Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cafeteria Mom

Sometimes I just feel like I don't fit in.  Not in a poor-me type of way, but in a am-I-the-only-one-who-feels-like-this? sort of way.

Take the stereotypical Catholic mom mold, for example.  This is the type of mom who practices attachment parenting from the instant the baby is born.  She is thrilled to breastfeed her babies until they are 3 or 4 years old, and feels an emotional bond doing so.  She keeps the child in her bed, right between her husband and herself, for as long as that child wants.  When the child is old enough for school, she wouldn't even entertain any other form of education except homeschooling.  She stays at home anyway, so why not?  She also bakes treats according to the feast days of the Church, sews clothes for everyone in the family, and has plenty of art projects for the kids to do.  She has dinner on the table for her hard-working husband as he enters the door, and serves everyone first while taking the scraps for herself.  I "know" most of these moms through blogs I read.

Then there's the mom of the secular world.  She is so focused on her career, and staying home to care for her children, even if it were possible, would be out of the question.  That's what nannies are for!  She puts her babies in a crib from the beginning, lets them cry it out, and bottle feeds.  She is up-to-date on all things political, newsworthy, and the happenings in Hollywood.  She is dressed in high fashion, drives a nice car, and picks up take-out for dinner on her way home from work.  She makes sure her needs are met first, and gives her spare time to her family.  I know most of these moms through people I work with, women who go to my gym, and some of the mothers at my children's school.

Now, these are definitely the extremes, but I feel like compared to these types of women, I am stuck in some sort of Limbo Mom Land and don't know many others like me.  I don't quite fit in on either side, I have bits and pieces of both types.

I only work outside the home because I HAVE to.  It's not to pay for a nice car or college education for our's to help pay the mortgage, buy the groceries, pay student loans, and keep the heat on.  I would gladly give up any "extras" if that would make it possible to stay at home with my babies.  I don't care about my career.  I only care about a paycheck.  When I am at work I am constantly thinking about my family, and when I'm with my family, I never think about work.

I try as much as possible to have a natural pregnancy and labor.  I use a midwife who doesn't believe in any medication/drugs and I breastfeed my babies for as long as possible, but not more than a year if I can help it.  I feel that they don't need breast milk for nutrition at that point.  They are eating plenty of other foods, and I am more than happy to let that go.  I can get my emotional bonding time with them through hugs, snuggles, kisses, and play time.  We keep the baby in our bedroom for a few months, but they sleep in a bassinet.  I don't believe in letting a child sleep in the marriage bed. Partly because my love for my husband comes first, and partly because I literally can't sleep with a baby/toddler squirming around me. We move them to their own room once they mostly sleep through the night, but we don't let them cry themselves to sleep.  We comfort them and lay down on the bed or floor near them so they can get used to sleeping on their own, but don't feel like we are ignoring them.

I find joy in cooking meals and keeping a clean house for my family.  I don't feel like it's degrading, or robbing me of precious "me time". I feel that I am showing my love through these actions.  In fact, except to exercise, I don't want to take any time away from my family that I could be spending with them.  Speaking of which, I exercise to be healthy, not to be skinny like so many women.  I eat (mostly) healthy but when I indulge...I indulge.  I think I have a healthy attitude towards food and health, which I'm finding a lot of women (sadly) do not.

As far as education goes, well we are big believers and supporters of Catholic schools.  We are lucky to be in a situation where we can send our children to a great school, and they will go to the Catholic high school for a reduced tuition or for free because Phil teaches there.  We choose to put the importance of our kid's Catholic education ahead of Phil taking a job that could pay more money.  That education they receive is priceless in our minds.  Plus, I would be the worst homeschooling mom.  I am terrible at arts and crafts, and besides math and science, feel that I could not teach my children well.  In addition, we can't even afford to homeschool because I can not afford to stay at home to do so. 

