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Andrea Mantegna, Mary and Jesus at the Presentation at the Temple (detail)

Rule of Life

Issue One / 2013

Catherine Sienkiewicz

Holly Pierlot, A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul (Sophia Institute Press, 2004, 200 pages).

When I first read Holly Pierlot’s book, I was still new to marriage and family life, with only our infant daughter at home with me. I was immediately attracted to the title (could there be a title more appealing to a mother?) and I bought and read the book very quickly. However, the problems which led Pierlot to establish her own “mother’s rule” didn’t resonate much with me. She was a homeschooling mother of five children who felt so overwhelmed by the demands on her that she was at a breaking point. I, on the other hand, did not have the same dilemma. I was staying home full time with my six-month-old daughter, and I had a lot of time on my hands. I was already struggling with feelings of boredom, and structuring every hour of my days, as Pierlot suggested, seemed like something that would only exacerbate that problem. With a little irritation, I put the book away and forgot about it.

It was with no small sense of irony, therefore, that I read Pierlot’s book again later and realized just how in sync I now was with the frustrations she described, and also with the path it led her to follow.

In A Mother’s Rule of Life, Pierlot takes the reader into her past, sharing her tumultuous teenage and early adult years, her return to the Catholic Church after a long separation, her marriage to her husband Phillip, and the difficulties of their early married life. She comes to the point of crisis when they have five children, whom Holly is homeschooling. She feels called to educate at home, but is ready to enroll all the children in school because of the disorder and chaos she is experiencing. There just do not seem to be enough hours in the day, and her spiritual life is suffering.

Pierlot writes as a Catholic mother, for Catholic mothers. But a casual perusal of any bookstore today would testify that her crisis experience is one that many people struggle with every day, in all walks of life. There is no shortage of books trying to help us organize our precious time, our homes, our professions, and actually “get things done,” as one popular secular book promises. And Pierlot’s promises are similar to the ones they advertise: if you make a rule of life, many things will improve. Your finances will be in order, your relationships will be better, your work will get done and your anxiety will decrease.

This should motivate many women to read and consider her book, which has many things to offer. It is a little bit Dave Ramsey, a little bit FlyLady, a little bit parenting guru and marriage counselor. But, as she herself points out, a desire for order and a clean house won’t be enough to keep most at-home mothers committed to a fairly strict daily schedule, and her own motivation went much deeper over time. Ultimately, it was her desire truly to understand and live out her vocation as wife and mother – and a follower of Christ on the way of perfect love – that kept her focussed not just on her daily schedule of home and parenting duties, but on her greater plan of life which includes it.

Within that plan, Pierlot highlights five areas of importance which must be examined and provided for in any mother’s rule of life. In order of priority they are: Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider. Much of the book is dedicated to explaining these “Five P’s,” why they are necessary categories, and why they must remain in that order. Throughout this part of the book, Pierlot shares many of her own mistakes and trials in all of these aspects of her vocation, as well as the inspirations – through prayer and life experience – which helped her to align her life as wife and mother to the calling that was being revealed to her.

There is a photograph on the book’s cover, depicting the arching walls which form the cloister in a monastery. The title “A Mother’s Rule of Life” similarly makes the connection to the Rule followed by men and women in consecrated religious life. And although the author never refers to it directly, her explanations of what falls within the scope of a mother’s rule are in many ways a description of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience) which are at the core of the vows of a consecrated person, and which are all directed toward the perfection of charity.

Among those who have read and considered Pierlot’s book, I have met a number of women who, despite sharing the “overwhelmed” experience the author describes, cannot move past the aversion they have toward the idea of a daily schedule. Or, perhaps, they are too overburdened with their many duties and concerns to devote more energy to examining their lives and creating a rule of life. From my own experience, I can say that this is certainly an area where mothers can use more guidance, encouragement, and assistance. As Pierlot quotes from Dom Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate: “Let the following conviction become deeply impressed upon your mind: namely, that a soul cannot lead an interior life without a schedule…and without a firm resolution to keep it all the time.”

If there is truth in this statement, then what an important task it is for mothers to examine their time and, through thought and prayer, create and then follow a plan or rule of life. And yet what a challenge for all mothers, (and even more so for those who are homeschooling their children), for what career or vocation provides less structured time, or less direction on how to order each day? There is every reason to believe that, with the help of Pierlot’s book, many mothers will be both encouraged and relieved of some of the effort of this task.

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Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture & Science
Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
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