When I fell pregnant with my daughter I had an incredible job. I was flying the world doing negotiations for a multinational corporation, staying in lovely hotels and learning heaps.
The pregnancy had been planned, but had somehow seemed unlikely with all the travel away from home. Not that I wasn’t delighted to be pregnant, just that when it actually happened, I started counting the cost.
There was a cost to my career because I was advised not to fly after reaching seven months pregnant. There was a cost to my quality of life, because at the time there was no paid parental leave. There was a cost to my identity and esteem, because much of that was based around my corporate job.
I know pregnancy hormones would have impacted, but the first time that I had a pre-natal check-up, the medical receptionist was abrupt and I felt like a nobody. The reality was that I had status-reduction disorder. I had enjoyed the grovelling of airport staff at the sight of my platinum frequent flyer card, and the gracious hospitality of expensive hotels, and the way I was climbing fast up the corporate ladder.
Now I was just another pregnant Mum, whose body was apparently suddenly available for everyone to comment on. It was all very humiliating.
My initial thought was to drop the baby and return to work within six weeks, as I had seen other businesswomen do. A breast pump and corporate childcare would make it easy.
However, when my daughter was born my whole world turned upside down: not just emotionally and physically, but my expectations of myself as a Mother. I felt this primeval urge rise within me. No one would spend more time with my daughter than me.
I had a problem though. There was a large part of me that still needed the mental challenge and stimulation of work; not just the tough physical work of mothering, but all the other things for which I had been trained.
My solution was consulting jobs: flexible work that could be tailored around baby gym, a young mother’s bible study and endless get-togethers with Mums’ groups.
The intellectual challenge was good for me and the family, keeping me from being bored, allowed me a space to continue to learn and test my skills, and work was somewhere where I was truly myself again, not someone’s mother. However, I have also seen lots of challenges for Christian Mums who do paid work.
1. There is not much pastoral support in churches. I was able to be flexible but women who work fixed hours are not well-catered for with lots of women’s activities revolving around mothering and occurring during working hours. We had a group at a church I went to which was specifically created for working Mums called Women of the Night, a title which always needed explaining!
2. There is not much theological support through churches. Mums who work face all the faith challenges that other workers do, but have less time, or energy to be able to process or make wise decisions. Many church men’s groups may canvas work issues, or provide a space for discussing present issues or challenges, but not many such opportunities exist for women. Frequently sermon applications have work examples aimed at men and home examples aimed at women.
3. There is a Christian culture that can contribute to a sense that a working Mum is somehow less spiritual. The preferred model seems to be full time Mum, but that is virtually impossible in big cities with soaring house prices. The end result is the expectation of a Proverbs 31-style woman who can work, mother perfectly, keep the house impeccably, and look after the poor and sick.
4. Even secular women question whether you can ‘have it all’. Annabel Crabb in The Wife Drought, argues that everyone needs a wife to work most effectively, even women! She is not arguing for same-sex marriage, but suggests we all need the stereotypical image of a wife who looks after all the home duties, manages the house, prepares meals, cares for the sick in the family, packs bags and makes you feel confident going to work. We would all love one of those, surely!
While I was doing my Masters at Bible college I wrote an essay on one of the most neglected areas of ministry in churches: working women. We have support and encouragement for most groups, but not for these women.
There are some interesting initiatives, and I came up with the following list for churches/small groups to consider:
Sister2Sister Facebook page with tips and ideas and daily encouragement.
“Hump” email on Wednesdays: short verse, prayer and encouragement to help workers get through the week.
Mentoring to help handle work and balance issues, as well as providing a sounding board and prayer support for tough situations (some churches badge this as Refresh Mentoring or Running Partners).
Specific training sessions for workers in churches to overcome the ‘invisibility’ of working women, and to include them in resourcing initiatives. These are probably best run on a Sunday afternoon.
An annual retreat allowing working women to be pampered, encounter God’s word, and be refreshed for a new year.
In Part 2, we will consider the challenges of achieving work–life balance for working Mums.
Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed, Mentor Educator with the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia (Victoria), MBA Curriculum Developer with Excelsia College, and former Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. She has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. She was Director of the School of Christian Studies for three years and has lectured with the Brisbane School of Theology, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute and Wesley Institute. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, as well as helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is married to David, and they have two amazing adult children: Jaslyn and Guy. She is currently under contract to write a two-volume exploration of Workship: how we can worship God through our work.