By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Life coach and podcaster Janet Quinlan smiled as she observed the crowd of 120-plus women mingling in the St. Patrick Parish Hall. Some cuddled napping newborns while others chatted with their adult daughters. “I love that there are new moms, middle-aged and seasoned women here,” the St. Louis-based mother of seven told the group.
She hoped each woman would find encouragement and connection at the morning retreat Nov. 4. “Women have unique gifts,” she explained. “If you’re ever tempted to believe the lie that you’re just a mom, just a wife, just a lawyer or a doctor,” don’t. “We all have a mission, and it may change a little bit as we get older and go through a different stage of life.”
Quinlan believes her mission is to foster a sense of virtue, faith and connection with God in the way she is raising her children and loving her husband, Michael. Now that her children are older, she supports women through her podcast, “Finding Joy in Marriage and Motherhood” and offers individual and group counseling services.
Quinlan spoke about marriage as a foundation for family life. Parents can set a positive example for their children by modeling a healthy and loving relationship, which isn’t always easy. She encouraged the women to consider what they want their marriages to look like in 10, 20 or 40 years. Looking at the bigger picture “came up at critical times in my marriage.”
Unfulfilled expectations are a common source of resentment between spouses, Quinlan believes. “Every person in this room has a different manual for their husband, but these manuals make us unhappy” when they leave no room for grace and understanding. She recalled a time her husband forgot to take out the trash. She stomped around the house to get his attention and snapped when he asked, “What’s wrong?” Quinlan had taken his inaction personally when, in reality, he had gotten preoccupied with work and needed a reminder.
One way to gain more control over knee-jerk reactions is to consider the relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions, she said. When her husband forgot to take out the trash, she thought it was evidence that he didn’t love her enough. That led to anger and she snapped at him. By reminding herself that her husband is naturally forgetful when he is preoccupied, she now feels less anger and reacts more calmly. Couples enhance their sense of connection by respectfully working together to resolve conflict, pray together and show affection, she said.
Shifting the topic to parenting, Quinlan encouraged mothers to be clear and consistent in communication and follow-through with their children. “Our duty is to be their first teachers and you teach respect by being firm and loving.” Siblings should speak respectfully to each other “and if they don’t, get involved.”
Children benefit from contributing to the household in an age-appropriate way, she believes. “It helps them feel competent and build confidence. That’s why daily chores — and teaching kids how to do them — are important.”
She urged women not to compare themselves and their families to others because they will always find someone better. She understands that life can feel overwhelming, so schedule time for self-care and prayer, she advised. “I know it’s hard. You must make time.”
At the end of the presentation, Quinlan encouraged the women to focus on hope over fear. “Hopefully I’ve said one thing that you can take home and start implementing. I hope prayer is there, but what is another thing you can do?”
Brittany Ahrens, a wife and mother of six from St. Patrick Parish, said she appreciated the “practical, anecdotal things” Quinlan shared from her life as a wife and mother. Erin Heim of Dubuque, Iowa, said many of Quinlan’s personal stories “hit home. It makes you feel connected, knowing that you’re not the only one.”
Heim attended the conference with her mother, Laura Dolehide, and a family friend. Dolehide, a mother of nine, has found support and strength at Catholic women’s retreats throughout her marriage and motherhood journey. “You can’t get enough of this,” she said.