PKs--The Positive and the Negative

PKs--The Positive and the Negative

Exploring the life of a pastor's kid.

Carole Brousson Anderson is a Christian counselor and psy­chologist; she works in a university counseling center for stu­dents with personal and career concerns. Her husband, Don, is the associate pastor of the Vancouver Central Seventh-day Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They have their own PK-eight months old.

As a new bride, I was happy to be married to a minister and excited about working as a team, but it was only weeks into our first pastorate that I sunk into depres­sion. My husband was welcomed by all and had instant friends, but for many weeks, I felt like running from the sanctuary in tears. I was surrounded by people, yet I felt terribly lonely.

Expectations. Potential criticism. I remembered the time my husband wasn’t so successful, and it still stung. My energy and hopes for pastoring disappeared. Was this what God requiredCto live 2,000 miles from home, friends, and family, to be alone and depressedCfor life? My first thoughts turned to my future children. If ministry was this difficult for me, what would it be like for them?

When I returned to graduate school, it was easy to decide on a research topicCpastors kids (PKs). To my amazement, while PKs were assumed to be goody-goodies (or the opposite extreme, wild), little research had been done to find out if this was fact or fiction. PKs were virtu­ally ignored.

After sending out just over 900 questionnaires to adult PKs, I was amazed to receive nearly 600 back. PKs were anxious and willing to talk about their experiences. In some ways, the pain and difficulties expressed were similar to my own, but this bleak picture did not hold true with all PKs. As one PK put it, “I had a wonderful upbring­ingCthere is little I would changeCthe positives definitely outweighed the negatives. My wonderful parents made it work!” Another said: “I enjoyed our life. I was happy and content. My folks did an awesome job of creating a healthy environment.” Yet another said, “I enjoyed all of it. If you would like to talk to a perfect pair of PK parents, call my mom and dad.” She gave their telephone number, too!

Many other PKs had positive things to say about their experiences. The most frequently mentioned area was the opportunity to meet many people. The PKs felt their life­style of moving, entertaining, and active involvement in the church gave them the opportunity to meet and make many friends around the world. Often people already knew who they were or there was a connection that got them introduced, and this made making friends easyCfor both the shy and the outgoing. According to them, everyone knew someone you knew. They described this as an en­larged “family.”

Other church workers’ families also became extended familyCespecially other PKs. One put it this way: “I always feel a certain kinship with other PKs. I thought it would be nice to marry one and did.”

Another area frequently mentioned was the status as­sociated with being a PK and having a father as a pas­tor. These PKs felt respected, looked up to, like a celebrity, and that they were never a nobody but always a “some­body.” They felt they were appreciated, accepted, popular, the center of attention, and that everyone knew who they were. This special status gave them advantages like meeting the GC president, having lunch with the Heritage Singers, or being in the loop of authority, information, and car­ing.

They also spoke of feeling very proud of their father and his accomplishments, whether it was his great sermons (one said she liked her father’s sermons better than any others; another said that his father gave the best sermons he’d ever heard) or his decision to help people reach the kingdom of heaven. One PK wanted to be just like his daddy, and when he was little would “preach” out of his Bible and storybook. He described his dad as his hero and best buddy.

PKs also frequently talk­ed about how they liked the moving and traveling their dads’ job required. They felt it made their lives educationally rich, both in terms of meeting many people from different cultures and subcultures and in experiencing different parts of the country and world.

One was thankful for the opportunity to learn a second language, another for learning about several different cultures and seeing places others only dream about, and yet another for the range of experi­ences that gave a wider “horizon.”

Some PKs just liked moving. They felt each move was a new and fascinat­ing adventure. One de­scribed the excitement of looking at the map to see where they were go­ing next. Another liked the opportunity to start over with a clean slate.

They sometimes ex­pressed how moving and travel had influ­enced their develop­ment and helped them to be more flexible and adaptable. Moving had created a greater tolerance for change and a better ability to cope.

In addition to the positive aspects mentioned above, many PKs simply gave examples of what they liked about their dad’s job that did not fit neatly into any category. Examples included the education subsidy that helped them with their schooling, camp meetings, workers’ meetings, camp pitch, General Conference sessions, and their father’s flexible schedule that allowed him to take them to school or make their lunches.

They also mentioned always having something to do—sunshine bands, potlucks, socials, and all the other church activities. They liked being involved with their dad in Bible studies, visitation, or being his pianist, and the fact that he could baptize them, marry them, and be the one to dedicate their children.

