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  • Lisa Popcak

 

Some days can seem so chaotic. We run from task to task from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we close them again. We often only feel a sense of success when we can check off the boxes on our to-do list. But that success can often be superficial because all those tasks don’t really connect us to the people we love, to ourselves, or to God. We often think, “I’ll make time to connect over the weekend, or holidays, or vacation... when I have time.” But do we really think we can build or nurture relationships in short, infrequent bits of time? When we try to, we are often left feeling unsuccessful and frustrated because creating connection takes time. But how in the world do we fit in that time in the haze of our over scheduled lives?!


One simple change that can help us create connection, without burning us out, is to create rituals. I know, it sounds intense, elaborate, and like a crazy addition to your already jam-packed life. But I’m not talking about the picture perfect, overly detailed rituals as seen on morning tv before a holiday. I’m talking about rituals that fit in easily, make you feel good inside, and connect you with your kids.


I bet you already have some personal rituals that you love. Perhaps it’s that first morning cup of coffee that makes you take a deep breath and sigh “Mmmmm…”. Maybe it’s a daily text with your best friend. Is there a playlist that just makes your day a little better? Or maybe it’s just taking off that bra at the end of the day and getting into comfy clothes. (Again, ahhhh…)


Those little things make you feel just a little bit better, a little more yourself. But they don’t take a lot of time or work. Generally the same will be true with rituals you create with your family.


There are four categories of rituals that when incorporated into our lives cover just about all the areas of life in which we need connection: Working, talking, playing, and praying. Again, don’t freak out. This isn’t about adding to your burden. It’s about lightening it, by actually making connections in simple, rewarding ways so you’re not always waiting to make connections, and then feeling frustrated when it doesn’t happen.


Let’s take a look at each category in turn and look at ideas that might make your life as a mom a little easier and more rewarding.


Let’s start with work rituals because that’s where we all feel the most pressure. We have a zillion and one work tasks per day and most of us approach them by dividing and trying to conquer, while usually feeling like we’re failing in some way. The trick is to do as much of our work alongside our kids as possible. 

For example, I have a mom I know who set an amazing example for me. She was studying for an advanced degree while her daughter was in elementary school. She was committed to helping her daughter succeed in school, but also felt deeply about getting this degree to continue very important work to which she was very dedicated. So every night they would work on their schoolwork side by side at the dining table. This allowed her to be there to answer any questions her daughter had, while also being a great example to her daughter of the hard work it takes to meet goals. The mom got her degree and her daughter eventually attended Oxford University. They have remained very close because they built years of partnership together.


This was an amazing accomplishment. But this kind of partnership can be built in many small ways, such as: everyone doing a bit to get dinner on the table (setting the table, getting the drinks, bringing the plates to the table - all while chatting and catching up with each other’s day) or folding laundry together, again while having a nice conversation. Even our littlest can come alongside us with work around the house when given a dust cloth. ( Search Montessori cleaning tools for ideas on this one.) 


When we bring our children alongside us while working, things go more smoothly because they don’t feel like they are being pushed aside until we finish our work. They don’t feel like they have to raise a ruckus just to get our attention.They feel, and become, a respected and important part of all the work before us,  and they learn to trust us to be companions with their work as well.


Let’s look at play rituals. When so much of parenting seems to be “must dos” it can seem like all we do is work and discipline. That can really suck the joy out of family life and usually instills in us a desperate craving for more and more alone time that never seems to satisfy.


Intentionally inserting play time into every day is the antidote to that constant grind. Daily play doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be moments, intentionally set aside, to do something enjoyable together.


Play in a way that suits your family. For example:


  • Take a walk together after dinner to breath and shake off the day a bit together. 

  • Play a fifteen minute card game before homework time. (Do a search for that. You’ll be amazed how many there are.) When you do something fun together before homework everybody goes back to work with a better attitude. 

  •  Read a wonderful book  (not assigned for school) together, one chapter (or more) every night before bed. 

  • Shoot some hoops.

  • Do an art/ craft project together. 

