Thanks for Stopping By

Welcome to my blog, Pastoral Parenting. I hope to share with you some things I have learned as a parent and from my studies in pastoral care and developmental psychology.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world for which we receive no formal training. I like to say we are all raised by unskilled labor! We are taught to attach closely to our newborns, but once we have--and have fallen deeply in love--no one ever tells us that it is just as important to learn how to detach and let them go.

I also write a weekly reflection on Scripture called "Come and See" and I often incorporate parenting topics into these reflections. They are written from my vantage point as a Christian, but I try to make my writing universally applicable, the way I believe Christ wants me to. This blog will rely on our common Spirit--no preaching, just sharing the love.

By way of disclaimer, I am not a licensed therapist. I have a Master of Arts degree in Spiritual and Pastoral Care from Loyola University in Maryland and wrote my thesis on Pastoral Parenting. In a phrase, I use my head, but speak from my heart. I also believe that a healthy sense of humor goes a long way to help keep us sane, so I hope to share some of that as well. If you or your child is really struggling, I strongly encourage you to seek the help of a family therapist.

Blessings on you and your children!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow Day

Some 16 years ago, I retired from my career to raise our kids. My son was 7 and my daughter was 2 and we moved a bit farther north in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US.  I had had a pretty demanding job, and when the kids were sick or school was canceled due to bad weather, it was always a scramble to figure out how my husband and I would divide up the day. A lot of you know exactly what I am talking about, and many of you don’t have the luxury of someone with whom to share the responsibility.

So I vividly remember the first “snow day” in our new house after I had quit work.  The announcement that school was canceled came over the radio, and I was whisked back to my own childhood.  I spent a few minutes savoring the joy of those special days, with sledding and hot chocolate. I stayed in bed for a while until my sleepy-eyed son and his little sister came in to find out why he was still at home.  They both jumped into bed with me, overjoyed to be staying in their pajamas for a while. Then, I bundled them up to go out and play while I fixed the hot chocolate, like my own mother did for me.

These sorts of moments of shared joy are precious. Maybe your child plays a sport or an instrument that you played, and you watch as they learn and grow in their abilities.  It’s wonderful to sit back and see them develop. And it’s important that we let them experience it for themselves. Sometimes, in parenting, due to unfulfilled dreams or a desire to see our children succeed, we force our own images or goals onto our kids. We take away the sheer joy of learning by expecting them to take the same route we took or to achieve more than we were able to achieve. Nothing deflates the balloon of enjoyment faster, particularly for creative pastimes or athletics, than when parents muddy the endeavor with specific approaches and demanding expectations.

This is especially problematic when children are really young.  Ideally, all of their learning, both in and out of school should be as free from stress as possible. I advise parents to balance the need to teach their children time management and good study skills with the freedom to explore these processes on their own.  Children need and crave structure, but we don’t have to force it in every dimension of their lives. Routines are good for kids and help  families run smoothly, but allowing toddlers and young children the opportunity to plot their own course, to fail, and to try again and again is key to fostering resiliency, self-efficacy (i.e.,“ I am capable”) , and independence—traits that will serve them well over their lifetimes.   

Our daughter is finishing up her last year in high school now. Next fall, she will be off to college, and I hope we have given her the freedom to succeed on her own terms.  But I have to admit ... I’m praying for just one more snow day so she can snuggle up to me one last time. So we can share that childhood joy  just once more before she heads off into this wide and wild world.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In 2013, I Resolve "To Don't"

I stopped making New Year's resolutions years ago.  By mid-January, I always felt like a failure since most of the resolutions had gone by the wayside.  But in recent years, I have been coming up with a "To don't" list (as opposed to a "to do" list) as a means for me to jettison activities that no longer bear fruit.

Now, most self-help books will tell you to put things in positive terms, e.g., "I will take better care of myself" as opposed to "I will never eat anything fattening ever again!"  This is NOT what I am talking about.

I am suggesting that this last week before the new year, we reassess the things that take our time and energy to see if there are some activities or obligations that we can take off the list altogether. We get into the habit of saying "yes" to so many requests that we don't have time for our families, much less ourselves.

Now for some, this might seem like an impossible task. You may believe there is absolutely nothing you can take off the list. That's how I felt too. But what I came to find (and still find) is that a lot of what I believe I "have to do" has more to do with my need for control than real necessity. People become so used to thinking..."Oh, she'll take care of that," or "He always does this" that we get stuck in a pattern of being the "go-to" guy or gal.

