Remodeling Your Home-Life This Advent

Advent is a time for preparation, and with preparation, the need for change is inevitable. Sometimes these changes are bigger, sometimes these changes are smaller, but all of the changes help us to become more of the people—more of the family—that God created us to be. 

Because of this, Advent is a great time to check in with our family and home lives to evaluate how we’re doing, and what we might need to do to grow closer to each other and to God. 

Here are a few simple ways to do just that: 

Check in with the Architect--It’s important, everyday, to sit down with your spouse and kids and ask God, the architect of your domestic church, what He wants you to be focusing on as a family.  When you first wake up, before you do anything else, get everyone together briefly to pray a morning offering for your household. Say something like, “Lord, we give you our family.  Help us both to be the people you want us to be for each other. Help us to look for little ways to love each other better, to serve each other better, and to understand each other better, so that we can fill each other’s hearts with your love and be better witnesses to your love in the world. AMEN” Use your own words, but keep it simple and personal. Having the home-life God wants you to have begins with asking him–everyday–what little “home improvement projects” he would like you to take on today. God has a plan for your family. Discover that plan by meeting with God each morning to ask him how you can cooperate with it.

Keep Up with the Little Projects–Some people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But that often translates into “Stuff everything down until I can’t take it anymore and eventually blow up.”  It’s a good idea to not make proverbial mountains out of molehills, but refusing to sweat the small stuff doesn’t mean “don’t talk about anything.” Happy, godly households are created by kindly and patiently addressing all the little missteps, miscommunications, and missed opportunities while they’re still little! How can you do that effectively? Don’t fight. Don’t criticize. Just say, “Hey, when you did thus and such, it was a little frustrating. How do you think we could handle that better?” You can use this pattern for anything. Briefly describe the problem and how it made you feel, ask for their ideas on how to handle it better, then move on. Keeping up with the little projects allows you to do a little home improvement every day instead of waiting to start construction until the ceiling caves in.

Small Things Make a Big Difference–The healthiest, and happiest families make a point of consciously looking for little ways to make each other’s day easier or more pleasant. They are actively on the lookout for that chore they can help with or that thoughtful thing they can do that would lighten other family member’s load. But this doesn’t happen naturally. Everyday, model this by asking your kids what they might need from you to have a more pleasant day, but don’t stop there! Teach your children to ask you what they can do for you. At dinnertime, make a point of regularly asking, “What did someone in the family do for you that you especially appreciated today?” Then invite the kids to talk about the little things they might be struggling with at school or home and discuss how you can pull together as a team to support each other through these challenges. Take Pope Francis’ advice to families to heart and make a habit of being intentional about cultivating the kindness and caretaking that will make your house a truly grace-filled home.

Looking for more ways to remodel your home-life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com or join our discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship! 

Couple Connection–How to Cultivate a Stronger and More Intimate Marriage

Life gets busy and we tend to place our focus and efforts on the things we feel make us more “productive.” Doing this, however, often causes us to not prioritize our marriage in the ways that we need to and ultimately become disconnected from our spouse.

We tend to think that having a good, loving, marriage is a good thing on a purely human level but we also have a tendency to think that working on our marriage is somehow selfish. We believe that working on our marriage doesn’t build the kingdom of God like feeding the poor, or building a school or hospital, or even singing in the church choir does. We recognize that marriage–generally speaking–is a good thing, but we don’t really believe that God cares what our marriages look like. But he does!  

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Are you looking to cultivate a stronger and more intimate marriage?
Check out:

For Better… Forever!

A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

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The Theology of The Body reminds us that building the kingdom of God is really about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is about healing the intimate bond that holds all of civilization together. If we don’t have strong marriages, we can’t have strong families, and if we don’t have strong families we can’t have a healthy society or a godly church. Focusing on doing all kinds of ministry while ignoring your marriage is like trying to build a third story on your house while your foundation is sliding over a cliff. God cares deeply about how intimate, passionate, loving, respectful, and prayerful your marriage is because everything else in his plan depends on it. If loving couples aren’t cooperating with God’s grace everyday to make their marriages stronger it allows Satan to get into the cracks and blow everything apart–not just that one couples marriage, but their family and all of society. The Church teaches that working on your marriage is a ministry that allows us to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for his bride, the Church. By working to create stronger, more loving, intimate, and prayerful marriages, we are working to save the world and build the kingdom of God.

