The Guilt Battle


So, I’ve been on hols.

Lots of thinking and writing time.

A small disaster of a locked iPad and losing a week of writing but I am over that (french wine definitely helped).

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing more about being a working mum, a clergy mum in fact, and how that works (or doesn’t as the case may be). So as I continue to ponder that here’s something I wrote recently for the fab Junia Project blog competition. I didn’t win but it expresses so much of what I’m feeling at the mo I thought I’d share it here anyway…

 

The Guilt Battle  

I’m a ‘CM’- aka ‘Clergy Mum’ and a fair-weather feminist. Fair-weather? Well, yes, because if I am completely honest I spend way too much time wondering what it would be like to spend my days as a ‘SAHM’ (Stay at Home Mum): in my mind I could be baking wonderful nourishing treats for my perfectly behaved offspring, to munch on the moment they waft through the door; I lust after perfectly plumped cushions and dust-free floors; and goodness, what would it be like to arrive for the school run with delightfully brushed hair and, heaven forbid, manicured nails?

This is my daydream. On the days when I screech up to school 10 minutes late with the Vicar on my mobile phone plotting the weeks events, as I shove my children into the car, waving furiously for them to be quiet so I sound at least vaguely professional, and responding to the cries of ‘we’re hungry, did you bring a snack?’ by frantically searching the glove box for a non-furry mint imperial or two. Thing about actual dreams is they are usually completely bonkers and full of our own anxieties…

As a ‘Clergy Mum’ my daily life swings from the unclimbable washing mountain, where the summit is never reached; to the hand holding of the dying, preparing for another’s perhaps unwanted, summit. Both are an absolute privilege and yet I never feel that I am succeeding at either, more like just about keeping the wheels on. The only time the cushions actually get plumped is when my kids are throwing them at each other. Guilt has been an unwelcome guest in my life for far too long because being an egalitarian in the church is tough, and sometimes I’m just tired of fighting my way through it – those are the times I think about booking that manicure at the spa.

And yet, I feel called to be a wife, a mother and a minister. I am the daughter of an ambitious, working mother. I have a wonderful husband who shares equally in the domesticity of our lives and the crowd control, err, I mean parenting, of our children, and, whose gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings are to die for. So what’s the guilt all about then?

Like many women (and men) age-old societal norms still lurk in our souls ready to jump out and whack us over the head when we are least expecting it; stereotypical ideals still scream at us from advertising and media (‘mansize tissues’ anyone?); and negative words once spoken within our earshot whisper themselves to us on a loop. As if fighting our way in ‘a man’s world’ wasn’t enough, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Those guilty, fear-filled thoughts call out to us enticing us to wallow in them:

‘Am I a bad mother?’

‘Will our kids turn out as delinquents because I haven’t made them home-made brownies?’

‘Will I be frowned upon for expressing that opinion in a room full of men?’

and, insert your own personal insecurity here

But instead of heading to the spa, as inviting as it may be, and the oh so fluffy towels… No, no. I shall not be tempted… Instead, I seek out spiritual support. In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7, Paul (he of ‘we love to hate him’ fame) notes:

‘Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’.

 

Not fear, But: Power. Love. A sound mind.

Three tools for us to use when the guilt and condemnation strike.

So, Power. Not of the power-tool variety sadly, though I feel sure there is an analogy in there somewhere, no, a spirit of power. God gives us great power in many ways, but for now, how about ‘choice’? Choice, so simple and yet such a gift. Choice gives us such power and authority and we must take hold of it and use it. As Paul Coelho once noted, the day will come when we may well be asked:

‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you?’

What am I doing with that gift of choice, when I am wishing I was immersed in a culinary masterpiece rather than heading out the door to yet another evening meeting? With one foot in the parenting camp and one firmly in the church, (which remains largely a man’s world) I feel continually called to challenge ingrained attitudes. I have power to influence those around me, to gently bring to mind the unrecognised lenses through which people view the world; to point out the comments that wound ‘unintentionally’; or the decisions that are formed with ‘inadvertent’ prejudice.

There is no guilt in God’s power.

 

And, Love. Love simply has to be the cornerstone of all we do. Paul says ‘without love I am just a clanging cymbal’, he even says love is worth more than understanding all mysteries and knowledge, which is a pretty big deal really. Sometimes all that is needed is to draw attention to something – people view things through their own upbringing and experience without knowing what they do. Of course there are the haters too, but why join them? Why be part of #TeamAngry?

