Mama v. Mother

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.

11 replies
  1. Jen
    Jen says:

    I left ministry to stay home with my son for 18 months after he was born, and it gave me a chance to miss it and return to it with renewed energy. All of us as mothers and clergy have to make whatever decisions feel right for us, and if taking a part-time call is best for you, that’s wonderful–I’m glad you have that option. There’s no such thing as a sell-out.

  2. Beth
    Beth says:

    I think that’s a super awesome place to be…..with nothing to prove in either calling! It’s always a work in progress (I have an eight year old and a five year old, and have been ordained almost 10 years), and I am constantly assessing how things are working for everyone. I’ve also worked part-time, not at all, and full-time (as well as Sunday only!), and none of them were perfect! I did experience, like the above poster, that having some time off from full time ministry did make me very excited to come back. That being said, I am 2 years into a full time call, and demands are coming fast and furious from both sides.
    One thing I have tried to keep telling myself is that a congregation can be horrible or wonderful, but my relationship with my children is forever. I also have a colleague (I’m an associate) who is super supportive of my time with my kids because he saw his time with his son go by fast.

  3. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    When my second so was born I went back to work part time instead of full time and I have loved it. With my husband also a priest the schedules we had to keep were crazy and we didn’t want our kids. To suffer because of it. My kids will only be young once and they need a mommy who can be present to them. I hope it is as rewarding for you as it has been for me.

  4. Stephanie Anthony
    Stephanie Anthony says:

    Ahhh…The Mommy Wars meet the church, or more specifically, the ordained leadership of the church. Ridiculous. I am sorry you have felt the pressure of your peers in what is your own process of discernment. Why can’t we just get that every one of us has a different way of living out our varied calls? Some balance it all with part-time ministry. Some balance it all bringing kids to the church. Some balance it all by working “odd” hours. Some balance it all with day care (Horrors!! Oh wait, that’s how I do it.) To imply that another is doing it wrong or selling out is a complete disregard of that other’s ability and willingness to work out with God how and where we are called. All this is to say, there’s no one way to do it. The goal should not have to be to make other people (moms) happy, but to make God happy as we answer all the calls on our lives.
    Whew. I guess I feel a little strong about this one. I just don’t like it when we turn on each other instead of supporting each other in the choices we make in ministry and motherhood. Blessings on you, and I’m holding you in prayer, especially today as I see you are from Huntsville, AL. I hope all is well!!!
    (BTW – – I found solo ministry in a medium sized church way more accommodating of my now 3 kids than associate ministry in a larger church. The expectations on my time and willingness to work with my family’s schedule were more conducive to parenting and ministering at the same time. Not saying you’re wrong! Just what has been my experience so far. I truly believe it all depends on the local congregation and its culture.)

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Thanks for a great article! It is such a constant tug to try to find the balence. I have a 3 1/2 year old and while I technically am 3/4 time, it is a solo call and so very often it becomes a full time call. I do a lot of work from home and the lifesaver for our family is I get a Sunday off a month. However, as we think about growing our family, I am thinking seriously about taking some time off. I feel like too often I spend more time developing the faith of other people’s kids than my own. I know my bishop will think it is a waste of my gifts, but I think raising a great family is part of vocation as well. Blessings to you as you seek to find what works best for your family.

  6. Alex
    Alex says:

    Great piece! I found going from one child to two children to be the toughest transition. 2 to 3 wasn’t nearly as tricky.
    I agree with the comments about doing what is best for your family at the particular moment in time.

  7. Susie
    Susie says:

    Blessings to you as you keep discerning all these tugs and pulls (sometimes literally – I have an almost 2-yr-old too). I’m part-time, and have been since she was born, and generally that works out well. Sometimes, I feel the sell-out pressure – not from anyone else, just myself! Hopefully by the time we’re ready for a second child, I’ll be able to shrug that off as gracefully as you describe here.

  8. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Thank you for the article and comments. I am the Associate Minister of Families, Youth & Children and am expecting my first child in August. She already belongs to the church. She is not mine, but ours. I am quite nervous as to how I will feel going back to work after seven weeks off. My husband, also a full-time associate, is not exactly in favor of the whole “stay-at-home” thing, and honestly, we can’t really afford it. So, we shall see.

  9. Joy
    Joy says:

    Wow, how timely. I have been half time since prior to our son’s birth and with an upcoming move several states away I am planning on being home with our son–with the exception of doing some supply and continuing education (I informed my spouse that I wanted to be MORE employable in 5 or 6 years, not less!). We plan on more than one child and we want to be able to have me home for their babyhoods–however, we are also open to changing our minds later!
    It’s a hard one…this dual vocation. And, I haven’t found any clergy moms to model who have managed to healthily juggle the both/and of full time and mamahood. Thank you for posting about your own journey.

  10. Abby
    Abby says:

    Thank you to all who shared their journeys and solutions…or works in progress. It helps to know you supportive people are out there, even if we don’t know each other!

  11. Laura
    Laura says:

    Great reflection on the real challenges of balancing multiple vocations, especially the struggles we feel when they seem like they are competing callings. I think (and blog) about this subject a lot, so I love reading the range of perspectives here. One of the things that has helped me most is trying to knock the “balance” language out of my vocabulary – it’s an unattainable ideal that leaves us feeling stressed and pulled in too many directions. Once I came across Jack Fortin’s language of “the centered life” in which all our callings are centered in Christ, and the give and take we do between them is all focused on that primary calling, then I was able to free myself from some of the anxiety around always feeling like I was giving less than 100% to all of my vocations, all the time .


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