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How to live out the 4 values with a toddler

This week of #JVStories, Katie a FJV living in Colorado shares more about living out the four values of spirituality, community, simple lifestyle and social justice as a mother of a toddler. She shares more about a community of women she has found that are working to incorporate the four values into their lives now that they aren’t in their JV year or have growing families.

By Katie Lacz

Life as a mom in my early thirties looks much different from life as a JV. Instead of a drafty house in Raleigh, I live in a two-story house in white suburbia. Instead of an hour-long bus ride to and from my work site, I shuttle around my toddler to daycare, play dates, and Target runs. Debates about using our money to turn up our thermostat or to buy extra food are now conversations with a two-year-old about why cake is not a breakfast food.

In some ways, 22-year-old me might look at this scenario and be disappointed. I had just woken up to the intersection of faith and social justice. When I pondered my future, I thought if I didn’t look like Dorothy Day, I wasn’t doing it right.

Then I am reminded of the story of the great Rabbi Zusha, who realized at the end of his life that God wasn’t going to ask him, “Why weren’t you more like Moses?” God WOULD ask the question, “Why weren’t you more like Zusha?” So, I try to ask myself, how do I stop trying to be Dorothy Day, and be who God calls me to be in the midst of parenting a toddler?

What I try to remember is that the four values of JVC still guide me. They can be drawn into the rhythms of our current life in creative ways. Thankfully, I have recently found a community of women who long to live these values too. They share some of their ideas on how to live the values of simplicity, spirituality, community and social justice in the midst of motherhood. Here’s what we talked about:

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Simplicity

My tendency has always been to measure my simplicity by the amount of “stuff” I have accumulated. Yet, as any parent of an infant or toddler knows, somehow, the “stuff” just accumulates. We do our best to buy clothing secondhand, to limit the amount of toys, and to keep toys simple and open-ended. And yet, somehow, our two-year-old sees his grandparents and says things like, “Grandma has a new toy in her bag?”

We don’t reject the challenge of limiting our stuff. But we try to remind ourselves that simplicity has to do with other elements of our lifestyle too, not just the physical goods. We take our son to the local farm store to buy fruits and veggies whenever possible. Our best attempts to garden are met with our toddler eating all of the cherry tomatoes that grew last year straight off the plant. Similarly, one friend shared this: “I love engaging [my kids] in grounded work–like earthy, dirty work that is also learning about the birds/grubs/bugs/hornets/honeybees in our backyard and the jobs they all do.” Another shared that cooking a meal together helps her kids appreciate the many hands that influence the food they eat.

Ultimately, a sense of humor helps, because different values will be easier to live out at different seasons in our lives. When I asked Kate, a fellow FJV, about simplicity, she said, “Well, my kids cutting up brand new paper into shreds? Probably disqualifies us.”

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Spirituality

When I ask friends about this I am reminded that spirituality rarely occurs in its own little box outside the rhythms and routines of daily life. Several spoke of the spirituality of some of the actions they do together. One child started calling the food they made to hand out to people experiencing homelessness, “snacks for God” all on her own. Another family prays whenever they hear sirens or drive by a hospital.

They have found ways to both model prayer and have it modeled back to them. One woman shared that her family prays together every night by sharing the “roses” (highs) and “thorns” (lows) of their day. She said, “Often it is during this time that we reconcile.  I often find that I am saying sorry for losing my patience, and my kids take my breath away with their eagerness to forgive.  My goal is to be more like them.”

As for my house, we tend to sing grace every evening. I find joy in walking through the events of the day with my toddler, as we sit in the rocking chair before bedtime. I think it’s planting the seeds of the Examen, and creating a sense of appreciation for the many good things in the day.

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Social Justice

A challenge I feel, since my son is only a little over two, is how to incorporate learning and conversation around difficult issues in a way that is age-appropriate. I’ve found resources like Raising Race-Conscious Children and Showing Up for Racial Justice’s family resources to have valuable information about how to begin talking about something like race even with a toddler, and how to lay the foundation for more complex conversations as your child gets older.

FJV Kate shared that her two-year-old boy lights up when they take flowers to seniors at a local nursing home once a month. Another friend is a mother of five. She said the homeschooling and naps keep her from the community work she once engaged in with people on the margins. She reframes her time at home by sharing this: “I am starting to think of our home as a monastery, a very noisy, busy monastery.  It may not be very quiet or peaceful, but there is a lot of prayer, reading and work that goes on in between these walls.”

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Community

There’s a reason you hear so many clichés about needing to find your village when you have a child. So much of keeping an infant and toddler alive can also make you feel isolated in your own house – changing diapers, nursing, naptimes. Now, I see and seek community in a couple of ways. First, I find the parents with whom I feel at home. Those who make me feel loved without judgement. Or at ease even in the midst of a tantrum. (This takes time – it took me more than a year to feel like I had these kind of people to turn to.)

Second, I have a renewed sense of the larger community. The kind of community we live in is the kind of community my son will grow up in. I want it to be a model of love and justice, and compassion and connection.

My child has brought home the reality that the writer Glennon Doyle Melton puts so simply and well: “There is no such thing as other people’s children.” The suffering of other children could so easily be the suffering of my own, and so I must respond in whatever small ways I can.

I continue to learn that life has seasons. Each season means the values will look a little different in their expression. I’m not a post-graduate volunteer living on a limited stipend. I am a mother with limited patience, delving into the mess and beauty of parenthood. God is there, because God is always there. And so the opportunities to witness God’s grace and draw close to God’s heart continue to abound.


Katie served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006. She holds a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College, and a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.  She currently lives in Colorado with their family. Katie also maintains her own blog at Pure Buttermilk.