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When we were first parenting young children, my husband had an office that

backed against a peaceful and serene cemetery. Since we only had one car, I would

drop him off at the office in the morning, use the car for errands and appointments during

the day, and then pick him up at the end of the day. Sometimes, if I arrived a bit early, the

children and I would stroll the cemetery pathways to get some fresh air and keep them

from being cooped up in the car.


As I walked through the quiet and peaceful grounds after a busy day with little ones, my

eyes would scan over the headstones. I became aware of the theme that summarized

the most important fact of these lives now at rest. Almost all read Beloved Husband or

Wife, Father or Mother, Daughter or Son, Sister or Brother.


These people were not identified by their jobs or the committees they served. Exceptions were if they had served in the armed forces or were first responders.


This fascinated me. So many people strive to leave a lasting legacy of some kind. But

here were the facts for all to read; the people we genuinely matter to and who will

remember us are those we are called to love and serve and work on relationship with,

our family.


The world lies to us all the time. It tells us that everything we do outside of our family life

is essential and will give us fulfillment. But those things can never fill us to the depths of

our hearts and souls if marriage and family life are the vocation to which we are called.

There is no other place where we will have more importance and lasting impact. In any

other situation, no matter how important we are, once we are gone from it, something or

someone will replace us and fill the gap we leave. But no one and nothing can ever

close the gap we leave when we pass from the lives of our spouse and children. I can

speak to this personally (having lost both my parents) and professionally. I talk with

people every day, on More2life, who still deal with the pain and consequences of losing a

family member, either from death or desertion, even many decades later, or are carrying

pain from a relationship that isn’t as close as they long for it to be.


Truly grasping the truth of our importance to our family can lift us out of our false

perception that the ordinary moments of family life are mundane or insignificant. We can

instead knowledge that each moment of presence to our family matters to them

profoundly. Instead, we can choose to embrace each moment and create more good,

positive, and upbuilding ones for our family.


Principle 9 encourages us to stop thinking of family as just something we have or as

something we will hopefully get around to if we have enough time at the end of the day,

week, or year and instead think of family as our primary place in the world, and the place

where we grow closer to God’s love and each other while we help each other become

everything God created us to be. Therefore, we give ourselves permission to prioritize

creating time to be a family and build up our relationships.


Once we prioritize family time, we must figure out how to make it happen. As with any

goal, we need a plan to make it happen.


First, we need to (as a family) schedule times to focus on family time. We need to get out

our calendars and find times, small or big, to spend time together. This can be difficult at

first if you are each involved in a lot of activities already. As time goes by and schedules

change you can be more intentional about what to take on or not as you begin to make

family time a top priority. Start small if you must. Can you fit in 15 minutes at the end of

the night before bed to share a warm drink and catch up on everyone’s day, or read a

chapter of good family read a-loud? Could you all get up earlier on Saturday morning to

have a big breakfast together before heading out to activities? Could you all go to brunch

at a family restaurant after Mass on Sunday? Could you do a 5 minute family prayer and

blessing time before everyone leaves for school and work? Look for any minutes you

can turn into family time and write them in red on all your calendars so they are no

longer mere wishes, they are prioritized plans.


For bigger chunks of time we need to generate ideas for what each family member

would enjoy. We can choose different ideas for different times so that everyone’s needs

get met over time. It’s ok if not everyone likes the same things. We can grow in love by

stretching ourselves to do something someone else likes. Teens won’t die from playing

Candy Land, and little ones can roll dice and move pieces around a game board as

part of mom’s team for harder games. Once we’ve got a list of ideas, we need to

schedule them on our calendars. Some families may choose to set aside the same

evening or day every week for time together so they always know that Sunday or

Thursday night or whatever is always for family and no one will schedule anything in its

place. But in busy lives that can be hard to do. Looking ahead at the schedules before

the beginning of each new month and scheduling at least one family connection time for

each week that month can be really helpful.


Next, fit times to work, talk, pray and play together into the flow of your day. For

example, clean up the kitchen together after a meal (work ritual). While doing them, you

could turn on fun upbeat music and dance and sing together to add some joy to your day

(play ritual). Turn off the radio/screens on the way to school or appointments and talk

and catch up (talk ritual). If everyone is in the car driving home at the end of a long day

of school and extra-curriculars, pray on the way home (prayer ritual). Share your

gratitude and concerns with God and each other, intercede for one another and friends

who need prayer. This can be a great alternative for nights when you know everyone will

be too tired and grumpy to pray once you get home. These are just simple suggestions

to get you thinking about ways to connect during those crazy busy seasons. Remember

the goal is to create a loving, positive connection. Don’t use these times to discipline your

children or complain. The goal is to be building a warm, loving, connected family one

intentional step at a time.

