and me respect that nature very deeply—to work with it instead of fighting against it. It made us value one another more.

When we wanted to start trying for a baby, the knowledge we had from using NFP for so long made it blessedly easy. And after we had our first child, it helped me see how my body recovered and how my fertility affected so many other components of my daily feelings and physiological experiences. We successfully used NFP to space our pregnancies. The postpartum period isn’t easy for so many reasons, and the complexity of managing NFP during that time is one of them—but we came out just fine.

It was after my son was born that things got trickier. The postpartum hormones hit me hard that time, and I found it difficult to connect with my husband—I felt so much more like a mother and less like a wife. Between those feelings and some other circumstances, NFP was a point of frustration between us. We fought against it and wished we could control it. But, of course, we couldn’t. That’s not how it works.

Even then, NFP did provide structure where we needed it. It gave us accountability and guidelines that helped us improve and do better for one another. And it took off some of the pressure we were putting on ourselves, on things that we gave too much or too little importance.

But, like many aspects of my life, my perspective on NFP was divided into a Before and an After by our miscarriages.

Before we lost our babies, NFP was a sometimes challenging, but overall very rewarding pursuit.

After we lost our babies, if only for a while, NFP was a difficult reality I struggled not to resent.

When the Mind and the Body Disagree

It was painful to hear my OBGYN try to tell me that my pregnancy tests might’ve been “false positives” when I had my first loss. NFP made it painful because I knew, very intimately, how my body worked and that I’d conceived that cycle.

It was painful to watch my body go right back to normal after that experience, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. (Although it was also a bit of a relief, not living in limbo.)

The next time we conceived, it was painful to see 8 weeks of healthy pregnancy go down the drain when the first warning signs appeared. And it crushed us to say goodbye to those babies, too.

Years of charting and researching fertility burdened me with the knowledge that there was, very likely, something wrong with me that led to our losses. And when I sent my charts to my NFP instructor, she confirmed that something was off. Something I missed. Something I felt I should’ve seen as a warning. Something that told me I failed to protect my babies.

Then, months of charting and seeing no improvement made me resentful of my body and NFP. There were days I wished for blissful ignorance, but at the same time, I was petrified of doing something wrong and putting more babies—not to mention my husband and myself—at risk of another miscarriage. Practicing NFP was excruciating, but the alternative—throwing caution to the wind—was unthinkable. It was an incredibly stressful place to be.

After I saw a NaproTechnology doctor—someone specially trained in natural, life-affirming treatments for infertility and miscarriage, and familiar with the Creighton method of fertility charting—and started supplementing, my cycles did improve. I was happy to see it—happy to see our odds of a healthy pregnancy becoming stronger again. But it was also a painful reminder that my body wasn’t doing it right on its own anymore.

Choosing Beauty

Now that the grief isn’t so fresh and we’re making strides toward healthier fertility, it’s easier to see the positive aspects of NFP again. I know that I’m fortunate to have had this knowledge and these resources, so that we could be empowered to spot a problem and work to resolve it rather than keep trying and failing on our own.

Empowerment isn’t easy. It’s not a hand-out and it isn’t a magic wand that makes taking the reins on life simple. Ignorance is easy—but it’s also empty. Empowerment is what gives us the energy and the skills to do what is right, effective, and good. But that’s a lot of responsibility, and sometimes the weight of it can be so very heavy.

For now, my husband and I are trying to see NFP like we’re trying to see life these days: as a gift that can’t be taken for granted, that must be enjoyed moment by moment, that is out of our control but within our capacity to manage together.

If you’ve experienced a loss, please don’t lose hope. Please hang on, with every last bit of strength you have, to the promise of renewal and understanding and recovery. Have faith, do your best, and love your family. Everything else will follow.

Why Motherhood Is Scary (And That Doesn’t Go Away)

You know that feeling you get in an interview—or awkward icebreaker activity at work, at school, or elsewhere—when someone asks you to “Tell me a little about yourself”? That sense of standing at the mouth of the Grand Canyon and being asked to pick out a single rock that best exemplifies it?

