Books

On Motherhood, Cultivating Our Own Interests, And Accepting Ourselves

 I read a blog post from  Christy at Fountains of Home awhile back that resonated with me.  She was giving tips on how to survive the long winter in Canada and one thing she wrote had me shaking my head in agreement.   She says:

"Maybe I should just read a little more, maybe an episode of Parenthood isn't the end of the world, or chatting with a friend is more important folding another basket of laundry. I just find that when I think those things aren't important I get much more irritable and angry and frustrated and that's what begins the downward cycle of winter-hating-stay-at-home-mom-depression."

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!

I know what it's like to live enslaved to high standards without a good dose of self-care, so I'm probably overly sensitive to this cause.  I've grown a lot since my first days of marriage and motherhood when I didn't know if it was OK if my baby fussed for a minute or two while I took a shower.

But I like to think I've mellowed a little bit, partly because I've matured and partly out of sheer desperation.  Over the years, I've realized if I don't take care of myself, no one will.

I have to make the effort to get enough sleep.

I have to make the effort to exercise.

I have to make the effort to engage in renewing activities.

When I need help with my house or with educating my kids, I get it. (Over the years that's taken the form of a maid, childcare, and/or a two day a week homeschool academy.) 

I needed to quit waiting for someone to give me permission to be a human being and I needed to start acting like one.

It's been a long, hard road and I haven't perfected the art but I am much more savvy at doing what I need to do so I can function.

I think it's OK to do any of the following if I'm feeling so overburdened by life, I'm are not quite sure how to get out of bed:

  • put the television on for the kids so I can drink a cup of coffee or run on the treadmill in peace,
  • let the house get messy so I can read a book or engage in another pleasant activity,
  • or scrap all the houseworkand put the kids in the car so I can go visit with a friend!

Sometimes I think we moms don't know ourselves well enough.  We don't know, for instance, that the cup of coffee with a girlfriend will actually motivate us to go home to our families and be a better mother than we would have been if we had dutifully stayed home and folded the laundry and completed all our chores.

Motherhood Is Not Indentured Servitude and we moms need to figure out a way to live out our humanity without putting our own personal growth on hold for 18-22 years. 

 Let me illustrate with a story:

Years ago, a friend of mine came to visit for the afternoon.  We were drinking coffee at my kitchen table when I confessed to her I used the television to survive sometimes.

"I mean, sometimes allowing them to watch television in the only way I know how to take a nap or fold the laundry or even read a book!" I said.

My friend's face shadowed and she said, "You've got to be careful about that, Colleen.  There's bad stuff on TV."

At the time, I didn't know how to respond.  I know my friend was coming from a good place.  She held herself to high standards and worried about her own family's use of media.

I get that.  The media and overexposing our children to it is a valid concern.

But the problem with never allowing our kids to watch the television or use the computer, especially when we have larger than average families and we may not be getting enough sleep at night,  is that we are required to be on top of our parenting game at all times, which eventually leads to burn out.   We walk around grumpy without ever bathing or taking a nap or having a nice conversation with a friend, but yay!

The television hasn't been turned on and the kids aren't playing those nasty video games!

It's kind of ridiculous.

And meanwhile, we feel stretched too thin and we are inadvertently communicating to our children that we must be slaves to our High Standards rather than adjusting them during certain seasons or times of stress. 

Sorry, but I would rather my kids watch to much television and remember me as a happy mom whose face lit up when she saw them then to experience the opposite:  a mom with high standards who, as a result, was grumpy all the time and didn't take the time care for herself.

But first we have to know ourselves so that we know the best way to take care of ourselves.  

Are I an introvert or an extrovert?

What is it I like to do?  Pray?  Read?  Exercise?  Make art?  What?

A few months ago, Jennifer Fulwiler gave a talk about the importance of knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves as we are. After her conversion to Catholicism, Fulwiler tried to join a women's prayer group that met in the early morning where the women drank Chamomile tea.  It took her lots of prayer and many meetings with a Spiritual Director to figure out that she didn't like chamomile tea or 8 am prayer time.

Fulwiler enjoyed meeting her friends at night for margaritas.  It took her even longer to accept that the way God created her was different than the way he created those other women and that was OK.It was hard for Fulwiler to accept this difference, though. It was tempting to think something was wrong with her.

