As published in Fidelia's Sisters, May 2011
How do you do it?
I feel like people often ask me this question when they find out I am a solo pastor, part of a clergy couple, a mother of two young children—and I don’t live near my family. This question immediately makes me feel terribly defensive. I start to wonder what the questioners are really saying to me. Do they think I don’t spend enough time with my kids? Do they think I’m completely nuts and I’m slowly damaging my reputations as both a mother and pastor as I try to merge parenthood and an active congregation? Am I crazy working without other pastors on staff with me? Are my children doomed? A fellow pastor, pregnant with her first child, told me recently of a friend who asked her about what her plans were after she had the baby. This fellow pastor talked of her dream to be a solo pastor and described how she hoped to manage day care. Her friend then said, “Well, it won’t be ideal.” My heart burned for her after she told me of this comment.
In motherhood, like ministry, it’s really hard to tell when I’m doing things right. And much of the time I feel like I’m doing most things a little bit wrong. When people ask me “How do you do it?” and I overreact, I realize this reaction is birthed from my own deep insecurities. The reputation of the behaviorally-challenged, anti-religious, emotionally scarred pastor’s child is powerful. This reputation formed when most children of pastors had mothers who stayed at home. How will my children fare with two parents who are pastors? Whenever my children have challenging days, my first reaction is to blame myself. Many days I struggle with the idea that I may be a better pastor than a mother. The guilt I feel as a parent is a soul-sucking, anxiety-producing, terror-inducing emotion.
Then I take a deep breath. I think about the many ways my vocations as a pastor and a mother complement each other. Solo ministry can be a wonderful job for a parent. My work gives me energy, and I truly feel I am a better mother when I am able to spend time doing ministry (of course, this is not true for everyone, but it is true for me). My flexible schedule gives me a lot of grace. I see people at both my husband’s and my congregations embracing our kids with a fierce love and devotion. On a recent Sunday morning I watched my 8-month-old daughter in the arms of a father whose youngest son just left for college. I witnessed the joy in her face as she tried to grab his nose as they looked at each other and laughed. As his family transitions into life without kids at home, my daughter gives them a chance to embrace a new child in their lives. And she needs them too. This story could be repeated with so many people in my congregation in many different ways.
The most important lesson I have learned as both a pastor and a mother is I can’t do it alone. I need people to support me, and that includes my congregation. I have had to relax some of my professional and personal boundaries. I now occasionally invite congregation members into my home to watch my kids (after much angst-filled thought) and it has been a real blessing. I rely on a supportive day care provider. My husband works less than full-time in an associate call so he has the flexibility to step in when I am called away for emergencies. On the days I feel crushed under the weights of insecurity and responsibility, I am lifted up by the support of those around me. It’s a lesson in humility, and it constantly reminds me of how much I rely on the grace of God.
This life is not ideal. I am not a perfect mother or a perfect pastor. I don’t know how I do it all, or if I’m doing everything right. All I know is this life feels good to me, even with its many unique challenges. I pray for wisdom as I move forward each day.