I Went to School for Years! Now I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom…?

The other day I was reflecting on a common frustration among stay-at-home moms—the seemingly “wasted” years of higher education that apparently get tossed aside when children enter the picture. Admittedly, I had moments leading up to the birth of my son when I felt that way. “I kicked my butt in undergrad and graduate school, just so I could change diapers all day?” Then, my son was born, and my view slowly but profoundly changed.

Essentially, I came to realize that my life, like a book, has chapters carefully constructed and laid out by God, who has a time and place for everything. He ordered the chapters in my novel, and just like it would be absurd for chapters in a carefully plotted book to be out of order (imagine Frodo journeying to Mordor before he acquires the ring…what? or Elizabeth falling in love with Mr. Darcy the moment she meets him…boring!), it would be equally disappointing if I desired and tried to live my life out of order from God’s intended story for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always wanted to be a mom. But before I became one (and still occasionally now that I am one), the thought of giving up some of my career aspirations seemed daunting. That is, until I realized that I wasn’t giving up any career aspirations at all. I was entering a new chapter with a new and incredibly challenging career: professional motherhood. I think it’s a mistake when many of us fail to see motherhood as it really is—a professional career.

To be a true professional at any career, you must have focus and passion. Right now, as a stay-at-home mother, I’m called to be laser-focused on how to mother well—extremely well if I can help it—which is hard, professional work. I’m also called to do that work with tangible passion. After years of focus and passion, I will hopefully be rewarded with children who have the virtues, attitudes, and capabilities that reflect the professional mothering they experienced in their childhood and adolescence.

Then, maybe God will call me to a new chapter, perhaps a chapter that involves that workaday world that I once belonged to and went to school for. Until that time, however, it is my vocation to embrace this chapter, offering every bit of talent, creativity, and knowledge that I have gained through the valuable education and life experience He intentionally equipped me with in previous ones.

Fellow stay-at-home mothers: your years of schooling are not wasted; your professional life has not been put on hold. You are using them right now, engaging in the hardest and most important professional work there is.  Do not spend these years wondering what else or what more you could be doing, what other chapters you could be writing. Never take a moment of this chapter for granted. It will end all too quickly!

“That is how mothers are made. Nature had to prepare for them through millions of years by begetting a love that would freely desire children, a love that would educate them, and a love that would sacrifice for them because of their sovereign worth as persons endowed with immortal souls…that kind of love is a gift from God.” –Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Where’s the Green Tree?

A five-year-old girl sits at her desk looking eagerly at her teacher, waiting in ardent anticipation of her next coloring project. The little girl’s eyes widen joyfully as her teacher approaches, holding a colored marker in her hand.

“This green marker is for you,” the teacher tells the little girl. “Use it to draw me a tree.”

As the teacher walks away, the little girl looks at her blank white paper with unbridled excitement. She pulls the cap off the marker with her tiny fingers and then stops abruptly. She looks over at the edge of her desk and something spectacular catches her eye: a purple marker.

The little girl puts the green marker down, grabs this new, captivating purple marker and begins to draw a dainty flower on her blank page. “This looks beautiful!” the little girl thinks to herself. “My teacher will be so happy with me.”

Ten minutes later the teacher strolls back over to the little girl’s desk. She looks over the little girl’s shoulder to see a dazzling landscape on the colorfully transformed sheet of paper—replete with pink and orange butterflies, a star-studded blue sky, and a spectacular little purple flower.

The little girl turns around in her chair in the direction of her teacher, looking up with hopeful expectation of her teacher’s admiration and praise.

After what feels like an eternity of silence to the anxious little girl, the teacher finally speaks.

“Where’s the green tree?”

God has some very specific gifts He gave you. Why? Because only you can use your gift perfectly. And when God gives one of His children a special gift, He intends that His child puts it to good use.

Chances are, you can think of an item in your home that is sitting on a shelf, wasting away its usefulness because you completely fail to acknowledge its existence. But the last thing we want to be doing is subjecting our God-given gifts and talents to this same fate. In that case, we must take time to discover what gifts God has given us, and how He wants us to be using them, so that they do not get old, dusty, and helplessly ignored.

Well, what is the best way to find out what our gifts are and to know how to use them?

  • Pray. First and always turn to prayer. Ask God what He wants you to do to serve Him. I’ve sometimes found myself justifying my lack of consultation with the Father’s will by saying that God can be too ambiguous at times. However, if I am to be truly honest with myself, I can’t help but acknowledge that God is anything but vague and wishy-washy. In fact, sometimes He can be shockingly specific! God answers prayers, especially when a sincere heart is in search of Him so that His Holy Will may be done. (You remember Matthew 7:7, right? “’Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”)
  • Consult others. God is fabulous at dropping little hints for us, which He usually does through a spouse, family member, friend, coworker, acquaintance, or sometimes even a stranger. I remember in the tenth grade, after a class period of group presentations on parables in the New Testament, my theology teacher asked me to stay after class for a moment. She asked me, “Katie, you are going to be a theology teacher someday, right?” I had absolutely loved learning and speaking about my faith before that day, but I had never—ever—thought about making it my life. Good thing she said something! God is always speaking to us through other people; it’s one of His favorite ways to communicate to us. Make sure you are open to listening to Him through others.
  • Study. Learn about how to decipher the will of God. Read books about how God communicates His will. Consider taking a spiritual gifts inventory, so you know what gifts God has given especially to you: teaching, evangelization, music, hospitality, intercessory prayer…?

