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  • Lisa Popcak

The very first Momfidence Principle is “I Make Affection and Connection My Number One Job.” When I was pregnant with my oldest, I began contemplating, and asking God, what kind of mother I should be. As I did so, I kept coming across beautiful and inspiring “mother and child” artwork. Almost always these pieces showed a mother cuddling or being close to her child in some way. This was especially true in images of Jesus and his mother, not just in his infancy,  but through all his stages of life, including Mary cradling Jesus’ body in her arms after he is taken down from the cross. It became clear to me that, over thousands of years, the best of the mother-child relationship was represented artistically as an image of affection and connection.

As I meditated on this, I began reading a lot more about the science of infancy and parenthood. Confined to bed for most of that pregnancy, I had a lot of time to delve into this. That’s for sure! The vast majority of the science on the subject supports what the art conveyed, that strong affectionate mother/child bonds are best for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of both the baby and the mother.

  1. Affectionate connection between us and our children, at any age, is good for moms. The chemical cortisol is released during moments of affection. It brings down our stress and helps us engage our thinking brains so we can  be creative and effective moms. Cortisol also helps our children calm down and sink up with us, and when that happens we find moments of peace and empowerment as moms. With this in mind, we can see that when frustration causes a kind of knee-jerk reaction causing us to wait to show affection to our children until we feel good about each other, it undermines our ability to be the amazing moms we want to be.

  2.  Moments of connection build relationship with our children and makes them more receptive to our correction and guidance.

  3. No matter how tired, angry, or disempowered we feel, it's connection and affection we and our children are needing. No mom wants to feel like an ineffective mom. No kid wants to feel like a disappointment. Affectionate connection can help us overcome these difficult feelings and problem solve together.

But take our eyes off the research,  and the idyllic, silent images, and put them on our real life days as moms and that kind of connection can seem pretty difficult to come by. The children in those artistic images don’t scream, or blow out their diapers at church on the only dress that fits our exhausted postpartum bodies.  They don’t fail to ever let us sleep, or throw tantrums, or have obnoxious moments in their teen or adult years. The disconnect between that ideal and real life can leave us questioning our mothering abilities and feeling pretty awful at times.

As I grappled (and still grapple) with the daily realities of motherhood, God has shown me that those ideals are not so much unrealistic, as they are something to be developed and achieved through practice. Just as an athlete or dancer has to practice and perfect their skills, so do we as moms. So how do we practice when our ideals don't match our circumstances, or affection doesn't come naturally?

  • Start by building in daily routines that build connection. For example: Give hugs and kisses every time you greet each other or say goodbye, including waking and bedtimes.

  • Set aside a reconnection time at the end of the school/work day, having a warm drink and a snack together and catching up on how the day is going, without scolding or nagging.

  • Perhaps taking a walk together to clear your heads. (St. John Paul and his father did this together every day after school.)

  • If your child is an adult, set aside a time at the beginning or end of the day for a catch up/ encouraging text or phone call.

  • If your day isn't going well, stop and tell your child, “ I love you more than whatever is making us stressed with each other. Let's pause and give each other a hug.”  (Let that cortisol kick in!) Then figure out how to solve the problem or improve the day together.

  • Keep track of the times you feel closest, and most connected to each child. Is it when your reading together? Doing a craft together? Working on a project together? Sitting together on the couch sharing your favorite funny memes? Prioritize those things in often. It will be like putting gas into the engine of your relationship.

Give yourself time to discern what your ideals for yourself as a mother are, and trust that with prayer and practice you can get closer to them one day at a time.

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  • Lisa Popcak

When my oldest daughter was about seven, our family was walking along a beach while on vacation when we spotted the cutest little crab. It was about the size of a small red potato, My daughter very gently picked it up to check it out and nestled it in the palm of her hand. For the first minute or so everything went well, but then the little crab sensed that it was no longer in a familiar environment and latched on to my daughters palm with its claw.

Even though it was a small crab, that pinch was fierce! My daughter yelped at the initial pinch and we all gathered around to help. But the more we tried to pull the crab off her hand the more tightly it held on to her skin and the worse the pain got As we all began to panic a bit, a local to the area came over and - taking my daughter’s hand on hers - gently poured a glass of ocean water over her hand forming a little pool of water in her palm. The moment the crab felt safe in a familiar environment, it released its grip on my daughter’s hand and it scuttled back into the ocean.

That crab had a lot in common with my kids; all kids, really. When my kids are in their element and feeling good they behave well and our days go smoothly and we enjoy each other. But when they feel off kilter for some reason they get, well... crabby.

So I try to always remember that when a child feels rightly-ordered, they act rightly-ordered. Now, of course I can’t make their lives perfectly serene all the time - nor would it be healthy for them if I did - but I can remember to keep certain things in mind so that I’m optimizing my child’s ability to feel right and be their best selves.

Has my child had enough sleep? If they haven’t I”ll ask myself what can I do to create a calmer atmosphere, get some quiet time with them, or even a nap. It’s not the time to run a thousand errands or expect them to learn a new skill or chore.

