Extenuating Circumstances

Elizabeth Duffy published a piece about finding the middle ground between the noxious Prosperity Gospel and forever playing the martyr in order to be miserable for God:

Barring serious illness or extenuating circumstances, times of extreme difficulty with normal life should be temporary.

 If they are not temporary, it could be time to wonder if we’re setting traps for ourselves or creating a life of soft controversy because joy seems untrustworthy, or undeserved, or we have past associations with fun and sin, or maybe we just don’t feel good about feeling good when there’s so much suffering in the world.

Extenuating circumstances. How do you discern if you have them? What is extreme difficulty? What is temporary?

Mary and JesusFor several years now I have been haunted by an enduring sadness. That’s not to say I am sad all the time, but it doesn’t take much scratching under the surface to find it. Depression runs in my family so I have thoroughly questioned myself to search for symptoms of that illness, but no, I don’t think I am depressed, just sad.

I started my career, fresh out of graduate school, at about the same time I became a mother. This was not an accident. The decision for me to work was made because my potential career was much more lucrative and because I do not know how to cook very well. That’s it. No grand statements about “having it all” or overriding feminist philosophies or really any deep thought. Only that I could make more money and not cook at the same time.

I began this journey of career and motherhood and it was hard. Physically hard. Mentally hard. More challenging than I had ever imagined. Being pregnant and working was dreadful. Having a newborn and working was maybe worse. But I managed. I missed my babies, but they were with their Daddy so I never worried about them. I was working because I could make more money and we would be financially sound. I also wouldn’t have to touch raw meat. I liked my job and it suited me. I busted my rear in the beginning knowing the money would come, the opportunities would open, and I would provide for my family.

After awhile it became apparent that my job was a dead end. The expected payday never came. I got rave reviews and few raises. I was denied promotions, never given any new job responsibilities, but was told I was a vital member of the team. I was shunted to an obsolete system which had no concrete transferable skills with which I could run to another company. I had lots of recognition as a dependable and steady worker and not a lot else. A new job meant another entry level position. This is not how the script was supposed to play out.

At the same time, my attitude toward the vocation of motherhood was undergoing a radical change. The wisdom of protecting the mother as she protects the child shone like a light in my ever-reasonable mind. I was running myself ragged for rewards that were not coming.

And then my oldest started school. This was the touchpoint of a crisis. It became very obvious to me that swooping in at suppertime for an hour or two of company with my family was not enough for me. I’ve always laughed at the notion of “quality time” because it seemed such an absurd notion. Children need and demand quantity in addition to quality, but there I was with “quality time” being the only option. I wanted to be highly involved in her school and her education and the truth was I didn’t have time. Every day was a whirlwind of events and I could barely grasp what was happening in her life. I also wanted to sit and rock my baby.

These two distinct strands in my life suddenly began to make sense together. My job was not panning out and I wanted to be home anyway. It is hard to describe the thought process without it sounding like sour grapes so just believe me when I say it wasn’t. All at once I could see the blessing of being denied these promotions and raises because it made it easier to walk away from work. I wanted to come home, there was not much holding me to work, and the gap in income was not as great as it might have been. I could even learn to cook.

That was three years ago.

For whatever reason or set of reasons, this simple reordering of our employment arrangement has not been so simple. I thought it would be the work of a few months or maybe a whole year, but that has not turned out to be the case. I mourn for what I have missed, for what I am currently missing, for what I will miss. I do not remember the infancy of my second child. Memory is closely tied to sleep and I was severely sleep deprived. I search for a tangible memory and find an 18 month hole. This fact stabs me.

What is extreme difficulty? Over these years I have discovered that my acceptance of this situation depends a lot on the seasons. In the spring and summer, I am usually hopeful and accepting. The possibility of change is palpable. The work is not so daunting, the commute not so deadening, and I vow that I can endure for as long as it takes. In the fall and winter, I struggle with despair. It seems like this will never end. Nothing will ever change. I cry driving into work more times than I care to recall. My mood is as dark as the weather. I struggle with anger that this has been so unsolvable.

What is temporary? Over the course of a lifetime, three years is temporary even if it feels long while living it. I hope for the day when I can look back and point at this time and say, “It was temporary.” But when does it cease to be temporary? What if it isn’t temporary? I can’t bear to think it. Even in this “temporary” time, my children continue to grow and I am not home.

What are extenuating circumstances? From a modern perspective this angst is absurd. My life is completely normal. Mothers work every day. Society encourages mothers to work. You go, girl. A mother at home is wasting her potential or “has never worked a day in her life,” right? The idea that there is something unusual about my situation is not true. There are millions of mothers all around the country doing exactly what I am doing every day: leaving their children and driving to work. Many of these women are in far worse situations than I am. How arrogant and expectant for me not to be satisfied. I have a stable marriage, four wonderful and healthy children, and a job that allows us to live comfortably even if there is not much left for extras. The list of people who would change places with me is quite long, but I can’t help but feel there is something deeply wrong here and the sadness remains.

