Child care

The great thing about being part of a second generation of women ministers is that the church-at-large needs us. We now make up a large percentage of pastors. And I’ve been hearing more stories about churches that would not consider a woman pastor, but when they went swimming in the pool of available candidates, they decided that a woman was the best match for them.

Although we still get paid less, our burnout rate is higher, and we have less chance of being called to a head of staff position, we are making progress. We can negotiate our salaries, instead of just being grateful that we got a job. We no longer have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. We no longer have to hide the differences between women and men, and we can begin thinking about things like maternity leave. Moms can even make things a bit easier for Dads so that we can start imagining family leave. And other things… like child care. 

Most religious leaders have to work when the rest of the world is off. You know, we need to be available for meetings in the evenings, sometimes on Saturdays, and (of course) on Sunday. But a problem arises for families in all of this. What if I was a single parent? What if my spouse also works? What about childcare in those odd hours of the evening? After we have paid for childcare all day, should we also be expected to pay for care in the evenings?

We had this situation in our congregation—a Wednesday evening dinner where my daughter was the only one to show up. Because my husband also had a meeting on that evening, we had to negotiate childcare. It was a tough call, and being a pastor and a mother, I felt pulled in several directions.

To open the nursery, we usually have to keep two people on staff, so the cost to the church was huge. Was it worth it?

There was resistance to opening the nursery up for only my child, but I wondered… if it was someone else’s child, would there be any debate? Should my child be treated any less than any one else’s? She is, after all, a child of our church. Our congregation has a responsibility for her that extends beyond the fact that she is my daughter. 

Finally, I knew that the church was trying to get young families to attend Wednesday night, but how could any parents go if there was no childcare available? Not having childcare because there are no children ensures that we will never have any kids.

We resolved the issue… sort of. We had childcare for a month or so, until it became clear that my daughter was the only one who was going to show. Then, we relieved the child care workers, and I quit going to Wednesday nights. Occasionally, if I’m really needed, I either bring my daughter with me or I hire a sitter at home.

So what do you think? What childcare situations have you encountered? Have you found a solution that’s fair for the church and fair for you? How much should a congregation be responsible for the care?

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16 thoughts on “Child care

  1. Carol,
    I’m half of a clergy couple and we’ve been co-pastors and have worked in different venues for 25 years. You’re right– the church sends a message to folks if childcare is or isn’t available. On the other hand, like lots of parents who work outside the home, I assume that I need to get a sitter at my home if I’m going to be working and my workplace (or presbytery meeting) doesn’t offer childcare. Some churches can afford childcare in place for all church events, but many cannot and many workplaces do not offer childcare for their employees or volunteers. Some churches ask for an RSVP from folks who would utilize childcare if it were offered and some churches have someone willing to be on call for childcare if needed.

  2. Carol
    When I worked at a larger church, it was not a problem. I explained my need for childcare and if my hubby (a church member) was going to sit on a committee and I was expected to attend committee night then there needed to be childcare. Quickly we discovered there were other parents of young children who would serve on a committee but didn’t want to previously because of the expense of childcare or the desire to try and find someone to watch the kids. Once childcare was provided at church (at the churches expense) we discovered people who would use it.

    Currently I work at a small church. It has become an issue again for me that I struggle to get the church to understand. Typically I poll the few parents we have and ask if they plan to attend special services and would want childcare. If it is just for my children I make the judgement call…..do I want them at church or at home, depending on what time the service would end. If they are at church, I expect the church to pay for the childcare. If it is at my home, I pay the childcare.

    I also have a very understanding Board of Deacons. My husband serves as a Deacon and I attend for a brief portion to go over pastoral concerns. My children come for a portion and sit in the next room with their coloring books.

  3. one pastor I know negotiated- she/they paid for day care/after school care, the church created an account to pay for other times when child care was needed- Sun night so she could do youth, Sat retreats with the Session, etc- maybe a good negotiating point for s call conversation?

  4. It would seem to me that progressives would be fighting first for childcare for the poorest among us so they don’t have to choose between unemployment and taking care of their children. I was talking to someone last week who said she couldn’t take a job because the childcare would cost her more than she would earn at the job.
    Such a prioritization of needs certainly doesn’t exclude fighting for childcare in the church. But lest we be accused of being a union taking care solely of ourselves (which I, at times, have been accused of when arguing clergy compensation issues), we need to argue for the needs of all, starting with the poor. I have appreciated the way Carol and others of you in the younger generation have consistently framed the childcare argument in those terms.

  5. Pingback: Weird Bird in Love » Blog Archive » Boy, can we relate…

  6. Our church wants to grow, so we provide childcare whenever we have session meetings, team meetings, mission meetings, dinners,etc. It costs us about $100 per week…about $5000 per year.

    Guess what? We are overloading our sanctuary with young families on Sunday mornings and they are actively involved in the life of the church. In about two years, we’ll be gathering about $500,000 in total income per year. So what’s $5000? About one percent of our budget.

    When Jesus talks about seed falling on good ground bringing thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold, I think He’s also talking about church childcare!

  7. jw~

    I think that it is certainly true that many of us have spent much of our time working for justice for those of varying states of economic distress. Some of us have lived and worked in the type of poverty that you are talking about. Some of us have done it while being clergy.

    It is also true that some liberals want to pit the poor against basic clergy rights and benefits. The two should not be mutually exclusive. We want to act like the only time we can work for people’s rights is when we deny ourselves the same accord. I believe that if we ignore our own rights we are in a poor moral ground to turn to others and tell them how they should conduct themselves as employers.

