Love–the best ingredient

Dylan used to cook quite a bit when we first married, and when I would compliment what he made, he would tell me that the key ingredient was love. Times have changed. He works an awful lot and now I am the primary cook for our hungry household. But the key ingredient remains love.

Dylan bought me a Kitchen Aid for Mother’s Day this year. It’s the type of gift that I would have felt insulted by little over a decade ago because I would have seen it as him assigning me an unpaid domestic working role. However, after years of struggling with a tight grocery budget in which we couldn’t afford to go buy whatever ingredients suited our fancy, buying groceries without worrying about bouncing a check feels like financial freedom. What used to be a chore has become a liberating form of art, an expression of love from me for my family, and something I really enjoy. It sounds sappy but the babies that I grew in my womb then nursed ex utero continue to be nourished by what I create for them. And that’s meaningful to me during this season of motherhood.

As the stay-at-home mother of six children, it’s good I enjoy creating in the kitchen because I spend a heck-of-a-lot of time preparing meals these days. And the kids love to help me bake/cook. They love to measure, mix and taste. Perhaps that’s why fractions are second nature for them.

This particular morning, my only son, Basil, came into my bedroom and said, “Mom, we need to make be-sert (dessert) like Diane.” Diane is our neighbor from across the alley and she’s become a good friend, the type of person you would CHOOSE to be a family member, if you could choose family. You can’t choose family, but you CAN choose friends. Among other talents (like being a kick-arse attorney), Diane is an amazing cook and has been kind enough to invite the kids over to bake with her many times.

Thanks to her baking with the kids, Basil very clearly has a reference-point for what a Kitchen Aid does. He was so insistent on making “be-sert” this morning that we made brownies before breakfast.

As I sip my coffee on this dreary day, I feel a glint of hope and happiness that my son feels so excited about preparing food. My daughters love to cook and bake, and I am proud of their culinary skills and desire to work in the kitchen too, but so often I think we naturally prepare girls to nurture, cook and do housework. Meanwhile, we send a subliminal message (and sometimes not-so-subliminal) to boys that the kitchen and housework is not for them. As a mother, a wife, and a citizen it is important to me that we raise our son (like my husband was raised) to be a good father and nurturing spouse in case he is called to that vocation.

No matter how liberal or conservative you are, caring for others is non-gendered and apolitical.

I will admit that I share part of the following advice both humbly and hypocritically since my kids all claim to be allergic to dish soap, and the words “sort laundry” has a similar consequence to the warning, “Fire!” screamed in my household . . . Okay, maybe there’s no stop, drop and roll with “sort laundry,” but the kids do flee from the house as if they are in imminent danger.

If you are disinterested in my advice after reading the paragraph above, stop reading. But if you don’t mind my parenting advice, a kind of advice I am documenting partially so I don’t forget it myself, please read on: Please teach your children–girls AND boys—basic skills. Teach them the power of serving others. And don’t be afraid to teach your girls to do outdoor work, especially if they are interested. Our oldest daughter mows our lawn and does a lot of our laborious outdoor work. And I mean A LOT. Our second daughter does a lot of babysitting of her siblings, especially the baby. Both daughters enjoy cooking and have a healthy relationship with food. I could make a list of what each child does to contribute to our household, but I have six kids so I’ll spare you of that. My point is that each child should contribute. Recognize now that they won’t do it perfectly. But hey, I don’t contribute perfectly either. Just look at my porch and you’ll notice I’m an imperfect housekeeper. We are all works in progress.

The important thing is not WHAT children do to contribute to the household, the important things is THAT they contribute to the household.  As humans, we are interdependent. The family is the foundation of humanity; each person has something to contribute to the whole. Regardless of IQ, development, able-bodiedness, we all have something to contribute.

Let’s teach our kids to work in solidarity and let’s teach them that the most important ingredient is love. It’s not what you give but how you give it that makes a difference.

This Mother’s Day, let’s praise and encourage, not blame or shame, single mothers

I am not a single mother, but as a military wife, sometimes I get a little glimpse of what single-mothering is like, and it’s super hard. If we Catholics really want to call ourselves pro-life, we need to do *something* to help single mothers that have chosen to give life and are trying to parent in a culture that excludes them from community support. And by the way, the *something* we do must be helpful, reliable and consistent.

Parenting is isolating, exhausting, and thankless. We live in a culture that supports privileged, PLANNED parenthood, but when people are poor, uneducated, nonwhite, or are blessed with children out of wedlock (or get divorced), we submit messages of blame and shame instead of encouragement and praise. The messages we send through our words, body langauge, action, inaction, inclusion and exclusion matters. The choices we make drive the outcomes we experience. How we treat Moms has an immense impact on the children they parent. Plus, besides the collateral impact of honoring marginalized mothers because it is the right thing to do, when we respect mothers they are more likely to feel energized and nurture children that grow up to be successful, autonomous, caring adults. The future depends on how we treat each other today, so let’s treat each other with love and compassion.

Speak loving words at home

We are all sacred temples of the Holy Spirit. Words, actions and inactions can hurt or they can nourish the spiritual flame. Do not let your children pierce each other with unkind words or hurtful names. Don’t let them try to suffocate or blow out another’s flame. Teach them to kindle the flame and be a light unto each other.

Sibling conflict is natural, especially when you live in close quarters. Therefore, give your children language to resolve conflict through nonviolent communication. Do not be a bystander to a child’s suffering—no matter how big, no matter how small.

In the end, the only thing that matters is love. And we first learn how to communicate love from our experience at home.