Examination of Conscience: Supreme Court Edition

In light of today’s United States Supreme Court decision to re-define marriage as something other than the union of one man and one woman, it may be helpful for Catholics to pause and engage in some self-examination before we try to move forward in history.

FAITH
Have I neglected to pray for God’s will to be done?
Have I assumed God has been absent in all this?
Have I neglected to pray for authentic marriage?
Have I neglected to pray for our civil leaders?
Have I made an honest effort to understand the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality?
Have I been selective in my acceptance of Church teachings?
Have I promoted things contrary to Church teaching?
Have I regarded the Pope as anything less than orthodox?

HOPE
Have I appreciated my spouse as a gift from God?
Have I despaired of God’s mercy?
Have I despaired of God’s ultimate triumph?
Have I shared the truth of authentic marriage with others?
Have I taught my children the beauty of authentic marriage by word and example?
Have I failed to pray for the conversion of hearts and minds?
Have I assumed this decision is irreversible?

CHARITY
Have I been unfaithful to my spouse in word or in deed?
Have I refused to forgive my spouse?
Have I engaged in speaking ill of the opposite sex?
Have I wanted to force others to agree with me?
Have I listened openly to people that disagree with me?
Have I responded to them with kindness and gentleness?
Have I neglected to pray for people with same-sex attraction?
Have I neglected to pray for engaged and married couples?
Have I neglected to pray for children?

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Five Ways To Show Jesus You Love Him

1) Tell Him what your relationship with Him means to you.

Sing a song, write a poem, go to mass or adoration. As you go about your day, offer a prayer from your heart. This is a good thing to do for other people in your life too. Life is so blazing short, make sure you tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them why, tell them often. This is the best way I know to brighten the day. Don’t be shy!

2) Tell someone else about Him.

Were you in a difficult situation and Jesus gave you grace at the right moment to overcome it? Did you ask Him for help, and He gave it? How was it different or better than you expected? We talk about what’s going on in our lives all the time, why not mention where God was in the midst of it? Then you can ask, “So, where is God working in your life?”

3) Hug your spouse.

Besides the obvious, there are lots of ways to ‘hug’ someone, basically to show you care. Send a corny “I love you” text, surprise him or her with a favorite meal, take the kids for a couple hours, bite your tongue when you have something harsh to say. To give of yourself to your spouse is to model how Jesus loves His bride, the Church. Jesus knows that how you love your spouse is how you love Him.

4) Play with your children.

Whether its the little people that live with you, a niece or nephew, or other children that God has put in your path, give them a special treat – time spent with you. Be over-the-top silly. Let them call all the shots. Follow their rules, play their way, with their toys, with as much enthusiasm you can. Don’t be to grown-uppy. This is a taste of heaven… you just might enjoy it!

5) Pray for someone who said or did something unkind.

This is tough, tough, tough. But Jesus commands it, models it, and died that you might have the grace to do it. You love Him, and He loves that difficult person too. You may be the only disciple he comes across today, how does Jesus want you to show him His love?

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Playful Parenting : Part 2

I’ve been giving you the low-down on an amazing book by Dr. Lawrence Cohen, Playful Parenting, and this post is about my favorite chapter, Follow the Giggles.

He describes giggling as the “hallmark of playfulness” – the ultimate sign that people are truly having a great time, growing closer, releasing stress, and lightening up.

We forget how important laughter is. We tend to be serious when children are being difficult, obnoxious, uncooperative, or when we are stressed and impatient, but this is when playful parenting techniques are most helpful. Instead of creating more tension, why not try to get a giggle?

His first bit of advice is to do some research or trial and error to figure out what makes your child laugh. Try being more enthusiastic, more ‘over-the-top’ and silly. When you read books and watch TV with them, watch to see what they think is funny. Ask them to try to get you to laugh.

Game – “Socks” – try to take off everyone else’s socks and keep yours on.
Game – “Staring Contest” – first person to laugh or smile loses.
Game – “Serious and Solemn Occasion” – take turns saying “This is a very serious and solemn occasion with a perfectly straight face.
Game – “Ha Ha” – stand close face to face, take turns back and forth saying “Ha!” and bouncing on the balls of your feet.

One note of caution regards tickling, which often causes giggling. “If it involves holding children down and tickling them against their will, don’t do it.” You are making them feel powerless, which is harmful to them and your relationship. (I would actually go so far as to say, based on the Golden Rule, that you should rarely tickle children. Do you like to be tickled? Children are people too, and people in general don’t really like to be tickled.)

Game – “Tragic Death” – child pretends to shoot you, hit you, or says something hurtful and you perform a highly exaggerated death scene, making sure to gently fall on top of them.
Game – “Love Potion” – fall madly in love with the child, no matter how monstrous they are being.
Game – “Human Tug-of-War” – mom and dad pretend to fight over the child.