Sometimes, I look at my strong opinions, values, and beliefs, and think I am just a total contradiction of what a mom should be.  I am basically a "Cafeteria mom" picking and choosing what works best for us even though it seems to be against what most people are doing.  I'm a little bit country, and a little bit rock-and-roll ;)

But then I pray to Mary.  Mary, who found herself pregnant with God's chosen Son before being married to Joseph.  Mary, who had to flee her homeland to keep that Son safe.  Mary, who had to raise her son and loved Him with all her heart, knowing that same heart would be pierced by a sword.  Mary, who married Joseph yet had a celibate marriage.  Mary did what was best for her family, even though it went against the norm of the time.  I truly feel that when nobody else does, she understands me.  She knows my love for my family, my best intentions, and what I am capable and incapable of doing.  She knows what it's like not to fit in, but still try to do God's Will.  Mary gets me....and I thank God for her beautiful and comforting example.

What about you moms out there?  Do you feel like you fit into a mold?  Or are you Cafeteria Moms like me?  What's important to you and what do you let slide?  I'd love to hear that I'm not crazy :)


  1. What works for you absolutely works for us as well! Other than our choice of public school (and after-school religious ed and a very involved church life to supplement), we have about the same lives! On the other hand, I did choose to stay home in June (burning through savings rapidly) because I couldn't deal with my 60 hours per week job. But I will need to go back to it soon.
    So CHEERS! to you from another Cafeteria Mom. I thought this post was going to be about food. I would have been pleased either way. ;)

  2. I completely understand! I always describe myself as "a LITTLE crunchy." I had 2 natural labors, the middle was w/ an epidural. I breastfed my girls for 13 months each and was happy to wean them (of course, both of those times I was already pregnant again) but my Joey was such a complicated story that he couldn't nurse and I quit pumping after 3 months. I love wearing my babies, but not all day. They sleep with us (a combination of bed and cradle) but only for a few months. Both true AP parents as well as detached modern parents would cringe at us. I'm totally okay with that.

    I count my blessings every day to be a SAHM, but I have to decide what to do with my nursing license this year. Discerning what is best for our family is hard! The idea of homeschooling scares me! But Catholic schools around here are prohibitively expensive, so we will *likely* choose that. I can't wait to not fit in with other homeschooling moms, too, since I don't bake my own bread and I never really know what to do with those shape cut-outs.

    I think anyone who fits completely and totally into a particular mold is less interesting to me. Not to be judgmental. We don't have cookie-cutter kids, why would we pick cookie-cutter styles? I choose to pick what's best for my family in big things and in the little details.

    Our job is raising Saints - it doesn't matter how we get there!

  3. I *love* this post Colleen!!

    I often consider myself without a mold and in Limbo Land too! While I am a homeschool mom, so often I mention to hubby how I don't always fit in with the stereotype. After all, I wear makeup, color my hair (and never braid it!!) and rarely wear skirts :)
    While I am able to stay at home with the kids and homeschool them, it's not because we are making that much money and still live lavishly. We have many circumstances and choices we made while we were single, that have allowed us this advantage (no school or loans for me and hubby is older than me and had school already paid off).

    I often consider the 'greatness' of other moms, whatever their choices are and how they run their household and feel like I still fall short. On the other hand, I also see so many moms and households that I could in no way be a part of because they are drastically the opposite of what we foster in our home.

    I think I'm finding more and more that I am a Cafeteria Mom and find it a comfortable place to be. I do what works for me, for my kids, my family, our home. I like to have options and I like to choose. Even as I read blogs of spectacular wonderwoman moms, I realize not that I'm a failure because I am not like them, but that I just approach it differently. I'd love to do crafts for every feast day and saint, but just don't find the time for all of the prep. I'd love to be able to have 'girls night' once a week, but just don't. So many things that are great and work for other moms, just don't work for me and I'm good with that.

    So, cheers to the Cafeteria Moms!! Cheers to doing what works for us and our family and being darn proud of it! I think we do what we can with grace, dignity and whole lot of prayer.

    BTW, you're doing great mama! I've often been amazed at the graceful womanhood you live in your life and your household. Now, if only we lived closer.... :)

  4. I generally think of myself as not fitting into any mold in any dimension, whether that is motherhood, parenting methods, womanhood, etc. I've felt like an odd duck since I was a kid. So, I guess it isn't new or strange for me.

    That said, I'm between your two extremes though probably closer to the "sterotypical Catholic mom" since I stay home and homeschool and try to celebrate by the liturgical calendar. But I'm not all the way there as I fairly strictly wean at 1 year and only let our newbies cosleep the first 6 months or so, I don't know how to sew clothes (I wish!) and my husband usually makes dinner (he enjoys it more and is better at it and I don't mind!).

