Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Tale of Four Lawyers

Reverendmother shared one of the writing pieces that she took to the workshop this week. The theme was the clash between the call to ministry and the demands of motherhood. It reminded me of a true story, so gather round, RevGals and Pals, for a tale from Mother Grace about four young women long ago and far away.

In the mid 1970's at the University of Texas Law School there were 4 young women studying--Ann, Susan1, Susan2 and Grace. They lived in a big house across the street from the law school. There were about 500 members of their class, but only 10% of them were women.

The four graduated. Susan1 was the first woman ever hired at a big, prestigious law firm in Dallas. Susan2 wanted a less demanding job and went to work as a staff attorney for the state Welfare Department. Ann yearned to return to San Francisco. She achieved her goal and went to work there for a legal publisher. Grace went to work for the District Attorney in her home town of San Antonio and later became the first woman hired as an associate in a law firm in that town.

Many years have passed. All four married other lawyers. Today none of the four is actively practicing law.

Grace bailed out first when the birth of her second daughter made life as a stay-at-home mom more attractive than the stressful routine of a working mother with a husband who traveled frequently. She became an active community volunteer and, well, you who read the blog know the rest of the story.

Susan1 became the first woman partner at her Dallas firm. She married but after suffering multiple miscarriages retired in the hope that reducing the stress in her life would help her have a successful pregnancy. It didn't, but she and her husband adopted a little boy and she was so happy about it she stayed home to raise him. She left the profession a few years after Grace.

Ann worked off and on for the publishing company for years. She and her husband decided not to have children, but she became very active with her church teaching Sunday School and says that's how she gets her "kid fix". About 10 years ago she retired so she could travel with her husband on his business trips.

Susan2 was the only one of the four to have a full career as a lawyer. She retired a couple of years ago from the Welfare Department where she worked since her graduation from law school. This was a rare "9 to 5" legal job. Susan2's husband was also an attorney for a state agency, so between the two of them, raising their son did not prove to be too stressful for her to continue working. On the other hand, she found the work repetitive and boring and salaries are low for lawyers and subject to the latest whims of the legislature.

And so, dear friends, Mother Grace's moral of this tale is that women who are involved in a service profession--like the law, medicine, or the ministry--will encounter the almost irreconcilable demands of clients/patients/congregants 24-7 and the needs of their families. Although these professions have made it easier today for young women to juggle these responsibilities, still every woman must make her own decision about what is best for her and her family and for her clients/patients/congregants. I've never regretted my decision, and I pray that none of you ever regret yours--whatever those decisions may be.


Songbird said...

The truth is that no one person can do everything. The important thing is having all the choices available and deciding for oneself what to pursue in life.

reverendmother said...

Yes indeed!

And it was certainly providence that led you in the choices you made--not that a law career is not valuable, but look at the ministry has grown out of all that community volunteering that stay-at-home motherhood made possible. Not to mention two lovely adult children. I give God a big "woo-hoo!" for that.

One thing that makes ministry different from law (I *think*) is that ministry at least gives lip service to the importance of family time, self-care and boundaries. Of course, it's often just talk, and churches want both worlds, a well-rounded pastor who has a life yet is also available to them 24/7. Nonetheless, I have exploited that lip service, so to speak--"You say family comes first? OK, I'm going to take you at your word on that."

And as I mentioned in my post, I am an associate who has a lot of programmatic responsibility (as opposed to pastoral care), and that makes all the difference. I also have children who have thrived (so far) in the care and love of others alongside myself and R. But I have also said many times that if I ever feel the church sort of systematically sucking my life away such that I can't do my job as mother, then I will have no qualms about quitting--my job, or ministry altogether.

It's tough stuff.

cheesehead said...

No regrets here. I started over, professionally speaking, at 41. That would give some people the vapors, but it worked for us.

From the time my oldest was eleven months, until my youngest was eight years old, I worked part time at a job I left at the clinic every night when I drove away. Then the four years of school, followed by two rather anxious years piecing together pulpit supply and very part time work for a Presbytery while God was getting both me and St. Stoic ready for each other.

On paper it looks like an utter disaster, but for me it has been a pretty good life, so far.

St. Casserole said...

Grace, I've made choices similar to yours. It works for our family and I don't regret it. I DO wish the church was a better environment for mama preachers though.

Thanks for writing this.

Purechristianithink said...

I think another "sort of" advantage of ministry is that you can throttle back for a while during your kids' early years and, as long as you've stayed somewhat active and kept your network/contacts strong, you can "get back in the game" when the kids are older. I get the sense that this is less true in law, business, etc.

Becky Ardell Downs said...

PCIT, I haven't found the possibility of throttling back, myself. It is necessary for our family that I bring in a full time income with benefits. I have a ten year old and a 2 year old.
However, as Grace knows, I was just barely starting ministry when my first was born (her church hired me when I was 6-months pregnant, god bless 'em), so I didn't have much of a track record, network, or contacts before the kiddos showed up.
Anyway, I think it is really tough to do the full-time minister/full-time mom thing, even with great daycare for my baby. And even with the most understanding church in the world. They really are terribly supportive and kind to me. But when someone's dying, and I need to be there, my husband can't be at a Session meeting, on a mission trip, or anywhere else-- I need him to be home with the kids. Hmmm. . . I'm grateful for my calling and I struggle with my responsibilities.

beth said...

I'm in the place I belong - finally - after an education degree and 12 years at home with five kids (working part-time at various adventures, from Pampered Chef to preschool director, eventually into part-time worship leader...) I'm serving a church full-time as a minister of creative arts, but it took a divorce to get me here (I would have continued to try to play the dutiful pastor's wife role had I remained married...)

I am settling into the comfortable knowledge that ministry is my calling. It's a challenge, as a single mom of these kids - but our staff is supportive, my kids are flexible, and I simply say 'no' frequently. I have learned to set boundaries and not succumb to every whim those who might 'need' me. It's not been easy...but it's worth every single moment.

Thanks for this post - it, as well as the comments, have enriched me today.

A. Lin said...

I have been struggling lately with my role as a SAHM. I hate it. I have a calling to preach, and I am not really putting God first by staying at home. I think I got too many rejection letters from churches, and staying at home seemed like the easy way out. But by not putting God first, I have slipped into idolatry. I have been praying and have come to realize that there is not one answer for every mother. It really depends on the situation. I am glad you determined what works best for you. I hope that you continue to encourage others. Thanks for the post--it is timely for me.

Sally said...

I too made a choice to stay at home with my family, my eldest was born when I was only 19 (not planned!!!) so I was faced with a choice either go to University which would have meant having an abortion or staying at home to be a mum. Tim was studying electronics at the time and so we took the bravely mad step of starting a family so young...we both knew we wanted more children...weren't thinking of 5 at the time but thats another story...
Since then I came to faith in Christ, and grew in discipleship, my children have been great teachers...I am now training for ordained ministry...without lifes lessons of motherhood I don't think I would bring as much to the table as I now can...
I love the film Mona Lisa smile, it highlights the choice...what is right for one is not necessarily right for another..
This I do know, the pull on a mothers heart is a powerful thing!