…and her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy.  –Jane Austen

What is God’s Will in all this? I have no idea. Surely there is more intended in this situation than for me to play the starring role in a cautionary tale. It seems that if I were meant to fully live out my vocation at home, the job situation would not be so impenetrable. It also seems that if I were meant to continue working, there would be some kind of encouragement in my employment: a raise, increased responsibility, something. The truth is I don’t want that kind of encouragement. If I am supposed to work, it would also seem that my yearning to be home would soften and lessen. If anything, my longing is stronger now than it was at the beginning. Three years is definitely not a phase. To be given this desire to live this vocation full time but only be allowed to fulfill its duties poorly, part-time, and incompletely is agony. I cry out to be rescued. I am supposed to want what God wants, but the truth is I want to be home, beg for my way, and find cold comfort in the notion of sacrificing my children’s childhood.

I cling to hope even when it tastes bitter. When a new opportunity arises, I tell myself not to get excited, not to daydream about the future, not to get ahead of the process, but even with these internal precautions, I am devastated all over again when it doesn’t work out. I hope in spite of myself.

Even among all this sadness, there is still joy and blessing to be found. The clarity of mind and purpose this period of waiting has brought is a tremendous blessing. The space I have had to ponder about vocation and faith, beauty and truth is nothing but blessing. The time I have been given to develop friendships in this strange purgatory is blessing again.

When people wonder why God allows suffering, I think the answer is so much about God’s knowledge of joy. That somehow, strangely, the relief and shock of being rescued from something is greater and more wonderful than never having been in trouble at all. We want never to be in trouble, but God knows that by us being in trouble, being in the way of perishing, and then him snatching us out and setting us on dry ground in safety, we will have seen who he is where we couldn’t have before.  —Anne Kennedy

I am awaiting rescue, confident it is coming, doubting it will ever get here. I am ready to learn how to cook.

Coping with Miscarriage at Work

Having a miscarriage is awful in and of itself, but an extra layer of difficulty can be added if you’re working outside the home. Pregnancy can be tricky to deal with in the workplace, especially if you’re in an unsupportive environment, and navigating a miscarriage can be a thousand times worse (especially if you didn’t want anyone, including your boss, to know that you’re pregnant).

Sadly, I had to deal with this situation last week, when I miscarried my eighth child, whom we named Francis, at 12 weeks. My situation was made slightly less awful due to a few factors:

  • My boss already knew I was pregnant. I had told my boss about my pregnancy very early on, at about 5 weeks, because my pregnancy nausea was so severe that I had to leave work early – only a few hours after arriving for the day – due to a bad vomiting episode. I was comfortable doing this because I knew my boss would be both congratulatory and supportive. I also knew he’d keep the news confidential until I announced it myself. (This was my third pregnancy with him as my supervisor.)
  • I was working from home at the time. I work from home (WFH) three days per week, and that particular day (June 1) was one of my regular WFH days. I used my lunch break to go to a prenatal appointment, and while at that appointment it was discovered that my baby had passed away. I texted my boss to tell him the situation and told him I’d need the rest of the day off. He offered immediate condolences and told me to take off as much time as I needed. (Thankfully, my husband’s boss, who also knew about my pregnancy, was similarly understanding.)

My situation was slangel with babyightly more awful due to the fact that I had already told my co-workers about the baby. Just four weeks earlier, an ultrasound had showed a baby with a heartbeat, measuring spot-on and presumptively healthy, so I told my coworkers about my pregnancy at about 10 weeks.

After the miscarriage, it was very hard knowing I was going to have to “un-tell” everyone. I took three days off and arranged to work from home for an additional week; on my first day of work after the miscarriage I sent out an e-mail to my team (five co-workers, plus my boss). It was easier than telling everyone in person.

I kept the e-mail short and simple: “I have sad news. I lost the baby to miscarriage on Monday. I’ll be working from home the next 5 business days and will be back in the office on Thursday.”

Here are some additional tips for navigating an early pregnancy loss situation in the workplace:

1. If you’re in an unsupportive environment, you don’t have to tell your boss that you were pregnant or that you’re miscarrying or have miscarried; you can simply tell him/her that you are undergoing health complications. You can also tell this to HR if needed. However, if practicable, I do recommend telling your immediate supervisor and/or HR, if relevant, the nature of your health issues. It’s easier to explain your exact needs, and it will also give him/her a head’s up that while your physical healing may only take a few days, your emotional healing will likely take longer.

2. Similarly, I recommend telling your co-workers the nature of your health issues, or at least telling the co-workers you work most intimately with; I’ve found that co-workers may be less resentful and/or more willing to help pick up some slack if they understand why you’ve had to take such sudden time off, and why you may have trouble concentrating once you do return to work. It may also help stem any nosy questions about when you and your husband plan to have kids/more kids.

3. If you’re in a client-facing situation, that’s a bit trickier. If your clients already knew you were pregnant, then a brief e-mail (similar to what I sent my co-workers, above) is likely the easiest way to let them know. If not, it’s probably best just to let them know you’ll be out of the office or working a modified schedule due to sudden health issues.

4. If you’ve been struggling with infertility, you may want to consider being honest about it with your boss/co-workers. You don’t have to go into any great detail, but a simple, “We’re dealing with infertility,” when asked about plans for children can make people stop and reconsider asking those personal questions. I’ve never had to bear that particular cross, but I have had co-workers in that situation, and their honesty with others helped prevent some (but not all) nosy questions as mentioned above.

