Elizabeth Anderson is a stay-at-home mother and independent writer. A graduate of Christendom College, she also worked for several years at Population Research Institute. She resides in Michigan with her husband, Matthew, and their four small children.
A couple of Saturdays ago I strolled into our parish for Confession, hoping to drive through the Confessional, grab some mercy to go, rattle off Hail Marys and run along, box checked. Mea Culpa. The Lord's ways are not my ways, as I soon discovered when it came my turn. One of the things I confessed to the elderly priest was that when I am stressed, especially with things with which I do not want to worry the kids (think: car repairs, furnace replacement, or other adult concerns over which I do not want them to be fearful), I tend to lash out at them, and push them away (figuratively). Maybe it's because I would like some space, and kids don't give that voluntarily. However, the last thing I want is for them to believe that they are themselves the root of my stress when they are not. So, the good man, after ascertaining why I sometimes let stress out on the kids, asked "What do you do to release stress in a good way?" I told him that I exercise, I write, I spend time with my husband and I do a weekly holy hour. After inquiring a bit about my writing, he said "well, what do you think would be a good penance?" Since he clearly didn't intend for me to suggest "uh...how about three Hail Marys?", I had literally no idea. Ascertaining my confusion, Father said: "Well, here's what I think you should do. You should research what other Catholic Moms do to deal with stress, and you should write an article about it."
My first thoughts were: "Ghah!! That is going to take a long time!! This is going to be so hard! I should have waited for the other priest!!"
But God works in mysterious, amazing ways, and that confession, including Father's choice of penance for me has been far more beneficial, and even enjoyable than I could have imagined. After some time hollering (silently) at the Lord in front of the St. Joseph statue, the thought dawned on me that Father had pointed me in the right direction after all. Surrounding me there is a vast resource of wisdom, a community of women, either related or connected to me by bonds of friendship and faith. I turned to my mom, my Mother-in-law, sisters, friends, mentors, and even some well-known public-figure-Moms for whom I am a full on fan girl.
Here, then, is the compilation of helpful advice I received from Catholic moms in all walks of life: Grandmothers, moms of small kids, moms of big kids, working moms, stay at home moms. These nuggets of wisdom are God's gift to me through my priest, and I sincerely hope and pray that they will benefit other mothers as well.
As mothers, we all know that stress will hit us at some point. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Some simply belong to the nature of being a mother, but some of it can be eliminated. As Dr. John Cuddeback points out in his current series on stress: "Our first step in addressing the stresses of our life is to examine whether our heart itself, or of those whom we love and care for, needs to be gently redirected." Therefore, assess your situation. If you can eliminate any causes of stress, do so, and be prepared for that which cannot be eliminated.
"Our culture puts insanely unrealistic standards on motherhood while simultaneously denigrating it. It’s hard to admit that you need a break when you’re 'just' home all day, when you’re 'just' taking care of a baby or two, etc. But we’re not robots. We’re human beings who were made for solitude and communion. And you can’t suppress the need for solitude for 18 years straight and expect to come out the other end with your sanity intact." —Jenny Uebbing, Mom of 5
"You could talk to your kids beforehand sometimes and explain some of your struggles, in a way that they can relate to." —Marcia, Grandmother and Mom of 3.
"I've found that the key to relieving stress is to know your own temperament. So, for example, my extrovert friends relax best by getting out and doing things with other people, whereas introverts like me need to do things that involve being left alone in silent rooms." —Jennifer Fulwiler, Mom of 6
To Recap: Are we demanding too much of ourselves? In her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Dr. Meg Meeker maintains that “(M)ost modern mothers are exhausted because we do a lot of things we don't need to do to be good moms, but we do them because we believe they are expected of us...I encourage every mother to take a hard look at what fills her days and grill herself on why she does what she does.” Do you know what times during the day are most stressful? If you know you will be under unavoidable pressure, prepare your kids, when possible, so that they can patient. Know what to expect based on your temperament.
In the Moments of Stress
When unavoidable stress does hit, turn to your planned response, or be proactive in defusing the tension.
"Ejaculatory prayers were taught to me by the nuns at an early age yet they were a resource in times of difficulties to seek help and graces from God." -Jo-Ann, Grandmother, and Mom of 4 (Including yours truly)
"I usually turned to Mary. There wasn't time for long conversations with her but a simple, 'Mother, Mary, please help' went a long way." -Kathy, Grandmother and Mom of 4
"I start counting my blessings. I focus on all of what our wonderful Lord has given to me, and continues to give to me...Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table and look at all the photos on my china cabinet and see all the blessings of my life. My family, Alan’s family, all of you kids and grandkids, Fr Verrier, Our Blessed Mother, the Saints, and most especially Our Lord! It helps put it in perspective." -Joyce, Grandmother and Mom of 4 (Including my husband)
"I sometimes make myself a cup of tea, and just sit for 10-15 minutes, away from the kids. Somehow drinking tea and sitting with a book are much more refreshing than sitting in front of a screen." -Anonymous mother of 7
"Sit outside, go for a walk, bike ride, visit with a neighbor, etc. Somehow the fresh air seemed to 'cool me down.' It also got me out of the stress and away and reminded me it is all small stuff." -Joyce
"I tend to clean or make a pot of soup. In that way I feel that while I am doing my job as a mother and housewife, I have something else to think about instead of my worries. It does give me satisfaction to clean and have a nice organized area. Making a pot of soup is satisfying too." --Anne, Mom of 7.
