Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  Family Life,  Marriage,  motherhood

When it doesn’t look easy, because it’s not

I had the delicious and unexpected treat of going out for a (single) glass of wine (don’t worry, it’s very European) with my best friend a few nights ago, and as she sighed and I sighed and we both laughed deliriously over stupid things that probably weren’t even funny, the stress and pace of the post-holiday fallout of parenting small children hopped up on Peeps and red dye #5 began to fade into the background.

She looked seriously into her glass of chardonnay, frowning as she confided a struggle,

“Our [son’s occupational] therapist is Catholic, and she talks about it sometimes, but she always makes these comments about how crazy my life seems, and how she couldn’t do it. Last week she mentioned that she’d known a sister in law who’d “tried NFP” but that it just didn’t work for them. I feel so much pressure every time she comes to our house, and even though she’s super sweet,  it seems like she’s constantly judging our lifestyle and commenting on hard it all is.”

She looked up at me meaningfully; “it is really hard. But I don’t want to show her that we’re those crazy people having all the kids and not able to deal with it. Because we are dealing with it, it’s just hard.”

And she was right.

It is hard. One of the least compelling arguments in the “pro NFP” camp, from my experience, is the wide eyed blissful assurance that marriage “the way God intended” is a beautiful symphony of tandem charting and gentle caresses during times of abstinence during predictably regular cycles.

Oh, how many young (and not so young) couples have come upon the stark reality that sex is complicated, that marriage is difficult, and that children are a lot of work…and felt somehow betrayed by a lack of warning or foresight?

The solution, of course, offered by the culture is to detach the prissy morals and norms from sex, and to make children an optional add-on once there’s plenty of money and plenty of time to go around. And to limit the damage to 2 or 3, tops, because my gosh, they are they a lot of freaking work.

And they are a lot of work.

But I would propose that so is anything worth doing. And while it’s folly to drag a battalion of 4 or 5 kids through the grocery store  in search of milk and bananas, it’s fine to announce that you’re training for your latest ultramaraton/sprint triathlon/charity bike race and that it takes up approximately 12-25 hours of free time each week. People will defer to you with utmost respect because of your enviable self discipline and commitment.

These same people will think nothing of lauding a 65 hour work week in a promising career, because that’s the kind of determination it takes to get somewhere, after all.

But if you choose to spend time and energy investing in a family? Forming children?

Utter madness. And what’s more, don’t you know what causes that? (wink, wink)

It’s a matter of where we collectively place our values. Work, status, personal achievement: by all means. 

Family, children, self sacrifice: not so much. And better you than me.

That’s part of what makes it tough to have even a single child in this culture tough: they’re commodities at best, liabilities at worst.

And so we who go a bit further than the norm can, and should, I think, expect to raise some eyebrows. And while it’s well and good to make an effort to show a little joy and a little satisfaction in the path we’ve chosen, I think it’s important to be transparent in the suffering, too. Not in the “woe is me, give me state funded childcare and public sympathy or else I perish” way, but in a simple acknowledgement to a stranger or well meaning (or not) healthcare worker that yes, it is an awful lot of work, and yes I am tired, and yes we are stretched to our limitsbut we’ve been called to this vocation, and we’re embracing it even in the difficulty.

It’s okay to say that it’s hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that parenting is deeply taxing, and that marriage is an effort of frequently heroic proportions (especially on my husband’s part), and that it is worth it.

I very stupidly communicated this to my sweet friend by nodding sagely into my wine glass and gravely reciting “some people are worth melting for,” because Olaf was right and sometimes self immolation is the ultimate expression of love. Even if that made us both laugh the high pitched, slightly frantic laughter of people who have not slept properly for many months.

But he was right. Some people are worth melting for, and sometimes the effort ends up being the reward in itself, because nothing is so beautiful or so transformative as sacrificial love.

(Plus, you might get your own storm cloud.)



  • Becky

    Well said! We know someone with a large family through fostering. He got comments like, “I can’t believe you can adopt 3 more kids, especially so close to retirement! I couldn’t do it.”
    And he would simply answer , “What am I here for?”

    I wish I could force people who ask me questions to read your blog posts. Unfortunately people at the grocery store or even friends just want to help our poor soul (at the expense of new ones and the expense of actually making ourselves better). They might give us one sentence to convince them otherwise, but talk about sacrifice and their ears turn off. Thanks for writing what you write, it is strength for the journey and chock full of single sentence evangelization tools. 🙂

  • Janet

    How funny. My husband and I were just talking about this last night…about how when we’re out in front of people in general, we try especially hard to put on a good face and seem as happy as we really are instead of seeming stressed out in the moment. But we are so grateful for the close friends we have who know it’s hard and share our struggles and are in the trenches with us. Because it is hard, and it is hard everyday, but we are thankful for every day.