Here are three ways to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Make the small moments count—When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make grand gestures or get a significant amount of time to focus solely on your spouse. The good news is, while those bigger moments are important, the little moments count just as much when it comes to building couple connection. What are the little things that your partner appreciates? This could include things like eye contact while talking, a little smile while passing through the room, being surprised by their favorite snack or flowers, a random hug while working in the kitchen. These little moments are the opportunities for us to say, “Hey, I love you,” even in those times where we might have a lot going on. Just like when we’re building a house, we need all those little pebbles in the foundation to make a sturdy house. That is what these little moments are, those moments of connection that create a sturdy foundation and connection for your marriage.
  1. Prioritize couple time first—When we’re planning our week, we tend to add all of the extra curricular activities, work events, or social obligations to the schedule first. And then somewhere in there we hope to maybe have time for some family or couple time. But this is where we set ourselves up for some challenges. To strengthen your marriage connection, prioritize making time for our marriage first. This means, plan time with your spouse on the schedule before any thing else—even if it’s talking a walk in the morning, one evening set aside for dinner together, or time to wind down in the evening together after the kids go to bed—then schedule other events around your couple time. This is one of the most effective ways to put your spouse and your marriage first, which even helps everything else in your week go more smoothly as well!
  1. Practice intentional communication—Often one of the biggest difficulties in couple connection is the disconnection that spouses experience throughout the day. Typically because of work schedules or family responsibilities, spouses don’t see each other for the majority of the day. Then they hope to get a couple minutes (never mind hours) in the evening to reconnect. To strengthen your couple connection, work on practicing intentional communication throughout the day. This can look like sending even little texts to each other such as “I’m praying for your meeting!” “How was your lunch?” Or, “Just letting you know I love you!” No matter how simple or detailed you make your communication with one another throughout the day, maintaining your connection even in little ways can ease the transition into evenings and your time together because you have maintained at least a baseline level of connection instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 with nothing in between.

For more resources on strengthening your marriage connection, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Family Feud! 3 Keys to Managing Family Conflict

Is your family caught in conflict? Are you struggling to know how to navigate those tricky disagreements? Family conflict can be especially difficult if each person has a different approach to communicating their hurts, needs, or frustrations. This is why it is important to turn to God to teach us His universal language to manage those challenging times.

Theology of The Body reminds us the families are supposed to be schools of love and virtue.  One of the lessons we all need to learn in the family school of love is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully.  As Catholic families, especially, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to family conflict, but instead, inviting God to be the mediator of our disagreements, being intentional about asking what virtues we need to practice in conflict to have more productive discussions, and working hard to listen to each other rather than react to each other.  We need to remember that, as Catholic families, we are not called to just be loving when things are going well, but to be loving–and accept the mutual growth God is calling us to–in the face of disagreements.

So how do you manage family conflict in the ways that God calls us to?

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our family conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, you notice your kids fighting or not listening to you, or you see that family members are starting to butt heads, say, “STOP!” bring the kids to you, and invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian family. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Let God be your help and let him lead your family to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to family problems.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you have family conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well.  If you’re working with kids, stop and ask them what virtues they need to handle the situation well before you start and discussion.  If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict. Faith and science agree. Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into family disagreements, it’s the key to family peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance–especially on the part of our kids–as stubbornness that has to be overcome with a show of force. Avoid this. Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person (especially kids) are resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?” Of course, kids aren’t mature enough to articulate this, so they need us to help. Work hard not to react to resistance or disobedience. As St. John Bosco counseled parents, “work hard to maintain your countenance.” In the face of that kind of push-back, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message. Identify the need. Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources and support on working through family conflict, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Building a Better Family

Are you and your family struggling to connect? Does it feel like you’re always on the go and you have no real time to be a family? This is a common occurrence. In a fast paced world, we always have more to do or another fire to put out, but this leaves very little time to fuel our family life in the ways that God intended.

