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Advice from a Mom of 12

alec vanderboom

On Tuesday, my mother’s group had a guest speaker. She introduced herself as a daughter from a family of 14, a mother of 12, and a Harvard graduate. (She said when her people give her a hard time about having a Harvard Degree & then having “all these children” she cheerfully responds “Well, at Harvard they told me to do something big. I became a mother, so I just did that “big!”).

The topic was “Sanctity & Motherhood.” There was so much wisdom dripping from this encounter. Here are a few highlights.

Our purpose as a Catholic is to become a saint. As mothers, we need to grow in virtue. We also need to help our children grow in virtue. She said, that everyone has some virtues that are easy to master, but others that are much harder due to our individual temperament. As parents, our increase in virtue will naturally help our children’s growth in virtue. As the same time, if there is a virtue that doesn’t come easily to you, don’t despair that your children will automatically also fail in that same way. Children lean from watching us struggle with a virtue. Sometimes, we are better teachers when we struggle with something, versus if it always comes easily to us.

For an example, she says she has ADD and constantly struggles with the virtue of “order.” Meanwhile, her son-in-law is a “neat freak.” He will come home and straighten up all the toys during his lunch break, stacking all the grandchildren’s dolls in a row, etc. She says her grandchildren aren’t necessarily learning “order” by having their father always pick up after them. Her own daughter, however, did have to learn “order” by having a Mom who had ADD and frequently “freak out” that the house was in total chaos from having 12 children.

(I thought this makes perfect sense because I’ve discovered that I’m a good Math teacher exactly because I’ve struggled so much in school to understand math concepts. I never thought to translate that concept into modeling virtue before. My hope is that my kids have a better chance at becoming meek by watching their mom struggle to control her temper so often)

Virtues can also be thought of as “age specific.” The virtues that we should be trying to most instill in children under the age of reason (below age 7) are: obedience, order and sincerity. (Having three key virtue goals for my kids will really help me!)

She also had great marriage advice. Just listening to her talk about her husband and their life in general was so inspiring. Right now, I can’t imagine what life would look like with the responsibility of twelve children! But her talk was filled of examples of an ordinary husband and wife, complimenting each other to bring about the tasks of raising a family. (And they must be doing something right because their oldest is a Poor Clare).

Here is some of her marriage advice:

a) Always go to bed at the same time as your husband.
“When his bedroom light goes out, your place is by his side.” I thought this was for “pillow talk” but what she explained was that as women, we are social creatures. We get out companionship & friendship needs met all the time from all different places, with friends, on the phone, on the Internet, chatting with the grocery store clerk. Most men are more the silent, quiet type. That means that during most of the day, they aren’t spilling out their feelings to co-workers. Your husband’s primary outlet for companionship is you, his wife. Husbands don’t even need to chat so much, as physically touch their wives. Going to sleep together at the same time is more important for him, than for you.

b) Always say yes to your husband
(This of course got lots of giggles from my group. Especially when the mom says “we try to follow NFP” and one mom laughed, “Not if you always say yes”)

c) Handing your husband a warm plate of dinner each night is one of the best ways to say, “I love you” (I struggle hard with making dinner with 3 little kids during the “ulcer” hour of 5-6 PM. Her talk inspired me to start looking at dinner as a concrete gift to give my husband instead of one more task in my day, equal to doing the laundry or picking up messy toys)

d) Pray the Divine Office (go Et Tu Jen!)
Get your spiritual needs met, (you can’t give love out unless you constantly feed divine love into your soul) and also encourage your husband to find Catholic friends and to do things that get his spiritual needs met

e) No matter how old or how young, get everyone in your house to take a nap at the same time.

f) Make sure you are getting 3 to 4 hours a day with your husband. Get up at the same time and have breakfast together. Have a solid family dinner hour. Make sure you have an hour of uninterrupted time after the kids go to bed. She also suggested taking the kids often to visit Dad at work. (Her husband is a doctor and she said she often said to her 12 “let’s see if we can catch Dad at the hospital right now.”)

(This prompted an interesting chat in my mother group about fathers and their daily commute. In our area of D.C. a 1 to 2 hour one-way commute is not unusual. This mother said she specifically picked a smaller, more expensive house that was a 4-minute drive to his husband’s workplace so that he could spend more time with his family. This is an issue close to my family’s heart since we are thinking about moving, but hate to give up access to Dad at lunchtime).

Just a few thoughts from a fascinating 1 1/2 hour talk. Have you received any good advice about “sanctity and motherhood” recently?