Fall in Love with Your Today Self

“Does this account spark joy?” I ask myself regularly as I Marie Kondo my Instagram feed. If the account is one rant after another, I typically will not follow. If it is nothing but sales pitches, nope. Instagram is my happy place on the internet, relatively free from the fighting and drama of every other internet place. I also like to be inspired by Instagram accounts, but not made to feel like a failure, and that can be a fine line. Social media comparison can be a real challenge, but I’ve found that people who are great at loving and accepting their real selves, just as they are, encourage me to do the same. So below are three people I love to follow on IG because they really excel at loving their today selves, which definitely sparks joy for me. When I am tempted to lament that my home, my life, and my very self are rarely picture perfect, the example of these Instagram accounts helps me love my real self, just as I am.

Karianna Frey is one of those people that feels like a real friend, as we have followed each other for probably about a decade, but in reality we have never met in real life. Her handle is @kariannafrey and she recently posted a picture of herself on vacation. In the caption she did something I’ve rarely seen a woman do. She mentioned her height and weight. Frey is a taller woman who weighs more than 200 pounds. She also wasn’t sharing her weight to say, “I’ve lost this many pounds so far!” Nope. As far as I know she’s not working toward any weight-loss goals. She was simply sharing her real self in that moment and saying “This is me!” In a world that seems to always convince women that no matter how we look we aren’t perfect enough, it was so refreshing to see someone loving her body and feeling comfortable in her skin.

Another woman I follow is Amanda Martinez Beck, found at @your_body_is_good. Martinez Beck is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. She posts daily about fat acceptance and body positivity, and her frequent message of “All bodies are good bodies” is a reminder we could all use, regardless of our body size, but especially those who have internalized the idea that only thin bodies can be good. In her own words, Martinez Beck is a “fat girl”. She has a history of struggling with an eating disorder, and when she was able to embrace her today self, she was also able to see that for her, trying to achieve thinness was a goal that wasn’t in her best interests. Martinez Beck shows that self love isn’t one more mind productivity hack. Maybe adopting a more accepting attitude toward yourself will eventually spur you to work toward some goals, whether mental, physical, professional, or otherwise, but that’s not the point. The real objective is to get yourself to the point where you really understand that even if you accomplish all the personal goals you set for your life, you will still be just as worthy of love then as you are right here, right now. 

 Another woman I follow is Kristin Moras (@kristinmoras). Moras is open about the challenges of dealing with rosacea and acne. She sends a message of skin positivity and posts images of herself with makeup, and also a number of filter-free, makeup-free images. Again, her acceptance of her beauty and worth as a person whether her acne is covered or not, and whether she is having a rosacea flare-up or her skin is calm at the moment, is incredibly inspiring and encouraging. Seeing her image and messages appearing daily in my feed also helped make me aware of my own internal dialogue when it comes to my appearance and to notice the ways I often let images of perfection influence how I think about myself. I don’t think I’m quite at the level of self-acceptance as Moras is, but I have noticed some positive strides toward that. I’m working towards accepting myself as I am, flaws and all. When I can do that, I notice I am better at accepting the unconditional love of those around me too. 

I love that all these accounts show love and acceptance for themselves right where they are—today—rather than thinking that if and when they accomplish whatever personal or physical goal, then they will love and accept themselves. I’m no therapist, but it seems much more mentally healthy to me to love and accept ourselves right where we are, because the truth is that no matter what our present life is like, we are worthy of respect and we do have dignity right now. The way I see it, accepting your today self doesn’t mean that you can’t work toward goals, but it does mean that any goals are undertaken from an attitude of self love rather than shame. In my own experience, negative self talk never motivated me to accomplish anything, in fact it probably made me accomplish less for the simple fact that shame is never empowering. Furthermore, simply shaming myself for not doing something also prevented me from getting in touch with the real reasons behind any behavior. If, say, I had a completely unproductive day, telling myself I was lazy stopped me from asking questions to get to the root of things. Was I feeling overwhelmed? Did a number of things outside my control happen that just ended up derailing my day? Did I have unreasonable expectations about how much I can accomplish in a day in this stage of my life? Furthermore, self love can also help us evaluate our goals with an attitude of freedom, only choosing those goals that are really in our own best interests and letting go of goals that aren’t really serving us.

All of these women remind me to reorient my thinking about myself. Amanda Martinez Beck often explicitly says (and all of the above accounts portray) that our bodies are made for relationships, not perfection. That means that sick bodies, healthy bodies, and bodies of every age, size, ability, or state of imperfection can be in healthy and loving relationships with others. I’ve found that when I see other women loving their today selves, it gives me permission to love my today self too. And I’m beginning to see that when I can love me, I can allow others to love me too, because I’m made for relationships, not perfection. 