I hate that feeling.

When people ask me to tell them about myself, I find it gobs easier to talk about the people, things, and pursuits I love, rather than many distinct personality traits of my own. It’s hard for me to explain “who I am” in isolation.

I don’t like to talk about myself. But I do like to talk about the things I like or dislike, and I think they say a lot about me.

That’s natural, because as God’s children, we are defined by love. It makes us who we are.

Unfortunately, we are also very deeply motivated by fear. We don’t generally talk about the things that scare us upon introducing ourselves. But our deepest fears do have an insidious way of affecting our choices and coloring our thoughts. That’s a reality we must all learn to acknowledge, no matter our vocation.

Resisting Change and Grasping for Control

If I had to pick one word to describe what it’s like to become a mother, I’d say change. And for someone like me—an introverted homebody who’s prone to worry and sentimentality—an experience dominated by change is also defined by an undercurrent of fear.

I hate change. It unsettles me. It makes it difficult to be myself. This is something I struggle with very deeply, because I know change can be good. But I like things to be smooth and low-key, and I stress easily when they aren’t.

I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, but over the last year I’ve realized that this aversion to change is tied to a quiet desire to be in control of things.

I don’t know which came first—do I hate change because I need control or do I need control because I hate change?—but I do know that both of these qualities are vices for me. The truth is that we are in control of very little in this world. To think otherwise is hubris. To fear it is pointless.

The Unsettled Feeling at the Heart of Motherhood

I know that too much control and too little change wouldn’t be good for me, but it’s hard to stamp down this instinctive fear I have. Unfortunately, this weakness is not at all conducive to a joyful experience with motherhood. Whoops.

Motherhood is defined by change because every day is a transition. Our children grow so quickly, and our bodies and families and emotions change so frequently, that it’s impossible to pin down a definition of “normal” that will last for more than a very brief period before it needs rewriting.

Morning sickness becomes aches and pains. Pains become labor. Labor becomes delivery. Newborns become infants, become toddlers, become preschoolers, become kids and tweens and teens and full-blown adults.

A mother’s heart is a stormy sea. This is often a good thing—the blessings that drop in to churn these waters are full of active, bustling life and they are beautiful. But rarely does beautiful mean easy, and we moms go through a lot to bring our babies up into well-formed adults.

So whether it’s the crazy sleep schedules of an infant, the ever-changing preferences of a toddler, the hormonal mood swings of a teenager, or the far-flung independence of adult children, there is simply no time to pause and breathe and forget the chaos when you’re a mother. And there’s no time to get used to each flavor of that chaos, either, because it changes every hour.

And, of course, we can control none of this. Our babies will do or not do or feel or not feel or say or not say whatever comes to their beautiful little minds, with or without our approval. And as they get older, their self-sufficiency means we have even less of a hand in their actions—and the consequences they will face for those actions.

Motherhood Relinquish Quote

So yes, motherhood is change. Motherhood is letting go. And those are scary things. It means that we must be responsible for our children’s lives, and yet relinquish those lives to the hands of God and the story of their sweet souls. We hold ourselves deeply accountable for their joy, but we can do nothing to permanently impress it upon them. We can only hold their warm little hands and hope for the best.

Our love makes us want to bring them in close and protect them from the world and walk their path for them. But we can’t. And that’s the fear that defines being a mom.

Living in this Moment

So far, in my few years as a mom, the only balm I’ve found for that aching fear is to live in and enjoy each moment with my children. But that can be hard to do, too.

Selfishness makes it hard (“this got you to sleep yesterday; why can’t you sleep for me today?”). A lack of focus makes it hard (says the mom who scrolls through Facebook far too often). Impatience makes it hard (“when are you going to stop throwing every meal I make for you onto the floor?”).

Comparison is the enemy of confidence.

I’ve said that before, but I think it’s an important lesson for so many aspects of motherhood. We become downtrodden when we compare ourselves to other moms. We become discouraged when we compare our methods to the ones in all the parenting books.

