motherhood

Let Her Strength Grow You Too

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Let Her Strength Grow You Too with Shauna Gauthier

“Your story is not my story!”

Her words flattened the argument I had so carefully constructed and was right smack in the midst of delivering when she interrupted with utter exasperation. That single truth bomb she sent flying in my direction took my breath away. So I just sat there, breathless and therefore speechless, while she looked at me eyes ever-widening by the uncertainty of how this act of boldness might play out for her in the end.

I can only vaguely recall the details of the power struggle we were having before that pivotal moment in our mother-daughter narrative. I know that it involved a request for some leeway with regard to specific boundaries we had established around dating and curfews as she entered into her junior year of high school. As the oldest of our four daughters, she is almost always the one leading us into new chapters of our parenting adventure.

It’s an unavoidable reality for all firstborns because there is simply no other way for parents to gain experience. And believe me when I say that I have tried plenty of other pathways to gain insight. I’ve worked with youth since I was still a teen myself, later becoming a trained therapist with a keen understanding of adolescent development and family systems. I am a well-read parent always striving to keep up to date with new research and parenting strategies. But here’s the thing - in all the years of pursuing insight, nothing could have prepared me for the ways in which my daughters would reflect back to me the tender places inside my soul still longing for healing and freedom. Only their faces, only their reactions to my mothering, only their unique voices could have the power to reveal such profound insight.

I heard her loud and clear that day. “Your story is not my story!”

Just two seconds beforehand, I had been convinced that I was offering clear but firm boundaries that were for her good. I was certain that this was one of those times that I needed to be her prefrontal cortex and make decisions that her teenage brain was not yet prepared to make on her own. A mere five words out of her mouth and suddenly I was standing there as naked and vulnerable as Eve. I had the choice to run and hide behind some metaphorical tree, or perhaps I could have pretended that there was nothing to be seen there at all. I certainly could have thrown some shame in her direction and on my lesser days, I’m sure that I have done some combination of all of the above.

How could they ever believe in the strength of their own voices and the power of their own discernment if we can’t make space for their truth in our own hearts and souls?

But I knew she was right. I was caught in that moment and my daughter was the one who pulled back the curtain to expose the truth. The rigid boundaries I was building a case for had more to do with my own past narrative, my own troubled teenage years, and ultimately my own fears than I wasn’t even aware of until that very moment. So there I stood, naked and a bit disoriented.

Like Eve, there are many other women who have gone before us into the terrifying lands of vulnerability and nakedness. The women I am most drawn to, biblical and otherwise, are the ones who sit with the truth of their nakedness. They realize that running from it leads to nowhere good, and neither does denying it or wearing it inauthentically like a badge of honor. And so in that moment, I attempted to sit with it.

“Your story is not my story!”

It took several minutes for a normal breathing rhythm to return to my body. Though I don’t recall the exact words I eventually offered in response to her truth bomb, I know that they went a little something like this…

You’re right. My story is not your story. And sometimes I forget that reality. Our stories are connected though. They are intertwined because we are mother and daughter. They are interconnected because we are a part of the human story. And so that means we will need each other to find our way. Let’s see if we can figure this one out together.

And so we did figure that one out together. She bravely spoke her truth and I listened and ultimately modeled how to engage my own vulnerability with grace - at least on this particular occasion. Raising strong daughters seems to be as much about allowing them to grow us as it is about us guiding and mothering them. How could they ever believe in the strength of their own voices and the power of their own discernment if we can’t make space for their truth in our own hearts and souls? Our increasing strength, our mutual growth, the perpetual process of our own becoming - it’s all interconnected in the grander narrative that binds us all together.

~Shauna
 

Shauna Gauthier is a self-described psychology buff, a fierce advocate for women all over the globe, an amateur theologian, philosophy lover, existential thinker, perpetual dreamer, mama to 4 little women ever-rising, wife, seeker and warm drink lover. She is a trained therapist from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and currently works as their Alumni Outreach Coordinator. Shauna blogs at LittleWomenRising.com about the intersections of motherhood, feminism and faith as she catalogues her own journey raising four fierce daughters. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Twitter and in her Facebook group for Moms of Little Women Rising.

The Long Awaited Guilt-Free Book About Connecting with the Sacred as a Mom

 

Hello Moms! Perhaps you're like me, parenting teens and holding on to a faint memory of having the luxury of time and mental capacity to linger over the Word and in prayer. Many of us go back to work or increase hours as our kids get older, only adding to the depletion of those two valuable assets: time and mental capacity! Can you relate? This is why I love my friend, Catherine McNiel's book, Long Days of Small Things, which launches today! Removing all guilt and readjusting our expectations, she writes of how to turn the everyday, mundane and monotonous moments into something sacred. And it is beautiful!

If you're a young mom friend, beware: This is the book I'll be giving out at showers and sending as congrats this year!

Enjoy getting to know Catherine and her heart for the book in this interview. And pay attention to the last question if you're wondering if you should have pulled "it" together by now with older kids!

Catherine, introduce yourself to us.