 

 

Striving for Sanity During Social Distancing

It was probably a year or more ago that I listened to a podcast while I stood at my kitchen sink washing dishes. I wish I could remember more than a couple key takeaways from it. As it is I don’t remember the source of the podcast, (maybe NPR?), the name of the person interviewed, or any other information helpful enough to allow me to actually find it again. But I remember the subject of the podcast and some of the content that really struck me.

The person interviewed was a psychologist who specialized in treating people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said a couple of interesting things that I remember. One, he told about a particular study that looked at outcomes for people who had experienced natural disasters. He said when a hurricane or something hits and then the survivors immediately get to work clearing debris, rebuilding, and doing all that physical work, they have better mental health outcomes than if they are told to just stay still for awhile. If FEMA comes in, and advises people to just wait until they can assess things and get a plan together and it prevents people from getting to work right away, (and the people have little to do but basically sit around and think and worry), they are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of the natural disaster. If they can immediately do the physical work of rebuilding their homes and communities, they tend to be much more resilient.

The second thing I remember from the interview, was the psychologist spoke about a moment of revelation he had while speaking with a client who was struggling with PTSD. The veteran was often triggered by various occurrences in life and was having trouble coping. As the psychologist was taking him through an exercise to help him realize that he is safe now and and no longer needs to worry about warzone threats, the man replied that he knows he is safe now. Intellectually, he completely realizes that driving in his car and going about his day he is pretty safe, but his body still doesn’t feel safe. The psychologist realized that his whole practice was designed to help people realize something that on an intellectual level they already knew. But simply knowing that they were safe, didn’t mean their body’s blood pressure didn’t still rise, their heart didn’t still race, or their adrenaline didn’t still skyrocket at certain moments. As a result of this new awareness, the psychologist began shifting his practice, which now includes giving his clients physical experiences of safety. He found that when the body could really experience safety while the mind practices what it knows, then his clients had great improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

So I thought of this interview again in light of the whole Covid-19 quarantines. One, we are all living in a situation of heightened stress and uncertainty, and two, unless we are healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, or a manufacturer or grower of an essential good,  most of us are being told to stay home and do nothing. So how do we keep ourselves sane?

For myself, here’s what I’m doing.

  1. I’m trying to stay informed enough to keep myself and my family safe, but I am not filling my feeds with minute by minute updates of all the misery in the world. I check in on news updates once a day, and otherwise I try to occupy my mind with what is right in front of me: my family and doing what I am able to do right now, which is spending time with them and building a safe and happy home for all of us. I’ve also had a number of coffee dates with friends via Google Hangouts. That social time has really been essential for me.
  2. I am trying to make sure I do physical work. I think doing something physical is really helpful in calming the mind. So I’m baking, cleaning, and tackling some household projects.

    Sourdough bread!
  3. I’m still limiting screen time. I get it. Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off. Fine. I just don’t want the cycle of my days to be anxiously reading all the corona updates, followed by escaping to Netflix, then repeating. So I try to break up the anxiety scrolling with some more nourishing and calming things.
  4. One criticism I have of the American culture as a whole is that we’ve been living life at an untenable pace, which we break up by using some mode of escaping, but do we really live a thriving life? And do we have real, soul-nourishing leisure? Put another way, do we, as a whole, live a life that we don’t need to escape from? So I’m making an effort to make time for leisure. I define leisure as something that is restful and also filling. I could binge-watch me some Tiger King. (I hear it’s great at getting your mind off of present worries for awhile), but if I don’t feel happier, more fulfilled after watching it, then its not leisure; it’s an escape. Real leisure is fulfilling and we leave such activities I think feeling more ready to take on the challenges of life, and our spirits feel nourished. We are living in trying, worrisome times right now, and we need to make some deposits toward our mental health whenever we can, and I think leisure is a great way to do that. For me, I’ve been dusting off my old piano music (and practicing some new music) and playing the piano daily. For you, it might be watching a quality film, reading a good book, painting, crafting, baking, building, or something else. Whatever it is, I think it should be a priority. Leisure is essential.
  5. I’m trying to do as the psychologist suggested: I’m giving my body experiences of safety. I’m baking bread that fills the house with its wonderful aroma; I’m lighting candles and listening to beautiful, calming music. I’m striving to make my home not just a landing pad, but a true sanctuary for us all.

I hope theses measures keep my family sane through all of this, help us grow as a family, and help us thrive and increase our resiliency to face whatever challenges will come. I’d love to know what mental health measures help you.

