I Believe in Motherhood

Motherhood

I often encounter the sentiment, whether by outright statement or by mere general attitude, that parenthood should only be undertaken in certain highly controlled and perfectly ideal conditions. Rather than seeing parenting and motherhood as the call of most people, it is often seen as the allowance of a certain privileged few — the well-educated, the financially stable, and the mentally healthy. While I encourage responsible parenthood and agree that there are certain ideal circumstances in which children should be born, (and we shouldn’t necessarily encourage pregnancy for those whose lives are in upheaval), the fact remains that tons of pregnancies happen in less-than-ideal circumstances. Regardless of the circumstances of conception, I believe that pregnancy is always a gift and something worth celebrating.

When I became pregnant with my firstborn, I was unmarried, with inadequate income to support a child, in the throes of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder-induced nightmares and daytime “triggers”. I also routinely cut myself as a way of coping with an emotional pain that I didn’t know how to deal with any other way. And I thank God every day that it was in these circumstances I was given the greatest gift given to woman — the gift of a child.

baby Feli
Me in my first year of motherhood.

Let me back up a bit, however, to the occurrences that led to the circumstances above, so easy to type out yet so traumatic to experience, that is, the occurrences of my childhood sexual abuse.

It is impossible to say just how much this one phrase impacted my life. Being just six years old when the abuse started, I don’t have many memories of who I was before it began.

I know before the abuse I was headstrong and confident, even pushy. I was largely care-free. After the abuse I knew profound shame. Along with fear, it was my constant companion and dictated my every thought and action.

Like many victims, unable to process this kind of trauma and betrayal, I made sense of it by coming to the conclusion that it was somehow my fault. Being six, I didn’t really have a name for that elusive quality inside of me that made me different from everyone else. In my mind, it just came to be known as my “badness”. This badness was not even really a part of who I was; it was who I was. I was bad. I didn’t even have a name for sexual abuse or know that’s what it was. In my mind what happened was that this person that I trusted discovered that I was bad and so that is why those things happened to me. I didn’t deserve any better.

My abuser never outright said any of these things to me. He didn’t have to. He abused me and this is what abuse teaches a person. I know from experience that our sexual organs are intimately and powerfully connected to the very essence of who we are. When our sexual experiences are good, wholesome, safe, and loving, our whole person is honored and empowered. When our sexual experiences are abusive, coercive, painful, or associated with being used, the damage done is catastrophic.

At the age of six and thereafter, I knew with every fiber of my being that I was bad and utterly unlovable. I knew if anyone ever discovered the “real” me, they would stop loving me. I knew I couldn’t tell my parents, other family members, or anyone about the abuse. If they knew, that is, if they too discovered my badness, they wouldn’t love me either. For a young child dependent on the care of others, and of course loving her family members, this possibility was terrifying.

As a woman in her 30s writing this, looking back to a six-year-old child believing these things, my heart breaks for her. My heart breaks for me. I want to scoop that child up in my arms and somehow make her see her own beauty, innocence, and value. Eventually I did end up learning that I had worth and beauty, and it was I myself, in a way, who ended up teaching me those truths.

It happened when I was 27. That ‘s how old I was when I gave birth for the first time. I was induced because I was four days past my due date, but thank God, I somehow still managed to have a pretty natural birth. I say thank God, because labor was hard, and it was a great gift from my Creator that it was hard. Labor was painful (and made more painful due to the labor-inducing drug pitocin), but I experienced it, and through the attention and compassionate support of my husband I was able to find the strength within myself to handle it. I felt labor, and because of that struggle, I owned it. When my child was born I knew that this child came into the world not because of a team of medical specialists, but because my body brought her into it. I went through the pain and struggle and momentous effort. My birth was mine, and it was life-changing. When it was over, I knew I could accomplish anything.

In the weeks following birth, some questions began to form in my mind.

Question number 1: How could I be bad if I had created someone so beautiful and perfect?

As I persisted in nursing my daughter, desiring to give her the numerous health benefits associated with nursing — despite my feelings of discomfort at having an infant suck on a sexual organ — a second question formed: What if I have it all wrong?

What if my body wasn’t created as an object to give sexual pleasure to men but to nurture and give life?

So it was, through the nitty-grittiness of motherhood that my body undid all the lies I had previously believed about myself. My body empowered me. I knew that I was good. I knew that I was not a thing but a person who possessed an unfathomable power and dignity. I knew this dignity was inviolable — that nothing I could do and nothing done to me could change this fact about my personhood. I mattered.

sleeping baby Feli
Me and my firstborn.

In fact, I credit childbirth, breastfeeding, and continuing to honor and listen to my body through Natural Family Planning afterwards, as the biggest contributors to my empowerment as a female. The body parts that were so closely associated with shame and pain were the very parts that taught me so powerfully about my worth. Now, I see pregnancy and birth as a powerful and epic experience that God has designed to break into our lives, in all our woundedness, to give women a lesson and testimony of our worth. And who needs this lesson more than the girl or woman who has been used and broken by the men in her life? When we divorce sex from the possibility of pregnancy through birth control, or convince women facing hardship that they are not fit to parent and it is more logical to abort, we rob them of the very medicine that is designed to heal their deepest wounds.

It is my conviction that God intensified the pains of childbirth for the woman as described in the book of Genesis not as punishment for her sin, but as a remedy to it, because in man’s fallen state he seeks so often to dominate woman. Thus God, in love, provided her with a powerful lesson as the antidote to man’s domination, because we, women, are good and wholly loved, and God wants us to know it.

I often hear comments by people about “those” women whose lives are a mess and “have no business having a(nother) child,” and I always feel personally offended. I’m all for responsible parenthood and all, but I also believe that sometimes parenthood is often the impetus people need to lift themselves out of the muck. I’ve seen it again and again. Parenthood transforms people. Did I deserve a child? Of course not. No one does. God knew, however, that I needed a child, and that with the right support from others, I could embrace motherhood and in the process come to know my true self, as designed by God: wholly loved, gifted, and fully capable of achieving amazing things.

