As I went back to work this week I was reflecting on what I have learnt about balancing working in ministry and family over the past almost six years. So for the mums in ministry here are a few key things I have learnt.
1. Be 200% sure of your calling.
This is absolutely the most important item on my list! Don’t let your decision to continue or to start working in ministry with teenagers be influenced by anything other than your conviction of God’s calling on your life. Many people have opinions, both ways about how mothers should raise their children, particularly when they are not at school. Pressure comes from all directions, as will accusations about your parenting, but your strength comes from your knowledge that you are doing exactly what God wants you to be doing. If you are not 100% sure of that, you will find the going incredibly tough.
2. Sleep-deprived ministry is near impossible.
When you have very young children who aren’t sleeping through the night (i.e. less than 6 months old), take it easy. From my experience, continuing in ministry with a baby who sleeps through the night from 12 weeks is easy, but with a baby that doesn’t sleep through till 12 months is near impossible and a perfect recipe for burnout. So make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, or take a break for a while so you can get your child sleeping first!
3. Make childcare decisions early in the piece.
With my three kids I found that I could work in ministry with them around me until about 6-8 months old. As soon as they found their feet it became very difficult to have meetings without them tearing the office apart and making work much more stressful. From there, it was a question of childcare options. I don’t have family who can make a regular childcare commitment, and I wouldn’t ask them to, so I have decided to use a beautiful local little centre. Many mums I know have gone back to work in ministry with young babies, never with the intention of using childcare, and when their child becomes mobile end up resigning because they always wanted to be the sole influence in their child’s life. Thats a great decision, if it suits you, but make it early, so that the fallout on the ministry is minimal.
4. Let kids be kids.
Unfortunately even pastors kids can have some shocking days, or weeks, or… A 2-year-old will throw a tantrum; a 4-year-old will want to play ball in church; and a 5-year-old will burst into tears (or maybe that’s just my three). But that’s got to be okay. Discipline them, of course, but don’t make them live up to expectations of perfect pastors kids at church. Your kids will not be perfect, even though its your work, and even though some people might expect them to be. Thats okay. Kids aren’t perfect, and neither are adults. Don’t react any differently in ministry settings, or your kids will learn that they get a better reaction from mum and dad for behaving in that way at church and that will just escalate things. Let your kids be frayed kids, guided by frayed parents—after all, we’re just frayed pastors.
5. Do what energises you!
One of the key things that has kept me going is the fact that I love what I do. It energises me. Some people have told my to work less, and “stay home and enjoy a night off,” but don’t realise that what I do a couple of days a week in ministry energises me, inspires me, and gets me fired up for the week ahead! Too much time at home and I get bored, then I get depressed, then I get grumpy (hence why my husband loves to see me working!). Whatever you are doing, it has to be something that energises you, and what that will be is different for everyone, but the principle is the same. Being a mum at home is energising for some people, and thats fantastic—praise God that he’s given some of us those gifts—but for me, I’m energised by getting my hands dirty in pioneering new ideas, especially in youth ministry. If I’m not thinking of new things for ministry, then I start rearranging our house, taking up new hobbies, renovating and trying to fulfil those interests in other ways—not always helpful to the rest of the family!
6. Keep time with God sacred.
One of the hardest things about being a mum with multiple young kids is finding a regular time each day to spend building your relationship with God. I would start a morning routine, only to be broken by a child deciding to be an early riser, then a night time routine, only to be broken by a teething child who needed attention. It’s hard work to keep a regular time with babies and young kids, but it gets easier. Now that mine are a little older we’ve institute a rule of “up time” at 6:00 am and not before, so I get up before that to have my quiet time uninterrupted. It’s impossible to give out to your ministry all day, and your kids all evening, without being energised by the Spirit first. Being a mum in ministry, especially of kids who are not in school yet, is a hard gig, and exhausting at times, but in the power of the Spirit, infinitely possible.
7. Know when you’ve hit your limits.
At some point you’ll get to your limits and you know when to call it quits, or take some personal time, or just simply go for a walk. Whether it’s a day at home with a sick, screaming child, or a hard slog of a week in ministry, know when to take a break. Whether that’s time off, or just scaling back for a time, life has its ebbs and flows and you need to go with them. There will be times when your limits will be further and times when they will be closer. Go with the flow of it, and don’t feel guilty for looking after yourself. My limits were hit when I was working 24 hours a week as a youth pastor, had two kids under 3, was hoping for a 3rd child, and needed to lift my study load to complete my degree or I was going to run out of time. I took a year off ministry and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Working in ministry with 3 kids under 5 years would have been a recipe for burn out.
8. You need an amazing husband!
My decision to work in ministry while having young kids was a decision my husband and I made together—actually he strongly encouraged me to go back to work. Without his support, physically around the house, but also emotionally and spiritually, I think it would be hard work. Many people will talk to your husband when they disagree with your decision to work, and it’s great to know that he’s behind you 100%, supporting you in everything you do!
So they are my reflections. Hope they are helpful.