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Parenting Pastors' Kids: An Interview with Barnabas Piper

Barnabas Piper, son of pastor and author John Piper, has written a new book called The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, a valuable resource for PKs, pastors, and pastor's wives alike. In my last post, Barnabas discussed with me the pressures and rewards of being a pastor's kid. But I wanted to know more from him--I wanted to know how best I can mother my own three PKs.

Q: In your book, you say that the one thing a PK needs above all else is to live in true freedom and wholeness. What do you mean, and how can mom and dad best help this process?

BP: Obviously the biggest aspect of freedom is what I mentioned earlier – knowing Jesus. The best thing parents can do is present Jesus to kids personally. This means exemplifying grace and speaking of your own relationship with Jesus. PKs don’t need lessons. They need living proof that Jesus is great and close.

Another big piece of freedom and wholeness is the freedom to be themselves. This means that parents can work hard to ease the burden of expectations. You can help your kids learn what it is they love and are good at and help them see those things as gifts God gave them (as opposed to pushing them toward ministry).

Give them room to ask questions, and even encourage it. Indoctrination will do more harm than good in the end whereas honest conviction will do great good in helping your kids come into their own faith.

The biggest piece of this is overwhelming grace. PKs need it because too often they don’t receive it from those in the church. They need it because they will screw up. They need it because it points them to Jesus.

Q: What are common statements or actions that moms and dads say or do that are detrimental to their PKs?

BP: A big one is the heaping on of expectations the PKs already feel. They know they are being watched and expected to behave better than other kids so to say things like “Now we’re going into church; make sure you’re on your best behavior, people are watching us” is just piling on. Make sure they know that the standard for behavior is honoring Jesus and loving others – period. Being a PK neither adds or subtracts from that.

Another significant one is giving your kids the impression ministry is the highest calling. Don’t put pressure on them, either tacitly or explicitly, to go into ministry.

Don’t preach at them. Don’t Bible lesson them. They need counselors, confidants, and conversations. PKs need to connect with their parents, not just hear from them. Build relationships with your kids that surpass the sharing of morals and information.

Q: How can moms of PKs help their children develop a personal faith and a genuine love for the Lord and for the church?

BP: The biggest thing is having a personal faith and living it so your kids see it. They need to see your patience, grace, and peace. And of course you will fail because you are human and being a mom is hard. So then they need to see you repent and ask forgiveness. This might be even bigger than getting it right the first time. It sets a precedent of forgiveness both from God and within the family. That helps make God accessible and personal.

Q: Pastors' wives are often acutely aware of church members' expectations but perhaps aren't as aware of the pressures their children face as PKs. Help us understand those outside pressures and how we can ease them for our children.

BP: I suspect the pressures on Pastors' wives are similar to those of PKs, so if you take what you feel and think about that placed on a 12-year-old you have a decent sense of things. They feel the need to be better behaved, more attentive, and have all the answers. They know that everyone is watching. They feel the tensions when things aren’t going well at the church (even if you don’t talk to them about it; kids are really perceptive). They often feel the confusion of not being sure what they believe or of having doubts.

A big thing moms can do to ease these burdens for their kids is to talk through them. Help them see that you know their frustrations and are with them. Give them a safe place to vent and sort through stuff. And give them the stability of love so they know you are always in their corner. Sometimes this means pep talks, sometimes and encouraging or challenging conversation, and sometimes it means just listening. Moms are usually really good at knowing which is needed.

Q: What are the very best things your mom did to help you navigate your world as a PK?

BP: My mom was not the “feely” type, so we didn’t talk through the frustrations much. But what she did remarkably well was to be rock steady. Her demeanor, no matter how things went at church (and there were some hard stretches) stayed the same. She created an environment in our home of calm, well, as much calm as a family of seven could have.

The other significant thing she did was to never, ever badmouth my dad, the church, or the ministry. While, it might have been nice to hear from her heart about frustrations it was significant to see her stand with my dad in his calling no matter what. Negativity and second-guessing in the home make things brutal for PKs, and we had none of that.

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Molly W.
Molly W.

So helpful, thank you! It is so important for children to grow up feeling free to love Jesus, have questions and make mistakes.

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