  • Meg

    Beautiful post.
    I certainly identify with wanting to make my life look easy–I want to appear cool and collected in the public eye. I frequently worry about becoming pregnant “too soon”–as though that might confirm my friends’ statements that NFP “doesn’t work”.
    I’m constantly reciting that prayer, “From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Lord”. Life with small children is messy and often hard. But like you say, it’s so so worth it.

    • Agnes

      Thanks Meg! I just wanted to quote that whole thing because while I am sympathetic to sometimes feeling humiliated, that Litany of Humility always rescues me from the despair I am tempted to feel over how pathetic I must seem to everyone:
      O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
      From the desire of being esteemed,
      Deliver me, Jesus.
      From the desire of being loved…
      From the desire of being extolled …
      From the desire of being honored …
      From the desire of being praised …
      From the desire of being preferred to others…
      From the desire of being consulted …
      From the desire of being approved …
      From the fear of being humiliated …
      From the fear of being despised…
      From the fear of suffering rebukes …
      From the fear of being calumniated …
      From the fear of being forgotten …
      From the fear of being ridiculed …
      From the fear of being wronged …
      From the fear of being suspected …

      That others may be loved more than I,
      Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

      That others may be esteemed more than I …
      That, in the opinion of the world,
      others may increase and I may decrease …
      That others may be chosen and I set aside …
      That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
      That others may be preferred to me in everything…
      That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

  • Mary

    Thank you for this. It’s so hard, sometimes, to be real, since I feel like if I do, I’m a walking advertisement for birth control. I homeschool, have 5 kids, another due in October, and my oldest (11 y.o) has some major anxiety issues due to his high functioning autism. Some days I don’t want to force the smile and remain optimistic. I wanna cry into a glass of wine and laugh about inappropriate things with a friend.

  • Amanda

    Today, I facebook announced that we’re having baby 5, and while I don’t know what’s in people’s minds, there has been not one tiny bit of snark. Just good wishes. It’s given me a tiny bit of hope that at least maybe when these tertiary friends see a big family in the grocery store, they’ll think – well, Amanda’s got a bunch, and she’s not crazy.

    And I like that. I had people be that for me, you know, that a bigger family can be great. But I do feel some pressure to keep. it. all. together. So no one thinks, oh, but Amanda’s barely hanging on, and put that on both me and the stranger in the store. The place between “let all be joy” and “be transparent” seems hard to find.

  • Lindsay H

    Ive been reading your blog for a while now but I’m not sure that I have ever commented. This post resonated with me. Although I am not Catholic, I do believe the greatest work we can do on this earth is be parents. (I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth) In fact, from reading your blog and others, I was inspired to stop taking the pill and I now use the FAM method.

    What I am poorly trying to say is, thank you for standing up for motherhood and the joys and challenges that come with it. I am heartbroken that some believe children an unnecessary burden and something to be limited or avoided if you want to have purpose in you life.

    Thank you for standing up for families!

  • Rachael

    Can we get something a little more uplifting? Your blog is normally so awesome because it’s fun AND encouraging / informative. But the last two months or so, it seems like it’s been all about how much NFP and parenthood suck (but oh btw, it’s worth it, I swear).

    -When it doesn’t look easy because it’s not
    -Sanity hacks for tired parents
    -The lonely mission of motherhood
    -Sometimes it looks like this
    -Why everyone loses when we sugarcoat NFP

    As a newlywed getting ready for baby #1, please tell me that there is more genuine joy in this whole adventure!

    • Happy mama

      Dear Rachael, your instinct is right, turn away from this negativity. It is a trap placed by a most satisfied Satan hungering to take away the joy that you are experiencing. Above all, self pity caused by a desire to be loved and admired through struggles is a most unfortunate outcome! Let’s get tough, Catholic mamas! Let’s face our life with joyful acceptance!!!! Honestly, I think Jenny is going through something and needs special prayers.

      • Ana

        Wow, I cannot believe you had the nerve to post this on Jenny’s page. I would Satan is pretty satisfied with that passive/aggressive move.