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Wow! Hands up if you ever felt like everything in life was all up to you as a mom, even for a

minute. I honestly don’t know of any mom who hasn’t. Honestly, we have so much to do every

day to make sure our children are physically, emotionally, and spiritually well that it can feel truly

overwhelming, especially if any of those areas are challenged. Even though we are moms, we

are still mere mortals, so we cannot possibly do everything perfectly.


The interesting news is that independent perfection is not expected of us. Scripture reminds us of this many times in verses such as Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone." and “Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not

easily broken."- Ecclesiastes 4:12.


Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs for a reason. We need others to help sustain and strengthen us. God consistently steers us to work together, and especially in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, in all we do.


Yet as moms, it can be challenging to accept help. We can feel a lot of pressure to

prove to ourselves and others that we are fantastic moms who can do everything

wonderfully. Our pride can get the better of us and keep us from asking for help. But on

top of that, we have to grapple with the fact that no one knows our children as well and

as intimately as we do. Because we know them so well, we know when we need to

make adjustments in our daily lives and behaviors to keep our family life and home

running optimally. In that unique moment, and taking time to explain how to do that to

someone else (even our spouse) can seem like precious time that would be wasted

when we can just do it faster and better anyway.


But it is exactly because we are so important to our children that we need to ask for and

accept help when possible. Without it, we can burn out emotionally and physically,

leading to resentment and/or sickness that damages our ability to mother well.


The most important thing is to always, (and I mean in every big and little thing) be

asking for God’s help and guidance. Too often we mere mortals hold God at arms length

until we’re absolutely desperate. We don’t have to wait. He wants to help us every

second of every day. God wants us to share our hearts, our fears (and aren’t there a lot

of those to be found in motherhood), our struggles, as well as our joys, gratitude, and

successes. It’s not all up to you. Your kids are his kids. Honestly you are his kid too. He

wants what’s best for each of you. But we have to let him in and express all our needs

and concerns to him so that He can help and we can work in cooperation with His help

and guidance minute but minute, day by day.


I can personally testify to innumerable times when I did not have the strength or the

personal resources to do something in my life and when I remembered to talk to God

about it and ask for his help he would lead me to the resources that would help me with

my situation, and always in a way that let me know it was absolutely Him. Don’t be

afraid to talk to Him all the time about everything, and then take the time to listen for His

inspiration. New ideas, thoughts about how to employ different virtues and skills to help,

as well as inspirations on who to ask for hands on help are ways God takes us toward

the next step to the solutions we need.


Sometimes God gives us the humility to admit that we cannot do it all by ourselves and

inspires us to seek the help we need. When asking for help, start by seeking it for the

areas that support your mothering and family life instead of areas that undermine your

time and relationship with your kids. For example, help with housework, laundry,

cooking, and errands frees up your time and gives you more space to be present to

your kids and enjoy them. Whereas help with child care, so that you can get all those

chores done, can actually leave us feeling drained, disconnected, and out of sync with

our kids. It can be good to get child-care help from a trusted person to give you time to

tend to your own needs or the needs of your marriage. Just be aware that when you do,

you will probably need to build in extra time afterward to resync with your kids, and

that’s perfectly normal.


Next, of course, is enlisting help from the family members that share your home. A great

way to do this is to work together on tasks rather than assigning tasks. Working together

works well because it gives you time together while the task is getting done, and it

keeps you all in the same space so that keeping everyone on task is easier for you. It

allows you to teach how the task should be done and see it through as it’s happening,

cutting down on the time it takes to get the job done. Most jobs, like making and

cleaning up meals, dusting a room, folding laundry, and many more, can be done

together and give families time to talk in a non-pressured way.


Working together allows you to teach your family skills they will need for a lifetime and

keeps you from bearing the entire household workload.


If your the children living under your roof are teens or young adults, or you have a

spouse that needs to step up more with the workload, don’t assume they have a clue of

what to do or how. Keeping it all ticking along has probably been your super power for a

long time. Now that you a needing/wanting for everyone to help, there will be a learning

curve. Use the working together technique, teach them what to do, have written step by

step notes to help them along and, for the sake of your family, do your best to keep it

pleasant. Remember, your home is temporary, your family is forever.


