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Permission for Catholic Moms to Relax a Little.

In my announcement of Catholic Carnival 154, I highlighted this post at Perfect Joy.

My second observation is this: everyone has a 'full plate': All have a litany of family and extended relations, duties, and activities: enough to choke a horse. The number one question discussed in the 'vortex' is where does God fit in with all these elements of daily life?

The answer: God doesn't fit on the plate - God is the plate. Or to state it more accurately: our relationship with God underlies and affects every aspects of our life. Hence, a small but consistent amount of time and attention devoted to Christian formation works wondrous results.

We moms need to hear this. We are instruments in God’s hands and channels of His Grace. However, it is still His plan. We are called to cooperate with God and give our children the religious formation that allows them to hear His call. But we do not shoulder the burden of completely shaping them. Of course you want to be the perfect mother, but it is God who perfects what you have started. So relax, it is not all up to you!

In some ways, it is easy for me to say relax. Three of my four children are now eighteen or older. The blur and fatigue of their all being so physically dependent on me has faded. Perhaps, because of this perspective, I can laugh a little at the things I stressed over in their younger years. Some of my measurements for success now seem so irrelevant. Guilt over store-bought muffins, ready-made Halloween costumes, and planting toddlers in front of a video when I really did need a few moments of peace and quiet seem absurd. On the other hand, some things that I made a priority seem worth every ounce of effort they required. Weekly Mass attendance without fail, family catechesis, not subscribing to cable television, and no video games in our house, are initiatives that bore much good fruit.

This perspective also allows me to see the wisdom of Danielle Bean’s response to Dr. Greg Popcak and his promotion of Attachment Parenting as the only moral choice for parenting. This is not a judgment on the concept of Attachment Parenting. This is a response to the presentation of Attachment Parenting as the only good idea rather than one of many good ideas. As parents we are bombarded by the information of lots of “experts” about how we should raise our children. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I can tell you that one of the great epiphanies of parenting was after I had my second child I realized many things I thought I had learned the first time around didn’t apply because this second child was a different, unique, individual and not just First Child version 2.0. There are lots of general principles, but very few absolutes when it comes to raising children. There are innumerable options: breast feed vs bottle feed; home school vs Catholic school vs public school; work outside the home vs stay at home. And the right choice may vary from one child to the next. It is not like we make these decisions once and they are then inscribed in stone.

Families change. Circumstances change. What was right for the family five years ago may not be right today. And believe me, the voices of experts change. Twenty-five years ago, when I first started practicing medicine, babies were put to bed on their stomachs or sides because it was “safest”. Today we have markedly reduced the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by putting babies to bed on their backs. My second son weighed nearly ten pounds at birth. At that time Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics said no child should be given solid food of any kind until he was at least six months old. Therefore, I was still breast-feeding and supplementing with formula this baby that was over twenty pounds when he was five months old. Rice cereal did not touch his lips until he was exactly six months old. What a relief! He was so much happier. He slept so much better. I accomplished nothing by rigidly adhering to the advice of experts when my situation clearly called for a different response. Therefore, beware of anyone who says there is only one way to parent. God gave your children to you, not to the experts. Pray. Learn. Discern. Then give it your best shot. That is all God asks of you.


Michelle said…
Denise, I was actually in the middle of reading this when you stopped by my blog. Well. It's not often that one sees so much of the Catholic Mom-blogosphere all in a tizzy. I think Dr. Popcak has ticked off every mom with kids spaced less than 2 1/2 years apart. And to call us moral relativists for recognizing that one-size doesn't fit all. Harumpf.
Denise said…
Thanks for putting perspective on things and for posting such a good piece.

The voice of reason isn't always easy to come by--

ps, so far so good in VA...the movers just delivered the first load today, so once I can see straight again, I'd love to learn more about the area!!
I couldn't agree more. I've learned more about AP in the last few days than I ever cared to know and I am so glad I didn't fuss about "parenting skills" (or lack thereof!)...EVER. I just do what needs to be done and I've NEVER felt bad about the tv, storebought ANYTHING, or letting the older kids hold the little ones instead of "wearing" my baby all day (who's back can take that?). I so appreciate moms who understand my point of view and I kind of feel sorry for moms who worry ALL the time if they are following some rigid rules of parenting. The concepts of AP (rigidly followed) seem like a recipe for a very, cranky, anal, martyr mom. No thank you!
Stina said…
Thank you for sharing your "experienced" observations. As a fairly new mom, with only 2 1/2 years under my belt, I still fall victim to the "the experts say this" mentality from time to time. I also stressed a lot when my second daughter did things differently, comparing her to my first daughter. Thankfully, I think I'm almost completely over that, realizing that she is her own person. I just wanted to thank you for writing this, encouraging moms to do their best, and reminding us to let God take care of the rest.
Sarah Reinhard said…
Denise, THANK YOU for this post. I wrote about something sort of similar here.

