In Part 1, I explained how inadequately churches care for working women as a demographic group, and provided some simple ideas to better care for their needs.
In Part 2, I will look at how we can balance the enormous stresses faced by working mothers in balancing often competing demands of home, church and work.
I have just finished my day at work, and as I walk to the station I call home and negotiate with my son to order and pick up takeaway because I am going to get home too late to cook and I am going out tonight to Bible study.
My son will pick up the food and eat quickly before he commences his night job at Woolworths.
My husband is also leaving his CBD office late. He left for work this morning before most of the household stirred.
My daughter nannies three children under eight, and cooking dinner and bathing them will mean she comes home very tired.
There is a possibility that we will have a 30-minute window when we will all be home at the same time. I am just grateful that we have the resources to buy take-away for crazy nights like this.
My children are adults now, but the timetable of activities when they were young was possibly even more complicated. You need a Masters degree in project management to cope with the complicated schedules of most families. There is school and sport and band and playdates and homework and youth group.
Children’s activities often get prioritised because they are the most routine.
Around the routine activities we fit in work and church activities. If we are lucky, we might fit in some socialising and a hobby or two.
The whole creaking structure comes crashing down if anything unexpected happens: a late meeting, an IT crash, sickness, a relative dropping by for a couple of days… nothing unplanned or spontaneous can fit into this over-scheduled reality.
In the last few years there are even more pressures brought on by 24/7 connectivity, the need to demonstrate a rigorous exercise plan (we work at recreation), the requirement to not just cook dinner but create something special, and the massive availability of pop culture that must be assimilated to support meaningful conversations around the water cooler at work: “Game of Thrones? I am fully up to date.” “Did you watch The Bachelorette last night? She is going to be so much more interesting than Richie.” “I’ve watched both the US and UK versions of House of Cards.”
How do we juggle so many demands and maintain our relationships with God and others?
Of course, this is an ongoing challenge for everyone, but here are some principles:
Context: God would not ask you to do more than is possible in a day, so try and work out how God wants you to spend your day. Here are some ideas to help with this area:
Pray each morning that God would guide you in what to do, and how to spend your precious time.
Stay close to God and his Word so that your thinking and choices are conformed to his character and desires (Romans 12:1–2, Proverbs 2:1–11).
Work out your decisions in light of the Great Command: Love God and love your neighbour.
Priorities: It is helpful to know where different areas of your life fit.
Rather than seeing God as a slice of your life, in a box with church and bible reading, see God as the centre of everything you do, honouring him with everything you do (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Your next priority should be your marriage. Someone once described this as the rich soil in which the seeds (your children) can grow and flourish. Marriage and love takes time and intentional focus.
Then your children. How will your decision or choice impact on them?
For different families, there will be different orderings for other priorities. For working Mums, work probably comes next. A sick parent will change priorities.
Important: This ordering of priorities does not mean you neglect your work to do whatever your children want, and it is not measured in time. It just helps you ensure that the important things get their due focus, rather than being swamped by the urgent.
Time management: Live your life by routine rather than by to do lists. This is an idea from Matt Perman in What’s Best Next?
This involves planning out your week and your regular activities. Then putting in what needs to be done, with a daily goal or focused activity.
Plan in time with God. Plan in regular exercise. Plan in social time.
Make sure you leave some gaps = room for unexpected things like sickness, crisis, problems, but also opportunities.
Make sure you leave big chunks for thinking activities like writing; and a couple of short spots to check emails.
Schedule meetings for lunch or after, when it is easier to be distracted from focused task, but connection with people can energise.
Family management: Careful not to conform too closely to the expectations of others.
Children do not need planned activities for every day of the week, and if you have not commenced a sporting or musical or language tuition, then that opportunity is not lost forever. Too many activities stresses everyone and stifles learning.
Plan your screen time as well as the children’s. I agree that engaging with popular culture is important, but be selective. Children especially benefit from real life engagement rather than virtual reality. Program in social media time so that there are boundaries.
Fit your exercise into your daily activity. I have a friend who works with refugees who tells me that they regularly laugh at Australians who drive to a gym to get exercise. More walking, carrying, using the stairs, playing with the kids and doing chores rather than outsourcing those activities, would help us to be fitter. Other exercise can be combined with family time: Park runs, bush walks and playground crawls are great activities to do with the whole family.
There are different seasons when we feel more squeezed by the pressures of time or money demands. It is good to realise that we need to regularly review what we do and how we do it to acknowledge what has changed. Most importantly, ask God to order your days and establish what you do (Psalm 90:12, 17)
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.