I recognize that not all women will become physical mothers, or that they should, but we should not act as though motherhood is so precise a task as to be undertaken only in the most ideal circumstances. The truth is, that whether by their own plan and desire or by other circumstances, many women find themselves pregnant. In whatever her circumstance, she should be surrounded by the support and care she needs on her momentous journey. I believe that motherhood, however it comes to be, is a gift and it requires our celebration. For me, my unplanned pregnancy was the best and most empowering thing that could have happened to me, and I’m so grateful for such a gift.

Firstborn
My firstborn today.

Parenting is Supposed to be Joyful

 

Parenting Is Supposed to be Joyful

Although the mother’s tone was pleasant enough, every word that she spoke to her child was a directive, a correction, or a reprobation. “What color is the slide? I know you know it. No, it’s blue. I expect more from you than that!”…”I’m not going to push you on the swing unless you pump your legs. Bend them. Now straight! Bend! Straight! No, you are doing it backwards. You have to try. You are not trying enough.”…”You need to wait to climb up there until the other children are off. Get down and wait. You know better than that.” I see it all the time. I see it in parks, in stores, when I take my children to the children’s museum, and pretty much any place that families gather. I notice the commanding tone parents use and the stern look in their eyes when they speak to their kids. I observe the frequency with which they correct their children and the infractions they deem worth public correction. Often I see this happen not when the child is being truly unruly, but when they are just being curious,  when they are simply unaware of social custom, or even when they are doing nothing wrong at all.

Even though I believe whole-heartedly in peaceful parenting and treating children with the same respect and consideration that one would show an adult — or perhaps even more since a child does not have the same abilities as adults — I don’t judge such parents. I used to be one.

I sometimes shudder at the things I hear parents say to their children, but I remember  saying and doing similar things, and in my worse moments, sometimes I hear those things coming out of my own mouth still. Luckily though, even though I am by no means perfect, I’ve come a long way from where I once was. I once believed it was my primary duty to make sure my children acted perfectly polite and genteel at every moment of the day. Also high up on my list of parenting priorities was teaching my children obedience. The result of this way of thinking was that I monitored my children’s behavior like a hawk, swooping in at every hint of self-will. It was exhausting. Observing, correcting, barking orders, punishing every infraction all day every day. Toddlers, not being generally known for their polite, conciliatory natures, made this stage of parenting particularly burdensome on me. Although I loved my children fiercely, motherhood was absolutely exhausting, especially when I became a stay-at-home mom when my oldest was three and her younger sister, six months. As a new mother, it was a lot of pressure.

I also wonder about the children. What kind of pressure are they under when every action is monitored and corrected? What does it do to their psyches when it appears to them that those they love most in the world, their parents, are completely annoyed by their presence, and sometimes say as much to others within their earshot? I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that a child in these circumstances has two choices, to become angry and rebellious at the way they are treated and act out because they are not connected and grounded to anyone, or else to become a compulsive people-pleaser, unable to truly relax into herself but always feeling that she must try harder and do more to earn the love of others.

Mateo saving Nadia

At this time of year, I also witness the memes about the parents crying tears of joy at the thought of their kids returning to school. I wonder if this mentality, this pressure, and the utter sheer exhaustion of this parenting paradigm is what fuels some of that, and the near-constant comments I hear about my lifestyle. “You homeschool? I could never be with my kids all day.” “You have four kids? I don’t know how you do it. Two was all I could handle.” I think behind their eyes I see some pity as they imagine me tearing my hair out all day from the frustration of having to deal with four of these little humans day in and day out, without break. I have my moments of course; frustrating and exhausting moments a part of parenthood. However — and this is a very important distinction — they should be moments, smaller pieces of time within the context of a much larger, joy-filled whole.

I think our culture has forgotten this. Parenting is supposed to be a joy. We are supposed to delight in our children and our children should see and know that we delight in their presence. Do parents need alone time? Absolutely. Do we need time and space to recharge and pursue our interests outside of childrearing? Of course we do. But if parenting feels like a burden the majority of the time and the hours with our children are characterized by stern words, and feelings of frustration and burnout, then something is wrong and it needs our attention. Don’t tell yourself that this is just the way parenting is. It might be the way parenting is in this culture, but it is not how it should be.

Luckily for me, I stumbled onto the notion of peaceful parenting early in my parenting journey – shortly after I became a stay-at-home mom and struggled with the exhaustion of it all. I remember one day, feeling defeated and overwhelmed, praying to Mary, the Mother of God, to help me to be the mother my children needed me to be. The very next day, my answer came, and I discovered a different parenting paradigm. This new paradigm said that a parent’s primary duty wasn’t to ensure correct behavior at all times, but to model respect. It was not to force obedience, but to nurture connection. This new paradigm held that children have as much dignity as adults and so we should not say or do anything to a child that we would not say or do to an adult whom we respected.

This was radical, but so appealing. I mean, it’s radical as far as treatment of children goes. It’s more commonly acknowledged that this is how our adult relationships should be managed. I don’t publicly correct my husband when it comes to his faults. Either I patiently bear with them, or I try to talk to him about it in private and with sensitivity to his feelings. Similarly, if I am crabby and being rude, my husband doesn’t ground me or yell at me and threaten me with punishments unless I get an attitude adjustment; he asks, “Is something bothering you?” because he knows there is something behind that behavior.

When it comes to children, it is stopping to consider their needs and feelings, and considering how to approach a situation while respecting their dignity. Maybe it means removing them from the situation if they are in danger, maybe it means taking them aside to address the issue in private or at a later time, and maybe it means not addressing it at all because who among us would want to be around someone who pointed out our every fault? It takes a long time to learn how to control one’s emotions and how to act in every situation. This is something I am still learning as an adult! So simply acknowledging that they are children and these things take time I think is often times sufficient.