    So, I'm in between, but I've always been in between. I'm not a "girly-girl" but I'm also no tomboy. I enjoy reading, but am not a strict bookworm. I enjoy football and musicals. I don't wear make-up or nail polish or get my hair done, but I wear skirts and have long hair.

    I like to joke I'm the ultimate non-conformist since I really don't fit anywhere. But, I really think that is how God wants it. He has called us out of the world so we are no longer of the world. I don't know that we are supposed to "fit in" per se. If we are "fitting in" perfectly, I'd have to pause and question if I'm listening to Him, or not.

  5. I totally understand how you feel. I homeschool, and, although I love it, I do not fit in to the stereotypical homeschool mom mold. I did not choose to homeschool because I thought I woudl love it. We choose it for purely financial reasons. I wear make up, rarely wear skirts, and love to work out and see nothing wrong in doing something for me. We do not celebrate most Saints Days (most of the time I do not even realize it is a Feast day until half way through the day). The strangest way I do not feel like I fit in is only having 3 kids! I know that that may sound strange, but I feel very awakward, at times, with many of the familes I know. Yet, I do have three and would love to have more, so I do not exactly fit in with the typical American family either.

  6. I feel in the middle, too, but for different reasons. Mainly, I am 26 and have been married for 5 years and have 3 kids already. Most of the people I went to high school with have been married maybe a year and are having their first baby. Also, some might consider me a granola mom because I use cloth diapers and homeschool and nurse my babies. But, I only nurse until they are one, we don't co-sleep, and while fruits and veggies are important, we aren't obsessed with organics. We eat a lot of red meat because my in-laws are farmers and give us beef for free.
    We aren't focused on the environment, we just do what works for us. And as long as you are doing what is best for your family, there is no reason to be ashamed or second guess your decisions.

  7. I didn't realize I had so many followers of similar names!! Kate/Kati/Katie/Katherine thanks for your comments!

    And to everybody else with not so similar names :)

  8. As always, this is a great post. After reading all of the above comments, I hope everyone realizes that we do not have to compare ourselves to anyone else. God has blessed each mom with different gifts, talents, and abilities. He is not asking you to be like any other moms, but only to use the gifts he gave you to love your family. You can stay at home, go to work, home school, choose Catholic school, or public school etc. All God wants is for our choices to be motivated out of a true, selfless, and generous love for our families.

    It is not how much we do,
    but how much love we put in the doing.
    It is not how much we give,
    but how much love we put in the giving.

    ~Mother Teresa

  9. "bakes treats according to the feast days of the Church" HAHA!!! Too funny. That always cracks me up. I barely know when my own feast day is let alone my children! I literally had to set up a gmail notification so I knew when their feast days were this year!!!

    I'm totally in your boat. I have seen a few blog posts recently where a few super orthodox women are starting a "skirts only" theme for the year. Totally cool with me and I would love to do something like that. But I don't own more than 2 skirts so it's not practical. Going out to buy a bunch of skirts while spending our hard-earned cash would not work for our family.

    I don't think there is any right or wrong way to do it when your heart is in the right place and prayer is a factor. There are lots of wrong ways to do things if you have the wrong motivation.

    But the interesting thing about blogs is that we can portray only what we want. You didn't see Jason and I running out the door for 45 minutes to slam down some adult beverages for our first (and only 45 minute) date in 6 months while my mom watched the kids last night! Only that Leo and I baked pretzals together :)

    But I think you are one of the most honest bloggers out there :)

  10. Uh, Colleen? Can you please move to Missouri so we can be friends in real life? You and I have SO MUCH in common! Too many times, after I read other mommy blogs or my NFP magazine I feel like a failure for not using cloth diapers, for having a c-section or for not praying the rosary everyday with my husband! Thank you for this post!

  11. No mold here. I have not met any women that fit those two stereotypes either. I don't know that I would have anything in common with either.
    I think we all do the best we can.

    From the title, I thought you took a new job. :)

  12. of course you know i'm not a mom quite yet...

    but i will say... even though you may feel you don't fit in --- you sound like a pretty awesome mom to me!!!

  13. YOU are not crazy. And this blog world is not reality. Everybody has their own personal struggles. Some have more. Some have less.

