We can work it out

Ring_Flickr_arsheffieldA friend tells this story about his marriage: He and his wife were going through one of those periods that predictably happen to most marriages but that still blindside couples. It seemed that way more of his wife’s time was taken up with their young children than with him, as if they were co-owners of a small child-raising business instead of a couple who loved each other. He was starting to contemplate an early exit. He was probably imagining that somewhere there might be a woman who’d be more interested in him, who’d talk with him about things other than potty training and carpooling and kids’ swimming lessons.

He confided in his friend, a guy he’d known since college, expecting a sympathetic ear. Instead he got an earful. His buddy told him that no, he wasn’t supporting an early exit; he was standing in favor of his friend’s marriage. He told his friend to quit feeling sorry for himself and to get his act together as a husband.

My friends in 12-step programs—Alcoholics Anonymous and the like—recount similar conversations. These folks try to practice spiritual honesty and admit their own shortcomings. So if they complain about their spouse, they are more likely to hear things like, “So what was your part in this?” or, “Sorry, I have to side with your husband when I hear that story.”

These spouses can thank their lucky stars they have such friends. Not everyone does; friends can, sometimes unwittingly, undermine the marriage when hearing about marital complaints. That’s one eye-opener in the new edition of the excellent book Take Back Your Marriage (Guilford) by William Doherty, professor and director of the Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota. Doherty has found that more splitting couples are using “soft” reasons for divorce, such as “We’ve grown apart” or “We can’t talk anymore.” “Hard” reasons—infidelity, abuse, addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling—are cited less often.

Doherty chronicles the outside influences that nudge couples toward divorce. In the media the till-death-do-us-part marriage is increasingly presented as a near impossibility. Consumer culture whispers to us, “You deserve the best,” prompting spouses to dwell on how their mate isn’t meeting their needs, writes Doherty.

Couples can be pushed toward divorce by incompetent therapists or “neutral” ones who refuse to take a stand in favor of preserving a marriage when possible. And sometimes well-meaning family members and friends can sabotage the marriage: One of Doherty’s friends told him how every time she complains about her husband, her friends ask, “Why are you still there?”

Most of us eagerly snap up any tool to help us be better parents, but we think we should be able to handle marriage on our own. Big mistake. Doherty beats the drum for marriage education—books, classes—to help couples stay strong and navigate the inevitable rough waters together. Bill Boomer, whose advice for stepparents appears on this page, says couples in second marriages with kids especially need knowledge and skills; they don’t know what they don’t know and can become quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of stepfamilies.

And hey, if you have friends who’ll jolt you out of your marital self-pity parties, take them out for a nice dinner and say thanks.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Photo: ©Flickr/arsheffield


Fast, yes, but not from candy

chocolate RGB mgyqtSyGiving up chocolate for Lent is one way to fast, but in Bringing Lent Home with St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families (Ave Maria), author Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle offers different ways to fast for each day of Lent. Try some yourself and with your spouse and children—each is just for one day.

  • Today, fast from speaking ill of anyone, even if it is justified. Pray for them instead.
  • Today, fast from procrastination. If there’s something you need to do, do it in a way pleasing to God.
  • Today, fast from making excuses. Do what is asked of you.
  • Today, fast from being prideful. In everything today, give praise or credit to someone else.
  • Fast from technology today. Avoid TV, surfing the Internet, playing video games.
  • Fast from whining. If something disappoints you, offer it to God and trust him with it

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.



Person to person

Pope Francis greets Catholic faithful as he arrives for his final mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de JaneiroSome weeks back I went to hear Dr. Paul Farmer speak in Chicago along with his mentor, liberation theologian and champion of the poor Father Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru. Farmer, if you’ve never heard of him, is a Harvard physician, and a Catholic, who has almost single-handedly revolutionized health care for the poor in developing countries over the past three decades. I expected an audience of 100 or so, mostly of older folks. Instead I beheld a hotel ballroom packed to the rafters with nearly 2,000 people, almost all of them under the age of 25, many of them Catholic high school students.

What message did Farmer and Gutiérrez have for the throngs of eager young people who came out on this chilly evening? I could best sum it up in five words: “We must accompany the poor.” Not coincidentally, it’s the same message being advocated by Pope Francis, another favorite of young people—because they observe that he practices what he preaches.

