by Jennifer Hackbarth
As I write this, I’m missing my daughter’s gymnastics practice. She left the house before I did this morning with a chipper goodbye, her chest puffing proudly in her sparkly bright red leotard as she gave me a noisy kiss from my husband’s arms. This morning, he’s the one sitting on the gym sidelines and he’s the one who will listen to tales of bar flips and cartwheels on the way home. I’m sitting in a coffee shop and working on this article as I prepare for a full day at church.
For me, motherhood is entwined with guilt. Other than a short and precious time right after our son was born, now eight years ago, I’ve always worked full time outside the home. My heart has been wrenched by tearful daycare drop offs (mostly my tears). I’ve berated myself when I’ve had to turn around and pick up a sick child from school–why hadn’t I noticed his flushed face or her lack of appetite at breakfast? I still deny that their first steps or words or smiles happened at daycare. Of course they each waited to share these milestones with me at home–right?
My son now has my husband’s old cell phone. He likes to call me in the afternoons to hear my voice and ask when I’ll be home. His sweet concern and halting phone conversations make me want to pack up my office, lock the door behind me and turn in my key for good.
Yet I don’t, because I love my job. It’s a lifeline for me. It’s one of the places I’m living out my God-given gifts. There are times when I don’t enjoy working and dream of other options, but most days I’m happy to be in front of my laptop, greeting people in my office, preaching sermons, leading worship and figuring out the delightfully complex world of the congregation I serve. There are afternoons when I take some extra quiet minutes in my office, not quite ready to face an evening of supper-making, tooth-brushing, homework-cajoling and bedtime-persuading. But I’m always ready for the welcome home hugs at the door and for bedtime tuck-ins, with my daughter snuggling her warm little body into my side and my son’s eyes never leaving his book as I hug him so his fuzzy head fits under my chin and say, “I love you.”
A family that sacrifices together. . .
It’s excruciating for me to write the following sentence: My family makes sacrifices for my work. I’ve assumed parenthood is a one-sided sacrifice: We care for our children; we provide for their needs; we make sure they’re growing well; we monitor their development. But isn’t mutuality inherent in a family, regardless of whether parents work at home or outside of the home? Can we let our kids care for us too, at times putting our needs above theirs? While I cringe to think about it, I feel a deep sense of freedom and gratitude knowing that my kids want what’s best for me and that we’re encouraging one another to dream and grow and live out our individual gifts.
Lutheranism is paradox: sinner and saint, vulnerability and power, God everywhere and God in me. Being a working mom isn’t either/or. I hope and dream it’s both/and. I’m a parent and a pastor. I look forward to welcome-home hugs and dread the evening race to bedtime. I love to watch my kids flourish in extracurricular activities and hate the constant driving to and from practices. I enjoy lazy days at home and busy days at work. Some days I like school drop-offs and some days I like school pick-ups. I encourage my kids’ growth and they support my dreams. My vocation as pastor hinders my vocation as parent; my vocation as pastor enhances my vocation as parent. It’s good to be a stay-at-home parent and it’s good to be a working outside the home parent. Yes.
I wonder if I can go even further and believe, hope and dream in a God who not only tolerates but blesses my work and my life and the choices I’ve made, just as God blesses parents who choose to be at home with their children.
Parental guilt has its place and can be an effective warning signal, yet it can also be an incredibly stifling burden. It’s life-giving to feel that I’m living out my vocations, that the words of Ephesians 4 are for me: “The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
God also calls me outside of myself, beyond my choices, my church, my home, my life. That means recognizing how fortunate I am to have the choice to work at a job I love that supports my family and remembering the parents and caregivers everywhere who don’t have this choice–those who must work at low-paying jobs without access to good child care; those who are without supportive co-parents; those who work to pay mounting medical bills; those who struggle to find housing. I’m to advocate for options for all families, including good-paying jobs, affordable and high-quality child care, flexible work schedules and family leave. How will we as a denomination create change for all families? How are we striving together to create a world of both/ands, where families of every configuration and way of life are supported, encouraged and loved?
1. When are you hardest on yourself? In what area of your life do you feel the most insecure? How may God be blessing you in this area?
2. How is guilt holding you back from embracing your life in all its fullness?
3. What concrete steps can you make this week to support families?
God of blessing, you desire fullness of life for all of us. Give us confidence to embrace our individual gifts and use them to bless our families and the world. Amen.
Jennifer Hackbarth is solo pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. She enjoys cooking, reading, travel and spending time with her husband and two kids, now ages 5 and 9. You may find her other reflections on faith and daily life at www.narratinggrace.wordpress.com.
Photos by Elizabeth McBride and Pixbay.com. Used with permission.