Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lessons on Love


 I had lunch with my boys recently. They are 11 and 14. Anytime I want to really talk with them I find it is best to get them away from any screens and put food in their hands. Kids are always happier with full tummies. Me too actually.

As we noshed on our burgers and fries, I explained in very few words the concept of Love Languages (Read the 5 Love Languages by GaryChapman!). I asked them which love language they thought they most related too. My oldest is an Acts of Service guy and my second born communicates love through Physical Touch. We talked about how this played out in our house.

For instance, with my oldest, I can always tell when he isn’t feeling the love, or wanting to share the love because his chores start sliding. I know it is more important for me to do things like bring him a forgotten lunch or help him get ready for soccer than it is with the other kids. It is more important for my second born to get his hugs, his good night tuck in, a little tickle time or even some help just clipping his nails.  He doesn’t ask for help with things like filling his water jug or making his lunch, but loves sitting on the couch with me while I scratch his head.

After talking about the two boys themselves, we decoded the other members of the family, and tried to pin down their love languages. We have one Quality Time and possibly another Acts of Service (she is pretty young so time will tell). They pegged their dad correctly but were stumped with me. But that makes sense.  When you are aware of someone’s love language it allows you to communicate with them based on their language.  So if I am communicating with them in their language, each child in my family should think I am just like them.  Ironically I am a Words of Affirmation kind of gal so I am not matched with anyone!

We also discussed the need to be aware of their friends and future spouses love languages.  Can you imagine dating someone who was expecting gifts when you were an Acts of Service communicator? I asked them what they think it would be like in our home if I was a Receiving Gifts communicator (given that their dad is an Acts of Service).  They laughed and said he would be ranting all the time “I work so hard to provide for this family and you keep spending all the money on these gifts we don’t need!”. So true!

I want my sons to be able to identify their sibling's and parent's and friend's love languages. As the mom, it is less important that they communicate with me in my own love language. I need to be the one who is poly-lingual, and slowly help them develop the skill as well. It is my job to help them develop the ability to give and receive love – in all its forms - and recognizing love as it is presented is key.


If you’ve never read the book, next time you are over at Amazon (or in an old fashioned books store), grab it. It is a fast and easy read and it can really inform the way you interact with your loved ones. Then open the discussion with them and keep it going. Doing so will foster a culture of love in your home.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Self-care in Stages


Photo credit @anniespratt via Unsplash

School started this week and I am not going to lie. I was thrilled. With 4 kids at home all summer I was acutely aware of a startling lack of anything that resembled self-care. The first day back had me wondering how best to celebrate having a quiet house all day for the first time since becoming a parent 14 years ago. I debated between going home to take a nap and going to a friends to do some work wilts drinking mimosas.

And that got me to thinking about self-care. Because self-care is all about the self and it will differ with each of you. My hope is peaking in my evolution will give you pause to look at your own, and help you to seek some significant ways to take care of yourself, where ever you are in life.

In my pre-parenting life, self-care was all about betterment of the self. I would go for a run a few times a week. I ate well. When I didn't eat well I would run a little more. I was able to mostly sleep until I naturally awoke because my graduate school classes were typically later starts and I never had to be at work before 9am. I got the occasional expensive coffee drink as a treat. I got plenty of alone time naturally.

Once we got married and started our family, I turning inward, not to myself but to our little growing family. As we solidified our union as husband and wife, we began to bond with other couples who were in a similar stage of life. Those relationships were often family based and frequently instructive for us as we embraced the new roles of Mother and Father. Self-care in those days meant regular lunches with these friends or playdates where my friends and I would watch the children play and dissect every little concern over coffee. It meant getting out of the house and talking with another adult eye-ball to eye-ball. It meant dropping the children at the gym not so that I could sweat, but so that I could clear my head of the little chatter and delved into a fictional life while I sort-of worked out, all the while balancing a book in my hand.

That was about the time I converted to Catholicism and began the mom's ministry at our parish. I had two little boys and I craved relationships with women whose eyes were on the cross and whose end goal in life was an eternity in heaven. I didn't want to just spend time with other people. I wanted to spend time with people with whom I shared values, and goals, and dreams. I wanted my children to grow up in a community of people who had strong marriages and strong faiths. Self-care started to mean more about my internal and personal growth. It still had a social aspect, but it wasn't about passing time with people. It was about growing with them. I would gain weight with pregnancy and loose it again only to gain it once more with each pregnancy. My gym time, which I still considered critical for self-care, was for mental health more than physical health because it seemed I was almost always pregnant or nursing.