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Looking for more resources on being the family that you’re called to be?

Check out:
Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids!

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Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we learn how to live life as a gift. Obviously thats a very different vision of family life than the world has, which tends to define family” as any group of people that lives under the same roof and shares a data plan.  God wants more for his families. He wants to use your family to satisfy the longing in your heart for a love that is honest, strong, joyful, warm, and deep. 

So how do we find time to truly connect in the midst of our busy lives? 

1. Create Sacred Moments–Want to celebrate the family life God wants for you?  Then ask him to teach you, together. Cultivate meaningful, daily family prayer times. There are lots of different ways to pray.  Just remember that prayer isnt supposed to be about saying the right words, its about drawing closer to God and each other. When you pray, however you pray, make sure to thank God for the specific ways hes blessed your family that day.  Take turns bringing real concerns to him and asking for his help. Ask for Gods wisdom to respond well to the big questions your family is facing.  Family prayer works best when you stop saying” prayers and start offering your hearts to God in prayer. Thats the kind of prayer that lets grace be the source of the warmth in your home.

2.  Waste Time Together--Want to enjoy a closer, more joyful family life?  As Pope Francis puts it, Waste time with your kids.”  Family life doesnt happen when were busy with many things.  Family life happens in the little moments when we stop doing and start being together.  Make time to be together.  Everyday, make it a priority to take at least 15 minutes to do something fun, to talk about something more meaningful than what happened today”, to work side-by-side on something, and to connect to God.  If you take 15 min to do those 4 things, youre spending an hour a day learning how to love each other better, enjoy each other more, and connect a little deeper.  Wasting time with your family isnt an obligation.  Its a blessing.  Let God bless your family by prioritizing your need to work, talk, pray, and play together, even a little bit, every day.

3. Build Your House–Want to have a stronger, more loving family? Build each other up. Most families dont talk about their relationship unless theyre getting on each others nerves. Gods families deserve better.  Regularly talk about ways you can take better care of each other, and get along better with each other.  At dinner time, talk about virtues like patience, joy, love, respect, responsibility and ask how your family can do a better job living out those qualities. Parenting is no fun if youre just putting out fires all the time. But it gets a lot more enjoyable when youre able to talk together about creating a stronger, more loving more joyful family life.  Make a point of making time to build your home together–instead of just always trying to put out fires.

If you would like more resources for building the family life God intended for you, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Preparing for Lent In A Catholic HOM (Household On Mission)

As we prepare for Lent, we often rely on old habits or patterns. We give up the same thing for Lent or we engage in the same practices each year. Our rituals can become a little too habitual. Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up a bit, especially with regard to how we celebrate lent as a CatholicHOM (Household On Mission).

Specifically, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can help connect with the grace of lent to help each family member become a fully formed person—a whole and healthy child of God.

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, (I Will Give You Shepherds) St John Paul described four essential areas requiring special attention in the formation of priests (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) but his recommendations don’t just apply to seminaries.  They apply to our homes too! Christian households are meant to help each of us live out the common priesthood we inherit through baptism. Lent gives all of us “common priests” a special opportunity to use the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, to discover new ways to consecrate the world to Christ by living out Christ’s sacrificial love in all we do.

So how do we use John Paul II’s guidance for priestly formation in our family?

Human Formation – Human formation refers to the lessons we need to learn to be the kind of healthy, holy people whose lives lead others to Christ. Christian families encourage good human formation by mindfully and intentionally practicing specific virtues, working to be more empathic with each other, being good listeners and respectful communicators, being generously affection and affirming, and cultivating the kind of relationships that lead them into deeper communion with each other and  God.  This Lent how will you and your family focus on human formation?

