By Rev. Debbie Sperry
I have two darling children. Really, I have great kids. They are funny, kind, smart, enjoyable to be around, compassionate toward others, and creative in a variety of ways. Like most kids, they also have their troublesome sides—cantankerous, ornery, opinionated, and wildly independent. I have no idea what it’s like in your house, but in mine, their tiresome selves mostly show up at the worst times. Like Saturday night. I think it’s almost guaranteed that Saturday night in a clergy home brings sleepless children, terrible attitudes, broken appliances, and general chaos.
Unless it’s a high holy season, and then the crazy comes any day of the week.
After more than a decade in ministry, I can say that with some laughter at all the wild things that have popped up. It’s no longer surprising when the dishwasher stops working the morning of Christmas Eve as we’re trying to prepare a family meal while finalizing a sermon (or three) for worship. Or when the member who attends once in a blue moon is suddenly terribly concerned about some trivial thing that warrants none of my time but somehow engulfs hours of mental energy. Or when it’s Holy Saturday and the dog pukes on the bed. It’s an hour before special service and my potty-trained child has a full-on explosion that requires scrubbing floors, showering, and a load of laundry. Your details may be different, but the chaos is the same.
And I swear there’s some sort of pheromone clergy emit when it’s high tide that beckons our children to NEVER leave us alone! It’d be nicer for you if this were just me, but I know too many clergy parents to even pretend that’s true. I split my working time between home and the office (and a hundred places around town), which allows me to be home and available to my kids in the ways that I want. I’m home most every day when school lets out and available to help with homework, fix a snack, or play outside. Ninety percent of those days my kids are glad to see me but are generally more involved with themselves and their own antics than anything else. Except on the days when there’s a tight deadline or fifty things that all need my attention at once. Then, they are on me like white on rice. They feel compelled to be in my arms, on my lap, at my side every single step of the way. When all I need is five minutes to finish the task at hand so I can devote my full attention to them, they’ll have none of it. Which means that my five-minute tasks won’t be finished for more than an hour.
I don’t have much wisdom to offer new clergy parents, but I have learned this: ten to fifteen minutes of focused quality time will often buy me forty to sixty minutes of work time. If I can sit and play Legos, go for a walk, dig in the garden, read a book, complete a puzzle, or simply listen and cuddle for a bit, then they get what they want—a bit of mom, and in turn I get what I want—a chance to finish my work so I can return to my family.
Some people strive for a “work-life balance.” I’m not sure it exists. Not in the sense of homeostasis. Parenting and working require constant movement. It may be more accurate to say “work-life balancing act” since the gerund (“ing”) indicates that it is an on-going, never-ending process. Accepting that as a reality is a big help. Parents who strive to find the perfect schedule with just the right balance are likely to be disappointed. Especially in ministry. The demands of each week vary, and what you had planned may very well be interrupted by someone’s crisis, a death, a broken furnace, an argument surrounding church politics, a kid who is projectile vomiting, or a pet who requires a trip to the vet. That’s when all you can do is let go of your best-laid plans and carry on.
Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor to Moscow First United Methodist Church in Moscow, Idaho.