Jennifer Fulwiler on becoming what you are
‘Jen is a constant reminder to me that God has dreams for all of us that go so far beyond what we can imagine and most certainly take our lives in a direction that we never planned, but following him would be never boring,” is how a fellow admiring mom describes Jennifer Fulwiler in the foreward to Fulwiler’s new book One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both. “She’s a picture of what God can do with a woman who will say yes even when it looks messy, even when it looks hard, and even when it’s so different from the picture you had in your head.”
The radio talk-show host (who you will enjoy following on Twitter) talks about life, motherhood, faith, and the book.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is there just one “beautiful dream”?
Jennifer Fulwiler: Absolutely not. In fact, that’s why I wrote a memoir instead of a how-to book. I can’t tell you what your “one beautiful dream” is; but I hope that by sharing mine you might be inspired.
Lopez: How do you know what to say yes to? Especially when we’re talking yes to God on big things and small.
Fulwiler: One key to discerning these things is to make these decisions with your family (or whoever your main support system is) — to value your personal passions, but to see them as just one part of something bigger that you and your family will create together. The other key is to make these decisions without fear, shame, or comparison. Too often we put limits on ourselves that really don’t need to be there. It’s important to ask these big questions with full permission to follow whatever path is right for you.
Lopez: To what extent is your book about motherhood in America circa 2018?
Fulwiler: That’s the key thing it explores. Motherhood today is so different from what it was even 15 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. When we ask questions about balance and “having it all,” too often we’re stuck in old paradigms that were more applicable in the 1980s than they are today. With the proliferation of opportunities for creativity and work that the Internet age has brought, it’s time to have a fresh discussion about motherhood and fulfillment.
Lopez: What do you hear most often from other mothers? Does our politics and culture ever seem to “get” what you’re hearing — and living?
Fulwiler: I’m hearing from so many women that they struggle with guilt and shame. They want to follow their own dreams, but they feel guilty doing so. They think they have to follow a million rules in order to be perfect parents. They love their families, but often don’t look forward to getting out of bed the next day. I don’t think there is currently a conversation in our culture that really addresses what the average mother is lying awake at night stressing out about.
Lopez: Why is humor so important to you as a writer and a mother?
Fulwiler: Humor breaks down barriers. It reminds you not to take yourself too seriously, and therefore fosters connection with others.
Lopez: You previously wrote a book on your journey from atheism to Catholicism. What kind of feedback strikes you the most from that book? Anything that would be helpful to the atheist who might be wondering if there is more to consider or for Christians who might want to do a better job not just being evangelists but friends?
Fulwiler: Honestly, I’m surprised by how many people enjoyed Something Other than God. My journey from atheism to faith was a very intellectual one. Basically, I read a lot of books and thought about a lot of deep questions. As I was writing it, I kept thinking, “Does anyone want to read a book that’s basically about a woman reading books in her house and thinking about them?” But so many people have said that they can connect with someone who has more of a cerebral, skeptical approach to faith.
In terms of being evangelists, I think it all comes down to one word: love. Love your life, love God, and love others, and you will be an effective evangelist.
Lopez: How does a self-described introvert actually handle having a radio show, manage a household, and do a book tour?
Fulwiler: I have lots and lots of help. One of the biggest lessons I share in One Beautiful Dream is that we’re not meant to do this alone — “this” meaning almost anything in life, whether it’s raising kids or pursuing a goal. My husband and I spent years working on building a great support system for our family, and it is what makes all of this possible.
Lopez: Going from “careerist atheist who never wanted a family” to “having six babies in eight years” is a pretty significant part of your story. Is there something about big families that you’d suggest people consider? Or, at least, openness to life? Some people worry pro-lifers want everyone to have six babies in eight years and that’s both terrifying and not financially — or medically — possible in some people’s cases. What is it about your dreams and realities and God’s will that you hope to convey with this book?
Fulwiler: I definitely don’t think that there is one right family size. I’m an only child married to another only child, so I’ve seen wonderful families of all sizes. The message I hope people take away from this book is that it’s good to be “open to life” — and by that I mean being flexible and welcoming of others. For us, that’s our children and various friends and neighbors. For someone else, being open to life might look completely different. The important thing is not to let pride or fear or perfectionism block you from forming intimate connections with others.
Lopez: What’s your favorite part of Mother’s Day?
Fulwiler: Both of our mothers do so much for our family, and it is wonderful to have a chance to thank them in a tangible way.
Lopez: What do you say to women who are not mothers — or have lost children to miscarriage or abortion or death — and find themselves hurting on Mother’s Day?
Fulwiler: I will pray for you. I’m afraid that any attempts at words of wisdom would sound platitudinous, so I would simply say that I do regularly pray for women in these situations, as well as for all people who have a desire that has not been fulfilled in their lives.
Lopez: What’s the hardest part of speaking about some of the most intimate realities of life?
Fulwiler: These are hot-button topics, and people can sometimes get very angry when discussing them. The criticism often gets personal, and that’s never fun.
Lopez: What is it that you have come to most appreciate about women and the Catholic Church once you became Catholic?
Fulwiler: Being Catholic led me to experience an inner freedom as a woman that I never had before. I used to have all sorts of insecurities and struggles that related to my role in the world, particularly as a woman, and reading the rich Catholic thinking on the dignity of women brought me tremendous healing in that department.
Lopez: What’s your key advice to moms who feel overwhelmed right now?
Fulwiler: Carve out time for a conversation with your spouse, and get really honest about what you need. And don’t feel guilty about it! You’re not selfish for wanting some time for yourself to pursue your own dreams or just binge watch a dumb show. Your desire to recharge your own batteries is actually a sign of your commitment to your family — and when you take that time you need to fill yourself up, you’ll find that you have even more love and energy to give back to those you love.
Lopez: Are you surprised by any of the feedback this book seems to be prompting?
Fulwiler: I’ve been surprised by what a great response I’ve gotten from single women. So many of them are telling me that they feared setting their passions aside if they end up getting married. It’s encouraging to see this message of dreaming big and dreaming fearlessly resonating with folks whose stories are different from mine.