As many pastors’ families are well aware, the negative emotions of the congregation can often be (mis)directed at the pastor. As my husband likes to say, “Being a leader means everything is your fault.”
Some frustration and conflict in our church flared up recently, and (naturally?) blame and nastiness got heaped on my husband. There was a flurry of unpleasant phone calls, e-mails, and he-said-she-said conversations flying about. It was a very stressful week for my husband, and—by extension—for me.
As I readied myself and our infant daughter for church the next Sunday, I thought about the enthusiastic cooing and cuddling that awaited my ever-adorable baby girl and I, and my teeth clenched up.
"How dare they?" I thought, (admittedly unfairly universalizing my frustration to not just the handful of individuals involved, but the congregation in general). How dare they fawn all over my baby and I, while inflicting such misery on my husband? Don’t they understand that we’re on my husband’s “side”? That what they say to him hurts us too?
I wanted to get her a bib that says “Love me, love my daddy.” Could they then imagine my little girl sitting by and jutting out her bottom lip, furrowing her brow, maybe starting to cry when they conspire against her beloved Daddy?
I am fairly new to the clergy-spouse thing, and definitely new to the church conflict thing, so I wonder: how do I respond when people treat me and my child as ornaments for their enjoyment, while treating my husband as a whipping boy? I wouldn’t wish to be treated equally badly, but smiling and acting like I know nothing of the conflict doesn’t work for me! Should I just avoid the offending parties, skirting through the pews the way I would dodge a long-winded person en route to the bathroom? (That sure beats the stink-eye I am tempted to give!) Tell me, fellow clergy spouses: what would you do?
Jessica Miller Kelley blogs about parenthood, books, and faith at The Parsonage Family.