Down Shifting: Properly Ordering Family and Study

This semester has been a bit of a challenge for me. The challenge is balancing family and full-time studies. Being a full-time graduate student is a lot like working full-time. Not to mention that my entire program is online. I seldom interact with my professors. I am essentially teaching myself theology and philosophy with the school keeping track of my progress. I get feedback on papers, but none on tests. Our online discussions are not live and many professors are very hands off. That means the only piece I get from them is their lecture, which I read each week. This is not an attack on the school or my professors. That is the idea behind online studies. We are to be largely independent and it takes a certain type of student who can learn this way. I enjoy it and it gives me the freedom that I need for my vocation in life.

What started to get to me this semester is that my family is suffering by the rate at which I am doing the program. My goal was to finish all studies in 2 years and then the comprehensive exams and thesis within 6 months. I feel like I barely see my husband right now. He works 11 hours a day and then takes over for me so that I can study until bed time. Our weekends are based on my workload.  For instance, I have a term paper to write tomorrow and an essay on Sunday.  All due by Monday. I have to do it this way because we schedule my big projects and tests for the weekend. I am not a night owl and I stop retaining information if I try to study too late.

I really dislike missing out on family activities on Saturday. My husband has taken our daughter to the museum, park, library, on errands and I miss them. I love my studies and I knew they would come with sacrifice for all of us. I just started to wonder if my breakneck pace is necessary. It is through the summer. I go full-time to make the most use out of my VA benefits. They expire in September, but the whole program will be paid for with all of the benefits I receive by August. The VA has a set amount based on my enlistment contract that they pay me. All the extra money is going to a savings account for use on future tuition bills.

I sat down with my husband last night and asked him what he thought about the pace. I had seen a mother from my church at the store and she mentioned her surprise that I was full-time with a 3 year old. She didn’t know how I was doing it. And I started to think, neither do I. Is this necessary? I can have both worlds, but it doesn’t have to be in such a hurry. I am studying for the pure enjoyment of studying, not because I need my Master’s degree in two years. It loses its enjoyment when it turns into superficial memorization for tests and papers. I know how to play the game and get good grades, but that isn’t the goal. I want to learn this material.  Some of it is extremely complex. I am still wrapping my head around the Thomistic idea of required perfect contrition in the Sacrament of Penance or the theology of sin. It’s amazing to study and I really enjoy it, but in my rush, I don’t have the time to truly understand it in the depth that I desire.

My husband said I should go part-time starting in the fall. We can sacrifice 1/2 of my last VA check so that we can balance things better. He is exhausted. I am exhausted and our daughter is struggling with me being so busy. Reading Chesterton last night really helped me too. He pointed out how the culture does not order things properly. I am not a utilitarian means to an end. I am a unique human being with dignity and my daughter is the most important job God has given me. That does not mean that God doesn’t want me to study. He gave me these intellectual gifts for a reason. It just means that He wants me to slow down and so does my husband.

I have a tendency to race forward with things. This is one of those areas where I am still learning prudence. When I was in high school, I took Geometry freshman year even though my parents encouraged me to take Algebra again. I didn’t want to be “behind” in the Math requirements. But, I am not good at Geometry or Trigonometry. It was a miserable battle that stemmed from my own pride. I honestly didn’t start understanding Math until I was in undergrad in my mid-Twenties.

The point is that I don’t want to take something that I love, namely, theological studies and turn it into a rushed torment. I don’t want my family to become a burden to me as I poorly balance everything. Regardless of what our culture tells us, sacrifices occur when a mom divides her attention. This is not a judgment on people’s choices. It is a reality that we need to be aware of. Once we are aware, then we can make educated decisions that are best for our family and our goals. But, our family comes first. My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. I am going to say it again: My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. That is not what our culture tells us, but we need to be strong and ignore the lies. It doesn’t mean that my studies are unimportant, it just means that they are lower on the list. They are rightly ordered, but below my family.

Summer will be busy with my final full-time semester, but at least we will all know that things will slow down in the fall. I am looking forward to it. I can spend time with my family and enjoy my theological studies. That’s the whole point. I am the one who decides whether or not to stress out my family and myself in this whole process. I can rush, or I can down shift and take it slow. I can walk out of my MA having mastered the material, or I can walk out having passed a bunch of tests and papers. The choice is mine and I choose my family and my love of study. My daughter turns 4 this year and I will blink and she will be 18. These years are a gift and I need to be present during them and not focused elsewhere all of the time. So my choice is merely one of balance and proper ordering and in doing so, I get to enjoy all of the gifts that God has given me. Have a blessed weekend! It’s Laetare Sunday this weekend. Easter is so near!

