Sunday, April 6, 2008

What it means to be a stay-at-home mother...

Mike, Mom and me at the park

Mom and me

Sunday morning I went to a talk/discussion/brunch at the Catholic Women's House by Mrs. Boyle about stay-at-home mothers and the benefits brought to a family when a mother stays at home. Here are my notes from the talk...and then I will share my thoughts on the issue.

Family life is set-up in a way such that a stay-at-home mother has certain responsibilities that she can drop if a crisis within the family arises....could be a struggle her husband or kids are having

She is able to establish a real home vs. boarding house, she pays attention to the needs of her husband and children so that any potential challenge can be addressed before it even becomes a crisis

She helps her husband be a better husband and father by informing him of any concerns she notices, because often her husband can offer a solution/suggestion that the wife might not have considered. this is great...because while women are natural multi-taskers, men often do better focusing on one thing at a time

Analogy of a blanket...when you go to shop for one, you don't want one that will be too short/narrow for the bed itself, you want a little extra to hang over. Mothers who stay at home are able to give their full attention to domestic life, without the additional commitment/responsibility of a 40-hour a week job.

A stay-at-home mother makes these things possible:

*Enough sleep for all family members

*Proper nutrition/meals/eating together

*Enough family life

*Time on Sunday spent together (grocery shopping can be done another day than Sunday)

*Enough space for children to bring friends into the home

*Time for the mother to develop friendships with other women/mothers so she is not solely dependent on husband for emotional release

*Enough time for prayer, full participation in the sacraments

There are sacrifices made by being a family where the mom stays at home:

Living off of the husband's salary alone may mean financial struggle

Weapon: stay at home mother has more time to exercise frugality in shopping/meal planning/budgeting/etc.

Remember, there is a stress level at every economic level

Extremely wealthy families have difficulties because of money as do families with less money

There are careers compatible with that can be done on the side and compartmentalized for when the mother has time to do work for a little additional income

Think about some of the positions in schools: Nutritionist, Dean of Students, Teacher

These are all roles the mother plays....but why is there perhaps more society-recognized dignity if a person is receiving a salary for it rather than providing these services for her own family members?

We are defined by our careers...(or for us college students, our majors!) and when someone meets you...immediately it's What do you do for a living?

Perhaps we should define ourselves by our relationships....a mother might say, I am a mother of 4 and Bob's wife

Education is never wasted...if a mother gives up a career for the sake of raising her family and staying at home...those skills/knowledge from her education will be useful for her community and family...and there is also a potential for her returning to work later in her life

Do consider, however....that debt from student loans will make it difficult for a young mother to stay at home, especially if she just graduated from graduate school/law school/med school, often obligating her to work to pay that off

Ways of pursuing intellectual growth as a stay-at-home mother:

Having conversations with friends about intellectual topics

ex. book/film clubs

Pursuing studies of topics that interest you or relate to a way you can best help your family

ex. listening to books on tape while cooking, studying ADD if your child is diagnosed with that disorder

Women who choose to stay at home for the sake of their families are under-appreciated and misunderstood in today's society. Please understand that in no way am I trying to undermine women who work and take care of their families. I know this is definitely possible and I know many mothers who do this day after day seamlessly. Instead, I approach this issue from the perspective that women that stay at home are doing it not out of laziness or a desire to become Martha Stewart, but instead because they care to holistically tend to the needs of their husbands and children while keeping order in the household.

My own mother stayed at home while my brother and I were young and up until we entered school. Even after that, she only worked part-time. I am extremely grateful to her for this time, because all though I am a little young to remember most of it, I know it was a sacrifice on her part, and she took the time to tend to the small details of our childhood: taking us to museums, praying with us, going on picnics, making us good food, setting up play dates for us with her friends' kids, reading to us, etc. We could have spent our first years of life with baby-sitters and at daycare, but instead we got to spend it with our mother, what a blessing! Even after we began to go to school, she only had a part-time job, with an extremely flexible schedule so she could be there when we got home from school and have done the tasks of running the household. In fact, she didn't get a full time job until I started middle school, and I am the youngest.

In my work at the Children's Museum back home in Indy, I have noticed how well stay-at-home mothers interact with their children, especially those who come on a regular basis during the weekdays for particular preschool programs. Because they are constantly with their children, they become aware of their interests/skills/talents/struggles/habits and can best help them achieve their full potential. I know from my own experience, that while kids don't always tell you what they are feeling all the can often tell from observing their body language and interactions with their friends how they feel and what excites them.

