There are many ways mothers can, and should, practice spiritual self-care. (Submitted photo)
Like a lot of Catholic moms, Elizabeth Ulaszek always knew that a strong prayer life was important.
But — again, like a lot of Catholic moms — she really wasn’t always sure what a strong prayer life looked like in the context of busy parenthood.
“I really wanted someone to just tell me exactly what spiritual self-care for a mom looks like,” said Ulaszek, a parishioner at St. Stanislaus Oratory in Milwaukee; she and her husband Doug are expecting their sixth child this summer. “I would have rejoiced if someone just handed me a detailed schedule and said this is what I was supposed to be doing.”
Unfortunately, spiritual self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription — which is probably why it’s so hard to master in the first place. Finding the time for prayer, Scripture reading, devotions and other actions that nourish the soul can seem like a frivolous indulgence that ought to take last place on a parent’s long and practical to-do list.
But here’s the reality: none of the other items on the to-do list are as important as those that will bring the doer closer to God. No mother can give to her children what she doesn’t have the ability to first give herself.
Christine Mooney Flynn, a mom of four who attends St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield and runs TheCatholicMama.com, converted to Catholicism in 2018. “When I was just starting out on my faith journey, I wound up going to a happy hour with coworkers one evening and later that week, attending a Bible study,” she recalled. “The happy hour with friends was fun but it left me feeling like I’d eaten Chinese takeout — not very filling. I walked out of the Catholic Bible study feeling as though I’d eaten a great steak dinner.”
That analogy perfectly explains the importance of spiritual self-care, she said. “When it comes to our spiritual self-care, we need to find those things that make us feel satiated longer.”
But despite our best efforts, sometimes the challenge of finding time to spend on our relationship with God feels too great. So often the demands of the relationships we have with our families and careers take precedence — and that’s simply the human condition, said Ulaszek.
“I think, as moms, we are naturally inclined to serve, especially our husband and our children. We want the best for them. But in reality, we are not what is best for them,” she said. “When I prioritize holiness in my life, I find that all of those other things fall into place. But when I prioritize the many things I manage for my family, I quickly turn into the worst version of myself.”
When Flynn was beginning her journey of faith, she was already the mother of three young children. “I would get so frustrated at the beginning that I wasn’t getting my prayers in ‘just so.’ I felt like a failure because it wasn’t going my way. How’s that for pride?” she said. “But God worked with me, and gave me graces even during the smallest prayers, the 10-second cries for help when I was impatient, to show me that it doesn’t have to be perfect to count.”
The best — and only — place to start working on spiritual self-care is by acknowledging our own imperfections and appreciating quality over quantity, said Ulaszek.
“For me, it is a little bit like the evolution of my relationship with my husband,” said Ulaszek. “When we were dating, we spent loads of time together and could have amazing, in-depth discussions about everything under the sun. Then we got married and there was some turbulence as we adjusted to living for one another instead of ourselves. Now we both work, keep up our house, are raising and schooling our five children … needless to say, we don’t get the quality time we used to.”
But that doesn’t negate the importance of the time they do have — just as in our relationships with God.
“Our intimacy is far deeper than it was when we were dating because of the time we have spent together and the hardships we have weathered,” she said. “We can communicate in a look what used to take hours to communicate. I think it’s the same in a mom’s prayer life.”
Next issue: Hear our experts’ tips for practicing spiritual self-care.