Recommended Reading:
The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism by David Fagerberg (if you are new to Chesterton this is a great place to start)
Orthodoxy-GK Chesterton
The Everlasting Man-GK Chesterton

Small Success Thursday: My Amazing Husband

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I am a firm believer that women should compliment their husbands in public and voice struggles either in private with their husband or with a trusted friend if counsel is needed. If people hear me griping about my husband constantly it will change their view of him and that is wrong. Not to mention that marital disputes are private. With that in mind, I must confess that I am terrible at complimenting my husband in our conversations. I struggle with compliments with most people, except my 3 year old. Perhaps she is teaching me how to be better?

I can’t explain precisely why compliments are hard for me, and that includes taking them. It is not that I don’t have positive thoughts about people, although, I will admit to a few periods of gloom in my lifetime. This is on my mind, firstly, because my Confessor told me to work on it, and secondly, because my husband sacrifices a lot and he deserves my praise.

My husband has had to give up a lot while I go to graduate school full-time. He no longer gets Saturdays to tinker in the garage or work in the garden without our daughter. Instead, he runs errands, grocery shops, and keeps our daughter entertained while I study. He does this throughout the week too, while I study. It’s hard on me too. I have to sacrifice a lot of family time for the next 1.75 years. I get 3 months off a year and I need to make the most of that time. But, my husband works 50-60 hours a week, sometimes has to travel for work, and then comes home to take over for me so that I can hit the books. He is amazing and I need to make him more aware of that fact.

In my studies, I can get tunnel vision. I have a paper due this week! I actually have two due this week and one next week, followed by final exams. So my head is not exactly in the vocational game as it should be. Our daughter has started the difficult period of 3 years of age and has started throwing tantrums and lying. This is a time when really learning how to parent is crucial. While my head has been a bit distracted, my husband has really risen to the occasion.

This morning my daughter threw a couple of different tantrums and screaming fits. I texted my husband in exasperation. He clearly and reasonably explained the situation to me. I wasn’t paying attention like I should be. Our daughter is learning independence, but she is scared too. Her mommy is now studying and taking care of the family. That is a big change. So we need to teach her authentic freedom, but make sure that she knows we are here if she needs us. I listened to my brilliant husband and I was so grateful that I married him. God gave me this guy because he knows how to help me grow. He knows how to take the reins, when I need to sit and take the ride. Our daughter is in good hands.

So my small success for this week, is opening up my eyes to the man God gave me. The one who sacrifices so much for our daughter and me. The man who pushes me to dream, holiness, and selflessness. The one who is keeping (always does) this ship on course while I study away. My husband is awesome!

What are your small successes this week? Come join the conversation at CatholicMom.com by clicking on the picture at the top of this post.

I waited a long time for the right man to marry.
I waited a long time for the right man to marry.

Motherhood vs Talents: The Internal Battle and Trusting God

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My regular Confessor knows just how much I struggle with being a stay-at-home mom. The reasons are varied, but more than anything, I am trying to find the balance between doing what is best for my daughter and using the gifts that God has given me. I know that the best thing is for me to stay home at this point. I love being with my daughter all day, even when she is throwing her 3 year old tantrums. I get to see her develop and grow. I get to read with her and snuggle with her. I get to teach her the alphabet and about the Church. I am called to homeschool her, even though I know that will be a major challenge and sacrifice.

On the flip side of that, I get lonely and I crave intellectual stimulation at a deeper level. I have always been this way. My Dad and I spent hours talking philosophy and theology while I was in high school. That fire was stoked at a young age and has burned, even as embers, for decades. Unfortunately, this has turned my primary vocation into an internal battle ground.

There is no reason why being a stay-at-home mom should be pit against the gifts that God has given me. I turn it into a battle. I realized recently, that while I was focused on my own struggles, God has been taking care of it for me. It is possible for me to serve and teach my daughter and use the intellectual gifts that God has given me. It just happens that it will not be on my terms, but on God’s.

When I focus on gratitude and pay attention, I can see where God answers those struggles. I am a full-time graduate student. If that doesn’t fill an intellectual void then I don’t know what will. Out of nowhere an opportunity to teach theology for an online homeschooling academy popped up. I have an interview for the job today. Even if I don’t get the position, God is saying that options are available to me. I can serve my daughter and share my studies with other people. He is not asking me to sacrifice one for the other, but He is asking me to trust Him.

The world can make women feel like our only option is to work long hours outside of the home or stay home. It’s an all or nothing. Women who are stay-at-home moms are made to feel like second class citizens, while I know many women who work feel tremendous guilt for not being home. Women are not in competition with one another. We need to find the balance that works for our family and that is in line with our vocation and gifts. I made the decision before I got married that I would be home with any children we had, but that didn’t mean forever and it didn’t mean that I am lazy or lack intellectual capabilities.

I have found that these stereotypes or hostilities are most telling when someone learns about the life I had before motherhood. You did what?! As if my entire life has been me at home. You means stay-at-home moms have something to give?! It’s amusing and annoying at the same time. My husband and I both lived in Europe in our 20s before we met. I worked for government agencies and tried my hand at politics. I lived all over the U.S. As far as our culture is concerned, I truly lived in my 20s. I guess the difference is that none of those things satisfied me the way that motherhood and theological studies do.