And then the children started school, and I found a resurgence of discretionary time and a introduction of outside demands. People started asking things of me. Will I help with Vacation Bible School? Sure. Will we hold a bake sale? Sure. Can you help decorate the church for Christmas? Sure. Wanna run the parish consignment sale? Sure. Do you want to join our bunco group? Book club? MOPS? And on and on it went and because there was no end to the opportunities and I quickly became engulfed. There was so much I wanted to do and getting out of the house one night a week was a delight. Having a night "off" from the bedtime routine was bliss. Self-care meant escaping the responsibilities of family life for just a few hours, even though that often meant taking on other responsibilities. I became a compulsive volunteer, because it meant I could leave without guilt.

And then Baby Number Four came along and escaping became impossible. Our schedules, the demands at home, the needs of the children overwhelmed the schedule. Whereas self-care once meant saying Yes to serving outside the home, now it meant learning to say No. Learning to say No to the things in life that overwhelmed me, consumed me, and kept me up at night was one of the healthiest lessons I have learned as an adult. I realized that each time I say Yes, I took on a task that could be completed by someone else. Saying No to serving provides others the opportunity to say Yes. So I began saying No more often. If it wasn't something that I was uniquely prepared for or had a gift for, I could now say No. Saying No became the primary way to say Yes to myself and to God. I stopped doing and started being. I started to become intentional.

And I began writing. I let the Lord call me to a new life within, a new love within. He spoke to me in prayer and lit a love for words within me. He called me to serve in the quiet. During nap times, during preschool, while the little ones played. I was able to serve Him and use my unique combination of gifts, training and experience in a way to that left me without guilt or exhaustion.

Now as I settle into my 40s, life with a teenager a kindergartener and two in between has left me with little headspace for writing. I have found different a unique ways to serve outside the home through my writing and my role with Blessed is She. I am back to trying to escape, but mostly just so that I can breathe without children around. As my teen stays up later and later the quiet time at home in the evenings has been reduced. I hit the gym a few days a week for vanity purposes as my metabolism and muscle mass both decline. I have a glass of vino in the evenings and take pleasure in the fact that I can drink decent wine from a nice glass, and it is a healthy thing to do as I watch my HDL's. My friendships are solid. They aren't just the parents of my children's friends, or relationships I cling to from other stages in life although I thankfully do still have some of those. They are heart-to-heart friendships with women I want to grow with. They hold me accountable and advise me. They seek my counsel, recognize my strengths, and tease me about my weaknesses. Self-care also means escaping with my husband - Date nights, an annual trip with another couple, and a little trip for just the two of us. I will continue to grow through the years, but real self-care means making sure that my husband and I grow together as well. With the distractions and demands of parenting kids, a tween and a teen this is my biggest challenge.

One day, I am told, I will blink and it will be just my husband and me. I will be saying goodbye to the baby and entering Empty Nest status, and self-care will look much different from how it looks today. It will challenge me to evaluate how much time and energy I am willing to commit in order to combat natural aging. My hormones will shift and I will be forced to adjust relationally and emotionally. I predict a bit of a return to self-care as it once was with a more self- rather than other-focus, but now that focus will be on the internal not the external.

Self-care won't be about seeking out time away, but it will be about boundaries of some sort because it always is. Self-care will still concern balancing the needs of others and the needs of the self. And so the flow of self-care from external care - to care of family unit - to care of social/community unit - to care of internal self will continue.

Take a minute and think - Where are you with your self-care? What does that term even mean to you today? Is self-care taking just a few minutes to veg out on social media? Is it something as simple as listening to your favorite music or building a favorite activity into your weekly routine? Is it intention or does it come naturally? 

Thanks for stopping by to think with me today!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Finding Peace in Chaos: Summer Survival 2017


I was having a hard time keeping my thoughts straight, hovering somewhere between "yeah I am fine" and "ah man I am loosing it". Two separate viruses had hit our normally healthy home in the last 6 weeks. Couple those with a jumbled up schedule packed with extras like sacraments and recitals and tryouts and house hunting all as we finished off the school year. It wasn't that we had so much more going on that normal. Being released from sports practices for a few weeks gave me much more than a few extra hours in the day. No, it was the complete lack of predictability that caused the unease. 

There are seasons in life where structure and planning and purposeful living comes easier. Then there are seasons like this.  

I was leaping into summer without any vacation plans in ink, without a master calendar dotted with ideas to structure out days, without team commitments for my three club athletes, crossing my fingers that my healthy ones would stay healthy and the sick ones would get better already. Oh and we quite literally did not know where we would call home the next month. 

I am a hyper-planner. I think I was blessed with a charism of administration. Scheduling the lives of the little and big people under my roof really brings me joy. And riding through a harried spring into a more laid back time of triple digit temperatures should be refreshing and instill feeling of relaxation. So why did I find myself living instead with a sense of dread? 