I could identify with her struggle.

One of the biggest challenges I've experienced is feeling like something is wrong with me because I have interests outside my children.

Honestly, being at home is a often a type of death to myself.  The transition from working full time to being home full time was not easy for me.  I was good at work, it came naturally to me and I struggled (and am still struggling) to be a good parent and fully embrace my vocation to motherhood.

Quite frankly, (and I know the grass is always greener), but some of my gifts would make me a better employee than an at-home mom.  Yet, I'm putting my desire to work in the outside world on hold while I raise these kids, and I do this freely and willingly.

I know one day I will return to full time employment but until then,  I must find ways to use the gifts God gave me now, to cultivate my own interests. 

If this means I let the kids turn on the TV sometimes or play on the computer, I do it because I know I'll be a better mom because of it.

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is if you are a mother who relaxes her standards in order to nurture your own gifts and talents, don't feel guilty. 

It's good for you!

It's also good for your family (and the world!) because we need what you've got. 

Three Good Catholic Reads

During the last week of January, when the grey had permanently settled in the sky and all I could see out my windows was a world painted the colors of a penitentiary, I received a late Christmas package: a box of review copy books.  

When I tore into the brown UPS package, my heart leapt with joy because although it was dreary and cold outside, there is nothing like a delicious stack of new books cure mid-winter blues (or in this case, greys).

Since it’s Lent and because I’ve plowed through a few of the titles since I received them, I thought I might suggest a book (or three) that might be of interest to Integrated Catholic Life readers.

Read the rest at Integrated Catholic Life.

7 Quick Takes: What I'm Into

1.  I often read Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog because she offers solid book recommendations about at fast as I change diapers, which is to say...often!

Anyway, one post she writes up that I particularly like is the What I'm Into review.  I thought I'd adopt her format (which she adapts from Leigh Kramer) and share a few things I'm liking lately.

Books:

I've read three so far this month and they are:

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doer:  Rated as one of the best novels of 2014 and I can see why.  I thought the

New York Times Reviewer

William T. Vollman was a little harsh (even if he was accurate) when he made critiques about one under developed main characters and an unbelievable villain.  Still, Vollman admitted to staying up half the night reading the book, which I found myself doing.  This story is set during World War II and tells the story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who participates in the French resistance against Germany, and Werner Pfenning, a young boy who gets recruited by the Nazi's for his brilliant knowledge of building radios.  It's beautifully written and tragic and leaves the reader with pangs of heart sickness.

The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd:  a great historical novel about the real life Grimke sisters.  Their story is reason enough to read the book, especially if you've never heard of them (and I hadn't).

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor:  Wow.  As I told my husband and a friend, O'Connor is a literary genius and her training in the craft of writing is obvious.  It's also obvious she was brilliant.  Theimagery/symbolism she uses in her stores are powerful and deep and entire essays have been written just to dissect them.  I needed some of these essays as I read because I had trouble picking them out myself.

Of course, none of the characters she writes about are likable in this comic novel (with maybe the exception of Enoch Emery) and the landscape she depicts is terribly depressing. (I found this lecture by a Yale professor on both these topics particularly helpful and interesting.)

But...she does this on purpose.  Darkness with a purpose?  Yes, so we can see how much we need the light.

I think the works of Flannery O'Connor are mandatory reading for Catholics, even if you don't like her.  I don't, however, think you can read her fiction without reading her nonfiction as her nonfiction offers a type of lens with which to approach her other writings.  Her Catholic faith imbues everything and without an understanding of this, I think it's too easy to focus on her grotesque depictions, which she uses to illustrate the flawed human condition and our great need for a Savior. 

I feel like I need to read Wise Blood again just to uncover the depth. 

2.  I'm currently reading:

The Power And The Glory

by Graham Greene.  I picked this one up because

Notre Dame Magazine

rated this one of the ten most Catholic novels of all time.  I didn't know what to expect, but so far, I love it.  It's about a whisky priest during the Mexican Cristeros war who is very flawed, but who cannot disconnect his deeply held Catholic worldview from his selfish desires and actions.

