Today things are finally back to normal. The Epiphany octave was full of feasting, visiting, and spending time with family and friends. It was a full time, with my few moments of reflection devoted simply to resting in thankfulness for the many inspiring relationships I enjoy. I am deeply grateful for the people God has put in my life, and I draw strength from the time we share together.

Now it is a thoroughly normal Monday and I have – God-willing! – a thoroughly normal week ahead. When I pray, I know that each day I must be ready to face whatever He asks of me. How shall I serve Him? Because now that we have returned to our routine, I return to the most important work of all in caring for my family.

There are so many ways I do this: praying the Rosary every night, cooking balanced meals, folding laundry, helping with homework, negotiating disputes… but also reading. Whether we’ve had a good day or a tough one, we sit down together for half an hour or so before prayers and we explore a great story together.

This time is precious and sometimes I have to fight for it. There are very many completely legitimate demands on everyone’s attention; so many ways our evenings can be derailed. But we make time to sit down and eat supper together, and we make time to say our prayers together, and we make time to read together.

Reading a bedtime story is good for kids and all, but why is it so crucial, you ask? The experience of a shared story, the act of sitting close together and completely forgetting the frustrations of the day, the flow of words in meaningful patterns: these have a healing effect that calm our sores and help us to become better. We are inspired by heroes, disgusted by villains, confronted with dilemmas that test our beliefs. We can travel, imagine, create, and recognize that each of us has a place in the grand story. So you see, it’s that important.

However even if you happen to believe, as I do, that the right books can bring all these good things into our homes, there is a temptation to shelve the books when the children go to bed. Parents and caregivers are so tired at the end of every day that we are quite famous for neglecting to look after our own needs. In the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual sense this can be very dangerous; I would also venture to add that, to some extent, it is perilous to neglect our own reading. We need to be formed ourselves – shaped by the mistakes and morals of our own heroes – so that we can become the saints God meant us to be, and the parents our children need us to be.

I freely admit to being the worst offender. My own reading time usually comes at the expense of much-needed sleep, and that isn’t always a sacrifice I can make. But I have also benefited tremendously from staying up to finish some truly great pieces of literature that have absolutely helped to shape my own understanding and, in turn, what I pass on to my children. I am better focused to get through the distractions of every day with the goal of raising saints when I am regularly inspired to do just that. I am a better mother when I read.

So here you see the book that I am bent on finishing before it must be returned to the library tomorrow. (Library due dates have effectively forced me to finish reading many great works of literature – and yes, I max out all the renewals!) What will you be reading in the weeks to come? What, then, will you be reading with your children?