Set aside at least fifteen minutes a day to play together. If you have different personalities and like different things, rotate turns in picking the play ritual each day so that everybody gets to take a turn doing something they enjoy and practicing self donation by doing something the other likes with a positive attitude.


Onto talk rituals. You might see already that work and play rituals are often made more pleasant when talking together is included. This is good, because most of us don’t do well with big “we have to talk” moments.  We tend to share our hearts more freely when we’re doing other things. But it is important to set aside some catch-up time on a regular basis with each child so they can have some of your undivided attention. 


One friend of mine, who has eleven kids, schedules a time on the calendar for each child to go alone with her to the store. That time alone, driving in the car and walking around the store, becomes precious unshared time with mom. By the way, it also covers a work ritual at the same time! Go out for ice cream, or a walk, or dinner with just that child one on one.


*Important note, talk time is not discipline/correction/ lecture time. We want to develop rapport  and relationship with our child by listening and sharing in a loving, supportive way. Save discipline for a different time.


But talk rituals should be shared by the whole family together as well. “Thorns and Roses” is a great way to share the important things that happened in your family’s day. Each person gets to share a thorn  (difficult part of the day) and a rose (good part of the day), while the rest of the family is attentive and supportive. But just talking together about the day, or a book you’re reading, or a movie you’ve watched can all be part of a talk ritual, as long as conversation isn’t limited to schedules, or what needs to be picked up at the store.


Lastly, let’s look at the idea of a prayer ritual. We all crave connection with the divine in some way, no matter how old we are. I wholeheartedly encourage you to pray with your children in a way that is meaningful to you both. Every day set aside time to take your concerns to God aloud together. Before bedtime ask God together to help each of you with whatever you need help with - friendships, school work, work projects, hopes. Also take some time to acknowledge where you each saw glimpses of God in your day - a prayer answered, a beautiful sunset, time shared together, the parking space near the door. Wherever you caught a glimpse of God, acknowledge it together, and thank Him for it. It’s a beautiful way to end the day before sleep. 


Additionally, it’s wonderful to give blessings to your child. Just put your hand on your child’s head or arm and ask God to bless and protect your child and help with any concerns your child may have. It’s great to do this before they leave the house each day.You can also ask your child to give you a blessing as well.

These prayer rituals help us and our children connect with the divine, and each other and help us to know that we never have to take on this life alone.


Intentionally setting aside time to work, talk, play and pray together helps us to capture each other’s hearts. When we have our children’s hearts the need for discipline diminishes greatly and it is far easier if it is necessary.  When we close our eyes at night we can know we know we’ve made loving, important connections with our children and experience a real sense of peace, joy, and accomplishment.









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  • Lisa Popcak

There are several times a year when we seem to stop and make new plans. September is certainly one of those times. Whether or not we have children in school, the shift to fall and the patterns set through years of our own academic schedules kick in and cause us to pause and ponder a bit, or to dive in and create new plans. When our children are school age it is more likely the latter, due to dealing with new schedules, activity choices, obtaining supplies and figuring out how to meet the demands of the new school year.

Often it all seems daunting or overwhelming, especially if we are planning around what I call the “shoulds” that lurk in the corners of our minds telling  us all the things we MUST do if we really want to measure up as moms.


But measure up to whom?  The “shoulds” come from lots of places, such as past expectations of our parents or teachers, other mothers at school or our place of worship, social media, books, or any place that sets a standard we tell ourselves is desirable in some way. They can affect every area of our lives. How we dress. How we keep our homes. The activities in which we participate, or in which we enroll our kids. They can even come to bare on our spiritual lives. But are those standards right for you and your children?


This September I invite you to take a moment and ask yourself: What are your true ideals? 


This can be a really hard question to answer. After all, we seek and absorb all those ideas and resources in an attempt to clarify what’s best for our families. But that often leaves us feeling like we’re playing the childhood game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. You know, the one where we are blindfolded and someone spins us around until we’re dizzy and have lost our sense of direction. Then we’re supposed to march forward and pin the paper tail in the correct spot on the donkey. Then, we take off the blindfold to see how close we’ve gotten to that goal. Whether we had gotten close or ended up across the room from the donkey, we were usually astonished and wondered, “How in the world did I end up here?!”