    I am an outcast even in my own family. SAHM...5 kids...gasp---a Catholic too! I do not kids go to public school..SUPER GASP. I am an art teacher yet I do not like to do crafts with my kids. gasp gasp gasp.

    We need to build our family up on our personal strengths. Do the best we can. Do not worry so much..believe me the grass IS NOT GREENER on the other side.
    enjoy your kids. LUB your hubby. etc....

    I am thankful for my least we are on the same page.
    Thankful for all the interesting people I have met through blogging.

    Just do what you need to do and live.

  14. I think I was saying to my dh just 2 days ago..I don't fit in!! I am a cafeteria mom and blogger too. For one, I would like to have a catholic blog and write about catholic topics all the time, but what I want to do is record our memories of our family so and everyday we are not doing some catholic craft or baking project half my post are about my special needs kids so I feel like I don't fit in to the catholic blog post world...yet I don't fit in to the special need blog lists either since I don't want to write about that every day.

    I breastfeed to space children! I do not LIKE breastfeeding at all. i just do it so i don't have 20 kids. I am not CRUNCHY at all. (sorry, but that stuff is the opposite of me) When I had babies I beg for pain relief. bring me PAINKILLERS! I hate suffering and I am not into redemptive suffering.

    2 kids in Catholic school, 2 kids in public...I would like to homeschool but I don't think that I could...maybe K but after that, I think they should go to some sort of school.

    I don't fit into the secular world at all. Most catholics I know IRL are cafeteria catholics. My own extended family isn't "catholic" in the real sense of the word.

    I think that ppl that don't fit in, and are cafeteria moms, dads etc can use that space to be filled up with closeness to Christ.

    I also love your blog and I think its fine to not be all the things that you are not and be the things that you are. it makes you human.`

  15. I think you can tell from the comments that we are all pretty on-board with a "do what works" philosophy of parenting. As long as we are faithful and working our hardest, then how we do things doesn't matter as much:

    "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." (St. Augustine, I think.)

    I don't fit into any specific category either, but I am coming to enjoy that. It can make it hard socially sometimes -- especially when all my friends from church have three kids tops and I am still the only one dragging around with babies. It's hard to be the only one who can't meet up for coffee on the spur of the moment when the kids are in school. But I'll tell you a little secret: when we all get together, they fight over who gets to hold the babies and love on them. I get to do that all day long. ;)

  16. I think you are picking and choosing what helps you and your husband be the best parents possible for those precious children, and that's so much better than fitting into a mold just because there is a mold to fit into. When we listen to ourselves, put our family first, then we are going about it all the right way I think.

  17. I don't fit in either. I am a Catholic mom but I just converted in 2007. And I live in rural NC so there aren't a lot of other Catholic moms that live around me.

    I only have two children so at Mass on Sundays I feel like I have let God down. (Pregnancy number 3 ended in a miscarriage and due to my Multiple Sclerosis we decided that future pregnancies would not be in my best interest.)

    I am currently prayerfully considering sending both of my kids to Catholic school next year. We currently live one mile from an excellent public school that they attend now but I feel like I should be sending them to Catholic school. It finally seems doable financially although I will have to drive them 20 minutes there and back (which will add to the cost.) (I enjoyed your husband's post about this the other day and felt that it was one more way God was trying to tell me to DO IT!!)

    I do not homeschool, I hated breastfeeding, I do not bake, I yell at my kids, my house is never clean (always straightened but never very clean), and I never feel like I measure up.

    I think in this day of blogs and FB it's easy to get a quick look into everyone's lives and feel inadequate. However, I have to tell myself that people usually only post the positive things and not to be envious or is more than just a smiling snapshot.

    I think being a Cafeteria Mom is probably the best way to be! You don't have to let anyone put you in a certain category - you just do what works for you and your family!

  18. Phil's comment is a tear jerker. What a husband!
    I have definitely spent a lot of energy since Anna was born praying and worrying and wondering what the best work/stay at home/do things for me balance was. It is a hard one.

  19. I am so right there with you sister! I think I could do a whole post very similar to this one.

    I read some of the comments too....seems as if we aren't alone.

    All I can say is thank God for you and for your willing to share this post and your life! Like I said, I could go on and maybe I will.....

