On Being a Graduate Student Theologian and a Stay-at-Home Mom

In the coming weeks, the editor at Catholic Exchange will post a podcast interview we did together that focuses on my life as a graduate theology student and a mom, as well as my increasing interesting in abandoning ideology for the full expansiveness of the authentic Catholic Faith. I will post a link when it is published. It was my first 30 minute interview, so be easy on me. ;o)

The interview did get me thinking about what it is really like being a full-time graduate student of Theology and a mom who is homeschooling her 4 year old. The biggest word that comes to mind is: sacrifice. My husband, daughter, and I are engaged in an extensive period of sacrifice of time together as a family. There are many nights a week when my husband comes home and immediately watches our daughter until bedtime so that I can hit the books or write an essay or term paper. Our daughter spends all day with me, but she still wants my attention as I trudge through St. Augustine’s Confessions one night and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy the next, as is the case this semester with my full-time school load.

The reality is that something has to give and it does every semester. I do not get to spend Saturdays with my family right now because that is the best day of the week for me to get 6-8 straight hours of studying in. The truth-of-the-matter is that my time is divided and not so evenly. Some weeks my studies suffer and I race through material in order to understand enough to write a paper or engage in the discussion. I then come back to it when I have more time. Other weeks I barely see my family, especially in the last two weeks of the semester when term papers and final exams are due.

I am a mom, 35 years old, and will never be a great scholar. I have dreamed of a PhD or S.T.D since childhood, but there are not any programs available at present which are conducive for my vocation. Three-Five more years of study in another state would come at too much of a cost for my family. The nearest Catholic university to me with doctoral programs is 4.5 hours away: Washington, DC. I married a country boy and I promised him that I had left DC behind for good when we got married, so applying to CUA is out of the question.  God has given me a compromise. I had 3 years of Veteran’s Education Benefits left; plenty to cover the cost of my entire Master’s program. He opened up a window for me to pursue my academic dreams, but with the caveat that my vocation as a wife and mother comes first. That means using these gifts in a manner complimentary with my primary vocation. It also means a Master’s will have to be enough for now, or ever.

There are plenty of women who are called to scholarly work outside of the home. If I were younger and not a homeschooling mom, I could see it being a possibility for me and my family. And who knows?! If God does not provide us with anymore children, I may be one of those women who looks at a doctorate in her mid to late forties. For now I will focus on homeschooling my daughter and completing my Master’s degree and seeing where God calls me as a writer and potential speaker. I guess those years as a debater and debate coach might be useful down the line, God willing.

So what is it like being a graduate student theologian and a mom? It’s hard, beautiful, amazing, sacrificial, stressful, and a blessing. As is the case with all major tasks there are big sacrifices being made by my family and me. I try to spend the 3 months a year I have off of school focusing on fun activities with my daughter. My particular program at Catholic Distance University is a year round program with a month off in between every semester. With all of this sacrifice it may not make sense why we do it, but the reality is that God gave me a certain kind of intellect and he wants me to use it for His purposes. Part of that use comes from further formal study. I have no idea what God’s plan is for me after I graduate next year. In the past year alone I have been stunned to become a freelance writer, been on Ave Maria Radio/EWTN Radio twice, and been asked to do my first paid speaking engagement. I am happy with the pace right now and I am excited to see how He will use me in the mission He has set aside for me. Part of that mission is homeschooling our daughter and I am constantly learning, albeit slowly and poorly most days, that my vocation is primary and everything else is icing on the cake.

Advent Wreath Link-Up at CatholicMom.com

Today I am linked up with the CatholicMom.com Advent Wreath Link-Up.  If you have a camera and a blog be sure to share your wreath with us.

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Our Advent Wreath is our first as a family.  My husband and I have been married for 3.5 years.  We bought a simple gold ringed wreath at our parish bookstore.  I then went to the Dollar Tree and purchased fake pine garland and some simple white poinsettia flowers that have a hint of glitter.  We have four purple candles this year because last year’s candles melted in the attic.  Walmart only had purple and no pink.  The white flowers symbolizes that Christmas is soon to come.  Although we wait in the violet of Advent, soon we will give way to liturgical white to celebrate The Nativity of Our Lord.

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Advent is a season that teaches me a lot.  I struggle, like many people, with wanting instant gratification.  Advent teaches us to wait, it teaches us patience.  Instead of rushing headlong into Christmas, we are told to become quiet, reflective, repentant, and expectant.  The Savior of the World is coming to us at Christmas, and he will come again.  It is not a day we check off of a list after hours of shopping.  Instead, it is the day God came to rescue us.  It is when the fullness of salvation story became clear.  It is also a season that lasts beyond December 25th.  We live the Incarnation each and every single day as followers of Christ.

May Our Lord bless you in the quiet of the Advent season and prepare your heart to receive Him at Christmas.

