Love, the Guest, Is on the Way

Love, the Guest, Is on the Way

Lucy’s latest ultrasound hanging on our refrigerator. She’s still in a transverse position, her head on my left side, her feet curled up over her head, kicking up toward my ribs.

Well, all the Catholic blogs are starting to sparkle with chatter about Advent. And the house across the street has Christmas lights up. And our parish began to sell wreaths on Sunday. It’s time to deck the halls and to prepare our hearts to make Him room. Time to awake and hearken to glad tidings of the King of Kings.

But I’m having a hard time focusing on all of that. My preparations right now are mostly for the baby girl who is scheduled to make her appearance via c-section on New Year’s Eve in the morning. I’m pretty sure that for the next month just carrying Lucia is going to take up most of my energy reserves. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around Christmas. Instead, I’m sweating over how to fit in all the OB appointments and ultrasound appointments and non-stress tests and when I look at the calendar lately it’s mostly wondering if that pesky OB is going to try to make me come in for an appointment in the week of Christmas. Oh I could bellyache a long time about my dissatisfaction with my OB practice and their institutional lack of communication with their patients that leaves me perpetually frustrated and in the dark. 

So when I spare a thought for Advent at all, it’s to reaffirm my commitment to going with simple, simple, simple. Of course if you’ve been reading for any length of time at all, you’ll know that isn’t really a change of pace round here. But I have to remind myself again that it’s ok once again not to be doing a Jesse Tree—we’ll get around to it one of these years. And to remind myself not to compare. Baking and decorating and elaborate lessons plans designed around Advent books… nope, not going to happen here in Casa Bettinelli. Not this year.

My vision for Advent: a wreath with candles to light every night. A pile of books to read.

I thought ahead and bought St Nicholas gifts in last year’s post-Christmas sales. I might stretch myself to one baking treat: something festive for St Lucy’s day. Yeah, I think maybe we won’t skip that new tradition this year. We have a little Lucy we are all so very eager to meet.

We’ll have our nativity scene.

Eventually we’ll get a Christmas tree.

A few simple presents for Christmas day. One book, one toy, per child. Maybe a pair of mittens for each too. I think I might be able to manage all that. And we can’t really afford anything more elaborate even if I didn’t believe in it.

And that’s it.

And even that seems like too long a list except when I’m looking at what everyone else is doing.

And then there’s the spiritual preparation. What to read for Advent? Everyone’s talking about that too. Extra devotions. Novenas and prayers. I’d like to do some. I’d like to feel I was doing something to put my house in order this Advent. But even that feels like one more “to do”. So I’m going to sit back and see if something recommends itself. Something little and easy for a tired mommy brain to embrace. Something that will soothe my anxieties and ease my fears and bring true peace to our little domestic church.

Or maybe I’ll just sit quietly with my hand on my belly feeling those kicks and contemplating the miracle I can grasp, the guest who this Christmas will wear the face of the Christ Child for me. God knows that in welcoming her, I am welcoming Him.

Perhaps that’s the lesson I need to absorb this Advent: to learn once again to see His face in the faces I see every day. To learn how to serve Him in serving them. It feels so little. It feels like not enough. It feels like giving up. But perhaps giving up is what I need most right now. My prayer for Advent, then, is a simple prayer: Lord, teach me to give up. Teach me to surrender to the little things. Teach me what “enough” feels like. I don’t think I know what it is.




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  • Oh, I could write volumes about this. The parish is the home of the Christian community. We gather for mass, and, in many parishes, that’s all. I don’t think that’s the greatest way to foster the brotherhood. Pastors, I’ve noticed, tend to think that the average parishioner is uninterested, or there is some sort of old guard “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality that precludes new groups from forming. Also the people who tend to run things tend to be of a certain age and I genuinely don’t think they understand that it’s harder to be a young mother these days. We generally don’t have family or old friends in the same state, let alone the same town. Online community is great, for what it is, but we’re human and need human contact.

    I just had a baby three weeks ago. a dear friend (one of two I’ve made in nearly three years in a new city) began pulling all the stops out to support me. She threw a shower, organized meals and then another lady, realizing there were a number of November babies arriving, organized a mom’s night out making freezer meals for us and the other families. This was beautiful and frankly surprising. It shouldn’t be surprising! we’re called to minister to one another, both as individuals and as a parish. Lots of people don’t know where to start, and a parish program like Elizabeth Ministry (which I think best answers Scalia’s question)is a great way to get people on board. Otherwise, listserves of like minded Catholic ladies can help band people who want to help young moms together.

    The trouble is that if you’re not in the trenches of young motherhood you don’t notice. Older ladies raised their children in a very different culture. Perhaps a parish could give a series of family life talks, or SOMETHING, to let the old guard know that young families need help. We’re so often left alone.

    I’d say more, but the baby is crying and the four year old is threatening to brain herself on a toddler chair. Whee!