My Post

Before I found peaceful parenting, my oldest had a habit of biting her nails constantly; once I started parenting differently, I noticed that she had stopped. Later on, I wrote this:

I realize now that a lot of the things that I said was for the good of my child, was really for my own convenience. I didn’t feel like playing at the park any longer; I didn’t feel like helping my daughter find a different outfit to put on that she would like better; I didn’t feel like fulfilling her requests that were inconvenient to me, so I said no. Of course, when I am with my friends I like to take as much time as I need; if I wish to change my outfit, I can do so. But small children are not able to do many tasks by themselves and they rely on our help and on our patience in taking the time they need to explore and play (which is their work). How ironic that we expect children to learn to be patient and thoughtful, but we can so often be impatient and dismissive of their wants! I must be thoughtful of my child’s wants before I can expect her to be thoughtful of my own or anyone else’s. I must be willing to change my schedule to accommodate her, before I can expect that she will stop doing what she is absorbed in to accommodate my needs. If children have equal dignity, then we should take their feelings seriously. 

Although dealing with less misbehavior was not the goal of this way of parenting, it was a beautiful side benefit. Just like me, when I feel connected and accepted by someone, I am eager to help them however I am able and I am also free to work on my faults from my own self-motivation. I’ve learned children are the same. I’m positive many misbehaviors are prevented by nurturing a strong connection with my children, and when they occur, trying to connect with them instead of punish them has reaped many benefits.

When I came across peaceful parenting, on one hand it took a lot of effort, because it meant I had to learn new ways of handling situations and I had some bad habits to break. On the other hand, however, it was very freeing. I remember being able to simply enjoy my children, to be able to see them and to try to understand them as persons, instead of always evaluating and judging each thing they did. Maybe for the first time, I could enjoy them and try to get to know them instead of always coming at them with an agenda of what I had to teach them.

In this exhilarating, difficult, amazing journey called parenthood, if we are not enjoying it, it may be that, like I was, we are so busy focusing on ‘what’ our children need to learn (and all the things it is our responsibility to teach them) rather than taking the time to enjoy ‘who’ our children are and the moments we have with them. Of course, mental health issues, like depression, could be a factor as well. Or maybe we are trying to do too much and we don’t have the parenting help and the breaks that we need. Maybe our children need help, professional or otherwise, in learning how to deal with life. Whatever it is, I’m positive that lack of joy in the journey should be our wake up call. Being exhausted, stretched, and angered or miserable all the time is not “just the way parenting is”. We’re meant to take joy in our children, to enjoy their presence, and I’m sure it is a vital need of everyone — adults and children alike — to really see and experience that the people we love delight in being with us.

Thoughts on Sexual Abuse and Cover Ups

Sexual Abuse and Cover Ups

I read a couple news articles last night before bed. The news coming out of Pennsylvania, and the long-term, widespread sexual abuse of children and its cover ups by the hierarchy was sobering.

I experienced anger and disgust. When it comes to the abuse of children, I feel this is only appropriate. I hate that I even have to say that or justify feeling anger. But I know from experience that when it comes to every crime under the sun, people urge justice and encourage the victims to seek justice. Except sexual assault, that is. When it comes to the destruction of homes and property it goes without saying that of course the first thing one ought to do is to call the police and press charges. But when it comes to the holy temples of God that is our bodies, people urge forgiveness instead. “You can’t change the past,” they say. “You just have to get over it and get on with life.” “There’s no use bringing it up and ruining the abuser’s whole life because he made a mistake.” They forget that “bringing it up” doesn’t ruin lives; choosing to abuse and rape other people does. I’m not saying I don’t believe in forgiveness, I do. I believe in it whole-heartedly. But forgiveness doesn’t erase the need for justice and it doesn’t mean enabling a person to abuse again. Also, forgiveness is probably the last stage of the healing process, not the first.

Jesus’ most well-known instance of indignation was with the money-changers in the temple. He overturned tables and even made a whip out of cords to drive them out. He defended the dignity and worth of the temple vehemently, and time and time again Scripture tells us that our bodies are temples of God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (1 Cor 3:16-17) So I always hear the Scripture story thinking that Jesus too feels great anger when thieves desecrate the holy ground of a person’s body and if we claim to be Christian, we ought to do the same. Our bodies are sacred. They are worth so much more than stone and they are worth passionately defending.

Of course I also feel sadness. As a survivor myself I know firsthand the devastation that sexual abuse causes. I know without a doubt that, despite the American culture saying that sex is no big deal and that sex can be casual, sex matters. What we do with our bodies and what others do to them matters. Our bodies — those holy temples — are sacred and our sexual parts are the most sacred. I’m positive they are closely linked to the very core of our being, of our personhood, and when a person chooses to sexually abuse another, the damage is catastrophic, life-long, and pervasive. I’m not saying a person can’t heal from sexual abuse; they can, but it takes a long time and they will never return to who they were before the abuse. Even healed, they will never stop living with its effects. I don’t think our culture as a whole understands how insidious and insipid abuse is, how it worms its way into every aspect of one’s life and changes everything. But it does, and until we as a culture and as a Church acknowledge that, we will forever give offenders a slap on the wrist and offer them more compassion than we do their victims.

Part of me also feels some sense of relief, because I see a lot of people getting angry, and I think, “Finally. Maybe we’ve finally acknowledged that sexual abuse is a big deal and its victims are worth getting angry about.” Indeed they are worth getting angry about. We should be very very angry at those who abuse children and those who enabled their abuse, and probably especially so clergy who represent and act in the person of Christ.

I used to be an Advocate for a Sexual Assault Resource Center. I was trained to answer the crisis hotline, to be a support person through medical examinations and evidence collection, during court proceedings, and police questioning or reporting. I’ve talked to tons of survivors of childhood sexual abuse whose families didn’t believe them. I’ve talked to some whose families did, but were so embarrassed by the shame that Uncle Joe’s or Grandpa Sam’s behaviors would bring to the family, they collectively chose to keep the abuse quiet.

I once remarked to a friend that people think honor killings don’t happen in the States, but they happen every time the body of a child is desecrated and the family chooses their own honor and good name over justice and healing for the victim.

I’ve seen mothers choose “not to ruin” the life of their friend’s son over seeking justice for their own daughter. Once I even saw an entire close-knit community choose compassion and support for the rapist over compassion and support for his victim who was also one of their own. In that case, it wasn’t even an issue of believing his word over hers, as he admitted to the deed, and in fact videotaped the assault. So even though everyone knew that, without any shadow of doubt, he abused the girl, the entire community expressed their support and “forgiveness” to him (even though they themselves weren’t the ones he assaulted). During the court hearing, his side of the court room was filled with his supporters. In contrast, the girl sat with her parents, and behind them a couple of advocates. Furthermore, outside the courtroom, she and her family were harassed so much that they ended up leaving town.

