I’m a preacher’s kid. I’m married to a preacher’s kid. We’re raising a preacher’s kid.
I’m also a first born. I’m married to a first born. We’re raising a first (and only) born.
Let me digress for a moment. Shortly after moving to this new community I went to a bank to open an account. My banker was particularly chatty. I learned a lot about her and she about me. Somehow we even got into discussing my fertility history (and future?). Somehow she ended up declaring that it makes sense that I only have one child, because as a pastor I actually have SO many children. She’s Roman Catholic. She calls her celibate pastor “Father.” She quite graciously accepted the idea of me as pastor… but surely she translated “Father” to “Mother” and… well… she shared her insight about one being enough for one who is a mother of so many.
We do think one is enough. But her comment re-framed the four year fertility struggle I endured while serving in my first parish. I got pregnant, at last, AFTER I knew that I was leaving the parish to return to school– probably just about two weeks thereafter… Now it is not a walk in the park to give birth the first semester of one’s Ph.D. program. Nor to combine parenting and doctoral studies… but it did mean that, save for a brief temporary stint, and a whole lot of pulpit supply, for nearly the first full six years of my daughter’s life, I was not “Pastor Sarah.” I sat with her in worship most weeks. I could braid her hair and snuggle on Sunday mornings. While I had some evening commitments (I never get too far from church work…), I was home more often than not in the evenings. And… I wasn’t mothering the masses.
My sister said once or twice that she thinks I finally got pregnant after learning that I would be moving because my baby didn’t want to be born in New York State (where it is very hard to have a legal home birth). But the comment from the banker made me realize that the gift of C was finally given when I had the promise of an extended period away from pastoral ministry. And I have returned to the parish just in time for her to start full day kindergarten (We arrived the DAY before kindergarten started!)… As I drove away from the bank that day that was one of those moments of thinking “Wow. God really does know what God is doing.”
But now I am serving as a parish pastor again. For a larger parish. And I have a strong willed, almost six year old, kindergartner who is adjusting to a) her second new home in two years, b) a new school, c) a new church, d) grief over all that she has left behind, and e) being a PK. The earlier points of adjustment were giving us challenges a few months back. She’s come a long way on points a through d in the three months we’ve been here. But we’re just starting to process the adjustment that comes with e.
She vacillates between pride and anguish, it seems. So proud to have a mommy to whom people listen. So proud to have a mommy on whom people seem to depend. So proud to have a mommy with a pretty singing voice her friends admire. So anguished to share mommy with so. many. other. people (particularly with my co-pastor– she said one day it seems I love my co-pastor more than her.) So anguished to have me away so often. So anguished to have to see me in worship, but not be with me in worship. She likes to be my helper at church and to spend time in my office. She senses, I think, some special status that comes with being connected to the pastor. She may be feeling, though I’m not sure she does yet, the particular pressure that comes with being connected to the pastor.
She’s enjoying already what I took to be the greatest perk of being a pastor’s kid– that being that I truly felt that the whole church was my family as different church members took responsibility for watching over me and guiding me week after week, and they all seemed genuinely invested in my growth and progress. I had LOTS of adults I could trust and on whom I could rely. That was a great gift. C took a church member to school with her for “special persons” day at her school a few weeks back. And was THRILLED to do so. There are several grown-ups at church she delights in seeing. And several kids too. She loves to be at the church– as did I, when I was young. (Well, and just about always… hence an ordination in my mid-twenties.)
But she’s also already struggling with some of the very burdens that I experienced as a pastor’s kid. Is there enough of mom (dad) to go around and still leave enough for me? She said something chilling in the car tonight, “I don’t want you to give me away, mommy, because I don’t like being a pastor’s kid. But I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” I don’t know where she got the idea that I might give her away… But I remember feeling given away, abandoned…
Kev said to her tonight “Mom said you guys were talking earlier about how hard it is to be a pastor’s kid and you know what? You live with two people who really do understand. You live with two pastor’s kids.”
We can understand. We can remember.
But we can’t make it easy for her.
A friend I met through blogging many years ago sent me an audio book to listen to while I was struggling with a few issues in my first parish. The book was called Scream Free Parenting. I was a few years away from becoming a parent, but he suggested that if I replace the last word of the title with “Pastoring” he thought it would be quite helpful to me. I don’t remember much from the book, but I remember the mantra it taught me “Responsible to, not responsible for.” I need to remember this mantra both while doing the parenting of pastoring and while parenting as a pastor. I am responsible TO the call that has been extended to me, to being a faithful co-pastor to the parishioners in the congregation. I am not responsible FOR the thoughts, feelings, behaviors of those I am pastoring. I am responsible TO my child– I need to care for her emotional and physical needs; I need to help to keep her safe; I need to nurture her growth and development; I need to make time to really connect with her, to enact my love for her. I am not responsible FOR her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. She will think what she will think, and it won’t all be lovely… I know. She will feel what she will feel. And it will not all be pleasant… I know. She will do what she will do and it won’t all be pretty… I know.
So I need to set healthy boundaries both in my parenting and my pastoring. And I will be healthier in both vocations if I do. And living both vocations might help me to do so. But one can easily get out of whack in both roles.
But as a preacher’s kid, married to a preacher’s kid… there’s a particular pull on my heartstrings as my hyper-verbal child says things out loud that the little girl in me never did find a way to say out loud. And you know what? It’s a pull of pride and anguish.