Posts filed under parenting

Catholic Mommy Blogs: Blight or Blessing?

This post might seem a funny coming from someone who is more or less a "mommy blogger" but everything I write comes from the bias of my experience so... I'm writing. I think of myself as more than that title but who am I kidding? I'm a mom. I blog about some mom-ish things. The cringing comes in when "mommy blogger" is used in a derogatory sense. That usage stings and makes me want to come up with some alternative that feels better, such as...

"Catholic Womanhood" blogger
or maybe...
"Middle Aged Woman With Lots of Children, Unsolicited Advice, and a Keyboard" blogger

Definitely the second. 

But I get it. I've been annoyed by mom blogs. Heck, I've been annoyed by my own blog. There does come a point where a Christian writer legitimately asks: "Maybe I should just shut up and live life. Pray more. Find a bridge club."  Except there's this...

The world is full of colorful people: artists, writers, dreamers, teachers, healers, leaders, achievers, contemplatives, activists, musicians ... and God made all of us to seek expression for those gifts. We were created with the innate desire to use our unique talents as His hands and feet... to serve and to love passionately. 

The way God created you to spread the Gospel cannot be duplicated. For some - incredible as it may seem to others - that expression is through blogging. 

The problem with too broadly categorizing a Catholic blogger is precisely the problem with categorizing any soul. It reduces the unique expression of grace to a word or a phrase. To say that I am a "mommy blogger" doesn't offend me at all and I embrace it... but I doubt it accurately and wholly captures what I try to do here or who I am.  

WHY DO WE FOLLOW PEOPLE?

We read blogs for reasons that are as varied as the reasons that we use Google on any given day. Today you might be searching for a better way to clip toddler fingernails. Tomorrow you might be seeking an excerpt from the Summa. We are deliberate in our searches and generally have a purpose. When following individual blogs, that purpose is slightly different because a blogger is on a journey herself and does not necessarily write to a reader's tastes daily. Not all of the reasons for reading blogs are hugely noble, but they are all common to a seeking humanity...

Curiosity
Common interests
Practical tips
Relationship advice
Inspiration
How-to
Consolation
Time killing
Personal connection

The last one is a biggie. For 10 years, it has been a big reason that many of my regular bloggers continue to read. Some of those connections have blossomed into real friendships. And to be boldly honest... during my years of chronic illness and isolation, the blogging internet was an incredible consolation to me. It was my community when my local community was less physically accessible. It was different years ago... not so "professional"... but the common reasons remain the same.

WHY DO BLOGS DISAPPOINT?

  • Because they are created by human beings. Messy people. Messy lives. 
  • Because they are read by human beings: people who filter what they read through their own lens of experience and baggage and suffering and joy. 
  • Because bloggers change when we don't want them to...
  • And don't change when we do want them to. 
  • Because we forget that blog authors are human beings - beautiful, suffering, busy, beloved daughters of Christ - and we hold them to an unmerited standard.
  • Because nothing and no one can truly fill the empty holes that we often go seeking to fill on the internet.

There are two basic complaints against Catholic mom bloggers that I hear most often (and truthfully, have personally expressed)....

1) Everyone is an expert. 
2) Too much money-making/selling

I don't disagree necessarily (and depending on the blog) but there are some lessons in charity to be learned here as readers. I have grappled with them and want to share my ever-evolving thoughts...

1) Everyone is an expert. 

I concede. This periodically annoys me. I (a 39-year old mom of 8) don't want to be told by a 24-year old mom of 2 that she has the perfect parenting tips for raising perfect children. It annoys. But to be fair, there are some 24-year old moms of 2 who could write that post brilliantly and not offend, come off arrogant, or disrespect more experienced humans with a crass click-bait title. In fact, I could actually learn something. 

But it is an unfortunate fact that...

Some beautiful , faithful women are not excellent at blogging, whether it be the writing, communicating, charitable expression, or knowledge of the faith.  

So if those limitations bug me... I don't read those blogs. And consequently, I don't have to grapple with the temptation to react inappropriately. I assume most people who don't care for my work do the same. 

 In fact... I have regular readers who can't stand me. When I manage to write a post that is born out of sincere love and affection... I can guarantee it's still going to drive someone into a bloody rage. (I believe some people must follow my blog out of a sheer morbid fascination with what irritates them.) I do some things well and encourage some people, but I fail miserably with reliable consistency. 

What annoys people the most about me is generally what annoys about others as well... and that is a perception of unmerited authority. I do understand. 

For Catholic bloggers, that can certainly present a problem.... because not every Catholic thinks, believes, or talks like other Catholics. Like the Church herself, we are somewhat wandering, seeking, and clinging to what we believe and how we seek to implement that belief. Add our flawed personalities and... 

That is messy. Incredibly messy. Truly... The blogging community reflects the whole Church. 

