Q: In your book you give glimpses into some of the mentors who have benefited you as you navigated different phases of motherhood. What can you share about finding good mentors to support us along the way?
A: In my own life, I’ve been very fortunate to have found good counselors and spiritual directors. Finding these mentors to help me, however, took prayer, time and energy.
It didn’t happen overnight.
If you desire some kind of support, I encourage you to begin praying for the right people and if someone comes to mind, approach them and ask them if they can assist you. Give it a few sessions and if the determine the person isn’t a perfect fit, discern if God has someone else in mind. There is a bit of trial and error in assembling a support team. Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable with whoever it is you are working. They will learn lots of private information about you and it’s important that you trust them.
If you think you might benefit from a counselor, you might check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute. They offer both telecounseling and spiritual direction over the phone. Phone sessions can be less threatening than face to face sessions, especially at first.
To find a therapist in your area, check out www.catholictherapists.com to identify trained therapists in your area who might be able to help you with the particular problems you are facing.
Finding a spiritual director can be a little more challenging. The job of a spiritual director is to help us sort out our relationship with God and notice the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They can also help us identify the best kinds of prayer routines given our personalities and temperaments. It’s important to remember a spiritual director is not a counselor.
If you desire to find a good spiritual director, Father Larry Richards suggests thinking about a priest who loves the Eucharist. If that priest is reverent and devoted to Jesus through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, they will probably be a good help to you.
This tip has certainly proven true for me: good spiritual directors truly love Christ in the Eucharist.
Q: Writing honestly about our own lives requires vulnerability. What helped motivate you to move beyond that vulnerability in order to share your story?
A: When I was a young mom, I desperately wanted a safe space to talk about the sufferings I experienced: issues surfacing in my marriage, feelings I didn’t anticipate I would have when I became a parent (frustration, surges of anger, worry, fear, etc.), unhealthy habits (poor food habits, poor sleep cycles, drinking too much caffeine, exercising too much or not enough), and even parenting conundrums I didn’t know how to handle.
I grew up surrounded by addiction and I felt emotionally weighed down by that experience, but I also struggled with some of my own unhealthy behavioral tendencies. I needed someone to talk to about the struggles I was experiencing, but often when I opened up with the people around me, I often didn’t share appropriately, or the other people couldn’t really hear me because of their own sufferings, or people felt compelled to “fix” me (or give advice!) instead of listening to me with care and empathy.
I felt alone (and the reality was that I wasn’t alone because many people struggle in their marriages and parenting) but when I did share, I felt judged, isolated, and misunderstood.
I’m a verbal processor, I know what I think once I say it out loud, but I didn’t have a safe place to say things, so I walked around thinking,
“I must be the only one who struggles like this; It must be just me.”
As I grew in my faith, sought counseling and spiritual direction and frequented the Sacraments, however, I experienced personal healing from deep wounds. As I got older and grew a little more confident in my vocation, I realized how Satan exploits the notion and sways us to believe that we are alone in our familial challenges.
After years of direction and counseling, I couldn’t deny the freedom, peace and healing I felt when I brought my struggles into the light and examined them under trained guidance. This work aided my realization that I wasn’t alone, that other people struggled too but many of them were like me, convinced they were the only ones.
I wrote this book so struggling Catholic parents would know there are other parents struggling too, and that God is there, patiently waiting to heal them and give them hope.
Another reason I wrote so openly about my own struggles is because many Catholics are very weary of sharing the Real Deal. We always have the notion of perfection floating around in the back of our brains and we are weary of giving scandal to others if we share our sinful tendencies or bad habits.
But we all sin and have bad habits.
It does no one any good to pretend otherwise.
Sometimes I think well-meaning Catholics actually alienate others because we are so afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly that we never engage in the kinds of helpful dialogue needed to help us move forward. We stay in hiding and therefore stay stuck in sinful tendencies, bad habits, wounds and secrets.
We forget that we aren’t saints yet!
I was so honest in my book because I want the mother feeling the effects of woundedness from her family of origin to know she’s not alone, that she can get help, that there are safe people in the world with whom she can share her heart.
I want to encourage those really struggling in their vocations to seek help both inside and outside the church. I want them to know healing is possible and we don’t have to stay stuck in our sin or our woundedness.