They love that he invited four homeless men to join him for breakfast on his birthday. They love the story told by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who visited him in Buenos Aires several years ago: Then Cardinal Bergoglio made the airport pickup himself, in a borrowed car. “We passed all the great sights, but did I hear about them? No,” said McCarrick in a talk at Georgetown University recently. “The only thing I heard was, ‘Under this bridge is the worst slum in the city. I try to visit often.’ ” McCarrick stressed, “He doesn’t just reach out to the poor, but to the individuals who are poor.”

You saw the key word there: individuals. What if, this Lent, we found a way for our family to get to know some poor individuals in person, by name? “They have much to teach us,” says the pope to encourage us. Perhaps our local parish could help: The March 2014 U.S. Catholic magazine reports that during the weeks when Lumen Christi Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota hosts a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, parish families—children included—come in to host and have supper with them. What a great idea.

Our family’s monthly visits to a homeless shelter in Chicago, kicked off by one of my kids having to answer, “What is your family doing for Lent?” for a homework assignment, have been eye-opening. As “clothing ministers” on certain Thursday nights, we accompany folks as they choose from donated pants, shirts, socks, coats, hats, gloves, and (when we’re lucky) long johns. It’s been great to see my son and daughter bemoaning the lack of blankets or size 32 pants on a given night. My husband, to my great amusement, always seems to get the guys who shop just like I do, taking their sweet time browsing, patching together a decent outfit from odds and ends.

We all wear name tags—so we can learn one another’s names. Some of the guests at the shelter are nice; some not as much—just like the rest of us. And I learned that nope, not even homeless folks in Marquette Park want those old clothes with holes or giant ink stains. And why should they? I wouldn’t.

It’s wonderful to write checks for the poor; to donate clothes, toys, food. Bravo. But Paul Farmer, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Pope Francis suggest that we summon our courage and take the next step. Our children will thank us.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Photo: ©Flickr/Semilla Luz


Survey: Should kids have their own cell phones?

kidsandtechnology_flickr_criminalintent_forTwitterPlease take the U.S. Catholic survey that accompanies this essay.

A couple years ago, when our four kids ranged in age from nine to 17, nine-year-old Jamie made a comment that a child in her class had an iPhone. “Jamie, you need to start planning now that you’ll be the last kid in your class to get a phone,” Liam, then 14, said. “Not only will you be the last kid in your class, but most of the kids a few grades younger than you will get phones before you do,” added Jacob, 17. Eleven-year-old Teenasia chimed in, “Yep, only one other girl besides me in the fifth grade doesn’t have her own phone or iPod.”

Looking in the rearview mirror of the minivan at Jamie, who sat behind me, I decided not to point out that the majority of kids in her third-grade class didn’t yet have phones or devices. Instead, I took my cue from my older children and went the other direction. “Yes, they’re right. You’ll probably be the last,” I said. “That’s just the way our family is. But maybe you’ll get one by high school.”

The two older boys went on to exaggerate, in the way only teenage boys can, the trials and tribulations they faced by the decision of their dad and me to hold off on allowing them phones until they were in grades 9 and 8, respectively.

“We were cut off from the world,” said Jacob.

“Completely,” said Liam. “And you will be, too. Because that’s what Mom and Dad want for you.”

Looking back, I still smile when I think of that conversation—everyone was laughing by the end of it, discussing the lack of pre-teen cell phone/device use in our family as if it were an inevitable genetic trait that no one could do anything about.

My husband Bill and I have serious reasons for not allowing our tweens or young teens to have personal devices that can go online or text, but we spend almost no time discussing this issue with Jamie, now 11, or Teenasia, now 13—not because we’re unwilling to talk about our philosophy, but because it doesn’t come up that often. The girls know there is no chance of getting their own phones or iPod touches anytime in the near future, and they don’t bring it up. Much, I suppose, as other children don’t ask their parents for a horse. (We don’t have horses, either, just in case you were wondering.)

My husband and I hold off on cell phone/device usage for our tween and teen children because we feel that when a child is under 14 or so, the risks of the device outweigh the benefits. We believe this risk/benefit ratio changes somewhere around eighth grade or high school entrance, when it’s more important for an adolescent to be able to connect and communicate with friends.

According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Pew Research Center, about one in five children and teens who go online will receive an online solicitation for sexual activity. And 95 percent of children and teens who are part of a social network site will witness cruel behavior among their peers. In addition, studies show a connection between texting, social networking, and anxiety.