Coming to the realization that you can’t do this mom thing all by yourself is a spiritual

revelation that can open your heart and life more to God and others if we allow

ourselves to do so.

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No family comes fully formed, bright, shiny, and perfect right out of the box. In fact, as moms, it is our job to help form our family into the individuals and family God has created them to be.

But, at times, it can seem exhausting and fruitless, especially when we reduce our efforts to

lecturing, nagging, or yelling, as they bring little lasting change, leaving us feeling ineffective.


But when we change our focus to being the change we seek in our family, it bears great fruit for our own souls and life, as well as discipling our children in deed and word toward the change we

seek and the virtues needed to make that change. St. John Bosco (who, after receiving a holy vision, worked wonders with the challenging children in his care) advised the teachers under his leadership that “Self-control (in the adult caregiver) must rule our whole being - our mind, our heart, our lips.” With this in mind, parenting becomes a deep spiritual beginning with our own growth in virtue to help us facilitate change in our family members. When we invite the Holy Spirit to help us master our behaviors and to help us parent our children, we can make real progress in making the positive change we are longing to see.


Let’s look at some steps we can take to begin this process of discipling our children and creating

change.


1) Identify the changes you want to see.


Too often, we just react strongly to an irritating behavior, and we just want

it to stop. “It” is too noisy, too messy, too aggravating, too whatever! We feel frustrated. We

react in some way that is supposed to convey our frustration. Usually, nothing changes, at least

not in a lasting way.


Instead of just reacting, take time to identify positively, in your own mind, the change you want,

such as, “I want my family to stop yelling at each other.” or “I want my child to succeed in

school.”


2) Be as specific as you can be.


Once you have identified the broad positive change you want, move to the more specific. For

example, your broad statement may be, “I want my family to stop yelling at each other.” By

identifying specific, measurable behaviors, you give your family something understandable to

work toward, such as “I want my family members to speak respectfully to each other and in soft

tones.” Or, a broad statement such as, “I want my children to succeed in school.” can more

specifically become, “I want my children to get their homework done without argument and work

for a half hour a day with a parent on skill-building to help improve grades in identified areas.”


Stating specific goals gives you a target to aim for, rather than just a broad wish that

disintegrates into complaining, nagging, and dissatisfaction.


3) Identify the virtues that you, and your family members, need to achieve the goal.


It is difficult to change a behavior pattern. We need God’s grace to do it. All virtue, or progress

toward it, is a grace from God. In trying to achieve any good and worthwhile goal, it is beneficial

to identify the virtues we need to achieve it and ask for God’s help.


In the speaking respectfully example, a family may need to focus on the virtues of kindness and

self-control. In the school work example, the virtue needed may be diligence. Focusing on this

virtue when doing school work or any job carefully and persistently will help our children develop

habits and skills that will make them more successful not only in the assignment of the day but

in a lifetime of education and work.


4) Develop a plan with small actionable steps.


Once we have identified what virtues we need to help us work toward the changes we want, we

need a plan to go about it. Developing any virtue or good habit takes practice and repetition, just

like building muscle. We don’t get anywhere by just identifying that we want strong bi-ceps. We

must do specific, repetitive, targeted exercises to achieve them. The same applies to building

virtue and the better behaviors we want to achieve.


For instance, we don’t get very far in changing disrespectful speech by saying, “ Don’t talk to

your brother like that!” But we will make real progress if we first discuss the new goal and its

attached virtue together as a family. Then, together, generate ideas to practice as a family, such

as:


  • We will state our needs politely instead of complaining.

  • We will work together to meet those needs in a way that respects each person’s needs.

  • We will ask for help if we are having difficulty figuring out a plan.

Let’s look at possible action steps for the school success situation.

  • We will create a study schedule together that factors in needs such as time to relax, keeping up friendships, other commitments in family life, etc.

  • Parent and child will schedule short times (15-30 minutes?) to review areas of study that need to be strengthened.

  • We will get help from a teacher, tutor, or online resource if we have depleted our own reserves on the topic.


Of course, these are examples. Each family can use these guidelines to help them formulate a

plan that is unique to them.


When we identify the specific changes we want to see in our family, tap into the virtues required

to make those changes, and create a plan with actionable steps to work on together, we are

becoming the change we want to see in our family by discipling them while actively participating

in the change. In doing so, we can make real and lasting progress toward rewarding and

beneficial family changes.

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