3.  On my to-read list:

This months

Notre Dame Magazine

had a list of the top ten Catholic novels of all time and I aim to read many of them them this year.  I have only read two (

Brideshead Revisited

and

Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad), but I want to check out these a well:

Billiards At Half-Past Nine

by Heirich Boll

Bread and Wine

by Ignazio Silone

Diary of A Country Priest

by George Bernanos

Silence

by Shusaku Endo

The Woman of the Phairesses

Fracois Mauriac

Kristin Lavransdatter

by Sigrid Undset (but I think I need a reading group for this one!  It's epic.)

Also for consideration:

Death Comes To The Archbishop

by Willa Cather

Vipers' Tangle

by Francois Mauriac 

The Edge of Sadness

by Edwin O'Connor

The End Of The Affair

by Graham Greene

Morte d'Urban

by J.F. Powers

I'm not sure how I'll do; wish me luck.

As an aside, you should check out this essay by Lawrence Cunningham entitled

On Books, Bookstores, and a Grumpy List from the same magazine.

He says in the intro:

Let me state a profound conviction that is also an adamantine prejudice: Barnes & Noble is not a bookstore, nor are any of its pale imitators. By my standard, the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is not really a bookstore — it is a T-shirt joint that happens to sell books. A real bookstore sells new and used books; it has a certain indescribable odor of mustiness plus dust and a faint whiff of old leather. The employees look like they were bred to live among books — they must be pale, unfashionably dressed, bespectacled and somewhat ethereal in demeanor. Most of all, they must know books.

The whole thing is delightful!

4.  TV:

Is it terrible to admit John and I both like American Idol?  Because we do.  I have a long and not sordid love affair with pop music (go ahead, you can be shocked) and this show nurtures that deep affinity.  How is there so much talent in the world?

Also, I loved these two documentaries and you can find them on Netflix:

Undefeated

: the true life story of a high school football coach and his inner city football team from Memphis, TN who want to win their first ever playoff game.  Moving and inspirational.  Reminded me of my Louisiana days where football is a religion and the coaches worship at the altar of talented players and championship games.

Short Game

: this documentary follows some of the best golfers in the world as they strive to win the world championship title.  These players?  They happen to only be 7 years old.  Entertaining and amazing.

And least I forget,

Unbroken

.  I took Patrick to see it (we had both read the book) and we loved it.  

4.  Music:

Sam Smith's voice?  So good.

  (

See?  Told you.  Pop music.)

As an aside, Mary discovered several of my old

Indigo Girls

cds and she's obsessed.  You have no idea how this warms my wannabe guitar playing, angst filled creative heart.

5.  Podcasts:

My sister recommended

Serial

so while I was on the treadmill one day, I listened to the first episode.  Then, I spent the next several days of my life cleaning and exercising just so I would have an excuse to listen to the story.

The writing and the story-telling is so well done and so addicting.

I finished all twelve episodes and now I'm all, "WHAAAAAAT????" I have to wait for more!"

And (spoiler alert!!!):  I think Adnan is guilty, though I don't think he received a fair trial.  Sorry, Adnan supporters.

6.  Favorite photos of the week:

Y'all!  I asked the kids to walk into the field this week so I could get a photo of them in the snow covered tundra.  In the middle of the photo shoot, we had these unexpected visitors.  Six deer stole from the forest directly in front of us!  It was so amazing I still can't get over it.

Unrelated but because she's cute:

Oh my gosh!  I almost forgot.  My friend,

Rhonda

, wrote an

ebook

.  She's a smart one, that girl.  No, really, she is.  If you are interested in the connection between Jane Austen and virtue, this is the book for you!  Go check it out.  I'm proud of you, Rhonda!

Three Catholic Non-Fiction Books To Enhance Your Faith

For The Men:

Journey To Heaven:  A Road Map For Catholic Men (Servant Press):  Over the past two years I’ve known him, Randy Hain has been one the most encouraging supporters of my work.  So when he asked me to review his new book, I was delighted to return at least one of the many favors I owe him.   

Here’s the problem:  I wanted to write a thorough review, which meant I took forever to actually read Journey To Heaven, a mistake of epic proportions.  

This book is not only well-written and practical, but it’s sorely needed in today’s world.  

In case you hadn’t noticed, many men today flounder in their faith, abdicate parental responsibilities, and don’t know what basic skills are necessary to even exist as a strong man, husband, and father.  Randy’s book is an attempt to provide easily implemented tips and tools and reflections to men of all stripes to help get them started on the path heaven.  

Read the rest at ICL.