One of the most helpful things to me as a mom has been the encouragement of other moms, especially those like yourself who have "been there, done that" and lived through it (this last is perhaps and sometimes the most important component for me!).

I haven't been following the details of the discussion too closely over at Danielle's but find it encouraging to see the blogosphere moms pulling together for each other. After all, that's what it's all about...the community of helpfulness and prayerfulness and encouragement!

Blessings to you!
Kate Wicker said…
Thanks for commenting on my blog and for these encouraging words. It seems like most of us are on the same page. As I stated on my blog, I am encouraged by moms/writers like you and Danielle Bean who recognize that most of us moms love our kids with everything we've got and the last thing we need is a heap of guilt to burden us in our vocation. And one more thing to add: My mom is always amazed by the plethora of parenting experts, books, websites, etc. out there to "help" moms. She personally thinks it's overkill and has been known to tell me, "Stop reading all those books and just trust your instincts. I wholeheartedly disagreed with Dr. Popcak when he insinuated that most moms don't have maternal instincts. I think we have them - it's just hard to trust them when we have all these "experts" telling us what's right and that if we don't do what's right, our kids may grow up to be lost souls. Other worthy advice my mom has given me: Just love your kids and the rest will fall into place. God bless you all!
Anonymous said…
Yes gave my 9lber daughter 3 ruskd a day from the age of 2 weeks! She is the tallest,slimmest,allergy free
Elizabeth Foss said…
Thanks for the permission--it has credibility coming from someone with perspective afforded by experience and the good sense to see the big picture.
Tienne said…
However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I can tell you that one of the great epiphanies of parenting was after I had my second child I realized many things I thought I had learned the first time around didn’t apply because this second child was a different, unique, individual and not just First Child version 2.0.

But this IS attachment parenting, in a nutshell. It's not "You must wear your baby you must breastfeed you must cosleep." The basic tenet of attachment parenting is "know and respect thy child." Most children respond very well to baby-wearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping, and that's why so many AP do those things. But responding to your child's needs and raising them with gentle discipline is really what it's about, much more than whether or not you own a crib/high chair/stroller, etc.

The only "martyr mom" parts of Attachment Parenting are the ones that ask a mother to put her child first. And all good moms do that naturally, whether they count themselves as AP or not.
Denise said…
Your moderate approach is not what caused the fur to fly across the blogosphere. Rather, it was comments by Dr. Popcak and others who claimed that those who choose a parenting philosophy other than rigid adherence to AP practices, were somehow taking a morally inferior path. Specifically his criticism of families who did not space their children at least 2 1/2 years apart struck a nerve.
Tienne said…
I certainly don't want to put words in someone else's mouth, but I've read that post by Dr. Popcak and it seemed to me what he was saying was that if you can't practice attachment parenting with children who are close in age, then spacing them further apart would be better than simply abandoning attachment parenting principles.

I understand that sometimes life (and God) intervenes to make that kind of spacing impossible. But I think he's right to say that it's ideal, and that closely spaced children should not be an excuse for letting go of our standards as parents.

Obviously, we have to operate within the limits of our own abilities. I see a big distinction between a parent who acknowledges something is not the "best way" but is a necessary trade-off for the greater benefit of the family and a parent who won't admit that there's anything at all wrong with how they parent. TV watching comes to mind here. We can say that children under the age of 3 should not watch any television at all (as is currently recommended by the AAP) and still feel comfortable putting our 2 year old in front of Elmo while we clean the kitchen or take a much-needed nap. I think the trade-off is less justifiable when we are letting our two year old watch five hours of television because we can't let go of our addiction to the SIMS.

I think the first step is to acknowledge when something is a "better way" so that we have something to work off of. My objection to the anti-AP response among the blogosphere is the idea that we can't objectively evaluate when something is wrong or bad parenting. We can and we should.
Anonymous said…
Tiene: I think the word "ideal" is the problem. Most of us (myself definitely included) simply don't live in the ideal world. We can and should aspire to do a little better each day ... that is the nature of the Christian life. We'll hit the ideal in heaven, when we reach perfection by God's grace.

While I often agree with much of what Greg has to say on other issues, I couldn't help but wonder if this was one time when his gender put him at a disadvantage. Talking to women is not the same as being a woman; he simply cannot be expected to understand how feminine gifts operate on an intuitive level. Which is why he resorts to the "ideal." He sees it from the outside.

I think we'd all be better served by making allowances for each other's limitations, just taking what is good and letting the rest go. The truth is, we don't have to take one side or the other. As Danielle said (more or less): at the end of the day, it's not about whether we uphold someone else's standard. It's about whether we have pleased God. (Whew!)

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