We were first encouraged to Take Our Daughters to Work in 1993
so that they could experience the working world. Obviously taking our daughters to work was difficult if we neurosurgeons (“Look Honey, this is how we remove the bone flap”) or letter carriers (“Here, you take the even numbers on the street”) or window washers (“Don’t look down.”) By 2003, we were also encouraged to take our sons to work.
We clergy take our children to work at least once/week. [Note: Imagine the gossip if we didn’t take our children to church with us on Sundays.]
I can’t think of another vocation which expects professionals to take their children with them to the work place where their children will be present during what many consider to be the highlight of the pastor’s week. Imagine if advertising execs took their children to ‘the pitch’ they’d been working on for several months or if tech consultants took their kids to the sales presentation they’d prepared for a big client. My children went to work with me almost every Sunday for 20 years.
It was not easy. To be perfectly honest, some parishioners made it easier. And others made it more difficult.
Some congregations would love to perpetuate a 1950s model of parenting when the (male) pastor never worried about his children seven days a week, because his wife was home all day raising them. The man who baptized me decades ago shared that his wife singlehandedly raised their children, including a son who died of a childhood cancer so that he would be free to Follow God’s Calling.
I, too, have tried to Follow God’s Calling, but as half of a clergy couple, it never looked like the 1950s at our house. Or in our churches.
The palpable stress of those Sunday mornings has faded now that our kids are grown, but there are things parishioners can do to hurt or help:
Things Not to Do When Your Pastor Has Small Children:
- Expect them to keep watch on their own children while leading worship.
- Criticize their parenting/their children to other people. (“Can you believe she lets her kids run free in the balcony?”)
- Offer constructive comments in inappropriate moments. (Someone once asked me to tell my child to stop running in the Christian Education wing while I was greeting guests.)
- Confuse professional and personal lives. (“That was a good sermon but I wish your children wouldn’t squirm during worship.“)
- (There are about 100 more things I could say here.)
Things to Do When Your Pastor Has Small Children:
- Hire a nursery worker who arrives when the pastor (and her children) arrive – even if it’s 7 am.
- Recognize that the future spiritual lives of those children will be positively or negatively impacted by the way they were loved (or not) by the congregation that hired their parent(s).
- Recognize that the church didn’t hire the pastor’s children. Yes, you wanted “a young pastor” but check yourself if you liked the idea of a pastor with children more than the reality.
- Remember that the church necessarily controls your pastor’s child’s schedule. Some parishioners stay home for a few years after the birth of their children so as not to disrupt nap schedules on Sunday mornings. Your pastor’s children have to adapt to napping around worship and church school times.
- Treat those kids (and all the children of your congregation) like gold. Don’t talk down to them. Ask them about their lives and listen to their answers. This will connect them to God more than the Sunday School lessons.
- Remember that when you expect your pastor to attend a church meeting at night or on Saturdays or at 6:30 in the morning, they will be paying for childcare. It will cost them money. If you have a clergy couple, offer to cover babysitting when you ask both of them to officiate at your wedding or your loved one’s funeral.
- Give those kids a break. Yes, they are cranky. They were the first to arrive and they will be the last to go home.
I love the idea of Taking our Daughters & Sons to work, but most of us do this as a special event once a year – if that. Professional church work is unique. Please don’t make it difficult for our young pastors.
Image of a clergy couple with their FBC their first year as co-pastors.