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The Case For Family Mission

For as long as I can remember thinking about the dynamics of a marriage that I would want for myself, I’ve known that I wanted to marry someone who had a goal besides getting married. I wanted to join a man on a mission and partner with him in achieving it. Somehow just having a family never seemed like enough of a goal. 

Now according to Catholic thought, the purpose of the family is the procreation and education of children, and the mutual love and support of the spouses. Families are where new people come from. 

So it might seem a little odd to argue that a family needs a goal beyond itself, a mission beyond the spouses having a functional marriage and raising functional children. 

But that’s exactly what I want to argue. Families need a mission. 

Where Mission Might Come From

Now in some cases—perhaps the vast majority of cases throughout history—the overarching goal of most families was simply survival. Every member of the subsistence farmer family or hunter-gatherer family has to work hard just to ensure their survival through the next winter. The sense of mission is built into the life. The mission: survive the next winter without losing any family members. 

A step beyond survival, status can also serve as a mission. Ensuring the survival and renown of the family name. The mission: maintain the family’s power and prestige by whatever means necessary…. Because if you don’t, you’ll end up on the bottom of the pile and likely not survive.

I am by no means suggesting either of these scenarios as an ideal. I am not criticizing prosperity, nor nostalgically pining for some “simpler time.” I simply want to point out that a sense of communal family mission is present in these scenarios, and that this sense is valuable for healthy human life and development. 

I have no desire to argue against either prosperity or comfort. There are obvious advantages to both, and the sense of struggle and striving which we need, can—and should—be supplied in other, nobler ways. 

So what if you have plenty of stuff? What if you live in 21st century America where having enough is relatively easy, and having a surplus common? What sense of mission drives the modern American family? What do they strive for? 

Why Family Mission Is Important

Even if you have plenty of material goods, you still need something to strive for. Humans are built to strive, to fight, to struggle. And so I believe it is impossible—or nearly impossible—to raise children to be truly virtuous adults, unless you set your family a goal beyond just “raising good kids.” 

If you as parents set your goal as a family to “raise children” then what will your children have to do besides “be raised?” Virtue is acquired by repeated acts. And “being raised” is not an action. It is something done to you, not something you do. A child cannot become virtuous by “being raised,” any more than a student can become wise or educated merely by “being taught.”

Children—and all of us—actually have to do something, if they are to become fully actualized humans. Hence the need for a family mission. A goal set for the whole family, that requires action on the part of every member of the family. So how will a family mission help you raise happy, well adjusted, responsible…. AKA virtuous humans? 

The Mission Will Demand Sacrifice

Everyone who wants to raise children to be virtuous people seems to recognize that giving kids everything they want all the time doesn’t lead them to acquire virtue. Setting aside your own desires for the sake of something bigger and higher is fundamental for becoming a responsible, noble, virtuous adult. Not getting your way all the time is an important part of growing up. 

But as a parent, it’s hard sometimes to know how to best present opportunities for this lesson. I can actually afford to buy my kids candy, balloons, or whatever. There is no pressing physical necessity for my small children to push their limits physically or mentally. Our economy is structured such that four year olds don’t actually have to do economically productive work in order to stay alive. (And I am certainly glad I don’t have to send my daughter into a coal mine!) So how do I determine when I’m just being a control freak and a killjoy, and when I’m really “doing it for their own good?” 

A family mission helps with this. If there’s an overarching goal that all family activities are in some way directed toward, then this gives an explanation for why the answer is sometimes no, or why work needs to be done. A family running a true family business, for example, would revolve around that work. “Mom needs you to help make dinner right now instead of watching cartoons, because she needs to wait on a customer.” “We can’t buy that expensive toy today because we’re saving for a new piece of equipment.” 

This is so much more satisfying—both for the parent, and the child—than “You can’t do that because I think it’s good for you to not always have what you want.”  

