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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Ministry and New Motherhood

Our question this week springs from the joyful yet challenging task of balancing ministry and motherhood. We have lot of folks around here with experience at this, so some of you may have special insight into her situation:

I am a new mom to a 4 1/2 month old daughter, and have recently returned to full-time pastor work from a 3-month maternity leave.  While the congregation is delighted to see my daughter at church events, I am sensitive about bringing her with me during regular workdays, wondering if some in the congregation might begin to think I am not really doing my job.  I'm guessing the matriarchs will (rightly) assess that some of this anxiety is more about me than the congregation.  But I would welcome any advice from seasoned pastor-parents about balancing work-with-child, work-without-child, and the perceptions of the congregation.  What have you learned along the way that might help a neophyte?  

Karen writes:

In my experience, (both personal and from observation) bringing baby to work seems to work best in smaller congregations where the atmosphere in the office is less corporate-feeling.  When my kids were tiny, I divided my workload into categories:  stuff I can only really do well when the kids are being cared for elsewhere, stuff I can do while the kids are around but need minimal attention from me, and stuff I can do with the kids in tow.

Another observation: where the pastor/parish relationship was good and open prior to the baby's arrival, this stuff is pretty easily and openly negotiated.  But if there were significant tensions pre-baby, the presence of the baby during work time becomes an opportunity for those tensions to get played out.

The baby in the office question is a short term issue at any rate.  Once the baby can crawl, all bets are off.  The day my 8 month old dragged all the books off the bottom two shelves of the bookshelf and attempted to eat the plant on the table in the work area was the last day she came to work with me.


We welcome a new matriarch to our group this week. Sharon, who blogs at  Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers:

Congratulations on your new baby and on your congregation's positive response!  This will be an adventure for all of you!

At church events, including Sunday activities, I suggest having a designated responsible person to be with her when you can't be. That way, you don't have to figure out whom you can turn to with her or who has her if you don't.  If the event is mostly social, like a church picnic or a Sunday School party, you can more freely be in the mom role, all the while being aware of occasions when you need to step back into the pastor role, sometimes without her at your side.  Having a previously-picked back-up person gives you that flexibility.  

As for her presence with you during the week in the church office, on pastoral calls and at meetings:  Do you have an agreement with your church governing board about what they expect that to look like?  Will it change as she gets older and more active?  Negotiating these expectations together, or just restating them at this time, might lower everyone's anxiety.  

I was more comfortable not having my children with me in the church office, on most pastoral calls and at church meetings.  I felt that the congregation and I needed to have some focused pastor time, and my children deserved time away from the church.  Your boundaries may vary!

I have discovered that serving as a pastor does grant us some blessed flexibility that can be used for our family's well-being.  Be ready to ask for what you need in order to set healthy boundaries and to balance all the sacred calls on your life!   And enjoy!

And finally we hear from +Muthah, who offers this wisdom and encouragement:

I am NOT a mother and so I have no hands-on experience BUT....  One of the important things about the ordination of women was to recognize that women who choose to be mothers have an important place in the ministry of the Church.  It is incumbent upon us women to include our child-bearing and raising imperative of creation in our ministry.  Being sensitive to the needs of the community you serve is important.  But at the same time, the congregation needs to be aware of the needs of clergy to be parents.  (Oh, that we could model this for our male clergy too.)  Balance, I think is the issue.  Help your congregation be a part of the raising of your child as much as you are part of raising their children.  Hopefully by your witness, these questions for the next generation of women clergy will not be necessary.

Thank you so much to our matriarchs, and best wishes to our questioner as she embraces this joyful adventure. What say the rest of you? What advice would you offer her? Please join us in the comment section.

As always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to respond to, please write to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. Both my babies came to work with me for varied amounts of time, all pre-crawling. I did have back up mostly for those times when it was not appropriate, and I was in a very small office where I wasn't disturbing anyone. However, a friend who'd been down the road before me warned me that some weird stuff might happen that probably had it's displaced roots in jealousy. She was right! Awareness of the dynamics is a big part of the response, so I pass this insight along.

  2. I never brought my son to work with me. I've never wanted him to feel as if he 'competes' with work for my attention and I was afraid that's how he would feel when I needed to focus on work stuff, rather than him. I also didn't want to figure out what to do with Jason when/if I received an emergency call.

    We hired a loving babysitter who cared for him in our home. She was two years older than me and her last child had just left home for college. (She was a very young mom and I was a rather old one.) She needed someone to care for and my son needed her. She was a blessing to our family and I've never doubted that God brought us together.

    On Sunday mornings, I had an equally loving couple in my congregation who delighted in snuggling my newborn, infant and toddler son during worship! They changed diapers when needed, cuddled Jason as he fed him from a bottle, and chased after him when he'd crawl under pews.

