One of the cancellations this spring was our annual RCIA Retreat. It is a day of prayer and reflection filled with anticipation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that await the Candidates and Catechumens at the Easter Vigil. Practical advice on how to live life as a new Catholic is also a focal point of the retreat but now that wisdom must be passed on virtually rather than personally. In conversation with one of our RCIA Candidates, a mother of two boys in elementary school, she presented me with these questions:
In all our learning and our faith journey this far, I am in search of guides on how to balance it all. What does it look like to thread our faith through each facet of our lives? What does it look like to parent catholic and to work as a catholic and to not allow ourselves to put other things in front of God? I guess we all will search for that balance for a long time.
There are so many mothers that I admire here at St. Margaret, so I reached out to a few of them with these questions so that our candidate could hear from someone other than myself. My intent was to just forward their email replies and be done. What came back were words of beauty and strength of character and ordinary lives threaded with the gift of faith and forgiveness and perseverance. My heart was moved, and I knew they needed to be shared. Thanks be to God each Mom agreed and as we approach Mother’s Day, we will share these with you.
This question is so good, but it is a lifelong answer, as she also noted. All I can do is to offer things that have helped me on my journey thus far.
At this point, my girls are 8, 6, and 2 years old. My biggest advice is to be REALLY intentional about what you let into your life. What's important and how can you make space for that? What do you need to say "yes" and "no" to? Choose your friends wisely- your family will look like them. Choose what activities you add to your schedule- they will control your time. Sometimes I do really well with this, and sometimes I realize we're off balance because I took on that "one more thing" that isn't an objectively bad thing. In fact, it could be really good, but at the wrong time. This time of "pause" has driven this home even more. I'm going to be very careful about what comes back into our schedule to preserve more time to be present together.
During Lent, one of my journal prompts was to make a list of people who had helped me through tougher periods of life and offered sage advice. I've been blessed with many wonderful mentors in my life, but every single one of my Familia sisters was on the list. So, honestly, the best advice I can give any Catholic mom seeking to deepen the life of faith in her family is to join a Cana Family group. Having those ongoing connections and faith-based conversations with other moms who know you well and are in the same boat is invaluable. (You wouldn't have thought to ask me this question in the first place without the influence of those women in my life- I don't want to know what kind of a mother I would be without them)!
I think my own prayer life drives my children's prayer life in many ways. If I'm plugged in, I'm modeling well, they follow. If I try to "impose" things, they often resist. And if I'm not plugged in, myself, I think I come from a less genuine angle when I suggest things to them. For Lent, Nate prayed the rosary every day, which quickly turned into a family rosary every day because he did it right before the kids went to bed and they were invited to join (and asked to leave if they were too disruptive). It was a privilege rather than a demand. The first couple weeks were stressful, but by the end of Lent, all 3 were praying the rosary in our bed with us every night just before they went to bed. (Notice their perspective that they are also extending their bedtime by doing this- win, win).
I'm trying to constantly be in touch with the Lord and immediately call upon Him, humbly, when I mess up, but I'm far from perfect and I have a normal mom-of-young-kids life. I haven't figured out how to include all the things I would like to be part of my day, but there's a season for everything! For me, adding a whole bunch of religious "to-do's" is stressful and sets me up to feel like a failure. I'm a (recovering) overachieving perfectionist, so you have to take this next part from that angle. I find it much better to pick one thing and try to do it really well. And really, I don't pick the thing- I ask God to guide me to it through prayer. He knows what's best for me and my family. I also try to consider the personalities of my kids. To go back to our Lenten rosaries, for example, I have one who loves the routine and predictability of the rosary and one who's bored to death with it, so she entertains herself by using different voices. She wants to be part of the group, so she prays it, but we try not to harp on her too much to do it "just so" unless she's being distracting or disrespectful. It wouldn't surprise me if God gets to her another way. For example, she likes to go dance in front of the tabernacle for Jesus. So, basically, I can't give my kids my relationship with God, and I try not to force them too much because I don't want them to push Him away in an effort to get to me. (This actually happened- one of my kids started saying and writing that she hated God, but really she was just doing it to upset me because she knew I was bothered by it. That's a whole other (now resolved) story, but applicable to my point). So, I try to create daily opportunities where the Catholic life is authentically modeled, without demanding it in my children.
