6 Ways Your Church Can Help Mothers Drowning in Stress

This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org and is reposted here with permission.

As I type, I am huddled underneath an umbrella to stay out of the sun at a Southern California Kidspace Museum. My husband is traveling on the East Coast, my kids are on spring break, I have limited childcare, and I’ve been doing this pastoring thing with kids in tow. Weeks like this take a lot of creativity.

The last two days, I’ve navigated staff and worship planning meetings in the PazNaz conference room while my boys were locked in my office with loads of veggie straws, seaweed strips, drinks and devices. My kids could be heard throughout the administrative wing of the hallway roaring with Godzilla sounds, giggles and brotherly wrestling. They were instructed to not leave my office unless there was blood or broken bones. When I started to hear the pouncing, I wondered. But we survived.

As I sat down at the museum, weighing on my shoulders were the emails that seem to ding every five seconds, the pastoral phone calls to make, the sermons to write, the content to produce, my son’s ninth birthday party to plan, organizing my boys’ childcare for the week, planning the perfect spring break for them, and Oh, crud, I forgot their sun block.

When I came to PazNaz, one of the potential disqualifications for me entering into this role was that “she’s a young mom with little kids, how can she possibly be the senior pastor of such a historic church?” Those comments were always frustrating to me, especially since the pastor before me had a child who was the same age as my oldest when we began.

But man, this is hard.

DROWNING IN STRESS

In an article in Psychology Today, new research from Caitlyn Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, suggests that mothers are drowning in stress. And in particular, U.S. moms have it the worst.

“Across the countries where I conducted interviews, one desire remained constant among mothers. Women wanted to feel as though they were able to combine paid employment and child rearing in a way that seemed equitable and didn’t disadvantage them at home or work … American mothers stood out in their experience of crushing guilt and work-family conflict.

“U.S. moms are caught between conflicting cultural schema—that of worker devotion and devotion to children … The cultural ideal of motherhood is an all-absorbing devotion to her children and the source of her life’s meaning, creativity, and fulfillment … Fathers can’t help much because they are thought to lack the right nurturing skills.”

The article goes on to highlight the “impossible and incompatible” ideals of work and home. Collins continues:

“I want American moms to stop blaming themselves. I want American mothers to stop thinking that somehow their conflict is their own fault, and that if they tried a little harder, got a new schedule, woke up a little earlier every morning, using the right planner or the right app, that they could somehow figure out the key to managing their stress. That’s just not the case.”

This article struck a chord for me, especially during a particularly difficult week of being a pastor-mom. As I read about the expectations layered on women and the unattainable stress it then causes, I wondered…

What should be the voice of the church in this conversation?

6 WAYS THE CHURCH CAN WITNESS TO A BETTER WAY FOR WORKING MOMS

As a pastor, I am a “prisoner of hope” when it comes to the belief that the church can always be the voice of proclaiming a better way and offering a more robust imagination for how things can be. If American mothers are drowning in stress, what can we do? What should our posture be?

Here are six ways the church can help:

1. Recognize That Being a Stay-at-Home Mama Is a Privileged Job.

Traditionally, the church in North America has been one of the leading voices for the notion that moms should stay home with children. When women work, it is often met with shame and judgement. I have a lot of stay-at-home mom friends, and there have been seasons where Jeff and I have seriously prayed about whether or not I should do that. But the fact that Jeff and I were even able to pray about it was a privileged thing to do. It doesn’t mean that staying home with children isn’t insanely hard. It means not every family in America can survive on one income. Many, if not most, work outside of the home to keep food on the table and pay the bills, and many also work multiple jobs outside of the home.

2. Recognize That It Takes a Church to Raise a Child.

When I was pastoring in Chicago, in seminary, and raising tiny tots at home, I had so much guilt every time I left my children with someone else. It was around that time that I read the story about Jesus’ parents losing Jesus as recorded in Luke 2:41–52.

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. When he was 12 years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

Notice the emboldened text. Jesus’ parents were unaware that they had left Jesus behind. They assumed he was in their company and they kept on traveling for a day.

Jesus wasn’t even with them for a day, and they had no idea!

When Jeff and I lost our youngest son in Disneyland, we were panicked within 30 seconds of him going out of our sight, but it took Jesus’ parents an entire day.

Why?

Because they assumed the family of God had them—meaning, they recognized that it was the people of God’s responsibility to help care for the little ones in their midst.

Nowadays, we tend to put the sole responsibility of child-rearing on one person: the mother. What if the church stepped in and recognized that it takes all of us? What if we began to have a more robust imagination for what it looked like to not just be in a child’s life on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week? What if mothers felt supported as working mamas through childcare, encouragement, cheerleading, and carrying the load?

The truth is, many working mamas carry the weight of doing it all. I think it’s time the church declares a better way.

3. Resist the Cultural Narrative That Says Men Aren’t Nurturing.

Sometimes I am the more nurturing one in our family, and sometimes my husband is the more nurturing one. Sometimes I’m the one to snuggle and kiss, and sometimes my husband is the one to snuggle and kiss. This is something I talk about a lot in Emboldened.

We have a whole lot of cultural constructs when it comes to gender, and I also recognize that there are biological and other dynamics at work. But to believe that women are nurturing and men are not is not only tragic, but it sells the fathers in our midst short. I recall many late nights where my husband was the one hushing the baby to sleep while I was the one with zero success.

Church, the fathers in our midst are nurturing, loving, compassionate, and capable to carry the load with their wives.

4. Resist Saying, “Who Is Babysitting the Kids?” Every Time You See a Mom Without the Kids.

One evening I showed up to an evening dinner held by one of our church’s ministries. I came to do what I love doing, pastor. As I worked the room table-to-table, many asked where my children were that night, and one person said, “Is your husband home babysitting the kids?” Later that night I asked my husband if anyone ever asks him that question when he is working, and he laughed and said, “Never. Not even once.”

5. Embrace the Chaos and Messiness.

I don’t always have the perfect Pinterest birthday party, my boys are sometimes pretty disheveled looking when they roll into church on Sunday mornings, sometimes I have to leave meetings abruptly to pick up a sick kid from school, often times I can’t do those 7 a.m. breakfast meetings because I’m getting my kids out the door for school, and sometimes I have to shove my kids in an office while I lead a staff meeting.

Perhaps if the expectations on working moms need to be lowered, let it begin with the church. Don’t shame a mama when things aren’t what you would expect, and if you see a mama drowning in the weight of it all, jump in and find ways to support her.

6. Proclaim and Live a Better Way.

The Bride of Christ is to be a living alternative in a decaying and hopeless world where mounding pressures continue to be heaped upon working mamas. Perhaps this is a moment for us, dear church. Perhaps this is an opportunity to get creative and find ways to shift the narrative.

What if not just Christian women discovered that they weren’t drowning in stress because the church was … the church.

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