Tea, giggles and teaching my daughter the feminine genius

I was 20 years old when I began using oral contraception.  About to be married and unsure of how pregnancy and children ought to fit with Holy Matrimony, I did what most women my age did: I went to the university health clinic, saw a doctor who spoke nary a word about the ensuing side-effects or possible long-term health complications, and procured a prescription for the birth control pill.

Unfortunate as my story is, it’s also anything but uncommon.  Countless women in my generation have spent some amount of time utilizing hormonal contraception, and a fair number of us have suffered for it, too.  I wasn’t Catholic back then but I am now, and I’m determined to pave a better way for my daughter.

At eleven years old, she’s slipping ever so slowly out of little-girlhood, and moving closer and closer to young womanhood.  And like any Catholic mother, I want her to grow to fully embrace her beauty and dignity as a woman, to feel empowered and comfortable with her body, and to have an overwhelmingly positive self-image.  She’s made in the image of God, after all.  I want her to marvel at the work of God in her life, and to understand her identity and preciousness in Christ.

So on Saturday, my daughter and I snuck away to a Mother Daughter Tea hosted at Holy Name Catholic Parish, in Sheridan, Colorado.  The event was organized by Carrie Keating, Certified FertilityCare Practitioner of the Creighton Model of NFP, who described the event as a way “for young girls to learn about health, beauty and virtue as they become women. Moms need more spiritual, medical and practical resources to help them.”

We arrived to find tables set with fresh flowers and white linens, and a rosary waited at each girl’s seat.  Music played in the background, and each of the participants received a folder containing relevant, thoughtful information.  Later there would be scones and jam, tea sandwiches, and the opportunity for the girls to make a craft while the moms listened to a presentation on the facts about contraception, delivered by a local Catholic doctor.

By the time Maye Agama and Cara Rhyne, consecrated laywomen with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, had opened the day with their talk about Our Blessed Mother, the tables were overflowing with thirty young girls and their mothers.  When I asked Carrie later why she felt it was important to include both mothers and daughters in the day’s activities, she responded that “at the ages of 10-12 there is an openness to hearing this information, and an opportunity for mothers to gather together to mentor their daughters.”  I couldn’t agree more.  As mothers we want to supply our daughters with the truth about themselves and about the world, but it’s an admittedly daunting task.  In a day and age where there is so much confusion and ambiguity surrounding gender identity–and womanhood in particular–we need the support of our faith community.  We need to encourage our daughters to embrace the strength of their femininity.  And every single one of Saturday’s thoughtful details served to do just that.

During the course of the tea we also heard from an enthusiastic Kim Perez about Blessed Pope John Paul II and the feminine genius, and Carrie Keating explained cycles and charting in a way that was accessible to young girls.  Then I confess that I had to keep myself from clapping and cheering, as Catholic physician Michelle Stanford asked us to have an open mind before detailing the significant medical problems and risks associated with oral contraception, not least of which is its abortifacient effect.  This was information I wish I’d had all those years ago, and which I believe is essential for all mothers to know—according to Dr. Stanford, by the time our daughters and their peers reach the age of 24, 82% of them will be using some type of hormonal contraception.  And not only that, but 25% of adolescent girls currently have a prescription!

There was room for giggling (lots and lots of giggling) during Lynn Grandon’s candid and ebullient presentation on the physical changes these girls will experience during their transition into womanhood.  If my daughter hadn’t been feeling confident and empowered about puberty before, she certainly is now.  To see this information presented within the context of who God created my daughter to be, with both humor and straightforward honesty, was unbelievably refreshing.  Best of all, it has begun a delightfully open and constructive conversation between my daughter and I, to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Back when I was a new bride coming from a non-Catholic background, I hadn’t yet connected the dots between how God created my body, and who God intended for me to be as a woman.  I speak from experience when I say that my marriage and my life are both so much better for having rejected the birth control pill, and since embracing an openness to life through Natural Family Planning.  It’s exciting to consider that, with the help of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother, I can now pass these incredibly beautiful truths on to my own children.  And I can say without reservation that we need more events like this, with faith communities coming alongside mothers and fathers to support them in this mission.

Armed with her new rosary, fresh and inspiring knowledge, and a pretty bag she’d been gifted with that morning (containing things like candy, and girly hand sanitizer), my daughter stepped out into the sunshine.  There was a confident, happy smile on her face.  She was beyond delighted to be a girl, and a beloved daughter of God.

Speaking as a Catholic mother to a Catholic daughter on the precipice of womanhood, I can’t imagine hoping for anything more than that.

Carrie Keating wanted me to tell you that this event  “was generously hosted by Holy Name Catholic Parish. Of the 21 moms who filled out the evaluation at the September 12 event, 20 of them would definitely recommend the Mother Daughter Tea to a friend. For those interested in hosting a Mother Daughter Tea, please go to www.mdtea.us.”

Brianna Heldt is a Catholic writer, speaker, and podcaster.  Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, and she has been a featured guest on BBC radio.  Adult converts to the Catholic Church, Brianna and her husband are parents to eight children–four by birth, and four by adoption.  They make their home in Denver, Colorado.  You can keep up with Brianna’s adventures on her personal blog, found at www.briannaheldt.com

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.