The tendency to side with the abuser over the victim is a thing, and it’s pretty prevalent. As a survivor, it’s something I have trouble understanding. Maybe it’s because people just don’t understand the destruction that sexual abuse causes. To us survivors though, it feels like we are being stripped of our humanity and dignity yet again, that our families and communities feel like we don’t really have any value and we aren’t worth defending.

So while I feel anger and sadness, I also form a question in my mind. Once we have demanded justice and the abusers and the enablers within the priesthood and the Catholic hierarchy have been appropriately dealt with, will we sit back in comfort and pretend that the problem has been dealt with? Or will we acknowledge the abuse that is ubiquitous in our society? Will we decide that other victims are worth defending too, and acknowledge that our own institutions and communities need repentance and reform as well?

As a Catholic, I don’t base my belief on fallible humans but on the doctrines of the Church that I believe with my whole mind and heart, but I will continue to be saddened, disappointed, and angered at the wolves in our midst. I will continue to pray for the many holy and faithful priests that have personally blessed me with their sacrificial witness to the love of Jesus Christ. I will be praying for healing for the Body of the Church who has been damaged — not by the report or by victims coming forward — but by the wrongdoing of abusers and enablers. I’ll be praying for the survivors. I’ll also be praying for the abusers because I believe that whenever we become aware of another person’s sin, that that is God’s way of asking for prayers for that person, and whenever a person sins against me I offer the very hurt they caused, all my anger, frustration, and feelings of betrayal and sadness as a prayer for them. It is what Christ did for us on the cross, offering the very suffering that we ourselves caused to win our salvation, and so we must do the same.

 

My Feminine Life

Ahh, light bulbs, grocery stores, Amazon Prime, and central heating and air-conditioning. They sure are convenient. They are so convenient they make it so that the change of seasons and daily weather often have a minimal impact on our lives. Unlike our ancestors, many of us don’t have seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting, followed by a winter of rest. We likely get up at the same time in winter as we do summer; we likely eat the same kinds of foods year around. If we are the outdoorsy type, what we do for leisure might change with the seasons, but otherwise, our habits and lifestyle likely remain fairly constant. Similarly our culture is pretty bad at taking the time to notice the “seasons” of a woman’s body and live lives in respect to those seasons.

Being the type to love an engaging book along with a hip coffee shop, I’m just as bad as everyone else at respecting nature’s rhythms. In fact, my family might be even worse. Being a stay-at-home mom, with a work-at-home husband, with children that we homeschool means that we spend many days not leaving our perfectly temperature-regulated house. I mean there’s yard work to do and living in Wisconsin means in the winter we will spend some time shoveling and snow-blowing, but that’s pretty much it. Scorching heat? No problem. Thunderstorms? Not an issue. Major blizzard and schools and roads are closed? Doesn’t affect us. When it comes to the rhythms that nature gave me as a woman, however, thankfully my family is much better at respecting those rhythms. So I thought I’d share what my family does and encourage you to figure out if there is something you can do to respect your own rhythms or the rhythms of the women in your life.

Autumn

Autumn

Trees turn red and shed their leaves during this time, and a woman’s body, if she hasn’t conceived a new life the previous cycle, is shedding the inner lining of her uterus. Physically, this is the Menstrual season of her cycle. Relationally, this is the woman’s Reflective time. Physically she does not have as much energy at this time as at other times of her cycle. Relationally, a woman feels more withdrawn and less social. Her spirit wants to reflect and reevaluate her life and how it is going. It is also at this time that she is most likely to “shed” unhealthy ways of thinking or acting, and it’s a great time to get in touch with her spiritual purposes.

What I do to honor this time: At other times of my cycle, I try to get up at 6:30 or 7:00. In my Reflective time, I don’t set the alarm. Instead, I wake up when I wake up. I also reflect more. I try to meditate for 30 minutes every morning regardless of the season, but I notice that during the reflective time my prayer shifts. I naturally ponder what is happening in my life and discern what is mine to do. During the reflection time I often experience a certain degree of clarity. I may have several options in front of me, all being good in themselves, but I know which of those options I need to let go of and which of those I am called to pursue. My husband and I use a Fertility Awareness Based Method, so once I identify my peak day (the most likely day of ovulation) I count ahead to determine when my period will begin and I put it in my calendar and label it “Rest Week”. Then when I am making appointments, I try to avoid scheduling too many social engagements or appointments during my Reflection Time. During this time my husband takes on some of my household chores to allow me the rest I need. He also cajoles the kids into helping out more. Once our daughters begin cycling, they too will be relieved of chores during this time and their dad will honor their need for rest and reflection by doing their chores for them (as I’ll likely be cycling with them).

Winter

Winter

In an agrarian culture, although there are obviously things to do in winter, it is less busy than the planting and harvesting times. Days are shorter and people gather around the fire to hear the stories of their ancestors from the village storytellers. For a woman, after menstruation ends, most women enter their early dry days. There is not a significant amount of activity in the ovaries. They are at rest.  Relationally, this could be called a woman’s Energy time. A woman’s normal level of energy returns after menstruation ends as well as her interest in socialization.

What I do: I emerge from my theoretical red tent. I begin to put into place those things that I discerned and reflected on in my menstrual phase and I resume all my usual activities and although the storytelling might be at a table in a coffee shop rather than around a fire, I gather with my friends and share the joys and sorrows of life.

Spring

Spring

Everything is in bloom and the birds are busy building their nests and making new chicks. For a woman, this is the time of her cycle when she is fertile. Unlike men, who are fertile all the time once they go through puberty, a woman is fertile about a week each cycle. Relationally, this is her Creative Time. She is bursting with creative energy at this time. She also feels selfless and giving. She is most attracted to her husband and she’s emitting pheromones that make her particularly attractive to him.