Challenge yourself over the next few days to think about how you spend your time. If you don't know, make a conscious effort to pay attention and keep a daily record for a day or two. Most of us don't have the luxury of letting go of much, but the things you choose to do should be things that feed your soul.

Stand in front of a mirror and get into a new habit: saying that tiny little word, "no." The more you say it, the easier it becomes!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Turning Back Our Hearts

In my religious tradition, we celebrate the season of Advent prior to Christmas. It is meant to be a time of waiting and of hope. I also write daily reflections for Advent. I want to share one with you that I think has a good message for this season so fraught with commercialism that we in the US can't even take one day to be thankful for our blessings! (I am speaking of course of stores being open on Thanksgiving Day.)
 "You are destined…to turn back the hearts of parents toward their children."
(This quote comes from the Old Testament book, the Wisdom of Ben Sira. Ben Sira was a rabbi who lived in the first century, BCE, and the quote is referring to the return of the prophet Elijah.)

There’s a Native American philosophy called seventh generation planning. When one is making decisions that affect the community, he or she must take into account the impact seven generations hence. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s website, “Seventh generation (planning) requires each generation to be fair and humble. Fairness means not imposing risks on future generations that we ourselves would not accept. Humility means that we would consider the quality of life of future generations as important as our quality of life.”

The words we hear today— “you are destined to turn back the hearts of parents toward their children”— are words for the future and of hope. Seventh generation planning is a philosophy of hope. But it can seem like our immediate gratification culture belies our vision of hope. We are so focused on the short-term (granted, at times out of necessity) we fail to consider our own futures much less those of the generations to come.

Today’s Provision—The Long View: Let's take the long view for a change. Let's look beyond our own lives to see how our living impacts our children’s children's children, and our planet. It is a constant, conscious balance: living in the sacrament of the present moment and taking a view of the future through lenses of hope. Pray today for a clearer vision of how you can make tomorrow better for everyone.

Having just come through the elections in the US, one can't help but feel jaded about the opportunistic rhetoric and impossible promises candidates offer as a means to get into office. In the US and in many other countries, it seems many adults are unwilling to make the compromises and sacrifices necessary to ensure that future generations have a reasonable standard of living and adequate natural resources. 

In this season when we (and our kids) are barraged with rampant, almost wanton materialism, think about having conversations as a family about what we mean by "need" and "want." Most little kids can't distinguish between the two and will never learn if we rely on advertisers to teach them. If your kids are a bit older, look at some ads with them and ask them to identify strategies the retailer is using to create a sense of need for their product. This is a good way to teach critical, analytical thinking.

And for those of you just starting out with babies or toddlers, take a word from the wise. If you celebrate a big holiday this season (or any season, or a birthday for that matter), you are casting the die if you think you need lots of wrapped gifts! Their attention span won't hold and you are setting quantity expectations for future holidays when their needs and wants usually cost more. (Been there, done that.)

As always, I send you and your children blessings. If this is a holiday season for you, try to relax and enjoy it a bit, okay? Remember, the gift of your time will be, in the future, the one most cherished and remembered.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pardon the Interruption

Well, so much for trying to write something for my blog every two weeks! To play on an old phrase:  “The road to hell-- or anywhere else, for that matter-- is paved with good …interruptions.”

The past winter and spring have been busy with all sorts of wonderful and enriching ministry work—writing, running retreats and parenting workshops, including a new outreach to young moms on temporary cash assistance (from whom I am learning so much about parenting in the face of poverty and homelessness). But a lot of my time has been spent caring for my 88-year old mom (from whom most of my real-life parenting wisdom comes) and for my own kids who are both at transition points:  my daughter starting the college search and my son graduating from college (and coming back home to live!), and figuring out the rest of his life.  

It’s been a good reminder for me to practice what I preach, to make sure I don’t forget that my most important ministry is to care for those closest to me. We sometimes take for granted, or worse, discount the importance of the work we do at home. I remember the advice of a woman from church when I was arranging to have my son baptized. I made the comment that I felt such a need to give back for all that had been given to me. Her response:  “Raise your son to be a good, moral, caring young man. That is how you are to give back right now.” 

The late Henri Nouwen once told this story:   A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame. Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny twinkle in his eyes: ‘I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.’”

