PKs and the Traumas of Moving

Take time out for your children.

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.

She was 13, carefree, popular, and making plans for entry into the local academy. All was well in her world until the announcement came—the family was moving. Dad had received a call to pastor a church on the opposite side of the country. She protested loudly and made it very clear she did not want to go, but God was calling Dad and there was nothing that could be done.

The family packed their belongings and made the long trip to their new home. But from that day forward, she left behind the carefree, popular self of her childhood. Only after she had completed academy, gone to college, and started her own career did she ever feel she belonged. Years of loneliness, feeling like a misfit, and an attempted suicide predominate her teen memories.

Such was the story of one particular PK in describ­ing one of the most difficult periods of her life. While this story was one of the more extreme examples, she is not alone. Many of the hundreds of PKs in this research described extremely difficult periods, often in the teen years, due to family moves. Many of these PKs were mov­ing every 2-4 years throughout their childhoods.

One of the reasons moving was so difficult was having to leave friends behind—especially difficult for teens. One PK described how moving became unbearable when she was in her teens. She finally expressed to her father that she was not going to make friends anymore until they stayed put so she wouldn’t have to say goodbye. Another PK felt it was so hard changing schools and leaving friends that he remembers going to a new church and turning to the wall refusing to speak to anyone. Another PK made no comment except to say “Moving —too, too many times!” One PK even felt that moving should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment!

Not only were moves frequent, but PKs also said the moves were sometimes mid-school year. The disruption this caused for them was extremely difficult. For teens, even moving during the summer months may mean graduating from academy with a different group of friends that, due to the move, the PK may not really know.

Teens are especially sensitive to fitting in and belong­ing to the group. Frequent moves, along with moves across the country or from one culture to another, make fitting in and belonging almost impossible for some. One PK, who moved across the country at age 13, says, like the introductory story, that it took years to recover from the unhappy move and described it as a culture shock with many painful memories.

Some PKs said that moving was difficult because it made them feel they had no place to call home, no roots, and didn’t belong anywhere. They dreaded the question “Where are you from?” because they didn’t know how to answer. This situation may be felt most acutely in adult­hood. One PK said that going to visit his parents didn’t feel like going home because he had no roots there. An­other PK said bitterly, “I couldn’t have roots or lifelong friends—no sense of belonging anywhere. It caused a lot of depression, and of course we couldn’t grieve over the losses with each move because that wasn’t appropriate; God Almighty was calling us elsewhere.”

While moving was sometimes difficult and disruptive, many PKs pointed out positive aspects of moving and made suggestions on how it could be made easier. One of the biggest ways to make it easier is to make moving a family decision. One PK described how her parents had family conferences regarding moves and how her parents decided to move closer to an academy so she could live at home. She has never forgotten the sacrifice this meant for her father.

The timing of moves can also impact how disrup­tive a move will be. Preventing mid-school year moves or those in the middle of the academy years or simply moving less frequently may help to make moves easier for children who find them difficult. Even preventing moves that require changing cultures during the teen years could be helpful.

One way to make unavoidable moves easier is to stay in the same conference as long as possible. This way chil­dren can maintain contact with friends at campmeeting or meet up with friends in academy. This may also give them roots and an answer to the question “Where did you grow up?” Pastors do not always have complete control over their moves, but certainly they can keep these areas in mind and be sensitive to their families’ needs.

Perhaps more important than worrying about the timing or quantity of moves is listening to your child.

Not every child finds moving difficult. A sensitive parent can listen for when a move will be appropriate and when it will not, and, when a move cannot be prevented, help the child maintain contact with friends in the previous church district or go through the necessary grieving es­sential to adjustment in the new place.

In addition to the moves required of pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the demands upon their time are enormous. They are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Establishing family time and time away from church demands is probably one of the biggest day-to-day challenges.

Many PKs talked about this area and what it was like to have a father who was so busy. Their comments are so clear and describe so much hurt and pain—even to this day—that their comments are simply listed here:

  • “The thing I hated the most is and was the way it affected my parents and my inability to spend time with my father. It took more than 21 years for my Dad and I to establish a father/son relationship and friendship. My anger has been vented toward the church, not my dad or mom.”
  • “I really never knew my dad loved me or cared about me until after I left for college. He was never home. Even when he was, he spent spare time with my two brothers, not me and my sister.”
  • “Church was always first. He could drop anything to go help a member but would not drop anything to interact with my brother and me.”
  • “The phone rang day and night—your dad belongs to the church first, not his family—at least that’s what church members seemed to think!”
  • “My dad was not there for me, which I have recently discovered had a major affect on my dating/relationship life and also negatively colored how I saw God, i.e., won­derful and caring for everyone except me.”
  • “During my pre-teen years and throughout my teens, I overachieved academically and socially and spiritually to the point of exhaustion and burnout—all to win some, if not more, attention from my dad. I sensed and now know that I am nowhere near the top of his priority list.”
  • “As a teenager and young adult, I vowed that I would never marry a minister—which I didn’t. I saw ministers as absentee fathers and husbands—family came second.”
  • “My dad’s mission is to save souls! But what about relationships and friendships—what about his own chil­dren? I know my parents love me, but saving souls seems more important.”
  • “When I was in academy, my parents seldom came to my programs or activities due to meetings, etc., in the church. The church always came first. I think fam­ily closeness suffered, even now when it comes to their grandchildren.”
  • “I wish my dad would have chosen to be with me or do something with me and break an appointment for any church-related function. I have always wanted to be an important part of my dad’s life or to be important to him. However, he chose to spend his time and energy on things he felt were more important. As the MV secretary, he seemed to receive enough affirmation from other children that he didn’t need mine.”
  • “I wish my parents had not lived so exclusively for the church. I have few memo­ries of things we did as a fam­ily because my father was totally enveloped in and devoted to the church.”
  • “I wish my parents had given of their time for a child’s world—play, go places that a child would like, given love more than a pat and hug, which the rest of the church kids got, too. As my own two daughters (now ages 4 and 6) say—‘Why does grandpa have time for church but none for us?’”
  • “I wish my parents had spent more time with me as an individual. I wish my Dad had had personal Bible studies with me just like he did with other church kids. He baptized me [when I was 11] but never talked to me personally about what [baptism] meant to me.”

Much time could be spent giving sugges­tions as to how ministerial cou­ples can make more time for their families, but the bottom line is: IT MUST BE DONE. Chil­dren are sensi­tive and know when they and their lives are important or whether other things come first. When children feel that their parents’ first priority is the church, it can negatively impact their relationships with their families; it can also affect their relationship with God, who is often seen as synonymous with the church.

One PK described how, when his father had to miss an important event of his, his dad made a point of do­ing something special with him that was even more fun than the missed event. Another minister kept track of his hours daily so that unavoidable busy times could be made up with a day or two off with the family later. Others used answering machines while spending the day with their families or to keep meal times a fam­ily event.

According to many PKs, family vacations gave the family a sense of importance and priority. One PK said their family camp­ing vacations are a treasured memory because, as she said, “We had Dad all to ourselves!”

Parents who made time to develop relationships with their kids received glowing remarks from their children. One PK said, “My parents were busy, and we never seemed to have much money, but they always made time to be with us or support us in activities, whether it was intramural softball or buying that first car or going on that dreaded first date.” Another PK said, “No matter how busy Dad was, he always took time for us. Family togetherness was always a priority, and to this day, we all are very close. Many people have asked me about how unbelievably close our family is. After eight years, it still shocks my wife. Although close, my parents do not interfere, and above all else—no matter what—I knew they would always love me.”

The bottom line? Love your children by making time for them and developing a relationship with them. Save their souls first.

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.