  • Hi Melanie – I haven’t had time to read all the pieces you mentioned, except Betty Duffy’s and part of Calah’s, but it does seem like they have struck a cord. Right now I have reached a stage like Betty where I can leave some of my kids at home, and this stage is much less overwhelming than when I had 6 and the oldest was 9. So I think part of her point is that the stage of feeling isolated and overwhelmed is something that ends eventually. On the other hand, having had the opportunity to witness what works at several different parishes because of moving around, I agree with you that the Body of Christ needs to look out for its parts.  I know my own faith has grown more because of people who have shared their faith through friendship than through my efforts at study. But to get to your questions, here are some things that have worked at other parishes where we have lived: 1. Our MS parish was GREAT at fellowship – donuts and coffee after Mass, 2 parish festivals, lots of ministries, lots of celebrations. On Friday nights some great friends, a husband and wife with 5 kids who both worked as nurses, hosted PLAY, which was a couple hours for parents to drop off their kids and the kids played faith-themed games and were fed for free. If parents wanted to stay and socialize, they could do that too. They also had a morning play group. And people were very good at going out of their way to welcome newcomers. I used to go on stroller walks with some other moms after daily mass – very informal, just an instance of someone being friendly inviting me. In Virginia, we had a friend who organized Armata Bianca, which was a holy hour for kids, mostly homeschoolers with babies and toddlers in tow. She got the kids involved in leading the rosary, brought coloring pages and read from a saint book. It was a noisy holy hour, but the reward for the kids was another hour of play on the playground afterwards. In Chicago, a friend had a weekly rosary group at her house – the first decade with kids and then they could go play in her basement or outside. Again, this was mostly homeschooling moms and some of the older kids would help watch (or not) the youngers.  Then for a time I went to Regnum Christi events, which although I share some reservations about the group, they did a good job of offering opportunities for fellowship and encouraging people to reach out to each other, of which the most valuable to me were the Gospel reflection groups. Of course, all of these were things that required me to schlep babies and stuff, but since I craved some connection, especially with a husband who was on the go a lot, I was willing to do it. And surprisingly, it is easier with more kids than less, sometimes.
    But the thing that helped most, I think, is that some people at these churches went out of their way to be friendly and say nice things about our kids that would counter the discouraging things I’d hear in the grocery line.  So in answer to your last question, I’d probably say that achieving a sense of community rests in some part on everyone you mention: the priest should openly give encouragement to large families and encourage the congregation to support each other (a talent our MS priest had), the parish council should try to create opportunities for connection (copy the Protestants on donuts and coffee), and we all as individuals could try to offer a hand or even just a smile to each other.

  • How about obtaining use of your parish hall/basement/multi-purpose room or whatever its called to have a twice a month get together where moms bring their kids, who run around and play with the toys the contents of a huge toy box (you moms contribute the contents)that the church will allow you to keep stored there in between meetings. Let the first two of these be organizational sessions where you all figure out exactly what you moms would like to do: just sit and talk, pray, attempt a bible study, and/or take turns leading a little preschool religion activity for the kids while the other moms chill. If you can get some older women to either mentor or just help with keeping an eye on the little ones, all the better. This approach fits with Duffy’s position that what moms need is to form friendships to support each other,(after all you guys ARE “the church” in a certain sense) yet also has the parish providing the minimum support of giving you some physical space, and as such being the supportive home for your group.

  • Yeah, see here’s the thing. I’ve been pregnant for the last 8 months. Exhausted and queasy and barely able to keep afloat taking care of my four kids. Barely able to get through the day. Often when Dom comes home int he evenings I’ve barely started making dinner. Sometimes I’m just a puddle of tears.  We get the kids fed and in bed and then often I collapse. Some days I can barely drag myself out of bed.

    In less than a month I’m going to have a newborn joining the crew. Oh and I’ll be recovering from major surgery. I know some women just bounce back from a c-section but me I usually am on the slow boat recovery plan. It takes my body a very long time to get back to something approaching normal speed.

    Maybe you supermoms out there can handle adding something like organizing a mom’s group on top of that. Organizing a mom’s group, I might add, in a parish where I don’t really know many other moms because hey, we’ve only lived here for four years and in New England time that means we’re brand spanking new and in that time I’ve been pregnant three times and dealing with a newborn most of the time in addition to wrangling toddlers.

    Maybe it sounds like the kind of thing you could add to your own overloaded schedule. Maybe you’re a natural organizer, a people person, an extrovert who thrives on the company of others. Not me. I’m an introvert with social anxieties. I find being around other people draining so while I crave community I also find it all too easy to hide in my hole. Making friends is really hard for me. I can’t just drum up a social network overnight.

    This is exactly the point Elizabeth Scalia was making: young moms with many small kids need to be ministered to because we can’t just organize ourselves. We’re overwhelmed and lonely and isolated and don’t have the time, energy or resources to even begin to think about organizing other people than the little ones who live under our own roof.

  • This is something I’ve been thinking about intently as well.  I haven’t exactly lacked the energy to write about it… I just couldn’t face the combox.  I’ve been subsisting on a sort of manic cheerfulness in public and writing would have cracked the entire thing.

    The parish communal life is pretty damaged, but I think there’s more to it than just young moms isolated and exhausted, or single men and women exhausted with the secular dating game.  I remember being newly married, and feeling distinctly unwelcome in our parish because all the young adults activites were essentially matchmaking events.  I tried attending a few, I was lonely, we lived in a new city, and my husband worked late nights… but far from being welcome, I was discouraged from coming.  As far as the group was concerned, I already had what they wanted, and there was no point in my attendance.  But the social opportunities for young married couples were all centered around young children.  And since I hate social situations anyway, the result was I hunkered down in our apartment and played World of Warcraft a lot.

    There are several threads to the problems of our parish life, and I’m just going to start listing them, using our parish as a reference.