Then he gets into a bit of what I call the philosophy of laughter. He makes an interesting observation that no matter how well we may love them, they often feel unloved or unloveable. I think this is so true and so sad. We must make every effort to destroy this lie of the devil, even if our words and actions in the past have helped him send this message.

He also points out the difference between the laughter of a gleeful group of children versus the group that is using laughter as a weapon to reject or exclude someone. Laughter and imitation are very powerful.

He points out too that children (and adults) laugh when they complete something that was challenging, or when they are scared (but not too scared), or if something is naughty (but not too naughty), or at an inappropriate time as a very natural release of strong emotions (fear, embarrassment, tension).

Game – Respond to an insult with “Thank you!”
Game – Pretend to be really super-afraid of everything you can think of (exaggerated playing not mocking)
Game – Play chase and let them have narrow escapes.
Game – Be shocked and horrified at benign words that you have made ‘forbidden.’

“Children often try to make each other feel helpless, powerless, stupid, or incompetent so they don’t have to feel that themselves… adults need to participate in this kind of play so that children won’t do it to one another.”

Game – “Mock Threat” – to lighten a combative interaction and communicate a willingness to work together to fix the situation. “If you do that one more time, I’ll pour water on my head!”

Game – “Village Idiot” – to short-circuit a conflict between children, play dumb and ask a straight-forward question using your ‘gee-whiz’ voice.

Which brings us to one of the more challenging parts of Playful Parenting. He has noticed that children often feel stupid and long to see someone else look stupid for a change. In his experience, one of the best ways to reach children is to lose your dignity, which takes a lot of practice. Sing silly songs, fall down, dance like a goon, look like a fool, and pretend to be completely dumb and incompetent.

We’ll finish Follow the Giggles next time, and look at what Dr. Cohen has to say about Roughhousing.

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Honor Your Father and Mother

At my six week post-natal checkup, my doctor and I discussed the number of children that my husband and I have (four) compared to the number we grew up with (three and two). He was happy to see that we were willing to open our hearts, to challenge ourselves and what we are familiar/comfortable with. He said “God bless you, God bless you.” And he meant it; he really did want God to bless us.

Enlarge the space for your tent,
spread out your tent cloths unsparingly;
lengthen your ropes and make firm your pegs

(Isaiah 54:2)

The next day after mass, a man I know came up to me and said that God wanted him to tell me something. The message was, “Your motherhood gives me honor.”

To be truthful I was puzzled by what this meant. It was sweet… part compliment, part encouragement… and interesting because most of the time I feel like a failure at mothering. How could my selfish and sinful efforts give Him honor? But he didn’t say, “You’re such a great mom,” He said “Your motherhood gives me honor,” which is different.

Anxious to find out what He meant, I tucked this thought in my pocket and went on with my day, reflecting on it when my mind would start to wander. A couple days later while at a friend’s house I noticed this:

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Sometimes God uses Sandra Bullock to get your attention! Notice the quote, “What is beautiful is the honor of being Louis’ mother.”

This is striking for a few reasons. 1) The concept of ‘honor’ was already in my psyche, primed to explore. 2) The phrase ‘what is beautiful’ is broad and philosophical because we know that God is Good, True, and Beautiful. 3) Her comment is an echo of what God had said to me. Except this time it made more sense. What is beautiful is the honor of being someone’s mother… or someone’s father. God was saying, “I am honored to be your Father.”

Because of my motherhood, my womanhood, who I am and my choices to follow Him, He is honored. I am not a failure; I am His daughter. He has faith in me and is pleased with me; I have found favor with Him. Simply by trying to be the me He created me to be.

And it didn’t escape my attention that Sandra is a woman, a mother, a mother of a son. Not unlike Our Blessed Mother of her Most High Son. Mary can say the same thing about Jesus. Son, your faithfulness to your calling gives me honor. And because I was baptized and am in Him, she can say the same thing about me. Daughter, your motherhood gives me honor.

The best way you can honor Our God in Heaven, and all the saints and angels who are interceding for you, is to try every day to be the person He created you to be. After every failure, to get up, dust yourself off, and go at it again.

Follow-up

In prayer the day after I posted this, the Lord told me to pass His message along to a friend of mine, and to my own mother. Later that day, He had me give His message to a male friend as well.

“Your motherhood gives God honor.” “Your fatherhood gives God honor.”

His words haunt me throughout the day, especially when I am mothering… and when I finally lie in bed, worn and weary, exhausted from the day’s battle in my head, I have to pray.. You have blessed me today, Lord, but have I honored You? Help me to do better tomorrow.

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Playful Parenting : Part 1

I finished a great book recently: Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D. (www.playfulparenting.com)

I often found myself frustrated, annoyed, and stressed, which meant during the little time I was home with them, my children got an irritable, angry, bossy mom. Everything we tried to do together was difficult and escalated easily leaving everyone feeling empty, exhausted, and hurting.