5.  Take as much time off as you can. I can’t emphasize this enough. You are grieving the loss of a child, even if our society doesn’t recognize it that way. If your company has bereavement leave policies, inquire about using that leave in lieu of paid time off. If you have available PTO, take as much time as you can afford. If your loss is later in pregnancy or if you experience complications, you should also investigate FMLA or short-term disability leave, if offered. Sometimes working can help as a distraction, but if you don’t give yourself adequate time and space to grieve your loss, as well as recover physically, it can just get worse in the long run.

On a related note, I’ve written a blog post for Catholic Stand about the logistics of burying your baby after a miscarriage, which I hope will be helpful for others in similar situations. 

Mothers Who Work for the Church Need Our Support

Note: The following post was not authored by me. It was submitted by a personal friend who asked to remain anonymous. 

I always thought that working at a Catholic Church and having children would be the dream. However, after having my first, a daughter, I’ve found that the dream isn’t what I thought it would be.

I work as a Director of Religious Education at a large metropolitan parish with over 6,000 registered families. Needless to say, my job entails a lot of different responsibilities. I gave birth just before Easter, which meant that I was on leave for, arguably, the busiest time of year for my department. I did everything that I could before I went on leave (including working from home as I labored before going to the hospital) to ensure that things would be taken care of and in order while I was gone.

Mary and JesusI returned after just under six weeks of leave. I chose to use all of my sick time during my leave so that I could get paid. (Side note: my parish actually had to figure out what the policy for leave was when I became pregnant. They nearly made the decision to force me to use all of my vacation AND sick time on my leave. Fortunately, they let me decide how much, if any, of my vacation/sick time to use.) My first day back was actually pretty fun. My coworkers were excited to see me again and to see my daughter. That ‘fun’ feeling only lasted for that first day.

Before my maternity leave began I worked out an arrangement with my boss, the pastor, that I would return to work after 6 weeks, so long as I could bring my daughter with me until my husband, a teacher, finished teaching for the school year. This plan was then communicated to the staff. I hoped and believed that since the Church is a pro-life, pro-family organization, returning to work with my daughter in tow would be accepted and respected, especially since the pastor endorsed this plan. What I was met with in those first few weeks surprised me.

I attended a staff meeting (with my daughter sleeping as I wore her) in which the staff were told by the pastor that we are not allowed to deal with “personal” things while at work. I understand the idea, but my daughter is there – per my pre-arranged agreement with my boss. Coworkers began making comments about how much work I was or was not getting done. Sometimes they made them to my face, other times they made them not knowing I could hear what they were saying. I was shocked and hurt, to say the very least.

Among the most shocking days was when I arrived to work and another coworker began a very blunt conversation with me about how I should not and could not close my office door and cover the window on my office door while I nursed my daughter. I informed her of laws protecting working mothers who are to be given a space to express milk that is not a bathroom. Since there are no such rooms in our parish, I covered the window to my office door and called it good. She vehemently disagreed and the conversation only ended because I walked away.

The fact of the matter is that going back to work six weeks after giving birth is incredibly difficult – more so than I imagined it would be. I’m grateful that I get to bring my daughter with me, but at the same time, I feel divided. I love my job and want to keep working, but I love my daughter and don’t want to miss a second of her development. My job is a job – a great job working with children and introducing them to Jesus. But my life as wife and mother is a vocation and that’s not going to change. Jobs come and go, but this vocation is here to stay.

Harder still is going back to work only to be met with judgment, rude comments and unsupportive coworkers. I could have taken a longer maternity leave, but I didn’t. I felt some sort of Catholic guilt at the thought of my work being put on someone else’s shoulders should I extend my leave (which I could have done, per FMLA, though it would have been unpaid). I didn’t and don’t expect to be lauded for doing my job, but I do hope for and expect at least a modicum of respect in the workplace.

It is interesting, though, that people want to see and play with my daughter, but are also completely okay with questioning my work, talking behind my back and telling me how I’m breaking work policy (I’m not) and that I should just find a closet to breastfeed/pump in (there are none into which I can fit). If given the choice, would my coworkers rather I have extended my leave, thus putting my work on their shoulders? I think not.

As I’ve been reflecting on all of this, I’ve realized that there is a disconnect between priests (who are the boss) and lay employees. Priests have their vocation as their job – they are tied up into the same thing. They married the Church. They married ministry. Lay people, however, are not married to the Church, they are married to a spouse. Lay people are not married to ministry, they have a spouse and children to look after and care for. In no way is that meant to disrespect priests or their vocation, but I think it makes it harder for priests to relate to or understand the struggle their lay employees (especially working mothers) face. That disconnect then trickles ‘downhill’, so to speak, with the other employees. Since, more often than not, priests struggle to understand the plight of a working mother, the other employees lack a clear example of what it is like to support rather than tear down a working mother.

There are, as far as I can see, no easy answers here. The options are:

1. Return to work as soon as possible which would put my infant in childcare OR in my office (leading to the aforementioned workplace strife).

2. Extend my unpaid leave, strain my family financially and put my workload on my coworkers.

3. Hire someone to fill in for me while I’m gone (who would’ve had little to no training), thus potentially straining the parish finances.

OR

4. Allow me to bring my daughter to work while supporting me in my efforts to balance my vocation as wife and mother with my job responsibilities.

In a sense, there is an easy answer, but no one seems to be choosing it in my situation. That support could be as simple as the pastor, at our usual staff meeting, informing/reminding the staff that he and I have come to this agreement and telling the staff that if they have any questions, they can take them up with him, otherwise they would do well to be quiet about it. Perhaps he could even remind them that this is the Catholic Church, a pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family entity.