    1.  People are still people, and that means we can still be jerks, intentionally and unintentionally.  And Catholics do lack the welcome most Evangelical communities make look so easy.  It’s not surprising, since fellowship is such a significant, even primary, focus for evangelicals, and Catholics have other primary concerns.  But it still shows.  I spent my first year at Texas A&M attending Mass and RCIA at St. Mary’s, and spending the rest of my social time with my Baptist roommate and her friends, because they didn’t mortify me the way trying to introduce myself in the parish student center did.

    2.  Our parishes are so big.  It’s hard to get to know people in the parish.  There are some smaller social opportunities… but they all require us to find babysitting, which is a problem for several reasons.

    2.1 Big or not, it’s usually the same relatively tiny group of people involved in everything.

    2.2 We don’t live near our parish at all.  It’s a 15 minute drive without traffic to get there, and we have to get on the highway.  In fact, we don’t live near any Catholics at all, practicing or non.  And it’s hard to create parish community without that geographic closeness.  You only have to compare my husband’s childhood parish with our parish to see the difference.  They may be poorer than our parish… but everyone knows everyone.

    3.  Most of the adult events are all catechetical.  There is admittedly a huge need for adult catechesis… but I would rather gnaw my leg off at the knee than go to one.  I prefer reading and quiet and reflection.  Discussion would be lovely… but I can’t do it with strangers.

    4.  The only parish wide social activities are donuts (2nd Sunday every month), the parish festival, and the Friday fish fries.  The donut Sunday has a donation box, but the Friday fish fries cost (to my possibly faulty recollection) $7 a head.  We would love to go more… it’s a great way to meet people.  But we can’t afford it.

    …I have to go, David is begging to do the Jesse tree ornament of the day.  Maybe more later.

  • Melanie, this is a great post. I’ve been thinking over a lot of the same things as well. I’m sorry to hear how worn out you’ve been and I will be praying for you, especially as you recover from your c-section.

  • I found this post really interesting. I love Elizabeth Duffy’s writing, but, like you, her post on this topic rubbed me the wrong way.

    Maybe because, as a historian, I know that the parish situation everyone is describing is NOT typical. In the middle ages (my period) there were so many different types of religious guilds, whose activities centered around parish life. They would organize processionals, sewing of altar cloths, would pray on certain feast days of saints there group was dedicated to and for the parish patron, and, importantly, they would minister to those in need—raise money for a funeral and attend, help widows, families who needed food. Life was centered around the parish, but these groups were extra-liturgical and often organized by lay people.

    I’m not trying to give a rosy glow of the middle ages, and I’m definitley not saying we should try to recreate that, because that leads to inauthenticity. What I’m trying to explain is that this kind of life was routinely lived and was expected by parishioners, and if you belonged to such a group, you were held by your membership to participate. What I like about these groups, is that they could be organized around a devotion, say to St. Michael, or an activity, like taking care of the altar clothes, but your responsibility to the group did not end with that. If a member or member’s family experienced difficulty, you would help them out, even if it fell outside the scope of the group.

    To me, trying to think of this in the modern setting, would be interesting because it would bring people together with a common interest—say you love working with flowers, and you sought to bring that into the church for the liturgy—but those with your same interest would then take an interest in your life, and you in theirs. To me, this would foster the kind of Christian Brotherhood that Pope Benedict was talking about in the quotes Melanie cited above.

  • This is an interesting piece.  I haven’t read all the responses but I wonder if part of the reason the support doesn’t exist is that it’s such a short amount of time and it’s the type of support (other than prayerful support) that many moms get from paying a pre-teen a nominal amount to be a mother’s helper.  My oldest is 16 now and my youngest is five.  It was only 3 years ago that I still had 3 kids under 5 year old, but that experience was so different from when my oldest kids were small. 

    I’m not a sociable person, but my children have forced me to get out and know people.  Going to baseball games and dance practice, karate and soccer – oftentimes with toddlers in tow – forces conversations.  Having big kids old enough to watch little ones frees you up to chaperone that play practice or be a den mother.    And poof!  Just like that I had a network of other moms – I didn’t consciously form one.

  • Have you asked at the parish office if there is assistance for new moms?  While there may not be a formal ministry, they may have volunteers that work quietly behind the scenes.  But you have to let them know there is a need.

    I agree with Eileen, if there is a dance school or gymnastics school that your girls may enjoy, it is a great way to meet some other moms.  They may not all be Catholic, but that doesn’t mean they cannot meet your need for community.

  • Melanie, I wasn’t familiar with either option. Thx! I am not sure either would work for what I had in mind but maybe my idea wouldn’t cut it anyway. I guess I was thinking of something we have here in Maryland, but not on a parish level. We have a YAHOO group called Maryland Roman Catholic Homschoolers. I know a lot of the members are within the counties near me, so I think it is more of a regional group. The group is run by a veteran homeschooling mom (who else would have the time and energy to do it?) but many moms contribute based on their interests. They have a preschool playdate once a month and the moms take turns hosting. There is a book club, more for those with middle-school aged kids. And when one mom wants to do a field trip, she sends out an email and see who else wants and can go.  Everything is optional and I hear about everything via email. Some provide meals when a baby is born or share prayer requests. It is basically a regional network of Catholic Homeschooling moms. The only real downside for me is that, since it is regional, a lot isn’t very close to me but more like a 30 minute drive. I just wondered if such a thing could work on the parish level where everyone would be closer to each other.

  • nothing to add….wonderful post…..I am shy and introverted as well…pastors need to open to ‘allowing’ lay people to start things- like Bible studies, coffee and donuts….

  • Your post and your readers comments were, as they usually are for me, thought provoking.  I’ve been mulling them over all morning, and a couple of ideas seemed worth floating to the group. 

