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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Bringing Baby to the Office

This week's question is a happy one, as one of our colleagues looks forward to the birth of her first baby and finds herself in an extremely supportive working environment. She writes:

As I prepare to balance motherhood and ministry for the first time, I could use some guidance from others who have brought babies to work with them. I work as the associate at a church that has been very supportive throughout my pregnancy and the negotiation of my paid parental leave (8 weeks). When I asked our senior pastor if it would be okay to officially “work from home” some after the baby arrives (which I already do) he said, “Of course! And I’m assuming you’ll bring the baby to work some, too, right?” I feel so fortunate to work in such a supportive environment.

I am planning on taking the baby with me to the office for about 6 hours a week (two three-hour shifts). I will use this time to do e-mails, etc. (not premarital counseling or other meetings!). My question is, how should I handle this new situation with the rest of the congregation? Should I mention to the pastoral relations committee or the church council that this is what the senior pastor and I have worked out? Should I ask someone else for permission (in our situation I am supervised by the senior, but called by the congregation)? Should I tell the whole congregation about the set-up in a newsletter article or something? Also, we do have a monthly finance meeting that I’d like to attend but it will be when the baby is with me. Any tips for handling the baby in a meeting?

Thanks for your help as I wade through this. I would also covet any general tips about taking a baby to work!

Jennifer responds:
I, too, was fortunate to have a supportive environment in which to bring my children to work when they were babies.
How great that your head of staff is encouraging you to bring your new baby to work!
I think your instincts are great--- why not ask the moderator of the Finance Committee if you might bring your baby to that meeting, on a trial basis, since you’re all new at this! I think that sharing the news with the congregation is fine, too, especially in a way that feels comfortable to the congregation. You’ll know your setting best to determine if you’re the bearer of the news, or if the senior pastor or the pastoral relations chairperson can most effectively communicate what will, hopefully, be happy, happy news.
Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
My ‘baby’ is now 15 years old & I’d been ordained just under a year when I had her. My experience has always been share, share , share – I have always tried to let people know how I’m doing the balancing act, so when I would have her with me, what any arrangements are, when I need to leave by for feed/bath/bed time, etc, etc – and people have always responded with deep generosity and love. I think the churches I was at when she was smallest almost enjoyed her more than I did, and she just loved being passed around & getting all the cuddles and smiles from everyone in the room.

As for meetings : I always tended to sit by the door (In case you’ve just got to go out for everyone’s sanity!), explain at the start of the meeting that I would possible stand & sway if she got a bit fractious, or walk about, or else go out altogether, and I always made sure I had ‘stuff’ to distract her – milk, food, cuddly toys.. Later crayons, paper, quiet games, etc.
I hope I’m always tolerant of others who are now in the boat I was in, but I turn into a grumpy old woman if people expect children to be quiet but don’t give them anything to do – just expect them to sit there!

I hope you enjoy the mad roller-coaster of motherhood and ministry – and may you be blessed with a congregation of extra grannies, grandads, aunties & uncles!

And revhoney offers:
I’m glad that your are serving in a supportive environment. There are few gifts greater than that in a team ministry!
My office was large enough and off the beaten path enough that I could bring our sons to work with me when they were infants. I set up a “Pack-n-play” in my office, and was able to devise a schedule that allowed me to get the kind of office work you referenced done while they slept. Our sons nursed when they awoke, stayed awake for awhile, nursed again, and then slept. So I brought them to work toward the end of their waking moments, nursed them, and then they slept for 2 or more hours. The older of our two boys worked well with this schedule until he was nearly seven months old; the younger until he was about five months old.
We were blessed to have a home-based caregiver a block away from the church. We were also blessed to have homebound members who wanted to meet the boys – a few of them were more concerned about me bringing the boys to visit than bringing them communion!

It's encouraging to read these stories of clergy mothers being supported within the church! I think I would have had the same freedom to bring my babies to the office, except I simply couldn't manage it with twins. I did find that whenever I was upfront about my needs, I was met with a lot of caring and support.

I think the matriarchs have offered some good advice about how to proceed - what do the rest of you think?

If you have a question you would like the matriarchs to discuss, please send us an email at .



  1. In my experience, things were great when the babies were little. As they got older, my time was (quite honestly) divided. With my first, I did take her to the office, however, though I had a private office and was only part-time, at about 9 months, when she was more active and wanting my undivided attention, things got more difficult. I was the only person on staff with a child under 6 at the time, and the only married female pastor.

    If you can work out a flexible arrangement where as your baby gets older you can telecommute some days, or share day/evening care with your spouse, then life will be busy, tiring and occasionally stressful, but do-able.