Likewise, we torture ourselves when we compare one moment to the next. It’s common knowledge that, when it comes to littles, what worked yesterday probably won’t cut it today—and what gets the job done today will crash and burn tomorrow.

So I’ve had to learn to stop asking myself what if?; to stop wondering why one child develops so differently from another; to stop hoping that this will be the night or the naptime that begins a new, easier phase; to stop being afraid that my picky eater will never enjoy a real meal without a fight; to worry about whether this bad day will become my child’s earliest memory. The examples go on and on.

This applies in other areas of life, too. It’s hard to be grateful for what’s in front of you—to really enjoy it—if you’re too busy being nervous about or anxious for the next thing.

Fear is not always an enemy; it’s a healthy thing. But it cannot define us because, if we let it, it will control us. And that is not the life we were made to live.

In the moments when I’m failing to enjoy what’s before me instead of worrying about what isn’t—to embrace what I am given, good or bad, instead of grasping for what I cannot change—I pray.

Saint Padre Pio said something wonderfully simple about this: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

Sometimes I pray hard and long. Other times, when I don’t have the energy or I’m too bogged down by my fear or self-centeredness, I can barely squeak out a Glory Be or a “God help me.” But every time, no matter what, it helps. If I lean into it and let the words wash over me, it helps.

That’s the relief that defines being a child of God.

 

Why I Don’t Agonize Over the News (And I Don’t Feel Bad About It)

Thanks to a tip from my sister-in-law, my husband and I have been watching NBC’s The Good Place lately. (It’s funny and I highly recommend—catch up on Netflix and Hulu).

Minimizing any spoilers, there’s some conversation in the show right now about how difficult it is for people to be good in the modern world. The simplest parts of life are so complicated and global that even our smallest choices can have drastic consequences—whether we see them or not. One episode used an easy example: simply buying a tomato at the local Piggly Wiggly might mean you’re inadvertently supporting pesticide use and unfair working conditions in communities far away.

Too true. Modern life is stressful, isn’t it?

You wonder if each item of clothing you buy was crafted by a child forced into hard labor. You wonder if your eggs were laid by chickens living a bleak life on factory farms. You wonder if your preferred brand of baby shampoo contributes money to a non-profit organization you deeply dislike. You wonder if your charitable donations are going to the cause itself or just lining executives’ pockets. You wonder if the homeless man asking for your spare change might turn around and spend it on drugs. You wonder if you’re poisoning the water table by using bleach on a stubborn stain.

You wonder and wonder and wonder.

The guilt is everywhere, isn’t it? Certainly it’s on Facebook, where everyone shares idealist memes and posts pictures of their creative protest signs and “5 favorite ways to live more sustainably.” It’s on the news, garish in its display of the very worst of what’s happening in the world (giving no attention to the many, many good things that happen every minute of every day) and haranguing us for the violence and injustices of society. It’s probably in your family or groups of friends, where everyone has an opinion to share. And it’s always on your heart, making you question your choices in the quiet moments, when everything you’ve done wrong in a given day replays across your mind’s eye.

But the thing is that your life, that beautiful and complicated thing with all its individual struggles and triumphs, is stressful all on its own. Justifiably so.

You worry about earning enough to support your family, or supporting your burnt-out spouse in his or her zealous efforts to do so even while you’re running on fumes at home. You worry about raising up good, happy children who will be kind to others and love themselves as God loves them. You worry about voicing the Truth, even when it makes you unpopular, and nurturing your soul. You worry about coordinating childcare, travel, school, passion projects, home maintenance, personal development, meal plans, inboxes, outboxes, taxes, and extracurriculars at the same time, all the time. You worry about managing calendars and maintaining relationships and being fully present for the people you love even when you have a million other things on your mind.

You worry and worry and worry.

There’s just so much on your plate.

I have an unpopular opinion to confess, and I’m sharing it in the hopes it helps other moms feel less guilty when they simply can’t keep up with it all.