        • Deme

          Happy Mama, this comment is harmful in so many ways! To Jenny, to mothers who are struggling and feeling isolated, and to a fruitful discussion. I’m glad that your journey in motherhood has been so joyful. I don’t think that Jenny was implying that it’s not or shouldn’t be, just that there are times that it is certainly hard. And there is great joy in that often difficult calling.

      • Mary Wilkerson

        ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww or maybe, Jenny is doing something us Catholic moms sometimes struggle with… ‘keepin’ it real’. With a 3,2, and 1 year old (and a little cherub on the way) I love the ability to be honest about the struggle and celebrate the successes. what satan LOVES, LOVES is when darkness is kept in the dark. He gets all sorts of scared when we start to name difficulties/shortcomings/sins/etc… because then we get to use one of our greatest tools… community, to move through them. Rachel being a mom is awesome, and your first is a wonderful gift from the Lord (as are all other) it will also be harder than you can possibly imagine, and more beautiful. And you will remember posts like this and come back to them for strength. I promise. Happy mama, it must be nice to be so happy all the time. God has clearly given you a special and unique gift or not experiencing the trials of motherhood, or, at the very least, not needing others to help you understand them more deeply so that you can move through them. Jenny needs our prayers, because she’s in the thick of it, oh, and also because her honestly is changing hearts, as evidenced by the comment above … you know, the non Catholic who has found her posts inspiring enough that she has stopped using ABC. 🙂

        Jenny, if the ‘something’ you are going through ever ends, through our most sincere prayers, I’d be so bummed, because I’d feel a little more isolated in this very difficult job I am called to do.

    • kharking

      I can see how this doesn’t particularly speak to you at your stage in life. If you’re a newlywed as well, then a lot of counsel that is out there on managing marital difficulties (sinner marrying sinner and all that) doesn’t strike you as particularly helpful yet either. You have a couple of options in response. I recommend taking a deep breath, thanking God that your life has different challenges, praying for those who struggle and moving on. Also bookmarking it for when you reach this stage just in case you find yourself meeting these challenges yourself when you reach this point.
      I remember that starry-eyed joy when I was expecting my first. I love my children but the reality of the neediness on so many levels was quite a shock. I wish that I had known that I was not alone in facing some of the challenges that I did. I hope that your transition to motherhood is so smooth that you don’t need to know that but if you do, we’re here.
      Jenny and I are actually due around the same time with our respective fourths and going through the process of parenting a preschooler, toddler and older baby while pregnant has been a whole different scenario than the things that I had to deal with while working full time expecting my first. Add in some special needs (for one of my children at least) and the potential for sanctification never ends.
      I do feel excited to welcome this newest little one. I feel him move in my womb and rejoice. I also feel some encouragement from the solidarity of knowing that I am not the only mom in the world who cannot take a shower without someone interrupting with what they perceive as a dire emergency–like the fact that they cannot find the socks that are on their feet already.

  • Kathleen Moynihan

    Love this post! It is hard, but so worth it. I, too, find myself trying to make it look easy, when really it’s the opposite of easy.

  • Kathryn

    PREACH! And to those commenters who are asking Jenny to “lighten it up” and “sing the sunny side” – chicas, it ain’t all roses in motherhood. There’s no shame in sharing the struggle and no greater joy than rejoicing in its highs. I especially loved your thought about how we laud those who train for marathons but give a sideways glance to the mom of five who dares to take her kids grocery shopping. Everybody has different gifts and is in a different season. I LOVED this post.

  • Chrysten Copley

    Yes! Yes! Yes! We had four children in four years, and it was/ is SO MUCH WORK. But what has taken the biggest toll on me mentally, is the “you made your crazy bed, go lie in it” attitude we received after we had baby number 3. I grew up admiring people who put in the work to have a large family, so now when anyone – stranger, family, friend, gives me a word of encouragement as a mother, it means so much. Great post!

  • Nicole

    Jenny, so spot-on. It is *such* a double-standard that we can’t admit to having a hard time when we have taken on the forming/caring/rearing of entirely new human beings. And thanks be to God that we ARE taking it on! As you remember from your time in Rome, babies and children aren’t such a commonplace thing all over the world. Someone’s got to do the hard task (with its many joys) if we want the world to go on, and this post was such an encouragement to those of us doing just that. 🙂

  • Joan Roberson

    I like your post. My kids are grown, so I don’t need to personally worry about this issue, but I wish you’d share your post with some mainstream media. It’s a lovely honest story, and it might help SOMEONE get it; Catholics aren’t crazy for using NFP and having big families. We consider our children a blessing and worth it. Bless you in your efforts to encourage other moms.

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