Jennifer Fulwiler has six children, a daily radio show, and two memoirs on her conversion and the challenges of finding balance in the midst of motherhood. Her first book, Something Other than God, details her spiritual journey from atheism to Catholicism, and her second, One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Personal Passions, Family Chaos, and Saying Yes to Them Both, is about how she pursued her passion for writing while having six babies in eight years.
Fulwiler corresponded with CWR while on the book tour (with kids in tow!) for One Beautiful Dream, which is available now.
Jennifer Fulwiler: Yes. It is my intent to wade right into the middle of this war and call a truce. There are now so many options for how to follow your passions and still put God and family first, these debates have become dated. We should be coming together to brainstorm the best ways to maximize all the great opportunities that women have today rather than holding ourselves and others up to dated, one-size-fits-all standards.
CWR: Do you see a connection between your openness to having a large family and your approach to writing?
Fulwiler: Absolutely. Thanks to having a large family, I accept inconveniences and setbacks and not getting to do things my way all the time as a natural part of life. This has had a great impact on my writing.
CWR: In recent years, there has been a bit of a backlash to the idea that women can “have it all,” and then some backlash to the backlash. Do you think “having it all” looks different for women of faith than for those approaching the situation from a secular perspective?
Fulwiler: I think there used to be more of an emphasis on traditional careers as the source of all happiness in the secular world—I certainly felt that when I was an atheist—but that is changing as people become increasingly cynical about the modern American workplace.
In my experience, these days women of faith and women with a more secular background want the same thing: fulfillment. And in both cases that means some kind of balance between doing work that they love, spending time with people they love, and somehow getting the bills paid in the midst of that.
CWR: One Beautiful Dream includes a lot of particulars about how you’ve been able to raise a large family and pursue your passions—the child-care arrangements, financial considerations, the support you received from family and friends. Particulars aside, are there generally-applicable principles you’re hoping women will take away from your story, and use in their own lives?
Fulwiler: Definitely. The secret formula we discovered, that I hope both men and women will try out in their own lives, is:
- Partner with your family—come together and discuss all of these big questions with them. Think like a team instead of like an individual.
- Build your village—we weren’t meant to live our lives in isolation. Take whatever steps make sense given your unique circumstances to form a reliable support system.
- Be strategic about money—so often we sign ourselves up for big lifestyle expenses we can barely afford, and then we become slaves to those payments. If that works for you, great! But just watch those kinds of things carefully because they can severely limit the freedom the breadwinner(s) in your family have to find work that they love.
CWR: In your book, you discuss your writing more in terms of following a God-given passion than of pursuing a high-powered career. For women who already feel a lot of pressure not only to be good wives and mothers, but also to be professionally successful—do you think they might feel an additional pressure not to fail themselves (or perhaps even God) if they aren’t feeding the “blue flame” of their personal passions?
Fulwiler: My message is ultimately about finding fulfillment—for me, that involved finding a way to use my blue flame. For someone else, it might involve simply living life to the fullest each day. My hope is that women will throw off all of these unnecessary obligations they’ve been putting on themselves and feel free to be the unique individuals God created them to be.
CWR: Two phrases that you revisit throughout your book are “put love first” and “wholeness of vision.” While appreciating that all Christians are called primarily to love, do you think that “wholeness of vision” is something women have a particular affinity for?
Fulwiler: Yes. I think that’s part of the “feminine genius” that St. John Paul II spoke of. To me, having a “wholeness of vision” is having an understanding that the love we give and receive is the most important thing in life. I think women tend to have more of a natural understanding of this (even though it took me a long time to clue in to it myself).