My advice to those who are driven to anger and distraction by those bloggers who rankle? Get them out of your feed. Just do it. Stop the drama. Follow a path to greater peace. Focus on Jesus Christ. And if you feel that true damage is being done through the vehicle of a blog and that you are being called to spread a little more truth? Go ahead... start your own. It's fun. It's work. But just know that you'll still need to go to Confession a lot... and maybe more than before. 

2) Too much money-making/selling.

I concede. I hate feeling like a target. It is one of the things that has caused me to balk at the idea of increasing monetary opportunities for my blog. I have stopped following blogs that feel like giant commercials (although I do go back when I need some purchasing direction and sure do visit plenty of secular sites for the same purpose!) But my thinking about monetization has evolved a bit over time and I'll tell you a couple reasons why...

I think it's okay for Catholic moms to make money. 

When I was a new mom, I assumed that my ability to stay home with my kids would remain constant. If things got tougher, I figured we'd just tighten our belts. But experience has taught me that sometimes things get much tougher and that solutions don't fall out of the sky, but must come through much labor and hard choices between undesirable options. I've also learned that good planning during smooth times can hold a family up during the storms. I would not begrudge families the opportunity to earn an income from home through blogging. The details of their need are not my business. 

I want you to know what I know about Catholic mom blogs when it comes to money...

  • Most blogging moms I know do not profit substantially from their blogs even though it does cost them time and possibly money.
  • I have friends who were unable to stay home with their kids until they figured out a way to replace their necessary income at home. They have worked very hard toward a great family good and have been successful. I applaud them.
  • I also know moms who have been able to support their families during a financial or personal crisis or to help toward worthy family goals such as moving to a safer neighborhood or paying off medical bills.
  • Some "mommy bloggers" give blog earnings to families or individuals in need. You wouldn't know because they don't tell people about it. 
  • Many bloggers turn down far more income opportunities than they accept. Because they do care about their readers and being people of integrity. 
  • Bloggers know their readers. Just because I don't follow a blogger who has a talent for frugal fashion (to choose a random example), doesn't mean that others don't. If she is successful, it means that she is working hard and providing value to a lot of people. Good for her. 
  • Financially successful Catholic bloggers work very hard. And like any small business, this effort supports and nourishes Catholic family life. 

Do we really believe that we should be able to read a blog any time we like but that the owner/author doesn't have a right to compensation for time and investment? That is a question worth pondering.

Here is another reason I have softened to the idea of monetizing blogs...

I TRUST YOU.

We live in a consumer culture... and the tension present anytime business meets faith does exist. Heck, our entire interaction with the world is full of tension between the sacred and the profane. Materialism is a beast and one of our first world crosses is that we must constantly fight it. But...

I trust that Catholic readers can navigate the reviews and affiliate links of a blog without overspending just like I trust my readers to go shopping at Walmart or the mall without spending their life savings. I shop. You shop. We all shop... online and at brick and mortar stores. Secular box stores, Catholic small biz, whatever... we shop. I love finding small Catholic businesses and handmade items and knowing what other Catholic moms enjoy reading and wearing and using. If I overspend? That's on me. If I spend too much time online and am tempted beyond my weakness? That's on me. I own it... I don't blame bloggers.

Bottom line? I trust my own readers to make good choices. 

The spiritual struggle for Catholic professionals of any kind is real and the post that I would write for my sister bloggers would look a little different than this one. It would be more demanding, challenging to look deeply into our choices... to remain authentic even while we pursue our individual goals. That's what sisters do for each other. Sisters also know what is true, good, and beautiful about each other in a way that others don't. And that's really what I want readers to remember... the humanity behind the posting... and to exhort to a greater level of charity.

ONGOING DISCERNMENT.

In 10 years of blogging, I have received "perks" but I have never made more than I spent. I have turned down most opportunities to grow because I didn't feel at the time that it was consistent with my purpose here. When my $200 hosting bill comes due in September, I probably won't have made enough via my piddly affiliate links to cover it. What usually happens is that I'm forced to discern whether or not to continue... and then I justify the expense by reminding myself (and my husband) that I save us money by never getting manicures or gym memberships. This IS my splurge. That has been my choice and I issue no complaint...

But as I get older and the needs (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and financial) of my family increase, I am more and more comfortable placing real value on my time. I begin to wonder if my failure to use this space more for the benefit of my family is actually a squandering of God's gifts. I could ask for donations... I can continue to donate my time... or I could just work really hard to put this investment in the direct service of my family by accepting some compensation.

The question always before me is: Does it serve my vocation? If I can reconcile that to the demands and fruits of blogging, then I sign on for another year...

It is constant discernment. And I trust that all of my Catholic blogging sisters are constantly placing those same questions before their families and their Lord. In charity, let us grant each other a bit of grace in that regard. 

