A few years ago, one of my higher-ups insinuated that I would be less qualified for my job once I gave birth. This person seemed to believe that being a mother would make me less fit to do the work I enjoyed so much. It broke my heart and made me question my identity. I spoke with one of my sister clergy, a mother too, and I remember her telling me that I would be a better priest for being a mom. And not because I’d become more nurturing or motherly–not because I’d offer better pastoral care–but because I’d be a better administrator, better leader, and stronger voice.
I thought back to that conversation last night as I held my inconsolable 7-week old daughter. She is not a colicky baby. But she does have the occasional night when she will do nothing but cry for an hour or two. She won’t take a pacifier or bottle, she won’t nurse, she won’t be rocked or bounced–she’ll just scream in my ear. All I can do is walk back and forth in her darkened room, sush-ing and patting, walking and walking until there’s a worn path on the rug. Back and forth, back and forth. Knowing that she will at some point tire of crying and fall asleep, but I can never tire of loving her. I may not like it. I may feel like she’s yelling at me and wearing me down. But I can wait her out. I can be stubborn and unrelenting. I find new strength I didn’t know I had.
And then I remember my colleague’s encouragement, and realize I am indeed becoming a better priest by being a mother. That these few hours of pacing are teaching me the persistence I need in my profession. That being a mom has taught me I can carry more than I thought I could. That I can put up with more than I ever imagined–and what I won’t put up with. That intuition is a leadership skill that can only be realized or discovered–not taught.
I know a lot of moms who feel like their career–one aspect of their vocation–has to take a back seat while their children are young. I feel that sometimes too. And it’s hard because I’ve always been driven and I love my work. But every once in a while I can see the “professional development” that my children bring me. It may not be notable on a resume, but it’s meaningful and true.
If in the years to come I am a more persistent prophet, a more valiant lover, a more courageous and thoughtful leader, a wiser authority and a more savvy administrator–you can thank my children. Because moms aren’t all softness and kisses. We are hard asses. And we will do the work.