NCRegister Blog: Art, Body Image, and Gratitude

Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael

When we decided to study the history of art with our children as part of their homeschooling I did not realize that the course of this study would show me just how deeply I had been influenced by the secular media to disvalue my physical appearance. There is a stark contrast between what modern media presents as a beautiful, attractive woman and what neoclassical, baroque, romantic, realist, etc. art portrays as beautiful. Through looking at these paintings I have learned to value the beauty of women and to truly be thankful for the way that God made me.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister Blog: Let’s Move Forward to Embrace Tradition and Beauty

As one raised going to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite who now attends the Extraordinary Form every Sunday, I wanted to respond to Pope Francis’s recent statement about the liturgical reform that happened after Vatican II. He seemed to be addressing Traditionalist Catholics who would like to reverse the changes that occurred to the liturgies of the Roman Rite after Vatican II in a speech in Italy this week to participants in their National Liturgical Week. He said,

“After this magisterium, after this long journey, we can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” (from the Catholic News Service)

But those who have come to love the EF (Traditional Latin Mass) after being raised going to the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite (Novus Ordo) know that we cannot—we have come too far. The reforms of the council have become part of the very life and heartbeat of the Church. Liturgy is vibrant, living worship of God—it has always been changing and always will until the end of the ages…

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister Blog: Our Open Hands Can Open the Hearts and Arms of Mothers

There is a growing feeling among pro-life Catholic Millennials that those segments of the pro-life movement that focus just on law have failed to see and do what will really save lives. Having all been born since Roe v. Wade, we have lived all our lives with the reality of legal abortion. Many of us spent countless hours of our youth praying outside abortion clinics, being yelled at by passing drivers, being scorned by the media, but not afraid to be persecuted for our defense of life. We have heard from our earliest days that Pope Saint John Paul II told us, “Do not be afraid!” So we have been brave in our defense of truth and life issues, and we are not afraid to continue to face persecution.

Read more at the NCRegister…

Working Vs. Staying at Home: The Decisions American Women Face

G hard at work at my desk years ago when I took her to work with me.
There was an outrage on Facebook last Saturday about President Obama’s statement about stay at home parents:

 “Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

In context, he was talking about having tax payer funded preschool so as to allow parents to not have to choose between a job and having children. And while perhaps he did not mean to reject entirely the idea that parents should stay at home with their children, he pretty clearly stated that he thinks that working is the best choice for everyone.

I understand that when a parent makes the choice to leave a career and stay at home with children, she is making a life-long financial sacrifice. She is losing the chance for career advancement. But the choice between a career and staying home is much more complicated than the issue of money.

I personally began to think about the choice between stay at home parenting and having a competitive career when I was in high school. A young woman thinking about college, adulthood, and discerning religious life considers all the possibilities. At my highly competitive, all girls Catholic high school, the issue of working and raising children often came up. A motivated, intelligent young woman does not know if and when she will get married, but she does know that she is expected to go to college and choose a career. My personal goal at the time was to become a sports journalist. When I applied to colleges, I planned on being a communications major. I even got into a pretty good local school known for its journalism program, Webster University. It was five minutes from my house, and I was offered a nearly complete tuition scholarship. I could have succeeded academically there, and I could have made my way into the world of journalism. But when it came down to it, and I imagined life as a journalist, I realized that it would not be compatible with my dream of family life. I could not be the beat writer of the St. Louis Cardinals and be the type of mother that I wanted to be. I had no idea if I would get married and have children, but I hoped that I would. I made a choice to move away from a lucrative career back when I was 17, not when I decided to stay at home with my children.

By the time I got my financial aid package from Franciscan University, I was already wavering on whether to go into journalism. I could have chosen a lucrative career path, but went instead with the college that I thought would best form my character. I started off as a communications major, switched immediately to undeclared, and within three semesters had switched to theology and philosophy and was participating in the Great Books program. I am so glad that I made these choices.

My college experience formed me into the person I am now; I am not sure what I would be like without this experience. I learned to value virtue, family, and religion above material wealth and worldly success. I learned to discern what God had planned for me, and it was made pretty clear halfway through college that I would marry the man I was dating. While I focused on that, I always thought that, if for some reason I am unable to have children, I would pursue a doctorate. However, within a month of marriage, I was already on track to be a stay at home mom.

It was not easy to be a stay at home mom, even with my 12 hour a week, bring the baby along part time job, on my husband’s meager graduate student income. But we knew that it was important for our family for me to be at home. During my first years of marriage and parenting, I had close female friends who were all making economic sacrifices to stay at home with their children. Some of them had part time positions that they could work from home, and some of them had free grandparent childcare. I lived in the subculture of college educated, single income, stay at home moms. If anything, it reinforced my choice. My pro-life Catholic friends all valued spending time raising their children more than their careers.