I was reflecting one day on the fact that, barring the use of hormonal birth control or medical issues, every woman in her childbearing years has this fertile/creative time each cycle. As a Catholic, I believe that creation means something. I believe that each thing in creation is a result of a loving decision by the Creator. I was struck with the observation that not only does God give married women this fertile time, but also single women, teens, religious women, and married women who have discerned that they need to hold off on pregnancy for whatever reason. Why would God give women this gift if He intended they not use it? But then I realized that God does wish for us to use this gift. Women, by our very nature, are life givers. I firmly believe that it is the special task of every woman in her creative time to discern how God is asking her to give life. Is she called to give physical life to someone through bearing a child? Or is she being asked to give life in another way? How can she use her God-given gifts and talents to give life to another? To give another encouragement? To witness to another’s dignity? In what way is she personally and specifically called to breath life into this often bleak and broken world?

It also struck me that of course the God who lovingly designed woman and created her in His image and likeness, respects our design and needs during each season. So God waited for Mary to enter her fertile phase before He sent the Angel Gabriel to her to ask if she would be the mother of Jesus. Being only betrothed but not yet married, for Mary to be found pregnant could have resulted in her being stoned to death. She was likely filled with fear and uncertainty about what God was asking of her. I think in our own spiritual lives, just as we want to be selfless and giving with others during the Creative Time, it is easier for us to be selfless and giving with God during this time. If there is something that we suspect God may be asking of us that we have been afraid to say yes to, now is a great time to give Him our yes.

How I honor this time: Well, if my husband and I have decided we want another child, then we have sex. The rest of the time, however, we abstain during the fertile time. Despite the sacrifice this entails, the Creative Time is my favorite season of the month. I have so much energy. I feel creative and alive. This time is really a woman at her best. She feels like she can tackle anything life throws at her and she probably can. During my creative time I often wake early because I don’t need as much sleep as at other times of my cycle and it is at this time that I often do my best writing. I’m certainly capable of being creative at other times, but here creativity is easy and just pours out. Though my husband takes on some of my chores during the Reflection Time, now, no such assistance is needed. I’m like, “Why don’t you put up your feet and rest, I’m going to clean the house top to bottom, write a best-selling book, and make this three course dinner all while nursing the toddler and do it all today!” Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea. The energy and creativity of this time is something I’ve really come to treasure and enjoy.

Because I’m especially geared to connect with my husband at this time, I make sure to do that. It seems like if we can’t come together physically, my husband and I tend to come together emotionally. Over the course of our 12 years together, the times when we have gotten into the best, most connected conversations have often happened when I was in my fertile time but we were abstaining. Not that we don’t connect emotionally otherwise; we often make an effort to, but it just seems that hormones and other chemicals are aligned to really facilitate connection during the Creative Time.

Also, I pray and ponder, “How am I called to give life? In what way can I give my yes?” and “Let it be done to me according to Your word.”

Summer

Summer

For many people summer is a time of socializing at the neighborhood barbecue and swimming in the community pool. After a woman’s time of fertility ends, her energy levels return to their usual level. A few days before her period begins again however, (about two weeks after the end of her Creative time) her energy falls and she again turns inward. Relationally, this is her Sensitive Time. Although at other times she feels confident and capable, during her sensitive time a woman’s spirit is more vulnerable, and she is more likely to feel overwhelmed. Others should respect her needs and not make jokes at her expense. They should be grateful for the many ways she has given the gift of herself during the other times of her cycle and recognize that now she needs to be the one cared for with gentleness. During a woman’s sensitive time, her speech is often more blunt. She will speak her truth and speak it freely! If a woman is the type that usually speaks her mind, she should probably refrain from discussing sensitive topics if tact is needed. However some women have difficulty speaking up for themselves and keep many things inside of them (like me) and so the sensitive time might be a good opportunity for those women to just say what needs to be said.

How I honor this time: When I am in my Late Infertile Phase, I continue to create and do my normal activities until my energy and mood dip down again. At the end of this phase, when I notice that I am being bothered by things that don’t typically bother me, I look at my chart and think, “Yep, I’m due to begin my period in a couple of days.” Then I announce to my husband that I’ve entered my sensitive time. He appreciates this information because he loves me and really doesn’t want to hurt my feelings so it’s helpful for him to know that I’m in need of extra gentleness and care at this time, and probably some extra cuddles too. Although our culture likes to joke about this time and use PMS as an excuse to completely disregard what a woman is thinking or feeling during her sensitive time (or really any time) I really believe that you can learn secrets to her soul that are hidden at other times.

Night and Day

moon

Men are like the sun and women are like the moon. Men’s moods, hormones, and energy levels typically remain fairly constant day after day. Women’s hormones, energy levels, and relational needs change. Unfairly, this has often led to women being castigated as “illogical and unpredictable,” which makes as much sense to me as labeling the waxing and the waning of the moon, or the cycles of deciduous trees as unpredictable and illogical. Being cyclical doesn’t mean we can’t think logically and it obviously doesn’t mean we are without a pattern. When it comes to the moon’s cycle and the cycles of leafy trees we obviously can and do predict them. Women too have a pattern and that pattern can be understood and it is my belief that it should be respected. Although the sun often gets all the credit for life on earth, it is less well-known that without the moon there likely would not have been life on Earth either and that the moon’s absence around the Earth would mean death for us all just as assuredly as would the absence of the sun.

Women have a pattern of rest and reflection; energy, creativity, and socialization; then a return again to rest and reevaluation. I believe this pattern is good and healthy for women, and it is good and healthy for the culture in which each woman finds herself. I can’t help but wonder at the wisdom that could be gained and the gifts that could be shared if men and women were encouraged to understand and honor women’s cycles (both physical and relational) rather than suppress them. Women are a gift to the world, and the world needs us — just as we are.

Note: Much of the information on the relational cycles of women in this post was developed by Elizabeth Ministry Founder, Jeannie Hannemann. If you are interested in a resource to help your preteen or teen understand and appreciate their cycle, a great resource is “Celebrating the Passage to Womanhood” by Hannemann. 

Why Peaceful Parenting?

