I surveyed over 20 pastor’s kids (PK’s) for another author. The responses of these adult PK’s were staggering. A few responded favorably. Most were being respectful to their parents but were brutally honest.
After reading these, my wife and I took a long walk. I shared the general results with her. After all, my two boys were PK’s their whole life. I told her that a ministry to PK’s is a huge need. Some of the responders, ranging in age from 20 to 59, expressed deep-rooted scars, bordering on psychological trauma. This concerned me for the long-term health of pastoral families.
What can we do to address the unique challenges of raising pastor’s kids to be emotionally healthy, spiritually faithful children? I humbly offer four tips to manage your PK well.
1. Confess and Repent Early and Often
You will make mistakes—a lot of them. Count on it. The best thing you can do is to confess to your children where you have failed and ask their forgiveness—even if they are still toddlers.
You will need to learn to communicate with your family about what you are feeling. They already know you are stressed. Let them know when you are feeling down or pressured or angry or just ill. Young children (and wives) will take the emotional expression of your stressors personally.
2. Establish Family Routines
Pastor’s families have different schedules than other families. Dad (and Mom in many cases) has to work on the weekends. Other families have weekends free. Your children will recognize this. You will need to establish family routines that work best for your children and your schedule. In many cases, the flexibility of your job provides creative options that the banker’s kids do not get to enjoy. Take advantage of the flexibility by setting a family outing day or family game nights or whatever your family enjoys. The children need to believe that it is an honor and a privilege to be a PK because Pastor-Dad can spend time with us, coach us, go to boring school functions with us and have fun with us.
3. Work Together as Parents
The great theologian, Rocky Balboa once said of his fiancée Adrian, “I got gaps; she got gaps. Together we got no gaps.” Raising kids is a team effort, especially with PK’s who have complicated schedules and are living with public scrutiny. The best parental thing we did was to determine the goal for raising our children and specifically how and when we were going to discipline them. We worked in unity. One of my PK sons sent this to his Mom on her 50th birthday (even though she is only 37):
The most important relationship a young child can have is with his mother. From the very beginning she is the caregiver, protector, nurturer, and teacher. But there is another key role a mother has: advocate. While dad has many important roles as well, no one understands and cares for the feelings of a child like his mother. And when he is too young to voice or understand those feelings himself, the mother must. In a pastor’s home, it can be frustrating if mom does not advocate. Dad’s role as a pastor had the ability to drain him and take his attention if he was not careful. Such was not the case in our home, because mom cared.
When things with the church got crazy and pastor-dad had to go put out some fires (whether it was late night hospital visits, counseling, or dealing with a disgruntled board), mom was always batting for the welfare of the family. Ever attentive, she knew when enough was enough and the family needed to get more attention. She also knew when it was okay for Dad to spend a Friday night working on his sermon or meeting with a young couple who just miscarried. You see, mom had a pulse on the family heartbeat and my brother and I knew it.
We all knew dad’s job was important and we needed him to play catch in the backyard, but only mom could navigate that balance. She advocated for us when he was too busy and she advocated for him when he had to miss a basketball game (though that was a rare occurrence). Furthermore, because she so consistently and effectively advocated for the well being of the family, we trusted her.
In a pastor’s home, church and family balance can be a confusing and potentially harmful dynamic. In situations of unbalance, the family can feel neglected or pastor-dad can feel burdened or embittered. Mom has got to fight for that balance and advocate for her kids when workaholism can seep into a pastor’s life so easily. And that’s what mom did for us. I’d like to think it made us all a little less crazy.
4. Let Your Children Have Fun—Even at a Church Gathering
An overwhelming response from the PK survey was their expressing the daunting feeling of pressure to perform according to an unattainable standard. Children know how to play and have fun. PK’s unfortunately learn how to repress and rebel in an environment that does not allow them to make mistakes. As pastor, you set the tone in the church. You can’t expect your PK’s to behave differently than the DK’s (doctor’s kids), especially at a church gathering. Your identity and worth is not wrapped up in how well your children perform. It is secured in Christ, so fill your home with lots of laughter. One day you won’t have to pick up after them and they won’t be screaming in the halls and they won’t beg for five more minutes to play outside. It is that day that you will wish you had let them have fun without imposing on them the pressure to look like the perfect family.
Pastor’s Kids or Pastors or Counselors, comment below if you have ideas, questions or suggestions about ministering to adult PK’s who can find healing from their experiences.