Monday, December 23, 2013

Few Regret Interrupting Their Careers for Family

By Anna Sutherland
Institute for Family Studies

The new Pew Research Center report on the gender wage gap and work attitudes among millennials shows that, in median hourly earnings, 25- to 34-year-old women make 93% as much as men make. If you include all age groups, that number falls to 84%—and millennials’ wage gap could increase as they start families. Unless you somehow missed the great Lean In debate of 2013, however, many of Pew’s findings will seem like old news. But one set of figures in the report leapt out at me: people’s views on family-related career interruptions.

Fully 94% of those who reduced their work hours or took a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member are glad they did, despite the negative career consequences that many experienced. Those who turned down a promotion or quit their job to do the same expressed similar levels of satisfaction (88% and 87%, respectively). And those numbers cover quite a few people: 65% of mothers, 45% of fathers, and roughly 25% of childless men and women report having experienced at least one of these career interruptions to care for a family member.

But why should it come as a surprise that many Americans are willing to put their family above their career? Despite the cliche about deathbed regrets (“No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’”), recent discussions about work-family balance emphasize the many ways that caring for a family can stunt careers and focus on those who wish they’d never stopped working in the first place. Moreover, most work/family public policy proposals, from free universal daycare to tax reform, focus on keeping parents constantly in the workforce. As Zoe Williams lamented in the Guardian last month,
Women, by modern logic, win by having economic agency and lose by being economically excluded. Children, having no productive contribution to make, are either a neutral value in the equation, an appendage of the mother, or a negative value, a drain on the mother. What if the mother wants to hang out with the child, not because she has been subjugated by the patriarchy but because she thinks the child is awesome? What if the father does too? Well, that point of view makes no financial sense, so unfortunately cannot be included in our discussion. . . .

People want the freedom to react to things – an illness, an irrational hatred of nursery – without that signifying a lack of professional commitment. Never mind women, this is what all parents want: some recognition, from the workplace and beyond, that there is more to life than making money, and yet that making money is a blessed diversion from full-time making a mess.
We should, to be sure, try to make work and family life more compatible, for the sake of men as well as women. Yet at some point, tradeoffs may be inevitable. When people faced with a tradeoff freely choose to prioritize their family above their career, we should stop regarding them as an object of pity and support them instead.

This article originally appeared at Family Studies and is used with permission.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is the 'War on Women' Rhetoric Demeaning to Women?

By Mary C. Tillotson

As I’ve written before, I really can’t stand the “women’s issues” and “war on women” rhetoric in American politics. So when I saw Make Love, Not War (On Women) by Brenda Zurita at Concerned Women for America, I thought: I need to talk to her.

So I did.

When we think of “women’s issues,” we usually mean abortion, contraception, sex, etc. But regardless of what you think on those issues, the “war on women” rhetoric is degrading.

Here’s Brenda:
There are polls out showing that the majority of women are pro-life, so the mainstream media just perpetuates this myth that all women think exactly alike. It’s insulting. They don’t group men that way. I don’t know if you’ve seen those bro-choice commercials – they’re ridiculous, but do we think all men are like that? No, I don’t, and the media doesn’t portray all men as being like that, and yet we’re all supposed to say, “Well, if Planned Parenthood thinks it’s a good idea, of course I support that.” 
The power is if you repeat it enough, people will believe it and not really research what it means.

I think it’s offensive that people wouldn’t understand that women are different – we don’t all hold the same positions – or the fact that because I’m a woman, I’m going to believe these things means you don’t think I’m up to researching an issue and deciding for myself. That’s why Concerned Women for America was started. We got fed up with hearing feminists on TV defending their position and saying this is how all women think, and wait a second, there’s a whole contingent of women that don’t think that way.

How often do you see the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America on TV? You see Nancy Pelosi and Planned Parenthood representatives constantly, but there’s a conservative voice out there.
Whatever individual women think about abortion and contraception, those often are not their top issues when voting, she told me. When Americans lose their jobs or safety or financial security because of a bad policy decision, many of those Americans affected are women.
I don’t think “women’s issues” are as important to women as economic issues and national security issues, but every time a Democrat wins, it seems like they say, ‘Oh, war on women, women agree with us on freedom of choice issues,’ but women, most women take care of household finances and they have to balance the budget and they understand those things. The government today is running willy-nilly. If only we could all live like that: we don’t have the money, we’ll just spend anyway!
Frustrating, right? Rather than wallow in how horrible it all is (which is what I’d really like to do), Brenda offered a suggestion for bucking the bandwagon. (I know. Fixing the problem. Totally men’s work.)

Contact your local representatives and senators and tell them what you think about the issues that matter to you. I found this piece really helpful – it’s written by a former congressman about how to get your message to your congressman most effectively. If you don’t remember everyone’s names, try this -- you just plug in your zip code, and your national and state officials pop up.

Because, look. The "War on Women" isn't a war and it isn't against women, any more than any other policy idea is against women. It's against the liberal, pro-abortion agenda pushed by some men and some women but not all men and not all women.

If women are going to be in politics -- whether it's voting, writing, or running for office -- it's only fair to be fair and remember that we have just as much right to disagree with each other as men do. One more word from Brenda:
[The media] denigrate conservative women. Look how they attacked Sarah Palin. The attacks against her were so file. If they'd been perpetuated against Nancy Pelosi or Michelle Obama or any Democrat leading lady, they never would have tolerated that.

Brenda Zurita is a research fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute, at Concerned Women for America. To get involved with CWFA, visit

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fear-free marriage

By Brianna Heldt
Just Showing Up

When my husband and I first began discussing the possibility of further growing our family through international adoption, it was 2005.  Our biological daughter was 15-months-old then, and our life was somehow manageable and flexible enough to consider jumping into the proverbial deep-end of paperwork, social worker visits, and parenting traumatized children.

Going into the process was exciting and hope-filled, but frightening and anxiety-inducing too.  You don’t know what particular challenges lurk silently ahead, nor can you realistically anticipate–as hard as you try, you really, truly can’t–how your family dynamic will change or what the emotional impact will be.

So when we brought our sons to the United States we became parents to three children ages two and under.  Adopting twin boys that were only eight months younger than our daughter was, I suppose, kind of a crazy leap of faith.  But we did it because we had discerned through prayer and discussion and research that it was right for us, and that God was–for whatever reason–calling us to it.  We said yes.

Even in spite of a relatively smooth transition for our sons and daughter, those early months of learning how to do life with three little ones afoot were intense.  There was constant movement, the addressing of countless medical and emotional issues, and mess.  Lots and lots of mess.  Crumbs and laundry and sippy cups and toys and diapers.  My husband and I would collapse on the couch at the end of each day, look over at one another and laugh–laugh!–at how positively tired we were, at how crazy life felt and at how strange we surely looked when we were pushing around a double stroller while also wearing a small child strapped to our chest.

