17 June, 2014

I Tried Carrying The Weight of The World -- My Career Discernment & Becoming at SAHM

This post has been in the queue since before Maggie was born but I did not have the emotional energy to finish it.  It's now been four months since my discernment to leave ministry to become a full-time mother.


Ever since late high school I knew I wanted to work in Religious Education of some sort. I didn't know if that meant in the classroom of a Catholic school or in youth ministry, or what.  After a few years of college education in Religious Studies - focus on catechetics - and a lot of hands on ministry work, I discerned that youth ministry was the starting point for me.

I was hired at the second parish I interviewed, my parent's home parish.  I was a part-time high school youth minister and I nannied for two families, and eventually went full time youth ministry while still nannying for one family.

A few years later I moved into a different role that was two different hats and two different age groups:  Middle school youth ministry and 10th grade Confirmation.  I had over 300+ teens in my charge.  I loved the chaos.  Well, for three years.

And then I found out I was pregnant with Evie. Something had to go.  I couldn't be a wife, mom, and youth minister to two groups of teens.  So I joyfully passed off the middle school hat to two great women who have grown the program beyond my dreams.

 For the last two years I've been a part time Confirmation coordinator, while try to juggle raising a baby girl and prayerfully growing our little family.

The first year was fine.  We had an in home nanny  as part of a nanny-share at another house.  Evie was just a Little Bit.  There were lots of naps where I could work from home and not feel guilty.  Eric's job had great hours and a better commute.

Being a working and stay at home mom taught me so much about life, who I am, my faith, my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my work, and how I defined myself.  I would venture to guess that I grew more that year that I have any other year of my life.

And then this past school year happened.  There were last minute child care plan changes but we found something that worked.  The church confirmation program went from 180 to 220 teens (the growth difference is the equivalent of a normal sized parish's entire program!), increasing my workload by twenty something percent,  Eric's new job is an additional 15-25 minutes longer commute each way.  And Evie is of the most impressionable age, of which nap times are sparse (and a fight!) and she needs much more conscious attention.

The hours were really hard on me this year, and it wasn't just because I was pregnant.  My spirit for ministry was being worn down too.

I had to fight battles with coworkers and parents that I'd never had to fight in over 8 years experience.  I also had to fulfill my duty as a "mandatory reporter"- the single most difficult thing I've ever had to do -- times two, because I had two cases.  And I missed my daughter's first school performance and Thanksgiving luncheon because of it.  Other people's problems were directly affecting my family's life.

Because of my off the charts INFJness, I feel the weight of the world with utmost sensitivity.  I want to help ALL THE PEOPLE.  Which is why I do what I do, and why I love it.  However, I lack the ability to turn it off.  I bring it home with me.  Their aches, their pains, their stress, etc.  And I bring it home to my family that needs the opposite.  They need excitement, joy, and my presence, not just a warm body to head up dinner in the microwave.

This Fall I worked an average of 65 hours a week, for a job I get paid 19 hours a week to do.  (Keep in mind, in other parts of the year I work like 10 hours a week, so it averages out..but still).  I would literally lay in bed at night convulsing in tears because I wanted to do more for the teens, more for their families, more for me, more for MY family.  And I just couldn't do ANY. MORE.

I clung to regular prayer, confession, and spiritual direction for the first time in my life.  Which *should* bring about a restored enthusiasm, or at least a little more joy in fulfilling ones vocation(s).

It did not.

In fact, it made me question all the more -- "What am I doing?" "Why am I doing this?"   "Who am I doing it for?" "Is it worth it?"

Initially, I was so closed off to the idea of quitting my job. I felt like I was a failure... throwing in the towel.  I had too much pride to be THAT youth minister that was burnt out, overworked and underpaid, or that lacked boundaries. I refused to even entertain the idea.

But the semester went on.

One afternoon, about three or four weeks into the most intense time, I was working on our home computer and Evie came over to me.  She pulled on my arm. She took my hand, looked me square in the eye and said, "No more work, Mommy. Play with me."

I still cannot recount that moment without tears.

That was it.  That tiny encounter with my two year old was Jesus in the flesh begging me to listen to Him.

It was the beginning of November.  I had a few weeks of preparation left.  The kids were to be Confirmed a few days before Thanksgiving.  I couldn't pause to discern what the Lord was asking of me until then. I just didn't have the time.

Just two days before the Confirmation Mass I was putting the finishing touches on the Mass programs, (which would have been done the week before if it weren't for a coworker's tardiness), when I looked at the clock.  I had just enough time to race over to Evie's pre-school to see her Thanksgiving performance.  As I walked into the preschool's chapel the two year olds were walking off the stage and the teacher sorrowfully said, "You just missed it!"

