Can we have a little break?


Fall’s coming, and my daughter’s getting interested in all the extra-curricular activities. We need to keep it down to one though. I know it’s good for the college apps if she appears to be well rounded, but she’s just in the first grade, so I’m hoping that Harvard will understand (I’m kidding…of course).

We were in a flurry of activities at the county fair. Each booth was wooing C to sign up. We narrowed it down to three options: sports, dance, or girl scouts. She chose scouts. So I went over to the scouting booth, and they had the hard sell. They had lots of activities, and cute older girls who kindly helped C make a craft.

I was ready to sign, until the moms said, “This is a volunteer organization. We’ll need your time.”

I felt like creeping slowly back from the display. Actually, I wanted run, flee as fast as I could. The sad fact was that I didn’t have any time. I had time for my daughter, yes. But I didn’t have time for the weekly meetings that they were describing. No way.

I tried to explain. “Um, well I work. It’s kind of a stressful job, and I often work in the evenings.”

They looked at me with a twinge of pity. “Ooh…you work….” They stopped short at saying, “I’m sorry,” but there was no mercy in their requirements. They were both stay-at-home moms. They informed me that I would probably be signing up for these meetings for the next twelve years.

I smiled, thanked them, took C’s hand, and left. “Let’s see if we can find something else,” I whispered in her ear.

I wish I could describe the panic and guilt that I felt at that moment. I juggle everything now, with relative ease, but if anyone tried to add one more plate to my spinning act, things just might get ugly. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s not that I don’t care for or love my daughter more than anything. I just can’t do one more thing.

I wonder if that’s how the parents feel at our church. Since we’re located in the heart of D.C., we have a church where moms and dads both work. Most people need two salaries to pay the mortgage. Like many churches, we always have difficulty getting volunteers, especially for teaching Sunday school. When we ask older women in the church, they often smirk and say, “Oh no. I did my time. Now the young parents need to step up.”

But when they “did their time,” were they trying to manage a household and work a full-time job? Did the household heavily rely on their income, perhaps even more than their spouses’? Were husbands expected to participate, or did they get a pass because they were supporting the family?

Most of our moms work, and they’re often the HOH. They want to do things, and they do a superb job at rolling up their sleeves and taking on responsibility. But I’m not sure that our church programs are taking into account how panic-inducing and stressful it is for a parent to take on one more thing.

Is there a space in our congregations for a mom or dad who just wants to rest? Just for one hour a week, they might want to worship without being in charge of a program, or a mission, or a class. It probably won’t last forever, but just for now, can they have a little break? Is it possible for a parent to sit in a pew without the guilt from not being more involved?

I’m afraid if we don’t make this space, our moms and dads might run for the exit as fast as I ran away from the scout moms.

the photo’s entitled “Girl scouting is all about fun” by anyadoyzie


11 thoughts on “Can we have a little break?

  1. I can relate only too well to this problem. This fall its going to be cheer leading, soccer, brownies and juniors. Brownies and Juniors are every other week, Cheer Leading is once a week plus a game, soccer two nights a week plus a game. Than I add to that a date night with my wife, session meetings, deacon meetings, ministry meetings, worship planning meetings, the occasional evening counseling session. Add to this my wife’s schedule and we barely manage to keep our heads above water. I’m concerned about what will happen when daughter #3 gets a little older and has her own activities.

    Perhaps the church needs to do less (sounds like heresy!)and create holy space where people can slow down and reconnect with God through Christ.

  2. Fully on board. Getting ready to coach three soccer teams, as well as hockey, swimming and scouts.

    Here is the piece I struggle with. I don’t want young people to get involved to “step up.” It’s not the care of the institution that I’m concerned with. (And I don’t hear you saying that either.)

    I don’t want to impose guilt, and I would love it if people could come and take a break. However, worship seems to be the last piece of this church thing that a lot of people my age get. They can get their heads around the soup kitchen and hurricane relief, but to sit and experience God is a concept foreign to them.

    I’m not sure what I am trying to say. I guess that I see many people who view worship as a means of punching their ticket. Serving/volunteering helps put it into context.

  3. My sister (member of large – 4000 member – PCUSA congregation) with 4 children has said more than once that church is killing her spiritual life. They are in a highly-churchy area where congregations still have basketball leagues and mid-week Bible classes for kids, so she has all that along with school activities, music lessons, etc. She is whipped.

    We are definitely doing the “transformation assessment” here — deciding which activities on the church calendar have fed our souls, and which have not. The ones that haven’t are not going to be repeated.

    And . . .
    I’m sorry about the whole Scout/stay-at-home mom situation. Ugly.

  4. Neil said, “Perhaps the church needs to do less (sounds like heresy!).” I agree. I loved Jan’s post on the assessment her church’s going through.

    But you’re right too, Patrick. We have way more people involved with Miriam’s Kitchen than we do at Sunday morning services (mostly because so many churches and organizations come together to make the kitchen happen). But still. It’s hands-on and something that people can quantify (show up for three hours and serve two hundred people).

    “Church is killing her spiritual life.” Ouch. There’s a damning assessment.

    Something’s bubbling. It’s clear that the demands on the average family are increasing and congregations will need to do a lot of listening in the coming years. Maybe we’ll have to hold back our urge to fill every spiritual hunger with another program.

    A question for the three of you: How do you handle Sunday games? I’m nervous to sign C up for sports since both of us have to work on Sunday. Just wondering….