But do you want to know what else we’d talk about in our living room at the end of long, toddler-filled days?  We’d talk about healing.  And progress.  We’d talk about the mystery of love, about how God was miraculously knitting all of our hearts together in a way that transcended biology and personal history.  We’d talk about joy and fulfillment and about how we’d sealed our fate as “that crazy family with all the kids”, which transformed into a public, gasp-worthy spectacle anytime we ventured outside our front door.  We’d talk about our sons’ birth mother, extreme poverty and about how no baby ought to be starving.  We’d recount the really hard things that happened that day–a post-institutionalized little boy, with no muscle tone and a failure-to-thrive diagnosis, having a panicked melt-down upon even the slightest glimpse of food, or my heroic attempts at crossing streets and navigating grocery aisles with three itty bitty kids in tow–and we’d remember the really good things that happened every day, like a sister and her brothers holding sticky, chubby hands, giving hugs, and laughing together.  Wanting to spend every single moment of the day side-by-side.

We were seeing redemption and mercy and the glory of the human family, happening right before our very eyes

We would of course go on to have two more biological children in the following years, and then adopt again in 2011, this time two little girls who’d been born with Down syndrome and severe congenital heart defects.  Then we had another baby this past spring.  So we have eight children, and they’re all relatively close in age, and I won’t tell you that our life isn’t messy or busy or occasionally hard.  Because (hello multiple heart surgeries and meal planning and homeschooling) it is.  But I will also tell you that it is GOOD.  It is happy.  It is marked by joy, and ups and downs, like most any life.

And yet I admit that every single time we’ve been given the gift of a child (whether by birth or adoption), I was a little bit afraid.  Afraid that we’d implode, afraid that we’d overextended ourselves beyond repair, afraid that we were certifiably insane–which, you know, maybe we are.  But crazy-town or not, every.single.time. God gave us a sweet little one, do you know what really happened?  Our family was renewed.  Each one of us grew in our capacity to love.  Our family life was strengthened.  Unconditional acceptance abounded.  Our family dynamic changed–for the better.  Sometimes we argue or yell or need a little bit of space, but then, doesn’t everyone?  My children are many, but they are happy.  I am happy.  And we are living proof that you don’t have to be a perfect mother, father or biped of any sort to live a marriage that is open to children.

I suspect that part of why we experience fear in this area is because we sense, on a very deep level, the gravity or weight of having a childand that is, in many ways, good.  The God-given power of participating in procreation (or the ability to adopt) isn’t something to take lightly or be flippant about.  So in that sense it should be approached with awe, reverence and humility.  But I also think there is the potential for us to miss out on a whole lot of beauty, love and grace when we become crippled by fear, doubt, and the internalized messages of our modern age.  And I’m just as susceptible to that as anyone–I’m generally non-committal and am an imagine-the-worst-case-scenario sort of person.  The fact that I was a 20-year-old bride and am now a mother to eight are all examples of God’s delightful sense of humor.  But what I learned all those years ago, in the exhausting days of having three children ages two-and-under, was that God can do good things with our “yes”, that a marriage can endure and THRIVE in the midst of raising babies, and that large families can flourish in happiness–even in our modern age.  And they are especially needed in our modern age.

So let’s worry less.  Be not afraid.  Families are specially designed for nurturing children and marriage is particularly ordered towards openness to children, either through the miracle of birth or the miracle of adoption.  Shared bedrooms and crowded kitchens and full-to-capacity carloads may no longer represent the typical American family’s landscape, and may indeed necessitate sacrifice and adjustment.  But they also have the special ability to harbor a childhood’s worth of hush-spoken secrets, side-splitting laughter, and shared memories that will last a lifetime.  They potentially shape and form and soften and grow.

Love multiplies, right before your very eyes.

And then one day you and your husband collapse on the couch–years older and hopefully a little bit wiser–and you realize that, in spite of your many children thundering around like elephants in the next room, long past bedtime, playing a game they invented called “stroller tag”?  You really kind of had nothing to fear.

Brianna Heldt is a mother to eight and contributor to Ignitum Today, Catholic Stand, and Catholic Exchange. In addition to her four biological children, she and her husband are also parents to four adopted children from Ethiopia, including two daughters with Down syndrome. When Brianna is not busy blogging or homeschooling, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading good books, thrifting, and advocating for orphaned children with medical needs. She lives with her husband and kids in Denver and blogs at Just Showing Up, where this post originally appeared.

Monday, December 16, 2013

50 Shades of Submission

By Christine Dalessio
The Catholic F Word

I have to write about it. Why? Because it's out there, seeping into the culture. Because it is most popular where I live (NY, NJ, PA, FL and MN.) Because women are collectively stating that men need not apply. Because I AM woman - hear me roar.

There is a certain need in every life for fantasy. What would Ignatian spirituality be without imagination, for example? How boring would our humanity be without it? I have been reading fantasy of some sort or another since the first time I walked through a wardrobe into a snowy wood, and the day I vanished by trying on a ring.

I understand that women work hard - at home and in the workplace. That women have been fighting the uphill battles of glass ceilings and loads of laundry for decades if not centuries. I know that fantasy provides an escape to a world of wonder that helps us deal with an uncertain, if not cruel at times, world of reality. And I know that fiction is fiction and fact is fact.

But our appetites for fiction feed our factual world. I don't believe that I am ever going to be able to put my feet in the sand and become a rooted tree. But in considering nature in this way, I perhaps respect trees a little more, embrace their gift, their shade. It makes me consider the specialness of the real world, and acknowledge what is fantastic.

When the appetites of women around the US and the world turn to bondage, sadism, masochism and punishment as a means of escape, the world must be dark indeed. This new affront to the dignity of woman and the value of the body and the well-being of the human person, this novel idea that turns sexuality into something secret and useful and a matter of contract is called 50 Shades of Grey.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Motherly Love

By Anna Dunham

This weekend we reached 33 weeks! As we get closer to full-term, thinking about delivery is definitely starting to outweigh thinking about simply being pregnant. And there are a lot of possibilities to consider: I may be able to have our baby without any intervention or surgery. I may need to have a c-section, if the doctor is unable to remove my cerclage. Things may get more complicated if the baby comes especially early. The doctor explained this many months ago, and as a type-A firstborn who likes to know and plan as much as possible, I've appreciated having time to think about the various scenarios. 

One aspect of being pregnant that I've loved is the support I've immediately gotten from the mothers in my life. I feel lucky that this first-hand support has been so positive, especially since as soon as you move from your friend-circle to the internet-circle, support seems to be squashed by competition. I've been struck by the fact that people can in the same breath admit that each baby and situation is unique, and then assert that one method or technique is universally superior. Epidurals, induction, breastfeeding, seems like every aspect of parenting is open to criticism and censure. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not Washing Dishes: A Tribute to My Mom

By Mary C. Tillotson
Image by Sarah Korf

Once upon a time, when I was a child, my mom made impossible pie for dinner. One of my siblings asked why the quiche-like food was called "impossible pie." (We were too young at the time to have "quiche" in our vocabulary, and that may have been the reason.)