    Hang in there - enjoy the ride!

  2. We had a newborn "member" of staff last year, and it was wonderful having him around! The one reminder we had to offer the congregation regularly was that Pastor Mom was also working... so please don't stop in to visit with the baby for 20+ minutes (600 church members=all day, every day!).

    It was such a blessed experience :).

  3. I'm in a part-time call, and my daughter is 7 months old. She came with me to work for a few hours per week from when she was 3 months to about 6 months, and it was pretty good. Our workday together included our staff meeting - only one day did I ever have a diffcult time in the meeting, and she was diagnosed with flu the next morning... so, probably shouldn't have had her with me that day anyway. Now that she is more mobile, its much more difficult to have her at work, so she stays home. Due to a staff crisis, she'll be coming to work with me again sometimes, but a lovely parishioner just brought a pack & play that she had at home for her grandchildren (now too big for it). So, that'll stay in my office for when I need it. It can be really difficult to get stuff done with her around, but still worth it.

    My main challenge has been that our daughter has absurd stranger anxiety and doesn't like other people holding her. So the whole "pass the baby" thing just doesn't work for us. But she is very happy to be held by Momma for long periods of time, so I just hold her during meetings, and stand/sway or bounce her if she's getting a little wiggly. I have a nursing cover (I'm pretty shy about nursing) and encouraging colleagues and a crew of church ladies who *adore* my daughter. It has down moments, but overall, its great.

  4. I know that as a lay leader/mom/professional that I'd be eager to meet the baby and see him/her occasionally. But I'd probably retreat from any serious conversation or meeting if a baby were there. The distraction, whether good or bad, is a distraction. As a mom/professional, I always found it better to separate one work from the other. "Supportive" would be giving the parents advice, names of caregivers and helping with a flexible schedule.

  5. My babies are 22,19,and 16. I did bring my 19 year old to work with me whan she was an infant, but it didn't work very well. I felt like I wasn't giving my daughter or my job very good attention. I found another mom who provided child care. My older daughter was in a Montessori program at the time. Right from the beginning I worked school hours, was home after school until after dinner and then back to church for meetings etc. It worked well. I was up front with the congregation about being unavailable, except for emergencies during those afternoon hours. This schedule has continued to work throughout my ministry. My daughters will tell you about visiting people in their homes or nursing homes on occassion. When I had to go to the hospital to visit someone, there were times when I would take them to the cafeteria and buy them a snack go and visit for a few minutes and then come back and get them. I have been a single parent since my oldest was eleven. It takes some flexibility on the part of the parent the church and the children. My children are all very involved in the church and doing well.
    One complaint I heard about a mom/pastor was about her walking around the hallways on Sunday morning taking care of details with people and nursing her baby at the same time. This was about 10 years ago though.

  6. As I write this, I'm in my office and my 4.5 month old son is asleep in the pack and play next to the desk. He's been coming with me to work since he was 7 weeks old. There is a woman who gives him in-home care near the church on Tuesdays and Fridays, so I try to schedule meetings or counseling on those days. For the first four months of his life, (and the last 5 of my pregnancy incidentally), my husband was in Iraq and we live across the country from our families. I just didn't have anywhere to leave him during a meeting since I'm a solo pastor of a small church. Most people were understanding and accommodating. I've breastfed during council meetings, had him sleeping in the carseat during Wed. night worship, asked retirees to watch him when I had to go to a four-hour lecture. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't.

    My husband is home now and I'm better able to have help, which means I can go back to more difficult and frequent Bible studies, in which I can give my undivided attention.

    I'm hoping to keep him with me most of the time until he's 6 months old. Then I think we'll move to 5-6 hours a day with the caregiver and then time in Mommy's office until she goes home.

    My church has been remarkably flexible and supportive. I think an older congregation is particularly glad to see a baby around. Like one of the matriarchs, my parishioners are often more interested in whether I will bring him with me than if I'm bringing communion.

    For me, working at home is difficult. There are the distractions of a dog, laundry, dinner, etc. Even though he requires attention, I often get more done in the office with a baby than at home.

  7. I did my Field Ed work when my daughter was an infant, and there were times I brought her with me including on some pastoral visits. My supervising pastor welcomed her on the mornings we did supervision. I am grateful to that church for welcoming her and me. We made the arrangements early in my first year of seminary for the second year, and then - wow! - I was having a baby! I figured Field Ed would be out. Happily, the church already had a reliably staffed nursery for Sunday mornings, so my daughter came with me then, too.

  8. I think it's helpful that you already work from home some of the time. I didn't pre-baby and so now that I do one day a week, it has brought with it some challenges--but I really don't know how widespread that is. I really only get negative responses from some of the other staff (the male senior pastor with whom I made the agreement and the office manager who sometimes is just grumpy and tries to compare our jobs--they are different!).