Instead, I’ve been met with annoyed coworkers, snide comments and made to feel shame for breastfeeding my child. After my first few weeks back, I remarked to my husband that if my faith were shaky such treatment inside the walls of a parish would seriously make me question my faith. I wouldn’t wish that on any working mother, whether she works for the Church or not, especially when more can and should be done to support a working mother.

[Note from Admin: What do you think can be done in our parish environments to encourage more support for working mothers, whether they work for the church or elsewhere? Please leave your thoughts in the combox!]

Catholic Resources for Your Commute

I live 42 miles from my office. Due to traffic, especially in the winter months when all the snowbirds are back in town, it takes me up to 90 minutes to drive to or from work. Yes, it’s crazy, and I don’t recommend it. However, my husband and I fell in love with a specific suburb, and felt it was a great place to raise a family. We also had a lot of family that lived nearby, and since only one of us had to commute at the time (my husband worked from home full-time from 2008 to 2014), we decided that we’d rather commute to work than commute to family. Also, at the time, the plan was for me to become a SAHM eventually. That plan has fallen by the wayside, but I have no plans to change jobs. The position I have right now is a good one, and right now I’m able to telecommute part time (I work from home 3 days per week).

However, from November 2008 until November 2014 I was driving 90 miles per day 4-5 days a week (I started working from home one day per week in 2013).

I’ve had to find many creative ways to pass the time during my commute. I’ll sometimes listen to music but I prefer Immaculate Heart Radio, or playlists on my iPhone. I really love podcasts and audiobooks, though, and to that end I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite resources.

Catholic Resources for your Commute
“Rosario” by owyzzz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Text added by JoAnna Wahlund.

 

Catholic Answers Live. I’ve been a fan of the Catholic Answers apostolate for several years –the tracts on Catholic.com played a large part in my journey to the Church – and although I didn’t discover the podcast until after my conversion, I’ve listened to it on the radio or via MP3 download since 2005 or so. It’s great to have the day’s two episodes automatically downloaded to my iPhone every night so I can keep up. I especially enjoy episodes where Jimmy Akin (staff apologist) and Patrick Coffin (the show’s host) discuss deep theological issues such as, “Is it morally permissible to utilize zombie labor?”

The Break with Fr. Roderick. “From the Simpsons to the sacraments, from technology to theology, this show features the cool and the classical, the past and the future, the trends and the tradition…whatever you are and whatever you’re doing, it’s time for a break!” Hosted by the Dutch podcasting priest, Catholic new media guru, and all around funny guy, Fr. Roderick Vonhögen.

Among Women. “‘Among Women’ celebrates the beauty and grace that women experience in their Catholic Faith and Life. We hope this ‘faith-sharing’ program will be ‘faith building’ …inspiring women in their call to holiness by drawing closer to Christ and the Catholic Church, by living lives of prayer and loving service.”

The Catholics Next Door. This weekly podcast is done by husband-and-wife team Greg and Jennifer Willits. The Willits family has five kids, four boys and a girl, so the show’s chock-full of fun stories about family life and Catholic parenting, games, and serious discussions as well. (Greg is also a kindred spirit in that he’s a huge Star Wars fan –one of their sons is named Benjamin Kenobi. How cool is that?).

The Jennifer Fulwiler Show – Jennifer Fulwiler of ConversionDiary.com has her own radio show & podcast! It’s a lot of fun.

Daily Readings from the USCCB. The daily readings for the Mass in convenient podcast form. The only drawback is that they’re in the American Standard Version as opposed to the (in my opinion) better-translated Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, but regardless it’s a good way to get deeper into Scripture on a daily basis.

LibriVox.org. This is a site, not a podcast (although there is a LibriVox podcast available as well). It’s a fantastic resource for those who love audiobooks but can’t afford to purchase many on a regular basis. LibriVox volunteers record literary works that are in the public domain and offer them free of charge. You can listen to books by G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Liseux, and many more.

Did you know that some public libraries offer the option to check out audiobooks? The one in my neck of the woods is called the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. If your local public library has this option, it’s a very affordable way to listen to a wide variety of audiobooks, including works by G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, among others (such as Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI).

I have a difficult time praying the rosary while I’m driving — traffic is often thick and I find it too distracting. However, if you don’t have this problem, there are many great Rosary MP3s available – Rosary Army has some great ones, EWTN has downloads of Mother Angelica and the Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery saying the rosary, and Discerning Hearts has some too.

Sonitus Sanctus has a plethora of Catholic talks on MP3, and you can get free MP3s from the Mary Foundation (including the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet!) as well.

Do you have a preferred Catholic podcast or other resource for a long commute? Please share your favorites in the combox!

Gender at Work

In some of his general audiences this past April, Pope Francis addressed gender roles. On April 15, the Pope intimated that men and women have been created with difference, and this difference transcends our physical bodies and permeates the roles each gender plays. Drawing from St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the Pope said that together a man and a woman image God, and they necessarily need difference to do so.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis’s general address on April 15 started up a conversation about how gender roles should work in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, the idea that men and women image God not only as individuals but also together in their union is not palatable to our current, secular belief system. Starting with the birth control pill and ending with gender reassignment surgery, modern society has tried everything it can to destroy differences between the sexes. It’s as if secular thinkers have applied the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision beyond race to also gender: women cannot be equal to men unless they are the same. So now there’s “gender theory,” which asserts that the differences we perceive between the sexes are socially constructed; women act like women because societal forces encourage them to behave a certain way. If only we would remove those pressures, men and women would be the same, thus making the genders equal.