Thank you! I’m a mom with three kids (and a few part time jobs). I love to read and garden. I love to study theology and ancient cultures. I’m always trying to learn something new.  I enjoy getting to know my neighbors and learning how different people see the world. I love to explore how theology impacts our real, physical lives…and how our real lives impact theology.  I’m enamored by the creation of new life but find that working in the garden is less exhausting than pregnancy.

Now, introduce us to your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

How do you do that in Long Days of Small Things?

In each chapter I tell stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. I look at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and consider how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quite time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

[bctt tweet="We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?" username="bethhbruno"]

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

What are the “Practices” that you describe in Long Days of Small Things?

At the end of each chapter, I list three things we are doing already—things like walking, eating, driving, changing diapers, going to work. And I explore how we can use these things, already in our daily routines and schedules, to awaken to God’s presence with us. Moms often don’t have time to add additional tasks and tools into our days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the tasks already there! In fact, in many cases, I think these natural things are the most effective.

How has motherhood impacted your understanding of spirituality?

We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs.

But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News.

All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.

So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.

Describe an experience that first caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

I was shopping with my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my toddler.

And then…the door. I couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door. No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win.

When I finally got everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by walking through the door.

This stopped me in my tracks. The memory of how I looked going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies!

The contrast between this teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results may vary” as they say.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality.  Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.

How have you noticed the "practices" change as your kids get older? Can you give one example of how a mother of a tween might experience similar daily spirituality?

That's a great question. My kids are still on the younger side, my oldest is ten. It does seem like the practices change as they get older. Maybe I'm getting more sleep and more time to myself, but I still have ample reasons to lose my patience, or worry, or realize that the parenting task before me is going to require everything I have and probably a whole lot more. And this is where I think parenting becomes a spiritual discipline -- when we have to dig deep and rely on God through stages of suffering, surrender, service, perseverance, etc.

I think the key to everything I describe in Long Days of Small Things is awakening to see that God is already present in each moment we're in. And he invites us to remember him, to reach out to him right there, in the midst of all we're doing. So in my book, I describe what this might look like in the baby stages of breastfeeding and diapers, but I also describe what it might entail when driving carpool, cooking dinner, or punching in at work. Our daily tasks might change as the kids get older, but the key concepts stay the same.

Bio: Catherine McNiel survived her children's preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open the eyes to God's creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden.

*I received this book to review and help launch. 

 
 

When and How to Have Tough Conversations with Your Kids

 
 
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I had a proud mama moment this week. My youngest, a budding activist who happens to be a 5th grader, declared she was one of a few kids who raised their hands when the teacher asked who knew of Malala. She then apparently took over the discussion about girls’ education and Malala’s efforts, having not only read the book, but watched the documentary, He Named Me Malala.

Malala is her hero.

She knows about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient because I bought her the Junior edition in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, I pulled her out of school when limited viewing of the film came to town. And, we’ve continued to discuss global inequity, girls there vs. here, how education decreases terrorism, and the overall privilege she enjoys. She stayed up late the night CNN aired Michelle Obama’s We Will Rise, celebrated Advent with the family at the After Spring Syrian Refugee documentary, and cried with me over Hidden Figures last week.

She’s an activist because of me. She’s a little women’s rights campaigner because of me.

And I’m proud.

A friend asked how to have tough conversations with kids and I knew, he was referencing porn, sex and sexuality, online safety, suicide… all the things we parents muster up the courage to address. We look for books and ask our elders, hoping for an easy, miraculously “safe” way to handle these sensitive topics. And then, if we’re intentional, we schedule a night, a breakfast, a weekend to convey the information, breathing a sigh of relief. We expect behavioral adaptations will follow.

What if they don’t?

Are my kids the only ones who have a short attention span? Is my son the only teen who says “got it” ten billion times a week as the most obvious attempt at covering up a blow off? Surely, I’m not the only parent who repeats herself.

I think osmosis is more effective than a fire hose. Hanging truth upon experience is what makes meaning. Slow parenting looks like repetition over time plus example. And this? This is not accomplished in a singular event.

We cannot teach our kids media literacy over dinner. We won’t raise sexually pure kids as a result of one special weekend. We will not inoculate them from peer pressure after one bullying presentation.

How do parents have tough conversations with their kids? Start young. Don’t stop.

My 10-year old can handle watching a film about Syrian refugees because we’ve talked extensively about global issues. She could read about Malala’s volatile and dangerous life at age 8 because I didn’t shield her from the world’s pain. She wears a “People Don’t Buy People” sweatshirt to school because she gets modern day slavery. Even if she doesn’t fully understand it or picture what it entails, she gets people being forced to do something they never wanted to do.

Raising children to engage the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as adults requires exposing them to the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as kids (in age appropriate chunks). As Kate Conner, author of Enough, writes, “Crack the door and let all of the broken, beautiful humanity flood in like a sunbeam. Let it in; let it move her. Let it inspire her, wreck her, challenge her. Let it change her. If you want her to catch the fire, you’re going to have to put her near a flame.”

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If you want to have tough conversations with your kids, you’re going to have to get them near the flame. And of course, you’re going to have get near the flame too.