And I also seek out unique opportunities for them to grow in their faith and see others like them. We belong to one of the small groups through SMOY mostly because I want my kids to see other adults and families like us and to have those established relationships with people they can go to for advise, other than us. It's a monthly commitment, but it's really intentional and long-term. I also took the girls to the Encounter Ministries conference in January because it was a family conference with a kids track and it was very powerful for all of us. That's one of those unique experiences that can really make a lifelong impact, as are retreats and mission trips that aren't quite open to us yet due to the age of our children.
Habits are simple, but powerful. I think there's a lot you can do to weave things into your day that are small but add up and don't take a lot of effort. For example, we pray a simple prayer while we walk to the bus every morning (Good morning, dear Jesus, this day is for you, I offer you all that I think, say and do). Linking prayers to daily activities helps me remember. We pray before meals, when we hear sirens, and say "hi" to Jesus as we drive by a Catholic church. Honestly, I'm inconsistent at bedtime prayer. We need to do better there! I also have short Bible verses, saint quotations, and uplifting/prayerful sayings taped in various places around the house to trigger a quick prayer to invite God into moments of my day. Displayed art and a worship music playlist are also helpful for me. There's nothing like a good worship song to inspire a dance around the kitchen to relieve some stress or uplift the family mood.
For me, I must take a break in the middle of the day for a quiet time and at least 5 minutes of prayer. I like it to be longer and I often read part of a book, the Bible, a devotional, a study, or journal. Stressful days it's nice to play the divine mercy chaplet or rosary in the background to take the energy level down- I prefer the ones set to song. I know a lot of people who do this during their commute.
Traditions are also powerful! What do we want our kids to remember was important to celebrate in our family? We celebrate their baptism days every year. We have a special meal and dessert and give religious gifts. We light a white candle and share pictures of their baptism, talk about what it means, and sing an appropriate song, such as This Little Light of Mine. We also go around the table and each say one reason we're thankful for that person. Actually, we only do this with the kids, but typing this is making me realize we should do it for Nate and I as well!
Favorite books are "Small Steps for Catholic Moms," "The Temperament God Gave Your Kids," "The Catholic All Year Compendium" (but read ahead and take small steps- so many great ideas for new, Catholic traditions to celebrate), and Every Sacred Sunday journals (I think I will get one for my daughter, too, in 3rd or 4th grade). I also like the "Blessed is She" daily emails. My kids like reading about the saints and the Bible, but I'd check out the moms group Facebook site for more specific suggestions, because a lot of people have posted tested ideas. We have a prayer area set up for the kids in our home, where we keep a lot of our Catholic library, and liturgically appropriate items to guide reflection. I also have to share that since our corona quarantine, I've been reading through the Gospel of John with our kids as part of a "morning basket" time- a time we're together doing something of my choice that's usually religious themed. They LOVE it! I'm reading from the regular (adult) Bible. We stop and talk about some of the stuff they need to understand it better, like the relationship with the pharisees, and some vocabulary. You get a lot more of the context, reading the whole thing sequentially!
There are so many resources about teaching the tough stuff to kids- for that I might refer you to the Ruah Woods website. They also have a really good rosary meditations book for kids that we use in our community group.
So that's what I have, for now, but the jury's still out! My kids are still young and so I don't have all the results yet :) I'm hopeful we're on the right track and my kids grow up to love the Lord! We can all pray for each other for that! I know we mess up every day and need all the prayers we can get!
Guest Post Written By: Carrie Schmidt
That wraps up the mom's perspective, but wait there's more! On May 13, 2020 we'll hear from some of the men in our parish to offer a dad's perspective to the question of threading the faith through our lives.