The Pope called gender theory “an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.” He continued, “Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”

Contrary to the current secular mindset, we cannot negate our gender. Catholic thinkers such as St. Edith Stein (more on her later) have rightly pointed out that our gender goes beyond our physical stature and genitalia; our identity as a man or woman also has a spiritual significance. Though the fact is not often brought to light, modern science has demonstrated that the structure of the female brain differs from that of the male. Women literally think differently than men do. So if created gender differences exist, it follows that men and women have different roles to play in creation.

However, this does not mean that a man’s sphere consists of public life while a woman’s sphere is relegated to the home. While those particular gender roles may have been set in stone for millennia, it’s clear that Pope Francis sees them as cultural and not part of our faith. In his general audience on April 29, Pope Francis defended some of the feminist impulses that began in the 1960s: “Many believe that the changes that have occurred in these last decades [i.e. the decline of marriage and the family] were put in motion by the emancipation of women,” he said. “But even this argument is invalid, it’s false, it isn’t true! It is a form of male chauvinism, which always seeks to dominate women.” Later in the audience, the Pope lamented the male-female pay gap, calling it “an absolute disgrace.”

Because work outside of being a homemaker is a valid calling for women and gender differences exist, how should women consider their unique gender role in the capacity of what they do to earn income?

The American work world today is still not fully hospitable to women. Even though it’s now 2015 – more than half a century after Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” and Second Wave feminism was born – women are clearly not equal to men in the workplace. While there are a few areas in which women command higher salaries than men (most notably in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields), the work world is in many ways an old boys’ club.

On average, women are compensated 12 percent less than their male counterparts are. Only about one in 20 Fortune 1000 CEOs is a woman. Women are severely underrepresented on corporate boards, even though studies have shown that companies with more females on their boards perform better. For every woman in a senior leadership position, there are more than four men. We’ve never had a female American president.

It’s widely argued that women take home smaller paychecks than men because they do not negotiate their starting wage and that they do not ask for subsequent raises as often (or at all) as men do. Yet when women do ask for raises, it is much more likely to reflect poorly on them. One 2014 study found that during annual reviews, 88 percent of women received negative criticism while 59 percent of men did. Moreover, the criticism the men received was constructive in nature while the women’s criticism was not very helpful. In office meetings, women are less likely to verbally contribute, and when they do speak up, their ideas are taken less seriously than those of men. And the preponderance of evidence shows that it does not work for women to navigate this situation by acting like men. When women deny their gender and act masculine in the workplace, they end up alienating everyone – men and women alike.

Pope Francis’s general address on April 15 started up a conversation about how gender roles should work in the public sphere. The Pope elevated the role of women, saying that society needs to recognize and value the “feminine genius.” Theology of the Body experts might recognize this term; TOB expert Katrina Zeno wrote a book, “The Feminine Genius,” devoted to the subject.

Many people believe that the thought of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, aka Edith Stein, strongly influenced St. Pope John Paul II’s conception of the feminine genius. In her writings, Stein argues that all human beings have three vocations as outlined in the first chapters of Genesis: to image God, to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth and subdue it. For Stein, women and men were different not so much in that they were called to all three; the difference lie in which vocation was emphasized for each gender. For men, their first calling is to subdue the earth; their second calling was as parent. For women, these orders are reversed so that being a mother is a woman’s primary calling.

Edith Stein, later St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, ca. 1920
Edith Stein, later St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, ca. 1920

Though Stein was never a mother herself, she stressed the concept of “spiritual motherhood,” something that all women are called to. Spiritual motherhood, a large part of the feminine genius, happens when women nurture the personal growth of other people. Women help others reach their potentials and are less attuned to their own narrow interests.

While this calling of sacrifice and self-negation seems like the lesser of the two gender callings (and it certainly is in the eyes of the world), it fits in with many other Christian paradoxes, e.g. the last will be first, the meek shall inherit the earth, whoever wishes to save his life must lose it, etc. What seems to the world as weakness is actually something that is extremely spiritually strong. That is why Paul can say in 1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” Certainly not every Christian woman will be a mother, but every Christian woman can “bear children” by adhering to her gender role of nurturing others.

That same gender role can be brought to the workplace. Women can act as mentors, helping others improve their job performance. Women can lend their natural proclivities to look at situations holistically and consider people and emotions. Women can foster collaboration and fruitful discussion, cutting to the quick of the competitive, individualistic nature that drives the business world designed by men. While a woman who embraces her feminine role at work might be taking a risk (not playing by the “rules” could close her off from some financial success), she will help transform the workplace from within into something that better serves people created in God’s image.

And to Stein, the feminine gender role was not entirely about self-negation. She taught that by helping others experience wholeness, a woman becomes whole herself. She didn’t view the role of “helpmate” as something separate from the development of a woman’s own completeness.