Peaceful Parenting

My husband and I strive to parent peacefully. I say ‘strive’ because we aren’t perfect. Sometimes we find ourselves threatening punishment over infractions, or pushing our own will over the will of our children. Nevertheless, much of the time we do live up to our ideals, and so we are grateful for our successes when we have them.

Still, some may wonder why we strive for such a path in the first place. How can children grow up to be responsible adults in a home without punishment? In a home where they are not taught to obey adults? For me, the ‘why’ of peaceful parenting is simple: because my children have dignity and so I must honor it. Furthermore, I feel it is perhaps my primary duty as their parent to teach them that they have dignity, and how else can one teach someone such a thing except by showing them?

family portrait
My family. 

Thus all of my parenting choices are guided by my desire to help my kids understand the great and irrevocable dignity that is theirs. They do not have less dignity than adults have; they have the same amount, and I want my kids to know it. I want this fact to be a part of their schema, their mental structures of how the world works. I want them to know it, not like they know the earth is round, but like they know that they are human — because they live it; they experience it; because they cannot imagine life being another way. I want it to be so much a part of their identity that they would not think of living a life contrary to this basic fact of their personhood: They matter.

My oldest is 11 now, and we began to parent peacefully when she was 3. Back then some warned that a failure to punish children and to assert one’s authority over them would result in entitled, spoiled little monsters. My children are not grown yet, so perhaps their predictions will yet come true, but I don’t think so. In the eight years that we have been striving for peace rather than control, I have observed that the more peaceful, respectful, and kind the adults are able to be, the more respectful, peaceful, and kind our children become. I have seen it often enough to be convinced that children do not learn good behavior by threats of violence or punishment, but they learn it through the good example of others and by the gentle coaching of a trusted person who can give them encouragement when they fail.

“Children who are trusted, will trust others. Children who are given all the time they need, will be free to share that time with others. Children who are given all the freedom they need, will not begrudge freedom in others.” – Sandra Dodd, Unschooler

“Power struggles can disappear when the person with power stops struggling.” – Deb Lewis, Unschooler

 

This post has been updated, and appeared originally on a old blog of mine called Mothering Gently.

Funny Little One Year Olds

A few weeks ago, my one-year-old son spent more time than usual with other children his own age. Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, most of Mateo’s days are spent (relatively peacefully) with his parents and his three older sisters. On this particular week, however, he spent much more (and much less peaceful) time with other one year olds.

On most Mondays throughout this past school year, Nadia (5yo) has gone to the atrium, her Montessori-based religion class called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. While the children aged three to six are in the atrium, the parents and their other children hang out in the waiting room. Among the kids in the waiting room are three one-year-olds. Most of this year, a certain percentage of the parents’ time has been spent refereeing the one-year-olds’ fights with each other. One of them will rip another’s toy out of his or her hands and scream “Mine!” Then the other will cry. Or perhaps they will both hold a strong grip on the coveted toy, seemingly prepared to engage in a fight to the death over said toy, and so we parents intervene with a (probably pointless) exhortation that they need to share (but, you know, they’re one. So I’m not sure how great they’ll be at that for at least the next year or so). That is, more or less, how I spend my Monday afternoons.

I noticed however, that when it comes to the babies in the waiting room, Mateo is very gentle with them. I’ve found him gently rocking a baby in her infant carrier. He’ll crouch low and observe them, and, understanding in some way that they are younger, he’ll try to bring them toys to play with. The children that are older than Mateo, will typically defer to him, recognizing that he is “just a baby.” It’s with those his same age with which he duels constantly.

1yo opinion: Hanging out with sister in the car-cart that moves down aisles = meh

 

1yo opinion: Hanging out on a stationary lawn mower = LOTS OF FUN (and moving too far from lawn mowers = tragedy)

On this particular week, in addition to Monday’s atrium visit, I babysat a friend’s one-year-old son, William, for a morning. Mateo seemed to be okay with William for the most part, that is, until William would touch any of Mateo’s toys. Not simply sitting quietly in our home, but actually trying to explore it and play with the toys in it seemed to go against one-year-old etiquette and Mateo was obviously highly offended. He would run over, shout “Mine!” and try to rip the toy from William’s hands. As on Mondays, I played referee and would mumble the obligatory mandate on sharing.

The following day, on Friday, I made the trek to catch up with a friend who lives an hour away. It was great to catch up with her. She, however, also has a one year old. Like Mateo was the previous day, one-year-old Mariana was fine with Mateo being in her house as long as he didn’t try to play with any of the toys in it. Once he did, the “Mine” fight would ensue, with the parents refereeing. At one point in the afternoon, Mariana was happily sitting on her mother’s lap in the dining room with the rest of us while Mateo was playing quietly in the next room over. Mateo, holding a toy, came into the dining room and shouted an authoritative “HEY!” We all looked over at him, including Mariana. Mateo looked at Mariana right in the eye and said, with particular emphasis, “Mine.” That, of course, ended Mariana’s contentment and with cries and screams she tried to scramble off her mother’s lap to recover the toy that rightfully belonged to her.

All this has me wondering though, who decided that children should spend their childhoods with other kids their exact same age? I think I prefer more natural communities for myself and my children. In other places on the globe, children spend time with kids that are younger, kids that are older, adults, the elderly, the typical, and those with disabilities. In such settings they learn how to defer to those weaker or younger, be proud of their own abilities but still be inspired by those who can do more than they can.

At some point though, he’ll need to learn how to get along with kids his own age too. Until that happens, I guess I’ll keep playing referee and mumbling the obligatory statements on sharing.

 

 

 

 

 

Experimenting on the Five Year Old

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We love games in our house and so much painless learning happens while playing them. So I recently purchased Games for Math by Peggy Kaye. I figured it’d be a fun way to learn some math concepts while spending some fun, quality time with my five year old. I didn’t expect, however, that it would lead to my 11 year old and I colluding together to experiment on five-year-old Nadia. Yep, I’m a great homeschooling parent. Math games, psychological experimentation, and a child development lesson all rolled into one engaging, fun-filled morning.

