As of this month, my husband will no longer be bringing home the benjamins. Or rather, he’s bringing the ultimate Benjamin home: himself. Ben resigned his position as a case manager at a nonprofit organization so that he can once again spend a season as a stay-at-home father. His last day of work is my last day of maternity leave.
We’ve run this play before. When I was pregnant with our first daughter, we discussed our options in light of our values, finances, and commitments. The discernment process was a fairly easy one. We wanted a parent home, at least for a year. Childcare costs for a newborn are exorbitant, and besides, if one of us could stay home, why would we send our daughter off to daycare immediately? Once the decision was made that one of us would stay home, there was no question which one of us it would be. We lived in a parsonage at the time. If I left my pastoral call, we would have to move. And given that we were residents of Los Angeles County, there was no way we could stretch Ben’s social service income to cover our expenses if we had to factor rent into our household budget. Furthermore, Ben genuinely wanted to be a stay-at-home-father, a desire that never ceases to inspire admiration in the minds of those who presume men always defer the care of small children to the womenfolk.
Though I’m now serving in my second pastoral call, the story is similar as we welcome our second daughter into our family. Once again, our housing is linked to my vocation; in May, we purchased our first home by financing it through the church. The mortgage is contingent upon my continued employment.
I suppose if I had really wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, I might harbor disappointment about the tightly braided connection between my work and our home. But I love what I do, and find ministry to be an incredibly rewarding, flexible, and child-friendly vocation. I’ve luxuriated in my maternity leave, soaking up all twelve weeks of domesticity, but I’m ready to preach that World Communion Sunday sermon, begin leading our new Bible Study, and reacquaint myself with the halls of the local hospitals. I’m thrilled that my older daughter will once again be attending preschool just down the hall from my study at church, and that my husband will be able to bring the baby by for a feeding if I haven’t left enough pumped milk in the fridge.
Having Ben home means the pace of our life will be a little slower, even if it means that our pocketbooks will be a little thinner. It’s a tradeoff we happily accept. And truly, it’s a tradeoff that is only feasible on account of strategic planning by faithfully savvy church leaders. If the church I served in Southern California hadn’t had the foresight to buy a parsonage in the 1990s, they would have struggled to afford a pastor through the housing bubble years. If the church I serve now hadn’t invested the funds from the sale of their original parsonages to establish a mortgage endowment, we would have struggled to finance a home after that housing bubble popped. The same reason I can’t stay home – my stellar housing benefits – is the same reason Ben can stay home, and that’s a reality for which I’m both profoundly aware and profoundly grateful.