Dr. Cohen’s premise is this – Being a Playful Parent fosters closeness, connection, and confidence, which results in happy, healthy, helpful children, fewer behavior problems, and stronger relationships. He describes Playful Parenting “as a way of filling children’s needs for attachment, affection, love, security, confidence, and closeness.” (p274)

Even though I don’t agree with some of his thinking, I do like his overall approach, and he has brilliant play ideas. He gives countless examples of how to actually do what he says, which is incredibly helpful.

His basic principles are:

Join Children in Their World
Establish a Connection
Encourage Confidence
Follow the Giggles
Roughhouse
Suspend Reality
Follow Their Lead
Accept Strong Feelings

To Join Children in Their World means to basically pay attention to them, to participate in their play, to be in tune with their joys and struggles by taking the time to get to know them. Choose to play even if you don’t feel like it.

Game – “Fill Up” – individually fill each child up with Mommy love, from toes to head.
Game – “Love Egg” – crack imaginary egg over child’s head to spread on love.
Game – “Lava Game” – wrestle on the bed and pretend the floor covered with molten lava.
Game – Do it Again (and again and again and again…)
Game – If child is aggressive or fearful or competitive, play a game with them that incorporates these ideas so they can try out ways of dealing with them.

“When we constantly tell children what they should or shouldn’t do, they have no room to think for themselves and are forced to choose between resentful obedience or defiant rebellion. Playfulness helps them think for themselves, even about serious topics.” (p26)
“Take any troubling or annoying or infuriating message from your child, whether it is in words or behavior, and translate it in your head into something that you can deal with more effectively. For Playful Parenting purposes, it is especially useful to translate whatever you hear or see into the language of closeness ad isolation, confidence and powerlessness.” (p37)

The thing he said about Establishing a Connection that stuck with me most was that disconnection is painful.

One visual he uses to help parents understand kids is the idea of Filling Cups. “The child’s need for attachment with them is like a cup that is emptied by being hungry, tired, lonely, or hurt. The cup is refilled by being loved, fed, comforted, and nurtured.” (p43)

Game – “Peek-a-boo”
Game – “Hide and Seek” & “Chase” & “Tag”
Game – “Mirror” – mirror the child’s motions in a ‘follow the leader’ way (not mockingly).
Game – “The Love Gun” – when you get shot with it, you get crazy love for the person who shot you.
Game – Respond to insult with “I had a great time playing with you. I really like you. It’s hard to say goodbye.”
Game – Be the village idiot
Game – Be overly dramatic
Game – Pillow fight
Game – Arm wrestle
Game – Nighttime ritual of putting toys to bed.

In the chapter on Encouraging Confidence, he discusses society’s confusion about power, how children experience power, independence and powerlessness, and how adults can help them navigate as they grow. His basic advice is to let children experiment with power (power of words, power to break rules) on you, the adult, instead of on other children.

Game – Respond to insult with “Shhh, don’t tell anyone my secret name!”
“Just kidding, my secret name is Rice Krispies Cake! Please don’t tell anyone!”
Game – Respond to insult with “Well you can call me that, but definitely don’t call me Googlehead.”
Game – Make something they don’t like into a game they have power over, instead of using force.

He has an excellent philosophy about preparing children for how hard the world is:

“If life is really that difficult, then we don’t need more beatings and humiliations and losses than we will get anyway. What children really need is to be secure and self-confident, and that comes from being loved and well cared for. Not protected from every little bump and bruise, but not toughened up either… We prepare children best by both nurturing them and challenging them.” (p66)

Game – Start out letting them win, and then slowly play harder and harder
Game – Follow their lead, sometimes they want you to let them win, sometimes they want to be challenged.

Play with the theme of competition to help them release intense feelings about winning and losing by:

Game – Set up a game where they always win and be a sore loser. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Brag about how great you are at a game, and then do a horrible job. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Let the child make up the rules to an already existing game
Game – Flip a coin. If you lose, ham up the loss. If you win, brag obnoxiously about how great you are.
Game – Ask the child for a game idea.

Dr. Cohen touches on the topic of criticism with this accurate observation: “Adults are famous for taking all the fun and playfulness out of learning.” (p71) Children learn criticism from us, and the voice can stay in their head for the rest of their lives. We must be cognizant of this internal struggle and encourage them to ignore the voice telling them they can’t do it – first subtly, then verbally. If they have a strong emotional reaction, “all we have to do is listen and maintain our confidence in them while they release these feelings.” (p72)

He finishes the chapter by showing us how we can use play to help children work through something painful or difficult that they are struggling with, and suggesting we try finding a way to laugh about a morally-charged topic instead of giving a lecture that they won’t learn much from anyway.

The next chapter is probably the best in the whole book… “Follow the Giggles.” We’ll check that out next time.

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