The Family Mission Imparts Value

Children desperately want to be helpful. They want to do real work, even before they are capable of it. Even toddlers are insulted by being told, “you can help mommy by coloring quietly.” Your three-year-old knows that coloring doesn’t actually help mommy and that he’s just being brushed off. (Even though you could actually get your work done faster if they would just go color!) 

Is the situation different for a ten year old who’s told that his job is to do his school work? All that does is tell the child simultaneously that he’s the center of the world and that he’s a work in progress, who has no value until he’s finished. If the family’s only mission is to have perfectly raised children, then the children will feel like failures as long as they are not perfect—which they never will be. 

But if the family has a mission that the parents can point to and tell their children, “We are trying to achieve this goal. Can you help us?” then the child has a sense of purpose and meaning. They can feel that they and their contributions have real value: that they are doing something that only they can do. Kids might still grouse about chores, but it’s easier to get kids to do chores if they can see a definite purpose for the work than if they suspect they’re being given busy work.

I can see this even with my own four year old. She wants to know that she’s doing something useful, and that her work will help people. “Pick up your books” is far less effective than, “Aren’t you worried someone will trip and fall if those books are on the floor?” 

The Family Mission Gives Perspective

Children learn by example, and one vitally important thing that children need to learn is that there are things more important than their own desires. Having a goal beyond the family itself and its immediate desires allows the parents to powerfully model living toward something and the virtues associated with that kind of goal-oriented life.

If they have a goal they can point to, and say, “We are trying to do this. In order to achieve this goal, we are going to do these things and make these choices,” they can model intentional living. 

They can also model dedication and self-forgetfulness. Parents can certainly be—and are—dedicated and self-forgetful in the service of their children, and raising good people is a worthy life-work, but children can see this example of dedication and self-forgetfulness more clearly if it’s directed towards something other than themselves. Efforts directed towards oneself are more difficult to see clearly. It is as though they are foreshortened and distorted by being viewed so closely. 

And while children do learn by example, they learn even more powerfully by doing. 

If children are the parents’ goal, then what is the children’s goal? Themselves? Constantly perfecting their own selves? Putting on their own clothes, doing their own school work, cleaning up their own messes? (All of this is wonderful and necessary, of course, but when will they learn to move beyond themselves? Some people might say that they must learn to care for themselves before they can move beyond, and there is some truth in that. But in my experience, they will learn far faster if they can see the needs of others and begin to see themselves as having power to help others.)

When will they learn to direct their goals and actions to something outside of themselves, if they are not invited to join their parents or community in doing so while they’re still children? 

Having a large family can go a long way toward this. If Mom can’t keep up with the work and the older kids have to pitch in for their younger siblings, this will automatically help the kids learn how to contribute to something bigger than themselves. But what about the younger kids in this family? The stereotype of youngest kids is that they are selfish and spoiled. And it will probably be the reality if their family cannot enroll them in the service of a worthy cause. 

Family Mission Helps Parents

As a side note, I think having a sane family mission can help parents survive parenting as well. Instead of endlessly trying to perfect the child-experience—enrolling children in all the activities, and obsessing over their development or lack thereof, the parents can see their children as co-workers in an enterprise and can more easily direct their efforts for their children’s well-being and happiness. Children with real, purposeful work will be happier and less bored, and more likely to actually want virtue. They will be able to see how virtue makes them more effective. Teachable moments will occur naturally, and not have to be artificially constructed. And parents will realize that there are other things they need to do besides just parenting, and be relieved of guilt for not constantly entertaining (stimulating?) their children…which, in a virtuous cycle, will make the children more independent and easier to parent. 

Choosing a Family Mission

Finding the mission of your family can be hard. As hard as discovering your own vocation as an individual. But opening oneself to the Will of God and seeing where it takes you is worth the effort. Look for ways your family can make your community better as a whole. Perhaps there is a pressing need that a new business would fill, and your family has the ability for it. Perhaps loneliness is an issue in your community, and simply practicing Christian hospitality will bring people closer to God and each other. 

There are as many vocations for a family as a whole as there are for individuals. If we start thinking about family life this way, it will make us happier and better, as children, as parents, and as communities.