Q: In my own prayer life, I have realized non-negotiables. Can you share a little bit about the rhythms and routines of your current prayer practices?
A: I think it’s always tricky business to share prayer routines because our lives are all so different. This is why having a spiritual director is so helpful for me. If he sees that I’m trying to do too much or not enough, he recommends an adjustment to the routine. He knows me well, knows my life situation, and generally his suggestions are appropriate.
That said, I’m the kind of person who breaks out into sweats when I see in bullet point form the Lenten practices or elaborate liturgical family celebrations and even prayer routines of others.
I think it’s important not to make our Catholic faith a series of practices we check off like a to-do list. It’s good to have a habit of prayer but that habit needs to be grounded in growing our relationship with God, not motivated by our desire to feel like a Super Catholic.
While the prayer recommendations/suggestions found in books and blogs are meant to be helpful (and often are to the readers!), I think there is a danger in looking at a list of suggested prayer practices and seeing only those things I’m not doing (and therefore failing at). OR I see that list and I feel smug, accomplished, and maybe a tad spiritually superior because I’m able to tackle most of what’s suggested. What can I say? I’m a very limited person.
Consequently, I won’t outline for you when I pray and how. I will say that I have certain prayers I consider foundational to life and all of these have been assumed under the guidance of my spiritual director. They fit my life and work for me. Whether these will work for you or not, that’s up to you to pray about and discern.
- Lectio Devina: daily reading and meditation of the scriptures. This practice has been instrumental in cultivating my relationship with God, knowing his will for me in my daily life, and begging the graces from him to fulfill his call.
- Regular Confession: This will look different for everyone but at this point, we try to go as a family twice a month.
- Exam of Conscience: I use this book recommended to me by my spiritual director and I love it. The important part of the examination for me is recognizing the GOOD in my day first: the blessings God showered upon me (an encouraging word from a friend, a random act of kindness from my husband) BEFORE I look at my sin.
- Participation in regular prayer groups/bible studies
- Regular spiritual direction
It's so hard to ignore the Jones’s! We all want what’s best for our kids and it’s easy to get swept up into the idea that Rocket Camp or The French Club or a trip to the South of France might be just the thing to grow their life experience and minds.
And maybe those things will do that?
But I wonder about the effects some of these demanding extracurriculars have on the family—how it limits the time we spend together, the number of meals we have together in the evening, and how it erodes a peaceful lifestyle in favor of a frenetic, demanding one.
Extracurricular are a great tool to hone a child’s skills but if we aren’t careful, they can slowly eat away at family time.
I’m not against extracurriculars but as a family we are selective about how we spend our time. When considering a specific activity for one of our six children, my husband, John, and I ask ourselves these questions in order to determine if the sport/club is a good fit:
- Do we have the money right now for this particular extracurricular activity and the accompanying equipment to participate in the activity (for us this means, can we pay for it out of our pocket and not put it on a credit card or rob Peter to pay Paul)?
- What is the benefit of this activity for this child? What are the downsides of his/her participation?
- Do we have the time for it right now? (This entails a realistic look at the calendar of events and our other commitments.)
- If we commit, will we have the emotional and physical energy left over for the rest of our children and for our marriage, which is our number one priority.
Q: You mentioned that "God calls all families to love, follow, and serve him, but the way in which he calls us to do it looks different for everyone." Can you summarize some of your tips on being able to discern God's will for your life/your family's lives?
A: Discernment requires silence and prayer. It requires listening to the movements of God in your soul in order to determine if He is calling you towards one thing or another. Discernment also requires we pay attention to those situations, conversations, experiences, which bring us peace and those that don’t.
What is God calling your family to?
Only you can answer this question and the answer to this requires prayer and silence. It requires discussion with your spouse and your family members. Once you’ve spent a significant amount of time in prayer and in discussion, I encourage you to write these things down and put them in a family mission statement. Then, evaluate everything in light of that mission statement.
Should we go on this vacation? Well, does the trip fit within our family mission?
Should we enroll the kids in this school? Does the school fit within our family mission?
Should we put the kids in spring baseball? Does spring baseball fit within our family mission?
There will be pros and cons to every decision you make in life, but I find that when both spouses are united in their vision for their family and they have defined the mission concretely, it makes decision making much, much easier.
Thank you Colleen for sharing your insights with us! You can find information about other stops on the blog tour here.