Barna Takes: How the Church Can Serve Working Mothers Well
As a working mom forever trying to find the perfect balance between domestic and professional responsibilities (each of which house unending to-do lists), I feel seen and saddened by a recent Barna survey on the U.S. workforce.
The data on the overwhelm experienced by working moms evokes many feelings, two of which I’ve often wrestled with since becoming a mother three years ago. First, gratitude—because unlike so many women in generations past, opportunities abound for me to pursue my calling outside the home. Second, disappointment—because despite the fact that women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force, and seven in 10 mothers are currently in the workforce, women (mothers especially) still rarely have the support, acknowledgment and balance they need in their working lives.
Before becoming a mother, I could very easily separate my personal and professional life from one another. But that’s nearly impossible now, as every decision I make—from the time I set my alarm each morning to my weekly in-office hours—is made through the lens of being a primary caretaker. These days, there’s very little—if any—free time. Weekday mornings are spent getting my daughter out the door to daycare and hopefully squeezing in a workout before jumping into work. And after work, it’s back to work, in that I’m making sure my family is fed and household chores don’t pile too high while also trying to spend some time with my daughter before she goes to bed. After she’s in bed, I’m sometimes too tired to hang out with my husband, let alone find time to have a ladies’ night with my girlfriends. It’s often Netflix or a book for me as the day comes to an end and my alarm is set for the next morning.
As I scroll through my mental to-do list, I’m not alone in feeling spread thin between caring for my family and attending to work—and feeling that even a little margin would make a huge difference. For instance, Barna found that three in 10 working mothers with children under 18 in their household (30%) say they could achieve better work-life balance if they had “more quiet time to regain perspective” (vs. 19% all other working women) and / or “more time to exercise” (vs. 18% all other working women).
Some of the challenges working mothers face might potentially be alleviated by spouses taking a more active role in caring for children, or by workplaces offering mothers more flexibility in their schedules. The COVID-era shed new light on what happens when these needs aren’t met, as mothers began leaving the workforce in record numbers during the pandemic.
As a Christian working mom, I don’t only look to my husband and my job to help me achieve better work-life balance; I also look to my church community. Within my church community, I’ve been able to make connections with other working mothers who understand just how hard it is to find time for oneself, including one’s faith, when responsibilities in the home and at work are piled high.
For Christian Working Moms, Work & Life Demands May Take Priority Over Church Community
Barna data show that 22 percent of Christian working mothers are not attending church (compared to 11% of Christian working dads). While this can be attributed to many factors, I can’t help but think that a lack of balance is one of the contributors. Personally, after especially hectic weeks—whether because of work or family—I am much more likely to forego attending church in order to grant myself more time and space to recharge before another busy week begins.
This poses the question, if working mothers rarely have time for themselves throughout the week, then how are they to find time to be part of a church community? How can a church help support working mothers right now, providing space for them to be seen and nourished? How can ministries ensure that mothers are both being invested in and being given thoughtful opportunities to invest in church community?
In thinking on the data and the reality of what it is to be a working mom right now, I reached out to fellow working mothers at Barna Group, asking them if and how their churches cared for working moms well. These are brilliant women who support Barna’s efforts to understand and resource the Church—through research, writing, marketing and design—and I found their own experiences and responses insightful and creative. Here’s what they had to say:
“During COVID [my church] instituted a Wednesday night ‘bike night’ for the kids where the kids ride their bikes in the parking lot, play games and eat dinner. It’s something the kids looked forward to and allowed parents to get a couple of kid-free hours.”
“My church interestingly spends a lot of energy in the men’s ministry trying to get dads on board with helping give moms some breathing room. For example, if there is a women’s night at the church, they announce it in the men’s ministry a month in advance to encourage [husbands] to give their wives the ability to go.”
“My mom created a small group specifically for working women. It’s a 7 a.m., once-a-week Bible study full of VPs, CFOs and traveling, impressive women. It’s super successful and currently has 18 women in it.”
For those whose churches didn’t formally support working moms, I asked what local churches could do or should keep front of mind when it comes to serving working moms. Here are their perspectives:
“Special events, like VBS, could be planned with working parents in mind. A 10 a.m. start time doesn’t work for many on weekdays.”
“A ‘mentor moms’ program would be helpful, especially as kids reach junior high and high school.”
“Multi-generational offerings could be beneficial. Encouraging the company of older people or retirees in watching kids for moms (people who are actively involved in their grandchildren’s lives have longer lifespans), could be helpful. Youth and young adults could be encouraged to serve in this capacity as well.”
“It seems so often churches make it incumbent on the moms to take care of each other. I think framing the care and safety of children as something that everyone should take part in as a church community can create a village culture that can alleviate the burden for moms who work both inside and outside of the home.”
“Programming or groups that serve moms who don’t fall into traditionally church-recognized categories (i.e. single moms, moms who are the breadwinners, foster / adoptive moms) is something often overlooked, but shouldn’t be.”
“Church groups should be scheduled outside of regular business hours—and preferably with childcare provided—to encourage engagement among working moms.”
“Moms who are the sole breadwinner exceed 50 percent in some areas and are approaching 50 percent nationwide, so churches approaching this as a norm rather than exception to the rule could be helpful.”
Church communities have ample opportunity to minister to women who are both mothers and professionals. While this might not be a top priority when church leaders list out their ministries and strategies for the future, it is indeed an extremely important one. Much can be done to serve working mothers well—right now and in the future—and it is my hope that local churches will rise to the challenge.