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Lenten Anthology from Catholic Teen Books

A boy in ancient Israel, a girl in modern-day America, a young man in the far future; a dozen teenagers in different settings. What do they all have in common? Each of these otherwise unrelated young people is presented with a choice, the same choice that every teen must make at some point in their lives: God or self. Sacrifice or selfishness. (which I have been lucky enough to be part of for the last couple of years) is excited to announce its newest anthology: Ashes: Visible and Invisible. This short story collection, which comes out on January 31, will both entertain young readers and invite them into a deeper understanding of Lent and their faith.

Some characters in this anthology risk being eaten by dinosaurs, others must simply rise to a new level of maturity in their everyday life, while some must choose a higher level of generosity. The stakes my vary but each character learns a valuable lesson about sacrifice as they grow in their faith.

Why Lent?

Lent is an amazing liturgical season that is often misunderstood. Too often it’s just “the time where you give up chocolate” whereas it can be so much more. It’s a beautiful and liturgically rich season of walking with Christ, even as he approaches Calvary. We wanted to explore some of the variety this season offers and make it more attractive and understandable to teens.

I really enjoyed writing a story for this collection, and I’m so honored to join Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, Carolyn Astfalk, Amanda Lauer, Ellen Gable, Corinna Turner, Antony B. Kolenc, T. M. Gaouette, and Theresa Linden in its pages.

A taste of what’s inside:

  • When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?
  • A teen’s future was all set—before his tragic loss. But his friend’s secret past just might save it.
  • Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?
  • Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent—literally?
  • A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.
  • Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits. But would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?
  • When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.
  • A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.
  • Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus

What other people are saying about it:

The Catholic Teen Book authors have done it again! We loved this book from page one; it’s a great way to dig deeper into Lent with your teens. The book has a story for everyone, and they all share the faith in different but wonderful ways. Highly recommend!
Jennifer & Kate Waldyke,
Co-hosts of Catholic Mom and Daughter

‘Ashes’, the latest compilation of stories from provides teen readers with plenty to think about. This compilation focuses on the theme of Lent, Easter, and our own mortality. In each of these stories, there is an encounter with death. Sometimes a death is pending or has just occurred or is threatening nearby. But the experienced and very talented
authors at have not presented a depressing, frightening or dark anthology here. Instead, I was surprised to find that each story is uplifting, hopeful and very inspiring.
What binds these stories is that each young person must make a leap of Faith, take a step into a fuller, more mature understanding of their Catholic Faith. Characters are called to forgive, to resist temptation, to be courageous, to be steadfast and responsible. All of them come to understand on a deeper level the sacrificial nature of Love. I highly recommend this collection of stories from the authors at
Melinda Harrington
Catholic Children’s Stories

This is the fourth anthology from the authors at the Catholic Teen Books collective. Each has been a great read. This Lenten volume is also, to be honest, my favourite of the four now. Each story was remarkable. Many of the contributors to this collection, in their own way, imitate Christ and are master storytellers in our own generation. I have a great deal of respect for the ten authors who contributed to this series. And a couple of them are among my all-time favourite authors. And I read a couple hundred books a year. This anthology is Amazing!
Steven R. McEvoy,


Click here to enter a giveaway for this book and some other cool lent-themed items. 

Click here to preorder the book

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A Few of My Favorite Parenting Books

When I run into a challenge my instinct is often to go to the library and check out all the books on the subject and skim through them looking for useful advice on the subject. Parenting, as anyone who has ever done it will (I assume) tell you, is most definitely a challenge. And so I have read a LOT of parenting books. Several were merely boring. A few I actively detested (Sorry, all you people who love BabyWise.) But there were a few that I genuinely loved. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you today.

Why I like these books (and not some of the others)

Before I get into the books, though, I’d like to explain why I liked these books and didn’t like the others. 