One simple way your family can practice living Christ’s sacrificial love at home is by using the Family Team Exercise – Each morning ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and lunch?” At lunch, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and dinner?” Then, at dinner, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and bedtime?” This exercise is a simple way to live out the third practice in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’s Rite of Christian Relationship: Offering prompt, generous, consistent and cheerful attention to each other’s needs. It challenges you all to be more thoughtful and generous than you otherwise might be, and shows how generous service leads to a happier, healthier home.

Spiritual Formation – Spiritual formation is all about learning to have a close relationship with God and be a faithful disciple. One of the practices we recommend in the Rite of Family Rituals is a strong family prayer life. By having strong family prayer rituals, families invite  God to be the most important member of their household.

As a family, keep God close all day long through both formal and informal family prayer times. For instance, in addition to regular morning, meal-time, and bedtime prayers, you could pray over our child before a test, game, or important event. You could thank God out loud for the little blessings you experience.  You could ask God’s help before cooking a meal, or helping a child with homework, or having an important conversation with your spouse or child. Likewise, assuming your child is used to receiving blessing from you, don’t forget to ask your child to pray over you when you’re having a tough day. Give your kids the chance to exercise their muscles as budding spiritual warriors!

Using this lent to cultivate stronger family prayer rituals will help you do more to encourage the spiritual formation of the common priests in your household.

Intellectual Formation – Intellectual formation refers to the habits we develop that enable us to  know God better so that we can love him better. In the Rite of Family Rituals, we recommend regular family talk time as one important ritual that can help us achieve this goal at home. By carving out a little time during the day to have meaningful conversations about how our faith and life connect, how God is showing up for us, or how we think he is asking us to respond to the challenges we face, we can foster our family’s ability to grow in our knowledge of God and both the understanding and application of our faith.

Other good Talk Rituals include family reading time, where we can read stories from the bible, or the lives of the saints, or just good books that give us a chance to discuss our values and share how we can live them. Lent is a great time to make time to talk about why we have Stations of the Cross, or what the parts of our celebration of Holy Week mean and how all of our Lenten practices can help us draw closer to God and each other.

Pastoral/Apostolic Formation – Pastoral formation refers to our ability to cultivate compassionate hearts of service to others. The third rite in Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the Rite of Reaching Out, helps us do this by encouraging us to look for more ways families can serve each other—both at home and in the world. The Rite of Reaching Out is all about reminding us of the importance of leaving people better off than we found them.

This Lent, think about ways your family can do more to serve each other and your community. How can you be more generous to each other at home?  How can you and your family reach out to others in your life and be a witness of God’s love? Perhaps your family could work together to create small care packages for with cards, baked goods, or little gifts and share them with your neighbors/friends. Maybe make one care package each week in Lent for a different friend, relative, or neighbor.

However you choose to develop your relationship with God this Lent, it may be helpful to reflect on these four pillars and how they apply to your family. What areas are your strengths? What areas could use growth? What is one tangible practice you and your family could partake in this Lent to strengthen your Catholic HOM?

Join the discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship

The Rite of Christian Relationships–Conventional Discipline VS. Discipleship Discipline

In most households, the word “discipline” suggests an adversarial relationship. My child is “out to get me” and it’s my job to get them under control.

Discipleship Discipline directly challenges this antagonistic, fallen, and hopeless view of the parent-child relationship.

In Discipleship Discipline, you and your child are not adversaries. You are your child’s mentor. Your child is your disciple. Your job is not to control your child. It is to lovingly teach, guide, and shepherd your child to a responsible, graceful adulthood.

In conventional discipline, children misbehave because they are bad and out to get you. From a Discipleship Discipline perspective, children misbehave because they have either gotten stuck in their emotional brain (instead of their thinking brain) and/or they genuinely don’t know what to do. In either case, they don’t need someone yelling at them and punishing them into submission. They need someone to lovingly help them calm down, get back into their thinking brain, and learn/practice what to do.

Conventional discipline depletes the parent’s emotional bank-account with their child. Both parent and child leave these exchanges frustrated and suspicious of each other. More often than not, Discipleship Discipline contributes to the emotional bank account. The parent feels satisfied with their ability to teach their child how to handle a difficult situation better. The child feels grateful to have a parent who can patiently teach them how to handle themselves and the challenges they face more effectively.