    Two separate but interwoven topics seemed to emmerge: a need for community and a need for help.  As Mary pointed out, it seems like the two feed one another.  This resonates with my experience in our parish.  I’m the choir director, and we are drawn together to use our gifts to serve the parish in the liturgy.  But the community thus formed stretches at need to give an expectant mom a baby shower, to pray for and help a critically ill member of the community, etc.

    Right now, it sounds like Melanie longs for community but also really needs help, too.  I think that Elizabeth has it right: now is the time for Melanie to get help.  And maybe the community will flow from having others give to her now.  I’m guessing that the parish administrator (as in secretary) could be a great starting place.  She would know what ministry could be of help.  Obviously the priest should also be aware of the needs of young mothers.  Melanie, I wish you were in Tacoma, WA, because I personally know about 15 grandmas who would love to come bring you a casserolle, or hold the baby while you shower, or just sympatize with you about the trials of raising a bunch of kids (I know this because they have done these things for me)! 

    Along the lines of developing a ministry at parishes, I think a great place to get to know other young moms (other than at coffee hour) might be from the welcome committee.  Our parish’s welcome committee give a gift to each infant that is baptized.  So they clearly are notified about when a child is born in the community.  I think perhaps I should volunteer to contact these new moms to chat about how things are going and see if we need to build a group at our church.  smile

  • Oy! I had a long comment here and my computer has eaten it TWICE now.

    Short form (I’ll hopefully come back later to add more): In the short term the postpartum period is actually not a time when I’m without support. My mom, who had four c-sections herself and is the most amazing mom who puts up with my terrible postpartum grouchiness and selfishness and obsessions about things being done MY WAY will be here for us for a month to help with the kids, to cook, and do laundry and drive me crazy.  My dad will probably come after that. My sister may visit too. 

    No kidding, real text exchange between my mom and me:

    Mom: So is Dec 27 to Jan 30 ok or will you want to kill me?

    Me: I’ll most likely want to kill you but it sounds great.

    SO thank you very much for your concern about me but I actually don’t very much want strangers coming over with germs and needing to be social and all. I just want to come home to my mom whose at least used to my bad moods and for whom I don’t have to put on a pleasant face. (Though I really will try harder this time, Mom, to be nice and patient and grateful!)

    I have many more thoughts on other things people have touched on but I’ve got to wake Anthony and Ben up and make dinner.

  • Oh and Katherine, that wan’t me with the suggestion but Dom, the actual tech guy who knows about those things.

  • I’ve read a couple of the articles you’ve linked to, but haven’t waded into the discussion yet, partly because it makes me want to cry sometimes.

    We’ve been at our parish a little over two years now, and I definitely feel like we’re, in your words, “brand spanking new,” especially since our oldest was born a month after we started, and we’ve had a second baby since.  I think we missed the getting involved window, as first-time parents with a newborn.

    And honestly, our parish is probably pretty good on the scale of attempting to build community scale.  It’s just that I’m a convert, and a military brat, so yeah, growing up, everyone was on the lookout for the new families.  I remember when we had just moved to Northern VA.  We were church shopping and someone came up to my parents and tried to sign them up for the pictorial directory.  They explained that they were just visiting, new, etc.  “Well, we don’t have to include your picture if you don’t join here, but in case you do, get your picture taken anyway.”  I don’t know whether I would find such behavior overwhelming or overbearing if I encountered it now, but it has sort of set the standard in my mind.

    On the one hand, some of my personal issues are interfering.  Because we are transplants in a land of non-transplants, I feel (and it’s true) that while I’m looking for friends, no one else really is—they have high school friends and family and nearby college friends.  And I’m reluctant to be friends with someone, to rely on someone in that way, when I know that they don’t rely on me in the same way.

    On the other hand, I definitely feel like there’s some spiritual warfare going on.  I attempted to go to the parish playgroup every month this summer.  Once it was rescheduled at the last minute (something that makes life very difficult as a one car family who planned car exchanges carefully).  Once it was inputted in the calendar the wrong day.  And once everyone (except me) was late.  My two year old played and played.  I almost left, but then a couple other families showed up.  And then the torrential downpour began and they all left again.

    And so to answer your questions, I think my church actually does a decent job providing opportunities for brotherhood and all that.  Even so, I think getting involved initially is intimidating and difficult.  And I think that it’s up to individual parishoners to make those invitations.  And to keep making them.

  • I think, though there is a point to be made about the need for some kind of support for young moms, I’m partly venting about the lack of sense of community I’ve been seething about for the last ten years since moving to New England from Texas. Some of it is doubtless the experience of being a fish out of water. Culturally I’m not from here and I find in general New Englanders feel cold to me. Also, there are a lot of problems in the local church and our individual parish is in especially bad shape, currently on its fourth pastor in the last ten years and with very little sense of continuity of leadership.

    In our old parish before we started having babies Dom and I were very active. We actually met because he was leading a young adult Bible study. I taught CCD fr a couple of years before marriage and until pregnancy with Bella made it impossible for me to function. He served a term as DRE. By the time we left we had actually got to the point that I did feel a part of a community.  When we went back to our former parish this summer for our pastor’s 75th birthday, we were greeted with hugs and people commenting on how big the girls were and offers to hold sleeping Anthony and people wanting to meet the boys. It did feel like going home. The eight years I spent attending there had bloomed eventually into something beautiful. Too bad I couldn’t reap the rewards.