Remember, you must take time to discover your gifts. Since many of us don’t take this to prayer, we end up stockpiling ourselves with an overabundance of ministerial activities and, as a result, give everything a half-hearted effort, instead of putting all of ourselves into the one thing God wants us most to do! We can all get caught up in all sorts of absolutely good activities, but if God wants us to do something entirely different to serve Him, we aren’t going to be truly happy (and God will never be fully satisfied) until we do just that. We can’t let ourselves get distracted by those purple markers—not if it keeps us from drawing His green tree!

God gives us all the tools we need to create His masterpieces. But he gives us all different colored markers. He gave you a green marker to draw Him a tree, but what you don’t see is that He gave me a purple marker to draw Him a flower, because only He knows how marvelous you are at drawing trees and how beautifully I can color purple flowers.

When God hands us our markers, we often foolishly try to draw Him a whole picture. That’s because we don’t realize that God is piecing together a mural on the back wall of the classroom—made of a collage of all of our paintings: your tree, my flower, another woman’s butterflies, another man’s sky.

God wants your piece of the bigger picture. His painting is incomplete without it.

Where’s your green tree?

The Engaged and Newlywed Book List

Getting married or have you recently tied the knot? Do you have a friend or family member who just got engaged? This book list is your ultimate shopping and reading guide.

My husband and I are both avid readers, and engagement gave us a chance to try out a new literary genre: marriage preparation and enrichment. We found a few of many gems during our scouring of literature meant to help us start off our lifelong commitment strong, and now I want to share that with you. These books make great engagement, shower, Christmas, birthday, and anytime gifts for you and those you love.

Specifically Catholic Books

Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family, Katie Warner

Yep, I wrote a book specifically for engaged and married couples (of all phases in marital life, but especially helpful to newlyweds), because my husband and I wanted a resource to guide us in our effort to become strong spiritual leaders for each other and for our growing family. I included it in this list because it has had a big impact on my own marriage, and on the marriages of many others who’ve shared their experiences with me after reading the book.

Three to Get Married, Fulton Sheen

Anything that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes drips with beauty and clarity, and this book is no different. It is a top-notch theological reflection on what God intends marriage to be. Read it. Give it.

The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets to the World’s Happiest Couples, Gregory Popcak

My hubby and I became big fans of Dr. Gregory Popcak just a few pages into this book. It’s practical, implementable, straightforward, and spot-on in its marital wisdom. Our marriage reaped the benefits almost immediately, and we will be rereading this one for years.

Holy Sex, Gregory Popcak      

Trust me on this one. It is a surprisingly comfortable, refreshing, and honest read. Personally, I was so grateful that a book like this existed to help me prepare for this aspect of marital life…and that it is 100% Catholic!

Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, Gregory and Lisa Popcak, *just released*

The subtitle indicated another Popcak hit. It arrived in the mail a few days ago, and it took me no time to finish it. It’s filled with relevant topics for thriving in your first years, and it keeps discussion on those topics succinct and relatable. I simply loved the prayer plan it lays out for married couples.

 Life-Giving Love, Scott and Kimberly Hahn

Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn have inspired an untold number of Catholics and Christians over their many years of ministry, but also through their beautiful witness to married love, which they have communicated eloquently in this must-have item on your bookshelf.

The Good News about Sex and Marriage, Christopher West

If you too deeply respect the advice of Archbishop Charles Chaput, who writes the foreword to the new edition of this book, than I’ll let you take his word over mine: “Do the Church—and yourself—a favor: Read and reread this book. Encourage everyone you know to do the same.”

Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, Edward Sri

I was blessed enough to study under Dr. Sri during graduate school and to attend multiple of his Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love talks—including his mini-series on the subject filmed at EWTN studios. The powerful information he presents in this book never gets old.

Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards, Ray Guarendi

Dr. Ray, known for his wit and practical guidance, gives a Catholic therapist’s take on how to make your marriage more rewarding through small, useful steps.

The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse, Art and Laraine Bennett

The Bennett’s have written an entire series on the temperaments, and this book is a critical one in the pack. My husband and I have found that understanding one another’s temperament is crucial in learning how to better communicate with and love each other.

Non-Catholic Christian Books

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

I remember my husband and I having long discussions about these languages from early on in our relationship. We learned that just because he loved little gifts didn’t mean that they were what would make me feel most loved. Understanding each other’s love language has changed our relationship for the better—every day.

His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley

Sometimes communicating your needs is hard—really hard. What if you aren’t really sure what your needs even are, or what if it is hard to express them? This book helps you describe (and rank!) your most important needs so that your spouse can respond to them. We simply loved it.

Love Busters, Willard Harley

It didn’t take us long to figure out not only what increases our marital love, but also what decreases it. This book made us conscious of the things we do that hurt our love and how to avoid them.

For Men Only & For Women Only (two separate books), Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

These little (in size and length) books were light, yet informative reads. I’ve handed these out to a number of couple friends already.

For the Women

Graced and Gifted, Kimberly Hahn

Get this, ladies! It truly helped me see how to live out my call to be a homemaker with grace and thanksgiving. When you are already sick of vacuuming and dishes after only a few months, the wisdom in this books sweeps in (pun intended) to lift your spirits.

From the Church

Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla

Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II

Familiaris Consortio, On the Family, John Paul II

Casti Connubii, On Christian Marriage, Pius XI

Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, USCCB

Finally, why not read about marriage together from the best sources the Church can offer? Don’t leave these encyclicals and other writings out of your marriage library.