Welcome to the CatholicMom.com Book Club! We’re reading Don’t Forget to Say Thank You by Lindsay Schlegel.
One of the unexpected joys of being a parent is, to me, the insight I’ve gained, a mere inkling though it may be, of how God the Father relates to us. Don’t Forget to Say Thank You is essentially a collection of these insights, brought to their fullness in a way designed to draw parents (and non-parents) closer to their heavenly Father. In the process of writing this book, have the things you repeatedly say to your children changed?
In most cases, the phrasing hasn’t changed, but I do have a greater awareness of the fact that my husband and I are not alone in trying to be good parents to our children. God our Father wants to guide us, encourage us, support us, and fill in the gaps when we make mistakes. In realizing that God is both my Father and my children’s Father, I’ve put less pressure on myself to be perfect and found more enthusiasm to give it my best shot every day.
For many moms, there is a constant tension among competing activities. I often feel like if I’m doing one thing well, something else suffers. For example, if I’m on top of my daily chores, I have no time left for my husband and kids, or if I’m meeting my writing goals, my house is a mess. In the Introduction, you re-frame the pursuit of having it all, asking whether or not that elusive “all” is what God wants for us. This idea predicates all the parenting lessons that follow. How can we home in on what God wants and learn to let go of the extraneous things that leave us perpetually falling short?
The only way I’ve found to do this is to give time to my prayer life. When Jesus Christ is truly at the center of my life — when I’m spending intentional time in prayer, when I regularly receive the graces of the sacrament of Confession, when I say my morning offering and Rosary — my priorities get straightened out. Because I’m more receptive to God’s voice and the Holy Spirit’s movement in my life, I am more aware of what I’m living for and what I’m not. I am more at peace with the reality that life, especially with young kids, is a series of phases and seasons that come and go. If I can’t accomplish something that I want to right now, it may simply be a matter of time before I have the availability, strength, and brain power to make it happen.
Your description of your scattered thoughts at Mass perfectly sums up my experience. It’s as if my brain, freed from other pursuits, rushes to fill the sudden vacuum created when I step into church with the intent of casting distractions aside. You offer some suggestions for correcting course and focusing on God instead. What is the singular most helpful tip in overcoming this challenge of staying focused at Mass — with or without the added distraction of children?
For me, it’s reading the readings the night before. Those couple of minutes spent with the text makes them familiar to me the next day. Maybe there’s a line I want to reread to understand a bit better, or I want to do a quick search for the full chapter to get more context. Even when I don’t take those extra steps, just looking at it once before stepping into church helps my brain stay more attentive to what’s being said and connect with it better.
Using the example of your sons’ introduction to karate, you aptly demonstrate the link between discipline and obedience. I’ve been surprised to find that the older I get, the more I struggle with discipline (my own, not my children’s, though that is sometimes a challenge too). How can being the disciplinarian help us to become better disciples?
Reminding my kids of what they need to do and why they need to do it provides a kind of checkpoint for me in terms of my own responsibilities. Am I completing my tasks well? When am I prioritizing the less entertaining tasks and what causes me to indulge in distractions? What’s at the root of my disinterest or laziness, and how can I remedy that?
My oldest in particular notices when I don’t practice what I preach, and he’ll call me out on it. In order to be a good example for him, I need to stick to the schedule I create for myself. And really, I do better when I know I’m being held accountable to someone. I also find that when I am in a good groove of making time for one healthy habit — be it prayer, exercise, sleep, or good meals—that feeling of being energized helps me to maintain the others.
In Don’t Forget to Say Thank You, you write candidly about the experience of miscarrying your second baby. I’ve experienced miscarriage as well, and despite my sadness, it greatly increased my empathy for other women who have experienced similar losses. What effects have you seen in sharing your loss, so far?
The most amazing effect has been the friendships I have developed with other women simply by saying, “I’ve been there, too.” Shortly after moving from Brooklyn back to my hometown, I shared my story at a MOMS group meeting at my church. A number of women told me they’d lost a child or children, too. We started an informal support group, which looks like a couple of women gathering at the local Panera in the evenings. We’ve talked about how our families reacted, how our relationships with our husbands were challenged, and been there for each other through subsequent pregnancies and their varied outcomes. It’s a special group of women where I can go for prayer, support, and often, the kind of laughter than cleanses your soul and makes you feel ready to take on the world again.
I’ve also had the opportunity to write about losing Ethan on a variety of sites online. From Verily to the Federalist, I have been able to publicly express the effect losing a child had on me and my family and, I hope, help others to consider the true value and dignity of a child in the womb.
I notice that my children — some more than others — struggle greatly with saying they are sorry when their offense was accidental. How can we help our children and ourselves to overcome our pride and focus more on the hurt we’ve caused and seeking forgiveness?
I have a child who struggles with that, too, and honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out! My kids are still young, so we often try to have them put themselves in the other person’s proverbial shoes. That doesn’t always work.
Me: “Would you want someone to poke you in the head?”
Kid: “Yes. Yes, I would.”
It all comes back to putting the other first and making that sacrifice of self. We’re familiar with the story of the children of Fatima, so I can call on that to suggest my child uses the opportunity to offer up their humility to glorify God. I’m not sure they totally understand that concept yet (sometimes I struggle with it, too), but practicing it and continuing to talk about it will help them internalize it and have that sacrifice be a go-to reaction (I hope!).
Do you think modern life, especially in America, where we take great pride in our independence, makes seeking community, even among the saints, more challenging? If so, how?
Absolutely. We have a mentality of wanting to earn everything, to do it all ourselves, as if asking for help is a deplorable weakness. But that’s simply not how God sees things. He wants to help us; He wants us to help each other. I think of how much joy it brings me to see my kids work together to build a tower, make a gift for a family member, or for one to read a story to another. Their delight in each other, the creation they made together is so beautiful! Is there any sound more magical than hearing one of your kids make another one laugh (when it’s not a potty joke)? This is what God wants for His children: for us to delight in each other, to work together to build His kingdom, to make His love manifest in the world.
Next week, we’ll cover Chapters 1 through 5. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Book Club page.
Copyright 2018 Carolyn Astfalk