When I set out to write The Pastor’s Kid one of the first things I did was make sure I wasn’t nuts. I knew my own experiences and feelings towards being raised as a PK. I knew the difficulties and frustrations and pressures I had faced. But I didn’t know if my experience was normative or whether I was just weird. So I started contacting other PKs through Twitter, Facebook, email, and by phone.
Each time I would ask them about their stories. I would ask some directing questions and some open ended ones. I just wanted to know whether they experienced the same challenges I had faced. As the answers rolled in I was relieved to see that, no, I was not weird (at least not in that way). But then it became distressing. The consistency of the frustrations expressed and expectations described was like Groundhog Day — the same thing over and over again.
I was expected to be better-behaved than other kids. (Sometimes even their parents expressed this.)
People looked to me to know the answers.
Everyone was watching all the time.
I had to be the good kid, to have my stuff together, to know what I believed and why I believed it.
I couldn’t express doubts or screw up in any way, but at the same time it was like people were just waiting for me to fail.
The Pressure Is There
I also interacted with quite a few pastors to get input and to hear their perspective on raising kids in a ministry context. I came away surprised again. Time and time again I heard things like “My kids don’t feel that pressure; we’ve set things up to protect them at our church” or “I haven’t seen any of that with my kids; our church is great about it.” On the one hand my fellow PKs beat a consistent rhythm and on the other pastors said there was no noise.
While I sincerely, sincerely, hope those pastors are correct, it is but a vain hope. The simple fact remains: PKs feel the pressure. There is little a pastor can do to eliminate it. The pastors I spoke with all seemed like in-tune parents. They were aware of the potential problems and sought to protect their kids from it and address any issues as they arose. The problem is that much of what PKs feel is not evidenced in a way others can see, no matter how in-tune they are. It is internalized. It is in the mind and heart.
A Word for Pastors
Pastors, while you can’t eliminate the pressure from the outside, you can do much to help with the internal pressure. Set your expectations to a realistic level. Just know that your kids feel a burden at some level. It is there. Think of the pressure you feel in ministry, how every eye is on you, how you can’t misstep. It’s like that but without spiritual or emotional maturity or the conviction of a ministry calling. It is a child facing expectations that are unfair even for adults.
Ed Stetzer shared with me,
I tell my kids that they do not have to live up to the expectations of others — they have to honor the Lord and, while they are in our home, follow our authority. Beyond that, I’m not too concerned about what the church thinks of my kids, and my kids (and my church) know that.
These kinds of statements are what PKs need to hear and see played out day in and day out. They need to see that their parents don’t expect different things from them at church than at home and won’t stand for others doing so either. It is advocacy in behalf of your kids and should be spoken of often and lived out always.
The Coat and the Fire
The last big thing pastors can do actually goes for all parents: Focus more on helping your kids cope and process and grow than on shielding them. Coats and hats will keep people warm in the bitter winter, but enough time outside and their noses and toes will be numb. But the warm dry clothes, the blanket, the fire in the fireplace, and the hot chocolate will soothe the coldest of colds. Pastors must be both the coat and the fire, the hat and the blanket.
You can only protect so much, but you can warm and comfort and thaw. Converse with your kids; don’t preach or counsel. Ask probing questions and don’t buy the “I’m fine” stuff; that just means they still have some thawing to do. Stay close to them through every season, no matter how antagonistic or bratty they get; they need you. They need to feel the warmth of your presence, your words, your embrace. You are God’s protection and comfort for your kids.
Being a PK is by no means a lost cause or a sentence of doom, but it is difficult. Some PKs may not feel it as distinctly as others, or they might be better equipped to deal with the challenges. But there is really no avoiding the pressures. They will always be there; the question is: will you?