Has my child eaten protein in the last 3 hours? Children burn fuel quickly and they need small, protein-packed snacks every few hours to feel good. So I try to keep nutritious snacks in my house, car, and purse. If my child starts to get cranky, we have a snack and wait about 15 minutes to see if an attack of the “hangrys” is the cause.

Is my child going into an unfamiliar situation? Visiting a relative my child rarely sees, going to a new activity, dealing with a move, or good ol' fashioned holiday upheaval can really stress kids out. In those situations, I take time to prep my child ahead in advance. We talk about what the situation will be like, how they should behave, what comfort items they might need or which quiet (read: non-electronic) things they can bring to keep them from being board in adult situations. Most importantly, we always talk about how to quietly and respectfully get my attention if they are feeling in need of help.

Am I remembering that my child is unique? Each of my children has a different personality and unique needs. I keep that in mind when assessing which situations they will do well in and which situations might cause them to reactively misbehave so I can help us avoid those pitfalls.

It has amazed me over the years how many tantrums and instances of poor behavior we’ve managed to avoid by keeping these things in mind. Of course when unacceptable behavior does occur despite prior planning, corrections, apologies, and make-ups are required. But again these are always more easily and genuinely achieved when the child is restored to a feeling of right-orderedness, just like the crab in the ocean water.

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  • Lisa Popcak

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

These were the tearful words of “M”- a mom of four school age kids who called my show More2Life not long ago. She was feeling isolated, overwhelmed and purposeless. She described wearing herself out with the daily tasks of housekeeping, chauffeuring, and cooking but had little to no connection with the people for whom she did these tasks. In desperation she wanted to run to something that would fill her emptiness - perhaps work outside the home, but she wasn’t sure. Her words broke my heart and resonated with me at the same time

Every mom I know has experienced doubtful, discouraging words like these from time to time: “Maybe I’m not made for this.” There seems to be many triggers for thoughts like these: moments of awful sleep deprivation, times when we’re drowning under piles of laundry, being overwhelmed by work life balance, dealing with that child whose behaviors we’re having trouble coping with... we’ve all had moments where we question if we can do this whole mom thing; if we were “made for this”.

I assure you, you are absolutely made for this. When God graced you with a child, however that child came into your life, He made you to be your child's mom. But even with that truth in mind, we can still struggle in our thinking.

Very recently, I was being tormented by discouraging thoughts. I’ve been having trouble recovering from a recent surgery that came at the same time as many, many unusually demanding things were going on in the lives of my family. In physical pain and overwhelmed by all I had to do, I cried out to God. It’s good to be super-honest with Him and bring to Him all our feelings and questionings. If you’re struggling, I really encourage you to start there with God. Pour out your heart to Him; make room for Him to intervene.

The next day at Mass the words of John 15:16 leapt out at me: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.”

While those words were originally spoken to Jesus’s first followers to let them know who they were created to be and what their purpose was, they are meant for us moms today as well. I was reminded in hearing those words that God had made and appointed me to be my children’s mom, just as He has appointed you to be yours. He doesn’t require us to do it alone, however. God wants us to lean on Him so that our children will be His fruit that will last for eternity.

These words reminded me that my job is to bear fruit that will last. Now, unless you have some kind of miracle house/job, your tasks are probably like mine. I wash the floor, clean the bathroom, fold the laundry, handle my emails, etc. and IT DOESN’T LAST. What does last, what remains in my heart and the hearts of my family is the moments of connection we make - the cookies we bake together, the stories we read allowed, the games we play, the conversations, prayers, memories we make as a family. Those are the moments that feed our souls and bring moments of God’s love and grace into our lives. It’s also those moments that redeem the daily chores. Keeping a tidy home, providing my family with clean clothes, making meals for us to enjoy all become rewarding when they create a place to enjoy together instead of just chores that drain me.

Similarly, when “M” called that day, she talked about the wonderful vacation she had with her family. They had played together, walked on the beach, went for bike rides, and ate ice cream. It made her feel like the mom she always wanted to be. But she lamented that she was too tired at the end of the day to make time for things like that at home. It is those relationship moments that elevate what we do from drudgery to rewarding, meaningful acts of love and connection. Yet “M” and most moms rarely give ourselves permission to prioritize them. Instead we deplete ourselves with tasks from our never ending “to do list” and get frustrated when we haven’t had any time to do anything fun or meaningful with our spouses or kids.

So let’s try a new approach. Let’s try putting moments of connection at the top of our daily “to do list”. Sounds crazy?! How will we ever get anything done?! But think about this: will you feel more or less able to take on the day if you’ve spent a few minutes snuggling with your kids before you have to get everyone dressed and moving for the day? Will you be more or less patient with your kids at homework time if you’ve first paused after school and had a snack together and caught up on all the highs and lows of the day? Will your kids be more or less likely to drive you crazy with interruptions while your trying to get caught up on work emails, if before you looked at the screen, you played a hand of UNO or took a walk with them? Let’s try lifting our burdens to God and putting the relationships that will bear lasting fruit first.

After all, we were made for this!

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