For The Someday Book

Highlights & Heartbreaks of a Preacher’s Kid

Posted on: April 13, 2010

Palm Sunday this year was a microcosm of the ups and downs of being a preacher’s kid. It was a big Sunday at our church, with a special event that more than doubled our normal attendance. J does not come to church, so B usually hangs with me and runs around the fellowship hall before worship, then sits with the nursery worker (Ms. F) and her family until after the children’s sermon, when all the children head to the nursery or Sunday school.

However, Palm Sunday begins with a Blessing of the Palms with our neighboring churches. We all gather in the back yard of the church, lay the palms in the grass, bless them, sing, and process back to our own churches for worship. I figured it would be nice for B to stay with me during this part. Everyone stands in a circle, so he could just stand with me in the clergy clump. He got to hold my hand and lead the procession into the church, singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” I had been practicing the song with him all week, so he knew the first verse and chorus for us to sing together. And what kid doesn’t love waving a palm branch in the air, leading the parade? High times.

Me & B in the clergy clump

Once we arrived in the sanctuary, I deposited him in his normal spot with Ms. F and her family, and everything flowed smoothly. He came up with the other kids for the children’s sermon, and departed to play with his friends in the nursery.

After church, I always have a hard time getting back to see him, so he sits at fellowship hour with Ms. F. She makes sure he gets cookies and lemonade, and I try to work my way through the crowd before he’s finished with them. But this was a big Sunday. A really, really big Sunday. After church was a full luncheon and program, and crowds of people trying to talk with me. I breezed by to check on B at one point, and he looked overwhelmed by the crowds. “I want you to sit with me,” he said. “I’m sorry, B, I can’t right now—I still need to talk to some people. You enjoy your lunch.” He looked disappointed, but the fruit and cookies on his lunch plate quickly restored his spirits.

The luncheon wore on, and I was helping to lead the program. I managed to get to the food table and load a plate, but there was no chance of eating. I weaved my way to the table with B and Ms. F’s family and set the plate down. B said, “Mommy, I want you to sit with me. I want to eat all together.” I noticed his lunch was mostly untouched. “I’m sorry, B, but I can’t right now—I’ll come back and sit with you when I’m done leading up front, and we can sit and eat together.” He looked sad.

Then it was time to hand out gifts for the special occasion, so I was walking from table to table handing out gift bibles. I got to B’s table with Ms. F and family. “Mommy!” He was so excited to see me. I smiled back, but I was talking into a live mike and I had to keep moving. When I was two tables away, I turned to see him standing on his chair, looking over the heads of the crowd directly at me: “Mommy! I want you to come sit with me!” The look on his face was forlorn. “I’m sorry, B. I’m almost done, I promise. My plate is with you, and I’ll come sit and eat with you as soon as I’m done.” His face fell, then wrinkled, then pulled tight into a cry. Mine almost did too. I watched him take a deep breath and pull himself together to avoid a meltdown in public. He sat down quietly and waited. I felt awful. No one else seemed to even notice this moment, or the tension I was feeling as mom and minister.

Finally, I said a prayer to send the crowds out, and tried to work my way across the room to where my son and my lunch awaited. It felt like people were swarming around me—everyone wanted to say something, to congratulate me on the successful event, to tell me a story, ask for a prayer or just have my attention. I finally made it to where he was sitting. Ms. F had carefully preserved my plate and his, even as the volunteers were busily clearing the tables. I greeted him, but his response was half-hearted. I tried to sit down, but three more people lined up to talk to me. Ms. F and her family left, and two more people came to talk to me. B got up and stood next to me at the table, and I picked him up and let him interrupt the adult conversation, once again promising to sit down and eat in just a minute.

Finally, there was a break in the flow and the hall began to empty. I sat down in my chair and put B in his, only to discover that our food was gone. We had been standing there the whole time, but someone had come along and cleaned off the table—including our food. Poor B just lost it. You just don’t break a promise to a three-year-old. Especially one who has been so patient and so good while for the last two-and-a-half hours his mother paid attention to everyone in the world but him.

I felt awful. And exhausted. And hungry. And embarrassed that my three-year-old was bawling in my arms, but proud of him for standing up for his needs the only way he knew how.

In one short Sunday, B had journeyed from the head of the parade  to the back of the line, from the center of attention to the only one who couldn’t get my attention. This scenario gets repeated week in and week out. Everyone wants to greet him and talk to him. They bring him gifts and talk about how cute and smart and beautiful he is. He is everyone’s darling.

But they aren’t his darling. I am. He loves the attention and he has extra grandmas everywhere—but the only person he really cares about is me. I’m the person that meets his needs and calm him down. I’m the one he wants to share his lunch with, the one he wants to show his new truck to, the one he wants to hold him. And on Sunday mornings, I’m the only one he can’t have. And it must seem from his perspective that he’s the only one who can’t have me. When he is not being darling, when he just needs his mama like any other three-year-old, he can’t have me—because those same people are keeping mama busy listening to their medical concerns and church business and questions about the Mother-Daughter banquet. They are needy children too.

I feel every week the stress and strain of being both minister and mom, attending to both the needs of my son and my church members. But he feels it too—the stress and strain of being the preacher’s kid, who is simultaneously the head of the parade and the last in line, but never able to be just an ordinary part of the crowd, a kid enjoying worship and a church potluck with his mama.

After some hugs and rocking, we went to the kitchen together, and because I am the preacher they opened the foil wrappings and put-away casseroles for us. We managed to cobble together enough leftovers to resemble a lunch. As much as I wanted to just go home and kick off my shoes, we sat together in the church fellowship hall at the same table where B had waited so long with Ms. F and her family, and quietly ate our food while the volunteers wiped tables and mopped floors around us. It was the best this minister mom could do that day.

11 Responses to "Highlights & Heartbreaks of a Preacher’s Kid"

Thanks for this post…I have such similar experiences with E. She wants her Mommy and on Sunday and many other days she has to wait in line. It is a challenge, to be sure…gotta carve out a road trip for those two munchkins where they don’t have to compete for Momma’s attention.

You two poor sweeties. I have no advice but lots of love and hugs coming your way.

A beautifully written heartbreaker!

Your post brought tears to my eyes…as a mom of three daughters and pastor of many I struggle often between the tug of mom vs. minister. For some reason God has placed both of these amazing roles on our hearts and we are better able to do both because of the other (or I’m just fooling myself!)

Tears running down my cheeks because this is my story every single damn week. Because I pay a babysitter to come to church and sit with my kids. Because on Sunday afternoon, when my kids need my attention, I have to take a nap.

Yeah. I know some of the pull, and I serve with my spouse fielding the kids. But when they were younger, only mom would do. And while a sitter (or adopted aunts and uncles) are really wonderful, there’s just one Person. Hugs to you and your little guy. ❤

So well put…my kids and I have struggled with this. Some days we work it out okay, and other times everyone goes home feeling frustrated and short-changed. Always a juggling act, though, even on the best of days.

been there, it is always hard, hugs to you both. 😦

I’m so sorry. I am somewhat upset with your congregation for making this so difficult for both of you. I am a pastor’s wife so see things differently but I know my son would NOT have been so polite and lovely…he’d’ve had a crying tantrum in the same situation. Wish I had a solution for you.

Very touching story Jennifer. You articulate that tension so beautifully and are obviously doing your very best to hold both roles in your mind and heart. Prayers be with you.


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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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