Riding my bike from my daughter’s day care, I keep thinking about how to deal with our longing for each other. It’s intertwined with my feeling of guilt. I still can’t fully accept that I feel so much better working full time than part time.
I know that she is very happy at the day care. She loves her friends there; she’s having fun and learning things that I never could teach her. But still. When I leave on Sunday mornings, she asks me, “Why do you work today? Why do you work when I’m off?” The only answer I can give is: “Because I’m a priest, darling. That’s how priests work.” Sometimes she clings to me and asks me not to leave. That’s when I leave my bleeding heart on the floor, loosen her little fingers as gently as possible, and cry all the way to work.
I know I’m privileged. I live in a country where day care is subsidized; we only pay about $110 a month. I got to spend much time with my daughter Sofia when she was really young. I was on maternity leave (with 80% of my salary) for five months full time and three months half time. My husband then stayed at home on paternity leave (with the same benefits) for another seven months. I know this is unique. I know I shouldn’t complain. But I can’t stop my heart from bleeding. I can’t make my four-year-old daughter understand that this is the way it is and will be. I can’t understand why I’m actually happier working than being at home all the time with my beloved child.
So, there it is. My husband would disagree, but sometimes I secretly suspect that I’m a better priest than mother. Guilt is my constant companion. I wonder how all the clergy men of old managed. Didn’t they lament never seeing their children (and they had so many!)? Didn’t their children cling to them when they left? Did they ever feel guilty?
In the Church of Sweden, we have two female bishops (out of thirteen). The one that was elected last, the bishop of Lund (who used to be a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago), has a family– a husband and two daughters. I was so relieved when she was elected. The previous female bishops had neither spouse nor children. I know I should not be such a prejudiced person, but it’s nice to know that now, finally, I have a bishop who knows all about feeling guilty when leaving on a Sunday, who knows how motherhood and priesthood clash and how they enrich each other. Truth be told, I would never, could never, exchange the one for the other. Being a mother, constantly longing for my child, gives me an understanding for God. Feeling constantly guilty reminds me that I’m constantly lacking, as mother, as human, as Christian. Only God can make me whole.
Sofia puts her arms around my neck and whispers in my ear: “Mom, you’re my very best friend.” I hug her tightly. “And you’re mine,” I answer her. Silently I thank God for this magnificent gift. Surely this isn’t coincidence. Surely God knew, and knows, who I am and what I could bring to both motherhood and church. Surely this is how it’s meant to be.
Sofia falls asleep in my arms. I lean back. For a little while, time stops. There is only now. I smell her hair, feel her soft, strong little body against mine. One moment among many, one more memory to cherish. Maybe this is what it feels like to be made whole.