Taking Your Baby to Work

I am a pastor and am also a mother of two delightful girls.  Most days I can make those two professions work together pretty well, some days - not so much.  My main coping mechanisms are coffee and humor.  My main ally in this endeavor is my husband of 10 years.  We are fairly relaxed parents. You know the type: We are the ones whose toddler eats right off the floor, while not wearing any socks.  We are the ones whose six-year-old is wearing a pink paisley shirt, with a turquoise butterfly pattern skirt, pink polka dot socks and fancy fake high heels (‘high’ shoes is what we call them around here), despite the Wisconsin winter temperatures dipping into the low double digits.

This relaxed attitude about parenting has made my balancing act of life a little easier.  I think this attitude started when my first born began attending school with me.  I was a full-time student three and a half years into a four year M.Div. program when Meg was born (just in time to be baby Jesus in the Festival of Lessons and Carols). I took two weeks off completely and then finished the semester taking my exams and writing papers.  Since I couldn’t imagine taking the whole next semester off, when February rolled around and classes started, I popped Meg into a sling and off we went.  She slept and nursed and got passed around a lot.  I often left her in one person’s arms and returned later to find she was ten sets of arms down the row. 

There were things I had to let go of to make this school/parenting thing work, things like hovering over my newborn, housekeeping, New Testament (I did get around to taking it eventually), perfectly word smithed sentences, and many hours of sleep, but I would not trade it for anything.  Meg became everybody’s baby, and my husband and I loved it.  We really felt like we had one huge extended family helping us raise our daughter.

Fast forward four years.  Three months into my new job as the Associate Executive Presbyter of a small presbytery in Wisconsin, we found out we were expecting.  The pregnancy was not entirely unplanned, but came a little sooner than anticipated.  Once you are working, in any profession, and you become pregnant, the number one question is, “What are you going to do when the baby is born?”  Wise from having done this once before, I told virtually no one until I had a plan.

The plan turned out to be a combination of time off (I work in a presbytery that has a parental leave policy of a minimum of eight weeks paid leave for both men and women), easing back into the job by going part-time the first month back, and by bringing my little one to work.  Yep, that’s right. I moved a bassinet, a basket of toys, a bag full of supplies, and my relaxed parenting methods into my office, which doubled as a nursery.

I came back to work at the end of August, just in time to gear up for the program year.  If you had come to visit me those first months you likely would have found me having phone conversations while pacing in my office with Ella slung over my shoulder. Or you might have found me madly typing e-mail while nursing.  If Ella was fussy and I was in a meeting, my boss was likely to appear at the door to take her for a walk.  The folks in my office were more than gracious and incredibly accommodating and were pretty forthright about saying, “It is a baby. People have babies, and the world keeps going.”  I know not every work environment is so easily able to adapt to having a newborn around.  And we had our moments.

My first day back at work to staff a five hour meeting, I was running a fever of 102 and battling mastitis.  There were the inevitable awkward moments of meeting someone in the hallway while transporting a diaper in need of an appropriate receptacle.  Occasionally, I completely misread a situation.  One that sticks out in my mind is an impromptu meeting in my office with a male colleague about ten years older than I.  Ella, who had been sleeping, started to fuss.  Without thinking twice, I scooped her up and started nursing only to realize a minute or two later that I had made my guest very uncomfortable.  I don’t remember what I said to him, but he responded that he was trying very hard to be a man of the twenty first century and get over it.  I tossed a blanket over Ella, and we kept talking but it reminded me that babies at work are not the norm.  Overall, my ‘congregations’ (I have forty of them!) loved that there was a baby in our midst.  I was especially moved by women who were well into their eight and ninth decades sidling up to me to whisper words of approval and encouragement (and of course to tickle Ella’s toes).

Ella quickly became the Presbytery’s baby.  She, like Meg before her, has been to more meetings than most adults, has been passed from one end of a sanctuary to the other and back and feels right at home strutting around my office now when she comes to visit. I took my child to work with me for six months (until she was nearly eight months old) and the world didn’t stop spinning, the work mostly got done, and I worried a whole lot less about her than I would of if she’d been at home with Dad or Grandma or a babysitter.  Yes, I don’t type quite as quickly with a nursing baby but, in my experience, breast pumps really don’t allow for much mobility at all. It is awfully difficult to tuck a motorized double breast pump under a blanket and keep have a conversation with someone.   

