Precious Kids, Can they be Normal?

Precious Kids, Can they be Normal?

How PKs can learn firsthand to minister all around them.

Cynthia Burrill was born to missionary parents in Bolivia, South America. She met her husband Russell at Union College in Nebraska.

The By rritis have ministered in Southern New England, Mountain View, Chesapeake, Kansas-Nebraska and Upper Columbia Conferences. Cynthia assisted in Russell's pastorate and in full-time evangelism. She has also worked as a printer, secretary, and elementary school teacher.

In 1985 they moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Russell became the director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute. Cynthia became Coordinator of Women's Ministries, taught a Pastor's Spouse Class and Seminar Evangelism. The institute recently moved to Michigan where she continues her work.

"What concerns you the most as you go out to become a pastor's wife?"

She pondered a little before she answered my question, "I'm worried about my children. I wonder if I will be able to raise them to be good kids. I've seen so many rebellious pastors' children around. Is it possible for them to grow up normal, loving God and being ready for heaven?"

That question touched a soft spot in my heart. I, too, am a PK (pastor's kid), as well as an MK (missionary's kid). I have had to consider . . . do I belong to the country of my birth or the native land of family? Where am I really from? Which culture should I call my own? I had many questions about related issues. I, too, am a fellow minister's wife and have grown children who are having children of their own One of them is a little PK.

What about my little grand­son? What is he going to face? Will he be able to cope with the pres­sures? Can he grow up normally as a preacher's kid? What are some of the challenges he may encounter?

I well remember the day I greeted my own tiny newborn son. He was so precious, so innocent. How I longed to help him live a good life. I wondered what he would be like—outgoing or introspective, aggressive or easygoing. Would he love the Lord or would he turn his back on Him?

I promised God I would do everything in my power to raise a child that would reflect all that is positive in a Christian home. What I hadn't counted on was the fact that everyone else around me also had expectations of my precious little person—the teachers in Sabbath School, Grandma and Grandpa on both sides, and all the members in all of our churches. Many expected him to be perfect or at least to be able to act more mature than his age.

I read the Spirit of Prophecy and tried to follow to the best of my ability the instructions in Child Guidance, etc. I found won­derful counsel, but I almost despaired because the goals seemed so difficult to reach.

I watched my little man closely to be sure I could correct the wrong tendencies before they made inroads in his life. It seemed like I was saying, "no no," and issuing consequences all day long. All the while I could feel that I was watched. I knew they (my audience) were waiting to see what my child would do. Would he be the perfect kid, or would he be wild like other proverbial preachers' kids? I could feel the pressure.

I shudder to think how I started out with my son. The trend that I dis­covered in his life was not what I had envisioned. I was fearful I was raising a rebel, someone who had no love for God.

Only other mothers in the same crisis can understand the ache that I experienced. My story does not end like it could have ended. I am so grateful to say that Russell and I found a better way. God helped us as parents to recognize the di­rection our child was going. He gave us the wisdom to select a superior course and the power to carry it out.

What was that course? We focused less on the negative and looked for the p ositive things that our child did. We tried to en­courage him. daily. ("Good for you, you put away your toys in three minutes!" "I noticed that you were kind to your sister today!" "I am proud of how nicely you sat in church today!") Yes, we still expected obedience but strived to be reasonable in our requests.

We realized that we, not the audience, were the parents of that child. While that audience did expect much from him, we could, by our words, acts and attitudes, ease their demands. Although they expected per­fection, we could let him make mistakes and learn from them. We ourselves were not perfect and when we failed we could model confession and for­giveness. And we prayed! How we prayed—on our own, as a couple and with our little man. Did it work? I can only thank God that now my little precious person is a very responsible grown man who loves God. He has a lovely wife and an adorable little daughter. (Remem­ber this is Grandma speaking.)

Preachers' kids can be normal children and can grow up to be not only aver­age but outstanding adults. But as you may have already no­ticed they probably will have challenges.

Members' expectations—setting boundaries

I have mentioned one—the members' expectation that PKs be perfect, more mature, role models for other children or, on the other hand, be rebels and unruly. Minis­terial children, as well as the wife and minister himself, are put on a pedestal to be admired or ridiculed. It is the glass house where people can gaze inside and throw stones. Wise parents will lovingly, kindly place protective barriers around their children to enable them to truly be children without being watched all the time. Betty J. Coble said this,

"Children are capable of weath­ering criticism from others if they do not have a steady diet of it in the home" (Coble, 1981, p. 83). 

