Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pastors' Wives and the Challenge of the Children

Yes, I am still here, though I am hitting that Autumn brainfog and general busy-ness that makes it difficult to gather thoughts long enough to blog about them. But here I sit, all alone in Panera, with the exception of my trusty laptop (well, I haven't had it long enough to really call it trusty, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt), playing Spider Solitaire, surfing other people's blogs, and then the thought occurs to me "You have a blog, too, you know. A vastly neglected one at that!" I think it was my computer accusing me. Maybe its not my trusty friend after all.

But I can write about something I read recently. The Lutheran Women's Quarterly just released an issue on/by pastors' wives. It was nice, and there was an article, "The Out-of-Sync Pastor's Wife," by Melinda Scheich, that addressed some challenges of pastors' wives (Clearly, the title alone would appeal to me). It's nice to know there are others out there. But like any publication that limits its' articles to one page, it only briefly touches on these things. So I'd really like to flesh out one or two things that caught my attention.

The article stated very briefly that pastors families often don't live near their families, and one place where difficulties arise for us is that we rarely get the help with the children that we want and need because of this. We're kind of out there on our own. Good point. Very good point. It is probably one of the biggest struggles I would say I have faced in being a pastor's wife. In fact, at times it has seemed like more than I could take.

When we moved here, I had a one year old who was just starting to walk, and a seven year old. Both were having problems adjusting. It seemed so wonderful to go from a congregation of 30 to one of about 150 who had kids activities on Saturdays, who had lots of potlucks, who had family activities, and even got together a ton of people, old and young alike to help shut-ins get the leaves out of their yard.

Most of these activities happened in the afternoon. I desperately wanted to be involved in these things, but I had a cranky one year old who needed a nap and who would've made my life miserable and that of others as well if I took her along anyway. My husband was rather required to be at these events, so taking turns wasn't even an option. And there was no one else. No one.

When I did go to church activities, I was chasing her around and keeping her safe, not interacting with others. I felt as if there was this huge prison wall between me and our new congregation.

I couldn't help in the kitchen, because there was no one to watch Maggie. I couldn't teach classes, because there was no one to watch Maggie. And even if I wanted to, Maggie left me exhausted a good portion of the time.

I spent most of the church service battling with her to get her to stay in the pew, or leaving my six year old alone in the pew while I walked her around the church. Meanwhile I watched other families team up to help take care of toddler, or watched fathers walk around with their babies. At times, when my husband would ask "how was the service?" I'd just stare at him thinking "You have GOT to be kidding me. As if I got to hear a word of it!!" There were many times I didn't go because I just couldn't bear the prospect of the morning.

I was asked to go to LWML Zone meetings but they'd recruited my husband to be the chaplain. Knowing how LWML groups helped us through seminary, we didn't want to deny them any help we could. And if I had to pay for a sitter, I really wanted to just be alone with my husband. (The church wasn't the only one effected by this. When we moved here, I quickly found that there were numerous homeschooling groups that had no kids policies).

Most people in our parish can volunteer to help with something because they can drop the kids off at Grandma's, or Dad can watch them -- or 3/4 of the family will be there anyway. That support system is just nonexistent for many pastors' wives.

Life has gotten somewhat easier. My youngest is six now, and is no longer a 35 lb. bundle of impulses and urges. I am not as exhausted now and eagerly praying for any break possible (though they are definitely still welcome). But it was hard. It still is.

My kids don't really have anyone who will just take them to the zoo, like their cousins do, other than us. They don't have cousins to play with. They don't have aunts or uncles to give them hard times or show them how to do things, or grandparents who are frequently present to shower them with love. They are all 2000 miles away. I grieve for them in that.

I have gotten to the point where I only seek out a babysitter if I ABSOLUTELY need one, because there isn't anyone who seems really eager to do it. There have been a few other grownups who have helped -- and they really have helped. But their lives are complicated, and so getting a babysitter seems complicated. This may be my perception, but it seems to be, and I don't want them to think I am taking advantage. The relationships are too precious.

The teens that we encounter are too busy with school activities and life to have time to babysit, and there is always the concern with using a teen in the congregation that if we are late, the parents might get mad at us, no matter what might be said (pastors are kind of used to having people tell them that things are "just fine" when they are not). As a consequence, when I do go out, I am usually home way earlier than I was when I myself was a teenager...or was a babysitter.

And occasionally, pastor's families have found themselves hurt by people who used it as an opportunity to be critical of their housekeeping styles.

In truth, I haven't been out on a date in several months, that includes my birthday, my husbands birthday, or our anniversary. I don't know how that happened, other than it is becoming too much of a bother to deal with it. And aside from one night where I took my husband to Chicago to get his shoulder operated on, I haven't been alone with my husband in the house or otherwise for ONE NIGHT in seven years. And my inlaws flew out to help with that.

I can't say that our marriage is hurting for it, we are stronger than ever and find enjoyment with each other wherever we are, whatever the situation, generally. But it doesn't mean that those opportunities aren't missed.

