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Our Children Are Unhappy as PKs

By Gabriele Rienas

Gabriele Rienas is a pastor’s wife for 27 years and a professional counselor, lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She speaks at retreats, conferences, and events worldwide. Contact her at 503-705-9230.

Q: Our adolescent children are letting us know how unhappy they are being PKs. We have ministered in small churches, and they have always pitched in enthusiastically, but more and more they complain. Last Sunday a lady confronted my daughter in the foyer saying she was not friendly enough to newcomers. This devastated our daughter. Yesterday, she said she wished her dad could just get a regular job. Our son chimed in and said he hates being a PK because Dad is always busy with church things. Recently our son began picking friends who are not associated with our church. I feel caught between our call to ministry and our children. How can I respond?

A: First, your compassionate, nondefensive listening ear goes a long way in helping your children deal with their concerns. Simple agreement validates their feelings and lessens anxiety. Asking questions moves the discussion toward solutions: "Honey, I'm glad you shared that with me. I can see that this is hard for you. What would help you feel better about being a PK?"

If we expected them to behave in church, it was not because they were pastor's kids, it was because it is our family value to respect and honor God's house.

The incident in the foyer is distressing. One of the biggest challenges for our children is congregational expectations. This only becomes as significant, however, as we, the parents, allow it to be. This is where ministry parents need to be a buffer for their children.

In our home we let our children know there were no additional expectations on them because they were pastor's kids. We based any requirements for them on God's standards and Rienas family values. These would not change whether we were pastoring or if Dad was a computer engineer. For example, if we expected them to behave in church, it was not because they were the pastor's kids, it was because it is our family value to respect and honor God's house.

When people inappropriately try to parent your children, let them know they have crossed a boundary. Your children must be confident that you will step in on their behalf. Using the lady in the foyer as an example, let your children know you do not agree with her inappropriate comments. Then speak with the lady about it. You might say something like, "I appreciate your concern for the well-being of our daughter, but I really need to ask you to keep from approaching her this way in the future. If you have any suggestions for us, please feel free to share them with me in writing. This will be more constructive and less distressing for all of us." (Of course, you can decide what you want to do with the written communication if and when it comes.)

Chances are good that this lady will get upset, but the well-being of your daughter takes precedence. After all, the well-meaning lady is an adult and has probably been a church member for quite some time.

In our home we let our children know there were no additional exepectations on them because they were pastor's kids.

One small word of caution: Protect your children from the ugliness of church politics and strife. Sadly, this exists in our congregations and crops up from time to time. In church life people say inappropriate things, power struggles happen, staff conflict erupts, and people get upset. As mature adults, we handle this and move along in our faith journey. Our children are much more tender and impressionable. Resist the urge to use your children as sounding boards or allies. They naturally feel greatly protective of their parents. If exposed to church conflict, they become bitter and resentful, not to mention disillusioned about ministry, church, and even God.

You mentioned you have pastored small churches. I like the fact you have always encouraged your children to minister alongside you. This is an awesome way to develop their heart for ministry and service. The challenge of small churches, however, is that they do not always have the resources and social network that other ministries can offer.

Social networking and interaction is a normal part of adolescent development. This is crucial to human development and, for the most part, teenagers crave it. In a vacuum, teenagers will find other ways to connect, not always making the wisest choices.

If your church is small and your children desire to expand their social circle outside, find opportunities for them to do so in settings that hold the same faith and values. If this means attending another youth group, let them do so. If your concern is that they remain involved in your own church, then find events offered on an alternate night and require they attend one in order to attend the other. If your congregation protests, you be the one to advocate for your children.

When people inappropriately try to parent your children, let them know they have crossed a boundary.

You mentioned that your children are complaining about their father's absence. This is something you need to address as a family. Take time to listen to your children's concerns — nondefensively — with a solution-oriented frame of mind. You will want to find out exactly what they mean. When, specifically, do they feel resentful of Dad's church activities?

  • Has he missed sporting events?

  • Is he preoccupied when at home?

  • Is he absent at dinner?

  • Does he talk on the phone during family time?

You will probably discover that the kids are fine with Dad being reasonably busy. Help them identify changes they would like Dad to make. Be concrete and specific:

If your church is small and your children desire to expand their social circle outside, find opportunities for them to do so in settings that hold the same faith and values.

  • I would like you to come to my school plays and sporting events.

  • We would like you to let the phone go to voice mail when we are having family time.

  • We would like you to join the family on a day outing.

Most likely you will find the changes are relatively simple. Whatever efforts you make on their behalf will encourage your children. Often, they simply want to feel like they are heard.

Ministry involves the family like few other professions do. Pray that God will give you and your husband the wisdom and insight to negotiate family life in a way that honors the Lord and instills in your children a love for serving Him.