"Because it's impossible to make anything better!" my brother piped up.

"Or because it's impossible to make anything worse," I grumbled.

My poor mother. Despite my picky eating and just plain not eating, I learned a lot of important life lessons from her, many of them regarding food. For example, whenever my dad cooked, she'd say, "Marry a man who's as nice to you as your dad is to me." (I did.) I also learned things like "Don't eat soap" (I don't), and, most importantly, "Don't wash more dishes than you have to."

My mom is a master at this last one, as you'll notice from her comment on my chili recipe a few months ago. She's amazing. This isn't something every woman gets to learn from her mother, so I thought I'd share her secret here and show you exactly how it's done. (She'll probably leave a comment that will eliminate one more dish. Just watch.)

Some general tips: Cutting boards double as plates when you're just having a snack -- especially if it's cheese and crackers or a sliced apple. Meat can be cooked in a saucepan before adding spaghetti sauce. And the only reason not to mix measured ingredients right in the measuring cup is to support the mixing bowl industry.

For the real demonstration, I'll make impossible pie (which I like now -- it's funny what adulthood does to you), after which I'll only have to wash the following:

one cutting board
one knife
one one-cup measuring cup
one four-cup measuring cup
one fork
one 8x8 pan

Here's the recipe:

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Reflection on "My Abortion"

By Erin Karlovich
Guest Contributor

Image by Katie Tegtmeyer
In a recent issue of New York Magazine, the cover story is "My Abortion," and in it 26 women share their experiences. It's incredible that a mainstream news source like this would address the issue so openly. Although it begins with commentary from the author, Meaghan Winter, the majority of this article is dedicated to the words of the women themselves, each of whom wrote a short paragraph describing her abortion.

Their stories are raw, expressing every emotion from regret to relief. Sometimes the voice is impersonal, as if the woman is trying to remove herself from her own memory. Some of the stories are graphic, discussing the reasoning, procedure, and reactions in detail. All of them share the same pain and underlying plea for acceptance.

I'm certain that this piece is sparking many reactions and conversations, but I want to focus on one small detail: the women's reactions to the pro-lifers they saw or spoke to outside of the facility or in their communities. As pro-lifers, our goal is to protect the lives of unborn children, yes, but we must never forget the mother in the process. These women are vulnerable, frightened, and seeking help. Their babies will die gruesome, painful deaths, but these mothers will live the rest of their lives with the memories of their abortions.

While most of the women don't mention encounters with other people, the little said is striking. I have taken excerpts from some of their stories so you may read for yourself (all emphasis is mine):

Although I always thought it was a woman’s right to choose, I honestly thought if I got pregnant I’d find a way to make it work. All that changed. My boyfriend terrorized me.... When I went to the clinic, there were protesters with awful, very graphic signs. I felt their judgment....With the slew of shitty things that have happened to me, I wonder, am I paying the price for what I did? I believe in a God who wouldn’t punish that way. But when you don’t want the gift you’re given, will the universe offer up that gift again? -Lauren, 34, Colorado

Friday, December 6, 2013

Obamacare attacks religion, but hurts women

By Helen Alvare
Women Speak for Themselves

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear two important cases about whether women and men who own businesses are protected by civil rights laws against religious discrimination. The Obama Administration says it can ignore religious freedom laws when regulating businesses and their owners because it believes earning money is inconsistent with exercising religion.

Reacting to the news that the Supreme Court will consider this important issue, the White House struck its typical pose as the one and only protector of, and voice for, "women and families." The president assures us that he is pressing these cases so that "women and families -- not their bosses or corporate CEOs" make decisions about whether to use abortion-inducing drugs and devices.

The White House stance assumes that women care far more about free access to contraceptives, or their sex lives, than about religious freedom, or allowing businesses to have a conscience. This view of women is degrading. It treats women as one-dimensional victims needing the protection of government-as-big-brother.

Moreover, the government misjudges women at every turn. First, the idea that service to "women and families" requires crushing these businesses with fines is absurd because the businesses at issue are actually owned by . . . women and families. While it may have escaped White House notice, the plaintiffs in the two cases include women owners and operators of the relevant businesses. This should not be so surprising: there are more than ten million women-owned businesses in this country. And here in the 21st century, many women are the "bosses and corporate CEOs" the White House criticizes. Crushing businesses with fines-particularly businesses with women owners-hurts women, rather than helping them.

Second, the White House view ignores the fact that women benefit -- indeed, everyone benefits -- from having a job market in which people of all different faiths are able to create jobs. Hobby Lobby, for example, employs more than 13,000 people, and actually provides free contraceptives to its employees-- just not the small handful that can cause abortions. There are thousands of women whose lives are better and whose families are stronger and more secure because of those jobs. Crushing Hobby Lobby just because of its owners religious beliefs would hurt these women, not help them. The last thing our economy needs, and the last thing American families need, is the government shrinking the already too-small pool of available jobs.

Third, women actually tend to practice religion more than men. For this reason too, the government's attack on religious freedom rights hurts women more than men.

The White House insists that its heavy-handed approach is needed to protect women because it thinks contraceptives are "essential to women's health." That is, to say the least, a highly dubious claim. Women get sick and die, for the most part, of things like heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Their long list of ailments rarely calls for free contraceptives to solve a health problem. In fact, as Judge Janice Rogers Brown recently noted, there are credible medical sources (like the World Health Organization) who now classify some hormonal contraceptives as carcinogens. Americans spend millions of dollars a year to buy chicken and meat that have not been pumped full of synthetic hormones-precisely because they fear the associated medical risks.

But even if the government is right about how we all need easy access to contraceptives all the time, there can be no serious argument that the only way to provide us with our pills is to force unwilling employers to pay for them. Contraceptives are widely available and cheap. And for those who cannot afford them, the government already spends millions of dollars per year providing them for free. With the Obamacare exchanges now open, if the federal government thinks more women need or want this insurance coverage, it now runs a marketplace in which they can get it.

Women do not need big brother steamrolling religious liberty to make their lives better. They would prefer to hold onto religious liberty itself.

Helen Alvare is a law professor at George Mason University and the founder of Women Speak for Themselves. This article was originally published at USA Today and is used with permission.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Redeeming "Women's Studies"

By Mary C. Tillotson

A couple weekends ago, my husband and I saw the local college's performance of The Three Musketeers. The actors and set designers and costume-makers and everyone did a fine job, especially considering the limited resources, but I was disappointed with the play itself. The playwright had added a character: D'Artangan's little sister Sabine, who I think was supposed to represent a "women can be strong, too" theme, but was really an enthusiastic but annoying tag-along little sister who mostly got in the way. The three inseparables and D'Artangan are constantly irritated with her, and the play ends with her running off with them to battle some kind of evil, but she doesn't even have a sword. It cheapened the whole job of the musketeers.

