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How St. Thérèse’s mom inspires me through her struggles

St. Zeilie Martin, St. Louis Martin, Celine Martin, and St. Therese in living room with cartoon captions

John Touhey | Aleteia

Cecilia Pigg - published on 09/26/23

St. Zelie (the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux) had the same problems I do. The struggles she wrote about in her letters inspire me to hang in there.

“Please just put your pants on! We have to go!” My daily struggle to get out the door with my two-year-old often begins and ends with those words. I’ve racked my brain to figure out what the problem could be or if I am missing something obvious. Does he find his clothes uncomfortable? Are his pants too small or too large? Nope. He’s just more interested in everything else about the world around him than in his clothing. And, he has no sense of urgency. Enter an unexpected source of moral support.

On procrastinating children

It turns out St. Zelie (the mother of St. Thérèseof Lisieux) had the same problem I do — stubborn children with no sense of urgency. She tells a story in one of her letters to her sister-in-law about how frustrated she is that her daughters will not get ready and dressed promptly. They were all going to go to the train station to meet family who were coming to visit, but the girls just would not get ready in time, and so they didn’t get to go.

Zelie writes, “I felt very bad that the little girls didn’t go with him to the greet their uncle. It was their fault. It didn’t matter how many times I told them, ‘Get dressed early.’ They went about it in a way so as not to be ready on time.” I’m right there with you, St. Zelie!

While reading St. Zelie’s letters to her daughters and sisters, I found many relatable parenting struggles that made me think, “If she struggled with this, too, and she and her daughters are saints, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.”

Here are a few more stories that I found helpful.

On feverish babies

I’ve found that there’s nothing quite so disconcerting and distressing as a feverish baby or toddler. They are so little and when they are sick it is just extra pitiful and scary. It always helps if you realize they are teething, because then it seems less scary.

St. Zelie is right with me in this thinking. She writes to her older daughter Pauline that “Therese is still sick, the poor little thing, and we’re spoiling her for the moment in order not to make her cry because it’s causing her a lot of pain. She always has a fever. I was very worried this morning, but I’m less so now because I noticed she has a big tooth ready to come through. Her gums are very swollen and it’s quite certain that’s what is causing the fever.”

On kids who don’t listen

St. Zelie was no stranger to children who didn’t always listen to her direct requests. She writes about a time when her older daughter Marie was telling her younger daughter Therese a long story to get her to eat.

Seeing that the story wasn’t ending, and the little one was still eating, I said to Marie, ‘Don’t give her anymore. I’m afraid she will be sick.’ I was busy at my desk and didn’t see what took place. Marie ignored my recommendation. So, around midnight, the little one was sick, and I held her in my arms for an hour.

On work-life balance

St. Zelie ran a very successful lace business from her home, and it was a business that supported the family but kept her very busy and worried. I know I have struggled with finding the right mix of working and being present with my own children. It is especially hard when your children become vocal and let you know that they resent it when you work!

St. Zelie shares:

It’s not the desire to amass a great fortune that drives me, because I have more than I ever wanted. But I think it would be foolish of me to leave this business having five children to provide for. I must go all the way for them, and I see myself in a dilemma. I have workers and I have no work to give them while other companies are doing very well.

Poor Marie is very unhappy over it. She curses the Alençon lace and declares she would rather live in an attic rather than make her fortune at the same price I’ve paid. I don’t think she’s wrong! … I often tell myself that if I’d done half of all this to win heaven, I could be a canonized saint!

Ah, St. Zelie, if only you could see the future. Now, please pray for us still working to find the grace every day to raise saints as you did!

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