Babies do a funny thing in public settings.  They lighten the mood, they make people laugh, they make otherwise very serious people say very silly things and more often then not they provide the perfect opportunity for someone to tell you a story about their own children.  I’ve learned to listen carefully, sharing laughter and a surprising number of tears.  As any pastor will tell you, the relationships you create are the most important work you’ll ever do. In the end, having my little one with me allowed me to bond with her in a unique way, and it also allowed me bond with those whom I serve.   

TIPS

  • Mothering.com has wonderful advice on this subject and they practice what they preach!
  • Make sure to load up supplies at your office.  It is stressful to have to run out for diapers ten minutes before a big meeting.
  • Negotiate the big stuff with your boss/personnel committee before the baby comes (like how much time you will be off and that you’ll be returning with a baby in tow), but let the little stuff go until the baby is born (like what hours you’ll work everyday or how you will transition to childcare eventually).
  • Be flexible:  You may need to change your schedule or work from home in the mornings or, you may end up with a colicky baby which might not work at the office.

Comments

I had a very very similar experience with both my girls. Will be taking a similar approach with our third!

Excellent article. I'm glad to hear your staff was supportive.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanks for your article! I am hopeful as I hear of more and more moms who are able to make situations like yours work. I feel blessed that I was also able to keep my babies with me when I was in seminary and in my first position. At staff meetings in a previous church, a friend on the staff always begged to hold my baby. She'd hang onto him for the entire meeting and said he made her calmer and more contented. What a great way to enter a staff meeting! I also love Mothering!

We need to get the word out that this is one of the possible positives of going into ministry...it is a career path where you CAN do this sort of thing. That's a big part of why I decided to go into ministry!

Thanks for reminding folks that this can work!

(And, can you talk to my presbytery--we get 6 weeks paid. 8 would be great!)

I think the idea of easing out of a maternity leave is a good one. Thanks for a great article!

So nice to hear that others have had good experiences with their little ones in tow! Erica, I'd be happy to talk to you presbytery!!! YCW moms unite!

Sarah M-N - this is Sarah from S3/CTS and I say "YAHOO" to you for the article and sharing your experiences. I also LOVE knowing I've been one of those pairs of arms holding Ella and part of your circle of friends. While I didn't take my youngsters to work (my oldest has his 24th bday today) I did bring them for part days when school was not in session, or we were fitting in doctor visits (I know - a sick child at work is not good but I shut the door and kept them inside and met with others outside my office if needed). Speaking up and negotiating for what is helpful doesn't guarantee "getting everything you ask for" but it goes a LONG way toward moving in that direction.
My best to all!
SFE

I'm finally finding this site and I'm so glad that you had a good experience taking your baby to work. I also took both my children to work with me, each for their first year or so.

I did want to point out that it is really important to have an agreement in writing with your congregation, spelling out that you are bringing your child to work for a specified length of time. Even if your congregation is the most welcoming and wonderful, the realities of a baby intrude on them and into their time and space with you, and it's good to be able to refer back to something if you are ever officially challenged on the baby's presence (I was, by the way).

I hate to bring a sour note into your wonderful and realistic article (love the part about email while nursing--definitely hear ya on that!) but I also want other mamas-to-be to protect themselves and be informed.

I was incredibly lucky - because of a (really quite bad) mistake, I was able to bring my son to the office with me for more than 2 months (from the end of my long maternity leave, until he was about 6 months old.)

That seemed cryptic. What I mean is: our church's official policy would prohibit routinely having a baby in the office. Because my loving and soft-hearted (now former) supervisor couldn't bring himself to tell me that during my pregnancy, the senior pastor had compassion for me and allowed me months to make another plan.

Mistake or not, I cannot imagine a better situation. While I see the reasoning behind the policy - I wouldn't want to be trying to work and watch a toddler, for example - having him with me as an infant was wonderful.