First, I’ve personally had zero success with any corporal punishment based systems of child discipline. (Doctor Dobson’s books aren’t on this list) I know lots of parents seem to get great results that way, but it doesn’t work with my kids. I also have problems with the idea of teaching my children by example that when people upset us we hit them. It’s very hard for me to see how a system of physical discipline can avoid this philosophical pitfall. 

Secondly, my goal in raising children is to help them become confident, adaptable, and free adults. Any system that treats children as Pavlovian dogs, or tries to apply the methods of horse or dog training to the education and development of children seems deeply flawed to me. I don’t want to raise compliant robots, or well-trained dogs, but interesting and adaptable people who will ask questions, take initiative, and try new things—but who will also hold fast to a few vital principles, and feel secure enough to take calculated risks and form their own strong relationships as adults. Therefore I want my discipline system to leave a lot of room for choice and initiative at every stage of development

Lastly, children have free will and intellects and should be treated as if they do. I understand that humans are animals too, and that there is some overlap in methodology, but I want methods that emphasize and respect the humanity of the child to be raised. Therefore, I want every discipline strategy to both produce the desired behavioral result, and model a virtuous reaction. 

These books are all easy to read, treat both children and parents with respect, and seem to have a pretty balanced idea of what children are, and are not, capable of. 

Bringing up Bebe

I think I’ve mentioned this one here before. Pamela Druckerman is an American woman who moved to France and had a kid. She tells a lot of hilarious stories (some adult humor) about raising an American child in France. This book is especially useful for its ideas on how to deal with clingy children and picky eaters. It helped me have a lot more fun with parenting, mainly just by encouraging me to micromanage my children less. 

As a result of reading this book, I now let my children play on playground equipment without hovering. And you know what? I love being able to relax at the park, and they love being allowed to do their thing. And if I leave them alone and do my own thing, it turns out they are surprisingly good at calculating risk, even as young as 18 months.

Hunt, Gather, Parent

A journalist had a baby…. And then didn’t know what to do with the screaming toddler it grew into. So, she put her journalist hat back on and decided to interview some behavioral scientists and investigate what certain other cultures do with their difficult young offspring. 

What I loved about this book is that it’s got three different threads, that the author braids together into a compelling and enjoyable narrative. Firstly, she visits three indigenous cultures that have traditional child-rearing methods that result in respectful, helpful, confident teens and adults. Second, she talks to behavioral scientists and presents the current understanding of behavioral forces like motivation, skill acquisition, and incentives, and shows how different parenting strategies presented in the book measure up to the science. 

And thirdly, and perhaps most entertainingly, she presents how all of these new ideas and methods worked on her own rambunctious three-year-old. 

I really enjoyed this book—couldn’t put it down. It was funny, made me feel like I wasn’t doing all that badly with my own children, and encouraged me to do things like let my just-barely-four-year-old crack eggs and then scramble them for the family…. She was actually pretty good at it! 

Another thing I appreciated about this book was her call for stronger social networks and communities to support parents in their parenting. She explains very compellingly why “it takes a village to raise a child,” and gives practical tips on building your own village to help you, even in the middle of a big city. 

How to Speak so Little Kids will Listen


This book is a well-written and highly practical guide to teaching your child communication and social skills while disciplining effectively. It goes through a large number of typical problems pre-rational children present, and suggests multiple strategies for dealing with them. Every child and every parent is different, and this book encourages you to find a tailored approach that works for your child. 

My favorite thing about this book was the idea of “problem solving.” If you have a toddler who is consistently resisting some seemingly basic rule or task, there’s usually a reason behind it. The problem-solving method helps you walk through a strategy for figuring out why the child doesn’t want to do the thing, resolving the issue, and figuring out a way to make both the child and the parent happy. An excellent example from the book is the toddler who doesn’t want his hand held while crossing the busy parking lot. The book encourages parents in this situation to figure out why the toddler doesn’t want his hand held, and then work with the kid to come up with a solution that does work. (I had this problem, and the solution we worked out for us was for my daughter to hold onto the shopping cart instead. Our shopping trips have been much more pleasant.) What I liked about this strategy was that I feel like it models relationship skills. This sort of problem-solving behavior where each side presents their difficulties and they work together to find a solution where both parties feel respected and get what they need is absolutely vital to a successful marriage or friendship. If you want your kids to grow up with the skills to manage conflict constructively in their lives, I highly recommend giving some of the ideas in this book a try. 