Whenever I feel trodden upon, whenever another minister turns his back on me because of the lumps on my chest, whenever I am ignored, shouted down or belittled, whenever my own sisters in Christ accuse me of ‘letting the side down’, I choose to respond in love. Love is the best bomb disposal unit ever invented. Have you seen how quickly a loving word can deflate a puffed up angry chest?

There is no guilt in God’s love.

 

And finally, a sound mind. God gave me a sound mind. Really? A sound mind often seems far from me, when all around is blurring into one, when I start to preach the shopping list instead of my carefully crafted sermon – now in the clutches of my husband and his shopping trolley – then I need to remember the sound mind bit. But more than that, it’s so easy to let harmful words permeate our less than thick skin, you know that old playground rhyme ‘sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never break me’? What a lot of tosh, sometimes words are the most hurtful, the things that stick with us and taunt us when we need it least. Knowing that the Lord has given us a mind to use, a brain to compute with, and the thought processes to fight our way out of a guilt battle can be a huge comfort.

There is no guilt in a God-given sound mind.

 

So, when the kids are clamouring for supper and there’s just half a block of slightly old cheese and a squishy apple in the house; when the next evening meeting goes beyond 10pm debating the vitally important issue of church cobwebs; or when I realise the only conversation I’ve had with my husband in 3 weeks is one about clearing up cat sick, then I will stir up in myself:

‘God has given me a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind’

and I am going to darn well use it.

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Challenging clergy work-life balance


The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed via the medium of social media that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about working hours recently. It started off as part of my own journey to discover what was the right balance for us as a family as we get used to my new role. I am of course writing from the perspective of a ‘Clergy Mum’ but I am sure that much of this applies equally to single parents, those without children, men and indeed to those working in other areas.

We seem to live in a time where many professions have such a huge ‘work culture’, with people expected to work long hours, often under immense pressure, and seemingly with less and less understanding, or support for, family life.

Perhaps you could say that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. We want or need to work and then expect our employers to fit around our own life choices? There is an argument for that, indeed why should businesses potentially loose out when their employee is making life difficult for them or not doing what they have been asked? 

But I would argue two things – firstly, that if we want the best employees, or if we want to get the best out of people, there still needs to be far more flexibility than there is now, and a greater level of understanding.

Secondly, that there is evidence that shows those who work more than 55 hours a week are at far greater risk of medical conditions including stroke & heart disease. Not only that but after 50 hours productivity dips massively.

I wonder, is this current model of work actually doing more harm than good?

…o0O0oo…

So, what’s my point?

Well, since I was ordained I have come across (at many turns) the idea that clergy work 50-60 hours a week. It’s a figure bandied around with little question – apparently that’s just what needs to happen to get the job done. And yes I’ve only been ordained for 5 minutes so you’d be forgiven for telling me to get some more experience before I criticise. Perhaps so, but as I enter this new phase of life I am frankly not prepared to spend the next 3 or 4 years figuring out that 50-60 hours a week will wreck my family life and/or my health. I want to start as I mean to go on, with a healthy balance. The church is very good at talking about the sacrifice of being in ordained ministry and I’m not averse to that in some respects, but it also seems a cover-all excuse for anything that is expected of us.

So I did a little (very scientific, not) survey asking fellow clergy how many hours they worked each week, via social media. Two things stood out:

1) That it’s not just hearsay – over 65% of full time clergy actually work on average more than 50 hours a week, and over 25% of them doing more than 60 hours.

 

Did you know that The European Working Time Directive requires requires, (amongst other things) that EU countries guarantee the following rights for all workers:

a limit to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

As I understand it this was brought in as it was recognised that working longer than this contributed to stress, mental health problems and other illnesses.

2) Secondly, there are not that many women in my situation – which is working in Full Time (6 days a week) stipendary ministry with a husband who works full time and school age kids at home.

There are of course a good number of female clergy with families working in the Church of England now, but many seem to either have older children who have left home, or husbands who work part time in order to support them or help at home, or they themselves don’t work full time. In fact in my diocese I think I am one of two women doing this.