    Anyway, the point it that while I’m introverted, I do know that I can make myself make the effort when I’m not dealing with nursing babies, pregnancy, and corralling toddlers. I do know that while it’s not the super warm experience I’d prefer, there can be a sense of belonging.

    Anyway, Dom’s job moved and we had to start all over again and I had a two year old and an infant and within weeks of moving to a new town I was pregnant again, boxes not even unpacked and I was throwing up and exhausted and in no position to meet anyone or to begin to make inroads into the community. We did know the pastor, fortunately, he was a family friend and a very warm generous man who came to our house to give me anointing before the birth and all sorts of emotional support. Then he was transferred and our current pastor, also a family friend, came in and he’s awesome too but has only been here about a year and is still finding his feet. I think our particular parish is really suffering because he’s the 4th pastor in the past ten years or so. They haven’t had much stability of leadership and I think maybe that’s a part of what I’m seeing as the breakdown in community. It’s a small town and I get the impression most people grew up here. There aren’t any other homeschoolers in our town and I get the feeling most of the moms work. There was one attempt to start a women’s Bible study that I attended two meetings with and then I was at the end of my term with Ben and had to drop out. Even that was just four other women who weren’t all that interested in the actual Bible study. The leader let us drift off topic and I found myself trying to explain why the Church insists on celibacy for priests and doesn’t ordain women. Oy! I got so discouraged because I wanted to have some support, not to be the person trying to evangelize my fellow parishioners—all of whom were older than me.

    I’m probably partly jaded too because Dom works for the Church and I see behind the scenes and know how messy it is, what a bureaucratic tangle. There are reasons to hope, certainly, but it can be very easy to just look at the mess and despair. Especially when I’m hormonal.

    Anyway, I do see many seeds of friendships both in the parish and in the local homeschool community. Just today a homeschooling mom in a nearby town who’ve I met just twice sent me a message asking if I could use some gently worn cloth diapers. I had a lunch date with another homeschooling mom this week who only lives about 25 minutes away. There’s a cookie swap Sunday afternoon for moms in our parish to meet. Sure the homeschoolers I know don’t include many people who live super close but as the kids get older it will get easier. I do know that the community I’m looking for will blossom eventually. (Assuming we don’t move first!) It’s just not much consolation in the short term when I’m pregnant and tired.

    I do think this conversation is important to have and I’m so glad so many people are chiming in. So many good things in this conversation. I must say this online community makes me feel very loved and I have a wonderful sense of brotherhood (sisterhood?) here. I only hope and pray that everyone can have the same sense of community in their local parishes as well as online.

  • Oh Melanie, that bit about the difference between Texas and New England makes me laugh a little, since we live in Texas, and I don’t think the situation is really any better.  Louder maybe.  More boisterous and Texanish.  But not better.

    For example, after my last miscarriage we had to arrange for burial – something that had never come up in past miscarriages because we’d never managed to recover a body before.  But last time I passed a perfectly intact amniotic sac with a perfect baby only a little bigger than my thumb.  And we went to the parish for help, advice, anything.  And the best we got was the incorrect information that funeral homes could provide less expensive ground openings for burials of the unborn, and to call them when we had chosen a location so they could go consecrate the ground.  Bye.

    And even that information was incorrect, and the average cost for even the simplest of burials was over a grand, and they wouldn’t come and consecrate our backyard.  And finally out of sheer desperation, I googled for Catholic cemeteries, and one mentioned something about burials for the unborn, so we called.  Turns out the local Catholic hospital has mass funeral Masses and burials for the unborn every so often, and that’s what the cemetery participates in.  The hospital agreed to let us bring our baby there, for the the next burial, so we did, because that’s all we could afford.  They were very kind, said they’d call us when the funeral mass was scheduled so we could attend, but it may be several months.  And that was the last we heard.

    And that was the sum of the support we got from our parish, when we went specifically to request their help from people we knew and volunteered with.  So if anyone wonders why I’m so down on the community parishes provide, there you are.

  • I agree with you on all points, Melanie. Since moving out of New York, which was an entirely different story, and to the small city where I now live, I’ve found Mass to be a lonely experience and my parish a lonely place, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a small place. Before I could drive, which didn’t happen until this year, I was very, very isolated with my young autistic son. Other mothers in the parish community knew this, but did not make gestures of friendship, including the most orthodox moms-of-many. And I have a hard time asking for help. They say you know who your friends are in a situation like this, but that only counts if you HAVE friends locally.

  • I had read the first two original posts though King’s is new to me. I don’t know, and as I’m barely keeping my head above water this week, I’m not about to begin researching it, but I can’t help but wonder if O’Conner’s point was more of a contrast with Protestant churches, at which fellowship was (is?) THE prized purpose in going. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but maybe it is possible?

    Personally I’m not as fond of groups I have to go to regularly as they almost always require bringing the kids and become more trouble than I want. One thing I wish my parish did provide more of was networking. By the time I get out of Mass, I don’t want to have to introduce everyone… by then my kids are antsy and hungry and I just want them all buckled in car seats. I know our parish has other homeschoolers, but I’ve no idea who they are. It would be much easier to meet other moms in situations similar to mine if my parish provided some sort of email network. I’m not a programmer or computer person, but I wonder how hard it would be for a parish to have multiple groups, like a moms group, a homeschooling group, a singles group, etc. apart from meetings. I mean, meetings are helpful, but not always practical and never meet everyone’s schedules. If such a network were feasible within a parish, it would allow anyone to join whichever group(s) they thought they might find the most support in and then, within that group, maybe connect with those most like themselves, able to support each other, and in the way that best fits them. I mean, there could be optional group get-togethers, but also the opportunity just to connect with those similar within your own parish.

