"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Theologian Mom at a Conference

This past weekend, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a conference. This is a rare occasion for me these days. With a breastfeeding babe, I can't exactly take off for a few days and leave the kids with Daddy (not that I've EVER done that anyway). While Jeff has attended several conferences over the past academic year, this is my only one for the year. And of course, I didn't attend it alone. Per the usual (this is my third time attending it), I brought my entire family.

Now this particular conference is fairly family friendly. Granted, we had to stay off-campus to make it financially feasible for us, but otherwise, the organizers do a great job covering all the meal costs of our whole family. Given that most of us there are lay theologians with families, no one seems upset that I bring my kids to the conference. And of course, they are all impressed that Jeff would tag along to do the childcare. I should also note that there were two other participants who brought their spouses and kids along too. Like I said, it's a family-friendly conference.

In one particularly beautiful moment, featured senior scholar Stanley Hauerwas was expostulating on how we young theologians should never sacrifice family for our career. Just then Maia ran down the hallway, past the room, yelling something about finding Mary (she'd grabbed a Guadalupe prayer card from a coffee table). We all laughed at how appropriate her timing was... and I proudly claimed her as my daughter! No, I'm not sacrificing my family for my career!

But while I attended every session and thoroughly enjoyed the conference, I have to admit that it always brings up mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, I am happy that I get to be theologian and mom at the conference. But on the other hand, I sometimes wish that I could be like the majority of attendees who are away from their families and free to enjoy things without having to think about three other people the whole time.

Then, of course, there are the post-conference symptoms. Perhaps the academics reading this will identify. When faced with the collective knowledge of 40 other people, I start having feelings of self-doubt. I don't know Thomas Aquinas well enough. And of course, if I want to spend more time on the Summa I need to brush up on my Latin. I need to read more Scripture. I am not calm enough when I speak to make a comment. I didn't understand one of the papers. I need to know more of the Church's social teachings. I am not really trained in moral theology. I need to spend more time in prayer. And of course there's the realization that, if I ever finish my dissertation, I will be competing against all of these friends of mine. But do I even want a job?

On the car ride back, I was making a mental list of things I need to do, articles I want to publish, books I want to read, work on my dissertation, etc. Realistically, with Jeff now having a real job, I'll only have a few hours of work time each day. I find myself jealous of my friends who have the time to do their reading and writing and do it well.

Didn't I want to be a full-time mom?

But didn't I want to be a full-time theologian?

I suppose it was arrogant of me to refuse to choose between the two and think I wouldn't have to deal with these feelings of inadequacy.

1 comment:

Jana Bennett said...


Just yeah. I have always brought my whole family to all of my conferences (and that one we were at was the third one this year). And I always feel judged for doing so. Except at NWNW. Great feeling. Theologians should be bit more forgiving of each others' circumstances - especially moral theologians!

I always remember what Amy Laura Hall said, though, about feelings of inadequacy - "Get thee behind me Satan!"

I think that God has called you - that comes through in your work - to be a theologian, whether or not that means a full time academic job or not. (Hopefully that means attending a few conferences here and there with family in tow though :-))