Keeping Your Kids Calm During a Crisis

Keeping Kids Calm During a Crisis

It just so happens that I have been re-reading one of my favorite parenting books in preparation for a talk I was scheduled to give at my alma mater next month. I don’t know if the talk will actually proceed as scheduled now, but the book, fortunately enough and so fresh in my mind, has so much excellent advice to parents on what and how much to share with your children about Covid-19.

The excellent book is titled Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. He has been a school counselor, researcher, and educator, and a family counselor. In the book, he discusses how he had worked with children living in refugee camps in war-torn countries who, with little surprise, exhibited many signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After this time, he then spent some time in a school with children in London, and began to see some surprisingly familiar behaviors.  Payne writes:

I had been trained to associate PTSD with very large wartime events, with life-changing traumas that leave their victims shaken in no small measure. My work over the last twenty years has taken me to many war-torn areas: Africa, Israel, and Northern Ireland, as well as to Russia and Hungary during and just after perestroika. I didn’t expect to find “War-torn” children in this relatively affluent area in England, but sure enough, that’s what I was finding. What struck me first were the similarities in the problematic behaviors adopted by these seemingly disparate groups of children. After so many instances of clinical deja vu, I couldn’t ignore my instincts. Certain of the symptoms and behaviors, I was becoming more and more convinced of the cause. And as I looked more closely at their lives, I realized that for both groups the sanctity of childhood had been breached. Adult life was flooding in unchecked. Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy  trying  to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviors that weren’t ultimately helpful. The children were suffering form a different kind of war: the undeclared war on childhood. (8)

Payne goes on to explain that the first-world children, though never having experienced the horrors of the refugee children, nevertheless, experienced such a consistent threshold of small stresses, and rarely dissipating, that they developed a form of PTSD, that Payne coined, Cumulative Stress Reaction, or CSR for short.

Nadia in tree (1)

The cause of CSR was too much. Children’s lives are often led at the same pace as adult life with too much information, too many possessions, too-filled schedules, and too few grounding rhythms. The rest of the book is dedicated to explaining how many families have been able to reduce or entirely alleviate their children’s behavior problems by implementing a program of simplification.

Although I recommend the whole book, the one aspect I’d like to discuss in this post is Payne’s advice to protect our children (and their childhoods) by being careful of how much information is presented to them. Payne describes how one couple was so proud of their “citizen of the world son” who was incredibly well-informed about the issue of climate change and seemed to be on his way toward becoming a little activist. Payne writes, “James’s understanding of global warming seemed to rival Al Gore’s. That much was apparent. James was also, clearly, becoming a very anxious little fellow.” (4) Payne advocates treating childhood as a sacred time to be safeguarded and protected which allows for the slow development of identity, well-being, and resiliency.

One aspect of children is that they exist so effortlessly fully immersed in the present moment. The younger the child, the more “in the moment” they are. However, not having lived life long enough, children don’t have the perspective of adulthood that comes with time. We may have learned that there are times in life that can be really challenging, but the difficulty doesn’t last forever and things can get better. Children may not know the human history of survival. They may not know of past generations surviving war, threat of starvation, plague, natural disasters, and all the other things anyone’s ancestors are sure to have experienced. For children, when the “now” is scary and uncertain, it can be so much more stressful than for an adult.

Mateo and cake

The solution then, is to protect childhood. Don’t give your kids all the information. Tell them what they really need to know. Obviously probably nearly every child in our country has been affected by the pandemic, there is a certain amount of information they need to know. Don’t lie to them, but don’t make them privy to too much information. They don’t need to hear about the coffins piling up in Italy, the numbers of people dying around the world. They don’t need minute-by-minute updates from the constantly-on news channel on how fast the virus is spreading and if its getting ever closer and closer to you or spreading there. Tell them the necessary information, but strive to make your home a safe place, safe from Covid but also safe from the stress of too much information.

In this time when so many adults must be feeling enormous stress and many must be facing the real possibility of losing their livelihoods, protect your children from these fears and burdens until they need to become informed of them. Confide your fears, worries, and stresses in other adults, and protect your children’s childhoods. Of course children will experience some stress—it is part of life—but by safeguarding childhood from the constantly encroaching adult world, we are actually wiring them for resiliency.

 

Work Cited:

Payne, Kim John. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2009)

In Praise of Smaller Homes

Early in our marriage, my husband and I were dirt poor, and I’m happy to say that now we aren’t. When our circumstances changed seemingly overnight with a new job for my husband, I vowed to myself that I would always be satisfied with what we had and not strive for the ever elusive “more”. I had seen firsthand how well-off people could still perpetually want “just a bit” more than they had. The pull of more can be hard to detach from and recently I was reminded that sometimes smaller and simpler can definitely be better.