I didn’t even get to the first math game, however, because as I was perusing the introduction, something caught my eye. The author was explaining the strange view that young children have of certain mathematical concepts. She told about Julie, a girl of five or six years of age. When having two identical rows of pennies before her, Julie was asked which row held more pennies, or if they were the same. Julie said they were the same. Indeed, she was right. Each row held five pennies. When the author “stretched” out one of the rows of pennies so that there was more space between each penny, (but without adding any additional pennies to the row) Julie decided that the stretched out row held more pennies. Even when she counted and each row still held five pennies, it didn’t matter. The stretched out row had more pennies. As I read, my eyes got wider as I thought of all the fun we could have doing this same experiment on our own five year old.

I quickly and quietly summoned 11-year-old Felicia. “Read this,” I said to her, sliding the book across the table to her as if I were some sort of spy giving an agent their secret assignment. She read the section and looked up at me. No words were exchanged but she knew her mission. She quickly went upstairs to get some pennies out of her piggy bank and placed them in two rows.

“Nadia!” We yelled into the living room. “Want to play a counting game?” Felicia asked her, “Which row has more pennies; or are they the same?” Nadia looked, “They’re the same.” Felicia stretched one row out. “Are they still the same?” Sure enough, Nadia thought the stretched out row had more. Even though we had her count each row, the one row still had more pennies in her mind.

We moved on to the next experiment involving two parallel strips of paper. “Which one is longer, or are they the same?” we asked. Nadia said that they were the same. Felicia moved one strip over a little. Nadia thought the one that had moved was longer. Felicia and I were fascinated.

My Post (2)
Nadia also thinks warm weather means you wear a swimming suit. So here she is playing in the snow in a swimsuit, because that’s how we roll in Wisconsin.

The book explains that psychologists have a name for Julie’s and Nadia’s stage of mathematical thinking. They call it pre-operational and sometime between the ages of five and seven, children naturally and effortlessly move into the next stage of concrete operations. So I didn’t try to correct Nadia. I simply observed her normal (and funny) stage of development. I figure some time in the next couple of years, she’ll grow out of it on her own. In the meantime, it sure provided Felicia and me a morning’s entertainment.

Book Review: One Beautiful Dream

one beautiful dream

I know One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler, and published by Zondervan, has been getting a lot of attention and is on the best seller lists, but in case there is someone among my two blog readers who hasn’t heard about it, nor read it, here’s my shining endorsement. Yes, as James Breakwell, the man otherwise known as @XplodingUnicorn, noted, the entire first chapter is dedicated to Jennifer negotiating with her mother-in-law not to bring a live possum into her house, and I’d like to add that it just keeps getting better from there. I found One Beautiful Dream hilarious, refreshing, and inspirational.

I have always found Jennifer’s writing to be very funny and this book is no different. Years ago I used to read Jennifer’s blog in bed when I couldn’t sleep. I used to laugh so hard that I would keep waking my husband up and he disallowed me from reading her work in bed. I won’t go into all the details of my marital woes here, but let’s just say when I ordered the ebook one night before bed, I had a hard time putting it down and I may or may not have angered my husband by my repeated bursts of laughter necessitating an apology gift of a strategically placed bag of Andes mints under his pillow.

Family strife aside, I found this memoir refreshing. In a world full of mommy wars, this book gives you nothing but joyful, tear-inducing mommy solidarity. One Beautiful Dream chronicles the time in Jennifer’s life when she had six kids in eight years and wrote her first book. If that fact alone makes you want to feel like a failure at having not gotten that book deal (or whatever your particular crazy dream is) even though you have fewer kids and they’re spaced farther apart, you have no need to worry. It’s impossible to feel like you’re failing at motherhood when you read about Jen’s chronicles of having a play-date at her house with a new friend, only to have the children discover her husband’s college-era beer bong; or about the uptight babysitter who stormed off the job being so scandalized by Jennifer’s house (the state of it, the size of it, how it was run, or all of the above). As is typical for her, Jennifer is real. She is not one to sugar coat anything and if looking at all your friends insta-worthy pictures of their lives has you feeling down, this book will lift you up.

In One Beautiful Dream Jennifer makes it clear that she loves her children and loves being a mom, yet, like probably every mother alive, she struggled with the tension between wanting to be involved with and connected to her children, but also wanting to pursue dreams outside of family life. The standard way our culture deals with this tension for those who want to be stay-at-home moms, is for the mom to hit pause on her life, spend a few years at home with her children while they are young, and then for her to “get her life back” once the kids go to school. In Jennifer’s work, she shows, in her usual explosive-laughter-inducing-not-to-be-read-next-to-your-sleeping-spouse kind of way how she came to embrace another view of parenting and life, which is doing both family and dream-pursuing together and integrating them with one another.

I found the book so inspiring, however, because Jennifer goes beyond the usual “how to have it all” message. One Beautiful Dream tells how she came to realize that her dreams of having a large, close family and writing a book weren’t in competition with one another. Jennifer asks, “What if following your God-given passion is not just okay to do during the baby years, but actually something that has the potential to enhance your whole family’s life?” Having felt the tension myself between my love of writing and the demands of family life, I had scarcely written a thing since August when I had quit my last paid writing gig. Reading about Jennifer boldly and counter-culturally not choosing either a large family or pursuing her passions so inspired me, that upon finishing her book (in a mere three days) I immediately sat down to create a writing schedule for myself — one that worked with my family and their needs but still allowed me to do what I love. In fact, her approach on how she was able to integrate the different aspects of her life into one satisfying, connected, and unified whole makes her message truly unique.

Though I think parents will obviously get a lot out of this book, I think even non-parents will appreciate the humor and the message. Let’s face it, everyone has dreams, and sometimes life just seems to get in the way of those. No matter what (or who) life brings your way, I think you will enjoy several laughs while drawing refreshment and inspiration from Jennifer Fulwiler’s One Beautiful Dream.

Thoughts From My Kitchen

When I was a college student immersed in the world of academia, spending hours of my days lost in good books, analyzing literary elements, and writing papers, I had the notion that being a stay-at-home parent was full of drudgery. I mean, I recognized the importance of children being connected to their parents. For the parent sacrificing themselves to stay home with their children, however, it seemed like such a magnanimous task, and I had a sneaking suspicion that only those who lacked a certain degree of intellectual aptitude could find it fulfilling.