Why Moms Need Other Moms

 

I think there is an undercurrent in our society that convinces moms that we should be able to do it all, on our own.  We need to be supermom; standing strong and taking care of our families, communities, and jobs.  Society tells us that we should not need help outside of our homes.  To ask for help is to be weak.  And we all know that weakness is the worst thing we can be in a society that worships the strong.  We are not supposed to admit that we don’t have it all together.

Gone are the days, at least in our culture, of doing community laundry at the river, or collecting water from the town well.  These were tasks that women gathered together for in order to share the workload, and quite frankly, to talk, socialize, and commune.  Women are social beings and instinctively know that we are not supposed to go it alone. Motherhood and marriage are tough.  That is why they are paths to sainthood.

The amount of socializing that we like to do definitely depends on our temperament and personality.  Some of us are introverts, which means that we like to visit with others in a limited amount of time, but we still need that interaction.  Some women are more extrovert oriented and really enjoy the company of others.  No matter our personality, we need guidance and support from other women, especially other moms.  Why do you think that Pinterest and Facebook are so popular?  It is a way for women who are isolated from everyone else as they stay home with their children throughout the day, to connect with other people.  It is a place to feel validated or to unload.  Social media attempts to alleviate the enclosure of our post-modern lives, but they are not enough.  We need actual contact with people that does not come through our computer screens.

Today I went to my first Mom’s Meet Up at my parish.  I had seen them advertised, but I had missed them for one reason or another in the past.  One of the reasons being that I am awkward around new people.  I am terrible at small talk.  With me you can just skip over the pleasantries and jump right into current affairs, politics, theology, or if you prefer, diapers and childrearing.  I really dislike the conversation that is predicated upon “so what do you do for a living”.  I am a wife and a mom.  Next topic.  I force my way through small talk, since I have gathered that is a necessary form of social interaction, but on the inside I am wondering when we will either find something we have in common or move onto something of more substance. Patience is not my middle name.  More than anything, I just hate feeling awkward.

I decided that it was time to check out the Mom’s group.  I already knew some of the ladies involved, and they are very nice women.  They also have children closer to my daughter’s age, which most of my friends do not.  Most of my friends have children who are at least 7 years old all the way up to adulthood.  So, this morning I packed Michaela up and decided to do a little penance by taking my toddler to daily Mass.  If there is one thing that should free souls from Purgatory it is dealing with a toddler during Mass.  What?! The consecration is coming up.  That is the perfect time to yell out “hello” to Father.  Let’s play peek-a-boo with mommy’s veil.  She didn’t really need it anyway, right?  We made it through Mass without any meltdowns.  Sure Rosaries and hymnals were scattered across the floor.  It’s an obstacle course for people to maneuver through on their way up to receive the Eucharist.  Daily Mass is done in our small Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  I digress.  Clearly I need to write about toddlers and Mass at a later date.

After Mass, we went to the Mom’s group that was meeting in the parish nursery.  That way our kids can play while we exchange war stories, I mean, how our lives are going.  An amazing thing happened when I arrived.  I was introduced to the women who I did not know and then we went straight into talking about our lives.  No small talk or awkward chit chat.  It was like I already knew the secret handshake by the sheer act of being a mom.  At first I was so amazed that I did not know how to react.  Am I supposed to already talk about my life?  You mean I don’t have to justify my life choices in this social setting?  Did somebody already mention how awful Obamacare is?  You mean I can talk about my HCG reactions without getting strange looks?  These women were comfortably talking about their husbands, kids, medical care, raising a family, the government shutdown, etc.  No pretenses, no fear of social rejection.  I had found the 21st Century well where women gather to talk.

There is this unspoken fear among mothers that we are being judged by other mothers.  What?! You sculpted the David in your child’s PB&J?!  I was lucky to find a slice of bread and peanut butter to put together. Your kids sit still during Mass with their hands neatly folded on their laps? My daughter threw Cheerios at the couple sitting in front of us and she was the one singing something that sounds like a cross between English, Latin, and a cow mooing during the Agnus Dei. Okay, so this might be a bit exaggerated.  She sounds more like a barking dog.

Here’s the thing, fellow moms, we need to stop worrying about judging each other and just help each other.  Stay-at-home moms like me who have infants or toddlers face a rather daunting task of raising their child alone all day.  My husband works all day and I do not see most of my friends during the day because they either work or homeschool their children who are much older than Michaela.  Moms need to get out of the house.  We need a chance to unload.  We need to be able to admit that we are exhausted and do not have it together.  We need to encourage one another on the path.  Christian community is about lifting each other up.  So let’s stop worrying about other parents judging our choices.  Absolutely no one can mother our children better than we can.  That is why God gave us the child or children he gave us.  He knew that we were the best for them and they are the best for us.  So sign off of Facebook or Pinterest or whatever other social media you are using to combat your loneliness and isolation, and head out to your parish to meet other moms.  If there is not a group in your church, then start one.  Also, take your kid to the library to meet other moms there.  We are not meant to be cooped up in our houses alone with our children all day.  This is the secret that the women before us understood so well.