All posts by Caitlin Marchand

Caitlin Marchand is a stay at home mom of four. She is a graduate of Christendom College in Virginia and a Canadian ex-pat. She currently resides in Louisiana where her husband is stationed as an Air Force pilot.

A Sacrifice Freely Given: A Homemaker’s Choice

Last week I hit a major blogging milestone!  I really feel like I’ve arrived.  I got my very first angry personal attack response.  Actually response is a generous term.  It would imply the comment had something to do with what I wrote.  It came under this article, about marriage, but the string of comments were all about why I shouldn’t have wasted my youth having babies and how I ought to have a useful career.  I can only assume it wasn’t the article that offended her, but the two sentence author bio at the bottom. I sat for awhile, mystified, and attempted a response.  (Pro-tip: If you write something about being polite and not a hypocrite you will be hampered in responding to internet trolls. )  Her next comment, in response to mine, was even angrier.  Luckily, any temptation to try another reply was removed when she was banned by the moderator.  There is really no point in trying to defend yourself against this sort of attack. After all, what can you say to someone who can judge your entire life on the basis of a couple of sentences?

Still I did find myself wanting to stick up for myself, not so much to this one woman as to the all too common point of view she so charmingly expressed.  What I found sad about it was that, aside from the creative use of the word “rump” it was all very familiar.  I’ve read similar comments under just about any article about large families or stay at home moms.  These comments usually employ the highly effective shot gun approach to personal criticism: spray absolutely everything you can think of at your opponent however unrelated and there will be so many things to respond to that they actually can’t formulate a coherent response.  Bonus: YOU don’t have to be coherent.  Sprinkled liberally amongst accusations that I am judgmental, prideful, and prematurely decrepit, came the standard main points which I have tried to organize a little bit by heading.

1) Personal: You don’t know yourself; your husband/religion oppresses you; you have no life/interests outside your children; didn’t take enough “me” time, you’re too stupid to do anything else.

2) Societal: You are a burden on society; all you do is sit at home “pumping out babies” (these comments always say pumping out babies); you’re lazy; you’re irresponsible, you’re letting down Womankind and Feminism.

3) Financial: Your husband supports you; society supports you; you need financial indepence.  My dear commenter friend was deeply concerned about who would support us if Mike died.  She thoughtfully let me know it wouldn’t be her nor the clergy who “guilted” me into having four whole kids.

There is plenty to unpack there and most of it I won’t even bother with.  Just briefly let me say that I’m not pumping out babies.  I’m raising human persons thank you very much.  Somebody is always raising the children, whether you pay a teacher or babysitter or do it yourself.  Here’s a fun website for calculating a housewife’s “income”. Furthermore, if someone is so short-sighted that they can’t see the economic importance of children (or future earners, spenders, creators and taxpayers if you prefer), then I don’t have time to argue.  Frankly I also don’t believe I need to justify my children as a benefit to society.   I believe society exists to benefit the individual, not the other way around.  My children are individuals with value in themselves first and foremost.  You’d think the people who rail at me for not taking enough “me” time would get that.

There is one point I’d like to make though which addresses several of the accusations above and which I feel is not expressed enough.  Everyone makes choices about their professional and personal lives.  Often we consider these decisions from the point of view of the goods we choose.  But we can also look at it from the other side, the goods we sacrificed.  Now this is is a first world problem.  Thank goodness we live in a time and place where women can tear each other to pieces over their differing priorities and choices because we have so many options.   Absolutely it’s a luxury that I can decide to stay home and have my husband support me.  I can choose to have the size of family I want.  Let’s pretend for a moment that I really do get to sit around on my lazy rump all day eating chocolate because I’m a stay at home mom.  (That’s a nice image.  I’ll try and visualize that next time I’ve gone a month with three hours of sleep a night, no option to take a sick day, cooking and cleaning and teaching people to read and grow up to be contributing members of society.)  But I digress, even if it were true that life at home is a breeze, there would still be significant sacrifices involved for stay at home moms, and I think society ought to acknowledge that.