Sometimes the audience is very intrusive—literally opening the doors into our homes, watching every detail of our lives. One PK reported that some parishioners inspected the closets in his home (Lee, 1992, p. 33). My daughter, as well as other PKs, experienced teachers who said something like this, "I need your help to be a good example for the other children."

You can imagine how your teenager would feel if she were the recipient of the above quotation. "Who am I to set an example for anybody? Just because daddy's a minister, that doesn't make me anyone special. It's my life and live it the way I want to" (Wood, 1968, p. 105).

Others with good intentions correct children with this admonition: "But your father is a minister! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

These types of expectations, especially when they are verbalized, can really affect your child. I have spent hours helping my child cope with an expectation similar to the (mein the above paragraph. If I had more self-confidence and felt that I had sufficient tact, I could have confronted the member directly. 

Some pastors' wives have been successful in doing so. We did discuss in depth the reasons for proper behavior and values of our family. I tried to emphasize that we were Christians first. We didn't have to live up to expectations of the fickle audience. We only had to live for God who knew our abilities and liabilities and loved us more than any parent possibly could.

The literature on this subject, which, by the way, is not plentiful, did mention the fact that the expectations that are an invasion of privacy do affect PKs. If they do not have supportive parents that accept their imperfections in spite of the audience, they may rebel during or after their teenage years. These expectations and these invasions of privacy make it more difficult for them to identify who they really are, what values they are planning to adopt, what careers they want to follow (Lee, 1992, p. 51, 86, 103).

We as parents, with the sup­port of members, can help to establish and maintain appro­priate boundaries such as:

1. Privacy—physical and psy­chological, for the child that is uniquely his;

2. Differentiation—being able to identify himself and who he is without being controlled by the thoughts, feelings and emotions of others;

3. Being able to have a balance in his life, to be able to have a private life and unique identity so that occasional invasions of privacy won't particularly affect him (Lee, 1992).

Different cultures will vary in the amount of privacy needed.

We as parents can create unwritten rules about how much privacy we need. We can turn on the answering machine so we can play a game together. We can take vacations without coming home for funerals. We can help our children develop their identity apart from us and the church.

We can encourage our child to follow a career of his own choosing even though all those in the congregation think and expect him to follow in his father's footsteps.

Quality time

Another challenge is to make time for the child to have quality time with both parents. Mothers, as well as fathers, may be working full time, trying to keep things at an even keel at home and do their part at church. Church work can be demanding, 50-60 hour weeks for the pastor is not unusual. Pastors are quite often away for the evening while the children are at home. They could almost become strangers to their own sons and daughters. Ellen G. White said this:

"Minister's children are in some cases the most neglected children in the world, for the reason that the father is with them but little, and they are left to choose their own employment and amusement. If a minister has a family of boys, he should not leave them wholly to the care of the mother. This is too heavy a burden for her" (White, E, G., 1915, p. 206).

Does it have to be that way? No it doesn't. There are creative ways to make sure time is spent with your children: dates with kids, appointments made in Dad's or Morn's little book that are honored with just as much or more importance as with any member, regular days and evenings off, time away from the telephone, vacations together which create traditions and memories, and, of course, time to talk when every kid will be ac­cepted, listened to, approved, loved and nurtured, Our children must know they are valuable in our lives, they are important—even more than the members. We can show the children they are important by being present during the significant activities in their lives.

Both parents are needed to raise a child. It is an incredibly hard job to raise a child alone. Some pre­vious studies have indicated it may not be so important for a child not to have a father around, but recent studies indicate otherwise.

"For three out of four meas­ures of psychological well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, and psychological distress), close­ness to fathers yielded significant associations independently of closeness to mother. Regardless of the quality of the mother-child relationship, the closer children were to their fathers, the happier, more satisfied and less distressed they reported being" (Amato, 1994, p. 1039). Being there can make a difference in your home.

So many moves

Moving is a fact of life for most pastoral families, as it also is for many people in the world. I sat down with my husband and listed at least 16 major moves that we have made in our married life, besides the 70+ meetings that we have held in many different places—many times we moved every five weeks. All of this moving is bound to affect the children in some way.

One article in Marriage and Fam­ily Review men­tioned the effect that moves can have on children—depres­sion, thought disorgan­ization, injury hysteria and problems making new friends, It went on to say that for the most part the stresses seem to be temporary but are lengthened in time when the children are shy (Thomas A Corrine, 1993, p. 281-298).

I have seen this happen in my own family. My outgoing child had a much easier time dealing with the moves than my shy child. Making new friends was at times difficult and leaving old ones was painful. Even outgoing children may sometimes have a hard time being accepted by a closely knit peer group.