Finally, Stein offered practical advice to working women, whom she acknowledged as people who were quite busy. She suggested that the “first hour of your morning belongs to God” through prayer, Bible study or attending Mass. While it seems paradoxical that someone who is busy should take on another commitment, Stein argued that being spiritually filled up would help a woman better attend to the needs of her children and those at her workplace. “Tackle the day’s work that [God] charges you with, and he will give you the power to accomplish it,” she said. Given a woman’s role to nurture others, it makes sense that she would have to be full of God’s grace before she could pour herself out.

How is your calling as a woman expressed through the work you do outside your home? Are there other women in your workplace who model “spiritual motherhood,” and what can you learn from them? How do they make your work environment a better place?

About the author: Holly Hosler is a mother and a health care marketing copywriter. Reintroduced to Edith Stein/St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross while researching for this post, she recalls that seeing the “Edith Stein” play in 1994 was one of the many foundational events that would culminate in her becoming Catholic on Easter 2003. Her next baby is due on August 9, St. Teresa Benedicta’s feast day.

I Don’t Know How You Do It

There is nothing that prompted this post except memory. For some reason this phrase bubbled to the forefront of my mind and I remembered the pain it can sometimes bring:

I don’t know how you do it.

Usually the context of this phrase is when a mother who normally stays home with her children has had to leave town without them for a few days. She is struck by how much she misses her children and how happy she is to be reunited and then the fatal phrase is uttered:

I don’t know how you working mothers do it. I missed my children so much. I could not do this every day.

unhappy womanIt stabs. The intent is almost never malicious. It is an innocent wonder at how such a burden could consistently be borne. The problem with voicing such a thought is not that it isn’t reasonable or true. The problem is that it very reasonable and terribly true.

Other working mothers might have a different perspective, but here is my response to those who might wonder.

First of all, I leave every day because I have to do it. You could do it too if you had to do it. There isn’t anything special about me that makes it possible for me to leave which you might lack. The truth is that I experience the same pain that you do from being separated. I am not inured from it; I just get used to it.

When I first have to leave an infant, the pain is overwhelming. It is stabbing and constant. Every day is a battle and it takes every fiber of my being to make myself go where I have to go. The first few weeks are the worst because I feel like I am being ripped in half. Leaving every day opens the wound again. It stings. It does get easier but it doesn’t get better. Over time, after poking open the wound day after day, the pain subsides not because the wound is healing but because scar tissue forms. The scar tissue is numb. It isn’t that it doesn’t feel, but that it can’t.

I function in this state of numbness until something interrupts the daily routine. An illness, a few days off, anything at all breaks open the wound anew. Returning to work after such an interruption is hard, almost as hard as it is in the beginning. All of that scar tissue gets rips away and it takes time to build that newly hardened layer again.

This alternating state between raw pain and numb scar tissue lasts for the first year or so of baby’s life. It is so intense, I think, because of the hormonal dance between mother and baby and because the baby is so dependent. I cannot kid myself into believing the baby is happy with our separation because each night brings a baby desperately clinging to me. The baby may not be directly unhappy while I am gone, but her behavior after our nightly reunion clearly indicates that my absence is disruptive. Her behavior isn’t even one of distress, but of needing to be close all the time. Happily wanting to be held and nursed and toted by me all evening. I cannot pretend she does not notice my absence because I know she does.

After the first year of separation is over, the acuteness of the pain mellows into a hollowness. The baby is growing up and needs you less and less. This isn’t to say that a toddler doesn’t need his mother, but only to say the desperation of the need is less. He is happy with others and plays more independently. As the baby grows through toddlerhood and preschool and begins elementary school, the routine of leaving is just part of life. It is not like I am being ripped in half to leave anymore, but this easing of the acuity of the pain also comes with the aching hollowness in the realization of how much I
miss.

This pain is a different kind of pain. It doesn’t stab; it only sighs. It sighs at the missed moments and activities, the missed library trips and school parties, the missed outings that mothers do with their children. It sighs as the children get old enough to ask why you have to leave everyday and you have to explain.

Absence is the constant companion of my motherhood. There is a hollow spot where the memories of my children’s days should be. Spending too much time examining this spot is counterproductive, but it’s there even as I avert my view from it.

So how do I do it? One day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I keep my attention fixed on what is required and try not to think about what is preferred. I take comfort in the knowledge that if I was supposed to have been doing something else, I would have been doing it even while I don’t understand why this way was best. I work to make the future look less like the past and know, if I do my part, all will be well, whatever ‘well’ ends up being. Wait. Trust. Hope. Love.

Mostly though I want you to understand there isn’t anything special about me that makes it easier or even possible. It’s just the way it is. You could do it too, if you had to.

This post originally appeared on Jenny’s personal blog, Just Another Jenny.

A Working Mother’s Guide to Meal Planning

Meal planning. It’s often bemoaned as the bane of a busy mom’s existence.

I struggled with it for a long time (and still do, sometimes).

I thought about purchasing subscriptions to outfits like eMeals.com or Saving Dinner, but I can be a picky eater (something my kids have inherited from me, I’m afraid) and I didn’t think the meal plans would be able to account for the varied tastes of our entire family.

I used to use an iPhone app called “Food on the Table,” which browsed items for sale at your local stores and made menus based on that, but it really didn’t fit the bill either. I couldn’t account for items I already had at home, and their recipe selection was a bit lacking. Then they merged with Food.com and started charging for the meal planning service, so I just deleted the app.