Conventional discipline is always looking for things I can do to my kids to “make” them behave. It demands a constant quest for Holy Grail Techniques I can use on my kids. Discipleship Discipline seeks to cultivate a mentoring relationship between me and my child. It makes me want to put in the time to really understand my child’s heart and makes my child want to turn to me for help and advice.

Conventional discipline treats children as a problem to be solved. Discipleship Discipline recognizes that children are people who need to be loved and compassionately shepherded.

Conventional discipline focuses on “getting my kid to behave.” Discipleship Discipline focuses on “raising my child to be a godly young man or woman.”

Discipleship Discipline is a key component of the spirituality of the Domestic Church. It reminds parents and children that this is more to their relationship and it calls parents and children to be more than they are. It is a powerful witness to the world of the difference that Christian households are called to live.

To learn more, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

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Transform your family into a joyful place where each member experiences life as a gift from God by checking out

Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

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How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

smiling kids

Emotional Intelligence  is a term coined by psychologist,  Daniel Goleman, that refers to a person’s ability to identify, manage, understand and process emotions so that you can effectively manage
stress, have healthy, rewarding relationships, handle conflict respectfully, and maintain good emotional health.

As the article I linked above explains, Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be even more important than IQ in determining career success and both relationship and life satisfaction. Considering all the benefits to be gained by developing Emotional Intelligence, it is something that every parent should be concerned with helping their children develop.  The Catholic family, I think, should be especially concerned with cultivating Emotional Intelligence because this quality has everything to do with helping a family be the “community of love” and “school of virtue” that Church says families are called to be.  Without Emotional Intelligence, it is impossible for a Catholic family to fulfill its mission, as spelled out in Evangelium Vitae, to be a community of people dedicated to living out relationships characterized by,  “a  respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift” (EV #92).

Over at  PsychCentral, Dr. Jonice Webb proposes  3 Tips for Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.  They’re definitely worth considering.

1. Pay Attention.   Work hard to see your child’s true nature.   What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with?   Feed these observations back to your child in a non-judgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.

Life Advantage: Your child will see herself reflected in your eyes, and she will know who she is. This will give her confidence in her life choices and will make her resilient to life’s challenges.

2. Feel an Emotional Connection to Your Child.   Strive to feel what your child is feeling (empathy), whether you agree with it or not.   When you feel your child’s emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you.

Life Advantage:  Your child will learn empathy and will have healthier relationships throughout his life.

3. Respond Competently to Your Child’s Emotional Need.  Do not judge your child’s feeling as right or wrong.   Look beyond the feeling, to the source. Help your child name her emotion.   Help her manage the emotion.

Life Advantage:  Your child will have a healthy relationship with his own emotions. He will naturally know that his feelings are important and how to put them into words and manage them.    READ MORE.

Those are some terrific tips.  If you’d like to learn more about how to raise faithful, emotionally intelligent children, check out  Parenting with Grace.

Show Us Your Face

By: Jenny Uebbing

mom laptop baby

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”

I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth  time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.

“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”

Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.

It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings.  But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a  little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.

All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first  century America can be ridiculously isolating — particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.

But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention.  Any  kind of attention, as their deteriorating behavior demonstrates quite clearly, will do.

I’ve spent the past several months rationalizing my behavior because  I’m recently postpartum and newborns are hard  and  I work from home so they  can have mommy around, it’s good enough that I’m physically present  and, most shamefully,  at least if I’m distracted I’m not tempted to yell at them.

Except I was tempted, often times  more  tempted, because instead of growing in patience and virtue and tolerance for childish appetites for multiple story recitations and block tower smashing, I was peppering our days together with long chunks of “Mommy’s here but isn’t actually  here  time.”

In short, I wasn’t in great parenting shape, because I have been spending the lion’s share of our days trying desperately to escape parenting.

