With stay-at-home orders in effect and daycare and school buildings closed, many parents are discovering new levels of stress related to working while parenting.
Clergy parents have been living this reality for a long time, specifically clergy mothers. In few other fields is the involvement of our families in our work lives an expectation, gift and burden as it is in the office of pastor. During normal times the congregation yearns to see my children participating in the life of the church, while their presence adds layers to the effort and level of attention I must negotiate while leading. Clergy parents make choices about the family-work balance for the good of all each week, during times when little childcare is available. The responsibilities for childcare in all its facets are still borne disproportionately by mothers, so clergy mothers especially have a perspective many need to hear about working with your family around. Here are 4 insights for pandemic working-while-parenting from my pastor-mom life:
Letting others see into our private lives is part of our work right now. No matter what industry you are in, being a human being who both accepts and offers compassion is part of your job right now. Everyone’s brain is a little foggy as we go through the collective trauma of this pandemic, and we are all distracted and struggling with divided attention. It goes against the grain of competition and putting one’s best foot forward, but empathy is what we all need most in this moment. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable, showing others a window into your private life, and you might be surprised at what relational capital it yields.
The need for a support network is real, yet we cannot build it on our own. Comments from those who are not sheltering with children yet pine for their presence remind me of the warm smiles of grandmotherly types seeing my children at their Sunday best and commenting wistfully how it warms their hearts. The reality is that parenting without a break is very hard work, but those who are distanced from it cannot see it on their own. “Build a support network” cannot become another overwhelming task on our long to-do lists, during a pandemic or in ordinary times. Those without children, inside and outside the church, must put “support families with children” on their own to-do lists, instead of assuming that the burden is on the harried working parents to reach out. They are not accustomed to this, so we might have to prepare them. Give yourself permission to courageously commission others:
“This is on your list: Check on me. Think creatively about how to make it possible for me to both do my job and retain my presence of mind. Or we may not make it through this intact. Thank you.”
The emotional labor may be the hardest part. When one is responsible for balancing family and work in the same physical space, compartmentalization is very difficult. Working parents feel guilt and resentment over trespassing boundaries and are constantly pulled in many directions at once. Become compassionately aware of how much energy you spend on hiding your emotions, and give yourself lots of breaks. Hiding our emotions can make them more explosive than before, so it is better to find ways to express them before they reach that point. Your honesty will give others permission to be honest and to address conflicts directly and in a timely manner. As Jesus put it (in Mt 5:37), “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’” He added no caveats for passive aggressiveness or sarcastic tones.
Our return to in-person work has to consider the most vulnerable. As clergy mothers ponder what a return to in-person worship might look like, some of us are wondering about who will care for our children while we are working. Will they come with us, knowing that children can be silent carriers of the virus? If our pre-pandemic childcare included “grandmas” in the congregation sitting with our kids, who will now be able to be in close proximity with them, knowing how well children remember social distancing rules? Other small businesses must consider similar dynamics, due to a return to work without school in session. We can name each other’s struggles and brainstorm together.
Nobody said that tending our family where we work messily intertwined would be easy, but it is possible with lots of grace for ourselves and others. Clergy mothers are living proof.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio