Motherhood, Minister's Wife, Career

A pastor's wife copes with reality

Sandy Hawkins teaches at Brighton Adventist Junior Academy in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Her husband, Jim, is one of the pastors at the Denver First Church. Their children are Karen, Andrea, and John.

House payments, car payments, food, educa­ion, utilities, medical expenses, clothes .. . with the ever rising cost of living in the United States, it is becoming more and more difficult for a minister's family to survive on just one income. Many ministers' wives face the decision of whether to work or not. This is a serious consideration especially if there are children at home. Just a few years ago a career for a minister's wife with children, especially small children, was not even considered an option. Many people still feel so, which is fine. I want to say at the beginning of this article that I certainly respect that opinion and the very valid reasons mothers choose to stay home.

I see basically two reasons why women who are ministers' wives and mothers do work. The first reason is for the added income. With high inflation, living expenses are frequently hard to cover on one salary alone—especially with children in church school and/or if there are house payments and repairs to be made. The second reason is that in our society today women often get a college degree and in many cases they pursue a graduate degree and a career. This can fulfill an inner need and provide a feeling of accomp­lishment.

Due to church expectations, it is often a greater decision for a minister's wife to work at a job outside the home than for the wife of a business man, a doctor, or a lawyer. There are many things that are commonly expected from the wife of a minister that demand her time and energy. What these "things" are and how realistic they are vary from church to church and with the talents that the individual pastor's wife may have. Such "things" may include going to two (and sometimes three) churches each week, being on the social committee, attending and /or assisting in all social functions, visiting with the pastor, giving Bible studies, helping in Sabbath School, assisting in the music program, helping in evangelistic meetings, doing secretarial work, Vacation Bible School, etc. The list can go on and on. Frankly, serving as a pastor's wife can be a career in itself. Ministers' wives are, by and large, as dedicated to the church and its programs as are the pastors. But with one key difference—without pay.

Let's assume a minister's wife has pondered the issues already mentioned and still decides she would like to work. What should she do next? First of all she should pray for the Lord's leading and guidance. Then, there are three very crucial situations to consider: the home situation, child care, and the job itself. These three areas need careful consideration before jumping into a job or pursuing a career.

1. The home situation

There are some important personal opinions you need to discuss with your husband. You will need to come to a satisfactory agreement on some areas such as: How does he feel about your working? Is he willing to share in some home duties without feeling he is doing your job? What do you expect of yourself?

You may not have time to make homemade bread, freeze and can food, sew and knit clothes on a regular basis. How much time, quality and quantity, will you still be able to spend together as a family? What added stresses will your work outside the home produce (such as increased sibling rivalry, time for planning and preparing meals, coping with additional pressures, etc.)? If you have children old enough to help, you can assign them respon­sibilities such as keeping their room clean, setting the supper table, doing dishes, and folding clothes. However, remember your child(ren) may have home­work and /or be taking music lessons. Their lives can be quite busy and they do need time to play sometimes.

2. Child care

If there is a small child who will need to be cared for while you work, then, in my opinion and experience, this is probably the most important consideration, and needs to be prayed about earnestly. I would seek a Christian mother to care for your child who has dearly loved her own children and would have the ability to love your child too. Be sure that you adequately pay her. Tell her you think she is a good mother and you appreciate what she is doing for your child.

It is very important to have excellent child care. You need to feel confident that your child is happy and in good hands. This will free you mentally and emotionally to be able to work well at your job. In my experience, I've had four different babysitters and I consider them very special to me. My children have come to really like and appreciate these dear women. The babysitting situations my children have been in,. I believe, are an enrichment—an extended family for my children. I look for "motherly" qualities in a babysitter—some­one who has a tender and sensitive personality. Home babysitting situations are what I have chosen rather than Day Care centers because of the personal and family touch involved. I thank them often because I honestly do appreciate having my children in good care. The babysitter also needs to be someone you can count on to enable you and your husband to be dependable in your jobs.