I think it hit me hardest when our eldest, a mature three, dropped his nap. It was right after our youngest was born and suddenly, with three kids three and under, I had lost my precious chunk of uninterrupted mid-day productivity. Rather than pivoting and adjusting, I got stuck in a rut of denial, choosing distraction as a coping mechanism. When Pope Francis speaks about parents needing to waste time with their children, I think he was emphasizing the “with.” I, however, was choosing to focus on the “waste.”

I’m not claiming to have found some magical key to unlocking the secrets of stay-at-home happiness. Most days I’m lucky to still be smiling when the clock strikes dinner. I have realized how much I’ve been relying on outside props and fingertip distractions to keep  me  going, and how much I’ve come to view my children as little resentment-inducing interruptions to my very important tasks of emailing all the people and pinning all the recipes and furniture makeovers.

A few days ago I started a new thing. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s an old thing and I’m just late to the game. I’m calling it internet-averse living. It’s where I don’t open the computer except to do super specific things that I can’t do without a search engine, like look up the recipe for a paleo-friendly vinaigrette dressing for our dinner salad and pinpoint the ingredients for a rabbit-deterrant solution for the garden (aka our 2 solitary pumpkin plants.) In both instances, the internet functioned as a tool that helped me parent, not a crutch that propped me up while I failed to do so.

Listen, mom glued to your smartphone on the park bench, scrolling your newsfeed while your precious little people do backflips off the jungle gym: I hear you. I have sat where you sit, and I will probably be there again sometime later this week. I’m not judging you. Parenting in general and motherhood in particular is exhausting and challenging and sometimes, frankly, it’s really boring.

But I’m learning, incrementally and painfully, that the most mundane moments are essential components to the growth and development of my motherly temperament. Physical pain is one thing, (and I’d include sleep depravation in that category) but mental pain in the form of self denial, boredom, or loneliness is a whole other arena I’m learning that we are expected to do battle in.

I can’t always escape. Sometimes, inexplicably, they only want  me.  Nothing else will satisfy them except to see my face, to catch my eye, or to hold my unadulterated attention.

Sound like anyone else you know?

So I’m trying. I’m learning so slam the screen shut at the sound of little feet pitter pattering into the kitchen in search of yogurt tubes and oatmeal. I’m trying to make my initial impulse one of supplicating prayer rather than vegetative scrolling. It’s not easy, because I’m not very good at it. And it turns out parenting, like so much else that is worthwhile and larger than oneself, requires little other than repetitive acts of the will to accomplish.

It’s not so much dependent on a specific skill set or a temperament which naturally finds miniature humans delightful, but on the willingness of a larger human to put aside her needs moment by moment, until an appointed time.

So mama? Step away from the screen. What you’re looking for is sitting right in front of you, but you’re going to have to dig deep to see it.

Love, your exhausted comrade in arms.

Credit to  Jenny Uebbing of CatholicExchange.

 

Questions for the College-Bound Son

By: Richard Becker

notre dame

Is this what it feels like to be the  father of the groom?

Father of the bride is bad enough — as Spencer Tracy showed us in 1950, followed by  Steve Martin  forty years later — but it seems like father of the groom would be even more irrelevant to the whole wedding vortex phenomenon.

Not that any of  my  sons are heading to the altar any time soon. No, my feelings of irrelevancy are related to a different life event and milestone: My oldest is heading to Notre Dame. As a freshman. Next month.

Shouldn’t I be doing something?

Practical things — equipping the dorm room, last minute tips on laundry, etc. — seem to be covered by my wife at present. At least, Ben isn’t coming to  me  for advice, so I’ve got to assume that his mother is fielding those questions. If there are any. He’s pretty much launched out on his own already.

So, how about composing a fatherly testament of vision and values as a farewell gesture?

I’ve read plenty of “To My Son on the Brink of Manhood” (or marriage or fatherhood) screeds written by celebrity and journalist dads, but I’ve really no interest in attempting anything along those lines. It seems like any sage advice or tidbits of paternal wisdom that I’d offer in such a declaration ought to have taken root well before now. Otherwise, I’m guessing it’s a bit late.