  5. I just went to a stewardship conference today, but isn’t that part of the Christian plan? Those who have plenty make up for those who have little, so all live adequately. Perhaps someone (stay at home mom) who has plenty of time could volunteer her time on your behalf (who has little). I just read Robin McGraw’s book (I know), and she and Dr. Phil weren’t ready to have kids yet, so she volunteered to lead a girl scout troop. Maybe a childless someone, or a person who already volunteers 2 hours, could make it 3 on your behalf. Or maybe one of those scout table recruiters would be more flexible if they knew what you did for a living, and how demanding it is. Or maybe you could give up something else in order to “be there” for your daughter. I don’t know. For moms, there’s no easy solution.

  6. Sorry for the Captain Obvious comment on Neil’s blog! It isn’t just a church problem: schools, townhome associations, county fairs, foster care, health care, justice systems, and the list goes on…all suffer from diminishing volunteerism. Except for “guerilla volunteers”, who will do a one-time high-profile deed but avoid the commitment necessary to sustain a change-agent program. My two unresearched and highly opinionated theories are: 1) this is the natural evolution of globalism and anti-establishment thinking, which emerged after WW2 and grew rapidly during the sixties and seventies. People just aren’t as interested in the institutions and values of their parents/grandparents; 2)technology and entertainment have radically altered “free time”, which is the primary capital of volunteerism. Our lives are so much more cluttered with stuff that requires our personal attention and energy to “enjoy” and maintain. I’m not a Luddite, it’s just that we haven’t done a good job of adjusting our means of nurturing community in the face of these changes, and those old means (like church or 4-H) are consequently struggling to remain viable.

    Both my daughters played basketball and tennis on Sunday, and I fully supported them. Someone said the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around.

  7. Hello! I just stumbled onto your blog, and I love it. I wanted to comment on your topic of working mothers, volunteering, and church. I hold an executive job in a field largely dominated by men. It is a struggle to maintain my femininity. By God’s will, I had an an only child, a daughter. My work was so demanding, I knew that I was in “trouble” when my daughter came home from school and told me that after talking about me in class, her teacher told her that because he had only seem her father, he had assumed that I was dead. Yikes! Talk about a guilt trip! But, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t involved in my daughter’s life — I was — very much so. It’s just that my family had had the roles reversed. I was the major bread winner, and my husband was Mr. Mom. At church (ELCA), I did what I could, but always felt that it wasn’t enough. (My father was a Baptist minister, so church was an everyday commitment when growing up.) Right now, I am not a member of a church. Why? Because when you can’t volunteer, people don’t get to know you. Going to church can actually become isolating as you sit in your pew, or stand in the courtyard, and people walk around you, a smile and welcome on their face to get to know someone else. For me, it got to where I couldn’t take being a stranger in my own church, so I left. Do I miss church fellowship? Yes. May I suggest that churches look into forming a study group for working women with floating hostesses, where if a member can’t attend or the meeting needs to move suddenly to another home, that’s O.K. Maybe by giving a fluid structure the over-burdened women can find a home. As to volunteering, do the things that you can do. Need snacks? I’m right there — but no criticism if every now and then they’re store bought and not home made.

  8. Carl,

    It’s been over a week, so you’re probably not looking any more, but I wanted to respond, nonetheless. Better late than never. Right?

    The issue of time and technology is so interesting. You’re saying that technology adds a time burden. I’d agree. But then there are moments, when I can be so much more productive because of technology.

    I’ve been mulling over Allison Fine’s book Momentum: Igniting Change in the Connected Age. She’s so optimistic about technology, and how much time and money it saves us. She seems to have a point. Maybe I could learn to use it more to my advantage…

    Oh, and I’d certainly support my daughter playing sports on Sunday, it’s just a matter of logistics. My husband and I are both pastors, so I’d just hate to miss her games.


    THE TEACHER ASSUMED YOU WERE DEAD?? Oh wow. What do you say to that? My husband was a stay-at-home dad as well. It’s pretty amazing what he had to endure at times.

    And thanks for the story and suggestions. They’re invaluable.

  9. Thank you so much for the insights all of you have provided. It’s so hard for the young people of today to find the time to have that one hour of their busy lives to just relax…let alone go to church. The problem I’ve seen is that churches have become places for ‘doers’ and have lost the space for those that just want to ‘be’. We need to make the effort to make the room available to those who want to be in the church to reconnect with the spirituality of their past, to rest, to pray, to travel a once familiar road. We don’t want to innundate them with more projects; they already have lots of that on their plate as it is. We in the congregation of ‘doers’ need to ask these people what the church can do for them, not what they can do for the church. It will take a very consious effort on the part of all the members of the chuch to make that space available. Can we do it? It’s going to be a conflict that may knock a few of the ‘doers’ on their collective butts, but it’s been a long time coming. Are we ready? Can we make that space? Are we willing to give up that ground for those who need to ‘be’? Remember its only one hour….

  10. DebFB,

    “We in the congregation of ‘doers’ need to ask these people what the church can do for them, not what they can do for the church.”

    That’s a great insight. Too often, our rationale for congregational outreach sounds like this: “We’ve got to get more people in this church so we can run these programs” or “meet our budget.” Yet, it’s quite rare that people are looking for a place where they can give away more of their time or money!

    You’re asking important questions. It’s going to be interesting to observe what the answers will be.

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