About The Author
SIDNEY CALLAHAN, ph.d., author of Creating New Life, Nurturing Families: A Woman’s Perspective, is an author, scholar and licensed psychologist. She received her doctorate in social and personality psychology from the City University of New York. Prior to becoming a distinguished scholar at the Hastings Center, Callahan was a tenured professor of psychology and held visiting chairs of moral theology and psychology at Georgetown University and St. John’s University in New York. She has written many books, articles and columns devoted to religious, psychological and ethical questions. Married in 1954 to Daniel Callahan, she has five sons, a daughter and five grandchildren.
Get to know
Sidney Callahan
Female role model?
I don’t have one in particular. I had to make my own way with what I wanted to do: pursue an intellectual career and be a good mother.
Recent books read?
And Now I See…: A Theology of Transformation by Robert Barron and The Pursuit of Unhappiness by Daniel Haybron
Book I recommend to mothers?
My book, Parents Forever, which explores the parenting of adults
Last CD bought?
I prefer to read
Favorite sundae toppings?
Chocolate fudge and nuts
Top travel destination?
A cruise through the Baltic Sea or St. Petersburg or Brittany
Sunshine, a King Charles Cavalier
Favorite childhood memory?
One summer my family went to Alabama to visit our cousins who we rarely saw. We had a grand time making a dam in a stream and then playing piano.
Where I'll be on a Sunday afternoon?
On my couch reading The New York Times
Hardest thing about being a mom?
The emotional demand to be loving and patient all the time. A mom is never off duty.
Favorite Scripture passage or inspirational quote?
“Behold, I make all things new.”
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Current Affairs
A conversation with...
Sidney Callahan
You say that “women who are creating and sustaining new life remain anonymous and unsung.” How can society better celebrate women’s contributions?
By emphasizing the role of women in the media and by improving policy measures. For instance, the media could give more attention to mothers who are currently nurturing families and also could highlight the role of mothers throughout history. In our secular society, we can push for increased financial and institutional support for working mothers. Other developed countries are ahead of the United States in establishing family-friendly policies for women at work and at home. Nothing is more important to a society than good nurturing of the next generation; there is no better investment for a nation than investing in its women and families.
To celebrate women the Catholic church could include more scriptural references to women, specifically mothers, in the liturgy, promote married female saints and use female images of God as Mother. The post-Vatican II movement toward greater participation of lay married women in the liturgy symbolically affirms mothers.
In your book you talk about moments when family life can provoke frustration and flaring anger. What advice do you have for fostering healing that arises from these tense moments?
Christ is called the Great Physician because he heals all wounds through the power of the Holy Spirit. Praying, frequenting the sacraments, reading Scripture and participating in faith-sharing groups help heal every psychological and physical ailment. Growth in the spiritual life increases the peace in women and their families and helps them to deal with moments of frustration. Families have the opportunity to participate in the healing power of Christ every time they give and receive forgiveness.
How does social sin threaten family life?
Social sin poses a great danger to family life because families do not live alone but in neighborhoods and communities. When unjust work practices, crime and corruption are prevalent, no one is safe from the negative repercussions. Children, in particular, are damaged by companions of poverty, such as the epidemic drug use and inadequate school systems. When political means of redress are unavailable to minorities or immigrants, abuses that damage families go unchecked. It is important for families to recognize the dangers of social sin and its potential to impact not only society as a whole, but also individual families.
Why do you think divorce has become a norm in our culture?
Divorce is a norm in our culture for contradictory reasons. First, people have higher standards for companionship, sexual intimacy, equality and mutual love in a modern marriage than they had in earlier eras. At the same time, the force of moral obligation to commitments in spite of difficulties has lessened in our society. Further, fewer models of good marriages are available to give encouragement to the young.
What are some practical ways that husbands and wives can promote the sanctity of marriage?
Worshipping and praying together helps couples. In my marriage with a spouse who is not Catholic, this support has been absent. I have found that recognizing the goodness of persons who do not believe is a means for understanding the value of marriage.
You frequently refer to the Holy Spirit as one of the best aids for a strong marriage and family life. How has the Holy Spirit moved you to be a better wife and mother?
The Holy Spirit is always working in the life of a Christian, married or not. In my case, the sense of the love and forgiveness that God has imparted to me has helped me to be more forgiving during marital crises. The knowledge of being loved and valued by God gives a wife a sense of her own value. Love of God increases my receptivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, especially of hope and perseverance. The Spirit has taught me to be more prudent and to more wisely discern my impulsive actions.
You discuss a phenomenon known as “hyper-parenting.” What does this mean and what are its implications?
Hyper-parenting is the name given to parents who attempt to excessively control their children’s lives, allowing the child little room to develop independence. Of course, there is a fine line between good and careful nurturing and overly vigilant involvement in a child’s life. Striking that balance between encouraging independence and providing adequate support is difficult to achieve. It is important for parents to understand that hyper-parenting inhibits a child’s ability to develop healthy independence.
Explain the difference between managing children and being present with them.
Managing children is aimed at achieving a goal that a parent has in mind; the focus is on the outcome, not the child. Being present with children is not goal-oriented but is a process of enjoying, appreciating and valuing the other person. The key to being present with children is ensuring that parental agendas don’t intrude.
For women who are balancing careers and families, what is the key to maintaining a healthy family life?
This is a challenge of discernment and practical wisdom. Prudence is a virtue that helps us discern what is most important to do and the best possible way to do it. There is no magical formula for everyone because people and circumstances differ drastically. Trying to love well and make good decisions while constantly persevering in your efforts is the only possible course. This past Easter season I was struck by Christ’s words about the woman who anointed his feet with costly oils and was rebuked: The loving Savior says, “She did the best she could.”
What is the connection between suffering and joy?
Suffering and joy are very different states but can be felt at the same moment. A mother giving birth may experience both at once. If suffering is innocent and not blameworthy because it is caused by anger, hate, envy and so on, a person can feel both simultaneously. Abiding in God’s love can give joy, despite painful circumstances. Love may lead to suffering for others, but this suffering does not overcome the joy that Christ has promised his brothers and sisters in God’s family.
How can/should a faith community support married couples, especially the newly married?
Movements like the Christian Family Movement and Marriage Encounter are very successful support systems for married couples. Also, marriage preparation for engaged couples is a way to nurture the relationships of engaged couples as well as involve as teachers couples who are already married.
Which married couples and parents have inspired you and why?
I have been inspired by different kinds of marriages since each marriage is unique. There are many ways that a couple can achieve unity while each person blossoms and is fulfilled. Those marriages where women are truly equal and men are actively engaged in parenting are the most inspiring to me. Some large families from half a century ago who were dedicated to promoting peace and justice were very influential, such as John and Helen Cort who had ten children and made time to join the Peace Corps. They struggled for justice wherever they were and remained dedicated to living a liturgical life. Dorothy Day was the formative influence on these families and has influenced my family as well.
What role does prayer play in married life and in parenthood?
Prayer is absolutely necessary in Christian marriage. No parent, in particular, can survive without God’s help.
How can couples keep the romance alive in their marriage?
Married couples should never underestimate the good powers of sexual loving. This aspect of life requires effort and commitment. Taking time for each other is all too easily pushed out of stressful lives. The intimate friendship and sexual loving of marriage is the special gift and calling of married persons.
posted Thursday, September, 11, 2008
Series Titles
(available Spring 2009)
(available Spring 2009)
Weaving Faith and Experience: A Woman's Perspective on the Middle Years
by Patricia Cooney Hathaway
(available Spring 2010)