My husband doesn’t oppress me, he does support me.  And I don’t mean financially.  He supports my decision to stay home, home school, and have what is considered a large family.  That was my call.  It was also his.  We chose to marry each other because we have similar priorities and beliefs.  We are equal opportunity oppressors.  I leech off his income and he has someone do his laundry.  Or maybe, just maybe, I give him the home life he desires, and he gives me the home life I desire in return.  He sacrifices the fancy car he could afford without kids and a wife, the freedom to relax after work at the bar instead of coming and helping with bedtime, but I sacrifice too.  I deserve to be acknowledged as making a conscious and free sacrifice just as surely as the career woman who sacrificed time home with her children.   That is seen as a noble sacrifice, my job is seen as either a cushy deal or something I was brainwashed into.

Young women like me were raised in a world where they were given tools to pursue careers and very few tools to be homemakers.  We were raised in a world that respects intellectual and professional pursuits, where those pursuits are the hard fought prizes of feminism.  If you don’t think then, that it is a sacrifice to give up those things, think again.  It’s not the oppressive sacrifice of something stolen from me.  It is the freely given sacrifice of a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to let go of other things she wants to get it.  I love school. I would love to have a Ph.D, to teach at a college, to make a living writing.  These things may happen for me someday.  They are real desires of mine.  But I prioritized the goods in my life and picked the ones associated with the stay at home mom over the others, at least for now.  In fact, I sacrificed something I’m really quite good at, academics, for something I truly struggle with.  I’m a terrible terrible homemaker!  Some women really do love this kind of life.  I love the results of it so much that I am willing to put up with how much I DISlike the day to day of it.  This is true, I think, of the majority of women like me.  It is a sacrifice I am glad to have made.  Proud to have made.  But like all sacrifices it hurts.

Nor is it limited to professional sacrifice.  I remember as a child watching all the Moms when we would go on camping trips.  The sat around with the babies at the campsite while we went hiking and fishing with the Dads.  How sad, I thought.  When I’m a mother I’ll still be cool and fun and go on all the adventures.  It never occurred to me that these Moms were sacrificing something they would have loved to do to take care of those who were too young to participate.  Now I can scuba, I love hiking, I love fishing trips with the guys, and I spend a lot of time back with the other Moms while the childless women go have fun.  Someday my kids will be old enough that I can jump back into the fray.  Then what fun we will have!  But right now baby needs to nurse and I’m happy to make that sacrifice while she needs me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love all the things I used to love.  I just love her more.

Beyond that, it is an act of courage to give up an independent income.  Look at divorce in this country!  My husband flies a plane in the Air Force and every year I’m reminded how close we come to losing him when some other family gets a call about a deadly crash.  We stay at home moms have gone all in with our marriages.  God forbid something happened to Mike, it would be scary at first trying to get on my feet.  I wouldn’t become a burden on the state because we’re insured, because I would have family support, and because I would step up and use the professional skills I have to do what needed to be done.  I’d lose the luxury I have right now of staying home, I’d make new choices. But it isn’t lazy and irresponsible to depend on him now.  It’s courageous and hopeful and humble.  I chose to give up independence.  I wasn’t forced, and I didn’t do it to be a kept woman, I did it to contribute in a different way.

None of this, I am quick to add, is to say that those women who have not made the same choices I did are cowardly, prideful, selfish, or any other thing.  I think it is a real sickness of our time that women are each others’ worst enemies.  We are so quick to judge, to paint each other into caricatures with generalizations, to take offense.  I come from an unconventional two income family.  I am grateful for the sacrifices my mother made to contribute to the family finances.  They are the opposite of some of the sacrifices I make and just as poweful.  That’s my whole point.  Each woman finds herself in a unique set of circumstances.  Each deserves the respect of having her choices acknowledged as her own.  I am well aware many people think my choices are outdated or in some other way wrong.  That I can live with.  Just show the courtesy of believing me when I say they are my choices.  And admit that they are complex ones full of pros and cons just like anybody else’s.

Parables In Parenting

Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

These lines always seemed particularly beautiful to me, even as a child. They are so intimate, so feminine. When I became a mother myself they became even more powerful because they reveal the heart of a mother, pondering the mystery of her child, her heart welling with love. Of course, when the Blessed Mother considered her child she was also contemplating her God. Yet, I think every mother learns new things about the Father’s relationship to his children through her relationship to her own. They are unique and unrepeatable gifts from Him, made in His image. Jesus was adored first as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And, He promised that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. So, here are a few things I have learned about God’s love as I ponder my children.

