Two Fridays ago, I crept out of a still silent apartment at 6:45am while everyone else inside continued to sleep. I loaded up my suitcase, backpack, and pillow in my car, and then drove over to the local parish where two chartered buses were waiting to drive nearly 100 Charles County teens to Steubenville, OH for this summer’s Steubenville Youth Conference. This was my third time serving as the group leader in as many years, but this was also my farewell tour, my final Steubenville conference, my last time (at least for a while) waking up at some insane hour to attend some youth ministry event. The reality of my approaching “retirement” (Is there a technical word for when you leave your job to become a stay-at-home mom lol?) had not yet fully hit, but I knew that this conference weekend was going to be accompanied by some tear-filled goodbyes.
I attended my first Steubenville Youth Conference the summer after my Junior year in high school. I had attended several Catholic conferences and retreats earlier that year, and my retreat high had only just begun to recede since my last retreat in March. I was still new to taking the Catholic faith seriously, but I was already craving another high-intensity, emotional encounter with Christ. The conference was everything I had hoped and more, and so I did not hesitate at all to sign up for the same conference the following summer. This would be my last time going to the Steubenville Youth Conference for nearly a decade.
When we boarded that bus as eighteen-year-old recently graduated Seniors leaving another Steubenville Youth Conference, most of us believed it would be for the final time. Most of us did not imagine that we might one day find ourselves sitting in the Finnegan Field House again. I certainly didn’t. By the time I left that conference, I was already thinking ahead to the future, to the four years ahead of me that would be spent at DeSales University, where I planned on studying Theology and Psychology. I had no idea what I was going to do with that degree once I graduated, but it never occurred to me for even a second that I would one day find myself attending a Steubenville Youth Conference again- this time as an adult chaperon and group leader.
I have had the great fortune of attending three conferences since that final one that I attended as a teen participant. Each of those experiences has changed me, and I consider these conferences to be just as much a work requirement as they have been opportunities to grow in my own spiritual life. If I’m going to be completely honest, I attend these programs as much for myself as for the teens in my program. I do them because I have to, but I also do them because I want to- because I love the teens in my youth group, because I want to share this experience with them, and because I needed this experience for myself. But now all these motivations are equally responsible for the anguish that I feel when I consider the fact that this will probably be my final youth conference for a while.
I knew that this would be an inevitable consequence of my decision to become a stay-at-home mom. I knew that I would be giving up the hours of emails and lesson planning, as well as the conferences, retreats, and youth nights. Honestly, the only thing that has made this transition manageable is the fact that I really didn’t have much of a choice. My decision was not whether I should remain at St. Ignatius part-time or become a full-time SAHM (stay-at-home mom); it was whether I should find a new ministry position after we moved or not. I knew from the moment that Andrew accepted Christendom’s job offer that my days at St. Ignatius were coming to a close. Leaving the parish was inevitable; Andrew had been offered and taken a job two hours away. The distance just made the decision that much easier.
If circumstances had been different, I probably would have stayed, at least part-time. But that was not the hand I was dealt, and it just made my decision to become a SAHM that much easier. My desire to stay at home with John (and now Felicity, when she comes) has only weighed more heavily on me as time has passed. The pain that I feel whenever I leave the house to go to work has only become more acute with each passing year. I knew that sacrifices would need to be made, but I will always put my family before my career. I also knew that I had to consider my own health and well-being, and staying at home with my children is the better option in that regard as well.
Up until recently I have needed to work. We needed my income, and until Andrew was finished with his degree and had a job, we had no other options. Now we are approaching the point where we have a choice. I don’t need to work anymore. I could work, and we could use that money to pay for childcare, or else I can be the primary care-giver for our children. Maybe when they are a bit older and in school, I will rethink my decision and possibly return to the workforce. Or maybe not. I receive a great deal of fulfillment from my work as a youth minister, but there is nothing stopping me from volunteering when I can manage to balance home life and my other responsibilities somewhat comfortably.
For now, I have already decided to volunteer in our new parish’s Religious Education program beginning this September. I don’t know what my class assignment will be yet, but the consistency and time commitment required to teach CCD classes seemed like something I could manage as I adjust to life as a stay-at-home mom with a toddler and a newborn. Beyond that, I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage anything else, and I don’t want to commit to anything until I’m absolutely sure that I can see it through for at least the year. I want to stay involved, both because I love teaching, but also because I’d like to keep my foot in the door. I’m not sure when or if I’ll return to the world of paid ministry or religious education, but I’d like to be prepared. So perhaps this won’t be my last Steubenville Youth Conference after all. Or maybe it will be. Who knows?
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!