There’s an interesting site called MyFridgeFood.com where you can list all the food you have in your fridge/pantry and get recipes based on those items, but not all the recipes are that appealing – and it doesn’t help me plan what items to purchase at the grocery store.

Finally, I hit on a solution that mostly works for me, and maybe it’ll work for you too. Because, really, that’s the key. Find a system that works for you and stick with it. (When I don’t stick with this system, which is about 50% of the time, our meals are hit-or-miss.) This system may not work for you, especially if you hate Pinterest or don’t own a slow cooker. If that’s the case, try something else, and keep trying until you find something that works!

A Working Mother's Guide to Meal Planning

First, I take stock of how many meals I need, and how much time I’ll have to cook. On the days I’m working from home (usually three days per week), I can be more flexible because I’ll have a little extra time for cooking, and the ability to put something in the oven or crockpot midday or in the afternoon. On the days I commute to my office, I will need something that can be put in the crockpot in the morning and cook all day long, or something that can be prepped beforehand and put in the oven right away when I get home but will only take about 30 minutes to cook. If we have a particularly busy day with T-ball practice or an HOA meeting or Religious Ed classes happening in the evening, I’ll usually designate that as a “Frozen Pizza Night” or an “Eat Out” night. I also plan for “Leftover Nights” or “Sandwiches and Ramen” nights for when life throws a curveball (sick kids, for example).

Usually I plan for 4-5 meals and assume that the rest of the days will be covered by leftovers, sandwiches and ramen (my kids LOVE ramen, and my 10-year-old can make it herself), frozen pizza, or eating out (we’re able to budget for eating out occasionally, but your mileage may vary). I don’t worry about lunch on the weekends because I either cook a big brunch or we just have leftovers or sandwiches.

I take a quick look in the refrigerator and pantry to get a mental inventory of what I have to work with.  I take note of anything I want to use up, any meat that is about to expire, any canned goods I want to use up, and so on.

I look at my local grocery store’s app to see if there are any good sales, especially on meat. There is one particular store that I prefer to go to because I get gas rewards depending on how much I spend, which helps keep our fuel costs down. However, I have apps for the three grocery stores nearest my house and will browse all of them if I get the chance. (We don’t do bulk shopping – e.g. Costco or Sam’s Club – but that’s an option too.)

Then, armed with all this information, I turn to Pinterest, which I use as my recipe repository. I have several boards devoted exclusively to recipes, broken up into categories – Main Dishes, Side Dishes, Crockpot Recipes, Breakfast, and so on. I may further organize them one day by type – chicken recipes, beef recipes, etc. – but I haven’t done that yet (although I do have a board for Meatless Meals, for use during Lent and other Fridays when we choose to go meatless).

I have a board called “Kid Tested – Mother Approved” which contains recipes that I know my kids will eat, and that are easy for me to prepare. I have a board called “Freezer Cooking” which contains meals I’ve either made for the freezer and have been successes or ones that look promising that I want to try in the near future. (I make sure all my freezer recipes are really simple – basically throw ingredients into Ziploc bag, shut, and label, then dump and go once they are ready to be made. Nothing that involves browning meat beforehand or anything too complicated – with freezer meals I really need to operate on the K.I.S.S. principle, otherwise I get discouraged and don’t do them.)

Once on Pinterest, I either browse my recipe boards for inspiration or search for new recipes based on specific sale ingredients. Any recipe I choose, I pin to a secret board called “Meal Plan.” (I don’t know why I keep it secret – some hang-up about not wanting people to criticize my meal plan, I guess! – but that’s what works for me.) Then I have my entire meal plan for the week organized in one place for quick reference. I don’t assign a specific day to each meal (except Taco Tuesday – more on that later), which allows me to be flexible with what I make. I delete each pin as I use it. If I end up not using a pin that week because our plans changed (we were invited out to eat with family or something), then I just leave the pin there for next week’s plan.

Since I’ve already taken a mental inventory about what I have on hand, I just note down the items that I will need to purchase when I go shopping. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll have most of the items I need on hand and will only need to purchase meat, but I usually have some spices or produce I’ll need to pick up.

Meal Prep Tips and Tricks

I tend to look for recipes that can be served over rice, as I love my rice cooker (and I stock up on rice, especially brown rice, whenever it’s on sale). I often buy boxes of veggie pasta as well, especially when they are on sale for $1/box (anything to get my picky kids to eat something resembling vegetables). Anything that incorporates produce currently on sale (but with a minimum of prep time) is a bonus. Sometimes I will buy packages of pre-cut onions and veggies just to save time, although it depends on what our budget and my schedule looks like.

Some time ago (before “The Lego Movie” came out, I might add) I instituted “Taco Tuesday” at our home, and it’s been a big hit with the kids. Tacos is a family favorite and a meal they don’t mind having repeatedly, so I always know what we’re having for supper on Tuesdays. That’s a day I usually drive into work (a 90-minute commute, one way), but it only takes 10-15 minutes to brown hamburger meat in a skillet or thaw and heat frozen meat. I just need to make a mental note on which fixings we’re running low on (lettuce, cheese, taco sauce, tortillas), and I know that I always need to buy ground beef (unless I’ve stocked up due to a sale). I make my own taco seasoning using this recipe and store it in a plastic container in my spice cabinet. One batch will last us for a month or two. If I get ambitious and if avocados are on sale, I’ll make guacamole with a quick homemade spice mix. If I get really, really ambitious, I make large batches of taco meat in the crockpot and freeze it in 1.5 lb portions for future use (right now, that’s the perfect portion size for our family). Or sometimes I’ll just brown hamburger in the crockpot and store it in the freezer so I can use it for other things as well (burgers, soups, etc.). (Note: all this prep work is usually done on the weekend, if I have time – weeknights are too hectic.)