Without a sense of direction, and a vision to aim for, it is very difficult to hit the mark.


So to help us clarify our own unique ideals, let’s work backwards a bit by asking - What kind of mother do you want to be remembered as being? Imagine a scene of a future Thanksgiving, or other family get together. Your children are all grown and they’re sharing childhood memories. What warm recollections do you wish for them to have of you? 


Stop yourself from running scenarios of all the things you’re afraid they’re going to say based on all your difficult days. Think instead of what you really wish they will remember, even if you haven’t achieved, or even attempted, those ideals yet. Again, this is what you want your children to remember about you and life in your home. Not what you want them to achieve. Not what you want the other voices in your head by which you judge yourself to eventually acknowledge and approve of about you. Every one of us will have a different list, and that’s great because we’re each unique and unrepeatable people with unique families. God gave you to your children because you have specific gifts He wants you to share with them, or at least the ability to develop the gifts he places in your heart.


Next, make two side by side lists. On the left, list all the “shoulds”  that run through your head of what you should be, or should be doing, to measure up as a mom. On the right side, list all the things you would love to do as a mom, that would give you joy now and a thrill in your heart when your kids remember the mom of their childhood (or their adulthood if your at that stage. It’s never too late to transform into the mom you want to be).


Compare your lists. Are the plans you’ve made for this year or season leading toward your ideals? Are the daily strivings after your “shoulds” leading you closer to your children or are any of them putting emotional or time wedges between you?


With your lists and these questions in mind, evaluate what has to change to move you closer to your ideals. Begin to surround yourself with messages (through social media, books, even one new personal connection) that support your ideals, and take steps to sift away those that don’t. Ask yourself what’s one small thing you can do right away to take a step toward who you want yourself, and your family, to be. It doesn’t have to mean reworking everything. Just list one or two little changes that would bring you joy and help you feel closer to your family. Hush the voices that say, “The  kids won’t go along with it”, or “You shouldn’t make the change because…”. You’re the mom. You can make any changes you believe will benefit your relationship with your kids. You get to set the tone and atmosphere of your family life. 

Next, ask yourself- what are 1-3 things you want to plan differently in the future (next week, next month, next holiday, next vacation, next summer, next school year) that will increase the warmth and connection between you and your children? Don’t take it all at once. Just go with where your heart leads you. Write you ideas down. None of us can remember these things in the midst of our busy lives. Revisit the list every day. Make note of your successes each day, no matter how tiny, and right down one thing you want to do together tomorrow to help your family create a warm memory, or atmosphere, that supports your particular ideals.


Finally, after you’ve given yourself a chance to process your new ideals, desires and plans. Share them with your family. It’s ok to tell them you love them and want to be the best mom you can be. Let them know what you want to work toward, and ask them if they have any ideas of little things you can all do to make you feel closer to each other and create warm memories together. Letting them know you love them enough to grow and develop into your best self as a mom, allows them to know they are safe to grow and change and strive to feel good about who they are too. 


Step by step you can become the ideal mom you want to be.

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  • Lisa Popcak

Not long ago I was in Pittsburgh during the citywide marathon. It was a cold, rainy day. Yet over 20,000 people showed up to run. Another 6,000 or more people volunteered to support those marathoners, many of them standing on the sidelines cheering on the runners and handing them water.


Think about that. For fourteen hours in the cold and rain people stood to offer others encouragement, a moment of connection and a drink to help them go on. There were no bragging rights in that. No medals. No records to break. No coverage in the news. Yet they came, and many of the runners wouldn't have succeeded in their goals if they hadn't.


That is one example of what giving drink to the thirsty is all about. Sure, the marathon committee could have just had unmanned stations along the way for the runners to grab water as they ran by, but that would have deprived the runners of the encouragement and connection that fueled them to go on.


