By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — Karen Swenson is a mother of eight, six biological and two adopted children. Taking advantage of her wealth of knowledge and experience, the St. Joseph MOMS group invited the veteran mom and grandma to share her advice about the joys, challenges and responsibilities that accompany the vocation of motherhood.
Swenson, who is finishing her graduate degree in family counseling, gives frequent lectures on family life, sometimes accompanied by her husband who teaches character education. Both are active members of the Alleluia community, a multidenominational Christian community in Augusta, Ga., where a large percentage of the families are Catholic like the Swensons.
“Motherhood is such a wonderful vocation. Even with the enormous responsibility and anxiety involved, it is great fun,” she said, but warns moms not to get “so caught up in trying to be perfect, that you stop having fun.”
“Leave the ‘To Do List’ and do what God wants you to do,” said Swenson, who urged the mothers to seek out what is important.
“Today we keep our children so busy that there is little time to teach,” she said. “We are like the cruise director or bus driver taking them from place to place, but they are not going to learn the valuable lessons in life looking at the back of your head.”
Swenson also spoke about how motherhood does not get the respect it deserves especially in the academic circles. She challenged those negative perceptions with the question, “What job could be more significant than being the caregiver of your child’s soul?”
Swenson reminded the mothers that “children don’t come out perfect” and that it is the parent’s duty to teach truth and to help form them into caring and responsible adults. The first step in accomplishing this task according to Swenson, is to lead children by example because “those little eyes are always watching.” For example practicing virtues and being courteous as an adult, is an essential step in teaching children to do the same.
Swenson also talked about the integral role relationships play in forming children, especially ones with parents and siblings. She warned that a “strong bridge is not built during times of crisis’ and that communication must be there from the beginning.
“When you listen to your child, you tell them that they are worth listening to,” she said.
In her family, birthdays were ways to build loving and lasting relationships. Each family member would write why they were glad that family member was born and what they liked most about them. Today her children have remained close and support one another.
She also shared some of the trying moments in her life and told the women to never give up hope.
“God will bring out good no matter what you are going through,” she said and gave some examples of prayerful intervention. When one of her children was critically ill, friends and family gathered for constant prayer and fasting. Her son eventually recovered, and the family was fortified through it all.
Later she stressed the importance of having a relationship with the “woman of all women, the Blessed Mother.” She encouraged the mothers to teach the children to love Mary and not be ashamed of her. For those who have difficulty praying the rosary, she asked them to see it as “looking through Jesus’ baby book with his mother.”
“As you go through each mystery imagine Mary saying, ‘you should have seen it when he was born. … You should have been there when he was on the cross …” she explained.
Swenson also said that each mother would have her moment, like the wedding at Cana, a time when mothers must let go of the child and embrace the adult.
“We will see our children suffer, but remember, Mary stood at the cross and watched Jesus die. She will stand with us during our trials,” she added.
Concluding the talk, Swenson reminded the mothers to pray for one another, so they can joyfully fulfill their vocation.
“Children need hands-on, full throttle moms and dads. They need parents full of life, full of love and full of God,” something she learned is possible through prayer.