Good advice for those of us caring for kids, aging or ill family members, or both.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Take Time to Smell the "Flour"

The other day, I was making some stew. Over the holidays, I had purchased a type of flour that blends easily in gravy and limits lumpiness, so I decided to thicken the stew with it as well.  As I stood there stirring the pot, I burst out laughing when I read the marketing copy on the side of the can.  It said: “(this) Flour is the quick and easy flour for today’s lifestyles.”

REALLY?  It has gotten so bad that we now need a special flour to fit our busy lives?
Now, I am not criticizing the product at all--it’s actually quite good.  But it is so interesting—sad, I guess—that someone thought to promote the product through the lens of saving us the milliseconds it takes between using regular flour and this ultra fine blend.

I had a teacher in grade school who used to say, “I feel sorry for you kids—you have instant mashed potatoes and frozen orange juice. You don’t have to work or wait for good things.” I wonder what she would say now?  We live in a world of instant gratification. My kids have immediate access to information for school that would have taken me months to compile. We are connected to the whole planet at the touch of a button.
Which is why it’s so important that we teach our kids--and remind ourselves--that the good things in life, the things that really matter—true love and  friendship, real knowledge, discernment, and wisdom— all take time, patience, and often struggle and pain (and a few lumps, I guess!) to grow and bear fruit. Patience is truly a virtue we need now more than ever.

I am reminded of a favorite prayer by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, which I share with you now. 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
     We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
     We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
     by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
      Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time -- that is to say, grace –

     and circumstances  acting on your own good will will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be.

     Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
        and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.  Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions—I’m in favor of “New Morning” resolutions instead, or even better, as Thomas Merton once wrote:  “It is morning, afternoon, or evening.  Begin.” But do consider this one: “I will pay attention this year.”

This encompasses a lot of what resolutions are about, whether you’re looking to be a better parent, to take better care of your body through diet and exercise, or to be a more spiritual or giving person; whether you are trying to foster stronger personal relationships or be more successful in your studies or professional life.  

Paying attention is active, but not anxious; it is engaged, but not on edge.  It is openness to experience whatever is given that day as gift, so it is also without judgment.  Buddhists call this grace “mindfulness.” 

Set aside a few minutes each day around lunchtime and take a nonjudgmental look at how you paid attention that morning. See where you might have encountered the Spirit even if the morning was seemingly uneventful or difficult.  Be thankful. Consider what’s ahead that afternoon and evening and when you may be challenged to remain aware. Pray specifically for help in that situation. The more you do this, the easier the habit becomes, and the more you will see the Spirit at work in your life. 

My prayers for a happy, open, and aware 2012!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Okay, where has the last month gone? Where has the last year gone? If you are Christian, or celebrate the holiday of Christmas, then you know where my last month has gone. And if you are in the US, add on top of that Thanksgiving just a few weeks before and whammo--it's "HOLI-DAZE!" yet again.

Just a few ideas to share to offset the commercialism of this time of year. I heard about one family's wonderful Chanukah tradition that could apply to any gift-giving time. For the last day of Chanukah, the parents would ask each of their children to pick a charity to which they would like their parents to donate in the child's name. So instead of receiving a gift that day, the children would make a charitable donation instead.

I think this is a great idea. If you are not done your shopping quite yet, you may want to ask your children to pick something on their list to forego and make a donation instead--it could be the local SPCA or a homeless shelter.  The key is that the children are making some sacrifice. I also would recommend, particularly if your kids are young, to keep the charities local and see if you and your child can make the donation in person.  

Even if you have finished your shopping, think about doing something charitable the week after Christmas, when the kids are out of school.  Tear them away from their new video games and go work at a soup kitchen. If your kids are very young, have them make New Year's cards for a local nursing home. Make it a learning opportunity and have them count out spare change and take it to the local pet shelter. Be creative.

For those of you who are Christian, here's another idea. If you have young children, sometime over the next week or so, have a conversation about what it means for us to receive gifts on Jesus’ birthday. Yes, the story of the Magi is cited as the source of this tradition; but focus instead on the shepherds.  What did they bring? Their courage, their openness, their simplicity…they brought themselves. Talk about what it means to bring ourselves as others and to God.

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, or even if you don't have a winter holiday tradition, make sure to give the greatest gift you have to give your children--your time. Blessings on your family!