Again, as with the first Corporal work of Mercy -feeding the hungry- we see that it's not just the substance that matters, but the manner in which it’s provided.


Let's look at how this applies to us as mothers.

One example, that always jumps out at me when I think of this work, is hearing, “Cannnn I have a drink of waaaaterrr?” sometime during the night when one of my littles was supposed to be sleeping. Let's be honest here, can anything get on a mom’s last nerve like hearing that when all you want is to get on with something, ANYTHING non-kid related at night. You’ve given your all, all day. You’ve desperately waited all day for those precious, all too short moments of “off-duty” time, and then you hear that call. It can bring us to the end of our patience in a split second. I know there were nights I wondered if it would bring me to the end of my sanity as well.


Then I read a column that talked about how St. Teresa of Calcutta used to awaken one or two hours before the rest of her sisters to go out and tend to the outcasts of the city. On the one hand, I immediately saw the holiness and sacrifice in this. On the other, my exhausted brain thought, “Gee at least she got to decide when she's going to wake up to tend to people, we moms have to jump up out of an exhausted sleep whenever our family needs us. I promise, I wasn't being prideful. I was just such a tired mom that sleeping ALL THE WAY to 3 o’clock in the morning sounded almost luxurious.


But what also occurred to me is that Mother Teresa would go out at 3am with a smile on her face, kindness in her actions, and love for God’s children in her heart. Yet we as mothers are almost encouraged to be grouchy, irritable, and harsh when responding in the night to the needs of God’s children under our roof.


Mother Teresa knew that it was not just water and food that those she tended needed. They needed kindness, comfort, reassurance when they were feeling scared and alone. These are the same things our children need from us when they ask for that inconvenient drink of water, and if we choose to answer with patience, kindness, and love (and yes we usually have to ask God for an extra helping of Grace to do this) we can transform those moments into moments that spiritually transformation for both of us.


In this we get to experience Christ in two ways. In the first we get to minister to the suffering Christ present in our children. Just as we may wish we could have comforted Jesus in His suffering or given him a drink in answer to His words “I thirst”. We can comfort Him in the form of “the least of these” in our children.When we accept His invitation to come to Him in our children, we experience Him showing us how very loved and important we are through our children's eyes,  and we are invited to overcome our weariness and sinfulness just as the woman from whom He asked for a drink at the well was.


Secondly, we transform that moment for our child by being an embodied response of a loving and merciful God who loves them with all of His being all of the time.That response is some of the earliest and best evangelization our children will ever know. When we later talk of the great God who loves them very much,  they will have a reference point in the memory of seeing His face reflected in your responses.


Now I'm not saying we should let this go on all night. If we have tucked them into bed, using a nurturing bedtime ritual, and been loving and kind in response to their request for a drink (or whatever) later if it occurs, it's absolutely fine to set a gentle, firm limit in the behavior if they are old enough. But this limit is far more likely to be cooperated with if you meet the emotional needs behind the request first.


With our older children it is a good idea to use “giving drink to the thirsty” in ways that help us connect with them in supportive, non-confrontational ways. We certainly do this with friends don't we? We don't ask our friends “out for a cup of coffee” or “out for a drink after work” and then sit there drinking and ignoring them because we just want to keep ourselves from dehydrating do we? Of course not. What we're really thirsting for is friendship and connection.


We should extend this practice to our older children. Stop at a favorite place on the way home from school for a lemonade or hot cocoa to reconnect after the day apart.  Have a tea time with them at home with a snack and tea and a good chat. Share cups of camomile tea before bed and catch up on each other's day lives in ways that only seem to happen in the quiet, calm hours of the night. Invite that adult child out for a cup of coffee, at a convenient time for you both,  and catch up on each other's lives.


The purpose of giving drink to the thirsty is much more about the watering of a person's soul then it is about hydration, and you don't have to stand in the rain for fourteen hours to do it, you just have to connect with the children who seek your time and attention because you are more important to them than anybody else in the world.

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