The Parable of the Self-Sufficient Child

Once there were two brothers. The first went to his mother with everything. He ran to her when he was hurt, he asked her for help when he could not do something, he told her his hopes, and he asked her every question that came to his mind. He was happiest when they were together. The mother loved this child and was glad to be needed. The son showed his love by making his mother rest while he cleaned when she seemed very tired. They understood each other always.

The second son was self-sufficient. One of his earliest sentences was “Leave Gus Gus alone” and he would often politely ask his mother to “please go away”. This independence was mostly a good thing. He would lie for hours in a quiet place with a cat, whispering to it. He could be very brave in the face of pain and illness. He could lead other children. But sometimes his willfullness led him into trouble. When he built a tower and it fell he would weep bitter tears of frustration but if his mother tried to help him he would only become more upset. When he was very ill her would fight away any comfort, insisting that there was nothing wrong. His mother loved this strong son. She obliged him when he asked her to “please go away”, but from a distance she wished he would reach out to her more.

Every night, when she tucked in the two children, the mother blessed them the same way and left them to sleep. And many nights, in the wee hours, the younger son, who had spent all his day wanting to be alone, would creep into her room and climb into bed. She would ask him if he had had a bad dream and he would say “I don’t want to talk about it”. And she would wrap her arms around him, joyful for a chance to hug him, and they would sleep. He told her he came to her room at night because “you are never asleep”, and she didn’t enlighten him. Surely, if a mother is always ready to welcome us into her arms no matter how we have pushed her away, our Father, who truly never sleeps, is always waiting to embrace us when we finally turn to him even if we have insisted we can do without Him.

 The Parable of the Favourite Child

Once there was a woman who bore a son. She loved him dearly from the moment she knew him. She treasured up every new milestone in his life as if her was the first child to ever learn to walk, the first child to eat with a spoon. She was certain the way he said “duck duck duck” was uniquely brilliant.

When the boy was less than a year old the mother discovered she would soon have another child. She wondered how she could ever love anyone as much as her firstborn child. Yet the second child arrived and soon a third and a fourth. Everyday the mother would look at her child and think “this is my favourite person in all the world. No one has ever been so special.” But the strange thing was, the child was a different one every time. For she soon realized that she loved each child differently, distinctly and absolutely.

No child smiled exactly like her youngest daughter. No child walked lightly on tiptoe like a tiny ballerina as her older daughter did. No child was as inventive and witty as her second son. No child as gentle and studious as her first. Surely if our mothers, who loved us as we grew inside them, love us each uniquely and entirely, our Father, who knew us before He formed us in the womb, loves us each individually and utterly. Surely if a mother’s love is not diminished or drained but grows to encompass as many children as she has, the love of the Father, who is love, is infinite.

The Parable of the Dwindling Punishment

Once there was a child who rarely misbehaved, but when he did he could not bring himself to apologize. Often it seemed as if he himself was saddened that he could not overcome his own stubbornness. He would cry, not only that he was punished but that he could not utter the words I’m sorry.

Once he was sent to his room and remained there for three hours because he would not say he was sorry. As the hours went by his parents, who would come to visit him every five minutes, devised more and more ways to offer him an opportunity to reconcile with them. Would he say sorry? “No.” Would he say please? “No.” Would he just consent to say Mama? “No.” Finally his father jokingly suggested that he simply say no on demand. The little boy pursed his lips and shook his head silently. Finally the little boy fell asleep.

His parents were stymied by his stubborness and decided that if he woke up cheerful and polite they would consider his punishment over. From then on they would continue to be firm with the child, insisting that when he was naughty he must make amends, but they took every opportunity to invent consequences the boy could not help but observe.

Surely if our parents punish us regretfully only because they must for our good, and seek above all things to be reconciled with us, giving us every opportunity to make peace, then our Father, who sent his Son to reconcile us through his passion and death, is always eagerly awaiting any excuse to forgive our sins if we but grant him the smallest opening for His grace.

Veiled Words: Modesty in Speech and Thought

“The Victorians pretended sex did not exist; the moderns pretend nothing else exists.” Archbishop Fulton J Sheen

This is my first post writing for Ignitum Today, and in honour of that I thought I would try to ignite a little debate on a nice controversial topic, sex. Seven years into marriage I’m somewhere right between remembering my own struggles for chastity and worrying about my children’s. In keeping with my personal motto “It’s never too early to fret” I have read with interest the many recent blog posts about what form sex education should take in a Catholic family. These articles all advocated premarital abstinence, but disagreed on the tone and scope this teaching should take. I think this ground has been sufficiently covered by others and I could add little to that conversation. There is another issue though, that I feel needs greater attention. That is, the importance of modesty in the pursuit of chastity. By modesty here I do not mean the rules of dress. I am speaking of modesty in speech and thought and I believe many well-intentioned young Catholics are not exercising this virtue when it comes to the discussion of sex.