    Thanks again! You are doing a wonderful job fellow Cafeteria Mom! As I am sure the rest of you are!

  20. When the kids were really little, I did bookkeeping for my husband's business at the time. When they got a bit older, I worked just a few hours outside the home so we could take a vacation with them. Then, when my husband gave up his business and worked for someone else so that he was not out there 24/7, I helped with the bills again and to pay for Catholic school. At work, I thought about my family and that the women's lib idea of "having it all" was a big, fat lie. I knew I had a vocation for being a homemaker and that I was the heart of the home. Having a Franciscan charism, we prayed, decided to homeschool the youngest for high school and I gave my notice at work. No more extra money for "work clothes," car gas, Catholic tuition, grocery shopping on the fly, etc. We stopped teaching CCD on Sundays like we did every week for years and on weekdays previously, and we stopped "volunteering" for bingo at the Catholic high school to help with our own son's tuition. We realized that we were concentrating on everybody else's family but our own. We then said to God that if struggling on one income, homeschooling and being the heart of the home so that my husband could excel in his job, so be it. If I did not do what I do now, Joe could not do what he does, and he does it very well. With God's help, he provides. Just because the youngest is now in college, I do not consider ourselves "empty nesters" because there is always someone at our house. Now we can be more involved in our Church than before. Yes, I was a cafeteria mom at first, because I picked what I thought I should do, instead of what God wanted me to do. Thus far, we have prayed and come to the decision that we will continue to have me taking care of the hearth. Frankly, I was sorry I did not homeschool from day one. Great topic, Colleen.

  21. Oh, we parent so much alike, Colleen. Did I mention that houses here sell in the $140K range, that cost of living is low, and that our parish ROCKS?

    Sorry. I got distracted.

    I read this post right after reading my friend Lindsay's post. I'm going to paste the link here to her blog. You should go read it! Lindsay is a wonderful mom and wife, and she always has wise things to say. :)

  22. Another Cafeteria Mom here. I bake my own bread, homeschool, and don't wear makeup, but we watch TV and have been seen at fast-food restaurants. I have 5 children but they were all born via C-section. I breastfed them until they weaned themselves (11 months average). We eat meat, especially venison. I have a nice garden but my house is usually a mess. My kids have chores that they neglect, but they also know Compline from the Liturgy of the Hours by heart. I wear pants (not to Church unless its frigid out)and operate a business from my home, plus I'm (gasp) a single parent. I have hobbies and interests that do not involve my children, but we do lots of stuff as a family. Our idea of an awesome family vacation is 4 days at the Indy 500 over Memorial Day weekend, but we also make a 4-day pilgrimage every year on Labor Day weekend. Nice to read about other moms who don't fit in; maybe it won't bother me so much now.

  23. You're so darn normal, what's up with THAT?! :-) Since there are already 22 comments and if I combine a few here and there it would be "my" comment; I'll just say this.

    You seem to have common sense and use it. You seem to love God, the Church and your family and do things in moderation. Do what is best for your family, strive for the ideal and be thankful for the blessings you have.

    oh yeah, and eat more chocolate :-) God Bless your family-

  24. I had to follow-up. I agree with Katie Rose, Phil made a great comment! I think a lot of us, especially in the blogging world, start to see how great other moms are and admire them. It becomes a dangerous thing when we start to feel inferior, rather than focusing on our own God-given gifts and talents to LOVE our family in the most selfless way we can.

    Our goal is to raise Saints. Our vocation is wife to our own husband and mom to our own children. As long as we are picking and choosing out of Love for our own family then we are fulfilling God's will for us. Anyone who tries to tell us otherwise, whether directly or indirectly, is only tearing us down.

    Thanks for the great post and wonderful affirmation of fellow blogging moms, Colleen!

  25. I know this post is several months old, but I read your "10 things about me and my better half" post and then decided to go poking around in your archives. :) I just wanted to say that we are very similar! I, too, work full-time outside the home by necessity and not by choice, and I struggle with that decision. Like you said, though, it's not to pay for "extras," it's to pay the bills! I also can't send my kids to Catholic school... the nearest is something like 15 miles away and logistically it's just not possible (I work 45 miles away from home and commute about 2.5 hours per day).

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that it was refreshing to read a post from a Catholic mom who is in a similar situation. :)


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