I have always felt that our house was made perfectly for our family (despite the fact that it was built a few decades before either my husband or me were born). When I was house-hunting, I wanted a house with lots of bedrooms and functional spaces. With five bedrooms and well thought-out shelving in several spaces throughout the house, my priorities were met. But, among the first-world problems that I have to deal with in my home, is the fact that that I don’t have a family room in addition to a living room. We have just the one living space, so if the kids have made a mess in it and then someone knocks on the door, our guest gets treated  to our very “lived-in traditional” decor.  So, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a front room that we didn’t use much and always stayed tidy for guests?

Oh, and there’s no master en-suite in this house. Can’t forget that. It has two full bathrooms: one upstairs and one on the main floor. Yes, the bathroom on our main floor is really stellar and, with its dual sinks, glass shower enclosure, and plenty of storage, it was a huge selling point. The bathroom upstairs, (the one near all the bedrooms) however, has just a little storage and one sink. Because of this, my husband and I keep all our bathroom items in the main floor bathroom and shower there typically, rather than in the bathroom that is upstairs nearer our bedroom. So, you know, sometimes I think an en-suite would be nice.

In November, however, we got some new flooring installed in our main floor. With the installation, staining, and drying that had to happen, our family couldn’t even walk on the floor for a few days and so we stayed at an AirBnb in our area during that time. The house had five bedrooms with one bedroom set up like an office, just like my house, which was important since my husband works from home and is in the office eight hours a day.  The AirBnb house, however, had a nice white and beautiful living room (which I vowed I would not let the kids even look at for fear their glance would stain the host’s beautiful white furniture), and an additional family room downstairs, which would be a perfectly acceptable place for the children to hang out. It also had a master bedroom with an attached bathroom.

New flooring in my living room! No more “white” carpet full of stains.

When we arrived, seeing the modern layout, the gleaming white spaces, the sprawling square footage, I thought, “I can see myself living here.” Just a few days later, however, I began to appreciate my house more and more. It ended up that sprawling spaces and dual everything wasn’t everything I thought it would be. Firstly, because AirBnb house had a master en-suite in addition to another first floor bath, I knew there was no reason for anyone to enter the master bath. So we ended up being much less concerned about keeping it tidy. Rather than putting our toiletries, hair dryer, and other items in the drawers and off the counter when not in use like we do at home, we kept all our stuff on the counter. So every morning and every night I was treated to a cluttery bathroom.

The same thing happened with the family room. There was no need for, say, my daughter’s math tutor to see the family room downstairs so that didn’t really need to be tidied up too much. In the end what happened was that the spaces that we used and inhabited most frequently were messy and often cluttered with our stuff. In contrast, in my own home with just one living room, and “my” bathroom being the main floor bathroom, we continually tidy to keep those rooms looking pretty presentable. The living room and the main floor bathroom are never more than a five minute tidy away from looking clean and put-together. Therefore, it ends up happening that the spaces that I myself inhabit most frequently — the space I go to when I first wake up, the last space I go before bed,  and the space that my family just hangs out in — is typically fairly clean and put together. And all this means that I am calmer and happier in these spaces than if these spaces were always messy.

It’s like when we moved into our house about five years ago. I was looking forward to finally having a school room for all our homeschooling stuff. Finally, I thought, I wouldn’t have to spend half my day cleaning up the dining room table: eat a meal, clean the table, do some school work, clear the table, eat again, clean the table, do more school work, clean the table, and on and on. In our new house I would have a space designated for school projects and we could spread out and if the school stuff stayed out, it was fine. What ended up happening, however, was that with the art projects and other random stuff spread across the school room in varying stages of completeness, we rarely used the school room. It was always too messy. So we ended up using the dining room table for school stuff anyway, and every so often I would tackle what would be the monumental task of cleaning the school room. So recently, we got rid of the school room and turned it into the shared bedroom of my oldest two girls, and our designated school space is, once again, the dining room table.

Ironically, the ample square footage of AirBnb house has helped me appreciate the fact that I don’t have the “luxury” of extra living spaces that can stay messy. It means we frequently tidy and the rooms don’t get so messy that they become overwhelming to clean. I’m definitely happier when my private spaces (that a guest might also use and see) are clean and organized. I know when my own spaces are generally well-kept, I feel happier and calmer, and if an unexpected guest gets treated once in awhile to the lived-in look, well, a little humility and keepin’ it real probably does me good. Cheers to smaller, more manageable homes!

New Year, New Goals

I typically don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, or if I do, I make them at the beginning of the Liturgical Year starting with Advent. The end of 2019 was full of letting go, though—lots of it—so the beginning of 2020 seemed a natural time to think about some goals for myself moving forward.

