Can women really “have it all”? A Catholic mom’s fresh take

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Jennifer Fulwiler’s new memoir, One Beautiful Dream, lives up to its subtitle: “The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both.” Fulwiler’s engaging, self-deprecating humor shines through as she recounts tales of family mishaps involving everything from a malfunctioning minivan to an epic “poopocalypse.” Along the way, she shares insights into the Catholic faith, motherhood, the craft of writing and the unpredictable ways that God’s grace works in our lives.

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One Beautiful Dreamby Jennifer Fulwiler

Ignatius. 240p $24.99

In Fulwiler’s first book, Something Other Than God, she described the process of her conversion from an atheist, career-minded computer programmer to a devout Catholic and mother of six. In One Beautiful Dream she goes meta, telling the story of how she came to write her first book. As the book opens, Fulwiler is pregnant with her third child, juggling children aged one and two. Although she is often overwhelmed and exhausted, she finds peace and energy in writing. It is her “blue flame,” “the passion that ignites a fire within you when you do it.” When she is offered the opportunity to turn her successful blog, “Conversion Diary,” into a book, however, she hesitates. “Not now, I reminded myself. Do what you need to do as a mom. Make the sacrifices. Get through it. This time will pass before you know it.” Eventually, however, Fulwiler comes to realize that being open to life and having a large family do not mean that women have to put their dreams on hold for decades. Instead, she discovers that it is possible to use your God-given gifts and be a good mother at the same time.

Much ink has been spilled over the question of whether women can really “have it all.” But Fulwiler offers a fresh way of framing the conversation, counseling a “wholeness of vision” that counteracts the deeply individualistic assumptions implicit in most secular prescriptions for happiness. As she struggles to balance writing a book and raising her growing family, a holy priest counsels her:

“Do this work that God is calling you to do, but do it as one part of something bigger—your family.” His eyes shone with genuine concern. “Have you ever asked what work your family is supposed to do together?”
“Well… no. I haven’t.”
“We always think like individuals, like the work that we do has nothing to do with anyone else. God wants us to see what we do as just one small part of something greater…”
“Like a symphony.” I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I finally understood what he was getting at, and the words escaped from my lips without me even realizing it. I imagined an orchestra belting out a Beethoven piece: each member plays her own tune but does it with the goal of creating something greater, with others.
“Yes! Like that. Unite with your family. Bring them into what you do, and bring what you do into your family. Move in unity, not apart from one another.”

This insight transforms the way Jennifer and her husband Joe view work and family. Inspired, they sit down and write out a family vision, shifting their focus from their own private goals for professional success and personal fulfilment to something larger and ultimately more beautiful.

Neither a self-help book nor a how-to manual, One Beautiful Dream nonetheless inspires self-reflection and offers concrete, practical lessons embedded within colorful stories and memorable scenes. Many of Fulwiler’s deepest realizations come from her rejection of the false idea that we must be totally autonomous in order to be happy and successful. She learns to accept, for example, the reality that answered prayers often take the form of others’ offers to help, not the bestowal of superhuman strength and endurance, and that openness to grace requires the humility to admit that you cannot do it all alone. She also emphasizes that it is often worth making financial sacrifices—driving old cars, living in a cramped house—in order to hire help with childcare, especially for those who do not live near family. Parents were never meant to raise children alone, she argues, and if modern realities mean that we are no longer born into our support systems, that simply means that we must intentionally create them.

Although the book is not aimed at only Catholic audiences and is never preachy, it will be especially thought-provoking and relatable for people of faith. Fulwiler’s story demonstrates that dreams can become reality when you seek the peace and joy that comes with following God’s plan for your life.

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