During Lent I had developed a beautiful practice of rising early to work through my BIS Lent journal. I am not a journalist by nature, but the concrete daily time for me to get grounding with God was life giving. But it is hard to drag oneself out of bed early. Having a Lenten promise to do so was the only reason I persisted. Plus I didn't want to get behind in the book. The perpetual student in me wouldn't allow for that. 

But Lent ended and the Easter season brought with it joy and celebration and the sacrifice of getting up early... well it was easy to give that up. I had an Easter season book study to do. On my nightstand, on the counter, in the car. It didn't matter where I put it. I wasn't getting done. I was sleeping a little later, checking in with social media, glancing over my email and getting the daily readings, making my coffee and going about my day. But it wasn't Lent anymore so why should I sacrifice sleep?

Gone was the time to just sit with God. 
Holy Spirit come. That was the simple prayer I would utter before opening my Lent journal. Holy Spirit come. So simple and so easy, and those were the first words each day. 

Today I woke up and instead of checking the feeds or opening my email even, I listen to God. I asked Him to give me peace.

Peace doesn't come from the schedule, or the plans, or the organization and structure of the day. Peace comes from God. He will provide peace in the days of uncertainty. But our God is a gentleman God. He doesn't force himself into our lives. He loves us from afar in those times when we keep Him at a distance. When we invite Him in closer he comes equipped with all the graces we need, ready to rekindle the holy gifts he has given us in baptism and confirmation. 

In Matthew 11 Jesus tell us 

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." 

He invites us to come to Him. He offers rest, but in the next line he offers so much more...

 "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves."

He doesn't say he is going to take away our problems. He says He is going to teach us and give us rest. 

I don't want God to take away my problems- my problems are good problems. Having many hearts to love and many mouths to feed and many talents to nurture in my little ones is a joyful problem. I need him to teach me how to enter into the fullness of life without feeling weary or burdened. I need to learn how to have faith and trust so deep that uncertain and shifting schedules don't keep me up with worry at night. I need to have confidence that my children will grow through their physical suffering and if they all end up getting sick so be it. 

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". 

The load is still there because that is life in this world. 

When we take our uncertainty, the frustrations, the worries, the sadness,whatever we have weighting down our hearts and we cast that upon the yoke of the Lord, the load is made manageable. 

I still don't know where we will be living when the next season begins. I don't know what the summer will bring. But for me, putting on His yoke each morning means starting each day with an invitation to God.

Come Holy Spirit Come. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Rescuing is Wrong

Photo Source

We were siting around the little patio at our local pub. Just a group of us moms out for a little fellowship and some time away from our cumulative 20+ children. One of us had gotten the wrong beer or maybe it was just a stinky beer and she wasn't going to drink it. There was some passing around of the glass and the agreement at the table was that the beer was nasty and she should send it back. We all agreed that the friend who ordered it should just send it back and let the server know it was bad. But this friend was really tentative and would rather not have anything to drink if that meant she may make someone else (the server) feel uncomfortable. After some good natured teasing and laughing, she decided that maybe she would try to be assertive (see the hesitation there already?) and give it a try. As the server approached I could see the stress in her face. She hemmed and hawed and hesitated and so I just blurted out - "Can she get a new drink? This one is awful" - at which point the server smiled and acquiesced and the problem was solved.

Except it wasn't.  Another friend (who is a counselor by training and practice) looked at me with a smile and stated "You are a rescuer!"

A what?

I had never heard that term. What ensued was a bit of more drinking and lot of laughing and even more self-reflection on how each of us as the table handle conflict. 

My counselor friend is absolutely right. I am a rescuer.  I don't like conflict, but what I hate more than conflict is to see my loved ones uncomfortable, in pain, or really suffering in any way. Although it is a nice and noble thing to be willing to help alleviate others discomfort, especially when it comes to beer, being a Rescuer can lead to some rather negative parenting situations. 

Our children grow through conflict. As a mother I should be providing them with a safe and loving environment in which they have the opportunity to solve their own conflicts. I can provide guidance, I can give suggestions (when asked), I can model frameworks for conflict management, but stepping in to take away their pain, discomfort and sometimes genuine suffering, only handicaps their ability to grow into mature and capable adults. Rescuing behavior shows a lack of awareness or appreciation of the good that can come from suffering.

Children are going to have conflicts - daily - and if they have sibling it can at times seem like they life a life of constant conflict. Kids can be mean (yes even my kids) and they make poor choices all the time. I blame their poorly developed frontal lobes. But it is through their conflicts that they learn. They learn when to speak out and when to let things go, they learn how much crap they can take from their peers before they snap, they learn at what point they need to stand up for others, they learn that some friends are fun but not good for them, they learn about honesty, and loyalty, and trustworthiness. They come to value people who are virtuous and learn to avoid those who lack decency.  

