Jenna’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.
I’m a mom to three kids under the age of three: a rambunctious two-year-old boy and twin one-year-old girls. I’m also in full-time ministry.
Some days, the combination is exhilarating and gives me the energy of five people. Some days, getting out of the house in the morning feels as intimidating as the idea of giving up coffee and ice cream.
If you’re a parent with little kids at home, you’re nodding your head as you read this on your phone between writing work emails and your grocery list. You’re often late to your morning meetings, because your toddler wants to wear his flip-flops in February, and you’re usually the go-to person to clean up puke at summer camp. You’re never short on babysitters, but you sometime miss out on bedtime snuggles because you’re attending yet another school’s production of Seussical: the Musical.
But maybe that’s not where you are. Maybe you’re thinking about starting a family but you’re nervous because you don’t know how you’ll be present in your kids’ lives and still passionately follow your call to youth ministry. Or maybe your children are older and are about to enter the youth ministry you lead. Or maybe you have someone you think would be a killer volunteer leader, but you’re holding back on asking them because they have a busy family life.
Balancing your kids and your “kids” can be tricky. I was in ministry for years before we had children, and I always referred to the students I was ministering to as “my kids.” Then my actual kids came along, and I wasn’t sure how I would balance the two. Would I have to quit student ministry so I could focus on my family? Some parents quit or they step down for a season, and that’s okay. But I truly felt God was calling me to stay in ministry even as our home grew more chaotic when we brought the twins home. Truth be told, there’s no such thing as a perfect balance—you simply need to make sure one isn’t consistently missing out because of the other. But how in the world do you make that a reality? Here are some thoughts:
Your schedule should be a bit more flexible . . .
Life with small children is unpredictable. I like to say that little kids are the worst people I know at scheduling their lives (and I work with middle school students). When my twins came down with bad ear infections and couldn’t stay at daycare because of their fevers, I moved my day off from Monday to Thursday. And as much of a stickler as I am for a solid bedtime routine, I can’t be home a couple nights out of the week, so my kids have learned to adapt.
. . . and a bit less flexible.
Some parts of your life will need to become less elastic. I do try to be at home for as many bedtimes as I can, so I go to daytime performances of school concerts rather than evening ones. I also run errands on my way to and from work or after bedtime so I can focus on my family on my days off. Find the parts of your schedule that can tolerate some wiggle room, and nail down the hours that can’t.
Your home and ministry will intermix more than ever before . . .
Having little kids who need you a lot means you’ll have students over to your house for dinner with your family instead of meeting up with them at Chick-fil-A. And I sometime bring one of my kids along to student events, depending on what we’re doing and how much of an up-front role I need to play. Your students need to know what a parent who seeks to honor Jesus looks like, so don’t feel as if you’re a terrible youth leader if you take them and your kids grocery shopping as your contact work (been there—done that).
. . . but boundaries are your friends.
You shouldn’t throw boundaries out the window. I had to make a rule for myself about not texting students during our dinner/playtime/bedtime routine. I also never have my kids with me when I’m the point person for an event or group, because I become too distracted, and I’m not able to focus on conversations with my students. Your boundaries will look different, but you’ve got to set them up and communicate them well.
Be present where you are.
Your brain will always be buzzing.
- Why wasn’t she at small group last night?
- Are we out of milk?
- Who would be a great leader for the 10th grade girls?
- Should I sell my kidney to pay for diapers next month?
What I’ve found that helps me really enjoy splashing in the bathtub with my daughters and playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf with middle school students is to be present in the moment. When I’m home with my kids, I try to be fully present with them and not planning next week’s lesson. When I’m hanging out with my students or training my volunteers, I’m joining with them in God’s kingdom work—I’m not figuring out how to help my girls sleep better.
Invest in your spouse.
This is a high-stress season in your life, and we often take that out on the people closest to us. Even if date night is ice cream on the front porch after the kids are asleep, make time for each other. Over communicate your ministry calendar, your childcare needs, and whose turn it is to stop at the store for milk. Share a Google calendar, write things down, and give each other grace when everyone is eating chicken nuggets and applesauce for dinner. Take time to enjoy your husband or wife.
God can use parents—even sleep-deprived ones with snot and food on their shoulders—to build up the next generation of leaders.
Jenna Bajuszik is the Middle School Group Life Director at Orchard Hill Church in Wexford, Pennsylvania. She has been doing student ministry in various capacities for 12 years, but middle school ministry is her favorite. Jenna and her husband have 3 kids.