A loud and angry thought ran through my head, "You just missed your daughter's first performance because you were kicking a copy machine"

I have spent hundreds of heartbroken hours harping on the fact I work with a bunch of teens whose parents are too busy to be present for their children and here I just became one!

This too weighed heavily on my heart, but again I didn't have time to entertain it.

The big day came and I was so, so proud of the teens.  All 212 of them who ended up getting Confirmed.  The auxiliary bishop who had been our pastor the year before came back to Confirm them.  As I sat in the choir loft watching them each be Confirmed, I was full of that pride that mamas have for their children.  That day makes every lost sponsor form, late permission slip, or complicated parent worth it.  The Holy Spirit shows up in such a big way!

That one day is normally enough to carry me through an entire year of trials and tribulations.

But this year things were different.  It took three weeks for my blood pressure to level off.  And I suffered three debilitating migraines, two of which I had to call my sister and mom to come help take care of me.  I had zero energy for the joy of Christmas.  I was so emotionally and spiritually exhausted from this year's Confirmation season.

I felt like my ministry-job robbed me of the joy of my primary vocation:  I completely forgot my Dad's birthday, I was on the Confirmation retreat during my daughter's second birthday, and Eric had confessed he felt like our marriage had been reduced to a relationship of mere roommates.

I had been so busy taking care of 212 teenagers and their family's baggage that I did not have the time or energy to care for my own growing family.

During the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I wouldn't let myself entertain the idea of even prayerful discerning if the Lord was calling me to be a full time SAHM.  Part of me was afraid of the answer.  Part of me was afraid my emotions were talking and I knew this had to be an objective decision:  was I running away or was I running towards something?

We're blessed with almost two full weeks off for Christmas.  This year I put up my out-of-office-reply and vowed not to even think about work until the New Year.  I needed complete rest and relaxation if I was going to begin discerning this with a level head.

On January 2nd I decided to open my email in search of a particularly timely email I look forward to each year.  It was there sandwiched between nearly a dozen requests for information for the next year's Confirmation program!  I hadn't even filed away the last year's.

My hands started shaking. I could feel my blood pressure rising.  My heart was racing.  I began to sweat.

I quickly realized I was having a post-tramatic-stress-disorder / anxiety attack type reaction to these emails.  What the heck?  I LOVED my job!  Working with the teens was seriously so rewarding, fun, and worth it.

It took this reaction for me to really pause and ask myself if working this job was where I was supposed to be right now.

I brought the subject up again with my spiritual director and with a close priest friend.  They both encouraged me to separate the issues:
1) Did I need a new job? or 2) Did I need to stay home with my family

They had me work through a series of questions over the month of January.  I filled an entire journal debating all sorts of issues.  Hours were spent discussing possibilities with Eric.  I called a few of my SAHM mom friends that I find to be incredible mothers to talk to them about what they love about staying home.  I even reworked my resume and nearly applied to a job.  Finally, Eric and I worked on our budget.  The numbers weren't perfect or easy, but they worked.

I think working out the budget put me at ease. Having those numbers balance without my salary gave both of us a sense of peace.  And then we had an immediate answer.  I needed to stay home.

I needed to answer that call the Lord had been tugging me to answer - I needed to be a fully present mother to my two girls.  I had discerned that while yes, it would be a huge break in juggling other people's emotional stress that was weighing on me - I was not running away from work, but running towards a life of being a stay at home mom.  Not that it would be easier, I just wouldn't be juggling so much.

With a deep breath and sigh of relief I called my spiritual director and my close priest friend to tell them.  I could hear them smile with that snarky smirk of "I knew it"

I turned in my two months notice (because we all know how quickly the Church works) and started cleaning out nine years worth of memories out of my office.

Those two months would be very bittersweet. Saying good-bye and handing over my treasured teens to the unknown was difficult, but with growing intensity I was urning for the future -- meeting miss Maggie and my future of staying home with her and Evie.

During the months of discernment the song "Wake Me Up"  by Avicii was my theme.  Specifically the line "I tried carrying the weight of the world / But I only have two hands" hit me hard.  I feel so intensely and so deeply but I could no longer have all the emotional struggles of being a good youth minister AND being a good mother.  It was time to admit that I only had two hands.  I can only do so much.

And being a full time mom fills my two hands perfectly.

Read about my last day of work here.


2 comments:

  1. Yes! The first time is SO hard. I'm glad things went better for you this time. By the time you get to the third it's a piece of cake. Even easier than the second!

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