    My baby was a month early and the person with whom I had arranged care for her wasn't ready a month early, so she came with me in the mornings that first month back. Luckily it was during the summer when my husband (who's in education) was doing his summer job with flexible hours, so he would also work in the mornings and be home with her in the afternoons. I was able to do a lot, but she was so tiny then that she either slept or was content to be held.

    I guess this isn't much advice--you will find what works for you and your baby as far as attending meetings. I also think it doesn't hurt to write a newsletter article or something.

    Blessings to you!

  9. Like Ruth's, my oldest "baby" is 15, and I had the same policy of keeping people in the loop. There's a difference between asking permission (what you needed to do with the senior pastor and maybe a few others) and letting people know what the plan is...and probably the back-up plan as well, because you need to have one. I was home for 2 mos., then my husband was home for 2 mos, and then I brought my son to work with me for 4 mos,; at 8 mos. he started in daycare. I was a full-time solo pastor. I did something similar with my second son, although he went into daycare younger (a home-based one minutes from work).

    With regard to the meetings, what you can't know now is your baby's temperament. #1 son cried, a lot. It was pointless to try to go to meetings with him. However, he seemed to love visiting, and many people enjoyed seeing him, so we did a lot of that as well as work in the office. I wasn't as productive, however, as I'd anticipated, because of his crying, and that was a struggle.

  10. It can be done, prayerfully, carefully and strategically. I'm now a middle-aged seminarian, my children are mostly grown, but I remember the planning involved in bringing a baby to work back in the 80s. It works well when they are tiny. Just know that as your baby grows, his or her schedule will change--and yours will too. What works for the first few months will not work at 7 mos. or 10 mos. Do find a way to introduce the baby to your workplace, you will find that most people are delighted to see your baby.
    I had in home childcare for my children when they were tiny, and nearby daycare when they became toddlers. Even if you plan to bring your baby to work much of time, it's helpful to find a sitter for a few hours a couple afternoons a week. Is there a high school or college student who can help?
    Finally, if you are in a meeting and the baby starts to fuss and can't be quickly soothed, excuse yourself. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but fussy babies are a distraction.

  11. This is clearly a topic with many different opinions and ideas! I was pregnant when I started seminary, lost that baby, and then became pregnant again three months later. So my entire career (now that first born child is 11) has been spent juggling children, child care, and bringing babies to work.
    My first field ed was on the Alzheimer's unit of a continuing care facility. My daughter was 9 months old. The residents LOVED her, adored her, and would often only respond when I brought her along (most of them were non-verbal). I didn't bring her when I led worship, but did bring her on a fair number of pastoral calls. My second internship was as an associate of a very small urban church. The first Sunday I was there, my 11 week old second daughter started screaming in the middle of worship. I had just nursed her and had no clue what to do, nowhere to go in that little building. One of the matriarchs of the church left her seat - I thought to scold me, but instead took my baby and rocked and held her until she calmed down. That woman is to this day one of my very favorite people.
    I have led worship with a baby on my hip who did not want to be left alone. I simply scooped her up and kept doing what I was doing. I don't want to disturb or upset anyone, but I want people to know that babies and children are a part of God's world and our world, and a part of the church. It has worked for me so far!

  12. It works when it works, but when it doesn't work it's sure awkward. I directed a staff of 20 or so in a pre-priesthood career, and thought I would be the one to make the workplace parent and child-friendly. But some mothers did not realize that even really cute does not replace making focussed decisions. In church, even really cute does not replace times of silent prayer and reverence.

    If I was the senior pastor or lay leadership, I would ask, how can we make it truly possible for people whose spiritual and pastoral lives are less well served with the baby around to say so, without seeming like grumps?

  13. Our Parenting in the Workplace Institute offers lots of information to set up sustainable babies-at-work arrangements--let us know if you need any (free) assistance! We have lots of details on our Babies in the Workplace webite at and template policies and other forms (if you find them necessary in this situation) at

    Carla Moquin

  14. I am so, so deeply moved by the hospitality given you and your baby...and so thankful and heartened. I was a minister at a boarding school...utterly adored my work/life...very close to ordination while serving as a fully liscenced minister...and the head of school would not allow any flexibility once I had my baby. I was not allowed to work from home in any capacity...and was (reluctantly) allowed "one hour a day" (and boarding school work days last, often, well past midnight) for me to be with my baby in my (very private) office...
    I have been on haitus from ministry ever since, as I had to choose between my ministry and my child/ren...
    Blessings and peace,


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