Last month, I went to my first Office of Youth Ministry meeting at our archdiocesan center. I would have started attending meetings earlier, but I didn’t start getting the invitations until about six months ago. There’s been quite a bit of turmoil in that office with personnel changes, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it took this long for me to go to the archdiocesan center on youth ministry business. In my year and a half in this position, I have only ever worked with three other youth ministers, all from Charles County: a single woman, a married man, and a married woman with several school-age children. We’re all at different points in our vocations, but it has always been a pleasure to get together from time to time. Our teens go to the March for Life and Steubenville together, so we try to meet up when our schedules permit. But last month was my first time meeting youth ministers from all over the diocese. It was a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.
The room was probably fifty percent over forty and fifty percent under. Of those under the age of forty, most were men. There were two other women my age, and as the night progressed, I learned that they were both mothers, one with an eight month old baby boy (that she brought with her), the other with several small children at home with a sitter. I knew that we were a rarity among youth ministers, so the fact that three of us were in the same room (and after bedtime, in fact) was actually very impressive. But it also made sense. If you’re going to be a mother and a youth minister, you have to be passionate. You have to take it all seriously. You have to be willing to make all sorts of sacrifices.
I’ve been working in the Youth Ministry world in one way or another since I was eighteen years old. In college, I was part of several different ministry teams, co-directed high school service retreats, and emceed at small youth rallies during my free time. Over the years, I met my fair share of youth ministers, and many of them had a lot in common. For the most part, the youth ministers that I encountered were young men, mostly single, but occasionally married. A few of them had children, but their wives were generally stay-at-home mothers. From time to time, I would work with a young unmarried woman, or else an older woman with grown children, but they were more the exception than the rule. And married women with children were an extremely rare novelty in youth ministry.
Now I know why. Now that I am both a youth minister and a mother, I know why there are so few like me. I also know why when you do find a youth minister who is also a mother, they tend to be incredibly passionate about both roles. You just have to be if you have any intention of succeeding. If you want to stick around, you have to be passionate. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. And you have to be willing to admit that priorities must be set, and then respected.
When I took on youth ministry as part of my job description, I was a newlywed who had just learned that she was pregnant. I had nine months where the only things I had to balance were home life and work. In the course of one week, I found enough time to get my work done, spend time with Andrew, eat, sleep, and shower on a daily basis. I was busy, but I was in no way overwhelmed. And then John was born, and everything changed.
Life since the birth of John has become a lot more hectic. There is a lot more on my plate, and there isn’t always enough time in one week to get everything done. Certain things have to be sacrificed. For a while, it was my time at home with my husband. I was still relatively new as a youth minister, and I felt like it was my duty to provide my youth group members with every opportunity imaginable. I devoted countless weekends to youth group events, spent extra days in my office to get work done, and said ‘yes’ to every activity that I was asked to help with. Even though Fridays and Saturdays were supposed to be my days off, I often found myself attending Friday evening events at the parish and Saturday morning retreats and service activities. There were countless weeks where the only time that I saw Andrew was the hour that it took to cook and eat dinner, and those were only on the nights that I didn’t work late.
Youth ministers often face one challenge that most 9-5ers don’t. Because Andrew works Monday-Friday, and I work Sunday-Thursday, there is only one day a week where we are both home. There is only one day a week where we can spend more than one hour together, and for several months I sacrificed that day over and over again. Eventually, I realized that there are some sacrifices that should be avoided as often as possible. I do not need to attend every event and participate in every activity to be a good youth minister. Now, I do whatever is necessary to preserve that one day a week. Andrew and I treat our Saturdays like Sunday- we spend the day together, enjoy little outings together with John, and attend Mass as a family in the evening. Once every other month, I teach Baptism Prep classes at the parish for an hour, and two or three times a year, I participate in weekend retreats with my catechists or youth group members, but those exceptions aside, Saturday is sacred for my family and me.
With one year of youth ministry and motherhood under my belt, I have learned some of the tricks of the trade. I recognize that I need me-time, Andrew time, and family time. Every Saturday morning, I take an hour long walk by myself. Every Friday night, Andrew and I have our weekly date night, even if it’s just dinner at home with a movie (which it is most weeks). Every Saturday afternoon, we spend time together as a family, walking to the park, visiting the monuments, or just watching TV or a movie together. As often as physically possible, these events have become non-negotiable. The health of my marriage and family life depend on it.
After a year as both a youth minister and a mother, I understand why such a combination is so rare. There is a reason why most youth ministers are single, even why most of them are men. A young man can realistically expect to continue in his position even after he has married and started a family. He might need to make some adjustments, but his job description will remain largely the same. A young woman has more at stake when she accepts the role of a youth minister, especially if she plans on getting married and starting a family. Youth ministry is filled with late nights and long weekends, random meetings and invitations to fill up your calendar with countless lock-ins, Adoration and praise and worship nights, and social outings. When you’re a single man or woman, you can work the 40-60 hour weeks. I’ve known youth ministers who worked constantly (whether that was actually healthy is another story), who worked for ten hours during the day, went to the gym, and that went home to cook dinner and go to sleep before doing it all over again. The majority of their weekends were dedicated to retreats and other activities. Their entire lives were dedicated to youth ministry.
Mothers cannot do that. Youth ministers who are also wives and mothers must make choices. They must make sacrifices that single youth ministers might not be required to make. They must attempt to balance raising their children and ministering to their students. They must attempt to balance spending time with their spouses and working extra hours in the office to get a project finished. I’ve discovered that they must attempt to do the impossible, to fit 50 hours of work into 35, to answer phone calls and emails while trying to soothe a fussy infant, to split their attention between 50,000 different demands. At this point in my life, I have become convinced that these women are miracle workers.
I have known a handful of mothers who are also youth ministers, and I never could have imagined how difficult their lives are. I had no idea until I became a youth minister and mother myself. And now all I can say is thank you for making it look so easy- because of your efforts, and the way that you made it all seem so effortless, I chose to become a youth minister, even though I knew that I was pregnant. I chose a job that I absolutely fell in love with, even though it was difficult, and time consuming, and nearly impossible to manage at times. If I had known ahead of time just what kinds of sacrifices I would have to make, the long hours that I would need to log two days a week to ensure that I could spend most of my week at home with my son, I might not have made the plunge. I might have found a different job, one that was not so demanding, but one that was not so fulfilling either. I might have missed out on one the greatest opportunities that I have been given, and because of that, to the mother who is also a youth minister: thank you, and you’re my hero.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!