The Catechism says, "In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith...thus the home is the first school of Christian life and 'a school for human enrichment.' Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous--often repeated--forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life." (Catechism 1655-1656)

Mothers have such a beautiful gift to be able to shape and form the life of each child she all aspects of their lives. Children of all ages can be nurtured appropriately in the truth, and mothers need to be instruments of holiness and set an example of sacrifice in the gift she gives to her husband and children.

Here are my questions for you to respond to...or even just ponder!!

If you are a woman:

What are your concerns that would prevent you from being a stay-at-home mother? Do you see any disadvantages?

Would you feel fulfilled by giving your attention solely to the needs of your family and society as a stay-at-home mother?

If you are a man:

How would you feel if your current/future wife stayed at home? Would you encourage her to do so?

In a society where there is an increasing number of stay-at-home fathers, would you be willing to stay home and raise the kids if your wife wanted to work and pursue her career and it was best in the interest of your family?

I am interested to hear what you have to say about this topic, I think more discussion will lead to a greater understanding of why women choose to stay at home. As a college student, obviously my attention right now is mostly focused on my academic future...however, this talk has made me think a little more about the future. I aspire to be an immigration attorney, and one of the great aspects of this career would be that legal know-how, whether or not you are actively practicing law, can be helpful to so many people. If I get married someday, I would like to be able to stay at home with my children, especially when they are young. I could definitely see myself working out of the home, taking cases on a small base for an additional source of income for the family or handling legal issues of a small organization or on a as-needed basis. I am an intellectual person, and I think before hearing Mrs. Boyle speak, I was always a little apprehensive to express my desire that if I were a mother I would want to stay home with my children. In a way, I thought that would be saying I would settle for less. However, I think I was missing the point...choosing to stay at home is a noble and worthy profession! By having the responsibility of motherhood, I would be saying "yes" to raising a soul...which is a little intimidating because it is such a wonderful privilege. Anyone who thinks all stay-at-home mothers do is frost cakes and wipe noses is kidding themself. Stay-at-home mothers are those women you see volunteering their time in their children's schools and at church, balancing checkbooks wisely to make sure ends meet for their families, learning how to make sure the family eats well by learning how to cook delicious, nutritious meals, keeping a warm friendly home welcoming of others.

So thank the stay-at-home mothers you know today for their generosity for responding to a real need of the family!!

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is it March already?

You can probably, if not definitively, decipher that I am a college student. If for no other reason, you can tell because I wrote on my first blog that I would follow-up with a blog the following day, which turned into a few days....and a few weeks. It's called procrastination, which is not a virtue, but rather a vice I will write about one of these days....if I get around to it. (laugh, that was a joke!) I actually feel like I have a huge wealth of information now that I wish to blog on, I have heard several speakers in the last weeks, have been doing more reading for my Catholic Studies course, and some independent reading, and finding a thread of virtue in all of it!! This is good news. I want to begin with Nichomachean Ethics because I think Aristotle does a fantastic job of explaining the virtues in a forward manner that explains why we should even pay heed to them and their role in human happiness. I am just going to recap a few key points, but I encourage you to read the full text as this is good stuff.

Here is the link to Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics text online!

In Aristotle’s first book of Nichomachean Ethics, he writes:

“Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.” (Book I, Chapter 7)

Happiness, then, is our key objective. It doesn't matter if you are young, old, religious, non-religious, intellectual, athletic, female, male; each one of us strives for what we perceive will bring us happiness. Happiness, by its very nature is an end. It is not the means to another end product or good. What is interesting, is that I think we often get confused about what happiness means. Why? Because the definition of happiness is defined by the type of life a person leads. So how should we define happiness? Is it an accumulation of wealth? Not a chance. What about winning awards and accolades for our successes? Nope. For the sake of this blog, since I want to focus on happiness as found through the exercise of the virtues, I will define happiness as Aristotle defines it:

"Happiness is an activity of the soul expressing complete virtue" (Book I, Chapter 13)

Now it is important to also define virtue, borrowed also from Aristotle:

"Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean" (Book II, Chapter 6)