I do have a couple rules about resolutions, though:

  1. They can’t be  based in guilt! That is, they need to be things that I want to do but just haven’t made the time for or sat down to figure out exactly how I will fit those things into my life. So if I’m thinking I should do it, but I really don’t want to, I know I’m not going to end up sticking with it.
  2. My goals should be achievable. I can’t overwhelm myself with trying to make big changes or trying to accomplish too much. I start very small. I think this mentality has helped me make a lot of lasting changes. As an example, some years ago I didn’t give myself the goal of completely overhauling EVERYTHING we ate and how we prepared it. My goal was to simply learn to make bone broth, and that was it. Once I had that down and that one routine was incorporated into our lives, then I learned how to make sauerkraut. Now, years later, my family has come so far in our food journey, and my husband and I make many things ourselves from scratch, but it didn’t happen overnight. It was the accumulation of lots of little steps, as we just incorporated the next right thing when the time felt right. I think if my goal had been huge, I would have stopped before I even got going.

With those rules in place, these are the goals that I’ve been working on for these first few weeks of 2020:

  1. Exercise. I know, I know. It’s cliche to have this goal for the New Year, but this is something that I need to do for myself. I have a bum knee, and when my legs aren’t toned, my knee really feels it. When I am fit, my knee gives me no problems. And let’s face it, we mothers often are so busy taking care of others that we put ourselves last. But, although our diet is really excellent, my exercise level is not. I follow a couple fitness people on Instagram and they get up at, like, 5:00 am every morning to exercise vigorously. This concept of getting out of bed to exercise makes every fiber of my body scream out in protest. I like to start my days slowly and quietly. I wake up, make my coffee, meditate for 30 minutes, and then peacefully begin my day. So with the idea of making a small do-able change, I am using an exercise app to exercise 10 minutes every evening. Sure it’s small, but I’m already noticing improvements, and it’s something I can do right now that is not overwhelming. Also importantly, if I miss a day, no guilt! If I exercise five days a week, or three, or even one, that is all better than exercising no days a week which is what I was doing before, right? So I celebrate progress, not beat myself up for not attaining perfection.
  2. Blog more. I set the goal of blogging every week (which I’ve already broken), but even if some weeks it doesn’t happen, I think overall, writing regularly will be a good thing. Writing is what I love doing, and I want to develop and keep at my craft.

    My Sourdough Starter, affectionately named Bubbles
  3. Learn to make sourdough bread. This is one of those things that I’ve been wanting to learn how to do for years now but have never gotten around to actually doing it. But then I came across the Sourdough Schoolhouse. I took advantage of a sale and the fact that a class was starting in early January to jump in. So far I’ve made my own Sourdough starter from scratch, and I’m planning on making my first sourdough bread this week. One thing allowing me time to bake is the fact that my work-from-home husband did almost all the cooking over Christmas vacation. In doing this, he discovered that he really loves to cook (and he cooks better than I do). So he decided to rearrange his work schedule to be able to cook dinner every night. Now, he goes to work an hour earlier in the morning (at 9:30 am) so that he can take that hour break around dinnertime to cook. When he decided to do this, I was like, “FAR BE IT FROM ME to discourage my husband in pursuing his hobbies!” I mean, of course, whatever goals and healthy leisure activities he has for himself, I want to support him in those, right?! And this leads me to goal four.

    Chris cooking dinner
  4. Celebrate and observe more feasts. I follow lots of Catholic accounts on Instagram and so many beautiful moms are really superb at living the liturgical year with their families. For each feast day they make special desserts or have special activities they do as a family, and watching them has been very inspiring to me, but I always felt too busy to plan and implement this. Or maybe I’d plan it, but when the feast day came around, I’d get too overwhelmed to actually do anything about it. Now, however, with my husband taking over the chore of dinner  that I am supporting my husband in his cooking hobby, I’ve decided to make dessert every day. Most days it’s something simple, like sauteed apples topped with a dollop of cultured cream, or a simple pudding. I don’t make dessert on Fridays, as Friday is a day of penance, but my goal is that on Sundays and special feast days, I will make a bigger dessert, like cake or pie. A special dessert plus lighting candles at the dinner table will go a long way, I think, at helping to set those special days apart.

Well, that’s what I have been up to these first few weeks of 2020. Are you working toward some goals? New Year’s or otherwise? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

Stitch Fix and the Spiritual Life

Stitch Fix and The Spiritual Life

Have you heard the story of Saint Ignatius? Being a Cradle Catholic, I had heard of him and knew some general things about some exercises having to do with him, but that was it. Recently, however, I read an article about his conversion, and it piqued my interest.