Some of the ideas in the book come across as very silly, but, as the book points out, sometimes silly works. 

The New Six Point Plan for Raising Happy Healthy Children

This book, unlike the previous three, is mostly about raising older children. John Rosemond handles topics like argumentative teenagers, allowances, and in general, managing kids incentives so that they develop the virtues and qualities you want them to as they grow up. 

One of my favorite things in this book was the idea of teaching your teenager how to argue with you. Tolerate absolutely no disrespect from your child, but absolutely allow him to present his case, and if he has a good case, by all means compromise with him where appropriate. Once again, I appreciated this approach because it not only increases child cooperation, it also teaches an incredibly valuable social skill—disagreeing with someone else respectfully. (Imagine how much better American political life would be today if every parent taught their children how to disagree respectfully!)


Affiliate links if you want to buy these books, (and support my blog at no extra cost to you.) Or, of course, you can just do what I do, and get them from your local library.

Buy Bringing up Bebe

Buy Hunt Gather Parent

Buy How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen

Buy The Six Point Plan for Raising Healthy Kids 

(Disclaimer: I have three children, but the oldest is only 4… so it’s unclear how they’ll turn out. That being said, I do have several years experience teaching middle and highschoolers.)

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Five strategies for coping with temporary depression


It’s been a long time since I posted here. I never wanted to be that blogger, but… life happens. In this case, life handed me some pregnancy depression and then a wonderful charming baby.

I’m finally back, and I’d like to share some of what I learned about dealing with temporary depression. I say “temporary depression” because if depression is your everyday reality and you don’t even know what you are like without it anymore, you should probably get professional help of some sort. If you’re suicidal, you definitely need some expert help. There are non-drug options out there. I personally had a good experience with a homeopath several years ago. Whatever the case, if your depression is permanent or very severe, these tips probably won’t be enough. These are just suggestions for how to get through the occasional rough patch.

Talk to someone about it

This can be incredibly helpful. If you feel hopeless or discouraged, bottling up your negative thoughts inside can make it worse, because you don’t have the energy to challenge them. Sometimes you need to get those hopeless and discouraged thoughts out in front of someone else so that they can tell you how wrong they are. Of course, if you confide in the wrong person this can be the opposite of helpful. You need a person who wants your good, first of all. Next, it helps if the person has some understanding of depression. “Just snap out of it,” is rarely useful advice. Neither is, “You’re not praying enough,” or “Offer it up.” Prayer is good, yes. Prayer can be helpful. And depression is certainly a cross that can be offered to God. But if you’re really down and asking for help, it’s likely you can’t even remember how to pray. You might feel like you hate God, as well as everything else. You might be able to offer up your misery anyway, but you still need help. So try to find an understanding friend who cares about you and is not currently depressed themselves.

Ideally this person will sympathize and then help you strategize.

When you tell someone about your feelings of depression, it’s helpful if you don’t start with, “My life is awful! I hate everyone. Everyone is awful. No one loves me.” This might be how you feel at the moment, but probably not actually true, and it’s very hard for your friends to hear.

You will get better results if you can objectify your feelings. Your feelings are a real thing that you have to deal with. Just because they aren’t themselves an accurate reflection of reality doesn’t mean that they aren’t real. It is objectively true that you are feeling that way, and that you need help managing that experience. So if you can, try saying something like, “I am feeling depressed. It feels like hopelessness and misery. I know there are good things in my life, but I can’t feel that way right now. I know the world is actually colorful, but it feels gray right now. Do you have any idea what I could do that would make me feel better, or manage my feelings better?”

