Rebuilding the Family: A Mother's Story
Katie Wotherspoon FAITH MAGAZINE September-October 2014
So how do we rebuild the family today? In a Friday morning presentation, young married mother Katie Wotherspoon (along with husband Chris and baby Fraser) shared her experience of living a Catholic family life.
Hi I’m Katie. Chris and I have been together for 10 years and have just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. In that four years we have started to build our own family and, as Chris said, we now have two small children – Amelia who is three and Fraser who is nine months. We try our best to live according to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life and we are here today to talk about some of the joys and challenges of doing this in today’s world.
When Chris and I met at university I wasn’t a Catholic and, in fact, both of my parents are atheists. My brother became a Catholic aged 12, but I took slightly longer and was baptised at the age of 24. I took a long time to decide whether to become a Catholic as I did not see the point if I was not going to try and follow all of the Church’s teachings. I was quite sure that I believed in God, and I accepted that Jesus was the Son of God, but I was not so sure about why we need the Church. Until I was satisfied with the answer to this question I could see no point in becoming a Catholic. After all, I didn’t need to be a member of the Catholic Church to believe in God and Jesus. After much thought and prayer – and quite a lot of perseverance from my brother and Chris – I was finally baptised, confirmed and received my first communion on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul in June 2005. In the end the person who ultimately persuaded me to convert, without even saying a word, was Pope John Paul II. Let me explain.
“In the years before we got married Chris and I grew as a couple precisely because we chose to conduct our relationship in the way Christ taught us.”
After a fairly disastrous trip to Rome for Easter 2005 where I’d had food poisoning, been locked in a toilet and managed to flood my hotel bedroom, we ended up in St. Peter’s Square for the Easter Sunday Mass, which turned out to be the Pope’s last public appearance. We had good seats near the altar, but from where we were sitting we couldn’t see either the big screens or the window where the Pope appeared after the Mass. In fact our only encounter with the Pope was hearing him breathe over the loudspeakers because he was too sick to speak. I was so overwhelmed that this dying man would come to his window, clearly to the detriment of his own health, because of his love and dedication to the Church and the people, that I decided there and then, on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, that I would be baptised.
It was not for another four years that Chris and I got married and for those four years we chose to conduct our relationship in the way the Church teaches us and we did not to live together. It is very common these days for couples to move in together, often as a sort of “trial marriage” to figure out whether the other person is marriage material. Recent statistics show that over six million people now live with their non-married partners. This figure has doubled since 1996. Not living together didn’t mean that our relationship was less serious or less special than anyone else’s, far from it, it made our relationship stronger. We had the space to discern what was best for our relationship and to grow as individuals as well as together. Getting married and living together is great, but it’s also hard. There is always someone else to consider, it is not so easy to find time for yourself and there is a lot of compromising to be done as you bring two people’s habits, eccentricities and family traditions into one household, so what is the hurry to move in together? In the years before we got married Chris and I grew as a couple precisely because we chose to conduct our relationship in the way Christ taught us. The day we got married was the day we moved in together and this was a wonderful thing. We weren’t waking up the next day after a fun party to continue life as usual; we were actually waking up to a whole new life together, ready to build the family God intends for us, whatever that may be. By making Christ a significant part of our relationship prior to our marriage, we had built a good foundation.
In the Minority
I have found that in trying to live family life in the way Christ taught us we are often in the minority, even among Catholics. At our marriage preparation classes, out of the eight or nine couples there, we were the only couple who did not already live together. The other couples consisted of people who had lived together for years, people who already had children together, and people who were already civilly married but were now having a church wedding. We’ve been to a couple of weddings now in Catholic churches where the couple have chosen not to have a nuptial Mass, basically not inviting Christ to their wedding. And we’ve been to a few baptisms when the child is six months or older so there was time to organise the party. You get a real sense that for many people what is important is the party and not the sacrament. We are in quite a busy parish in London but it is really sad to see that the day after the school application forms are due in, the congregation significantly shrinks. We live in a society that, in large part thinks the way the Church teaches us to live our lives is archaic and that generally you can take or leave the teachings as you like. In light of this it becomes so important to bear witness to the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family by trying our best to live by those teachings. I know we really draw strength and encouragement from our friends who are living their family lives according to the Church’s vision.
“Family life is a truly a wonderful thing and brings you great joy but it’s not always easy. You need Christ’s help and the intercession of Our Lady.”
We are by no means experts on how to do this and often feel like we fall short, but I will share with you some of the ways we try to incorporate the Church’s teachings into our daily lives.
We have always tried to make sure prayer is at the centre of our children’s day with grace and prayers before bed. A personal favourite of mine is when my daughter chooses to sing her bedtime prayers. I think she understands the power of prayer as, when I asked her what she was mumbling in the back of the car a few weeks after Fraser was born, she said she was “asking God for a baby sister.”
We always try to make sure Sunday is a special family day. All the chores out of the way on Saturday, our Sunday always starts with Mass. Mass brings its own unique challenges. At first we just hoped our daughter wouldn’t need a feed during Mass. Then, as she got a bit older, we were terrified that she would escape and run up onto the altar. Now she’s older, we have finally got her to whisper rather than shout in church. We are next faced with the challenge of getting her to pay attention to the Mass rather than her dolly or sticker book. We’ve also got to start all over again with child number two. I have a friend with two little boys who are a few years older than my kids . I am truly in awe as to what she achieves at Mass. Her boys take full part in the Mass, kneel, stand, sing the Mass parts and are immaculately behaved. She’s one of my heroes for this. It’s been a very long time since, I think, either of us felt like we have fully been involved in the Mass. I’ve come to realise that there is nothing we can do about it unless we simply don’t take the children to Mass and go separately while the other looked after the kids. But this would be so sad. While it is a challenge going to Mass every week with the kids it is also a wonderful thing to do and important to ensuring that Christ remains firmly at the centre of our family life. It is lovely to see that our daughter is genuinely excited when it’s time for Mass and not just because she gets a biscuit afterwards if she’s been a good girl. There are even times when she asks to go to church so she can say her prayers.
Confession was one of the things I was most nervous about once I was baptised. In fact,my first confession was here at the Summer Session. I was terrified. So Chris told me to go and see Fr Mike Dolan of Birmingham Archdiocese as he had a reputation for being “a nice priest”. Although the kids are too young for confession we do encourage Amelia to think about what she wants to thank God for at the end of each day and what she wants to say sorry for. Myself and Chris also both try to go regularly to confession and find it helpful for our own relationship; among other things it makes you reflect on how you have treated each other. I’m a particular fan of Chris going to confession because, if we’ve had a fight, he quite often comes home with flowers.
Like most of us I’m sure, I have always drawn strength from Our Lady but especially since I have been married and become a mother. She is the example by which I try to live my life as a mother. If I am finding things difficult I always turn to our lady for guidance and every night I say a Hail Mary before I go to bed to watch over my children, to make me a better mother and in thanks for her intersessions. I cannot emphasise enough the strength that can be drawn from Our Lady in everyday family life. From the life changing to the mundane, put your trust in Our Lady and you will find comfort and strength.
Family life is a truly a wonderful thing and brings you great joy but it’s not always easy. You need Christ’s help and the intercession of Our Lady. Welcome Christ in to your home, your marriage and your family, and it seems you can’t go far wrong.
Katie Wotherspoon is a wife, mother of two small children, and a civil servant. She lives in London.