For those of you who are a little rusty on your math...(or just don't enjoy it!) a mean is an average of 2 or more numbers. So the mean of 2, 4, and 6 would be 4 because the sum of the three numbers, divided by 3 equals 4. In the same way, a virtue has both an excess and a deficiency which are both vices. The virtue of generosity (in which the virtue is the mean) has the excess of ostentation and the deficiency of stinginess. In order to reach the mean of generosity, Aristotle advises us to shoot for the less contrary extreme. Which would it be? Honestly, in the case of generosity, and with many of the other virtues, I think this involves doing an examination of oneself to identify where your weakness lies. I know that I tend to be more stingy than ostentatious...more likely to be reluctant to give, than one who gives to others out of pride. So then, by aiming towards ostentation, Aristotle would say I will hit the ballpark of generosity. However, I think a great question to ask now..and I am sure I will bring it up again is: Are idealistic virtues setting us up for failure or success? If we assume that perfect virtue can never fully be attained, why strive for it?

I think that is a good place to take a break from Aristotle for the time being. Now for a little story from NPR:

take a look!

I came across this article which is taken from NPR. I have supported my local NPR Station, WFYI TV/Radio ever since my sophomore year of high school when I began helping coordinate volunteers from my school to answer phone calls during pledge drives to raise money for public broadcasting. I consider NPR a very reputible news source which has provided great family programming, unbiased news about interesting topics that are essential to becoming a better global citizen. Anyways, the article below is written about a family that has formed a group in Falls Church, Virginia to teach preschoolers from many different faith backgrounds about virtues; this week's lesson focuses on helpfulness. What is my response to this? I'm ecstatic. Teaching preschoolers about virtues is not only bound to develop their character to be better formed for their childhood and early school years, but this also proves that while religion is an advantageous and praiseworthy way to teach morals to the young, it is not restrictive to only religion. I think this relates to our discussion of aristotelian virtue because Aristotle approaches virtue from a much different stance than a theologian would...while he certainly referred to the gods in his written work, he is considered a non-believer. Yet, the way Aristotle puts into words the rational and truth found through human reasoning is the foundation for St. Thomas Aquinas' great work, Summa Theologiae. The principles of virtue are indeed found through natural law and reasoning, and is one of the wonderful blessings of the human intellect. As a Christian, I am convicted that divine revelation picks up where human reasoning and intellect leaves off. Anyways...what are your reactions? Are preschool virtue groups helpful or harmful to society? If you had or have children, would you participate in such a group?

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

First Post!

Hello everyone! I am very excited to be entering the blogging community, and equally as excited to see what this experience will have in store for me, as it took me awhile to get my act together and take the plunge. I'll start off by introducing myself. I am a freshman Catholic Studies & Philosophy double-major at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. My parents and older brother, Michael, live in Indianapolis, IN where I spent my entire childhood. Indiana truly is home sweet home to me and God-willing I hope to return there after college. I came here to Minnesota primarily for the amazing Catholic Studies program that St. Thomas offers. Needless to say, I have no regrets...I feel at home in Minnesota, and I am so blessed to have the support of great friends, professors, and faculty here. I think everyone anticipates the changes college will have on you....and unfortunately in most cases, those changes tend to veer towards the negative. However, having surrounded myself by friends who support and affirm my values, I have begun experiencing change for the better, in the academic, social and spiritual aspects of my life. My Catholic faith is the shaping influence on my life, and I feel constantly drawn to Jesus Christ, longing to bring Him glory through my thoughts, words, and actions. How hard it is to truly live a Christ-centered life, but how can I strive for anything less?

My hopes for this blog are the following: to provide a place for open discussion/dialogue about the nature of human virtue, how to acquire such virtue, and share day-to-day encounters where virtue is lacking or present. I hope to draw much of my content from great thinkers: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, other saints, the Holy Fathers, Aristotle, and contemporary sources. I will share my thoughts/musings/reflections on current events, politics, religion, literature, and popular culture in light of their relation to virtue. (although don't be too surprised if I get on a tangent once in awhile) The reason that I gave this blog the title "Rush Hour Virtues" is because the ultimate test of virtue is how you react during the middle of "rush hour", whether that be on the road, shopping for presents on Christmas eve, or trying to study for 3 tests all falling on the same day. We must constantly be growing in virtue so that during our "finest hour" we might model exemplary Christian virtue in our interactions and reactions to certain uncontrollable situations.

I will be blogging tomorrow with some insights on virtue from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. As this work is rather dense, I will be focusing on selection portions of it this week. I invite you to pick up a copy if you have not, or follow this weblink for an online version:

Thank you for reading, please tell your friends/bloggers about my new blog. God Bless you!

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!
Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!