At the beginning of the play, D'Artangan sets off for Paris, hoping to become a musketeer, and their father sends Sabine with him -- she's off to Paris to study. As soon as their father is out of sight, she rips off her skirt to reveal pants, then announces her intention to skip school and do something more exciting (I can't remember what) in Paris. Throughout the play she makes comments like "Life isn't very fun for a woman in 17th century France."

It was jarring, and I wanted to protest, but I don't know much about women in 17th century France. In fact, I don't know much about women in most of history. I hear two conflicting narratives: (1) that women were oppressed by men until the 20th century when we finally started breaking free of the patriarchy (from suffrage to birth control), and (2) that the oppression of women is an overblown historical myth, and things weren't near as bad as modern feminist pretend. I have sympathies with both understandings of history.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Complainer Meets Sorrow, and Gives Thanks

By Joy Pullmann

I complain a lot about pregnancy (if you haven't noticed). I whine about how fat I am, and uncomfortable in myriad minor ways. But a few weeks ago, something made me sick of myself. It was a friends' funeral for their unborn child.

Their son died at about 19 weeks old. There is never very much to say about funerals. Thankfully, it was a Christian funeral and family, so grief in that case can be temporary. And I do not like to use other people's stories and sorrow as a morality tale—too much talk cheapens grief—but the little boy's death did make me realize how foolish I am. I complain frequently and crankily about a perfectly normal pregnancy (at least, as far as we know) while another woman and friend would give her right hand to have her little boy still kicking her ribs out. A commenter made a similar point a few weeks ago on one of my rants. And she was right.

My 14-year-old brother died in a car accident on my 19th birthday. Because of that, I sometimes look at my precious children and wonder if one of them will die before me. Or, worse, I wonder if one of them will not join me in heaven. There's no way for me to know, and it's not helpful to sit there morosely thinking of all the evil that may happen. Instead, I try to be thankful for what we do have, which is a great deal. One of them is this tiny little child inside, whose irritations to me mean he is not dead.

Image by The Bywaters.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Denim Adventures, or, A Flowchart for Pants Shopping

By Mary C. Tillotson

you've served me well, old friend
I needed some down-time on Saturday, and I must have really needed it because I had this crazy idea that during my "down-time" I could run out to a store and buy a pair of jeans "real quick."

I would be less stressed because I'd have one thing off my to-do list, I reasoned. I do need jeans, after all.

My favorite pair (from my sister-in-law; they didn't fit her) is growing holes in the knees and I don't think they can hold out much longer. My second-favorite pair I purchased for cheap at a thrift store, and like other Aeropostale jeans I've gotten at thrift stores, they fit great for the first month, then start digging into my belly while exposing my backside. Not quite the look I'm going for.

Also, they are Aeropostale jeans. I'm done with my early 20s and would like to find a different brand that fits, thank you, and hopefully for longer than a month.

Noble goal in mind, I set off for a department store, envisioning myself enjoying a cup of tea near the fireplace, wearing my new jeans. Yes! This was an intelligent way to spend my allotted "relax" time.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Going on TV = Basically Not Worth It

By Joy Pullmann

This afternoon, I was scheduled to go on a TV program to talk about government preschool. I told the producer I couldn't make it to a TV station to record, because my husband is taking a test from 1 to 5 (therefore gone with our only car) and the show window was 2:30 to 3:45. Luckily, we could do the show over Skype, as long as I had a hardline connection.

Pertinent detail: The children nap from 2 to 4. Also pertinent: Our router is located in our unfinished basement, so I had to rig up some makeshift background. I duct-taped a navy sheet to our heater vents.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Defense of Emotions

By Mary C. Tillotson

Image by Alin Klim
When I was a sophomore in college, I dated a guy, and it wasn't a great relationship. I spent a huge amount of energy struggling with an intense desire to not be dating him alongside an inability to find a good reason why I shouldn't. "I don't want to" is selfish and therefore not a good enough reason (I reasoned) because that was based on emotion.

I spent the beginning of my senior year sighing to a friend that I was having the hardest time in the world getting over this other very attractive man. He was smart, mature, from Michigan, good with kids, and surrounded by plenty of other like-minded women at a college 500 miles away from me, and would graduate two years after I did.

When he asked me out later that fall, I was more relieved than anything else. Oh good. Now I don't have to get over you. We've been married for a little more than a year, and marrying him is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

In both cases, my emotions were right on (hindsight, and some friends I didn't listen to, told me the first guy had a lot more growing up to do), and my reason was off track. I've done some maturing since then, and I've come to realize that my strong hunches are generally on target. It sort of bothers me: like most people, I want to think I make rational decisions instead of emotional decisions. But, at least with me, my emotions are usually wiser.

Let's go back to college for a minute. I remember hearing some people say that women shouldn't learn Greek, or shouldn't earn Ph.Ds, or that women were generally less rational than men. All of this bothered me to the core, and I think much of it came out of the overeager liberal arts college student's zeal to save the world via Aristotle.

I think it's stupid to say women shouldn't learn Greek or earn Ph.Ds; if you're a woman and you want to, go for it. It's wrong to think of women as crazy, hormone-ridden creatures that can't be trusted with anything important or meaningful. It's inaccurate and insulting to think of women as a little less intelligent than men, or not quite up to speed.

But I'm haunted by the fact that my hunches are a better decision-making guide than my reason. It's not just relationships -- it's basically any big decision.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Apparently, Baby Bunching Is a Thing

By Joy Pullmann

I had no idea there was a name for our inability to schedule conception, which has resulted in three babies in four years. But, apparently, there is. It's even trademarked, and there's a book coming. It's called "baby bunching."

According to other women I chat with, older women will often go deliberately for baby bunching because they have fewer good years of fertility left and they want to get kids in while they can. Some want to get the birthing years over with, which I am quite sympathetic to (I'm playing with the idea of "four by 30" but I hate pregnancy so much we'll see if we make it...or, which is more likely, if we continue to have children constantly despite my hoped-for 30-year cutoff). Other, less-organized people like me, keep having these kids during what are obviously highly fertile years, and we won't kill them, so we love them instead.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A woman and a voter but not a woman voter

By Mary C. Tillotson

So, the elections happened.

In Virginia, where I live, the governor's race ended up being extremely close, with both major-party candidates getting less than 50 percent of the vote. Maybe I'm a bad person, but I never get super emotionally invested in these things. I did my research, and I voted, and if I find out the results Wednesday instead of late Tuesday, that's fine with me.

The Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe won the election, and before you can say "human dignity," my Twitter feed started filling up with comments about how female body parts actually won the election, and now are safe because McAuliffe will be in office. And how the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, failed miserably because he's anti-woman.

