My 11-year-old daughter hung a sign in the window of my church office this weekend: "Don't mess with me, I'm a mother of two."
I love that in her mind mothering makes me tough and a force to be reckoned with, because there are days when being a mother makes me more vulnerable as I struggle to balance an emotionally and spiritually demanding job with the emotional and spiritual demands of motherhood. However, she is right in many ways. Motherhood has given me a greater sensitivity to the struggles of others, particularly women. It has strengthened my sense of boundaries and taught me that I need to prioritize self-care (a lesson I am still learning!). I know intimately that we are each created with unique propensities, inherent challenges, and individual possibilities because I have given birth to two very different people. But the challenge of blending motherhood and pastoring is not going to be easy.
I have been living 500 miles away from my family for the past two months as I have begun my new job in Oregon while my daughters finish their school year in California. I miss them terribly, although the distance between us has allowed me to dive into my new job, work long hours getting to know the church, and make the professional adjustment before the full force of moving a family begins.
When I arrived in April, I discovered that a strategic visioning weekend for the leadership of the church was scheduled for the same day that I had promised my daughter that I would fly down to California and run a 5K with her. She had been training and anticipating it for three months. I was conflicted. The work that would be done in this weekend was crucial in dreaming for the next three to five years of the church's life. After discussion with church leadership and with their unanimous support, I decided to go to the race.
This decision marked a change in the way I balance family and work life. Over the past decade, as I was discovering my sense of call, pursuing seminary, and trying to gain experience, I said yes to just about everything that came my way. If I was offered an opportunity to teach or preach or go to a conference or meet with someone for spiritual direction, I said yes. I often shifted my schedule and my family's schedule to make it work. I needed the experience, I was thrilled to be asked, and I wanted to make as many connections as possible. I spent most of my days with my daughters, so if I needed to miss some time with them or an event at school in order to work, it felt like a reasonable tradeoff.
Now, the majority of my days are filled with pastoring. I could easily work twelve or more hours seven days a week. I have realized that my attitude toward work must shift. Instead of trying to grab as many chances to work, I have to grab as many opportunities as I can to connect with my daughters. Whether it is responding to a text message, intentionally listening when they are talking, or making a conscious shift to set aside church from my mind in order to be present, the challenge of balancing ministry and family has shifted.
In talking with other moms who are reentering the work force after several years of being mostly at home, I am hearing the same challenge. Staying at home with kids is a wonderful and rewarding privilege, but it can also tax one's self esteem. As others advance in their careers and fill their days with meetings and places where their voice is desired and heard, stay at home moms often begin to wonder if anyone will ever ask their opinion on something non-home related again. Five years ago, I would have been elated to meet or brainstorm with so many people or to dream or cry or laugh or organize with them; I did in one month what I do in one day as a pastor. Now, the challenge is to realize that yes, I am needed and wanted by all of these people, which is a great gift, but my family also needs me and I have to set boundaries around my work in order to be there for them.
I don't think this need is unique to those making the transition from stay-at-home parent to working professional. It is felt by many. The truth is most of us love to be needed, wanted, and consulted—pastors as much as (if not more than) anyone else. My challenge is to be thankful for the gift of doing work I love while at the same time remembering that my work does not give me my core identity or worth. Two girls who need their mom to be their mom remind me. They help me to stop and slow down, put pastoring in perspective, and find my identity in God alone.
And they help me to remember that I am a mother of two, which provides a unique strength in itself.