So I add my voice to the previous commenters - should you be in this position - plan ahead, figure out your church's policy (you may be the one who creates it) and COMMUNICATE with your congregation and leadership.

Thank you. This was very helpful and hopeful. I am not yet a mother, but hope to be in the next two years. I am wondering if anyone has an experience of being pregant and a mother when in a clergy couple. Both my husband and I are assistants at two different churches. Our schedules conflict a great deal. My congregation is incredible, and I know they would be supportive, but there is only so much they can do. Has anyone had this expereince?

I am a mom, full time clergy, married to a full time clergy who serves another church. I would echo Sandra's comments about scheduling - it can be a challenge, especially with a little one thrown into the mix. I was about 15 weeks pregnant when I started with my current congregation, and Megan (our daughter) has really been adopted by them as their baby. When she was little, I went from having a 'my door is always open' policy to having to shut my door when I was nursing or pumping. I took 17 weeks off (with paid top up), and transitioned on both ends of that. In some ways, it was easier when she was a baby. Now, as a 2 year old, she is into everything, and busy as ever. Most of the time, she will stay in the nursery during church, but it's after church when people need to chat that it is hard to be both minister and mommy. I feel distracted sometimes, but I am trying to learn not to apologize that I have to run after my child. As much as people in the congregation will keep an eye on her, she is still my responsibility as a parent. So, my spouse and I are trying to split Sundays (she now goes with him at least once a month) to give me a chance to just be minister. Hopefully some of this helps!

I too am 1/2 of a clergy couple. My hubbie and I share the pastorate at a single church and also share caring for our 3 yr old daughter. It can be challenging and difficult, but I think that's true about parenting in gerneral. I was in seminary when our daughter was born and she became the seminary baby. She stayed with the bursar while I was in class or occationally in the president's office. She was even baptised at the seminary. The church we are currently serving has been great about allowing her to be with us when needed, and volunteering to keep her if we both have to be in a meeting, such as session. We are now expecting number two and I'm hoping to nail down the maternity leave thing at this months session meeting. With my last position I was allowed 6 weeks, one of which was taken the week before she was born. I took her to the office with me from 5 weeks to 12 weeks, then she went to the MDO downstairs. We have no MDO here, and no child care centers that take kids part time before they are a year old, so this child will be in the office a lot more. We'll see how it goes!

I am a pastor and my husband is a seminary professor. I am writing this from my office with my 6 month old daughter in a front pack sleeping in my lap. With my now 3 year old son, I was lucky enough to bring him to work with me until he was 16 months old and could go into the seminary's daycare. It was easy in the beginning, and progressively more difficult as he got older and more mobile. He would race around the office with a walker and we'd have meetings in a closed room with toys all around us, and clean up would take nearly as long as the meetings! I wouldn't have traded it for anything, though. And I learned to adapt a strange schedule - alone in the quiet of the church building Sunday afternoons working while he was home with Daddy, some weekdays from home.
Now, with my daughter, I plan to try the same thing, in a different congregation.
I have found that the people who are disturbed about it tend to be the ones who do not work with you on a daily basis, and are more bothered by the idea of it. Coworkers have loved having the kids around - even if it means my leaving a meeting to change a poopy diaper- and have dearly missed the kids when they are gone. I have also found that in my current aging congregation, people roll with it well because 16 months in the big picture is nothing.
For me, my vocations as mom and pastor are tangled inextricably - and my identity and work as one is greatly enhanced by the other. It is challenging, no doubt about it, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

Sarah --great article! I am enjoying living into this role as mother and pastor. My husband and I are also relaxed parents. Noah sits at my feet while I preach and lead communion where I do part-time ministry and pulpit supply. The small congregation here in Hawaii is very used to children running around. It is truly the best profession to bring your child to work. I type my sermons at night while Noah sleeps. My husband helps a great deal with Noah. Noah has even come with me to deliever home communion. Sometimes he sits on my hip in the sling while I preach. I know not every church is as open to this. I so appreciate the words and wisdom of other clergy couples/moms.

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