Even though our culture can be anti-motherhood, I need to examine those areas where I have taken on that mantra. My battles come in part because I have accepted some areas of the cultural cry for productivity. That productivity is strictly defined by full-time work and long hours. I am firmly opposed to that idea.  For me, I want to find the balance between giving my daughter what she needs from me and serving others with my talents. That is where God wants me.

I need to look up more, so that I can see how God is working in my life. He provides. I have wandered a bit in the past few years as I adjust to this period of my life. It is an adjustment to go from the rugged individualism of my single life to the union of marriage and family. I am finding that this period is a lot quieter in many ways than the past. It is also noisier, at least volume wise. There is real peace in learning to live the vocation God wills for me. It takes the pressure off of me to try to figure it all out on my own.

Do you struggle in your vocation? If you do, let go. That is what my husband is always telling me. “Stop fighting it and just be.” If you haven’t figured it out by my blog, my husband has me more figured out than I do. God knows the desires of your heart and He will provide in His time. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need when we need it. So utter that prayer for guidance or tell him of your dreams.  Then make sure that you are looking up to see what wonderful things He has in store for you. It probably won’t be how you expect it or want it, but what you need will come. Embrace what He gives and that storm inside will quiet.

I actually have an interview for that teaching position today. Say a prayer for me. I am looking up, and if God wills it, I will begin teaching once a week for a homeschool academy this fall. If not, then there will be more on the horizon.

Do I Want To Be Right or Do I Want To Be Right?

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Last night I had an experience that I am not used to. I got a “B” on one of my graduate essays. I have not had anything except “A” grades on my writing assignments since high school.  Yes, I got an “A” on all of my papers in undergrad. To add insult to injury, my professor proceeded to re-write half of my essay. I was stunned. I felt rather dumb. I may have cried a bit from wounded pride. I proceeded to tell my husband that I got hammered on my most recent essay. He assumed that meant a “D” or something. My program requires a minimum of 80% to stay in the program. He laughed and pointed out what I already knew: I needed a lesson in humility and my professor, who is also a priest, just gave me one. He also told me (he has a Master’s degree) that graduate school is not easy and it shouldn’t be, so a “B” is a good grade.  I am still learning to accept that wisdom.

This opens up the question: Do I want to be right all of the time, or do I want to get the information right? Am I more interested in pride or am I interested in the truth? The reality is that High Scholastic sacramental theology is tough. It is hard to understand and even more so, when I lack a BA in philosophy.  So I am learning things backwards by running back to what reading I have done on Aristotle and trying to apply it.  I had an in-depth conversation with my Dad, who was a philosophy major, on causality.  He’s got 40 years ahead of me in study.

Some of my errors were that I missed parts of the material and some of it was me trying to figure out how this professor wants things formatted.  Any graduate student will tell you that half of the game is figuring out precisely what each individual professor is looking for on each assignment. But, more importantly, while there was red font all over my computer screen when I looked over my essay, I knew my professor cares enough for me to get it right. He re-wrote sections I missed in order for me to have the correct answers. This is not a professor on an ego trip. This is a priest-theologian who takes the truth very seriously and who wants me to do the same. Words matter and he pointed that out by crossing out some of my verb choices.

So, yes, I am humbled. This is not undergrad and this is not an easily mastered subject. In fact, theology and philosophy take a lifetime and even then the answers don’t come until we are standing before the Beatific Vision. This made me think about our interactions with others within the Church. What happened to me is something that we all need to think about. Do we want to know the truth, the actual truth, or do we want to cling to our own notions of the truth?

In my Fundamental Theology class, we spent a week focusing on the vocation of the theologian and our obligations to Holy Mother Church. Much to my surprise, *public* disagreement, even on points that are not irreformable is prohibited for theologians. They can get together in private to discuss concerns or theological points, but publicly voicing disagreement is unacceptable.  The reason being that the Magisterium is the ultimate authority and it is not our place to publicly disagree.  Many theologians help the Magisterium make decisions and clarify positions, but the ultimate authority rests on the Pope and the College of Bishops.

My question then is why has social media turned into such a place of dissent? Everyone thinks they have a say or opinion and that they have a right to share it publicly. Discussions are good and noble, but it should never appear that our personal opinion or ideology supersedes the Magisterial teaching authority.  We can scandalize the faithful and non-believers by passing off our own version of the Church instead of the truth.  Do I want to share the truth or do I want to share my ideology?

Before we go mouthing off about various topics, we should make sure that we know what we are talking about.  I am a big proponent of the autodidact, however, in these matters there needs to be a guide. We need to make sure that we are not deluding ourselves in our reading or fitting our ideology inside of the Church.  Think about that the next time you engage someone. I thought I had done well on my essay, and then my professor, a learned guide, showed me just how wrong I was on this topic.  How often are we wrong to the detriment of others?