The average age at which a child in the U.S. receives his or her first cell phone has been dropping for the past decade. Currently, the average age is 11 years. Much of what 10-, 11- or 12-year-old children have to say to each other is appropriate; some of it is hilarious and some is just childish. But the dark side of tweens is that on their way learning how to develop friendships, they make poor choices. They can even be cruel. Texting can be a tool for gossip; for silent treatment; a way to bully and demean. It can be a way to try out obscene language or sexually-charged statements (or pictures) outside of parents’ range.

My husband and I have decided that late elementary school is our final chance to be the main voice in our children’s lives and we are choosing not to hand this opportunity over to our children’s peers or to those strangers who may seek to exploit them. In doing so, we believe we are both protecting our children and giving them the gift of a few more years of childhood, to grow into the people they are created to become.

Before I’m dismissed as anti-technology, let me stress that technology is a part of our family’s daily life. I have the latest version of the iPhone and text regularly with friends and family members; my husband has been streaming TED talks this week on our smart TV as our daughter does exercises for a recent knee injury; we bank and shop online. Our oldest son, now sophomore at Notre Dame, has a part time job with their IT department as tech support. Among us, we own one Mac, three PC laptops, an iPad, four smart phones, and an e-reader.

But despite a family embrace of technology, neither of our daughters has her own iPod or cell phone. Our sons didn’t get their phones or devices—or email or Facebook accounts—until high school. If either daughter needs to go online on the family Mac, a parent will stay in the room with her. We have high levels of network security blocking possible porn sites from being accessed—either intentionally or not.

When our children are tweens or early teens, they are not allowed to use the family computer, the TV or the school iPad without permission. When we grant permission to the girls, it is almost always for a school project. Bill and I know what is being accessed or watched, and it’s usually for no more than 30 minutes at a time. If a school project is complex, we extend the time as necessary and are on hand to help our daughters learn how to efficiently use a search engine to reduce time spent aimlessly searching for information regarding the subject at hand.

It’s because of our understanding of technology and respect of it that we draw such firm limits. Statistics and research support parents who decide to keep kids away from social media and device ownership until they are older. A study out of the University of Southern California, published in the journal Pediatric showed that children aged 10-14 who texted frequently (more than 100 texts per day) were more likely to engage in sexual activity than their non-texting or less-frequently texting peers. And cases of sexual predators trolling kids’ online activity are well-documented.

Studies also show it is the kids themselves who are often their own worst enemy—their natural curiosity drives them to pornographic sites (28 percent of girls and 53 percent of boys ages 12-15 report use of sexually explicit media). Their still-developing sense of judgment can lead to decisions made in seconds that can have consequences that live indefinitely in cyberspace.

When our children were infants, we baby-proofed our home; we put up safety gates in front of the stairs and covered outlets. As they got older, the gates came down and we took the plastic off our outlets. The stairs and electricity were still there, but we had taught our children how to use them. Now, we must do the same with their use of texting, social media, and online access. The gates need to be up for awhile—not forever—but until our children are developmentally able to use the technology more safely.

The danger of tweens texting, having online access, and being part of social media sites is that parents are cut out of the loop too soon. An added problem can be too-easy access to games that suck time away from homework and the family. Texting drives tween communication underground, where it cannot be monitored or guided. A good friend of mine gave her 12-year-old son an iPod touch, thinking he’d mostly use it for music, but instead found out—several months later—that he was messaging friends late into the night, long after his parents went to bed. In doing so, he compromised both his health and his relationship with his parents, which became strained because of the breach in trust.

A sixth grade teacher at our local public middle school told me that just about every one of his 100 or so parent-teacher conferences included frustrated comments from the parent about the difficulty they have in managing their children’s time on their devices. “The devices are taking the child away from the family, from their school work, and from doing other things in their free time,” he said. “Parents give the device without realizing that it is extremely difficult to manage it, and set limits. It’s so much easier to hold off from getting a device than it is to manage it once the child has it.”

Will children deprived of a device in elementary school feel out of step with their peers, who carry smartphones, have Facebook accounts, and play games against each other online? Sometimes, yes. When she was in sixth grade, Teenasia came out of basketball practice crying. Many of her friends had received new devices as Christmas gifts, and after practice, the girls were all texting each other and posting Instagrams. Teenasia felt left out and alone.