"When things are going crazy I start to narrate in a singing voice about everything that is going on! The kids think it's funny and it helps me to have a sense of humor." -Alisha, Mom of 5
To recap: Pray, count your blessings, take some space, find a release for energy, sing! Mother Teresa reminds us that “If you’re too busy to pray…you’re too busy." Likewise, G.K. Chesterton points out that we are indispensible warriors in a spiritual combat: "Anyone who makes himself responsible for one small baby, as a whole, will soon find that he is wrestling with gigantic angels and demons."
Ongoing Formation and Care of Self
Moms tend to put others before themselves so much that we are often in danger of self neglect. To use an airplane metaphor, it's impossible to fix an oxygen mask on your child if you pass out first because you didn't put on your own. Take care of yourself by truly forming and refreshing yourself.
"The Rosary and learning about the Faith is crucial. Although it was taught to me at an early age to keep learning about my Faith, it took life experiences to motivate that desire. When I was a kid, my mother said the Rosary herself even though we did not do it as a family. And when Dad and I started dating, your Nana would always say a Rosary in the car. Thus the habit was started for me to say the Rosary regularly. The influence of a Catholic friend also encouraged the Rosary with children daily and supported the desires to live the Faith and always learn more about the Faith." —Jo-Ann
"Run to the Blessed Sacrament. Pouring out our hearts to Our Lord and His mother almost always relieves life's stress. Often we need more than one hour, and as much as I miss raising our kids, the blessing is I'm free to run to the chapel when I feel like it." —Kathy
"Pray Lectio Divina. The Gospels or Psalms are my favorites especially when I am stressed. Jesus' words have brought peace to me many times. I also write down my thoughts on paper." —Anne
"I go on runs by myself, read books, and binge watch TV shows" —Jennifer Fulwiler
"My number one answer to managing stress in motherhood is alone time.I try to get at least an hour to myself every day, and my husband is super generous in helping facilitate it... Sometimes it’s not a full hour, but 20 minutes in the morning, 20 at lunchtime and 20 in the evening. I’ll put a show on for my littlest kids and spend some time in the morning with a coffee and my bible or prayer journal. I’ll let my husband handle bedtime with the older kids and hop into the bath for a long soak with lavender essential oil and Epsom salts." -Jenny Uebbing
To recap: Give your spiritual life priority of place, make time regularly for rest, solitude, as well as time to do things that you enjoy. Interestingly with regard to the Rosary, Ven. Fulton Sheen notes its ability to calm the stressed out soul: "The Rosary is the best therapy...precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers: the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual, and in that order...The very rhythm and sweet monotony induce a physical peace and quiet and create an affective fixation on God." And Dr. Meg Meeker confirms how much Mothers need solitude: "Solitude is a necessity because it changes us. It strengthens our relationships with loved ones, it sharpens our sensitivity toward ourselves and others, it brings peace and healing, it helps us stay centered and sane in the midst of 'choice overload,' and it may even help us live longer."
The Necessity of Husbands and Fathers
One more thing must receive attention: Husbands and fathers. More than one woman, including my mom and my mother-in-law, emphasized the importance of their husbands. My Mom said that she "Always had a sigh of relief when Dad got home" (and here I thought we were the perfect kids!) and Joyce remarked: "The most effective method is the same now, as it was back then. Talk to Alan! He always has such a common-sense approach and talks me down off my anxiety mountain...Sometimes he just laughs and that make me realize how worrying about something doesn’t really help the situation and it just makes me miserable. He also reminds me to not take it out on him or the kids." Kathy points out the necessity of spending time as a couple: "Date nights were a must. We tried to get a weekly date but it usually was biweekly. Sometimes we just grabbed a sandwich and went to the park to watch the water falls...or grab a beer somewhere." Jenny Uebbing also specifically mentions her husband's essential role in making home life and mothering a peaceful thing. The bottom line is, we Moms are not meant to do this alone.
Mothers need friends, community, and most of all our husbands. While some of these suggestions can be done solo, as it were, many require help from hubby with watching the kids, or by providing encouragement and support for our endeavors and self-care. It will be harder for those whose husbands do not have a regular schedule, and definitely for those whose husbands are unwilling or for Moms who are raising kids by themselves. But harder does not necessarily mean impossible.
We live out an essential vocation, and the Lord never calls us into situations without also being there with us, giving us all that we need to be faithful. He is with us among the dishes and the laundry and the diapers, and yes, even the witching hour that is dinner time. We can do all things in Him Who strengthens us. The last word goes to that expert Mom of 1, and yet of many, Mary, who reminds us to place ourselves with complete trust in God's hands: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word." (Lk 1:38)
Recommended further reading, resources, and ideas for stressed out moms:
Fulton Sheen on the Rosary:
Great advice from Jennifer Fulwiler:
Laughter, also courtesy of Jennifer Fulwiler, because who does not feel better after laughing so hard you cry (and possibly, though hopefully not, wet your pants?), only to discover that you actually got a golden nugget of truth too:
The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity by Meg Meeker, M.D
Please Don't Drink the Holy Water by Susie Lloyd
Dr. John Cuddeback's current series on stress:
With a new installment due March 21.
Also from Dr. Cuddeback on noticing one's own children:
Essay on motherhood by G.K. Chesterton:
To learn more about your temperament, take the quiz:
Fantastic, free, numerous and varied workouts from professional instructor Jessica Smith:
- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7wvgp4HUBe5TD10jIgxDg (I really enjoy these not only because of the great variety, but because Jessica Smith focuses on strength and health as opposed to being sexy or having six pack abs. So I never have to worry about the kids doing them with me and wondering if she's going to say something inappropriate or give an unhealthy message)
Jenny Uebbing of Mama Needs Coffee on self care:
My own article on quick prayers:
Uplifting reminders from Mother Teresa:
An amazing online community of women supporting one another in Faith: