News / USA

Churches Take Up Fight for Stressed Parents

A generation ago, many churches in the United States were sustained by stay-at-home mothers who worked as volunteers.

Today, the adult daughters of those women are struggling to balance work and children.

Packed schedule

Deanna Troust is one of them. Her day becomes hectic well before she leaves for work.

With two daughters in elementary school, breakfast needs to be made, lunches prepared and homework finished.

But sometimes something in her day has to give, like a school event for her older daughter, Natalie.  

"So you're going to have your Hispanic heritage month celebration at 10:30 [a.m.]," she told Natalie over breakfast one recent morning, "which I'm sorry I cannot come because it's on a Thursday."

Troust is a media professional, while her husband, Vic Fernandez, is a financial executive.

"It’s really challenging and with two careers and if they’re both, I always call them 'big jobs,' if your husband has a big job too, well, you’re just sort of filling in, five minutes here, 10 minutes there, to try and kind of make it all work." Troust says.

Less time for church

So when Sunday comes, it is tempting to skip church.

"Sometimes we need just one day where we don’t have to get out of the house at nine," she says.

Troust and Fernandez are like countless other parents across the country who struggle to balance work and children, who are also finding less time to devote to congregational life.

Church leaders realize stressed-out families are not good for the future of congregational life in America.

Faith as part of the solution

Rev. David Gray of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, believes faith can be part of the solution.

"In our congregation, we have a lot of people who are stressed at work. It comes from living in the D.C. area. It comes from a lot of professionals in the congregation," he says, "and so when I look out in the pews I need to deal with the stress that they are facing."

In a new book, he argues that churches need to be part of the fight for workplace flexibility.

The future of denominations like his depends on young families, according to Gray. The average age of Presbyterians is 61.

"So if a church is going to attract that target audience," he says, "it’s got to understand work-life imbalance."

Time pressures

Gray recently led a discussion on the subject at the New America Foundation, a public policy research organization.

Fellow panelist Brigid Schulte is a Washington Post reporter who is writing a book about the time pressure on American families.  

"We work among the most hours of any country in the world," Schulte says. "We take the fewest days of vacation of any country in the world."

And America is the only major industrialized society with no paid parental leave.

"There is such a feeling of ambivalence about whether mothers should work in this country, which is evidenced by the fact that we don’t have policies to support them," Schulte says, "There’s a feeling that every minute that you are not at work you better be with your child."

Finding time 

The Fernandez-Trousts are Presbyterians and precisely the kind of family the church is trying to attract. Despite the challenges, Deanna Troust says the family does make it to church at least once or twice a month.

"When I share with people that we go to church, often the response is, 'Wow, that’s so impressive,' rather than, 'Oh, that’s important,'" she says. "They're viewing it as another thing on the schedule that’s difficult to make happen."

But church is one of the few places where Troust finds time for herself.

"It did become clear to me at some point that, wow, this is one hour that I can go and sit and there’s child care," she says.

The challenge for American churches is to become a haven for stressed-out parents, instead of just another burden.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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