Hearing Two Calls: Priest as Stay-at-home-mom

Many of my seminary classmates have had babies in the six years since we graduated and were ordained, but as far as I know, I’m the only one who’s chosen to stay home full-time.

My husband and I met in seminary, and once we became serious about each other, we began imagining our clergy-couple family life. If we were able to have children, we decided I would stay home with them for the first three years—this is what we both wanted. I worked for a year and a half as a parish priest and college chaplain before our son was born, followed two and a half years later by our daughter. I’ve been staying home for four and a half years now. I love the simplicity of our lives—no crazy morning rush to get everyone to daycare or get ready for a sitter, no juggling church schedules and childcare on Sundays, holidays, or for evening meetings. I love that our whole family is together at church on Sunday morning. I love that I am our children’s primary caregiver—seeing all their milestones and changes and being the main person shaping them. In my more peaceful moments, I remember that this is a season of my life, and like all seasons, it will change, so I try to savor the shape of my life right now.

But sometimes I don’t feel so peaceful, and the stay-at-home life makes me cranky, to say the least. Sometimes I worry that my brain, or at least the part responsible for writing sermons, is turning to mush. I miss the stimulation of creative work. I miss grown-up conversation, and I miss bringing home a paycheck. I get exhausted and bored refereeing sibling squabbles all day. I need to live into my vocation, not just as a mother but as a priest. This particularly hits me at every clergy retreat and diocesan council. When I answer the question, “Now where are you serving again?” with my standard answer about mostly being home, but doing freelance clergy things here and there, I start to feel a little less-than. I always get a sympathetic look and much encouragement for the wonderful choice I’ve made, but I still worry that I’m not doing all I could be to live into my call.

For the first year of each child’s life, I was truly at home full-time—no outside work at all. But after each turned one, I started doing supply work (monthly at most) and took other opportunities that came along like writing book reviews and leading workshops and quiet days. I have found that doing something every couple of months makes a big difference in my happiness. This summer I have more work lined up than I’ve had since I was working full-time. I’m leading two weekend retreats, filling in at other churches on five Sundays, and working for a week as a camp chaplain. I am excited about this summer experiment of working regularly, writing a sermon most weeks, and feeling like a priest again, and I hope it will answer some questions: Are the sacrifices and disruption to our lives worth the vocational fulfillment of regular work? Will I be so much happier that I want to do more sooner than we’d planned? Or will I feel so strung out and frazzled, feel that I’m not doing anything very well, and decide to put off steady clergy work for at least one more year? My daughter turns two at the end of June, and our plan is that I continue my patchwork ministry for another year or so before looking for a regular position somewhere, preferably part-time. I’m wondering whether my summer experience will challenge or confirm those plans.

The years when our children are very young are so infuriating, so maddening, so exhausting, and so blessedly wonderful and fleeting. I don’t think I could have gone back to work any sooner, and I am incredibly grateful to be home with my son and daughter, even if it’s been a strange and stressful few years. The life of a clergy mom—whatever shape it takes—is a privilege, and some days I can’t believe that both dreams (to be a mother and to be a priest) came true. My cup runneth over, and I could use some help mopping up the mess!

7 replies
  1. Amy says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I am a Senior in Seminary now and trying to start a family. I can’t imagine juggling a church and young children. I too feel like I am in the minority. There doesn’t seem like much support for people like us. I have a scholarship that I have to pay back if I do not go into full time ministry right away. Which is a really tough decision. Go into ministry right away so I don’t have to pay it back or pay it back and do what feels right.

  2. Beverly says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on a topic that is so dear to my heart. Though I never thought I would see myself writing this, because it seemed too good to be true, I am currently at home full-time with our children. Do I love it? Yes! Am I accomplishing my “goals”? Um, well, I hardly ever get meals to the table “on time,” and fail all the time at speaking the kind words my heart wants me to say. Yesterday at church, all I wanted was a few moments to myself during fellowship hour so I could visit like a grown-up and experience the extrovert’s high of connecting with people. Hours later, at my in-laws’, I heard but did not see a woman on television (I believe she was an athlete) say that, once she became a mother, everything changed and she put her son first in everything. I can relate to a point, but I am newly attuned (as a SAHM) to the fact that I want to and must attend to my own heart’s desires and my husband’s needs so that our family’s members can get along with one another and have a mission in the world. Being home (mostly) for the last three and a half years with kids ages 7.5 and 18 mos has been a joy and a whole lot of work. Wow.

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m a VTS grad who has chosen to be at home, too. I just gave birth to my third five weeks ago. As I snap and unsnap my nursing bra, I vacillate from wondering when the next feeding will be and how the Taize worship services at our parish could be better attended. Yes, one vocation as priest and one as mother, but really one as priest/mother. Best to you in your ministries to your family and your church and your diocese!

  4. Beth says:

    I was at home for two years with my children after bringing them both to work as babies, but nearly the whole time I did “patchwork” pastor work as you call it (love the name). I never felt quite “right” about not being involved at all, and although I could have just been home I was always looking for something to do. I took an interim on a VERY part-time basis, and it was wonderful, so I began looking for a call. I then took a half-time call for a year, and that turned into a full-time call where I currently am. My children are now 4 and 7 and will both be in school next year.
    I guess I would say that it’s always messy. My husband is clergy also, and is home with the kiddos this summer (because of a 25% pay cut). That helps. But mostly we cobble things together and I will say that I am MUCH happier as someone who does both at this point…I grieved ministry when I wasn’t doing it but I know I would have grieved their baby-hoods if I wouldn’t have been around as much then too. The thing I’ve learned is that kids are indeed super resilient, and if you’re not conflicted (or, mostly not), your kids won’t be either.
    And what a blessing to have the freedom to decide! Peace be with you.

  5. Joanna says:

    Blessings to you, Karin, as you discern God’s particular call for this stage in your life. Like MaryAnn, I find that my 60% pastoral call allows me to maintain the balance I need between my roles of pastor and mother. Thank you for sharing honestly of your struggles.

  6. MaryAnn says:

    Great article.
    I hope that a part-time opportunity opens up for you when the time is right and when/if you still feel called to it. I speak from experience with three kids and a two-thirds call that it’s great when it works. There are days when I think I’d like to keep this schedule forever… though it’s foolhardy to make predictions in this line of work!

  7. Sarah KG says:

    This is a great article, Karen. You capture the joys and tensions of being a SAHM so well. I have wondered what it would feel like to have this call to ministry that isn’t (perhaps) being fully expressed,and how to figure out when and how to express it. Thanks for articulating it so well!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *