When I wrote Sorry, Catholic Parenting Is Not An Insurance Policy For Raising Well-Adjusted Catholics, I had no idea it would go viral. But it did and the only explanation I can offer is it touched a tender Catholic mom nerve. I've been thinking about the responses I received-- the comments and the emails--for the past few days and I noticed a few themes in the things people wrote. I've compiled a list of these themes and posted them below.
7 Issues/Struggles Catholic Mothers Face In Raising Good, Catholic Children:
1. Catholic moms desire to be the best moms we can (by forming our children through prayer and the Sacraments, offering the best education, the best nutrition, the best parenting practices possible, etc.) and when we fail in the "ideal" (however we define it), we are hard on ourselves. Since we are well-aware of our weaknesses and imperfections and how they affect our children, we beat ourselves up when we make mistakes, instead of trusting in God's grace and mercy to help us in parenting.
Consider this comment from writer Sherri Antionetti, a mother of 10, who agonized about her efforts before her college-aged children left home :
I was filled with worry, did I fail to show joy in my vocation as a mother as I was raising these first few to go to college ? Yes. I still fail. I failed today. It doesn't mean I didn't try, aren't trying now, or won't continue to try, only that I get tired, I mess up, I drop the ball. I play solitaire on the computer or let them watch too much TV...I order pizza when I should have made dinner. And all that armchair quarterbacking of my own parenting, my own love of my own children, does not lead to a joyful peaceful place, but to the occasion of committing the sin of scrutiny, where I throw out all the good in favor of a disquieting vision of myself and my children.
2. Catholic moms desire to be the best moms we can (by forming our children through prayer and the Sacraments, offering the best education, the best nutrition , the best parenting practices possible, etc.) and when we fail in the "ideal" (however we define it), we are hard on others. Say we are are convicted about the benefits of breastfeeding or homeschooling/Catholic education/public education or large families or whatever, we can superimpose our "right" standards onto families who choose--for whatever reasons--a different way. We mistakenly judge others who do things differently instead of seeking to understand another's position and support them. Many commenters confessed they had been on the receiving end of judgements over non-moral issues. Consider this statement from an adoptive mother:
We are adoptive parents and have experienced many similar hurtful comments from folks on "our team" who do not know our personal circumstances (struggles with infertility and miscarriage and blessings of adoption) about bottle-feeding or about our small family size.
I live in a very Catholic area where attachment parenting is common and constantly feel very judged by other moms comments because I have chosen to not do some of those things and am not doing things the "Catholic" way.
3. Catholic moms are sometimes overzealous with their families and with others out of fear. If a mother was raised in a dysfunctional home and has discovered the Truth found in the Catholic Church, she can sometimes become excessively strict, rigid, and maybe even judgmental because she doesn't want her children to suffer in the same way she has or because she knows the depth of existing evil and she wants to protect her children from it. Consider this heart-wrenching comment:
I have been an over-zealous Catholic mom. No longer. Thank God that He gave me difficulties that showed me there are no insurance policies. All of our children will have crosses b/c they are human - we just don't know what they will be. I think we get self-righteous and self-protective b/c we really wish there was an insurance policy. Our judging is a way of trying to protect our insurance policy. I was raised by 2 alcoholics. My father had multiple affairs. I used drugs all through high school. There were predatory relatives. My parents never said a prayer in our house. All the while, we did go to mass every Sunday.
I was the least likely person to: marry a pure man, birth at home, breastfeed long-term, get college degrees, have a faithful, devout husband, homeschool my kids, send them to Catholic colleges, fall in love with the Church, fall in love with the truth, etc. But God DID give me this very life path. How can I possibly think that it is all about my choices? I would discredit my own life.
One of my teenagers was complaining once that I was too strict. I smiled and said my rules were based in history. He laughed and said, "Oh, mom, I'm sure you were such a goody-two shoes." I told him that some day when he was old enough to not be traumatized by my stories, I would share. He just laughed. I will probably never share. He has no idea what God brought me out of. I live like it is all about my choices as a mother, but humility has taught me that it is not.
