Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rev. Mom

I'm wondering how long it will take the mainline church to have a paradigm shift regarding its pastors. Even after 50 years (in my denomination anyway) of women being pastors, we still don't seem to know what to do with pastors who are also mothers. Now, that may be due to the fact that most of the first women pastors were older, second career pastors. Children were grown and gone for the most part.
But now, now there are young women both single and married in parishes, and lots of us are moms. Well, you might say, lots of the males were/are dads, what's the difference? Uh, just go back under your rock now, please.
The differences are several, in fact. Traditionally, dads, pastors or not, are not the primary care givers. That is changing more and more, but not until the last 10-15 years or so even. That meant that, traditionally, pastor dads could expect to leave the kids with mom and go to evening meetings, take week long trips to conferences, do evening visits, and even drop everything for an emergency because more often than not, mom is not working! Though it is rare, my spouse does travel for work, if I were to have a middle of the night emergency call while he was out of town, I'd be in a pickle. But churches don't really think about that, they just want you there when they are in crisis.
Which also brings up the two-income family matter. This applies to moms or dads being pastor, actually, and may be the heart of the matter one way or the other. Churches are not used to having their pastor say, "I can't make that women's group meeting, I can't get a babysitter." My experience is that the paradigm of the at-home partner (read: "pastor's wife") is well and truly entrenched in the parishioners minds and the idea that the pastor can't just leave the kids at home with the spouse is completely alien--still!
I actually had a confrontation with a parishioner once when I tried to explain that finding a babysitter was not always an affordable option. She snapped back that she knew what I made, implying that it should not be a problem. Well, it is. Do I have a decent income? yes. In fact, so does my spouse. However, we still have grad school debt, debt from medical bills, a mortgage, car payments, bills, bills and more bills, and the normal costs associated with raising two beautiful little girls. The woman is, of course, of the generation where women were always at home with the children while daddy worked. I did not inform her of our financial situation, but I gently reminded her that with both my husband and I working full time, our situation was not the same as the one she experienced as a mother.
It's interesting how the paradigm of "pastor" just won't go away. I've been stretching the boundaries though, since I've been in this congregation. I restrict my office hours to the hours my oldest is in school (9-3). I do the rest of my work on my laptop while she does homework. I encourage people to call ahead and set a time to come by, not just drop in (though now that we have an admin, it's not such a problem. At least the door isn't locked.) If I absolutely have to, my daughter comes with me to the office armed with videos and puzzles, etc., and hangs out in the church library.
I know several of my colleagues who deal with this. One of my closest friends is going through a separation--her spouse is also clergy. They have a son a little younger than my older girl. I know that singlehood will make childcare even harder--I wish we lived closer. Will her church be more understanding? Will they resent the demands of parenting that take away from her time at church? I will be interested to see, and pray for the best outcome.
At the end of all this, I have to say that most of the members of my church have actually been as helpful as they can be, offering to watch the children when I was in a bind or whatever else was needed for the situation. But one last observation is that it has been very generational, with the most elderly seeming to be the least forgiving of motherhood vs. occupational demands. My theories as to why, I will save for another post...

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