When we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to advance my husband’s career (we moved for his tenure-track academic job), I became friends with a number of moms who had Ph.D.’s. Most of my husband’s departmental colleagues who have young children at home have all made the choice to have one parent at home with the children, whether it be the mother or the father. In philosophy, the decision of who stays at home is often based on who has the tenure-track job. All of the academic parents who stay at home also adjunct classes and write. I have spent many a play date with these Ph.D. moms discussing the life and career that they had thought they would have until they met their husbands in graduate school. They are fully aware that by staying at home they are setting aside chances at a successful career in philosophy, but they realize that their children will only be young for so long and that it is important for them to raise them.

I am not claiming that it would be wrong for both parents to work and have their children taken care of by someone else. I think that having a thriving career is a good thing and that many women are meant to have competitive and lucrative careers. I am so thankful for my doctor, who is a mother of six, and who delivers my babies and looks into my children’s ears. I am thankful to my mother for keeping her nursing career going while my father pursued a new career path. Both of them had a strong presence in the lives of their four children. I am sure there are many mother journalists who are happy in their lives and jobs and have growing families. I really think that we cannot make a sweeping judgment about what is best for “Americans.” Every family makes a decision about what is best for their family.

And some families decide that a parent spending the weekdays with his or her children is more important than how much money they make later in life. Couples decide that, yes, they can make ends meet with a single income, and they go for it. It is not an easy decision to make, and career advances are sacrificed. But if anything is worth sacrificing income for, the care of a human being is. The life and formation of a human being is far more important than the salary one brings home. The salary provides the material needs, the parent at home provides so much more. The working parent, hopefully, finds fulfillment in work and home life.

Other families have both parents working. Some arrange schedules to have one parent at home at all times. Others have grandparents who can help with the childcare. Others hire childcare. I do not think that it means that these parents value or love their children any less than those who are able to stay a home. I have spoken to working parents who wish that they could stay at home, but they cannot make that sacrifice.

For a mother or a potential mother in a society that values so highly education and then “doing something with that,” the tension between work and family is always there. Feminism has brought this upon mothers. But no mother who stays at home should be made to feel that their choice was not worth it. Because, while children change ones life forever, human lives will always be more valuable than worldly success.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity…

The Millennials that Marry Young

The recent Pew Research Center report “Millennials in Adulthood” summed up a recent survey of my generation with this:

“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood. Now ranging in age from 18 to 331, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future.”

As it happens, many of my personal friends are also of the Millennial generation, but we, while linked by social media and burdened by debt, are very attached to politics, religion, and are happily married with children coming every couple of years. We are showing that there is more to our generation than a young adulthood of self exploration and leisure after adolescence. Emerging into adulthood can be paired with taking on responsibilities, and even though we do not feel like adults we are preserving traditional values for society that many of our peers are leaving by the wayside. I think that my story is not so very different from other religious Millennials, even if we are now living what some consider to be an “alternative lifestyle.”

Photo by Paul HagiusPhoto by Paul Hagius

I married my husband ten days before my twenty-second birthday and three months after his. We both had a BA and MA to our names, and only I had student debt for us to pay off. We knew many couples from our small Catholic college that were in a similar situation. Many of the couples were hoping to have children, while one of the spouses went to graduate school for further education. Other friends of ours did things like go to graduate school, start a job, enter religious life, or go to seminary. These all seemed like choices that would make us feel like adults.

When our first daughter was born before our first anniversary, I was posting pictures of my baby on Facebook, while the majority of my friends were posting pictures of themselves going out with friends. While I spent Friday and Saturday nights at home with my husband, most of my peers were trying to figure out where they were going to the movies or out to dinner.

It was a very strange experience, to be one of the few of my high school and college acquaintance to be married and having children. We found friends in our new city who also were having their first children, but we were the youngest by two years. I wonder now, if we are so very different from our peers who waited five more years for marriage and children.

In the current discussion of “emerging adulthood,” a theory which is being applied to those of the millennial generation, financial independence, marriage, and having children are marks of full adulthood. But when I look at the description of what “emerging adults” experience, I have had the exact same feelings that unmarried peers also had. It is really only since we bought a house last year, that I sometimes really feel like an adult. There must be more to being an adult than marriage, money, and children.

Here are the five features of “emerging adulthood” from the 2006 review of the book by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Though the Twenties” (Oxford University Press, 2004) :

Age of identity exploration. Young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.
Age of instability. The post-high school years are marked by repeated residence changes, as young people either go to college or live with friends or a romantic partner. For most, frequent moves end as families and careers are established in the 30s.
Age of self-focus. Freed of the parent- and society-directed routine of school, young people try to decide what they want to do, where they want to go and who they want to be with–before those choices get limited by the constraints of marriage, children and a career.
Age of feeling in between. Many emerging adults say they are taking responsibility for themselves, but still do not completely feel like an adult.
Age of possibilities. Optimism reigns. Most emerging adults believe they have good chances of living “better than their parents did,” and even if their parents divorced, they believe they’ll find a lifelong soul mate.

