Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Motivator for Moms - Joy

What brings you joy?

What robs you of joy?

This weekend I was blessed to discuss these two questions with a group of faith-filled Catholic homeschooling mothers! Inspired by resources like the Fall 2008 issue of mater et magistra, Rachel Watkins's talk titled "Joy for the Asking, Joy for the Keeping" given at the Family Centered Learning Conference last summer (her notes here and mp3 of talk here), The Joyful Home Schooler by Mary Hood, and some wonderful ideas from a recent 4RealForum thread, we shared breakfast and conversation about finding and maintaining joy in our homeschooling lifestyle.

The first part of our conversation focused on how to find joy in our lives. We ranged from the basic understanding that joy is a gift from God to how to have fun with your children. The virtue of joy is available to us "for the asking" from our Baptism. Only God can bring true joy into our lives. Of course, the type of joy God gives is not the same as the type of happiness the world promotes, that which mostly comes from a result of sensual satisfaction. It is, instead, an internal joy, resulting from our faith that the Lord knows what is best for us and is with us, even in our darkest hours.

External joy is also important but is only a result of internal joy. Perhaps more aptly called cheerfulness, this includes smiling, laughing, and maintaining a positive attitude. Sometimes this is not appropriate, and often it is not easy. But, as mothers, it is something we must strive to model for our children, even when we do not feel like it.

Apparently, the world is so obsessed with being unhappy that a Harvard professor created a "science of happiness and potential" and offered a course titled - "Positive Psychology," which was the most popular freshman course in 2006. You can read more here and watch more here. He asserts, "You can absolutely teach people to be happy," and I agree. As Catholic homeschoolers, this must be part of the character education we provide for our children.

Of course, you cannot teach someone without some background of knowledge, and the best way to teach joy is to possess it. The rest of our breakfast conversation focused on what things steal our joy from us and how to avoid them, protecting the gift God has given us. It might be piles of laundry that rob your joy. It might be a husband who always comes home late. It might be a child who only does things halfway. Regardless, mothers must guard our joy, finding practical ways to overcome those challenges (i.e. hide the laundry piles, schedule a family night once or twice a week, invest the time to make sure the child does a particular chore correctly).

We also shared some of the sorrows that can come from burnout and a lack of joy, like anger, which can both ultimately lead to depression if we are not careful. The tissue box was passed around, and most of us admitted we sometimes get tired of homeschooling and more often scream at our children. If you struggle with burnout, there are wise words in Elizabeth's chapter on burnout in Real Learning (currently OOP but a new printing has just been ordered) and some simple advice from Sarah here. My favorite book for mothers on managing anger is She's Gonna Blow!

Some excellent suggestions on ways to preserve joy are to create a gratitude journal like Ann by listing the blessings in your life or a list of things you can do that bring you and the children joy like Elizabeth suggests to prevent or overcome burnout. These things do not have to be complex. It might be as simple as letting your children paint all the fallen coconuts in your yard (if you live in South Florida!) or keeping a chocolate stash just for mom.

Most importantly, throughout our entire conversation, I realized that it must be a conscious prayer to accept the joy the Holy Spirit gives freely and a deliberate decision to protect that joy in our everyday lives, especially if you have melancholic tendencies like me. So, what is it that brings you joy? How do you find that crucial internal joy in the Lord? And, how do you share your joy with others on a daily basis?

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