I didn’t exactly not want children. But I certainly didn’t want to be the one to be home with them either. Then I became a mother, and the force of the bond and protective care that I had for my child shocked me. It was painful to leave her in someone else’s care so that I could go to work. Then a few years later, when my oldest was three and my second child six months, I became a stay-at-home mom.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I can’t say it wasn’t a struggle. It was — and 11 years later, still is — a phenomenal learning curve. It might have been less of a learning curve if our culture didn’t pretend that almost no one grows up to be a parent, but as it was I had a lot to learn about infant care, health, nutrition, education, food preparation, child development, time management, finance, and infinitely more subjects that I never seemed to think that much about before.

I also struggled to define who I was apart from academics. One day I had plans of going to grad school to get my PhD and the next, I was cleaning, bathing, nursing, cooking, and diapering. Maybe the transition would have been easier if the “suburban housewife” were less maligned, the example of the constantly frazzled, yet perpetually-frustrated-with-boredom woman whose dreams for her life have all gone unfulfilled and so must occupy her time obsessively hovering over her children. But then, when I stopped listening to the voices of society defining who I was, I took the time to discover what I thought about my work.

I found that my work was meaningful.

With the breakdown of family in today’s culture, and all the havoc and brokenness that goes with it, we should be more convicted than ever of the importance of being bonded and connected to children, and children being attached to us. It seems really backwards, in fact, that we even have to argue the case for attachment; it should be intuitive to say that children fare better if they are strongly attached to their parents, but it is not. So books like Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, PhD. and Gordon Mate, M.D. and countless others on the importance of attachment need to be written since our society is still largely set up to encourage each age group to be separated from the others, including parents and children.

I see the primary work of motherhood as nurturing the relationships that I have with my children, but of course with stay-at-home parenthood, there comes a host of practical and physical needs to attend to in addition to the relational needs.

In a culture that values productivity above all else, finding value in non-quantifiable tasks such as nurturing relationships can be difficult. We can’t point to a love-gauge on our children and say at the end of the day, “Look! I kept her tank full all day and now I am only three points away from having a secure, confident, and independently explorative child!”

Also, due to our limited finances, I found myself needing to acquire a host of practical skills. I began sewing; I learned to crochet; make my own laundry soap; bake my own bread, and many other domestic skills of which I was previously completely devoid, once again, like motherhood itself. I found them fulfilling and empowering. Hand-making gifts and household necessities made me feel resourceful and capable. Making many things by hand also made me feel like I was doing my part to reject consumerism and live a slower, more intentional lifestyle.

Then to heal my family members’ numerous health issues , I began to spend a lot more time in the kitchen making our food from scratch. My nurse mother-in-law had been reading a book called GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome so she passed it onto me. I won’t go into all the details of the GAPS protocol, but it is becoming more well known how important gut health is in regards to our whole physical and mental well-being. In the book, Dr. Campbell-McBride does a good job of explaining why this is so, and she details how to heal the gut to treat numerous ailments.

By our modern day standards, the diet can seem overwhelming. However, it is largely how our great-grandmothers cooked and every generation before her. I felt so blessed to have this information given to me and it seemed to be the one answer to treat all of my family’s issues at once. So baby-step by baby-step I started making dietary changes. We are still not completely on the diet, but mostly. Even so, one daughter’s eczema is gone, another daughter’s mood has improved a thousand fold. Once so often depressed, today she sees the bright side of things and is verbally grateful for many things daily. I can’t underestimate how grateful I am for this change. Also, the diet is a balancing diet, which means that if a person is overweight they will lose weight, and if a person is underweight, they will gain. It is about eating a nutrient-rich diet that heals the body and gives it what it needs.  I found that after my pregnancies, I would typically go back to my pre-pregnancy weight after about a year. After my third and fourth, however, I didn’t. There was about five pounds that just stayed on. I just figured it was because I’ve had a few kids and I was getting older and that was that. After really upping the number of GAPS foods we were eating a few months ago, however, even those five pounds fell off. So now I seem back to the weight that’s healthy for me.

Food preparation hasn’t turned into my love or anything, but it hasn’t felt like mindless drudgery either. In fact, it seems like yet another experience that, due to life circumstances, I’ve found myself needing to do that that the poor, unfortunate generations of women before me had to spend their lives doing, and I’ve discovered a degree of empowerment, enjoyment, and meaning in those tasks.

Now, none of this is meant to suggest that a woman’s place is solely in the home. It can be, and I strongly believe that if she is there it is not beneath her intellectual capacities or dignity to be there. I strongly believe in the importance and the ability of women bringing our feminine genius to all areas of life, both domestic and public. In fact, even for those who work outside the home, if their job does not enable them to do that thing they are most passionate about, they will still need to find a way to do that thing, whatever it is. Nevertheless, if in your own life you find yourself being drawn to staying home with your children, either by necessity or through some strange and inexplicable force, fear not. It might not be the drudgery it is often made out to be.

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Writing

For the Love of WritingAbout a decade ago I started a blog. I wrote because I felt passionately about certain topics and I wanted to write about them. In a sense, I was a bad blogger. I wrote when I felt like it. I didn’t stick to a schedule. I didn’t make posts short and digestible. I wanted to be able to develop my thoughts. I broke lots of blogging “rules”. Each post published, however, I was eager to share. I was proud of my work.

Then I decided to become a “real blogger”. I stuck to a schedule and gave myself deadlines, which meant I started brainstorming possible topics and would sit down to try to create a post out of them. I blogged for myself and other organizations. Then I started blogging for money. In a way it was awesome getting paid to write. In other ways, however, I missed how blogging was for me in the beginning, when it wasn’t a job but a craft that I loved.

So I let all of it go, and here I am. This is my attempt to get back to my roots, when I wrote for the joy of it. At night, I lie in bed and arrange and rearrange words in my head that are itching to get out. I must warn you that I’m going to be a bad blogger. I won’t publish a tidy post released predictably every Monday and Thursday. I’m going to write when I have something to say. I’m going to write for the love of writing. I promise I’ll take time to refine my posts and I’ll give you the best that I have, and I’d love for you to stick around.