This may sound like I am complaining, I'm not. I love our congregation, and I am not trying to imply that they are insensitive in the least. Besides, this is so much a part of our life that I have long ago stopped complaining. I am trying to show the reality of the life and I know from talking with other pastors' wives, that they also feel this is one of the particular challenges of the life.

I'm also not saying that it is the congregation's responsibility to provide babysitters for us. I am really just trying to show what the struggle looks like. I am not trying to criticize anyone for not solving it or being in tune to it.

Some of it is my choice, we homeschool, so the one break that I COULD get from my kids I have chosen not to have, but we see the huge benefits in that. The schools would be challenging, and it does allow for activities and family time with all of us that would not be there otherwise.

So if you do have a pastor's wife with young kids, it really wouldn't hurt to offer to babysit or give her a break at times. Befriend the kids and offer to have them over to bake cookies or something else that is fun, on a regular basis. And if they don't respond right away, then repeat the offer every few months, so it is known that you are serious and so that she knows who offered....not just on the day that her husband is installed as pastor. She won't remember who it was in this huge mob of strangers while her kids are acting up because they are stressed over all the changes. If you are so moved, this is certainly an area that many pastors' kids don't get to enjoy very often in the name of their father's Divine Call.

And keep the family in your prayers. That was probably the best thing in the whole dang article.

And if nothing else, if your pastor's wife doesn't seem to do anything, don't assume she's anti-social or not interested. She just might be shy and overwhelmed.

Oops...this took too long. Gotta rush back. I'm almost on duty again. Dad has to get back to work.


Dakotapam said...

Thanks for this. Your transparency is refreshing. I think you have said a lot of the things we PWs feel, but are afraid to complain about, because, on the whole, we ARE so blessed.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I agree. There are so many places that I believe our congregation is a blessing to our family. But this definitely is a challenge, sometimes a painful one. It is one that any family that is away from family finds, but it is practically in the nature of being a pastor's family.

Karen said...

I really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions for helping out our pastor's wife. As a lay person, I've thought that the pastor's family would have tons of people offering assistance and didn't want to add to the demands of the congregation.

elephantschild said...

Come to think of it, I believe our Pastor & his wife's anniversary was the week he was installed...

Looks like I've got some sittin'-offering to catch up on.

Thursday's Child said...

Great post, as usual! You've certainly made me think.

Tressa said...

Hello, I am a new reader here, but your post really hit home for me. I am not a pastor's wife, but a wife to a career Navy guy. I could relate to a lot in your post. It is hard not having family around to help out. I don't like to ask people for help, either. It stinks sitting in that pew by yourself week after week. I know.

Anyway, I felt the need to comment because your post also reminded me that I need to look around a little. I am out of the stage of needing a sitter and for the first time in a long time I am near family. It was a good reminder to see who I can help.

Praying for all our pastor's wives..

Lora said...


I have to laugh because I always said I could never be a pastor's wife or a military wife (yes, God has a sense of humor). There are some very strong similarities.

I also used to try to befriend any single moms my husband managed to talk into "trying" church. But because I was the pastor's wife, they felt uncomfortable that their kids were misbehaving, or for many other reasons....but the irony is, they don't understand that I REALLY know how they feel --At least on Sunday.

Thanks for stopping by!

Auntie Kandi said...

Growing up as a pastor's daughter who never lived near extended famiy I know exactly what you mean. But wanted to give you the reassurance that I think growing up that way taught me to never take family for granted (as I saw other families do) and really strengthed our own. Plus, now as a mother of 3 very young kids, I had my mother's strong example of how to handle my family independently. Not that I don't miss having a grandma nearby for a babysitter!

Cheryl said...

A lot of what you have written here is equally applicable to cantor's wives (particularly the part about handling the children all by yourself at church because your husband is busy with everyone else).

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Absolutely. As far as the effect on the family, there is absolutely no difference. And your husband is in a large congregation with multiple services and a school.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

The Divine Call works in mysterious ways, but I found it very eye opening that one of the very influential factors in one congregation I was in before I was married was how decisive it was to the congregation that one of the pastors on the list had a wife who could play the organ.

They showed up with a very spirited three year old who needed every bit of her attention. There was no way we were having a peacable service if she was playing the organ and he was preaching. Nor should she have.

Tressa said...

Lora, you made me laugh because I always said that I would never, ever marry a sailor. (I grew up in a Navy town) Now, look at me. Happily married and living the life I thought that I didn't want. Yes, God has a sense of humor. :)

Orianna Laun said...

I hear you. It's a struggle just being the PW; I can't speak to the children part, as I currently have none. I can imagine the difficulties of PW-hood only intensify with children. One is torn between trying to be a good wife, mom, parishioner, and whatever the congregation expects out of the wife too. It can be exhausting.
I hope that many people take your advice and help out their pastor and his wife. I'd offer to babysit if I lived in your neck of the midwest. . .