    Does anything like this already exist? I hope I’m making sense… it has been a long week and it isn’t over yet. I’ll have to think about it more.

  • Melanie, why don’t you try starting a mother’s Rosary circle?  Or, perhaps a mom’s group to study the CCC or Compendium?  Neither idea would take a lot of effort on your part, but each would be very fruitful in this Year of Faith.

  • Hi Melanie,
    Your most recent comment makes me wonder if now might be a good time to set up a meeting with your Parish Priest, or administrator, in order to lay out for them, just as you have here, what your family is about to experience. Ask if they have Communion Ministers who can visit you, and if there are any other resources in the Parish to help out families like yours.

    You’re right. You don’t have time right now to start something, and unfortunately there’s nothing already in place. There’s not time to make close friends before your delivery, so maybe it’s just time to be a supplicant to your Parish. Or have Dom do it for you. Make a list in advance of practical things people could do to help out. Off the top of my head, meals, communion, intermittent childcare would be on the list.

    This, of course, would mean strangers coming to you when you’re down and your house is a mess, which may be awkward. But heck, let me know the name of your Parish, and I’ll set it up for you.

  • One side thought… I wonder how many other groups feel similarly. I mean, I wonder how many single adults feel like the Church wants them to be chaste and faithful but doesn’t provide social opportunities or support within their parish, that is, among other faithful Catholics. Would such a network through a parish work well for more groups than just moms of many little ones? Wouldn’t it also make it easier for such groups to coordinate better among themselves rather than a parish trying to fund dinners or dances or receptions, etc. ?  Just thinking out loud (which in my present state, I grant is dangerous, but if I don’t write it somewhere, it will be gone in no time) smile

  • Hi Melanie.  First off, I love your blog,rarely comment.  This struck such a chord with me.  I have lots of great thoughts but am trying to juggle laundry, morning chores and morning sickness so I’ll make this brief.  I run a playgroup at one of our local parishes (not my home one)..we have at least three Catholic churches in a 10 mile radius (we’re in NY) and this is the only ‘parenting/mom’ type group out of all the three.  The parish I run it at is young, thriving, growing with tons of kids and young parents.  This group has been there at least ten years-we do simple things: meet once a week in the church building, with topics for the parents and toys and crafts (nothing fancy!) for the children. 
    I find it sometimes difficult running the group because….where are the moms?  I know people drift in and out depending on the children’s ages (we cater to bith thru 4) but this year, there was not one ‘new’ mom and the average attendance at this is about three to four moms per week.  I appreciate all who come and am so glad if a new mom calls or stops by.  But where are the moms?  Are they all working?  It seems like everyone else has other things to do too…the gym or swim class that meets at the that time.  Is it true that here, many moms work?  Or have more money for ‘better’ things?  I am at a loss. I have advertised at all three churches numerous time…I am at loss too if there is a homeschooling community nearby to cater too, as we don’t homeschool but use our parish school.  I feel as if I don’t have an ‘in’ but I have been living here for almost four years and know a lot of local people.

    I think the problem too is once, as a first time mom to my oldest (now in kindergarten), I attended-just for a few months, before we moved-a MOPS group at a local community church.  To say it was awesome would be an understatment.  There had to be at leat 50 or so moms who attended; they provided care for the children in the basement nursery by grandmas from the congregation; each month, you would have wonderful food to eat (those Protestants and their awesome food!) and mom centered prayerful activities to do.  Of course, me being Catholic, I noted any indication of anti-Catholic sentiment (many of the ladies attending were former Catholics who attended the community church), and never felt 100 percent comfortable there religiously but the sense of community and just general care for the well being of moms was amazing, as was the amount of older women who helped out.  Where also, is that in our church?

    I am not trying to be critical, but could it come from the ‘contraceptive’ mentality that so many of the Baby Boommer generation has? (not all)  So many older women I have met (50-60s) have the attitude, “I raised my children,and I am ‘done”, I just want to enjoy grandchildren,nieces, nephews, etc, not work for them, babysit, etc. I suffered enough with my own children.”
    Thank goodness my own mother is not like that but it leads me to wonder if this is part of our base problem with community.  I would really like to email you some more on this, when I have the time but gotta go, the kids are in the chocolate!

    PS:  I ‘only’ have two kids ( and one early on the way and one in heaven) but admire so much your large family, Melanie and pray for your struggles. . .We hope to have more but what’s in God’s plan, is, I guess.  Everyone assumes we’re done—one boy, one girl. Sigh.

  • Melanie,
    Again, thank you for your thoughts and this discussion.  I know I won’t have time to post more than just a simple thanks and my thoughts may not actually be cohesive. … Ok, turned into more than just a thanks but still not very cohesive … I’ll leave it though because it’s what I have …

    I think that community is essential and that isolated moms need it.  I think it does take lots of time to cultivate as your comment indicates.  I also think it is hard to cultivate because of the vary nature of our lives, our vocation, the requirements of our children. Just surviving may mean putting your head down and NOT going anywhere or talking to anyone.  (Its hard to go to a playgroup, or anywhere, when getting 5 people dressed feels overwhelming, let alone packing a snack or extra clothes or jackets or putting on, finding? 10 different shoes.  I’m lucky if I can find clean clothes for all kids at a given time.)