I don’t watch the news and I rarely scroll through headlines. I don’t know what the latest food pyramid (is it still a pyramid?) looks like, and I don’t know who’s up for a Nobel Peace Prize or why. I don’t run into every debate I come across to evangelize aloud to my peers. I don’t inspect every ingredient list or research every brand I buy. And most of the time, I don’t feel bad about it.

For a time, I tried to do these things. I tried to keep up with the intricate goings-on of the big, wide world around me, to see the many unseen consequences of my actions and take more ownership of those consequences.

And can I be honest? It was depressing. There was so much bad right in front of me. It left me feeling downtrodden and defeated—beaten down by the many sad realities we’ve made for ourselves in this very flawed world.

What’s worse was that it stole my optimism from me. I believe very deeply that we are all made to be good—we are all given an indelible soul and created in the image and likeness of Love itself. We are all God’s children.

Chasing every negative strand down its inevitable rabbit hole made that so much harder to see. No one was covering the happy things, and I was losing the forest for the trees.

Beyond all that, I was simply running low on time. My kids needed me. My husband needed me. My home, job, and extended family needed me. I needed me. I needed to invest in those things, and the additional time and energy had to come from somewhere.

So I don’t feel obligated to pull the thread of each and every decision I make, testing to see how thoroughly my positive intent unravels into a net negative effect. And I don’t think you should, either.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t live a life of carelessness or solitary self-interest. I buy organic for many grocery segments and have a personal commitment to free-range eggs. I avoid some of the more blatantly irresponsible brands (which, often, are too expensive anyway). I donate items instead of trashing them, I recycle, I buy secondhand where it makes sense, and I teach my toddlers not to be wasteful. I’m trying to prioritize cleaning and self-care products that feature natural ingredients. I donate to people and causes in need. I tell the Truth and live it in full view of my neighbors. I am not blind to what’s happening in the world my children will inherit.

But these are choices I make in an effort to care for my family more responsibly. They aren’t hard rules I punish myself for breaking or hold against others who don’t share them.

We live in a very big, very troubled world. And the reality is that we are each a brief blip on the global radar. For most of us, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to have an influence so notable that our names will be recorded in history books.

But do you know what part of your world is very small and very impressionable? What part of your world is fundamentally influenced by you and the choices you make?

Your family.

I think Saint Teresa of Calcutta said it best. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked how we can promote world peace. Her response? “Go home and love your family.”

If marriage and parenthood are your vocations, the ripple effect of your influence on the world—named or not—begins at home. It begins with the love you share with your spouse and the love you instill in your children.

So be a good citizen of the world, but do not obsess over the world or its affairs. This world is not your home.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

Lessons from the Babies I Never Met: What ‘Fiat’ Really Means

This is the third part in a three-post reflection on miscarriage. I wrote this post a few months ago, shortly after our second miscarriage—when the wounds were still fresh. I wasn’t ready to publish it right away, but I’m publishing the whole series now, in October, in recognition of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Read part one and part two.

I had a second miscarriage this year. I was eight weeks along with identical twins. I lost them at home after days spent convincing myself everything would be okay.

We conceived this pregnancy immediately after our early loss with Gabriel; our doctor told us there was no reason to wait, and we missed that baby and were hoping that welcoming another would help us heal. It was rejuvenating to be pregnant again, but I was so scared. My tests were dark; things seemed fine. I had a good feeling about this one. I felt healthy and pregnant and maternal. I took good care of myself, with a better diet and more mindful exercise than usual. I was settling into another pregnancy.

At eight weeks exactly, I started spotting. I immediately panicked, though it was light, and headed to the ER. Four hours later, with my husband at my side, I heard “It’s twins” from the ER doctor. I don’t even remember how she phrased it; I just remember the shock and worry and awe.

We had a small subchorionic hemorrhage—a bit of bleeding at the implantation site. It wasn’t a major concern, but it was causing the bleeding I’d been seeing and would need to be checked again soon. That was the good news.