As she sat next to me in the front seat, tears streaming down her face, I was sad she felt so excluded. I spoke to her sympathetically, acknowledged it was hard, then explained to her gently why Bill and I believe children should wait until they are older to have their own device. (Sometimes even when a child doesn’t ask for the horse, you need to explain why the horse is not possible.) She remained quiet—not arguing, not agreeing—just crying.

The difficult evening passed, and several months later, when a few of Teenasia’s friends got into some texting gossip trouble, Teenasia said to me, “I know this sounds weird, but sometimes I’m actually glad I don’t have a phone. I’m not sure I’d want to deal with all that—it’s a lot of drama.”

While our family life is far from conflict-free, I can say that I never have arguments with my daughters regarding time spent texting, gaming or going online. My daughters may feel a pang of envy every so often at school or at parties when they see friends with devices, but when they are at home, they are present to their dad and me in a way that perhaps some of their friends are not.

Bill and I believe firmly that the preteen years offer a rich opportunity for parents to talk with children; do activities together; impart values. Devices can make it too easy for children to turn to peers—rather than parents—for guidance and support. Bill and I are so grateful to God for the privilege of guiding and forming these children—lent to us for such a short while. Our response to God is to parent them with both intention and care. And for that, no device is needed.

By Annemarie Scobey, who writes for At Home with Our Faith and who is also the author of Discovering Motherhood: An Extraordinary Journey through Everyday Life (Ambassador Books, 2006). She lives in Glendale, Wisconsin.

From U.S. Catholic magazine, used with permission.

Flickr photo cc by Criminalintent

– See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/kidsandtechnology


A thousand small compromises, part two

Couple winter walk RGB 2dMEpAK…continued from last week  

Prayer helps perspective. For Miguel, married for 12 years to Beatriz, compromise is easier when he is actively taking time to pray. “When I spend a few minutes in prayer at the beginning of my day, I find that our marriage flows better,” he says. “I have an easier time letting go of my own agenda and being able to compromise when I am prayerful.”

Conversely, Miguel noticed that during a recent rocky patch in their marriage, neither he nor his wife were praying. Continue reading

A thousand small compromises

Couple SmilingWhen Brian and Jenny, parents of three, were first married, they struggled with Brian’s attendance at the many gatherings of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins hosted by Jenny’s side of the family. Feeling that the gatherings were taking away from time with his friends and his life outside the extended family, Brian would often come late, leave early, or skip events entirely. “This led to frustration and hurt feelings on both our parts,” Jenny says.

Eventually the two decided that Jenny would tell Brian which gatherings she most wanted him to attend. Brian, in turn, would commit to attending those from start to finish, but with the understanding that he would get a pass on the less important events. “Interestingly, after I changed my expectations and took a more low-key approach, Brian joined me at most gatherings, and he was always at the most important ones. Now this is no longer an issue in our marriage,” Jenny says.

Compromise is a staple of any good marriage, but it can be elusive. Continue reading

Good night, to-do list

Midnight DeadlineEvery weeknight, sometime between 9:30 and 10:45 p.m., my husband will stand and say, “I’m heading up.” He climbs the stairs, stops in the bathroom, and gets into bed. This takes about approximately a minute and 47 seconds. He might read for a while. Then he falls asleep.

“I’m heading up” has become the cue for my mind to zoom around to all the things I meant to do that evening but did not. Did I make my lunch? Sign that school form? Oh look, I meant to wash those pots in the sink. Did I answer that one e-mail? As I check the computer, I’ll invariably find another e-mail or two that need answering. (I’ve discovered that legions of working women are e-mailing after 9:30 at night.) And then there’s the casual announcement by a child that a giant trifold board is required for the project due tomorrow. Calling it quits for the night is hard because my worth depends on how much I accomplished in the past 24 hours—right?

At Home with Our Faith has had “busy parents” in its subhead for many years. Somewhere back in the 1980s, it became an accepted fact that parents are ridiculously busy. The 1970s recession, plus the loss of many jobs that paid a real living wage, meant that many working- and middle-class people could no longer support a family on one parent’s salary.

Sometimes I wonder if the time demands of modern parents are beginning to rival those of pioneer parents who had to butcher their own meat and make their own clothes. Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,105 other followers