4. There is a tendency to make non-moral issues into moral ones. Catholic moms should make parenting decisions based on objective truth (i.e. the teachings of the Catholic church) but we should also recognize that not every parenting decision is a matter of faith and morals (though some are). Consider this:
I think the only time any of us should say anything about another mother's "parenting" is when it is required of us as Catholics. The fact of the matter is that the only things that Catholic families "must do" is believe in and follow Church teaching, and share that teaching honestly with their children. So long as that is happening, it doesn't matter if a family practices attachment parenting or a mother breastfeeds. If she's teaching her children that they must attend Mass every Sunday, then keep your mouth shut.
One thing that more Catholics especially need to understand is the difference between morals, mores and wrongdoing. A Catholic should never stand idly by if someone is actually committing a grave sin and causing scandal. However, that's extremely rare. And breastfeeding definitely does not fall in that category!
5. Sometimes moms believe others are judging them when in reality they are oversensensitive because they are unable--for whatever reason-- to practice some coveted "ideal" (breastfeeding, a certain type of education, natural childbirth, etc. ):
For me, I ASSUMED every one was thinking horrible things of me for not breastfeeding longer, and by the third child, nearly at all. The truth is that I placed that pressure on myself. My closest friends and family encouraged me to do what is best for me AND my entire family. I had created many of the biases in my head (possibly b/c they were my own biases before I was in the situation myself). I have experienced those pressures in stringent groups also - whether they're "catholic" or "all natural", etc.
Every time I have a baby and am feeding the baby in public, I feel that I am being judged. Mostly, this is because of what I have heard other mom's say not directly to me, but to others. I feel like saying..."I've tried everything I can and I just don't have enough milk. I already feel like a failure. Please don't think that I am a bad mom."
6. Sometimes spouses differ (maybe one of the spouses doesn't practice Catholicism or doesn't maintain the same values) which makes implementing certain practices (frequent reception of the Sacraments, homeschooling, Attachment Parenting, for instance) more difficult. Consider this:
I rarely had much admonition, but I "knew" what the good fellow homeschooling Catholic moms would think about some of the compromises I made in rearing our boys for numerous reasons. They were things that I didn't want, but my dear husband was not in agreement: TV, Video Games, and the list can go on.
One thing I've found comforting (NOT because the others are suffering! but because I don't feel like I necessarily have done things wrong!) is that I've seen some of the children from families I kept my distance from because of "lack of worth" or possibly influencing their children in ways they wouldn't appreciate, have had some tough times with their kids as they've come to the teen years.
In the mean time, my prayers have TRIPLED. My family drives me to my knees constantly, and I feel empathy for the other families. I DO believe so firmly in PRAYER. I see the wonderful results all the time with our sons and my husband. It is GOD who must work in the heart. I have done my best to plant the seeds when they were young, tried to never provoke their strong wills into rebellion, and keep setting a quiet example as they are on the backside of their teens. thank you so much again, for this.
7. Some moms have made every effort to do things "right", but have children who have strayed anyway.
I am a lot older than you are, with young adult children, and I admit that at times, I have been bewildered by the "results" of my attachment parenting, extended breast feeding, home schooling, and periods of daily Mass. One teen had a period of extreme anger-- throwing things when angry, cursing, saying some of the most horrid things you can imagine saying to your mom-- and a couple made some very poor friendship choices in early teen years. One is now questioning the Catholic faith and the existence of God, and not going to Mass consistently-- when he was young, people use to ask me if this son might be called to be a priest because of the strong faith he exhibited, and now this.
As a mother, all I wanted was to raise four good Catholics. As a grandmother, I am still praying for two to come back to the faith and for two grandchildren to be baptized. You are right, we can only do as much and try as hard as we can. In the end I put my trust in Jesus and His mother.
The comments and emails I received from mothers all over the United States allowed me to see, in a new way, that mother's are seriously suffering from internal and external pressures to be good Catholic parents. I also wholeheartedly agree with someone who mentioned the great spiritual battle inspiring women to judge one another and doubt God's grace in their vocation.
But here's some good news: We don't have to shoulder these burdens alone--we can bring them to God. In fact, He wants us to offer Him all the issues and struggles we experience as Catholic mothers. The internal/external pressures we endure--the hurt other Catholics have caused us, the hurt we've caused other Catholics, our wayward children, our non-Catholic spouse, our dysfunctional families of origins, and the certain types of parenting practices we'd liked to implement, but simply cannot---these are the things we must drag to the foot of the Cross and leave in His care. Christ, our Savior, true God made Man, is One Who can take all our sufferings. And He can do more good with them than any of our handwringing and tears ever can.
Let's pray for each other.