Catholic Family

I am a worrier. I always have been. After becoming a mother, my worries were cranked up beyond what I could have imagined. After all, being responsible for the body and the immortal soul of an entire human being is terrifying.

I’m told this feeling of living with your heart permanently outside your chest is shared among all mothers, but in my case, this was amplified by an actual anxiety disorder — OCD. Though there are as many obsessions as there are people who have them, and they shift throughout one’s life circumstances, mine usually centers around two main themes — perfectionism and scrupulosity (fear of offending God).

My compulsions make me seem like a better mom than I think I am — I love rubrics. I love the Catechism. I love when there is a black-and-white answer for what I am supposed to do. Striving for perfection isn’t because I am perfect but because I am too afraid not to be.

One day, at my parish library, I picked up Kate Wicker’s “Getting Past Perfect.” Chapter 3, titled “Perfectionism, Supermom’s Kryptonite,” begins with an evil earworm that has often played in my head: “God created you to be the perfect mom to perfect children. You’d better not screw up your precious progeny.”

Wicker counters this with an unvarnished truth:  “God created you to be an imperfect human being who never stops seeking a perfect union with him.” She explains, “So often we measure our children’s virtue by what is seen by others and what is avoided for the sake of holiness. We vigilantly monitor media. We teach manners. We preach chastity and purity. But in all our doing, we forget to just trust God and his plan for the children he loves so much in spite of their flaws and transgressions.”

I admit I struggle when it comes to trusting my children will turn out OK, even though they are still young, and I have no evidence that there is any threat of that. My OCD has often convinced me that I hold far more responsibility for things than I actually do.

I’m their mother. My husband and I are their primary catechists. If they don’t make it to heaven, it will be entirely my fault. This thought has stolen many hours of sleep from me. I’ve worried that somehow I won’t pass the faith on well or that the world’s influences will speak to my children more loudly and convincingly than I can.

After literal years of therapy and lots of time in front of incredible confessors, I don’t have all the answers. Still, I know this: Excessive worrying, micromanaging my children and ruminating over every mistake I’ve made leave me little room for humility and even less room for grace.

As Pope Francis once said: “There is no saint without a past nor a sinner without a future. It is enough to respond to the call with a humble and sincere heart. The Church is not a community of perfect people, but of disciples on a journey, who follow the Lord because they know they are sinners and in need of his pardon. Thus, Christian life is a school of humility which opens us to grace.” (General Audience Address, April 13, 2016)

One fantastic example of humility, patience and faith in God’s plan for each of his children is St. Monica, whose feast day we celebrate on Sunday.

Monica may chuckle at my worries. My children are still young. They fight with their siblings and roll their eyes when I remind them to pick up their shoes, but at heart, they are good kids who genuinely love God. Comparatively, I’ve got it easy.

Monica had a challenging go of it with Augustine.

One of the books in his “Confessions” is literally titled: “Grief of his mother Monica at his heresy, and prayers for his conversion. Her vision from God, and answer through a Bishop.”

Augustine explained that Monica wept more for him than other mothers weep for the bodily deaths of their children. Yet, Monica was comforted by her faith and a bishop she approached for help with her wayward son. He advised her that Augustine could not receive God’s truth yet and refused to meet with him. He encouraged Monica to let Augustine alone for a while but to keep praying that God would help him discover his error.

“Go thy ways, and God bless Thee, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish. Which answer she took (as she often mentioned in her conversations with me) as if it had sounded from heaven.”

Monica’s example reminds me that stepping back and letting your children find their way is not the same as giving up. As moms, we keep showing up, giving our children opportunities to find God and praying that God will find them in the opportunities we miss. No child is lost who cannot be found, and the world’s only perfect parent — our loving God — will never give up on his children.

If Monica’s love and prayers, paired with God’s grace, could transform Augustine into a capital-S Saint, I think my kids will be OK.

Stained-glass windows at St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, depicting scenes from the life of their namesake. (Photo courtesy of Anne Rice)