Timing made a difference in our moves. We always tried not to move during the school year.

If I had to do it over again, would have tried to be more sensitive to the feelings of my teenager and included him even more in the decision-making process, especially when it dealt with where he was going to go to academy. Perhaps we could have helped him avoid some pain. Things all worked out for the good in the end.

Reaching your child for Jesus

"The minister's duties lie around him, nigh and afar off; but his first duty is to his children. He should not become so en­grossed with his outside duties as to neglect the instruction which his children need" (White, E.G., 1915, p. 204).

We may travel far and near to reach souls for Christ, yet fail to reach our precious child for J esus. Our child is so near, so involved in the church that we almost feel that he will absorb Christianity by osmosis. Let us model a real, honest Christianity before our children. Let us have wonderful worships.

Our wisest, most earnest energy and talent should be spent working with our children to lead them personally to Jesus. We can model, teach and encourage them to have a deep relationship with Him. We are fortunate to have more books pliolished in this area than ever before. I long to have my children with me in heaven. This is my greatest desire for them and me.

Accentuate the advantages

Yes, there are challenges for PKs. But none that cannot be dealt with, especially with the help of the Lord. And there are many joys and blessings that only PK's can have. Enthusiastically talk with them of the joys and advantages of being a PK. Perhaps this can lessen the effect the expectations and invasions of privacy will have on your children. After all, how can any other child possibly know the fun of workers' meetings and camp meetings?

PKs can learn first hand how to minister to people around them. They can use their talents and abilities in many ways to bless others. They can have many friends in many places and grow up knowing and loving many people from many lands. Even though they maybe far from other friends and family, they will find aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers in every church. There are people who always care and encourage. What a heritage!


Aiken, Dorothy Lockwood. Bride in the Parsonage: Preacher's Kids (Tennessee: South...Tr). Publishing Association, 1966), pp. 37-46.

Amato, Paul. Journal ofIVIarriage and Family: Father-Child Relations, Mother-Child Relations, and Off­spring Psychological Well-Being in Early Adulthood. (Nebraska: University of Nebraska, Nov. 1994), p. 1039.

Briscoe, Jill. There's a Snake in My Garden: The Pastor's Children. (Michigan: Zondervan, 1975), pp. 1.29-134.

Coble, Betty J. The Private Life of the Minister's Wife, Little Reflections of Myself. (Tennessee: Broadman, 1981), pp. 81-98.

Corrille, Thomas A. Marriage and Family Review: Support Systems & the Relocation Process for Children & Families (1993), pp. 281-298.

Heppenstall, Margit Strom. Your Most Important Mission Field.. (Maryland: Review and Herald, 1970), pp. 49-55.

Langberg, Diane. Counsels for 1),s tors' Wives; What Can We Do With Rebellious Older Children? (Ministry Resources Library, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988), pp. 73-77.

Montgomery, Shirley E. A Growth Gaidefor Ministers' Wives: Locating Family Pressures. (Tennessee: Broadman, 1984), pp. 42-50.

Montgomery, Shirley E. Win­ning Ways for Ministers' Wives: Balancing Ministry and Home. (Tennessee: Broadman, 1987), pp. 33-41.

Murdock, Ruth. By His Side: No Greater Responsibility. (1970), pp. 41-47.

Porter, Aylene. Papa Was a Preacher. (New York: Abingdon­Cokesbury Press, 1944).

Ross, Charlotte. Who Is the Minister's Wife: Family Life in a Fishbowl. (Westminster Press, 1980), pp. 60-75.

Senter, Ruth. So You're the Pastor's Wife: Where Does Job End and Home Begin? (Michigan: Zondervan, 1979), pp. 101-107.

White, Ruthie. What Every Pastor's Wife Should Know. (Illinois: Tyndale, 1988) pp. 91-100.

White, Ellen G. Gospel Workers. (Maryland: Review and Herald, 1915).

Wood, Miriam. Two Hands, No Wings. (Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing, 1968). pp. 76-106.

Cynthia Burrill was born to missionary parents in Bolivia, South America. She met her husband Russell at Union College in Nebraska.

The By rritis have ministered in Southern New England, Mountain View, Chesapeake, Kansas-Nebraska and Upper Columbia Conferences. Cynthia assisted in Russell's pastorate and in full-time evangelism. She has also worked as a printer, secretary, and elementary school teacher.

In 1985 they moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Russell became the director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute. Cynthia became Coordinator of Women's Ministries, taught a Pastor's Spouse Class and Seminar Evangelism. The institute recently moved to Michigan where she continues her work.