    And so if the brotherhood that should be in our lives as part of being the Church isn’t when life with small children overwhelms, it is SO VERY HARD to make that happen when you don’t have the energy or time or even anything more to call on than a wish.  It’s kind of a question of timing. And then is it MY responsibility to reach out and find the community or should it come to me since I can’t?  The same questions you are asking Melanie.

    I think that the women like us (Catholic homeschooling moms of many) are really fewer and far between so that that sense of community is hard to foster (and to support from the Parish’s perspective). My support group of women is spread out over a range of 50 miles and it may take an hour to get to each others houses.


  • Continuing: The networking idea is what I ended up finding/making.  I attended a park Rosary group for a summer but couldn’t actually have a linear conversation because my 18 month old had to be chased so he wouldn’t fall. (It’s hard to make friends if you can only talk in 2 minute snaches.)  I started a book club with ~12 women with young children (who sometimes made it and sometimes didn’t) … that book club turned into an online support email group, meals for moms, and occasional social outings.  However all of us come from about an hours drive in a major urban area and almost all of us attend different parishes! All of us homeschool and all of us with more than 2 don’t work.  I think MOST Catholic women I know work and don’t homeschool so the parishes don’t have enough of a base to provide support within their one parish.
    It is a need though and I think that the older women are called to be mentors and some aren’t taking up the lead for some reason, as touched on by Anon above.  Elizabeth Foss touched on it lately on her blog too -the mentoring bit, not the failing to mentoring bit, just to be clear.
    I would love to find a few good local moms to be my mentor or older teens whom I could mentor.  Different stages of womanhood to help me get through to the time when my oldest is OLDER and I’m not so overwhelmed.  But I don’t know where to find them.  Going to church and reading the bulletin isn’t enough!  And starting a small group on your own isn’t enough either.  It needs cultural change, not just small community change. I think lack of support for mothers is pervasive in our culture (Texas and New England and Indiana included).  Are there mentors out there who can’t find me?  How else can we reach out?  I do think there is a place here for the Church to help make it happen, but it needs a vehicle to help carry the message.  How do I ask for what I need when I don’t know who I can even ask for help?

    Thanks Melanie.

  • Reading all with interest. I have the added problem that, unlike Pentimento, I did not get around to learning to drive in a reasonable amount of time after leaving New York City, and have simply lacked the needed combination of time and money and organization since I became more serious about that as a goal. Also, I have multiple sclerosis that is symptomatic these days, so that’s an added complication. smile But I feel like not driving makes it “all my fault” in a way it’s not others so I had better just accept that I locked people out of my life and as an introvert who can’t just make the most of every event that is accessible to me, I am going to remain lonelier. My husband is kind of a wonder of the world who takes care of lots and lots of stuff (and did before we even suspected I had MS) including working self-employed from home and so our children do manage to get to driven to various activities and classes outside the home. Is this just a stream of consciousness? Well, the other day we had a particularly painful disappointment regarding work my husband had hoped to pick up, and somehow that blow led to me venting about… feeling left out and incapable of ever getting to a place where I can make friends and speculating that people who “have it together” can’t sympathize with whiners who make excuses about why they don’t, and also there should be more support from the local Church for parents of high-functioning autistic children like me, etc., etc. So I guess this may always be bothering me “subconsciously” more than I think. I keep fantasizing about learning to drive and being able to go volunteer somehow or at least “contribute” in some way other than signing my husband up to cook and deliver a meal (no kidding) when that help is being solicited for some family, and then people realizing I could actually be a friend and not just a weirdo who has excuses why she can’t do a lot of stuff. This is still a stream of consciousness. Sorry. I’m finding more fault with myself here, even if some of it is historic fault of not realizing that I really should learn to drive BEFORE all this other stuff happened, like 4 kids and an unpredictable chronic illness. I don’t even like to think about learning to drive and still being lonely, but I guess most of you on this thread have been drivers the whole time you have been mothers, huh? Anyway, I hope the one adult driving teacher who sounded promising isn’t freaked out if she sees my hands flapping with “intention tremors” when I reach for the door handle or the stick shift or whatever that thing is called and decides she can’t be comfortable trying to teach me.

  • So many of these comments have deeply touched me.

    The commonality of feeling isolated within community, and needing support and the presence (both tangible and intangible) of one’s faith community when one is — by nature of one’s familial needs and or health — more or less homebound. I do include under that umbrella being introverted, having many children who are all small, being disabled etc etc.

    Melanie, I’m not sure I have many answers: I do so appreciate that you write posts on the subject, and I love that so many of your readers chime in with their own experiences and thoughts.

    My parish (I am Episcopalian, and both my parish church and the monastary with which I am affiliated are ‘high’ church, Anglo-Catholic), anyhow, my parish does have young family things they do, but they are very much geared towards tiny children; those with ‘middle aged’ kids (6-12) are definitely not invited. There used to be a mothers and littles group that met weekly at the church (with childrcare) but the prist who ran it moved away. Meantime the youth group is teens only (with parents of teens doing things too) so those of us in the middle are sort of left to ‘get by’ with church school on Sunday mornings. I would love to have a Faith & Parenting group to participate in, but I suppose I’d have to start up such a group and there is no way I have the time/energy/physical resources to do it!