All of which makes me think that we, as the church, need to encourage different and healthy models of working, both within ministry and of working life in general. For a start, how will we encourage younger women into ordained ministry with the kind of hours faced by clergy now?

My training incumbent has been really supportive on this and is not expecting me to work all the hours God sends. However I have found it tough being in an environment – in the wider church not just my own church – where the work ethic is so huge and expectations so high.

We could say that it is the responsbility of individual clergy to manage their own hours sensibly and they are quite within their rights to work way more than is recommended in the EU Working Time Directive, but how easy that when there is a ‘norm’ expected and worked out by many? Guilt I am sure, is a huge factor here (see previous post on this).

And actually, after all the church values both marriage and family life enormously, and yet often a healthy balance to family and work life is not modelled by the church leadership or by clergy. As one person noted during my surveys on Social Media: we are called to be counter-cultural within the church, and that being as committed to our families as much as to the church, is a witness in itself. We are called to both.
Which is why I am writing about this now. I, we, haven’t yet got the balance right yet in our family, but I am here saying that I am not going to feel guilty about stopping work at 4pm to pick up the children from school, or not going to an evening meeting because I have booked in a date night with my husband, or protecting my day off fiercely so that I get some time out. As leaders we need to model a healthy balanced way of working, and that might mean saying no sometimes or upsetting people, but I think if we can be honest and open about why, then we are being both true to ourselves and what God has called us to, as well as helping others to see that too…

 

Coming up tomorrow is a post of top tips of how to balance work/life based on advice from other clergy and clergy Mums, which has been invaluable in helping me feel ok about all of this!

Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry

 

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First off let me start with a caveat, especially for those who know me face to face – this is not a sob story post or an ‘I’m struggling’ post – I am fine, we are fine and I am loving my job, it’s just an honest reflection on working out a new balance…

In the last few weeks I have thought to myself on more than one occasion ‘what have I done?’. Six months into Curacy and I feel like I’m not being a very good Curate, wife or mum. I knew this transition would be hard and would take time and it is.

It’s fair to say this is always a busy time of year for us with the kids having a 2 week half term and 3 family birthdays in the space of 13 days. It is usually around this time that I either a) have a meltdown b) get sick or c) both of the above. This year it was getting ill. Of the joys of a winter cough, no sleep and the accompanying sore throat…

Thing is this year I feel it’s a bit different – it’s not ‘what have I done’ but ‘what has God done’… yeah so you know Lord it’s your fault, right?…

I never thought ordained life would be easy, and to be honest it’s about as busy as I thought it would be. Someone recently said to me that they thought it was impossible to be a wife, mum, full time stipendiary minster and with a husband who works full time in the city too. I’m not sure it’s impossible, it obviously depends how you define it and hey, with a full time housekeeper and nanny it’d be a sinch! but well, the stipend doesn’t go that far (even if I wanted it to). But either way, it sure is a hard balance that we have not got right yet, who am I kidding that I have not got right yet.

I belong to a fab Facebook group of clergy mums that is really supportive and helpful but at the same time I feel like I haven’t got a role model to look to and some of them seem to be saying the same. Most of the clergy I have worked with have been guys whose wives have been largely at home and managing the family/home, or with older kids who have left home. So I’m trying to work out what balancing the combined callings of marriage, motherhood and ministry looks like, and not really sure who to look to.

I love my ‘job’, it is one of the most fulfilling, joyous, worthwhile and challenging things I have ever done (probably only second to motherhood) and it has its hilarious moments too, like when you’re on a serious pastoral phonecall and one of your kids (who shall remain nameless) comes up and burps in your ear; or having to use up leftover communion in a pudding (don’t even bother to comment on that one…); or wondering why when you moved into your clergy house there is this picture on the downstairs toilet door…

wtp_toiletsign

and then you realise after the 1st No.2… ;)

But at the same time I’m asking a lot of questions of myself and God. I don’t know if any other mums in ministry are finding the same, but there will definitely be a few posts flowing out of this blog on that theme.

Like for example:

: What counts as “ministry”?

: How many hours as I am supposed to ‘work’? what is a healthy balance?

: Which is the greater calling – marriage, motherhood or ministry? which takes priority?

: Why do I feel guilty about saying ‘no’ to things?

: How busy is too busy?

 

and if you’ve got any questions you’d like to add to that list, or would like to input, please let me know!