Saint Ignatius was born near the end of the 15th Century in Spain. He had grown up with the ideals of the honor of knighthood and wanted to do great deeds. As a young man, however, he was gravely wounded in a battle with the French and was bedridden for a time while he was recuperating. The only entertainment available to him at that time were some books on the lives of the saints and on the life of Christ. He spent time reading these books and also in his imagination. At times, he imagined doing knightly pursuits and gaining fame and “worldly” honor. Other times, he imagined himself doing great things for God and gaining a high degree of holiness like the saints he had been reading about.  After a time, he realized that in both instances, the time he spent in his imagination was time that was enjoyable to him.  He also realized, however, that only when he was imagining sainthood and performing great deeds in love for Christ did the peace he felt last after he had stopped imagining, whereas when he thought about gaining courtly fame, he had some degree of satisfaction while he was imagining, but once he stopped, he was left feeling dissatisfied. He realized that it was in these subtle movements within him, that God was guiding him in the way he should go and toward that path that could give him lasting satisfaction.

In some ways, I think I might be like Saint Ignatius. I have a vivid imagination and I like to imagine possibilities. It is definitely a spiritual discipline for me to be in the present moment instead of lost in the realm of ‘what if’. If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicator, I’m an Intuitor. Not that using one’s imagination is bad of course, but as Saint Ignatius discovered, there are some uses for it that are better than others.

In my case, I was often spending all the time nursing my toddler on my phone and all my “imagination” apps: shopping apps for clothes, home decor, and house design. I rarely actually bought anything, but I still spent a lot of time imagining what my house could look like arranged and decorated in various ways, what I would look like in various styles of clothing, what it might be like to live in a particular house, rather than the one I was in, and so forth.

After reading about St Ignatius, I thought about my own time in my imagination. Was I left with lasting peace and satisfaction? I had to admit the answer was no. In fact, all these apps filled me with stress as I thought about the time and money needed to acquire all these things. Also, feelings of gratitude for all I had were slowly being replaced by a dissatisfaction with the more-than-enough that I already had.

I think it might be different if I had a passion for fashion or interior design, and the time spent thinking about these things was part of me using my “blue flame” — that thing that gives me energy, that feels natural to me, and is a way to give to others, but fashion and interior design isn’t.

outfit

But sometimes I need new clothes; so at times I have to spend time thinking about these things. Also, fashion isn’t completely frivolous. Like it or not, what we wear communicates a lot about us to others. Fashion can help people see and get to know who we really are and it can also hide who we are and be a barrier to connection. I don’t want my clothing to be the most memorable thing about me. I want people to be able to get to know the real me, and if I’m dressed super dumpy, over-the-top extravagantly, too richly, or too exposed, people can focus on those things instead of just getting to know me as a person. Furthermore, depending on our roles, what we wear can help people trust in our abilities or encourage them to assume we are ill-prepared to handle the job.  For many of us, simply wearing a potato sack every day might actually work against us achieving our God-given tasks in life.

I thought again about Stitch Fix, that clothing subscription that people can sign up for to have a personal stylist pick out five items and ship it to them on a predetermined schedule. I had ordered a Stitch Fix box right after the birth of my son over two years ago and loved it, but at that time, my husband and I decided it was just too expensive, so I didn’t keep up the subscription.

Now, I considered the time spent perusing clothing sites trying to figure out which styles might look good on me, and the money I had wasted buying clothes online that I thought would look good on me, only to get them home and realize they didn’t. I thought about the time and effort it took to get away to the clothing store by myself and the hours spent trying things on and figuring out what I liked, while also trying to imagine if the current purchase might go with other things I already had at home. There was some degree of pleasure in it, but also some degree of tediousness, and I often felt drained afterwards rather than satisfaction. Clothing shopping just took up too much time, and I’d rather spend that time pursuing my blue flame or doing the myriad other tasks involved in running a household than in trying to clothe myself appropriately.

So I subscribed to Stitch Fix again.

Toms

I signed up to receive a fix every three months. This allows me to get some clothes or accessories each season to replace those items in my closet that have worn out or become stained. In exchange, I deleted and unsubscribed to apps and emails that sent me clothing deals. Stitch Fix is, for me, at the same time both a splurge and a fast. It is a type of fast because I try not to think about clothing, and I don’t shop or look for clothing anymore. I don’t go on endless internet searches looking for that elusive outfit that I feel is perfectly representative of me. I don’t scroll Pinterest fashion pins trying to figure out what I like and then go on a hunt for items of that type. I don’t allow myself to buy any clothes or accessories other than what I am sent every three months by my clothing subscription unless it is clearly and undeniably a necessity. It’s a splurge because the clothing I get from Stitch Fix does cost more than I would typically spend.