So? Are Catholic mom blogs a blight or a blessing? I guess the answer depends on who you ask, what time of day, what kind of mood they're in, and which blogs we're talking about. Because it's kind of like asking:

Humanity.... blight or blessing? 

In truth, perhaps we have to answer: Both. But in truth and charity... the answer can't really be answered in a blog post. It's like trying to fit a rainforest in a bottle... a star into a mason jar... or a human soul into a "mommy blog."

Posted on January 21, 2016 and filed under blogging, Faith, parenting.

The Year I Quit the World

It's astonishing the things I find scribbled in notebooks throughout the house. Like little pieces of memory that fell out of my brain and attached themselves to paper, waiting to be recovered again at a later date. I found an old journal entry today that reminded me of some things. Big, big things. Like how powerful the love of a mother is... and how making a Consecration to our Blessed Mother has saved my neck more than once. 

The entry I recently found was dated right before my family "quit the world" and all of the opportunity for fanatical sport-loving families that frenetic American suburbia has to offer. Our minds, bodies, and souls were heavily burdened by the race. My children were staggering under the weight of victory medals and cracking under the pressure of simultaneously maintaining worldly success and Catholic identity. And it didn't matter that we tried to keep praying and believing and storing up the sacramental graces. Sometimes, we have to recognize that we have placed our kids on a battlefield for which they are not equipped. And sometimes, we have to swallow our pride and just quit.

Although I knew deep down that quitting was the answer, I didn't want to do it. I wanted to say no. Instead of saying no, I renewed my Consecration to Mary, knowing that she would move any mountain with that small step of faith. I had forgotten that hard time just a few years ago now and that rediscovered notebook reminded me. Those of you who have followed me through that journey know about the miracle of our eventual yes. You know how we coached and trained and competed and traveled and stretched... and you also know how God rescued us from ourselves through the intercession of Blessed Mother. 

My little journal entry brings it all back to me. The darkness and the struggle. How many years ago now? Three? Four? I don't even know. But this is what I wrote just before the dawn...


This feeling of never being settled. Never realizing my dreams. Always slipping down the fast and furious slope of mediocrity and failure. I am not a plastic saint. I am not even a blood, sweat and tears saint. I am nothing at all like a saint. Just a miserable failure who can't even remember to pray during my despair. I squeak out a little "Lord, have mercy" once in awhile and then just pick up miserably where I left off.

I once wanted to have chickens. And children. I wanted children who raised chickens. Then I just had children who ate chicken shaped into little nuggets before I drove them to a sporting event. I once thought I would sew for my children and wear aprons and paint with them in the glow of the afternoon sun. What came of that dream? Yoga pants and movie nights happened. I wore the yoga pants and went into another room while they watched the movie. For a little comfort. A little silence.

Why have I failed? Why is it so hard to capture a beautiful and slow life in reality? Can it really be done or is it a deception? A movie script that has us questioning why we have missed all the romance while everyone else finds it? 

I've been intentionally quitting the world repeatedly for years but I have never made it for more than a day or so. The world and worldly things have a thorough grip on my heart like a hooked fish. I can try to shake it off but it tears and causes pain. I either swim away, exhausted and shredded, or give up peacefully to be eaten. The world is my home. I am the world. The world is me. What am I willing to give up to find out where it ends and I begin? I'm looking it in the eye and I see what it is thinking: you will fail. Because I always do.

I look straight back and with a sigh of resignation I say: Yes. I believe that you are right. So I suppose I shall lose nothing in trying.

Today is the day that I pick up my Consecration and ask blessed Mother to change my life. She has done it before and I trust she will do it again. My job, as I understand it, is to step aside and let love lead. I'm okay with that today. Let's do this.


And for those of you who don't know the the end of the story... We did. She did. She shook things up. We stepped aside and let her... and quit the world. It was around that time when I changed the name of my blog to Blossoming Joy. It fits. And I've never looked back.

Posted on November 3, 2015 and filed under culture, Family Life, Spiritual Life, parenting.

Teen Culture: The Elephant in Our Living Room

In 1989, serial killer Ted Bundy was executed by the state of Florida for raping and killing 30 women. Countless column inches and hours of video have been devoted to discussing and analyzing his life. In my younger mind, I envisioned him as a terrifying monster. He died when I was 12 years old so he was the unknown terror in my youthful imagination and I relegated him to the weird, unusual, and evil realm of humanity – neatly compartmentalized, where he remained until last year.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one afternoon and caught a still frame of a video. It featured a normal looking American male in an orange prison jumpsuit. It was Ted Bundy. The caption above the video said “Say no to porn” and it took my social media numbed mind a moment to connect the dots. Oh, I get it. Bundy was perv. Of course he was into porn. I scrolled past and on second thought… went back and pressed play. What I heard next has been on my mind ever since and has kept me up praying for my children more than usual. 

