Guest Column: How Can the Church Be the Community Mothers Need?
Dr. Heather Thompson Day is a professor (Colorado Christian University), speaker and writer who has contributed to past Barna reports including Where Do We Go from Here? and Gen Z Vol. 2 and other Barna events like the upcoming Tech-Wise Summer event. Her book It’s Not Your Turn releases June 2021 through InterVarsity Press. This blog represents her opinions, interwoven with recent Barna data.
Screen time versus no screen time.
Breastfed versus formula fed.
Working mom versus stay-at-home mom.
In addition to these long-faced dilemmas, mom blogs and viral memes now pit women and parenting styles against each other. The pressures women face on a daily basis are no joke. Numerous studies, reports and articles, even before COVID-19, show that women are more likely than men to report having to deal with a lot of stress, especially if they have children.
Then in 2020, we threw in a pandemic. An NPR article from February 2021 illustrates how the stress gap has grown exponentially over the past year. When everything shut down in 2020, moms—both working and stay-at-home, as well as the newly stay-at-home forced into an employment crisis—were hit with the brunt of the isolation.
I think of my best friend, a stay-at-home mom to a kindergartner and two-year-old twins. Every time I call her on my way to work, I hear her three precious angels screaming about who gets to sit on her lap. It’s clear, both from data and real-life experiences, that moms are dealing with a lot.
A Not-So-Isolated Need for Community
A Barna survey conducted this time last year asked moms who were then working from home how they felt about the transition. Just three in 10 working moms (30%) said they really liked it and would be happy to continue (vs. 46% working women with no kids). While 32 percent said it had some benefits, work-from-home moms noted a preference for their regular workplace (vs. 40%). Another 29 percent said it was definitely harder with kids at home.
Interestingly, the same survey also found that stay-at-home moms were less satisfied than both working moms and working women without kids in their “work / life balance” (23% vs. 9% working moms, 11% working women without kids). This statistic implies a wrestling for stability and for purpose. Even before the pandemic, Barna data featured in Christians at Work showed that working moms—more so than working fathers—have become used to making compromises in pursuit of a family and / or a sense of calling. Meanwhile, mothers continue to have great impact on their children’s well-being, carrying the bulk of the work of encouragement, sympathy, advice and spiritual formation. Women are vital to the family dynamic, yet sometimes lack their own vitality.
I began my own writing career during my time at home with three small kids. I felt totally disconnected and, living in Michigan at the time, there were only so many sunny days when I could meet up with friends at the park. That was when my best friend, Scarlett Longstreet, and I started a blog we thought would give us some adult interaction—even if it was only online. The blog was for women who doing their best to stay intentional with every day they are given to be mothers. Through this platform, we met women who were looking for a sense of community in an otherwise isolating experience.
I’m back at work now, no longer a stay-at-home mom, but I’ve never been more aware of how much moms need community.
How Can Churches Support Mothers?
As cities and their churches reopen post-pandemic, it is important that ministry leaders are aware of the issues facing women, over the past year and presently. Faith communities can play a meaningful part in alleviating the stress gap in our society. Churches need to consider how they are showing up for, representing and supporting mothers. These same women are integral to supporting the life of the local church, including the faith development of the next generation.
Right now, women feel anxious. Barna data from January 2021 show that both working and non-working moms are roughly two times more likely than working women without kids to say they feel nervous, anxious or on edge nearly every day (14% working moms, 16% non-working moms vs. 8% working women without kids).
Women have also been feeling forgotten, and this is especially true for mothers in marginalized groups. In the NPR article I mentioned above—titled, “Almost a Year into the Pandemic, Working Moms Feel ‘Forgotten’”—Claire Cain Miller notes “increased household responsibilities have forced many working mothers—and especially Black and Latinx mothers—to scale back on their hours or leave the workforce entirely during the pandemic, further widening economic and racial disparities.” I expect there are great spiritual, emotional, social and tangible needs churches might help women address.
I know what it feels like to believe it’s never going to be my turn. I know what it feels like to be anxious in my own home. I know what it feels like to feel forgotten. But I’m not alone in this. Again, the data and real-life experiences coincide. Support groups and spaces where women can be honest with others and themselves, whether online or in-person, have never been more valuable.
Just as churches celebrate the mothers in their pews on Mother’s Day, leaders should take time to ensure the programs their churches offer remember, support and empower mothers—not just once or twice a year, but year-round.
My prayer is that after a hard season of holding our families together, working and stay-at-home moms alike feel seen, loved and not forgotten.