Some PKs enjoyed being kept up-to-date on church news and religious concerns, and liked having a father who knew so many answers to their questions regarding Christianity, religion, and spirituality. Another liked hav­ing father as a pastor because it made church a “normal” place to be; he never felt intimidated by a church because it was his father’s workplace, and he was often there after hours. He got to explore the church, the baptistry, and behind and under the rostrum, which, he felt, removed some of the mystique.

However, not all PKs had positive things to say about their experiences. Some, when asked what they liked about being a PK, responded, “Nothing. I chose to marry some­one who was not in the preaching profession because I didn’t want my children to go through what I did.” Another said, “I did not like being a PK—when we moved to a new academy and my father was a union evangelist, I did not tell anyone that I was a PK.”

Many dislikes were listed, but none with the same de­gree of frequency and emphasis as the extra expectations heaped upon PKs. Nearly half of the PKs mentioned this area and mentioned it with such great emphasis that a summary of their feelings is difficult. Here are some examples, using their own words, of their feelings about the extra expectations placed upon them: 

“The expectations that my parents and church placed on me still haunt ”me.

“Having people expect me to be either really bad or extremely good and I was neither.”

“If I wasn’t perfect, people scolded my parents for it. It hurts so much to continue to live a life of ‘do not cause the church member to stumble.’ I have an unbelievable amount of anger inside of me that I cannot resolve.”

“Constant scrutiny—people intrud­ing in my life—no privacy. To this day, I cannot stand for anyone to know my business.”

“The high expectations of others, especially my teach­ers. The church was my father’s whole life, and we were its slaves!”

“I felt stifled inside, afraid to let out my feelings in case I became a poor example to others.”

“I couldn’t be a ‘kid’ because my dad told me that everyone was watching me.”

“I got a ‘F’ in Bible one semester in boarding academy. It was like the president’s daughter giving information to the Soviets.”

“I tried so hard to be perfect, (1) because I was expected to, and (2) be­cause I was trying so hard to earn my father’s acceptance. Now, at 28, I still don’t know who I am or what I want. I’ve done what others wanted me to do for so long, I’m going through a painful process that I believe other kids go through in their teenage years: discovery of myself.”

“I despised having to get good and holy simply be­cause it was expected of me and not because I believed it!!!”

“Felt I lived in a fishbowl with constant criticism, felt unable to live up to everyone’s expectations. Still have problems to this day of expecting perfection from myself and loss of self-esteem for never being ‘good enough.’”

“I learned to be the kind of daughter he expected me to be when I was around him but another person when away, and he never realized it. I constantly sought his approval and still do. If he knew the real me, he would be very disappointed initially.”

While these comments make growing up in the pas­torate sound rather bleak, there were also comments that gave hints as to how to deal effectively with the problem of extra expectations. Certainly many parents must have dealt with it in a positive manner because although half of the PKs complained about the expectations, the other half did not mention this area at all.

One PK stated clearly how her parents handled the extra expecta­tions: “Some church members expected perfection. And I hated it when I ‘over­heard’ statements about our family. I always wanted my folks to be proud of me and the way the ‘church critic’ viewed me. It was not possible, my parents helped me see, that my personal best was good enough, and they taught me that God didn’t judge me through the ‘critic’s eyes.’”

These wise parents helped this PK see a picture of God that was different than her experience on earth. God was not a harsh, critical God who expects perfection. If this PK had continued to write, I’m sure he would have described how his parents helped him develop a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship, not just the PK’s behavior, would have been emphasized as the most important aspect of the Christian life.

Another PK said, “I didn’t feel that decisions about me, my personal life, my morality, my spirituality, and my mental state were left up to me. They were already taken care of by my parents, my church, my religion, or some other unchangeable and unwaivable outside force.” This PK expressed the lack of a second principle. Decisions in the pastoral family should be based upon biblical prin­ciples, not on outside expectations. In addition to this principle, every PK, including this one, needs the freedom of choice God so abundantly provides, even if this means making a mistake. This freedom, rather than the conflict­ing choiceless demands of the church and its members, should be emphasized.

A home where the many positive aspects mentioned earlier are emphasized, where a picture of a lov­ing God who wants a personal, growing rela­tionship with His followers is presented, and where family decisions are based upon bibli­cal principles with the freedom of choice God provides, creates a home very different than some described here. Homes such as these have great potential for passing on positive values and a sav­ing faith.

Carole Brousson Anderson is a Christian counselor and psy­chologist; she works in a university counseling center for stu­dents with personal and career concerns. Her husband, Don, is the associate pastor of the Vancouver Central Seventh-day Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They have their own PK-eight months old.