• Lisa Popcak

I am inspired today to talk about the tenth Momfidence principle: I aim for cozy not perfect. The inspiration comes as I hunker down with my family, in a wonderful old hotel in Canada. Outside has accumulated 10 inches of snow. Sixty mile per hour winds are slashing ice against the windows. But inside, every fireplace is lit and hot pots of tea and warm scones are transforming the the space into a cosy refuge from the storm. While we pray for the safety of those contending with all that's going on outside, we are finding gratitude that we have been caused to stop. We cannot travel, the internet has stopped working, and we have been given a Haven in which to gather, get warmed, and spend time together. It is cozy.

This time of year we can see many articles and videos on decluttering our homes. There is something so refreshing about getting my home clean and in order! But it takes hard work to get it that way, and I will confess that sometimes, after working so hard, I can get pretty testy with my family if they mess it up again. Not only do I not want all my hard work to be undone, but I can take it as a personal insult after creating such a wonderful space “for them”. The influence of all the women I grew up around, who prided themselves on their housekeeping (and never let a child into their formal living rooms) intrudes into my adult thoughts. But I do my best to check those thoughts and snappishness by asking myself, “How do I want my children to remember me?”. Certainly not as someone with a sterile house and a cold heart. So while I love a clean, shining house, I've chosen to aim for cozy, not perfect.

What is cozy? The dictionary describes it with words like, comfortable, warm, restful, cheerful, secure, safe, welcoming, and snuggly. What wonderful words! I want my children to think of our home that way. But more importantly, I want them to remember me that way!

I have the privilege of talking to people from all over the world every day on my radio show. And I often hear adults, some grandparents themselves, who long to know that their moms loved them in that way. I don't want my children to have to long for those feelings. I want to actively fill their hearts and souls with the knowledge that I love them by creating times, as well as spaces, that help them feel safe, secure, at ease, cheerful, rested and welcome in my home and heart.

Sometimes creating that cozy space and relationship is going to include a fire in the fireplace, candle light,cuddly blankets, warm drinks, yummy snacks, and positive conversation.

Other times it will be laying round in our pajamas ignoring the dishes, and the laundry, and hoping no one drops by in the middle of the mess, but connecting with my people in a heartfelt and vital way. In fact, ignoring the mess and work and focusing on them is huge part of letting them know how much they matter.

As often as I can, I remind myself that my children don't care if our home is Instagramably decorated, or if every meal is a gourmet feast, or if I’ve chaired every school committee, or if I have six-pack abs. They care that they feel loved by me. Then, I intentionally choose the joy that cozy can bring.

If that is something that you want for yourself and your children here are some suggestions for creating coziness in the different stages of your child's life.

Infant and toddler:

  • This stage is all about cuddles and kisses. Relish it!

  • Play, gaze at each other, nap together, cuddle and read pictures books. Fit in as much of it as you can for the sheer joy and connection of it. It will make the good times great and the difficult times easier to bear.

  • If your having an exhausting, irritating day, prioritize connection. Put pillows and blankets in the floor, and get out old school toys that don't make noise or blink lights, like play food, puzzles, coloring books, and enjoy some quiet play together.

Grade School:

  • Play together. Paint. Read a chapter a night (or more!) of wonderful books you both enjoy. Reading aloud together gives you and your child a shared experience and “friends” that you can get excited about and talk about together.

  • Take walks or do one-on-one sports together.

  • Bake together. Using the Great British Baking Show as inspiration, my youngest daughter and I had lots of fun together trying recipes we hadn't seen before. Some recipes will become family traditions with lots of cozy memories attached.

High School:

This is a time when your child wants to be closer to you, even though society says they want to push away. As they seek to become their own people, our kids desperately want our validation, and the emotional security of being close on a regular basis.

  • Plan dates with your teen. Go to breakfast, or a movie and dessert and just talk and have fun. (Don't make this a time of international, or discipline)

  • Take up a shared hobby. Take a cooking class together. Learn to sew or knit together.

  • Intentionally set aside a few hours a week to just hang out comfortably at home together without having to rush to the next activity.

  • Make sure you're still hugging your teen. Yes even young men will feel emotionally healthier when hugged several times mm es a day by his parents.

Adult Children:

  • Our adult children need a cozy place to come to when they visit. Welcome their visits with open arms, literally.  

  • Make some of their favorite foods.

  • Have interesting (not divisive) topics to talk about.

  • Listen with an open heart to everything that's going on in their lives, and be encouraging.

  • Send them text during their off hours, just to tell them your thinking of them and you love be them.

  • Send care packages. Everybody feels loved when someone send them a package full of home baked goodies, or their favorite treats.

For more encouragement, check out my book Corporal Works of Mommy, or tune into the More2Life Radio program on EWTN.

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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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