Get out of your head and do pleasant things

When you’re depressed, the last thing you can usually do is get out of your head. So why is it on this list? Because it’s still what you need to do, even though it’s impossible. So maybe this heading should be something like, “do pleasant things that are easy to start and force you to get out of your head.” But that didn’t sound very catchy.

My personal go-to strategy for this one is to text a friend and say something like, “Hey are you busy today? I’m having a bit of a rough spot and I was wondering if you had time to hang out/chat on the phone/go shopping with me.” I might not be able to motivate myself to get off the sofa and do something useful, but I can at least motivate myself to text someone, and they might be able to get me off the sofa. I might not be able to break out of my negative thought pattern, but at least I can call someone and say hi, and they might be able to make me talk and think about something other than how much I hate everything and what a loser I am.

When none of your friends are answering the phone you can try listening to a podcast, reading a book, or doing an easy-to-start hobby activity to help you get past the worst of it. I spent an afternoon laying on the floor listening to multiple episodes of the Art of Manliness podcast (which I do recommend) while my kids played nearby. It was all I could do that day, and the podcast helped me get out of my cycle of negative thoughts.

I also bought a nice grown-up coloring book and used it toward the end of this pregnancy. It really did help. My kids colored their coloring books and I colored mine. I felt a bit silly, but it got me through the day, and was the closest thing to quality time with my kids that I could manage.

One other thing to try, is if you have a to-do list, pick the easiest thing on it (pro tip: always make sure there’s something easy on that list) and do it. Then check it off. Making progress on a project is a great way to increase dopamine and serotonin levels, which will make you feel better.

Leave the past in the past

I talked to a counselor to help me with my depression and discovered through the process that part of what I was struggling with was not just my current emotional challenges, but baggage from my past. I had previously felt depressed and helpless, and the feeling of depression made me feel helpless again, even though I was in a different situation where I had more control over pretty much every aspect of my life and so many more options for helping myself. Just realizing that I was dealing with past challenges as well as present ones when I really only had to deal with present ones was very helpful. So take a step outside your thoughts, if you can, and see if you’re subconsciously assuming things that aren’t true.

Cut yourself some slack

Another thing my counselor told me was to admit that I was actually facing real difficulties and stop telling myself, “I should be able to do more, do better, be better…”

I was pregnant and had two young children to take care of. This is actually a challenging situation. Just because other people might do something harder doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t hard. Who says you should be able to manage that without some extra help? Who says you shouldn’t lay on the floor and cry sometimes? Laying on the floor and crying isn’t a sin, and sometimes it’s all you can do. Don’t make it harder on yourself by telling yourself you’re a loser for doing it. All that will do is make you more depressed, more anxious, and more likely to end up laying on the floor crying.

Sometimes it’s helpful to remind yourself what you did do. I fed my children and kept them safe today. So what if I also spent a couple hours crying? I accomplished something worthwhile today.

Would I rather not have spent two hours crying? Definitely. But it’s more helpful and more healthy to focus on what you did succeed in doing that to beat yourself up about something you might very well have no control over.

Ask for help

You don’t have to be bedridden, having a baby currently, or dying in order to ask for help. Obviously, you should do for yourself what you can, and be ready to help your friends when you can, but sometimes you do need help with physical tasks. Ask for help before you’re so desperate and miserable you can’t do anything.

And if your friends offer to help, do take them up on it if you want help. Don’t be concerned that it’s weak or selfish. It’s not weak to take proper care of yourself, and no one can do life alone. If you have kids, you will need help all the more. Parenting isn’t supposed to be a solo activity. It’s not supposed to just be the parents. Sometimes you need to get other people to help you. Hire someone if you have to and if you can possibly afford it. Consider it an investment in your most valuable asset–your mental health.

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What I’ve been up to lately

It’s been awhile since I posted, but that’s not because I haven’t been writing.

I just finished an edit of my novel, Heaven’s Hunter, and got a fabulous new cover for it. I’m so excited to share it with you all. It’s available on Amazon as both a paperback and an ebook.