St. Zelie and her husband, St. Louis Martin.
“I long for rest,” wrote St. Zelie Martin once. “I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
St. Zelie was the mother of nine (four of whom died in childhood) and a busy entrepreneur, who worked long hours in the days before smartphones and email. And even though her family has become renowned for their holiness (one daughter, St. Therese of Lisieux, is a doctor of the Church and another, Blessed Leonie, is on the path to sainthood), Zelie still found herself overwhelmed by the physical exhaustion of parenthood and struggled to find time and energy for spiritual self-care. But, like all the saints, she knew the secret to achieving holiness lay in perseverance: “It is necessary that the heroic becomes the daily and that the daily becomes heroic,” she once said.
Taking time for spiritual self-care as a Catholic parent can sometimes seem like a feat of heroism — and it is, because doing it always makes for a better parent. Here are some tips from fellow Catholic moms for making time for spiritual self-care in even the busiest seasons of life.
Watch the excuses
We all make excuses when we are tired and discouraged. Pay attention to which ones in particular are stumbling blocks for you. “I cannot tell you how many times I have used my duties as a mom to let my prayer life derail,” said Elizabeth Ulaszek, a mom of six and parishioner at St. Stanislaus Oratory in Milwaukee. “But in reality, my husband and children need Jesus way more than they need me. And I cannot possibly allow Jesus to reach them through me if I am not allowing him into my life.”
When she fails in this regard — “which is often” — Ulaszek said she reflects on God’s greatness. “Yes, he loves me very dearly and intimately, but sometimes I lose sight of the fact that he is also the Lord of the Universe. That life as we know it was created by his word.”
“I don’t know about you, but I find my word doesn’t usually have the effect I wish it did in my house,” she said. “So why not abandon the things that really don’t matter and that suck up my time and energy, and allow God’s Word to enter my home through me and let his will be done instead of mine?”
Evaluate your priorities
When it comes to spending time in prayer or reading the Bible, find the right time that works for you in your day — but make sure you do find it.
“My grandmother had 10 children, and the only quiet time she got was if she woke up very early,” said Christine Mooney Flynn, a mom of four and parishioner at St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield. “I’m a morning lark; so I tend to set my prayer times with God for before the sunrises. But, it works for anytime you can find, even if morning isn’t your thing. Ten minutes would be great to read the daily Mass readings, to sit with them, visualize them. But I always start my day with a morning offering prayer and also a Memorare asking Mary to help me be a better wife and mother that day.”
Flexibility is key
What worked for you as a mom of two might not work after the birth of your third, or during an illness, pregnancy or another difficult period of life. “For example, I know that I become extremely exhausted during the third trimester,” said Ulaszek. “So I do a few things: I have to humbly accept help when it is offered and I abandon chores and projects that are not necessary — there will be another time to catch up on them. This frees up 30 minutes for prayer.”
Be attuned to the opportunities for prayer that naturally present themselves during the day, even in busy seasons. “When I have a newborn who is breastfeeding a lot, there are built-in quiet prayer times during the day or night,” said Flynn.
Surround yourself with prayer
Write prayers on paper and put them throughout your house, in areas where you will see them often. Ulaszek usually posts prayers to the Holy Spirit asking for guidance and promising submission to his will. “This keeps me on track and helps me to get back on track when I have derailed,” she said.
“I have the Litany of Humility taped to the cabinet next to the kitchen sink so I pray that while washing dishes,” said Flynn. “I often wear a rosary bracelet so I can easily pray throughout the day.”
Don’t be hard on yourself
Remember that God is understanding of us, so we should be understanding of ourselves. Make a sincere effort to do your best to create space in your schedule for God, but don’t become overambitious. “Be cautious to not become overwhelmed,” said Ulaszek. She said she finds that seasons like Lent and Advent are great opportunities to add to prayer life.
“When I do fail to pray as much as I hoped for or in the way that I would like, I extend the graces I know God gives me, and also I pray even a tiny amount when I feel far from him,” said Flynn. “That conversation is the way back, no matter how long or short it’s been.”