The thing is, all of these features have been a part of my experience since I was married at 21. Obviously, during our four years in college these things were normal, but after our wedding we were still learning to be adults.

Going through the five features of “emerging adulthood,” I will begin with “age of identity exploration.” One of the great things about marrying young is that a couple can mature in adulthood together. Having met my husband when I was 18, on the cusp of so-called “emerging adulthood,” we have spent our whole adult life as friends. We spent as much time together as was reasonable, studying, praying, and hanging out. Our vocational discernment was largely influenced by our friendship, and we had a beautifully supportive community of friends. On the practical side, we cooked many dinners together at each other’s off-campus homes and worked the same student worker job. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other as very young adults, and we were able to do this in a safe community of the “bubble” of our conservative Catholic college campus.

Then we graduated, left the safety of our small community, got married, and moved to a brand new city with two minivans full of stuff to our name and only each other for local friends. Then we felt young in the wide world, but still hopeful as members of our generation. We helped each other in figuring out what we wanted out of life, but were also largely guided by our faith. I think, because of our Catholic identity, we did not feel the need to explore what we wanted in life after marriage. We were living the life we had chosen together, but still did not feel like adults.

The “Age of Instability” fits my experience well. Most of my life since high school has been characterized by the instability of moving from place to place. Since I was 18, I have lived in ten different homes, in dorms, houses, and apartments. Now that we have bought a house, I expect that we will have more home stability. I have lived in five different cities (including a semester abroad), but now that my husband has a tenure track position, I doubt that we will move again. It took a graduate degree and full time employment for us to find stability and to settle into a community. But unlike, our unmarried, nonreligious peers, we had the stability of each other, our extended families, and the community of the universal Church.

I definitely experienced the “Age of Self Focus.” Having my first child when my peers were not was very difficult for me. I found myself resenting my loss of freedom, and I was still very much self-focused as I took care of my child. Looking back, I see that a lot of my problem was getting used to taking care of an entirely dependent human being that required so much. For the first time in my life, my wants were not my priority. I struggled to take care of myself and another, but I still did not feel like an adult. I had already been restrained by marriage and children, but I still had a lot of selfishness to overcome. I think that self focus is something that is continually overcome, unless one is truly a saint.

Then there is the “Age of feeling in between,” which seems to me an unsurprising feature of maturing in adulthood. The youngest adults do not feel equal to the oldest adults in the workforce. I worked a part-time job my first two years of marriage, bringing my baby to work with me, but my co-workers all had children my age. They advised me on parenting, and had much more experience in our work. I was young and inexperienced in their eyes. My husband as a graduate student, under the tutelage of his professors and teaching classes of undergraduates, was very much in between. It seems that whether one is married or not, there is an adjustment time to the workforce.

Further, whenever we encountered a crisis situation, we were always calling our parents. Our car broke down, so we called for a tow, brought it to a shop, and then called our parents for advice about the repairs. We were facing many normal life experiences for the first time as adults, and felt like children doing so.

We were not immune to the “age of possibilities” either. We spent all of our last year in college hopeful about graduate schools and our marriage. When my husband was earning his PhD, we were hopeful about job prospects, though also realistic about the awful job market for prospective philosophy professors. When he did get his job, we were hopeful about our future. Even now, that we are finally “settled” with our family of five, in our house in the first ring suburb, we are hopeful about what our future will bring.

Millennials who have decided to settle down early in their twenties are still experiencing a lot of the same things that our unmarried peers are experiencing. In some ways it is more serious that jobs are hard to come by and student debt seems to have no end in sight. Many of the young Millennial families are living on one income or one and a half. For our children thrifty budgeting, home made foods, secondhand or clearance clothing, frequent Church attendance, siblings, and sharing rooms are just a part of life.

And as Catholics we have our faith. In our brave new world of social networking, we have online places of community. Thanks to our weekly obligation, we also have our local Catholic communities. Everywhere I have lived, a Catholic community has been my foundation. In my youth I had my family and parish. In college I had the whole campus and my closest friends. In graduate school, my husband and I quickly met as many young, Catholic couples as we could.

And now, we have found a great Catholic community in our new home. It is the real life Catholic community that has helped us preserve our values as a part of the generation who connects largely over the Internet, and the Internet has helped us to connect with Catholics across the globe. It is incredible, how a single prayer request on a person’s Facebook timeline can lead to hundreds and thousands of people praying. Millennials who have faith are certainly in the minority, and it will not be easy to preserve our values in society, but we will hold tight to our traditions and live.

Originally at Truth and Charity…