  8. I’m amazed that child care is still an issue in any church. Being raised in a Southern Baptist community, a baby sitter was provided for EVERY occasion. We weren’t a large or wealthy church. However, child care wasn’t seen as an option. Later as I became an adult and entered ministry, I always served in churches where child care was seen as a necessary and valued asset for EVERYONE who attended the church.

    When my husband and I had a home meeting. Children were encouraged to attend. I was the child care person for years. Again, it didn’t seem like an option for us. Most weeks we had about 10 to 15 childen to match the 35 to 50 attendees.

    It wasn’t until I went on staff in a Presbyterian church that I ever heard this issue discussed. I thought it was an anomoly that only effected this one congregation. (There was also an elder who counted the cups in the garbage after social events to be sure that the number of cups consumed matched the number of people who attended the event.)

    I agree with Stuchie. If the lights are on in the church, a nursery should be provided. That person will more than pay for themselves. If you want to attract families, child care is an absolute must.

  9. This summer my wife started her first clergy job as an assistant; I quit my job to spend more time with our 3 year old. The church wants to grow, and my wife was hired in part to provide the additional clergy support needed. Child care at all church events is one of the (many) things she’s been pushing for to help with growth. Very often, it turns out that our son is the only kid, or one of only a few kids there.

    There has apparently been some grumbling about this, as if this was something she was pushing to benefit herself. It’s not. It’s for me.

    Effectively, I am a single parent for all church activities. I can’t ever leave the kid with my spouse, because she will always be at work. But not just for me. It should be there for all the actual single parents, and parents with spouses that work evenings or nights, and parents with unsupportive spouses, and parents who have to divide up multiple kids in multiple activities. And it should be there for all the other people who will benefit from the participation and presence of these parents.

    When a church decides not to make child care available, they are deciding that it is not important to have these people as involved, engaged members. I think it would probably take significantly more than a month long trial to reverse this message and convince people that they can come to things with their kids.

    And that’s all before we get to these questions: are children full members of the church, and will they think of church as a place where they are always welcomed?

  10. Guess I didn’t want to say it but I agree with Phil that one month really isn’t long enough to reverse the years that people were told that they had to get child care if they wanted to come to a week-day/evening meeting.

  11. Right. It definitely seems strange to say, “We want families to be involved,” and then make it so that the one family who attends every week can no longer do it.

    Many times having a child can be seen as an asset for a pastor (which can also lead to unfortunate discrimination for the child-free, but that’s another post). And often it is a benefit. When a church wants to attract families, it is much easier to do it if there is at least one family who will be there for everything. It’s too bad that congregations cannot see that as an opportunity for building and growth.

    A couple of years ago, my sister was asked to be a deacon. She loves her church and she would have loved to be ordained. She sees it as a real honor, but she said no. When I asked why, she said it was because they had no childcare. I asked if she communicated that to the nominating committee, and she said no. She knew it would be a struggle and she didn’t want to cause any problems….

    My sister is not a passive or shy person at all, so I always remember that. And I wonder how many other moms and dads turn down opportunities because we’re not willing to spend the $30 a month to cover their needs.

  12. This has been a great discussion. I hope Carol or someone does an article on it for Christian Century or some other journal looking at some of the best practices that are being discussed here. Carol and Stushie’s comments especially would sway a lot of congregations.

  13. I brought my daughter to the same Wednesday night dinners for years, Carol. And she was the only child. We never had a sitter. Sometimes I was on the hook to be paying attention or even leading discussion, as I know you have been. Sometimes that was a struggle for me, and I know we both grew tired and too distracted to get the most out of the evening.

    But it was so worth being there, and even more worth bringing her with me — the whole time — rather than moving her into another room with a babysitter who would entertain her. She learned to view the elder attendees as grandparents — especially important to her and us since we live far away from any of her biological grandparents. Now that she’s a teen-ager, she still feels a connection to many of those older people and has an ability to engage in conversation across generations that I attribute to her time at those Wednesday dinners. She also barely disguised the fact that she was absorbing our discussions even though pretending to read or color or tug on my shirtsleeve. I’m sure she didn’t understand everything that was said (neither did I!). But she became comfortable with discussion and exploring ideas. We are not close to family who gathers for “Sunday dinner” or other times when the kids are “stuck” listening to multi-generational story-telling, i.e. sharing our lore. So my daughter learned her lore at these Wednesday dinners. I wouldn’t have sent her out with a baby-sitter if I had the chance.

    Finally, she added so much to the discussion. I also used to routinely take my daughter to evening meetings at my workplace. I’m an attorney — folks used to practice certain parts of their cases during our weekly trial practice group meetings. I’ll never forget one evening when a co-worker practiced her opening argument. My five-year old sat next to me reading her book (looking at the pictures?) as my co-worker spoke. When she finished, I turned to my daughter and saw that she was listening intently. I said to my daughter “what did you think?” She replied in all of the honesty of a five-year-old, “I didn’t believe a word she said.” Needless to say, my co-worker re-wrote her opening statement. Kids keep us honest, don’t they?

    I’m an interloper on this blog that seems geared toward pastor professionals. But I’m a working mom. I’m both, always. I don’t stop being a mom and become an attorney when my daughter is with a babysitter; I don’t stop being an attorney when I’m at home with my daughter. Part of the revolution women have brought to the workplace — even the church as a workplace — is the elimination of that dichotomy. To me, creative solutions mean changing how children are integrated into the church, not changing how the church adapts its old patterns to a new population of pastors.

    • Sherry! Of course you’re not an interloper! I’m so glad you commented.

      It is wonderful how many intergenerational places our children can be in. It’s a real gift of the church and to the church. And, you’re daughter is an amazing person. Thanks.

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