Talia Westerby with her family. (Submitted photo)

Finding the Joy is an exploration of Catholic parenthood through conversations with mothers and fathers striving for holiness in everyday life.

Talia Westerby worked in education and ministry before becoming a stay-at-home mom to four boys — Maximilian (6), Theodore (5), Samuel (3) and Charles (2) — with husband Carl. For the Westerbys, who attend St. Mary, Mother of God and St. Anthony the Hermit parishes in Menomonee Falls, family life is a tapestry spun from the threads of spontaneity, fun and faith.

“My days are all about keeping my internal peace while accepting the challenges and blessings God sends my way in the form of four little boys,” Westerby said. “Boys need adventure, and I will provide it, no matter how much I hate messes and bugs and blood and broken bones and yelling … all staples in our lives.”

The hand that rocks the cradle saves the world

Westerby admits that motherhood is, in turn, “challenging, messy, insane, demanding and tiring,” but it is also “amazing, fun, adventurous and such a blessing.” More than anything, she views motherhood as “the single greatest way I can grow in holiness and serve the Lord for the salvation of the world” — an opportunity that far surpasses any of her former professional or ministerial roles.

It wasn’t always this way, said Westerby, who acknowledged that there was a time she struggled with the intensity of being a mom to four young and active boys. But a devotion to the rosary and a firm reliance on the sacrament of Confession have helped her to “embrace the fact that my role in my own home with my sons was just as powerful (or more) as any ministry position I had held.”

“This was a huge revelation for me,” she said. “I no longer saw my sons as getting in the way of me utilizing my gifts, but the exact reason I was given these gifts.”

Cling to the cross

The important moms in Westerby’s life are no strangers to suffering, so it’s not surprising that she is acutely aware of the ways that earthly trials can be redemptive and even life-giving. Her own mother, her beloved “Marms,” Tanja Fehrenbach, died at age 47 after an intense three-year battle with cancer. Westerby’s sister, Kate Gallimore, has endured the loss of two children (for more on Gallimore’s spiritual journey through redemptive suffering, read her blog at thefamilygal.wordpress.com).

“My mom often said, ‘Tal, I have never felt so close to Jesus as I do while suffering and clinging to the Cross,’’’ said Westerby. “It was during my weekly visits to my sister in the hospital (while she was pregnant with a life-threatening twin molar pregnancy that eventually took the life of her unborn son) when I really began to understand what Marms was talking about: suffering is a privilege and a blessing, both for oneself and the world. I could see how closely we can draw to Christ through suffering and how necessary it is for all of us to become who God calls us to be.”

Sometimes that suffering can be dramatic and obvious, said Westerby — but other times it can be as simple as embracing the chaos of a messy living room.

“We may not be called to sacrifice our actual lives for our children, but we are called to die to ourselves daily in order that we might get them to Heaven,” she said.

Speaking of chaos

Westerby has learned to embrace and celebrate it — even if it hasn’t been easy. “I don’t take lightly the stress that disorganization or messes bring to a person’s psyche,” she said. But their particular family culture calls for a lot of spontaneity, adventure, fun and physical activity, and Westerby has a personal passion for creating children’s programming.

So before any activity — no matter how chaotic it may seem — she asks herself these questions:

  1. Is the set-up/clean-up time worth the amount of joy and growth it will bring her boys?
  2. Will this activity change the flow of the day for good? “I am not doing something fun or crazy if it will make everyone stressed,” she said.
  3. What is the worst that can happen? A mess? (“Worth it,” said Westerby.) Rr a trip to the hospital? (“Likely not worth it.”)

Mom guilt: The devil’s secret weapon

Often isolated from other adults and prone to comparing themselves to unachievable ideals, mothers are “easy pickings for spiritual attack,” said Westerby. It’s the devil who desires a mother to feel like a failure, she added; it is God who strives to lift her up.

“When I am feeling like a failure, I seek out Confession,” she said. “We are being attacked when we are thinking we are failures, especially in areas in which we know God has given us gifts. We are being attacked when we compare ourselves to other moms who are seemingly better than us or more put together in areas in which we are feeling insecure. We are being attacked when we feel like judging someone’s parenting choices rather than praying for them or reaching out. These attacks are going to keep coming unless we combat them with the Sacraments, prayer, self-care — in the area of mental health especially — and lifting each other up.”

Know an inspiring mom or dad we should feature in Finding the Joy? Let us know at jurkiew.c@gmail.com.