Thursday, November 4, 2010

Feminism, motherhood, and ministry

I used to think that as a woman, I could do anything.  I was as smart as, or smarter than any man.  I was strong.  I was equal.  I could be an ordained minister if I wanted, which I eventually decided I didn’t want.  I could run a summer camp, a children’s fitness franchise, or the world.   I could excel in anything I so chose and in everything I did.  I figured I’d get married, have kids, and maybe bring about world peace in my spare time.  I was, of course, a feminist (which I clearly had no idea what that meant or the ramifications of such thinking).  I thought women were strong.  I thought women deserved equality and I would fight for and embody that equality.  I could hang out with the good ol’ boys, hold my own and be respected. And then I became a mother.

When I married my husband, just one week after his ordination,  I joyfully moved with him to where his first call in a congregation was located.  I found a job.  I embraced the move, the challenge, and the opportunity to support my husband in his call to ministry and begin our marriage.  I knew that he, too, would support me in my call to ministry when it caused us to move elsewhere someday.  We were partners.  I wasn’t out for my own success and personal fulfillment in the way I had been prior to marriage.  Some days, I struggled with my call to outdoor ministry and my inability to be in that, but I took advantage of the opportunities before me and tried to support my husband in his ministry.

And then I became a mother.  In motherhood, I turned over my life, power, and my entire being to my children.  I finished my degree knowing that someday, I would finally put it to use.  I embraced being a full-time mother, doing everything I could to meet my child’s needs, embracing attachment parenting philosophy.   I birthed, nursed, and cared for my children with the constant support of my amazing husband.  I began to identify as a woman still equal to men, but also uniquely gifted and uniquely called.  I drew strength from my ability to give birth, provide the ultimate nourishment to my children from birth, and to make and keep a home for my family.  I am not the same as a man.  As a woman, I have a unique ability to nourish my children and family, and I felt a responsibility to use that.  I began to identify with and value the role of Susie Homemaker if you will.  My husband and I have made significant sacrifices so that I could stay home with our boys.  We have gotten creative in order to survive on one income.  I barter  volunteer-hours with my son’s preschool and with our chiropractor in order for reductions of fees.  I spend time couponing and cooking from scratch.  I am what my twitter handle suggests, a hippypastorwife.

Now, I find myself torn between two worlds, motherhood/homemaking and professional ministry.  My children are still small, at 1 ½ years and 3 ½ years.   I volunteer my time and gifts in youth and outdoor ministries as well as natural parenting groups.  My husband, bless his heart, manages to work his schedule around assisting with the kids so I can serve, even if it means going back to the office at 8:30pm and not coming home until 11:30pm on a night when he has no meetings.  We are ships passing in the day or night, depending on the week.

 I have come to an understanding that I cannot do anything I want.  I cannot be anything I choose.  I cannot go anywhere to conquer the world the way I once imagined.  I cannot be a supportive pastor’s wife, an attached and loving mother, an outdoor ministry professional, and a healthy and balanced human being.  I feel a great resentment towards the fact that, growing up, I was led  to believe that I could do it all.  I feel angry that I was raised to believe that as a woman I could be a super-mom, a supercareer-woman, a super-wife, and a super-me.  I cannot be superwoman.  I cannot do it all.  It all suffers as a result of the very idea that I want to do it all.

Disclaimer: This is about me.  Right here, right now.  I’m sure some of you can do It all.  Good for you.  I can’t.  I know kids grow up, needs change, and opportunities arise.  I’m talking right here, right now, because right here, right now matters. We all sacrifice things for our children and our families.  I think what we teach young girls these days is that no, you can do it all, and not sacrifice anything!  That’s just not true.

So here I sit trapped between a call to ministry that has burned in my heart for more than 13 years, a call to motherhood that I never knew would consume me in the way it does, and a call to be a faithful wife to a pastor who pours his heart into congregational ministry.

Disclaimer 2nd edition: I know motherhood IS ministry.   I know what I do is important.  If I didn’t, I’d not spend so much time figuring out how to make sure I’m doing it the best to my ability.  I know my kids will grow up, but that doesn’t change my passions, my needs, and my call at this time.