The scary news was that the twins appeared to be mono-mono: they shared a placenta (mono-chorionic) and, more frighteningly, they shared an amniotic sac (mono-amniotic). Worse, their heartbeats were slow: only 83 and 87 beats per minute, when eight-week babies should have heart rates well above 100 bpm.

The ER doctor seemed unconcerned, but Erik and I knew these were not good signs. I called my regular OB on the way home from the hospital, and she was not optimistic: mono-mono twins were incredibly risky and most often had sad outcomes. The potential of our babies becoming entangled and cutting off one another’s connections to their shared placenta was high. She told us to expect a high probability of miscarriage or life-threatening complications down the road, if the diagnosis was confirmed.

Erik and I were devastated, but tried to remain positive. We did our own research and discovered that mono-mono structures are often misdiagnosed so early. My bleeding became a bit lighter. We had plenty of reason to expect to welcome twins in seven short months (or less). I wondered how we’d tell our families.

But then the bleeding picked up again. And then I had some pelvic discomfort that felt unsettlingly like a period. And then my babies were gone from me.

My doctor—who must see this type of tragedy on a horrifyingly regular basis—told me, when I called in tears, that there was nothing we could do but wait and see, and confirm with a follow-up ultrasound on Monday (two torturous, long days later).

I understood this. I knew that it would be more merciful on our family to stay home and mourn. I knew that, if it was such a high-risk pregnancy, it likely would only have been terribly difficult and painful as we moved to the more advanced stages of pregnancy. But that didn’t ease any of the pain.

My husband and I wept. I hid in our bedroom for hours. I skipped meals and ate ice cream when hunger snuck up on me. I tried to accept what I knew, deep down, even though some small part of my mind wondered if I might still have just one of those babies with me.

On Monday, the doctor told us that my womb was empty of anything valuable—just a bit of blood remained. This was good news, she said, because I’d passed everything naturally and wouldn’t need any further procedures. But I felt barren. Empty. Crushed.

We contacted our parish and set up a funeral for the Fourth of July. The deacon and priest presiding graciously included Gabriel along with the twins, now named Karol (after John Paul II) and Julian (after Julian of Norwich). We still don’t know if our babies were boys or girls. We won’t until, someday, God willing, we meet them beyond Heaven’s gate.

We buried them. We picked out a headstone. We accepted that our summer would be empty of pregnancy hormones and a round belly and expectation. We accepted that we could not tell our daughter that she had more siblings on the way. We realized our son would see his second birthday before he met a new baby brother or sister. We began to understand that, in the most profound way we’d ever experienced, our plans did not match up with God’s plan for us. It has been a frightening revelation.

But we have chosen to say “yes” to His plan. We, though drowning in the sorrow of lives lost and babies unmet, are clinging to our faith in God to carry us through. We have no idea of the consequences of these events, but we have given our fiat to the Father and accepted that His will is greater than ours.

Inspired by Mary (who gave a truly categorical “yes” to God when the archangel Gabriel visited her), I have done my very best to say to God: “let it be done to me according to Your will.” I am trying to recognize the simple truth that I have very little control over this world and my place in it. I am human and I am small; but God is love and He is great. He would not abandon me. He would not wish sadness upon me. This suffering is not His doing—it’s the sad fact of a broken world, and He only wants me to get through it. He can sanctify me through this pain. And I can only cling to His love and trust His will as I seek healing.

Like the Blessed Mother, I hope that saying “yes” will help me find the grace that I need to see me through these trials. Mary’s path, though she was chosen for such a beautiful gift, was wrought with suffering and confusion. She bore the Holy Infant, and her role in the Savior’s early life was center-stage—but then she had to say goodbye to him in the most painful way imaginable. She had to watch her only son persecuted, abused, and ultimately killed by people for whom he had only boundless love.

My babies knew no pain. They did not see the sin of this world or the folly of its inhabitants. They left the warm embrace of my womb to be nestled in the warm embrace of God. For their peace, I am thankful. I hope that I can share in some small part of it.