    For other church-related events, such as Tureen Dinners (Potluck, Covered Dish, whatever they're called where you are), I'd care for him myself.

  3. I'm reading all the advice with great interest -- I am 5 months into my first call and 6.5 months pregnant. That has been an interesting challenge all around, but my congregation has been great and supportive. It is a half time, solo pastor call in a family size church, so I feel pretty comfortable bringing the baby to the church during the week, when I am working in the office (which I expect to do 1-2 days per week).

    Here's a tangential question: in my area, there is an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) and it has been strongly emphasized to me through my OB care that all the adults in our household AND those who may have occasional contact (grandparents, etc) should get a pertussis vaccine booster before the baby arrives. I am not sure if I need to be concerned about caretakers at church or about contact with the congregation, or if that's a public health issue I should even mention.

    Any thoughts you have would be great!

  4. Susie/NuevacantoraMarch 31, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    My experience is limited as my daughter is not-quite-2, but I'll echo the comments about bringing her until she could get around! I work part-time in a program sized parish, and having her with me was great when she was tiny. A grandma in the parish even brought me a spare pack & play for me office that her grandkids had outgrown! I was pleased at how supportive people were in general. I was less pleased when my daughter pulled a bunch of files out of my drawer while I was typing an email. She goes to a great day care for the days I'm at the office now :)

    I'm hoping that someday, when she's a little older, she'll be able to play/color/whatever while I do work, but toddler-hood doesn't seem to be the best time for that.

  5. Thanks to all for the ideas. Please add more if they arise!

    So far the congregation is very supportive and delighted to see my daughter, but I am aware that some hard feelings might arise, either from displaced jealousy (as mentioned; "how come she can bring her baby to work when I can't?") or the perception that I can't focus when the baby is around. Which is somewhat true, although I find I can get a lot done in a short amount of time during naptime, for example.

    She'll be in daycare three days a week starting in May, so that may take care of the problem.

    To Jen L. - I would be pretty cautious about taking the baby to public places, including church, if there is a pertussis outbreak in your area. (Normally I am not a very helicopter-y parent, just so you know.) Maybe you can encourage congregation members to get vaccinated if they'd like to hang out with the baby for any length of can always use the doctor's advice as an excuse.

  6. I'm pretty sure the reason I was a late vocation was because God knew I couldn't do children and ordained ministry at the same time. My hat is off to every single one of you who manage this balancing and do it wonderfully!

  7. I should clarify: the jealousy (at a very subconscious level) was over competition for my affections. All sorts of odd dynamics come out in congregations, and this is one that's definitely possible when the pastor has a new baby.

  8. I brought my son to work 3 out of 4 days a week when he was 8 weeks old. One day a week, he went to an in-home care location and I scheduled pastoral care on that day. Sermons got written (then) when they got written. At four months old, he went to care 2 days a week and with me two days a week. Six months old coincided with Holy Week and we moved to in-home care during the week. On Sundays, he is either with Daddy or with his "church grandma" and/or the nursery attendant (older woman, vetted for paid position).

    In general, people were very understanding about him coming with me. This is a full-time, solo position with a part time admin. I can't say I've solved the balance issues, but I think it was good to have him nearby for those early months. People did drop by to see him, under the guise of seeing me. I did take him to visit people who were homebound, but in good health.

    This was around the H1N1 flu time, so I was a little edgy about people holding him. I think you can, as others mentioned, say the doctor has cautioned you against having him held by a lot of people during the outbreak. I also found that wearing the baby (in a carrier) meant your hands were free and he was occupied enough that people couldn't really take him.

  9. All of these comments are very helpful and the original advice from the Matriarchs was wonderful, too!

    I read this with interest as I am about to have Baby #3 in the fall, the first baby to be born at my new call. I think I will be in a fairly interesting situation because I think the others at church want me to bring the baby more than *I* want to bring the baby! There has already been a comment: "Ooh, maybe it's good you didn't get that reading chair for your office because now you can put the bassinet there!" Ha!

    That doesn't necessarily add to the conversation, but is a good place for me to let this little comment slip and feel like I'm in good company!

    Blessings to all the other pastor mommies out there!

  10. Great comments so far! Something to keep in mind is how ready the congregation may be to embrace your baby.

    I had my first child while I was serving a small congregation of mostly elderly members. They were so delighted to have a baby in the church! I took her with me on home visits (where appropriate) and used her as a visual Easter sermon illustration. They ate her up!

    This doesn't mean I didn't have plenty of balancing challenges. But don't assume your congregation will resent your divided attention. They may celebrate every bit with you!


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