Hi sweet readers! I published this piece on CatholicMom.com this past Wednesday, and just realized that I ought to share it on Humble Handmaid as well. Let me know what you think! And if you have any tips to add to mine–please share with us in a comment. The Lord knows I for one can use all the help I can get…:) God bless you! -Erin
believe that I am actually writing a post on “thriving in the Little Years.” I
am the mother of a four-year-old, a three-year-old, and a 16-month-old, and today
was more about surviving than thriving. We finally got the
kids in bed a few minutes ago. The past four hours of my life involved LOTS of
fussing (from the kids) and yelling (regrettably, at the kids) and at least one
almost-fight (in front of the kids).
(or weeks or months) are a
little more about survival than others. Anybody with the goal of thriving in every moment of every day as
a mother of little ones is setting herself up for disillusionment. Take it from
me. Because we are all sinners, it’s just not a totally sound spiritual or
practical goal in this beautiful, but often-exhausting season of the Little
Years mother? I’m no expert, but my thought now is that the goal is, very
simply, to walk our journey with God:
with humility, with all our ways acknowledging Him, and with the help of the
sacraments and a deep personal prayer life.
goals in motherhood, some days you’re still going to find me in Survival Mode—not
that I think that’s always a bad thing. Our vocations are meant to make us lean
heavily on the Lord. And in my most honest moments in prayer, I thank Him from
the bottom of my heart for bringing me closer to Him through the challenges of
marriage and motherhood he has permitted for me so far.
mothers living in the Little Years is Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. At the time she
wrote the book, Rachel was mother to five children under five years old.
opportunities for growth abound [in motherhood]–but you have to be willing.
You have to open your heart to the tumble. As you deal with your children, deal
with yourself always and first. This is what it looks like, and feels like, to
walk as a mother with God.”
me afloat. It is how I’ve survived, and have sometimes thrived. From one mother
of little ones to another, here are a few things that have helped me walk with
God in these Little Years.
Treasure of Titus 2 Friendships
women” to teach younger women how to “love their husbands and
children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, [and] to be
kind…” Unfortunately, our culture just doesn’t naturally draw women together
for the kind of “Titus 2” female friendships that were such an important
part of older cultures. How wonderful and helpful those relationships can be,
and seek out these kinds of big sister-type friendships with older moms–don’t
be shy! (As a lifelong introvert myself, I get to say that.) Also, one thing
that I have learned in my five years as a mother is that you become a Titus 2
woman much more quickly than you might think. Make sure that you keep your eyes and your heart open for “younger” or
“older” mothers around you. We all need encouragement. We all need holy women
to admire. We all need friends.
friends of mine when I started having children, and their beautiful, holy
mothering made an enormous impact on me. Those friendships, which began with
them being a sort of “big sister” to me, have evolved into deep,
mutual friendships that I treasure. Whether I get to sneak away for coffee and
good conversation with her, or I simply notice something like the respect and
gentle affection a friend has for her husband, a Titus 2 friend is always a
teacher to me.
friends, look around again. Maybe you have an amazing sister-in-law, or your
own mother, or some holy women in your church’s MOPS group. Don’t be afraid to
pursue friendships, ask questions, and even ask for prayer. Your humility and
courage can actually lift up those women by making them realize that they
aren’t doing quite as badly as they think they are. Sometimes Titus 2 moms need
a little encouragement too. 🙂
you feel like you’ve lost yourself…that can be a good thing.
Little Years-it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it all wrong. First off, mothering one, two or
several little ones is an objectively, incredibly hard job, maybe especially in this
day and age (fellow
blogger Jennifer Fulwiler has an excellent piece on this topic).
we hear over and over that in every vocation, we
are meant to find ourselves by first losing ourselves. St. Pope John
Paul II wrote profoundly that “man…cannot fully find himself except
through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). In the end, our vocation is not about us. Just because we mommas have walked down the aisle and subsequently given a big, brave, labor-ious Yes! to motherhood, doesn’t mean everything is going to magically make sense in our lives for ever after.
with a loss of self in these early years, especially in the vocation of
marriage, “where two become one” (and sometimes many). Part of what I
think is so hard for moms in the midst of young marriage and parenthood in the
Little Years is that we are forced to give so much of ourselves, very
quickly and very completely. It’s difficult to take a step back for enough time
to wrap our heads and hearts around how to transform all that giving into a
“sincere gift of self.” Maybe, I think, that part is a lifelong
vocation, my identity is so much more rooted in God than it ever was before. It
has to be. I can no longer secretly define myself by my job, for example, or my major, or my bright future with my fiance,
or my ministry work.
