Sometimes other clergy ask for advice on how to balance being a pastor and a parent. So here, I’m going to give you 10 never-fail secrets to getting it all right at church and at home, keeping up your self-care and personal appearance, while having a smile on your face at all times.
Lol, people. L.O.L.
The truth is, there is no such list, and if anybody tells you they have one, they’re a lying *#%&^$#@!. When people ask how I do it, I answer, “sometimes, not very well.” And that’s the dang truth. I hope people find it empowering to hear me say that, because the dang truth is all I can offer.
But here’s something I do know about balancing the whole family/ministry thing, and it’s not so much prescriptive behavior as point of perspective: parent and pastor are not two separate roles. Neither is a thing you can punch on a time clock and be ‘done’ with for the day. Both are expressions of the whole self. Which means, yes, it does make for a truly dramatic balancing act. But it also means that balance is not about finding time to ‘do’ all the things. It’s more about finding ways to be.
When I am at church (or doing church-y things) I am building the sort of community that I want my children to be a part of. I’m nurturing the spiritual growth of people who will, in turn, nurture the faith of my children. And I’m helping shape the world into the kind of place I want my children to live in. (And the kind of place I want YOUR children to live in). Every seed that I plant at, near, or relative to the church will bear a fruit that my kids get to eat, one way or another. Just because I am physically apart from my kids certain hours of the day, doesn’t mean that I have stopped parenting.
And when I am with my kids, I am growing little disciples. I’m shaping values, nurturing a sense of place and self, and calling out the gifts that God gave them—gifts that will someday serve the church and world. Parenting is evangelism. Teaching the gospel life to your own kids is still teaching the gospel. Futhermore, when I take my kids to the park, dance class, the library, or when I’m at their school things… I’m connecting with other parents, families and neighbors in the vicinity of my church. Which is really about 75% of my job anyway. Just because I am not sitting at my desk in the office, doesn’t mean I am not ‘doing’ ministry.
Of course, this all sounds lovely, if I were doing all these things gracefully all the time. Again I say, LOL.
Because let me tell you how my Sunday went down. My daughter was clingy. She’d had a cold and I’d been out of town most of the week. Her dad was not at church (also because I’d been out of town all week and he needed a kid-free moment; and also because football). Our new Sunday morning schedule makes for a longer church day, which I had not entirely thought through when I brought both kids with me for both services. Which all added up to: right about the time worship started, when I needed my kids to go sit with somebody else, my 5-year-old was not.even.having it. And I, having Very Important Minister Things to do, got snappish with her. Which led to her sobbing that she just wanted to go home, and firmly attaching herself even more tightly to my leg.
She re-grouped enough to let me get up and do the stuff I had to do. And I re-prioritized enough to let her just sit in my lap and cling all she wanted to for the rest of the service. On the front row. Because PK meltdowns don’t get shuffled to the cry-room or the parking lot, like other people’s meltdowns. They always happen on the front row, one way or another.
Which is to say, I firmly believe that I am never being just a mom, or just a pastor. The two are beautifully and terribly linked. On the good days, one role nourishes the other, and both are good for me, my family, and the world in general. But when I screw up one (i.e., being harsh with my kid) it melts into the other (the scramble for the prayer notes; the tangling of the vestments; the guilt over hurting my kid’s feelings when she just wanted to sit with me…ugh). Because neither of my jobs amounts to a list of tasks. [Wait…then why do I have so many lists of tasks??] Both are things I have to be with my whole self, every day. Even when my whole self has to just sit down and let a little girl hang on for a minute.
So the truth is, some days it looks like that. A big old meltdown on the front row.
But, here’s what else I know: after worship, I was surrounded by people who did not care that the prayer was a scramble, or that there was a bit of a spectacle happening during the Very Important Worship Things. They cared only that we were clearly having a rough day. They only cared for the US in the center of that hot mess of mother-daughter drama. And THAT, right there, is how to do it all… You make sure you have all the right people in your corner, so that it’s never just about you, and it’s never just UP to you. Rally the right partner, the right friends, the right faith community, assemble the right village, and you just might make it.
We all know it is not just ministers who struggle to balance work and parenting. In fact, clergy sometimes get a little more grace and flexibility to go do the parent thing than, say, the CEO of a Very Important Company. Or the person working minimum wage just to try and feed their child. There’s the work of actually loving, which is mostly just about being; and then there’s the work that love requires us to do. Anyone who tries for both will struggle to make it all come out even. It is never easy. It is rarely pretty or exciting. And nobody does it right all the time.
I hope you hear that, out there, if you are struggling to be in many places at once. If you are fatigued from all that love demands of you, and feeling that there will never be enough coffee or boxed wine in the world to make it all come out ok. I hope you hear this reminder that nobody is holding a secret map. Nobody is nailing this thing every day.
Whatever it is that we ‘do,’ we are never just our roles and responsibilities. We are always and ever just a whole messy person. The only way to ‘do it all’ is to just show up and be. Let your whole life and whole self come into wherever you are. Trust that you’ve got the right people in your corner, and trust that you just being you is always, exactly, enough.