We live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Young people are bombarded every day from their televisions, their computers, their acquaintances, and even the signs in the mall and the flyers in the mail box with suggestive images and ideas. As a result it is no wonder that we focus a great deal on continence in teaching morality.

As young Catholics cling fiercely to chastity against the immense pressures of the world, there is almost a mirror-like fixation with sex amongst those rejecting society’s obsession. Many young people commit much study to sexual ethics, and also to contemplation of the nature of marital relations. It seems more are familiar with The Theology of the Body than any other spiritual reading, and specifically with the portions that deal directly with sexuality.

High school and college students discuss amongst themselves what married couples can do when, and often fall into an attitude of “I can’t wait to get married because then I can finally have sex.” The promise of sex in marriage is being used almost as a bribe to keep single people chaste until then. Just you wait, it’ll be worth it wink wink. This attitude puts the act of sex over marriage in terms of priority, desiring it for itself although within the proper relationship. It can also lead to unreasonable expectations about sex within marriage. Furthermore, it can drown out the quiet call of a religious vocation, or convince someone that they are being robbed of something they were promised if they remain single. The impression is that the celibate are missing out on an essential part of the human experience.

Sex is only one part of one direction a life can take. Additionally, fixating on sex, even when acknowledging its true nature, is a near occasion of sin because it leads one to dwell on the very thing that is such a powerful temptation.

So let’s pull out the Catechism of the Catholic Church and take a look at the two virtues at issue. Regarding modesty, the Catechism says:

Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. . . . It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

Concerning chastity:

People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.

(all emphasis my own)

To combine the two, it is important that we refuse to unveil what is not suited to our station in life. I am not espousing ignorance. In this day and age I believe it could be incredibly dangerous. As parents we have a responsibility to arm our children with the information they need to succeed in the fight for chastity and continence and to prepare them for marriage should that be their vocation. However, whatever form this sex education takes, it should be learned and then set aside.

Sex is sacred. It is sacred in the context of the individual couples who exchange love in this way, but the concept of it should also be treated as something sacred and not meant for idle contemplation. This is entirely different from treating sex as dirty, shameful, or embarrassing.  We avert our eyes and dare not approach it too closely because its full beauty is only for those initiated into its mystery.

As so often happens when I am meditating upon a topic, the sermon this evening at Mass seemed to speak directly to me. It was the final installment of a series on the seven deadly sins, on lust. Father suggested that if we gave as much time to studying the lives of the saints and their examples of chastity as we did consuming tempting media we would be a long way towards possessing the virtue. Studying the Catholic idea of sexuality is certainly not comparable to soaking up trashy T.V. One is laudable; one is not.

If you are unmarried it is appropriate to learn enough about sex to treat it with proper reverence, part of which would be the mental habit of refocusing the mind on topics that can help you grow in holiness where you are now and disregarding things outside your province. It is also proper to reflect on the gift of sexuality and its role in all our lives as a fundamental part of human nature. Still, one does not study sex to avoid temptation, one studies chastity.

I suspect that many of us have not balanced our reading of experts on sexuality with reading from the experts, the saints, on continence. We have not shown sufficient “reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity.” We have not been discreet. We have not been modest. As parents we could nurture these virtues in several ways: by respecting as far as possible the natural modesty children feel in discussing sex with their parents, and in speaking modestly ourselves to emphasize that we treasure the intimacy of our sexual relationship.

We should provide information honestly, clearly, but simply, and age appropriately, reminding them that today their vocation is to be a student, or a child. We should maintain a balance in our discussions of sin and virtue, remembering that lust and it’s opposing virtue are only one pair of seven. And, in encouraging our children to hold out for and look forward to marriage we should not incite them to anticipate it in thought. After all, they may never be called to that state, and heaven knows there is always plenty of work to be done on the state we are in.

(This article also appeared on www.catholicexchange.com as Modesty In Speech and Thought)