Let's ignore for a minute that on the same day in New Jersey, the male pro-life candidate got more women votes than the female Democrat opponent. (More on that here.) But of course that doesn't matter because women don't count as women if they vote pro-life. (Let's also ignore that mathematical inaccuracy of saying all or nearly all women are pro-choice. Check out the last pair of graphs at Gallup.)

I'm not a Republican, but I generally vote that way; I'm not into third-party voting and the Republican candidate usually has less horrible ideas. And I'm sick of being lumped in with the single-issue "women voters" who are more likely to refer to themselves as a body part than a whole person.

I am a woman, and I am a voter, but apparently I'm not a "woman voter."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Does Marketing Mean No Free Market?

Since I'm apparently a budding right-wing pundit, you might expect my reaction to this press release from Lady Obama to be something along the lines of "get your nanny statism out of my grocery shopping." It's not. More on that later, but first here are some excerpts:
As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, Mrs. Obama today joined Sesame Street’s Elmo and Rosita to announce that Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in a two-year agreement to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids... 
The announcement comes on the heels of the first ever White House convening on food marketing to children, during which Mrs. Obama called on stakeholders to leverage the power of marketing to promote healthy products and decrease the marketing of unhealthy products to kids. 
It goes on to mention a study where kids were given the choice of an apple or cookie to eat. Most, of course, chose the cookie. But when the researchers put an Elmo sticker on the apple, twice as many kids took the apple as before.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The cheapskate-beginner's guide to non-committally dabbling in candle-making

By Mary C. Tillotson

It all started early in the week when my husband kindly asked me to put away some things I'd left strewn around the office.

I looked at my eclectic shoeboxes labeled beads+string and dremel+woodburner and so forth until my eyes fell on a navy blue box -- Florsheim, apparently courtesy of someone else years ago. I'd been too ashamed to label this one: inside were four jars with the last bits of scented candle in the bottom. The two largest jars I'd been lugging around since (*blush*) college, and the medium-sized ones since the year after.

I am a closet packrat, and all I can say in my defense is that when I married my husband, he owned -- meaning, had not thrown away on purpose -- more than one empty soap squirter. I mean the kind you can buy full of liquid soap for 99 cents.

I realize this is not much of a defense. But these candles had lovely scents, and it would be a snap to combine the last bits and make a new (smaller) candle. Plus, those jars with the gasket-lids are just so handy. I mean, you could clean them out and fill them with Christmas candy and give them as gifts!

Feeling competent and confident from something I'd just finished, and embarrassed at the realization that I still hadn't made the candles (or the Christmas candy, for that matter), I announced to my husband that I was hereby going to make candles this weekend, or I was going to throw the jars away.

And scented candles, too, because without fragrance, what's the point of a candle?

The candles were three different types of floral, and I thought they'd blend well, but I would need to add some scented wax to what I already had.

Unfortunately, nobody sells floral fragrances this time of year. (Aside: candles with baked-goods or fruit fragrances generally smell like tween girl body wash; as for the rest of what's on the shelves this month, what does "Tis The Season" or "Distant Cabin" even smell like?)

I also hadn't realized that there are about 18 different kinds of candle wax and 16 different kinds of wicks, or remembered that in the world of crafts, anything can be really really complicated and expensive if you let it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Mission of Money and the Single-Income Marriage

By Katie Sciba
The Catholic Wife
“Who can find a good wife? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm” (Proverbs 31:10-12a).

Back in August I dug up my old Dave Ramsey CDs for some monetary motivation; and immediately Andrew and I got back on the horse to ride furiously into the sunset of Financial Peace (because frankly, I’m terrified of not having Financial Peace).

We’re a single income family and in the beginning, Andrew and I agreed that I would handle the finances. Though of course he’s privy to our cash flow, it’s my job to make sure the outgo doesn’t exceed the income. Since our financial revival a couple months ago, I’ve made a habit of combing our budget in search of error and excess to ensure that we have complete control over our finances, intentionally placing each penny prudently. Coupons, SALES, switching to reliable-yet-inexpensive Ting for our cell service, coffee at home vs. Fivebucks; every little bit helps and any new approach we find to help us save more and spend less becomes Sciba Family Dogma: we cling to it stubbornly, knowing the discipline will help our family. (In case you think we live like shoeless hermits, I want you to know that we still LIVE, have fun, and purchase things we want.)

Friday night I burst through our front door beaming from a big grocery trip. I giddily reported to Andrew that after coupons and discounts, I managed to save us $16 at the check out, not including the dollars saved from buying only on-sale items. Others might save much more on a regular basis, but I was pretty proud of myself since the whole coupon/smart-shopping idea used to intimidate me.

In my chatty glow, it occurred to me that I waxed so merrily about my savings because I wanted Andrew to know that I was being a good steward of his income – a wife who doesn’t take advantage, but has learned to deeply appreciate his work and reaping.


A sudden, simple, spiritual/financial/revival AHA! struck me at that very moment: It is Andrew’s task as the breadwinner to provide financially for our family; it is my corresponding duty to reveal to him, through good stewardship of his income, that what he brings in is enough. Generally speaking, men want to provide; it’s a natural charism that when under fire, can cause self-doubt and anxiety. If it seems like there’s not enough cash, then it’s easy (and common) for a provider to doubt his worth because if he’s doing his best, working hard, and coming up short, discouragement follows; BUT, I can stave off that discouragement by being a good steward of our finances, by living simply, making prudent financial choices and communicating about expenses and needs. And the plus is that I can build Andrew up in good, honest confidence because he’ll trust that I treasure him as well as his work for me and our boys.

I want so so so much to be the Proverbs 31 type for my husband. And why not? I’m crazy about him! With our combined duties of providing and stewardship, we feel safe with each other and hopeful in our relational security. The whole thing is a team-building effort that applies not just to single-income marriages or he works/she’s at home situations; the point is that putting a little financial prudence into practice has a way of letting your provider know you appreciate what he does.

Image by Finance Fox.

Originally from Newport News, Virginia and grown in the burbs of Omaha, Nebraska, Katie Sciba is a housewife and mother, award-winning columnist for the Catholic Connectionand editor for the blog Truth & Charity.  She won a third-place award from Catholic Press Association for Best Regular Column on Family Life in 2013, and her blog has been featured on National Catholic RegisterNew AdventSpirit Daily, and Big PulpitA 2008 Benedictine College grad, she lives with her husband, Andrew, and three sons. She admires St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was renowned not only by her compassion for the poor, but also by her deep love for her husband. She blogs at The Catholic Wife, where this post originally appeared.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Working from Home: 15 tips from 4 friends

By Mary C. Tillotson

our backyard neighbor!
My husband spent four days in Vermont this summer, and during that time I called some girls at the nearby college to see if we could hang out in the evening -- till then, I'd had more face time with bears than human beings that day and it was disconcerting.