I have overall been happy with the quality of the items from Stitch Fix, however. I remember the jeans I received in my first fix when I was four days postpartum. The jeans somehow fit like a glove and were the softest jeans I had ever felt. Apparently, my whole life I had been used to wearing cardboard that someone had marketed as jeans, and this was my first time trying on actual jeans. I also couldn’t figure out how my stylist, who probably lived in the San Francisco Bay area, managed to send Wisconsin-me a better-fitting pair of jeans than I myself could by going into stores and trying things on. Two years later, they are still holding up well, and yay for the elastic waist, because they still fit me, though slightly looser, even though I am two sizes smaller than I was then.

A clothing subscription has also allowed me to have a certain detachment from my clothes, perhaps not as much detachment as a potato sack would give, but a degree of detachment nonetheless. A box with five items gets sent to me without me spending any mental energy on what is in it, save for the initial questionnaire I filled out when I signed up for the service. If the items fit well and I like them enough, I buy them. For me, even if I don’t love them and even if I don’t receive the most awesome outfit I could have ever hoped for, I’ll usually buy it. I won’t purchase it if I hate it or if I just don’t know where I would wear it, or if buying the piece means I have to buy something else to go with it, but overall, if it looks fine and fits well, I usually purchase it. So in this way, I can have quality clothes that will hopefully last, but without me having to be overly solicitous about what I wear.

In the end, if I can spend more time and energy pursuing my blue flame and attending to the many other tasks I already have on my plate, while handing over my clothing conundrums to someone else whose blue flame is hopefully fashion, it’s worth the extra cash for me. Also, now that I’m not scrolling fashion and home decor apps during my son’s nursing/nap time in the afternoon, I decided to follow the example of St Ignatius, and do spiritual reading during that time instead. Like St Ignatius, I’ve discovered that when I spend that time in the afternoon attending to the state of my soul — praying the rosary or doing spiritual reading — I have a peace that stays with me throughout the rest of my day, and not looking at everything I can’t have has restored the gratitude I feel for the many blessings that I do have that are too numerous to count.

If you’d like to give Stitch Fix a try, you can use this link and you’ll receive $25 off your first order.

 

Reclaiming the Peaceful Quiet of Advent

Reclaiming the Peaceful Quiet of Advent

Advent is just around the corner so I thought I’d share what my Advent plans are for my family. Advent has become one of my favorite times of the year, and it has become for me a season of quiet and peaceful waiting. It wasn’t always this way, but through some careful decisions about how I’ve wanted to observe this season, I think it has become that season of joyful anticipation it is meant to be.

In this season that is typically high stress for so many people, I see more than ever the wisdom of Mother Church doing things differently. The Church says, “Right now is not the Christmas season. This is the season of Advent, which is a season of waiting and preparing. It can be hard to wait, but don’t worry; the celebration will come in its own time.” I think when we jump the gun and try to start the celebration too soon, it’s hard to fully celebrate. We may be trying to celebrate and get into the Christmas spirit, but our minds are so busy running through their mental checklists of all the things we have yet to do to get ready for Christmas: put up the decorations, bake the Christmas cookies, build the gingerbread house with the kids, see the lights, buy the gifts, wrap them all, send them out, plan the Christmas party, attend the parties, make and send the Christmas cards and on and on! Christmas Day happens which has its own kind of busyness, and then whew! Just like that it’s all over. Seems like a recipe for stress, guilt about all the things we couldn’t get to, and disappointment that things didn’t — couldn’t? — live up to all the hype.

So I’ve worked hard to reclaim Advent, which isn’t easy to do in this culture that tries to make Christmas barge in before Advent has even started. But here is what my family does, and if any of these ideas resonate with you, perhaps you can try them and see if you too can reclaim a bit of the quietness and peace of the Advent season.

I shop for Christmas all year long.

This is super important because gift getting takes a lot of time! Also, buying for everyone on the Christmas list in one or two months is financially stressful. If you haven’t done that this year, I know it’s too late, but you can definitely try this one starting in January. One year it dawned on me that I buy for the same people every year. Also, those same people have birthdays every year. So I made myself a schedule. In the schedule I listed all birthday and Christmas gifts I need to buy during the year, and I divvied it up throughout the 12 months. I have a monthly gift budget, and every month, I need to buy about four gifts.  At the beginning of every month, I refer to my list to see what gifts I need to buy this month and then I get them some time during the month. It is sooo much more budget friendly and less stressful than saving all the shopping for the last month or two of the year. I store them all in an unmarked tote in my basement (amongst other storage totes) and my kids are none the wiser about what is in this one particular tote. Come December, save a few small items, nearly all my Christmas shopping is done.

