My last two posts addressed the unique challenges of parenting as a clergy family, highlighting some of the dynamics parents face raising kids while serving in ministry. Pastors and spouses I met through my research wrestled with so many questions along these lines.
- Do we shield our children from the realities of politics and conflict so they don’t see this ugly side of the church?
- Will doing so create an overly-idealistic image of congregations, resulting in disappointment down the road?
- Will our kids grow to resent the church (and by extension, faith) if they feel like our family is always doing something church related?
These are important questions without easy answers and, as I discovered, what works well for one clergy family may not be successful for another. What I also discovered were some remarkable efforts to live into the unique demands of ministry, its unconventional schedule, and blurred boundaries. In other words, clergy families recognized and acknowledged the issues and challenges that necessarily come with parenting in ministry, but then found ways to re-frame the challenges, drawing out some unique and hidden benefits.
A mainline pastor, after acknowledging the impact on family life that comes with working Sundays, reflected on the advantages of taking Mondays off:
I used to do special Monday with the kids. That was a good thing. Every Monday I was off and so the first Monday was [my older son], the second Monday was [my younger son], the third Monday was [my daughter]. And as soon as school was over, we’d go out and spend the whole rest of the day together and do something fun. We did that for years and years and years.
While our cultural tendency is to associate family time with weekends, this pastor shifted his perspective and carved out a unique opportunity to spend one-on-one time with his kids outside conventional boundaries. A mainline clergy spouse reframed family time from a different angle, looking forward to the chance to be together as a family even while his wife was working:
I really do look forward to being a pretty active participant here. And as we move on and start to plan a family and have one or two kids eventually, I look forward to all of us being at a church on a Sunday while she’s…You know, mom’s up there in the robe but I think I’ll really enjoy being there with the kids.
Rethinking family time beyond the confines of a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday work week became a means for clergy families to see opportunities, not limitations. Yes, the limitations are there, but the integrated life isn’t about neat and tidy solutions to the pressures of competing demands. It’s about acknowledging the reality of a sometimes messy existence and discovering new, innovative means of making it work and finding joy in the process.
A clergy couple, Julie and Alex, who have several small children embody this model well:
We just bring the kids to rehearsal and they dance and run around and play. It’s chaotic to have them there, it’s easier to not have them there, but enough times we choose to do it so that they are a part of it and they feel part of it. Last week we went on a [a missions trip] and my mom offered. She said, “I’ll keep the kids so you guys can go and just focus on what you’re doing.” Alex and I said no, we want them to do it with us. It was awkward. It was chaotic. It meant that in the morning for the work project time I had to do the kids while Alex did that and then we’d switch and I’d go in the afternoon. It takes more effort, but it is always more satisfying when they are integrated into what we are doing at whatever level that can be done.
While healthy boundaries no doubt have their place, trying to build neat, tidy compartments where they are just not possible might actually create rather than alleviate tension. Throughout my research–and indeed in my own life as the parent of a pastor’s kid–I encountered so many opportunities to discover the satisfaction Julie and Alex describe. And it’s not despite but amid the chaos and awkwardness that this all emerges. I hope as you move into one of the more demanding seasons as a clergy family–Advent and Christmas–you may also find joy and beauty in the chaos.
Lenore Knight Johnson