Last week I wrote about my experience as a Christian Lady Leader that has chosen not to have kids. And I have to say, I was really bowled over by the encouraging and thoughtful responses. So many women wrote in with vulnerable, honest, and encouraging responses. It was a great moment of online community.
This week I wanted to look at the experience of Christian Lady Leaders with kids who have chosen to stay in ministry. I asked some of my potent Lady Leaders friends to share the ups and down of staying in ministry as a mom. I’ll let them speak for themselves. I’ve included their reflections below. All these women are in their 30s to 40s and work for Christian non-profits.
Lady Leader 1
When I was pregnant with #1, my supervisor told me to consider working less than 30 hours a week because our joint fundraising was not that great. It now strikes me that no one had that conversation with my husband or with us together. I also had a conversation just this week where someone in positional power over me said that they assumed I was just a mom who wanted to stay involved, instead of someone who wanted to lead, grow, or develop. On the positive side, having supervisors who are women and have kids has been the best thing for me the two times in my career it happened. There was less need to explain or defend myself, and their wisdom was appreciated. I also like hearing from Dads on staff about their personal lives with their kids and the ways they carve out time to be involved. It gives me more freedom to feel like we are all in the same stage of life and trying to do our best with ministry and family calls.
Lady Leader 2
When I’m on vacation camping with a tent from Survival Cooking, people will ask, “Who’s taking care of your kids?” I think they are doing it to be nice, but to be honest, I don’t think the guys get the same question. It kind of puts the women leaders in a bind. You feel like you have to say that you have a fantastic childcare arrangement, otherwise you’ll get judged. You don’t want to say “I couldn’t figure something out, so I paid my school extra money to watch them…”
A lot of women drop out of leadership because they just get overwhelmed. I think mentors know a lot of the heart questions for leaders:
What is your calling?
What’s your gifting?
How’s your soul?
Choose faith instead of fear
But not a lot of mentors know the questions of the heart of a leader/mom:
How do my two callings as a mom and a leader intersect, compete, add to each other?
Are they compatible?
Which is my higher calling?
How will I know if I’m messing up one or the other?
Will I make a choice I will later regret?
Will my kids be ok if I make this choice?
I made a point to travel with each of my kids the first year of their life.
If the meeting wouldn’t accommodate my kid, I didn’t go. I was trying to be prophetic in some circles. For example, one group said “We want more women and younger people involved,” so I brought my infant to the meeting. I wanted to communicate, “If you want more of us, this is what we look
like.” I got crazy reactions from the men of a certain generation! “Is that a BABY in there?” they would ask. My daughter would be asleep in an ergo, buttoned over my “work clothes”.
Lady Leader 3
No one gave a thought to childcare at chapter camp because the wives usually came up to watch the kids. But since I don’t have a wife, let alone a stay-at-home-mom wife, I raised questions about cost, exceptions for primary child-care providing spouses, family housing, etc. The same went for staff meetings and conferences. I have had to ask to be excused from leadership meetings because they run during my kids’ spring and winter breaks, and ministry does not trump time with family. Rarely do I hear of men making those same choices. There are a few, but by and large, it’s the women.
I’m not shut down on purpose, but there are so many informal times of networking after hours. How do you do that if you have children at the meetings? Childcare is only for the “official” sessions, but we all know so much happens over dessert or wine.
How have I been encouraged? I have been blessed by a few incredible male supervisors who didn’t have a clue and were humble enough to ask for help. I had some key female friends who have been there for me when it takes every fiber in my being not to scream at the men and non-parents in the room. And I have an incredibly supportive husband and flexible children who want me to keep on keeping on.
What Caught My Attention
These are just some of the thoughts that my friends shared. But they reflect a lot of common themes. This quote also stood out.
“People say no for you to various opportunities because they assume you are in over your head
and can’t handle it. I might be in over my head, but I would like to say no for my own self.”
I realized that coworkers, supervisors, and congregants make a lot of assumption and decision for Lady Leaders with kids. And these actions may go against the articulated position on women in leadership. I know that I am guilty of assuming that moms are not as interested in developmental opportunities. It’s only as close friends have navigated this journey that I see how much Lady Leaders long to be seen and taken seriously, in the midst of the chaos of young kids.
I realize that supervisors have a lot of power to set culture for good and bad.
- Supervisors assume that moms don’t want to be developed anymore.
- Supervisors assume that it’s the woman that will decrease her hours.
- Supervisors say they want mom’s there but don’t provide child care.
On the other side supervisor cans be advocates, be proactive about childcare, and continue to develop and invest in Lady Leader moms. I’ve seen examples of this in my organization.
I also realize that we still have very traditional views of parenting. When a man in ministry has children, nobody asks him any questions about childcare when he travels. In fact, there are very few expectations on him as a parent. The role of pastor’s wife assumes that along with a full time minister comes a stay at home wife that will carry the burden of childcare. (This deserves its own post.) We still assume a dad is “babysitting” when he takes care of his kids
In reading these reflections I hear women with great passion for both leadership and their families. But who often feel isolated and different as they try to navigate the ministry world as moms. None of them questioned their ability to be both a mom and leader, but encountered lots of people who assumed they couldn’t do both.
I would love to hear from more of you Lady Leaders with kids. What do you wish people knew about your experience? What advice do you have for those of us that are working with you?
And final word- let me praise the Lady Leader Moms that led me in my earlier years. I had no idea what you were juggling and what a prophetic and complicated choice you were making. Much respect you and your pioneering ways.