What about you?  Are you a mother?  A father?  A single feminist?  How do you find balance?  What were you taught about who you could and could not be and do you find it to be true?


  1. I love this post. Thank you for your honesty! I have struggled with a different part of the promise to young girls: all relatively good people can get married and have a family if they want to. I'm not bitter, but I learned to reinvent myself once I realized that that wasn't going to just happen. Poof. Done. As a single woman, I don't fit the molds, and our Lutheran subculture doesn't know what to do with me. So I move to New York City and become something else, with one foot still in my tradition while the other is finding a new path that also has meaning.

    I know marriage and family still may be in my future, but not in the way I imagined. Like you, I am talking about the here and now. Life unfolds in surprising ways, and people like us learn to embrace our reality without losing sight of our call.

  2. The idea of a "call" is so static. Permanent. And while many of them are, some aren't.

    A woman we both love was called to be a nurse for an outdoor ministry we also both love. That changed when she was "called" to care for her grandchildren so that her children might be able to make ends meet. As my son gets ready to go into kindergarten next year, her next call is awaiting....

    I too feel the pull of not being able to be everything. But you know what? My kids are not going to remember the fuzzballs of dog hair under the sofa - they will remember the dog. They won't remember the dusting of flour by my kitchen's baseboards, but they will remember baking bread with me. The socks might be stained, we might eat soup 3 days a week for dinner and we might have to wear an extra sweatshirt to bed, but we have clothes, food and a roof over our head - so what if I can't be mom and breadwinner and teacher and office manager and bookkeeper all at once.

    I wish I could do it all. But I have stopped resenting that I can't because my daughter is coming to an age where she feels that vibe from me.

    I pray you find a way to strike a middle balance for yourself <3

  3. @Dawn - YES! Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your ability to shake expectations and find meaning in new ways. I am seriously considering (at Chris's prodding) in investing in some of your coaching in the next few months! Mostly, I just need an excuse to chat with you more :)

    @Beth - Interesting. I've never thought of a call as *static* but I can see how the culture can lend itself that way. I admire your ability to prioritize as a working mother. I know it's stressful, and no one can do it all. I assure you even as I am not working, my house is nowhere near a point where I am worrying about under the couch or baseboards. I guess I just wonder what we're teaching our girls when we tell them they can have and do it all. That *freedom* comes with a pressure and an expectation that I'm not sure we're always aware of. The other part of it is that as a result of my husband's job and my own calling in ministry, things have to align pretty specifically for me to do be able to do the work I love while being a wife and mother. And I am struggling with the fact that for 7 years, I've been *waiting* for that to happen. A lot of amazing stuff has happened in that 7 years that I am so grateful for, but I also feel this constant ache for the ministry that I love and the gifts I want to use. I love being a mother. I love staying home, and I know that I could not have been the mother I've been thus far without staying home with them as a result of their and my needs. I am proud of how resourceful I've been in making me staying home happen on a young pastor's salary. And yet, now I want more. But, that doesn't work for our current place in the world, and it's not something easily changed for now. It's a game of waiting of which I am familiar... and sometimes I am good at that... and sometimes I am not.

  4. I always knew i wanted to be a mother. that i wanted to be home with them. that it was my calling. I also always knew i wanted to (someday when the kids are older) be a midwfie and help other women become mothers. But i sometimes wish i could whisk off and do the things that I can't do now. And somedays I wonder how i got to where i am now.

  5. to my favorite mama!
    I know that I am reading this so late (april! ha!)
    but...i once had a superintendent say to me "lauren, do you think you can do it all?" I told him simply..."i CAN do it all, I just can't do it all at once." I think it is all about finding the right time in your life to do what it is you are meant to do at that time. I can see my life as chapters, almost. I feel that with my career, the chapter is slowly coming to a close. A new chapter is waiting to be written because my heart is just not in my current career anymore. If we just take the time to follow and really, really listen to our hearts, not our heads, we will always be lead in the right direction and fullfilled!
    Just my 2 cents!


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