My six-year-old daughter bounces into our church building with an air of confidence and comfort, her loud voice echoing off of the empty walls of the atrium. Her two sisters trail behind as I settle in for an early start before our congregation begins to fill the space.
My husband, Daniel, has been working at our church for the last five years as a youth pastor, and our three daughters have grown up in the chaos of ministry life.
Our family is just one of many that creates the beautiful tapestry of our church community, and we purposely don’t conflate our identity as a family with my husband’s role within our church. So we consciously do not refer to our children as “pastor’s kids” —We don’t want our daughters’ identities to be framed around their parent’s vocation.
As a wife to a pastor, I’ve had my own challenges. I’ll never forget the first time it became clear that some would hold my words and actions to a higher standard.
I was newly married and naive, and I shared an opinion online about an injustice that I saw within the church. Someone I didn’t know sent me a message on Facebook, chastising me: “A pastor’s wife should know better.” I felt vulnerable, hurt and uncomfortable. At the time I only had one infant daughter, but I knew that this situation could one day play out in her life too.
Since that experience, I have been part of many conversations that reference pastor’s wives and pastor’s kids. Typically, when the conversation veers in this direction, it is followed by a comment about the pressures we face because of our role in the church, or the many sets of eyes watching our every movement. It’s always an uncomfortable conversation, whether someone calls out a behaviour they deem inappropriate or says that one day the children will become rebellious because of their father’s role.
There’s something unspoken when people talk about PKs. Many people in the church have an opinion or a story to tell.
“When we continue to refer to our children as pastor’s kids, we continue to associate them with a life that they didn’t choose.”
It’s 2018, and I think many churches have come a long way, infusing our communities with grace and understanding, and becoming a home for all people to freely worship God. I think that it’s time we archive the outdated title of pastor’s kid and all the expectations and pressures that come with it.
We know so much about the importance of children coming into their own. We understand how damaging shame can be, and we try to speak to our children in a way that doesn’t heap shame onto them. But when we continue to refer to our children as pastor’s kids, we continue to associate them with a life that they didn’t choose.
As my kids get older, I expect that the pressure will too. It’s nearly impossible to have a parent in a public role without feeling the weight of that responsibility, and I’m not naive about that. But I also believe that we can change the conversation by turning the focus away from children who have parents in ministry roles.
In our home, my children will never be pastor’s kids. They will just be kids.