We put up Christmas decorations on December 17th at the earliest.

Christmas treeI sort of feel like if I put the tree up before Thanksgiving, in my house with four kids, one of whom is a toddler, all the beautiful decor would be quite tired looking by the time Christmas actually rolled around. Or even if I managed to keep it looking nice, I might just be tired of looking at it by then. To try to live this season as a time of waiting, however, we wait until Christmas is right around the corner to put up the decorations, and my kids know that when the tree and lights go up, it’s time to get excited because Christmas will soon be here!

We put out an Advent wreath.

Advent Wreath

Advent is a season of waiting for the Light to come, and trying to prepare our hearts for that Light. So for the evening meal, we eat by the light of the Advent wreath. I got this idea from Mary Haseltine when we tried it last year and we loved it! The first week of Advent, we light one candle, and eat our supper in near darkness. Each week, however, we light one more candle on the Advent wreath, and as we get closer to Christmas, we can see the light grow brighter and brighter. There is something about the meal enjoyed in the darkness with the candle light that makes it seem more special. It marks Advent as set apart from all other seasons.

We put up the Jesse Tree.

Our Jesse tree is a small tree, about the height of a four or five year old, and each evening before bed, we read about one part of salvation history — about how God prepared the world for the coming of His Son through the people and events that happened before Jesus’ birth. This year, I bought Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp, and downloaded the free ornaments that come with it. So we’ll be reading her beautiful reflections each day and hanging one ornament.

I try to wait to celebrate Christmas until the Christmas season as much as possible.

When it comes to the celebratory events, I try to wait. We do drive around and look at Christmas lights before Christmas, mostly because I’m afraid if we wait until after Christmas, many of them won’t be lit anymore. If we are invited to a Christmas party or recital, I won’t decline. But, when possible, I save the celebrating. Last year, a local museum had guided tours through their large mansion with live performers dancing scenes from the Nutcracker with the tickets being available even after Christmas, so I bought my tickets for then, rather than going earlier. I usually make out Christmas cards during the Christmas season as well. Maybe everyone thinks I’m late, but I think I’m right on time! Things like making Gingerbread houses or other such Christmas crafts, I do with my children during the Christmas season, rather than try to fit it in before.

We celebrate the whole Christmas season.

Family at Christmas

Christmas day is just the first day of Christmas, and we aim to celebrate all 12 days. We don’t do any formal school lessons during the Christmas season; we simply relax and focus on celebrating. We watch Christmas movies; make Christmas crafts, enjoy Christmas stories, enjoy some Christmas treats, and the like. For the first time last year, rather than have the children open a mound of presents all on Christmas day, they opened one gift each day of Christmas. Last year, once all the gifts were wrapped and had arrived, I counted up the gifts from my husband and me, the gifts from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the small gifts the children had made for each other, and each child had about 12 gifts, which seemed rather perfect. So each morning, they opened one gift.

The year before, I had tried to write down each gift in order to have the children make thank you cards later, but in the chaos of ravenous Christmas-morning gift opening, it didn’t quite happen that way. Later I found some gifts that I hadn’t written down and I asked the children who gave it to them and they didn’t have a clue. So much for gratitude when they didn’t even know who gave it! That’s sort of the nature of things, however, when we have a pile of Christmas gifts to get through. We can try to instill gratitude and make the focus of Christmas less about materialism, but I feel like we can be fighting an uphill battle by trying to do that while observing Christmas as it currently exists in our culture. As Kim John Payne says in his book (my favorite parenting book, btw) Simplicity Parenting, nothing in a pile will be appreciated. So, by opening one gift each day, I felt that the children could really savor and appreciate each gift, while also preserving the anticipation of Christmas by knowing that the next day there would be another gift to open. This year, I asked the children if they wanted to open their gifts throughout the Christmas season again, or if they wanted to go back to opening them all on Christmas day. They all were adamant that they wanted to open them throughout the season, even the six year old, who sometimes has a little more trouble waiting for things.

I think by trying to focus our attention on waiting and preparing during Advent, and then fully celebrating during the Christmas season, I enjoy Christmas so much more. When “the holiday season” was a month-long sprint trying to do it all and get it all in, with the culmination of one epic Christmas day, I feel like I almost couldn’t avoid feeling a little let down and burned out by the end of it. And trying to fully enjoy Christmas celebrations when there was so much to do meant that the celebrations themselves were really just one more thing on my to do list. Now, however, with the attitude of waiting for the Light and preparing for Christmas during Advent, and then, when all the preparations have been made and the work has been done, to allow myself to fully relax and enjoy the Christmas celebration (spread out in small doable pieces), I can really enjoy and appreciate so much more the beauty of the Christmas season.

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.

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.