Working from home is awesome but, like anything, it presents its own set of challenges. I emailed three friends (including Joy from this blog and Laura who's written for us a couple times) for their work-from-home tips, and included mine as well. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

Keeping focused

1. Don't stay in your pajamas all morning and half the afternoon on a regular basis. It might be comfortable, but it will make you feel lazy and unproductive. And not like the functioning, mature professional that you're trying to be. Anna Sutherland

2. Set work hours. I work from 9 (or whenever I wake up, really) until 5, with a lunch break. If I just worked whenever, I would never get done what I need. But if I didn't have an end time, I would hate my job because I would work constantly. Joy Pullmann
via Wikimedia Commons

3. If you have trouble staying focused, as I do, pray specifically for diligence.  I find this helps. Also, I have a picture of St. Thomas More (patron saint of lawyers) hanging right above my desk. His stern gaze can help me stop dilly dallying and get back to work. Laura Christine

4. Make an effort to be friendly with your co-workers, over phone or email. Talking shop with others in your profession helps you stay focused and develop yourself professionally. Build relationships that you can easily share ideas over. Mary C. Tillotson

Not Going Crazy

5. Don't let inertia keep you from leaving the house. If you work from home all day, going places suddenly seems like a significant undertaking (even if it's just the grocery store). And if the only people you regularly see are your family members, going somewhere to (gasp) socialize feels even more daunting.... so you might as well just stay home, you tell yourself. In reality, you do need a change of surroundings and some new company every now and then, so don't hesitate to go to the library, the coffeeshop, the gym, that church event you meant to attend, whatever. Anna Sutherland

6. Don't work an hour before bed. Staring at a computer messes up your sleep patterns. Joy Pullmann

7. Take a walk. If you need a break, get up and go outside for a while.  It helps clear your mind much better than checking Facebook or browsing the web.  In the same vein, consider taking an actual lunch break instead of eating at your desk. Laura Christine

8. Know yourself and your social needs. I'm sure your husband is awesome, but if he's the only human being you see all day (especially if you're extroverted), join a club or take a class or do something outside your home on a regular basis. This will take time away from work and family, but it'll make you happier and more emotionally equipped to be good at all the things you're doing. Mary C. Tillotson

9. Consider a standing desk, or some other way of working while standing. Sitting all day is all kinds of unhealthy.  My husband has set up his computer monitors so that they slide up and down, and he can work part of the day standing up.  He finds he actually has more energy and concentration that way.  I'm working on a way to prop up my laptop so that I can do the same. Laura Christine

Parenting and Family

10. If your kids are older than 1 year old, you need childcare for them, unless you're only working part-time. Under 1 can stay with mommy and is not much trouble, but after they start walking and stop nursing you're hosed. Joy Pullmann

11. In that vein, schedule phone calls. I love having my kids around me, but I can't make calls knowing someone might randomly start screaming while I'm on the phone. Joy Pullmann

12. Make a deliberate decision about the lines between work and family, don't just let it fall where it falls. I don't mind taking some breaks during the day (either I'm distracted by the internet, or I need to go outside, or I wash dishes or update our family budget) and doing some work in the evening, but I might do it differently if I had kids. There isn't a blanket right or wrong way to do it; the best way for you to manage those lines is going to be whatever will make your family top priority and allow you to be professional and hardworking at your job. Mary C. Tillotson

Helpful apps and tools

Waste No Time
13. Get a smartphone. I can work in airports, while the kids are at the library, in the car on the way places, etc. You can get cheap ones and plans at VirginMobile or similar services. Joy Pullmann

14. Waste No Time App: I love this free browser extension!  It allows you to set limits on how much time you spend on a certain website at various times of the day.  For instance, you can set it so that you can only spend 15 minutes on Facebook or Pinterest between the hours of 8 and 5.  You also can block certain sites altogether.  Of course you can cheat and disable the settings, but I find that the screen that pops up when I've gone over my time limit is enough motivation to get back to work. Laura Christine

15. Workflowy is great. I don't even use it that much, because I have to write everything down with a pen, but I can't get over how cool this program is. It's free, just sign in with your email address and a password. (If you want some fun features, you can get them for $5/month.) Workflowy is literally a bunch of bullet points and sub-sub-points and you can zoom in and out and collapse and expand as much as you like. (There's a short video here that gives you a better visual.) For a while I used it to keep track of all my phone calls, so I could know at a glance whether I'd been obnoxious, assertive, or passive about getting ahold of someone. Mary C. Tillotson

If your to-do list is overwhelming and it's hard to get motivated, remember this tidbit from Ray Bradbury: "By doing things, things get done."

What tips do you have for work-from-homers?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Good Reason to Wear White

By Marissa Farrell
Guest Contributor 

The last few days have been difficult for my family as we celebrated the life of our “Uncle” Steve, who passed away on September 8. The events that immediately precede and follow the end of life are emotionally taxing. Steve experienced intense physical suffering as cancer ravaged his body. Family and friends said their goodbyes and attempted to spiritually smother him with prayer. Our parish priest helped to prepare Steve’s soul through the reception of the sacraments, especially Anointing of the Sick. The grieving process began over a year ago for most of us, when Uncle Steve was given his terminal diagnosis, but having time to prepare does not dull the grief.

My sister and I play the harp and flute and are often asked to play for special occasions at church. Uncle Steve’s near-obsession with all things Three Stooges and Harpo Marx had always been one of his favorite ways of relating to our love for music and unusual instrument choice. It only made sense for us to give his family in their suffering and him in his eternal life the gift of our music. So, we undertook the difficult, but worthwhile, task of playing for his wake and funeral services.

From our seats in the choir section of the church, I could see the hundreds of people who gathered to celebrate Uncle Steve’s life. The church was packed with family and friends – a sea of dark blue and black. In the front row sat his wife, son, mother, father, brothers and sisters. As I looked at that front row I was struck. The entire row was a solid line of black dresses and suits, except for one woman dressed in white linen from head to toe. She looked as if she stood in defiance of the tradition to wear black while mourning the loss of a loved one. It was Uncle Steve’s mother.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

We're Not Confused, We're Married

My husband and I have sort of a strange relationship. I happen to earn our main income and produce all the babies, but he's not one of those lazy-a** husbands who make their wives do all the big jobs while they sit on the couch watching porn or Simpsons reruns. I'm also not the career woman who spends 80 hours a week in the office while her kids languish with a nanny. We're both sort of a weird mixture of the other, unlike both the traditional and sensible husband-wife relationship where the man is the hunter-gatherer and the woman the homemaker, and the modern relationship where everyone works while outsourcing the kids to strangers.

My husband is not androgynous or effeminate. He's spent the past two weeks jackhammering and digging out our hideous concrete patio to make way for what I hope will be a nice new brick one. He handles all the home repairs, car maintenance, and financial matters (thank goodness). I'm also not very manly. I'm not the Cinderalla-Barbie-princess sort of girl, but I crochet, and bake bread, and squee at mice. He's also more stern with the children, and I'm a mushball. 

