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!