By Mary DeTurris Poust
Mothers are often divided into categories: stay-at-home mom, working mom, soccer mom, super mom. But any mother will tell you that no single label could possibly capture the essence of what she does on any given day while caring for her children. Mothers are known to be champion multi-taskers, somehow managing to make dinner while helping with homework, doing laundry and, often, handling outside work and volunteer responsibilities all at the same time.
While the multi-tasking may help get the job of mothering done on a daily basis, it can take its toll on a mom over the long haul. Faced with myriad challenges and chores, many moms forgo things for themselves, from quiet time for prayer to social time with friends. But the truth is that a stressed and unhappy mom can lead to a stressed and unhappy family.
Think about it this way: When you fly on a plane, the flight attendants tell you that, in the event of a change in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will release from the ceiling. They give specific instructions for adults traveling with children to put their own masks on first. Why? Because if the adults are incapacitated, there’s not much hope for the children in their care.
And so it is with mothering. If moms don’t take time out to make sure they are healthy — physically, emotionally, spiritually — it’s awfully hard for them to provide the best care possible to their children, and to really enjoy family time. For Catholic moms, the challenge is even greater because motherhood isn’t just about giving their children the worldly tools they need to succeed, but about giving them the spiritual strength they need to keep them on a path toward God for the rest of their lives.
Most moms are happy to find helpful tips on how to create that delicate balance between caring for self and caring for others. Now they have a guidebook to walk them through just about every step. “The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul” (Ave Maria Press, $15.95), by Lisa M. Hendey, creator of CatholicMom.com, covers it all, offering concrete suggestions for putting her advice into practice. From financial planning and exercise programs to medical issues and prayer life, Hendey gives Catholic moms an outline for living a balanced life where everyone gets the attention and care they need in a God-centered setting.
“We all have such a serving heart, as spiritual people and also as mothers. We want to serve everyone around us, and we want to do that with every ounce of energy that we have, but sometimes we neglect our own self-care, not only physically but spiritually as well,” Hendey told Our Sunday Visitor. “We can be so concerned with getting everyone to Mass on time or meeting the sacramental benchmarks that we neglect our own spiritual relationship with God. In doing that, we run the risk of burning ourselves out emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
Hendey, who underscores that she did not write this book because she thinks she has perfected motherhood in her own life, calls time management one of the most challenging issues that modern mothers face. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. In her book, she gets down to the business of helping moms learn to juggle their many jobs without losing their sanity. Through a “time inventory,” she walks moms through the critical things in their days, from asking them to reflect on where God fits into the busyness of life to suggesting they take a week to conduct their own time inventory so they can honestly analyze how they spend their days.
“The Handbook for Catholic Moms” is a “companion” to the website Hendey created to encourage Catholic women in their vocations as mothers. On her site, Hendey provides a multitude of Catholic perspectives on issues surrounding faith and family. Her new book follows that same pattern. In addition to giving readers advice based on her own experiences as a mom, she includes 32 essays by Catholics who are “experts” on various topics in order to reach out to all moms, including moms of special needs children, adoptive moms or single moms.
The book includes sections on the heart, mind, body and soul. Hendey is quick to say that if there is one part that stands out as most important and makes her book different from many other parenting books, it is the section on the soul.
“We really need to embrace the treasures of faith that our Church has given us,” Hendey said, explaining that, for busy moms, it may be as simple as reading the Sunday Gospel for the coming week each morning in preparation for the weekend. “When you feel most discouraged about how short you’re falling, as we all do at times, we really need to cling to that prayer life that the Church has put out there for us, the sacraments, the Eucharist, and all the more so when it feels like you can’t do it.”
As important as prayer life is for Catholic moms, it is probably one of the most difficult things for mothers to justify. Our world makes us think that being productive is about having something to show for every minute of our day. If moms aren’t careful, they can quickly fall into the trap of thinking that prayer time is selfish because there are no tangible results from time spent with God. How can we pray when there’s laundry to fold and children to feed? And yet prayer is the most unselfish thing a Catholic mom can do if she wants to put herself in a position of being able to attend to her children in a way that allows God to work through her.
In “Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Think. Act. Pray. Every Day.” (Circle Press, $16.95), authors Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss provide a plan that even the busiest mom can follow. They offer a year’s worth of brief thoughts, prayers and actions, each of which take no more than two minutes to read. Whether you keep the book on your nightstand or in your minivan, “Small Steps” can give you just enough spiritual food for thought to nourish your soul and keep your motherly vocation on track.
“It can be really hard to set aside time for prayer in your day,” Bean told OSV. “As much as we realize it’s difficult, we also realize it’s important. It’s not only important, it’s the only thing in the end. What we’re supposed to be doing is having this relationship with God and growing closer to Christ. We really want this book to be a practical way for moms to be able to do that.”
Bean says that her hope is that even after reading a daily entry, the words will resonate with moms throughout their day. The book can be read according to each day’s calendar entry or by the virtue themes that mark each month, things like joy, patience, sacrifice, courage, gratitude and peace. Bean and Foss want moms to know they can use the book in any way that suits their needs.
“It’s important for moms to feel that sense of flexibility. … There’s no judgment here. There’s no failing this system,” said Bean.
For each day, Bean and Foss offer moms a quote from a saint, a prayer written by one of the authors and an “action” that can put the thought and prayer into practice. On May 10, for example, the action is to spend some time in solitude, even if it’s just five minutes, and to ask God to guide your thoughts. Other actions range from making a medical appointment you’ve been putting off to visiting a nursing home with your children.
But Bean doesn’t want moms to feel that this book is one more checklist of things to do. “There might be an action that you decide has nothing to do with your life. That’s fine. Move on to the next one, or think of an action that could apply to your life or just pray to God about what your actions should be for that day,” she said.
To help women use the book, there is a companion journal/study guide, and the authors have created a blog, “Small Steps for Catholic Moms,” at www.thinkprayact.wordpress.com.
Mary DeTurris Poust writes from New York.