But my husband also does almost all of our grocery shopping and meal creation. I used to, but I got busy and tired being pregnant all the time, so he took it over.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Want More Babies? Stop Needlessly Terrifying Pregnant Women

By Carrie Lukas
Culture of Alarmism

Western democracies face a growing problem. No, it's not the ballooning budget deficits, swelling entitlement programs, or expanding ranks of the permanently unemployed. This time the problem is what's not growing: Too few women are having babies to sustain the population.

European countries have long posted fertility rates far below 2.1 births per woman, the level required to replace the population absent immigration. The United Kingdom and France have relatively healthy rates of around 2 births per woman, but Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Austria all have fewer than 1.5 births per woman. The United States had been an exception in the Western world, but the fertility rate recently dipped to 1.9 births per woman.

Low fertility has enormous economic implications. Too few babies today means too few workers and taxpayers tomorrow, and a stagnant economy. World leaders know this, so have tried a range of policies, from tax breaks and cash payments to subsidized parental leave and childcare programs, to encourage procreation. Such efforts have had modest, inconsistent impacts.

Here's one idea that Western democracies ought to consider and it won't take a dime from their strained government budgets: Try toning down the alarmism heaped on expectant parents to make pregnancy and parenting more appealing. Sadly, too much of society seeks to scare would-be parents into believing that danger lurks around every corner for any child they foolishly bring into this toxic world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The ocean of life: another Facebook Expat muses

By Mary C. Tillotson

h/t Laura for starting this conversation! And note: I'm musing here, not preaching, so if you want to stay on Facebook, I'm not judging you.

When I got off Facebook, a college acquaintance was seven months pregnant. I’m sure she’s had her baby by now. I haven’t seen photos, and I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. Or twins, or a stillbirth, for that matter. I don’t have her email address, though I suppose I could ask around and find it without much trouble.

But she and I weren’t super close in college and haven’t gotten super close since, and if I never find out how her pregnancy ended, that’s okay. I keep in touch with some of my college friends, and one friend from St. Ignace (where I lived and worked after college before moving to Virginia), and that’s enough. With some of them, one of us will email a link to an article and we’ll get into a long email conversation about it (and the rest of life). With others, I exchange letters. One of my closest friends, we’ll forget about each other for a few months, play phone tag for a week, talk for a couple hours, then forget each other for another few months.

And that’s enough.

Like many in my generation, I’ve moved too many times and will likely move a few more times before we settle (if we ever do). Every time I move, I meet new people, and about the time I can’t imagine a routine that didn’t include these people, I pack up and leave town, off to another adventure. I graduated and moved; got married and moved; left the homeschool circuit and took a desk job. Or, back in my college years, the summer ended and I left camp or my internship.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Because She is a Person

By Rebekah Randolph
A Mad Tea Party

As I look at my beautiful little girl, I wonder what womanhood may come to mean to her as she grows up—how she will come to think of herself amid the frothing nonsense of our society. I hope she doesn't listen to American culture too much. Most of its messages about womanhood are terrible: you should try to be like a man. You should flaunt your body to manipulate men. You should shut up and do what men tell you. You should do whatever you want, because nobody cares.

I want her to know that she is valuable. But not for the reasons that the world plasters across its billboards, proclaims from its political rostrums, and teaches in its “enlightened” classrooms. Not because she is sexy. Not because she can do anything men can do. Not because girls rule and boys drool. Quite simply, because she is a person.
Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve" (Sistine Chapel)

Our daughter is a female person, of course, which is delightful for many reasons. However, her femininity affects neither her essential value nor her essential purpose. After all, when we first realized that our baby existed, we had no idea whether it was a boy or a girl. Why did we rejoice, then? Simply because a soul had been created. When I felt her first movements, I still didn't know but I praised God for giving us a child. No matter which way things developed, our joy would have been the same.

And so I don't want our daughter's primary identity to be "a girl." That is, I don't want her to tiptoe through life filtering everything through her gender, believing that she must be different in every way from men and that if she isn't, she has somehow failed as a woman.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bringing humanity back to politics

By Mary C. Tillotson

I found myself back in the swing of full-time journalism, and now it's my job to pay close attention to the goings-on in the government, and to read lots and lots of news. Sometimes the most difficult part is sifting through the name-calling, the caricatures, the nonsense and distilling the actual truth of what's going on and why people believe it.

Let's take the issue of abortion, for example. That's controversial enough. If you make a statement one way or the other about it, either you approve of killing children or you're against women's health. From big-name liberal newspapers to conservative opinion journals to bloggers to average Joe on Facebook, many (not all) people are making this sort of claim all over. If you believe something else, your reasoning must be stupid because you're a complete and total idiot.

This is not how civilized people behave. This is not how civilized people treat each other.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musings of a Facebook Expat

By Laura Christine
This Felicitous Life

I deactivated my Facebook account two years ago.  At first, the thought of getting off Facebook was terrifying.  How could I stand being so disconnected from everyone?  I hate feeling out of the loop.

But I knew Facebook was feeding too many of my baser instincts to judge, to compare myself to others, to pry into personal details that are none of my business.  Worst of all, I was not fully appreciating my daughters’ sweet, fleeting childhood moments.  Instead I was engrossing myself in the lives of people whom I did not care much about.  How does Facebook do that to us?

I really don't need to know everything going on in the lives of hundreds of people I barely know.  It’s nice that a person I went to school with but haven’t talked to in ten years just had a baby.  I’m misprioritizing, however, if I spend time reading about that instead of loving on my own babies, or instead of bringing a meal to a new mom who lives down the street.

Deactivating my account has been so freeing.  I used to know a lot about people.  Now I focus more on knowing people.  People are my vocation right now—primarily my husband and children but also my extended family and close friends.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why I Went to College

By Catherine S.
Guest Contributor
courtesy Kevin Dooley, flickr

Last week, a friend sent me this article by Raylan Alleman, a conservative father who declares it is better for girls not to go to college. Alleman claims that college these days is expensive, morally dangerous, and academically disappointing, and that women can do better for themselves by avoiding it altogether and preparing themselves for their true purpose in life: marriage. Like any (or at least, many) college-educated woman, I immediately laughed it to scorn. However, as I mentally prepared my biting rebuttal, I came across other online reactions to the article, and I began to question my position. Anonymous snarky comments and my knee-jerk reaction only strengthen Raylan Alleman's original argument. Because I have a degree, I automatically know better than some man online, don’t I? Sadly, I’m the woman with the education, and yet I can't do any better than scream through cyberspace at a stranger. I reacted in an antagonistic, militant, feminist manner. This is why Alleman doesn’t want to send his daughter to college: because she will go to college and get her degree and fly her “educated woman” flag without having the initial decency to consider the opposite side of an argument, without being able to logically distinguish between an incorrect argument and a poorly-made one. Alleman has expressed his opinion with sweeping generalizations and what seems to be little knowledge of many conservative colleges across the country, but as a father, he has every right to express his concern with the dangers that surround a college-bound child.