I use my food processor to cut up onions or grate carrots, and I’ll also use my apple wedger when I want to cut up potatoes in a hurry. (I tend not to peel potatoes unless absolutely necessary – takes too much time.) I cut the potatoes in half and then use the wedger on each half. I end up with some cylinder-shaped potatoes in addition to the wedges, but usually no one notices or cares.

I’m trying to move toward using mostly whole ingredients in my recipes (no condensed soup, no dressing or gravy mixes, etc.) but sometimes that’s not possible, so I try to cut myself slack.

Here’s a sample menu I might have for the week. I have one meal for each day, but one or two will usually get rolled over to the following week. These are all “tried and true” meals – e.g. I’ve made them before, the kids will eat them, and the adults like them too.

Meal #1 – Garlic Chicken, with microwave steamer bag of veggies as a side.

Meal #2 – Tacos

Meal #3 – Crockpot Ranch Pork Chops, served over rice from rice cooker. Microwave steamer bag of veggies as a side.

Meal #4 – Slow Cooker Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce, served over rice from rice cooker. Microwave steamer bag of veggies as a side. (Note: with this one, I’ll try to find boneless pork chops on sale or clearance, or a cheap pork roast on sale or clearance, and cut it up. Sometimes I can find pork stew meat. Pork loin is generally too expensive, although I’ll use that if it’s on sale.)

Meal #5 – Hearty Beef Stew (recipe #6 at the link). Side dish: Basic Beer Bread (it’s quick and easy to throw together, and goes marvelously with this stew. If you want to prep this beforehand, you can throw the dry ingredients in a Ziploc bag, and then when it’s time to bake it you just need to add the beer and mix).

Meal #6 – Easy Crockpot Mongolian Beef, served over rice from rice cooker. Microwave steamer bag of veggies as a side.

Meal #7 – Kielbasa and Pasta Skillet Dinner – one dish meal!

Do you have any tried and true freezer meals, or quick weeknight meals? If so, leave a link to the recipe in comments and I’ll add them to the Catholic Working Mother “Tried and True Freezer Meals” and “Quick Weeknight Meals” boards on Pinterest! (The above recipes are already there.)

We Have A Winner!

Sorry for the delay; I had a busy day at work and am just now getting the chance to see who won!

The giveaway has ended! Thank you to everyone who entered. Your comments were great and I look forward to building a supportive and positive community for Catholic working mothers.

And now, the winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations, Lauren S.! I’ve already e-mailed you with details about how to collect your prize, so please check your e-mail. (And if you haven’t received anything, please let me know at joanna@catholicworkingmother.com).

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Welcome and GIVEAWAY!

Today is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla (patroness of Catholic working mothers) and the official launch of this site! Hooray! I’m so happy this day is finally here!

The most common refrain I hear when I meet another Catholic working mother, whether online or in person, is, “I’m so glad to know I’m not alone!”

If you are a Catholic working mother, you are not alone! I want this site to be a source of encouragement and inspiration for Catholic working mothers who are struggling to balance the duties of their vocations as mothers with the responsibilities of being wage earners, whether outside of the home or from the home.

We are Catholic. We are lay Catholic women faithful to the Magesterium of the Catholic Church. We hold, believe and practice all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be true, whether from the natural moral law or by way of revelation from God through Scripture and Tradition.

We are Working. We earn a wage in addition to our responsibilities as mothers and/or wives. Some of us work part-time; some of us work full-time. Some of us are freelancers or saleswomen; some of us are executives, teachers, or retail employees. Some of us have spouses who work, some of us are the primary breadwinners for our families while our spouse is in school or stays at home, and some of us are single, divorced, or widowed. Some of us are working by choice; some of us only work because we have no other means by which to support our families.

We are Mothers. Some of us are pregnant. Some of us have children by adoption. Some of us have one or two children on earth. Some of us have three or more children. Some of us have children in heaven. All of us recognize that our vocation as a mother is one of the most important jobs we will ever have.

We don’t compete with stay-at-home moms – we complement them. We both have tremendously important jobs with equally difficult responsibilities and unique challenges. Some of us may transition over time depending on our season of life. Regardless of where we are, it is so important to have community – a group of like-minded women who we feel will understand our trials, tribulations, triumphs and successes as we strive to serve God in all things, whether at work or at home.

In the words of Pope St. John Paul II,

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

[…]

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Please follow me on social media! This blog has its own public Facebook page and Twitter account (most tweets will include #catholicworkingmother), as well as a Pinterest board. (There is also a closed Facebook group available for people who prefer more privacy.) You can also follow the blog via email (see left sidebar to sign up), or on various blog readers (feedly, bloglovin, etc).

To celebrate the launch of this site, I’m doing a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a copy of Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor by Pietro Molla and Elio Guerriero, in either paperback or e-book format (winner’s choice).

 

To enter the giveaway, check out the options below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway ends the evening of May 4, and I’ll announce the winner the next day. Thank you for visiting, and please spread the word!