Like riding a bicycle. Today I was out with Katharine, my youngest, who is just on the verge of training-wheel freedom. She is balancing on the bike just fine — the trainers rarely touch down when she’s pedaling along — and it’s just a matter of time until she has built up enough self-confidence and I can remove the side wheels once and for all.

It seems like just a blink of an eye since I was doing the same for Ben. In fact, I think it might’ve been the same bicycle, and even the same set of training wheels! But let’s say I’d never taken the trouble to help him wean off the trainers when he was in grade school. Let’s say he skipped riding bikes as a boy, learning to use public transit instead, and then jumped right into driver’s ed as a teen.

And now he’s getting ready for college, where freshmen are generally not allowed to have vehicles at their disposal. Wouldn’t a bicycle be convenient? Completing his two-wheeler training at this late stage would be awkward at best, and likely to fail altogether.

An eloquent parting shot, untethered to a commensurate upbringing, seems equally awkward and prone to failure. Any advice I have to give now that I haven’t already attempted to instill is too late, and a late-breaking Desiderata would pointless. And yet if I did attempt to raise my son with attention to truth and beauty and permanent things, then rehearsing it all in bullet point form would be unnecessary, and perhaps even somewhat ridiculous.

Still, I feel like I should be doing something,  and, consequently, I’ve come up with a different kind of list. Instead of looking backward, at the things I hope I’ve taught him (or wish I had), I’ve decided to look forward. It’s a list of questions — questions I’ve already grown accustomed to asking former students when I encounter them long after graduation, and I’ve decided they’ll be among the questions I’ll ask my son when we see each other on weekends and breaks in the months and years to come.

  1. What are you reading?  He’ll be at Notre Dame, so he’ll be reading a lot, but he’ll know I mean what is he reading that he  doesn’t have to read.  Reading for pleasure, in other words. If it’s something I know, I’ll enjoy hearing his insights. If it’s something I don’t know, all the better. Note, too, that I’m not asking, “What are you watching,” or “What are you listening to?” These can be important questions as well, to be sure, but they don’t deserve anywhere near the same priority. My kids have grown up surrounded by books in every conceivable way, and I’d be very surprised if books didn’t continue to surround them as they make their own way hence.
  2. Where are you working?  That’s what I ask my former students, most of whom are staff nurses here and there (or full-time mothers, or both). For current students, like my son, I’ll ask,  Where are you in your studies?  The inquisitive “where” allows for an unfolding of conversation on a number of fronts: The progress being made in a particular program or discipline; the kinds of classes being taken at the moment; and, most importantly, the trajectory along which which current pursuits are trending. It’s an inquiry with both quantitative and qualitative angles, and it’s helpful in getting beyond mere questions of “what” classes and “what” jobs to the “why” and “who with” of daily living.
  3. How’s your soul?  This one is loaded, no doubt, but it, too, is calculated to get into meaty matters as rapidly as possible. “Are you getting to Mass and confession? Are you praying?” are too easily dispensed with — either with a hasty “yes” (whether truthful or not), or a painful “no,” followed by an even more painful conversational stall. Who needs that? We’re all adults here.   Sacramental obligations, vocational discernment, and the pursuit of holiness are totally his responsibility now, so I’m not going to grill him. I might’ve acted as a coach in such matters as he got older, but I’m on the sidelines now — a cheerleader, to be sure, and a ready consultant when asked. Yet, now I’m only one among many that he can turn to for input. Consequently, instead of grilling, I’m hoping for openness and candor, a space for us both to voice our inner joys and struggles as we wind our way along the murky years. No challenges, no guilt. Just invitation, and cross-bearing of burdens. And honesty. Listening.

These are questions that assume a lot, but don’t presume anything.  They take for granted where we’ve come from together, but they leave lots of room for where we’ve made — and will make — side trips apart. Like I said, they’ll be the questions I ask my son in the months to come, and probably they’ll be the same questions I’ll ask him years from now when he’s launched beyond Notre Dame, rising in his chosen profession, and raising his own family.

And, soon enough, maybe he’ll be asking them of others as well. Now that  would  be something.

Credit to Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.