The video interview of Bundy was filmed only a few hours before his execution. He spoke candidly about his healthy and happy upbringing and his loving and “diligent” Christian parents. He looked like any upstanding American father. He spoke with intelligence. And he had a message for parents…

The message was that there was only one secret element that separated him from normal: Pornography. He wanted us to know that. And he wanted us to know that pornography is always present at the core of the lives of violent criminals. He knew that first hand since he was in prison for ten years with the most hardened among them. And hours before his death, he wanted us to know. Bundy was a manipulative psychopath capable of lying about everything up to the very end... but these words of his ring true in any context. An honest person knows they are at least partially true. 

Everyone knows that there is something inherently yucky about porn. But as a culture, we tolerate it because we are secretly, and more often now, openly consuming it. In fact, it has become so mainstream that the pornography industry reportedly brings in more money than that made from professional football and hockey combined. We know from extensive research that it destroys marriages, mental health, a healthy view and function of sexuality, and that it can be as addictive as hard drugs. What we don’t know is how to stop it. And frankly, most people simply don’t seem to care to.

Mainstream feminists brush aside concerns about porn and even defend it, but as a woman who cherishes my femininity and the beautiful purpose for which I have been created... I hate it. It has wounded me and it will wound my children. Barring a cultural metanoia, it forms who we are...

As a high school student, I found my Catholic co-ed institution to be a place of violence to my feminine mind, body, and spirit. It was a prison for me – and one of the primary reasons was that I was “incarcerated” with a population of teenage males who objectified me and constantly pushed the limits of reasonable and respectful behavior. They were born into a porn culture, drank it in,  and swam in it. Without understanding the root of it, I was afraid and longed to escape from the prying eyes and filthy talk. They told me they knew the color of my underwear and other things about their desires that I won't repeat here. They touched me accidentally in intimate ways and joked about gang rape. They asked me intimate questions and laughed at my embarrassment. They categorized me, whispered to me and about me, and made me feel ashamed of my femininity. It wasn’t just one. It wasn’t just three. It was a whole community of young men who understood to some degree that they had power over the girls in school. … and yes, it frightened me. 

I never fully understood those feelings until I heard Bundy speak on that video. Dead for almost 30 years now, he had a message: Pornography begets violence.

Anytime someone participates in the dehumanization of another, objectifies a unique human being created in the image of a loving God, looks at a woman as a vehicle for pleasure instead of a person worthy of authentic love… they participate in a pornographic culture that profanes the sacred and desecrates true beauty. It is an act of violence against women everywhere. I saw it in the eyes of my male peers. I saw that they were capable of harming me and that they didn’t mind engaging in a little game of terrorism.

The elephant in the living room of our teen culture is that we tolerate speech and actions in our youth that we find reprehensible in a man of thirty. Words and behaviors that girls must allow every day in school are the same words and behaviors that will get a man fired for harassment or subject to a restraining order. And yet we not only tolerate it, but we accept it. By our silence, we show our approval. 

As girls, we are trained to allow it, accept it, even seek it... because we are never taught our true value outside of the sight of leering eyes. We do not know who we are even in our Catholic schools because we are not permitted to know and to be free of such abuse.

There will be no real cultural advancement of women’s true rights as human beings until the culture rejects those things which beget violence against them. As it stands now, we must remain on the defensive. Instead of spending our time helping our daughters to flourish, we must spend a disproportionate amount of time making sure that they are not subject to abuse. And there are increasingly few places which are truly safe. There are many reasons why we homeschool. For me, this is among my top three: That not one of my daughters will be forced to go through her formative years sitting next to young predators.

When Bundy spoke, I was shaken because I knew he spoke the truth. I have seen it in the eyes of enough boys and men to know it. But his final point chilled me to the bone. He said that even though a parent exercises diligence with their children, there is no chance to truly keep our children away from the clutches of porn unless the culture refuses to allow it. I understand why I’ve never seen this video. Because there are countless people out there who engage in pornography and I doubt many (if any) wish to be associated with a serial killer. But there’s no time for sparing egos and feelings. It’s time to expose the lie that porn is harmless. Past time. If you watch nothing else today, watch Bundy’s last interview HERE and consider sharing it on behalf of every silenced victim of sexual violence. And then start asking this question:

How can we help the next generation of men and women to be free from the bondage of pornography?

We must expose the secret to the light so that our children have a hope for freedom. And we must tirelessly share the truth that each person has a dignity and inherent worth that demands reverence. Rise up, men and women of valor! No more porn. No more violence. Let us build a Culture of Life.

Watch Ted Bundy's final interview before his execution HERE.

Posted on July 13, 2015 and filed under Womanhood, parenting.