Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Three Ways to Stop Settling and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

Do you want more from your life? Are you struggling with dissatisfaction in your life or relationships? You’re not alone. We were created for more, yet our fallen nature often causes us to settle for less or holds us back from aspiring for more. But the good news is, there are ways to break this habit and live the life we are meant to live!

Theology of The Body reminds us to stop settling.  To see that God wants to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for relationships that are fulfilling, and for a life that reflects the glory of his grace.  Pope St John Paul the Great reminded us that we must keep our eyes, not on what we see in front of us when we look at our broken world and our broken lives, but on what God sees when he looks at us and what God wants to make of our lives and relationships so that his glory could be known in the world through our lives.  The truth that will set us free is the truth God sees when he looks at our lives.  Our job is to stand up to to our doubts and fears and lean into the vision that God has for us instead so that we can become what we are.

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Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

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Here are three ways to stop settling and live the life you are meant to live:

1.Get Your Binoculars–We tend to settle because we get so caught up in the frustrations of the present that we lose sight of the destination to which God is leading us; Namely, a life and relationships that are healthy, whole, and holy.  Stop settling for what is in front of you.  Get your binoculars and look to the horizon line.  Keep imagining what a healthier, whole, and holier life and relationships would look like and start walking toward that.  Sometimes it will seem impossibly hard.  No Matter.  Trust that God’s grace will make up for what you lack and start walking.

2.Take Small Steps–We often settle for surviving because we can’t see ways to make the big changes that need to happen.  Remember, big journeys are made up of a million little steps.  Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do today to make the change I want to see in my life?”  Do that, and then ask that question again, and again, and again. Each time, remember that you are fighting against the temptation to survive and, instead, learning to cooperate with God’s grace to live life more abundantly.

3.Turn On Your GPS–We tend to settle when we feel lost.  But there is no reason to ever feel lost if you have your GPS, your GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM–that is, PRAYER.  When you feel lost and find yourself giving into the temptation to survive in your life or relationships, ask God to help you make the turns you need to make to get back on the path to wholeness, health, and holiness that he wants you to be walking.  Just like with a regular GPS, chances are, it will only take a few simple turns for God to get you back on the path.

If you want more information on how to overcome the frustrations in life and stop settling, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Are you struggling to get along with difficult people?

Check out God Help Me These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Set Your Child Up For Success: The Relationship Between Attachment Style and Financial Well-Being

We all want the best for our children: for them to succeed, be happy, and be their best selves. But did you know that you can even have an influence on your child’s financial security later in life simply through the way that you parent? 

A study out of the University of Arizona found that “people with high attachment anxiety and people with high attachment avoidance both reported low life satisfaction and low relationship satisfaction. Those with attachment anxiety also reported low financial satisfaction.” 

Likewise, the study revealed that those with high anxious or avoidant attachment—both types of insecure attachment—“engage in more irresponsible financial behaviors.”

Often as parents we feel that there are only certain areas of our children’s lives that we can truly influence. But in reality, focusing on fostering healthy attachment with our children can set them up for long term success in all areas of their lives—even down to their financial security and success as adults. 

Here are a few ways to cultivate healthy, secure attachment with your children:

Respond Promptly and Consistently—starting as early as birth, we can begin to set our children up for a lifetime of success by responding to their cries, needs, and concerns promptly and consistently. Research shows that babies who are responded to by their parents in a way that is loving, generous, prompt, and consistent develop a stronger and healthier sense of self, greater independence, as well as more positive relationships and coping strategies than those whose  needs were not met in such ways. 

Date Your Kids—Spending one on one time with our kids in both big and small ways helps our children develop a greater sense of identity and self worth. Sometimes it feels difficult or even impossible to get time with each of our kids to go out to dinner one on one, go to a movie together, or attend an event with them. But while these larger ways of spending time with our kids are important and wonderful when possible, we don’t have to wait for an entirely free day or evening to spend one on one time with our kids. Spending 15 minutes to take a walk with one of our children, running to grab coffee, or joining with them and doing chores together instead of separately are just a few ways we can spend quality time with our kids on a daily basis. 

Physical Affection—When we hug our kids (or anyone for that matter) our physical bodies—such as heart rate, respiratory rate, etc.—sync up. When we do this often with our kids through hugs, cuddling, gentle/loving touches, we are helping them learn how to emotionally regulate and we are creating the bond of healthy, secure attachment.

For more information on how to cultivate secure attachment in your children and set your kids up for success, check out Parenting With Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids!

Not a Gumball God – A Gospel Meditation for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.