I love this photo. Exemplified in this photo is where my life as a mom and as a pastor intersect. This is the day that my daughter was baptized. I love how my son is looking up and probably wondering what is going on. My husband who is also a pastor had the joy of baptizing my son. So on this day, I had the unique pleasure of baptizing my daughter. There is something special as a pastor/mother to be able to say the words to your daughter as you pour water on her head, "You are special. You are created in God's image. God chose you and loves you before you are able to do anything to deserve it." I often look at this photo as a reminder of the blessings I have in being a pastor/mother, especially on those days when the blessings are not so obvious.
My kids mostly go to church with me every Sunday because my congregation is very kid-friendly. My church makes it possible for me to be both pastor and mother. Recently, I asked my son what he thought I did for a living. He said, "I don't know." I reminded him that I was a pastor. He replied, "I thought John (my head of staff) was the pastor." "What do you think I am doing every Sunday alongside John?" "I never thought about it. Just being mom, I guess."
Now without reading too much into this conversation, I can see why my son may have not made a distinction between me being a pastor and being a mom. In many ways, I have a hard time separating the two myself . . . in the sense that I don't have a luxury to just be a pastor and just be a mom, especially when my kids are with me. They often are going to church and meetings with me. They often see me hang out socially with other pastors. The church has become like a home to them. As much as I am blessed with a supportive environment, here are some of the lessons learned from the challenges I have faced being a pastor/mom:
Patience is the first lesson I had to learn. As a pastor/mother, I mostly remember my patience being tested when well-meaning congregants would generously share their unsolicited advice on how to raise my kids or how my kids should act at church. Once, a survey where worshippers were invited to evaluate worship was given and someone wrote that they would leave the church if my kids weren't put into the nursery during worship. That person did eventually leave. Which leads me to the second lesson I learned.
Grace is a lesson that I continue to learn over and over again. Being a pastor/mother means that I am not going to be at my 100% all the time; that I will drop the ball at times; I will disappoint you; and I will make mistakes. No one is harder on myself than I am when those moments happen. Last year, I missed my son's Kindergarten graduation because I had a work-related trip already planned. If I extended a little grace to myself, I could have saved myself from learning that baking and decorating cookies for two days does not relieve guilt, it only gives you carpal tunnel.
I think what helps me with having grace is learning to let go when things don't quite go a certain way or something unexpected happens. My favorite example of this is when my 2 year old daughter escaped the nursery while I was presiding over communion and managed to steal the communion bread. This time it was her who had to learn the art of letting go - literally.
Sense of Humor
Being able to let go becomes easier if one develops a sense of humor. Kids bring multiple opportunities to develop one if a person is lacking in such an area – big booger on the blouse (and no it wasn't mine) and a big chocolate stain on the butt from where my son slapped me after downing some chocolate cookies. Enough said.
Ask for Help
I'm bad at asking for help, but there is a lot of truth to the saying "it takes a village." And I'm blessed to have a wonderful faith community to be that village for my family and me, especially when I have to drag my kids to church even when they are sick and I need someone to look after them.
Grief & Loss
In seminary and chaplaincy training, I was taught how to sit in grief with others, provide appropriate pastoral care, and create a safe space for the grieving. What I wasn't taught was how to grieve a loss when I am the pastor of a congregation. In my second pregnancy, I miscarried the week after I had officially announced it to the congregation. I remember my Head of Staff telling me to take off all the time I needed to grieve, but all I kept thinking was "how long do I need? a week? a month? a year?" The ironic thing was that there was a baby boom that year: 2 babies had just been delivered, 3 were about to deliver, and 3 women were due around the same time as me. My initial concern was my ability to be a pastor when the mother in me was grieving. What I realized is that I didn't have anything to worry about. My congregation was incredibly gentle, grace-filled, and understanding. I was surprised by how many women shared their own stories of miscarriage, loss, and grief. As a mother, I was able to grieve at my own pace and as a pastor, I was able to empathize with those who experienced similar loss.
Lastly, knowing when to give my kids the freedom to explore, be curious, and be themselves is important. As a pastor, there are certain things that I'm intentional about exposing my kids too - opportunities to serve others, develop empathy and compassion, and sense of awareness of what is happening in the world. But I am ever cognizant that my children are double PK's, PK squared, or Pastor's Kids x 2. I often joke whether or not I should save up for a college fund or therapy fund, mainly because I recognize the amount of attention they get at church, unsaid expectations placed on them, and special treatment they may receive. As much as I want them to grow up to be compassionate, empathetic, and caring people, I also want them to have the freedom to discover, make mistakes, and wonder. That's what I hope for as a mother. And as a pastor, I will try to not use my kids to rate the Sunday School program or be guinea pigs to new ideas and activities I want to try.
So, to all the Pastor/Mothers out there, I commiserate with you. I am in awe of you. And I am blessed to be in such good company. It feels less lonely knowing you are there.
To all the congregations, thank you for your loving support. It means a lot to us when you see our role as a Pastor/Mother not as a liability, but as an asset.
To all the PK's, we are doing our best. We love you. And uh, sure you can have another chocolate chip cookie from the refreshments table.