So what's a Rescuer- Mom to do? It hurts so much to see our little ones hurting, but swooping in and messing with their business isn't often the best way to handle it. What we need to do is Love and Listen.

First, we are called to love. They need to know that what ever they do, however they handle a situation, they are loved by both us and by God. They are going to mess up. They are going to make poor choices. They are going to fail in some way at some time.  And we are called to loved them through that time. They need to know that good behavior is not a condition of our love. Is it easier to show them love when they are acting awesome? Yes. Will behaving well make us love them more? Nope. We may like being with them more when they are awesome, but we love them the same amount when they are awesome and awful. Our heart are designed to love them. When the rest of the world is giving them crap, we will give them love.

Secondly, our kids need to know that we are here for them when they want advice, and all they need to do is ask. We aren't too busy or too stressed or too important to listen to their struggles. We have open doors and open hearts and when they want help we are here for them. But we have the confidence in them to let them make their own choices and reach out to us when they need a little assistance.

Our children don't need us to rescue them, but they do need us to notice them. When our children are having a tough day, we ought to let them know we recognize their struggle. We don't need them to tell us everything that happened (unless they want too), but we should take a minute to let them know we see them, and we notice they don't seem quite right, and that we love them. This opens the door for the conversation and it lets them know we care. Sometimes that is all they need to push through those rough times in childhood. 

So the next time you find your little one is in a sticky situation, hold back. Give them a chance to figure it out. Let them know you are there for them, but you trust in their abilities to problem solve and to identify when the problem is bigger than they can handle on their own.  Be there for them, but let them grow through their struggles and come out more confident and competent young men and women. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Listening for God's Call... Keeping our children's hearts open to vocational life



I love God with all my 
heart, mind, & soul...
yet I don't always 
respond to His call.

My children don't even listen to me... 
how do I help them 
develop the ability 
to listen to God's call?  




If I want to ensure that my children are open to vocational life, then (according to a favorite priest of mine), there are two things I need to do make sure my kids know:

1) God will call them at some time

2) They need to be ready and willing 
to answer with courage to God's call

It is fine to tell my children this on a regular basis, but how do I help them to internalize these two truths?  

* Pray the If. When we pray, we pray for their future spouse IF they are called to the vocation of marriage. By actually saying "if they are called to the vocation of marriage", we make clear that our expectation is not that they grown up, get married, have children. We are leaving open the reality that they may be called to be a Bride/Bridegroom to the Church, and that would be great too.

* Priests are people too. We try to develop personal/family relationships with priests and sisters in our community so that our children can come to see these men and woman as people, not just clergy. This can be really really hard in some communities! For those of us who don't ourselves have personal relationships with those who have been called to Holy Order it can seem impossible.  I recommend baby steps. If you don't click with your parish priests, look for a community of religious who have a vocation of evangelization or outreach in your area. Explore a little. Listen to podcasts like Catholic Stuff You Should Know and share them with your teens. The priests are hilarious, personable, and well informed. 

* Plan a little and pray a lot. We try not to plan out our child's entire life, nor do we encourage them to plan their entire life. My husband holds two masters degrees, and I hold both a masters and a doctorate degree. We obviously worked hard in school and planned ahead taking all the requisite courses. However, when my son's Jr High announced that they would offer college planning for the young students I balked. There is a season for everything and in childhood I want my child to be a child.  I want my child to do what is right - work hard, take interesting courses, explore, dream, play, volunteer. I want him to experience childhood as something more than a stepping stone to prepare him for the next phase of life. Jr. High is hard enough without having to worry about college applications and accumulating the right accolades before high school. There are saints like St. Therese who were called to religious life early, but most 12 year olds aren't listening. By setting our child up for life as an engineer (so make sure you take AP math and do the robotics club and the summer science camp!), we are sending the message that our child's will (to be an engineer) is the will which we should be facilitating, rather than facilitating the will of God for our child. 

My job as a mother is to help facilitate my child's call to holiness. Sometimes this involves helping him get to soccer practice (where he learns perseverance and teamwork and pushing beyond his own temporal needs for the greater good), and sometimes it means making him attend mass or adoration when he would rather not. It means helping him attune his ear to God. It means helping him develop a prayer life. It means switching things up and letting him drop out of youth group and instead join an apologetics club because it is a better fit for the way his mind operates. It means letting him choose his own service project instead of making him do one that I think looks fun/is easy/fits my schedule. Facilitating my child's call to holiness means recognizing the unique gifts he has been endowed with and helping him develop and expand those talents.  It means helping him to see the possibilities of life without making him choose his path before he has developed the ability to hear God's whisperings. 

Who knew being a parent would be this hard or this rewarding? Looking at parenthood from a stewardship approach can help as we really embrace the role of being stewards of their lives rather than as directors. May you continue to listen to our Lord and serve as an example to your little ones!


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