he has planted me in. My heart’s desire is to love, to know intimately, and to
serve God here in line with his will for my life. I work toward my heart’s
desire by doing the work of my particular vocation: striving for a good and holy marriage, disciplining my
children wisely and patiently, cooking dinner and cleaning bathrooms and
running to Walgreens for more Infant Tylenol at 2am.
years ago to the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, who spoke and wrote often
about finding holiness in the ordinary work of your everyday life. St. Josemaria explains that “Heaven
and earth seem to merge, my children, on the horizon. But where they really
meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives.” Every young mother wading through marriage
and early parenthood needs to hear that holiness is possible–yes, even for
her!–when she sanctifies the ordinary, unglamorous work of her day.
also been a help to me: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for
God and not for men.” Because sometimes those babies aren’t the most
grateful little souls in the world, you know. 🙂
with yourself, always and first
with reminding us to deal with ourselves “always and first” as
mothers. It goes back to the familiar verse in Matthew 7 where he says to
“first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly
enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
keep in mind as a mother of little ones. My own sins are so often deeper than
the multitude of childish “speck” sins that I constantly point out
and work to correct in my children.
to the escalation of a tense situation with the kids by my own poor attitudes
and selfishness? Am I being snippy with the kids because my husband
accidentally took the leftovers I was looking forward to eating today? Did I
rush the kids through the bedtime routine just so that I could watch the season
premiere of my favorite show? Am I overreacting to the toothpaste in the dog’s
water bowl because I just finished cleaning the kitchen and gosh-darn-it I
can’t take one more mess today!?
to stop and discern your proposed words or actions before responding to a
situation. I have found myself slowly learning to “hold my horses”
before responding to tense situations at home with just my first-instinct
emotions for a guide. Often, if I find
myself overwhelmingly angry, frustrated or bitter, there is something I need to
deal with in my own heart before pointing out issues that my husband or
children have in theirs.
up on time.
up in the morning is so, so helpful. Saint
after saint after much-more-experienced-mom-than-me get up at least an hour
before the rest of the house. First, they pray. After they pray, they do a
few practical things around the house to get ready for the day. Simple. Hard.
But so fruitful.
call it, is always a struggle for me, but it is one battle that I think I am
finally starting to win more consistently. I am in a season of my life that
leaves me few excuses for not getting up on time in the morning (read: my
children all sleep through the night…please don’t hate me:). The fruits of me
getting up earlier than the children are so apparent to both me and to my
husband. There is less morning chaos. I am less stressed. I am able to feed my
soul with Scripture and prayer before having to feed others.
heroic minute,” in his book The Way.
“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot,
at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness…here you have a
mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If,
with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of
the day.” (191).
possible. New babies or sick children obviously throw a kink in the plan, as
would the blessing of one of those children whose God-given internal clock says
every day, “4:59 a.m.! Time to wake up!” In general though, waking up before the rest of the house is
a good goal to look forward to whenever it becomes physically or logistically
possible for you.
care of yourself.
mind.” A tall order. And one that many of us mothers of all ages may need to
reflect on more seriously. The fact is,
there are moms out there who suffer deeply with undiagnosed depression,
anxiety, and a host of other medical problems that mean they physically cannot
offer their whole, best selves to their families.
health is not something that I’ve seen a lot of Christian women writing
about. If we are writing about mental and physical health, it usually
seems to involve “taking care of ourselves” by making sure we have
“me time,” or more prayer time, or enough sleep, or appropriate fitness
and weight-loss goals. Those things are important and are challenging for many
of us. However, some very real and more-common-than-you-think health issues
can’t be completely solved with those kinds of fixes.
dealing with health struggles, but sometimes
prayer alone will not heal us. I want to encourage you, if you feel
physically or mentally unable to be reasonably what you wish to be for your family, to give
some honest thought to the idea that there might something you need to deal
with emotionally or medically.
life” is not normal at all. It takes honesty, prayer, and often the counsel of
some solid, wise friends to figure out if it is time to rule out anything
medical or counseling-related that could be going on. On the mental health side
of things, there is nothing wrong or weak about seeking out solid Christian
counseling, or medical treatments or medications that help your body and your mind be where
they need to be to let you be what you need to be.
to a cross involves having the courage to get help in carrying it.