How does one distinguish between two separate motherhoods when both are twenty-four hour a day jobs? My toddler son, Hill, knows me as Mama, while my parish (despite my resistance) knows me as Mother. These two vocations fight constantly for my attention, causing me to feel that I am short-changing them both. And so, in order to distinguish them, I try to keep them as disconnected as possible. I do not bring work home with me. Sermons are finished before the weekend arrives. Except in times of emergency, pastoral visits are made within office hours. I am only open to pursuing associate minister positions so as to keep my personal time personal.
What is more difficult though is keeping Hill separated from church. While I was pregnant, he was in church a lot. I was one of those pregnant women whose bump arrived early so folks in the parish knew I was pregnant before I was ready to tell them. As my stomach grew, so did the church’s love for this first-born child whom they referred to as “ours.” As I preached on Christmas Eve six weeks before my due date, women scattered throughout church pews dabbed tears from their eyes. Certainly, it wasn’t because of my Christmas message but instead because they all waited expectantly for their child’s arrival, and the imagery evoked from a pregnant priest preaching about Mary’s birth story was too much for them to handle.
Once Hill was born, the need to keep him detached from my work heightened. Even though Hill was at work with me four days a week until he was six months old, I still tried to separate him from my job. And with good reason. I discovered parishioners multiple times on Sunday mornings hovering over him in the nursery, kissing him on the mouth and stirring him from his sleep. He truly was not my child, but instead all of ours. Though they meant well, the urge to protect him from this overzealous congregation continued to grow as he did. All the while, I was determined to fulfill my priestly obligations despite my complete sleep depravation, nursing and pumping schedule and the much loathed mommy brain. I wanted to protect him, while also wanting to prove that women could fulfill both callings simultaneously. Though, I am still unsure who it was exactly that I was trying to prove something.
Now that I am entering round two of motherhood, pregnant with our second child, my feelings have changed. While, the need to keep Hill separated from work is still present, I now know that my attention cannot be fully differentiated. Nearly two years after his birth, I now know that I am physically, emotionally and spiritually unable to fully answer both of these callings of motherhood. Furthermore, I no longer have the desire to even try.
This time around I am ready to commit to my Mama role, while downgrading my role as Mother. I am ready to spend more days finger-painting and chasing squirrels outside than writing sermons and visiting with other people’s children in hospitals. I still feel called to ordained ministry and feel so blessed to be a priest in God’s Church, however I want to take a step back before I begin resenting my ministry because of the time in takes away from my family. My hope is that part-time work will resolve this tension by allowing me to spend the majority of my week at home nurturing and lifting up my own children, while still allowing me to enter into those holy moments of the priesthood.
Does this make me a sell-out? In the eyes of other young clergy I have spoken to, evidently it does. As one of the three under forty female priests in my diocese I know that I represent something bigger than myself. However, I am exhausted of trying to be both a full-time priest and a full-time parent. So after two years of mamhood under my belt, or cincture if you will, I do not mind what other clergy are saying. I no longer have anything to prove.