Two Lessons I Learned About Mothering, When My Son Wouldn't Learn His Math

My sister, Sarah, and I were chatting on the phone as I watched my children swim laps during practice. As we talked about the kids, I confessed to her that my oldest, Patrick, needed to repeat his current math class.

 “He just didn’t do well this year,” I said. “So many aspects of school come easily to him, but with math, Patrick doesn’t have the skill set to persevere and work out difficult problems.”

Sarah was silent as she digested this information, but not for long. “What do you mean you’re going to have him repeat math, Colleen? Patrick is a good student. Did you get him a tutor? Are you making him take summer school? This is unacceptable,” Sarah said.

My sister and her husband, Ted, are second parents to my six children. They both take great joy in my children’s accomplishments and are equally devastated when they see that one of my kids is struggling. Sarah took this news about Patrick’s poor math performance harder than I expected.

“You’ve got to put him on a learning schedule over the summer. He can’t get behind in math. It’s too important. I know you need help, so don’t worry, I’ll handle this problem. I’m going to put him on a math schedule and he’s going to work every day. If he does a good job, I’ll fly him to visit us at the end of the summer.”

That night, Sarah registered Patrick for Kahn Academy, sent Patrick an email outlining what he needed to cover in math, and promised him an all expense paid trip to her home if he completed his course load. Patrick was so thrilled by the prospect, he agreed to the deal immediately.

I, on the other hand, was skeptical Sarah’s plan would work. I was dead wrong.

Read the rest at Aleteia.

Four Reasons People Avoid Counseling (And Why They Don't Hold Up)

( image credit here)

I went back to counseling recently. I’m not seeking therapeutic help because some severe addiction plagues me. I’m not going because I’m a serial adulterer or because I’m facing an epic marital crisis.

The main reason I’m attending is because sometimes, when I’m stressed or tired or when the sky is cloudy, I lack the self-control necessary to hold my tongue. Instead of responding to my husband and six children, I sometimes react harshly to them, thereby making an already trying familial situation even more difficult.

Meeting with someone who helps me create strategies to combat this personal weakness has already had positive effects. CEO’s come up with business plans all the time to improve their financial performance. Since I’m the co-CEO of the Duggan Corporation, it can’t hurt to create a performance plan of my own.

I’ve noticed some Catholics are weary of counseling and for good reason. It would not be helpful, for instance, if a counselor suggested I get on the birth control pill and quit homeschooling as the  solution to the stress I experience in family life. I’ve already discerned that the birth control pill and full time school won’t really solve my problems, but coping skills for emotional volatility actually will. I don’t want to have to defend my faith or my lifestyle to someone who doesn’t understand. Even if I did quit having babies and put all my kids in school, I’m still going to struggle with my temper. I need some tricks and tips to help me manage myself in challenging life situations, not quick fixes. 

Read the rest at Aleteia.

Why I Will Never Say To Another Parent "Little Kid, Little Problems, Big Kid, Big Problems"

Sam Cooke wasn't lying when he sang, "A Change Is Gonna Come."

Sometimes I'll look over at Meaghan as she is diapering Edward's bottom or baking cookies (her favorite afternoon activity) and I'm blown away at her maturity.  Lately, she'll relay a funny story about something one of the little kids did and the ease she possesses as she tells the tale makes me think she's one of my peers.  When she rolls her eyes and waves her hand dramatically to emphasize her point, she conveys a type of sophistication I didn't know was possible for a girl her age.

 I know this is a very mom thing to say, but Meaghan is a beautiful girl.  She's got legs up to her eyeballs and freckles sprinkled all over her fair skin.  She has started curling her stick straight,  blond hair before school in the morning and I've noticed--all of a sudden--she's stashing some of my personal care items in her room.

Last week, I decided to bring Meaghan with me to meet my new niece, Eliza, and on the way home she said, "Eliza is a doll, mom."

Then she looked over me with a big question mark written all over her face and said, "Do you think she looks like a Murphy?"

I squelched a giggle and felt my mom heart swoon.

My girl, Meaghan?  She's a delight.

I have to confess...I'm


I enjoy her so much.

No one told me about this sweet spot of parenting.

Sure, there were plenty of old ladies who wagged their finger at me, while I unloaded groceries in the check out line, as they they declared, 

"Little kids, little problems, big kids,



But no stranger--not once--has said, "Lucky you!  You get the esteemed honor and privilege of watching these kids grow." 

No one--not once--has said, "You get to see the gifts that have been given to your children and you get to watch them figure out to use them.  You are in for the ride of your life.  Lucky you, my friend!  Lucky



For a long time, I've been parenting little kids--babies and toddlers.  Little people who melt my heart with their abundant cute quotient.

But now?

All of a sudden, I'm noticing the evolving interests of my older children and the way they carry themselves and interact with me like they are mini-adults.

Meaghan loves to bake and she reads cookbooks in her spare time.  She wrote a paper this year about three things she wants to accomplish in her lifetime and one of the goals she wrote was to open a bakery named

The Happy Place


I love the mere idea of

The Happy Place

and I love Meaghan.

Meaghan makes jewelry in her spare time and is constantly devouring YouTube videos to help her with her creations.  She and I can have a conversation about an important topic and she has her own thoughts and opinions about the issue at hand.

I love to see the way her mind works and I love who she is.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not in denial:  I can see that this era of parenting is going to bring challenges.  I mean,


, the adolescent mood swings are nothing to scoff at.  I also know as these kids grow, I'm going to have to watch them make bad choices and I know it will pain my heart to see the flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone

, sin.

But I refuse to believe that parenting teenagers will be all misery because parenting for me, while it has always been hard and ego crushing, has


been a joy.  

Amidst the pain of parenting, I have always experienced the sweet. 

Yes, there will be hard times with these kids; I've already seen them.  But watching my children grow into adults is not going to be only heartache.  I will get to experience the good stuff too:  

I get to see the development of their sense of humor, their quick wit, and their silliness.

I get to observe their minds at work, how hard they work at school and at home, how diligently they try to be good people and do the right thing.

I get to see they kindness they demonstrate to their siblings and to me, the books they love to read and talk about and the joy with which they embrace life.

Watching all of these things remind me that the teenage years are not going to be all about

Trying To Get By Because These Kids Are Ruining Me.

I get the privilege of watching them become who they are and that is not a burden:  it's an honor.

I can't wait.

So I promise right here and right now to never warn a young mom struggling to keep her head above water with the multiple kids charged in her care and hanging off her grocery cart,

"Just wait, it gets



That's not a true statement!

When I see that young mom, overwhelmed and fumbling, I plan on grabbing her hand, looking her in the eye and saying,



!  You get the pleasure of watching these kids grow. 

You get to help your kids develop their gifts and you get to watch them change the world. 

You are in for the ride of your life.  Lucky you, my friend!  Lucky



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.