That said, although I agree with his principles, I disagree with his points.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Community Is Better than Experts

By Joy Pullmann

My three-year-old son learned a new word this week: Proud. I told him for the first time I was proud of him when he learned to ditch his diapers, all in three days. I'm not sure he understands what the word means--it's an abstract concept, after all, which is why he hasn't heard it before--but it was the best way I could think to express my approval.

My husband actually changes most of the diapers in this house, and makes most of the meals (we havesome role reversal going on because I'm currently the full-time breadwinner), so I wasn't as much relieved to get out of a big chore of mine as tickled pink my little boy managed to figure this out so fast. I mean, he went from peeing in his pants without thinking about it to marching himself to the bathroom at the right impulse, pulling pants down and up himself, doing his business, and cleaning up afterward. That was a lot to learn in six hours. But we haven't had an accident in two days (fingers crossed), and there were a few unintentional ones the two days before that.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to help in times of grief

By Tammy Ruiz
Guest Contributor

When Mary asked to wrote a post for this blog, we discussed possible topics and one she floated was the awkward aspects of social relationships after death and how to minimize those. As I am currently living that situation, I thought it was ideal.

I work as a nurse caring for women and families after pregnancy loss and infant death. I spend time with each mom talking to her about how to reenter her previous social relationships. While different deaths create different dynamics, it's good for those around us to peek into our worlds. I may write about the bereaved moms I care about in another post but I want to share something from personal experience today.

I am a 48-year-old Catholic mom and nurse. One year and a few weeks ago I had a bustling house with seven people in it ... I got up on a Saturday morning ready to run to the store to get my husband some soda - he hadn't felt well the night before (he thought he had the flu) and opted to sleep in the theater room lest he get anyone else sick. I went to check on him only to find him dead on the floor. He was young and seemingly very healthy...he was a recently retired Marine Officer who had run marathons - his death was a huge shock.
Tammy Ruiz at her husband's funeral

Because of my work, death was not totally foreign to me, but (of course) nothing prepares you for a life change this profound. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I was so touched by the outpouring of kindness...but even when experiencing it myself, I considered "What parts of this are helpful, what am I really looking for from people?" because I wanted to be able to share what I learned at some point. One day - in the midst of card /flower/fruit basket madness - I realized that as much as I really appreciated each kind gesture, my most primitive need was to know that 1) people had heard the news and 2) it was important to them.

Yes, when the rubber really met the road, I just really wanted to know that my loss was important - whether people expressed themselves grandly or simply, I really did want to hear from them. Even though I would have liked to talk to everyone on the phone, I certainly didn't have time or emotional energy for it, so receiving a combination of cards and calls was ideal. I hardly read the preprinted text of cards, I just wanted to see who wrote it and if they added could have been a Congratulations on your Bar Mitzvah card for all I knew (one goofy friend did send one of those and it made me laugh). I found it most comforting when people told me that I had been on their mind ever since they heard the news. It was very encouraging to know I hadn't been forgotten.

One last comment about gestures of tough economic times, many people have significant financial challenges and there is no shame in it. Please don't feel obligated to do more than you can afford. I received a few gestures that were so sacrificial they were like the widow's pence...while they warmed my heart, they also broke it as I was very concerned that my friends would suffer from it. Your prayers and words of kindness will be treasured by those who really care about you - please don't spend your Cheerios money on flowers.

There were a few people who I considered myself "close" with who I never heard a word from. The understanding gracious side of me realizes that they may have been afraid or uncertain, but my needy hurting side said "we were friends for 30 years and you couldn't reach out at all? really?" The worst for me was a friend who said NOTHING to me then sent a form letter solicitation asking for funds for a missionary trip. I resisted the urge to tell her exactly what I thought about that; in my state of mind, it wouldn't have been tactful.

Rebuilding came in different stages from "Immediate Crisis" to "Dust Settling Over Chaos" to "Calmer Transition" to "Remaking my Life"; waves of grief sent me back to crisis for short spurts, but mostly I moved forward. In the last few months, I have noticed a trend that I want to share.

Being an integrated person is one of my goals, not compartmentalizing different parts of my life into boxes. I am right now STILL a bereaved widow but ALSO a young(ish sort of) person newly single who has a new relationship. I met my husband when I was a teen and we were grandparents when he died - he will ALWAYS be a part of my life...his death will ALWAYS be profound to me. If I waited until those things were no longer factors to fully create a new life for myself, I would wait forever and I have decided not to do that.

I get an overwhelming sense from people that they are willing to talk to me about EITHER my old life and grief OR they want to talk to me about my new life, but few people are willing to do both. For me the most painful example of this was at a social gathering where I sat in a group of five, two married couples and me. Awkwardly, they began to share stories of their courtships and marriages and I felt like a big sore thumb...if I want to participate, do I refer to my former marriage or new romance either of which will make them uncomfortable. I went for the 'new romance' and I got a death-stare multiplied by 4. The flip side of that experience was a coworker who dodged behind doors to avoid me after Dave died yet as soon as I started dating she approached me all full of encouragement and congratulations.

I have come to really value the few people who are brave enough to let me really be myself...a person who is just as likely to cry over a memory as I am to gush over a rose from my boyfriend. Maybe to some folks, absorbing the fact that both of these factors are (and will remain for the foreseeable future) real to me seems terribly weird. Yes it is, but let me assure you, when your spouse dies suddenly and young, a LOT of things are weird. To this day I use words that I can still barely believe apply to me even as they flow from my tongue "single mom," "widow," "late-husband," "estate, "girlfriend/boyfriend." (I really need new terms for "boyfriend" is a military Colonel and Special Agent...I feel silly using this to describe him.)

If you have a friend going through this and really want to be there for her (or him), be a person who does not put up the walls I so frequently perceive ...let them be real and whole even when that means you aren't sure what the heck will come out of them next. If you are reading this and it terrifies you because you can't imagine your husband dying suddenly, while I will tell you that yes, it IS horrible, God won't leave you to experience it alone...He will be close in a thousand ways that you can be thankful for (like NOT having told my daughter to "go check on your dad") and He won't leave you to suffer alone.

Tammy Ruiz has been a nurse for 28 years and spent most of her career in Neonatal Intensive Care. For eight years, she has been a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator - caring for women and families suffering miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and SIDS. Part of her work involves assisting parents in preparing for births when the baby has received the diagnosis of a life limiting condition (often called "Perinatal Hospice"). In addition to her nursing education, she studied (but did not become certified in) Clinical Pastoral Education at a Catholic Hospital in the Midwest. She has been on EWTN and speaks regularly to physicians and nurses on the topic of perinatal loss care. Her career was both fragmented and enhanced by having 14 different jobs because of moves for her husband who was an active duty Officer in the USMC. A convert to the Catholic Church, she was recently widowed after 26 years of marriage. She has three quasi-adult children and one super-cute grandchild.