    Where I see the biggest failing (again, specifically my parish) is in the lack of tangible support of the disabled, the elderly, the homebound. There is a tiny, core, very caring group of people who do their best, but they are few in number and all getting quite old themselves. Since having my brain tumor and becoming disabled I have experienced … Oh, how do I explain. Well. It just isn’t possible to be involved in things anymore. Not beyond being in the handbell choir anyhow, and the only way we can do that is because we have a family member (*not* a church member) give us rides to rehearsals. What I learned right away is that many people are happy to help a disabled person (or family in crisis, or after the birth of a baby etc) **once** with a meal, a ride, doing an errand. Once, maybe maybe twice. Long term care and support and just general checking in doesn’t happen. I really don’t think it’s personal: I think it is the nature of the communal beast. No matter whether it’s a disabled person, an elderly isolated person, a family who for whatever reason could use some extra care and support from their parish … Whathaveyou: long term, ongoing, compassionate care and support is hard to come by. What is required, I believe, is a truly dedicated core group of people who are commited to long term parishioner care and support: these need to be folks who are genuinely called to do this sort of work, and who are sensative, kind, thoughtful individuals who themselves have the support of the parish in order to do the work of community building and care to begin with …

  • The first part of this post reminded me of when I was in college and did Ministry to Moms—Kimberly Hahn started it; college students come help out/babysit for 3 hours a week in exchange for a home-cooked meal and a chance to do their laundry. I worked with the same family for my last two years of college and those hours with “my” family were like air when you’re drowning. I like to think the mom enjoyed my presence too; sometimes she’d drive me back to my dorm after dinner and we’d sit in the parking lot for half an hour just talking.

    I don’t want to minimize your current suffering or turn this into the Pain Olympics or anything, but I do think this loneliness crosses demographics. I know of a lot of single people who feel desperately lonely and disconnected. I had an awesome community during the worst months of my brief single-adult life, so I didn’t get much of that. (Though, ask me how good the Church is at ministering to people with mental health problems and I’ll write you a novel.)

    Now, though, I’m a young married woman with no children living in a strange city and even though my depression has improved the past couple of years if feels so much worse without community. (I have no idea if that makes sense, “my depression is better but feels worse,” considering that the primary symptom of depression is, you know, FEELING BAD. I’ll leave it, though, and hope my meaning gets through somehow.) The sad thing is that there IS a thriving young adult group here, but a) even though it advertises as welcoming toward married couples, the focus is still very much on discernment and chastity and other things geared toward singles. (Not that married people don’t have to be chaste, but it’s a very different talk when it’s oriented that way.) and b) the group has 200-300 people at every event. Scott and I went to a retreat back in February and by the end of the day I was sobbing and begging to go home because there were TOO. MANY. PEOPLE. (There were no icebreaker events or small group breakaway sessions or anything, either, so I was in a room with 200-300 complete strangers.) And it seems like the only answer to single/childless people who feel disconnected is “volunteer for a ministry.” Because of course the solution to me being drained dry is for me to get into something that will drain me even more. (There are very few ministries that don’t conflict with my social anxiety. It’s just how it is right now.)

    In case you can’t already tell, I identify very strongly with the feeling of being so buried that you can’t DO anything to get yourself out, because doing anything takes energy you already don’t have enough of, energy that you desperately need just to get through the day.

    *sigh* Anyway, I should go do dishes before I can’t find my kitchen anymore.

  • (Disclaimer: It’s CD31 over here and my temp’s down half a degree, so I’m buying my ticket for the Crazy Hormone Train. Is there still room with all the pregnant ladies on there?)

  • It’s been a few days, so Betty Duffy’s piece is not fresh in my mind, but I am glad to see a conversation about the Church meeting the needs of real-life parishioners. I thought Duffy’s piece failed to imagine the possibilities in the face of great need. What came to my mind was the powerful example of Fr. McGivney, a parish priest in New Haven, who decided to create something new, unique, Catholic, and communal about the destitution facing widows and children in late 19th-century America. At the same time, the Knights of Columbus would offer viable social, economic, and political opportunities to Catholics in America. Women and families today need a different—but equally essential—sort of assistance—and I pray the Church through its parishes recognizes and responds to this need. We need a Fr. McGivney smile

  • I’m way late to this conversation, but I wanted to point out that the advantage of having the same group doing everything in the parish is that once you have that “in”, you can have a network quickly. My husband and I laugh at the connections every time we meet someone new.

    My parish is large and very active. We have a ton of ministries, and I tried a few in the first few years that we were members, but didn’t really find my place. It was a chance meeting at the swimming pool of all places, where I sucked up my courage and introduced myself to “that mom” (you know you have one in your parish, too. The one who does everything and knows everyone) and all of a sudden we were swept into parish life. These were the friends that I didn’t dare ask God for, and we have been so blessed.

    Melanie: if you’ve been offered a mother’s helper, use her!

  • We have an incredible community here at our parish. Coffee and donuts after every Mass, unless it’s the KofC breakfast…then it’s a big old breakfast instead! Dinner every Wednesday night followed by CCD for the kids and a speaker or a movie or a presentation for the adults. Festivals and pageants and a softball team and a new baby ministry and 40 days for Life and on and on and on. I don’t know who I can thank or point to for having all of this, but I do know that it offers fantastic opportunities to cultivate real friendship, which is the true root of community, and it is something that was SORELY lacking at our enormous parish back in southern California.

  • Katherine and everyone else interested in e-mail communication.

    It takes 5 minutes to set up a yahoo group. Running one doesn’t take much computer knowledge either.  I belong to several great yahoo groups that have been invaluable during my season of toddlers.  I’ve never thought about doing one for the parish. Now I’m thinking of it.