It's not my belief that if a woman works her family is doomed or she loves them less. I know families where both parents have worked and the child has grown up as a very well adjusted adult, committed to the Lord and the church. I also know families where the children were never at a babysitter or away from their parents and in their teenage years they didn't know how to make wise decisions on their own when away from their parents. The determining factor was not babysitting. I think it can be possible to find satisfactory child care. One child care situation which worked out very positively for me was when I had a three-month-old baby. Whether to work or not was a serious debate in my mind. Ihad a great teaching position in public school and some very good benefits. I considered negative and positive things about continuing to work. The positives won: three months summer vacation, other vacations during the school year, all week-ends off, no conflicts between my job and church attendance, low enroll­ment in my room that year, an aide was provided for me 15 hours a week, and in my schedule I had at least two free periods a day.

Availability of top-notch child care was also a very important determining factor. In this situation the church organist, who lived near us, watched our children for two and a half years. The logistics were great; but more importantly, our children were in outstanding quality care. They were treated as part of the baby-sitter's family and learned to help with household chores such as breadmaking and canning. I appreciated this and felt they were in a "homey" atmosphere.

When we moved away, the babysitter and I both cried. We will always be very special friends. I will always send her pictures and write. She said it really hurt her to see our children move away because she was so attached to them, but I thanked her for taking our children into her heart.

What you can arrange for child care will more than likely vary from district to district. When our youngest son was two years old, he was taken care of by a church lady two blocks from the church. My husband arranged his schedule so that he could do some of his work at the house and keep the number of hours John was away from home as low as practicable. John was at the sitter about 30 hours a week. My 82-year-old grandmother was living with us temporarily and watched Andrea, our 31/2-year-old. (My grand­mother also had a hot supper on the table when I got hom e and she did the laundry! This is some­thing Ireally appreciated!) Karen, our 9-year-old, was in my room at the church school where 1 taught.

3. job situation

There are several consider­ations in taking a job. One is how much time will it require. It could be from one to two days a week to working 8:00 - 5:30 year around with only two weeks vacation. You need to decide what is best for you. Naturally the 8:00 - 5:30 year-round job allows very little extra time. This situation is probably least desirable, especially if you have an infant. Sometimes nurses have found the night shift or part-time work to be more satisfactory.

Before accepting a position, ask yourself these questions:What will the stress level be? How well will I be able to cope with the stress? How long do I plan to stay? Will this be satisfying enough for me to cope with the added stress? Is this something I could enjoy and be happy doing every day? These questions are important because if you feel unhappy in a job or it is too stressful a situation, it will take a real toll on you and your family. Avoid work that you would dread going to each day. Nothing is going to be easy and fun week after week, but life isn't that way either. Just try to be sure this job will be one with which you can cope.

Another very important consideration regards finances. Will the income really be an addition to the family budget considering the time involved and your deductions for taxes and child care expenses. You must also consider the added car expenses, a working wardrobe, and other necessities. Before taking a job, figure all this out in as much detail as possible. Plan a tentative budget. Consider also that the groceries will likely be more expensive because you'll be using more ready-prepared foods. Your family income tax bracket may also be higher because of a theoretically higher income. Depending on your situation, you will probably need a job paying more than minimum wage to make employment financially worthwhile.

In conclusion

Each mother and minister's wife needs to consider many things about life. In this day and age a career is often considered a possibility. In all of our planning, though, we need to remember the ultimate purpose of life is salvation for our own selves, for our husband and children and also for others. Pray for God to lead and guide in your life. God can open doors you never knew existed that can turn out to be a real blessing in your life. I know this to be true because I have seen this happen several times in my own experience. He can also close doors which you may wish were open, but which He sees would not be the best in the long run.

As Christian women, we need to strive to be in tune with God's will in our lives. What works for one person may not work for another. Whatever route you choose in life, be happy with it and think on the positive aspects for which you can be thankful. 

Sandy Hawkins teaches at Brighton Adventist Junior Academy in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Her husband, Jim, is one of the pastors at the Denver First Church. Their children are Karen, Andrea, and John.