Being a Pastor’s Kid

Most people in the church have no idea what it is like to be a Pastor's kid. I, myself, can admit that I had an opinion or perception of what they would look like. They're often treated like royalty in the church. They are loved and cared for, but, that love and care can often be disingenuous because of love and admiration for the pastor. I can admit that there is a high standard and expectation of a pastor and his family. However, what I have learned over the years and through being a therapist is that a pastor's family is often hurt and lonely. The kids may not just feel like they are unseen but also like they are not a priority. I hope to share more with you about pastor's kids as they start to open up about their own experiences.

Here is a great example of an experience by a pastor's kid:

"I am a pastor’s kid. When I was in school, I felt like this was a positive part of my identity. It was one of the first things I would tell people about myself. I was proud to be a pastor’s kid. I felt like it made me better than other kids and more of a Christian. However, at the time I didn’t understand how this identity shaped me in ways that weren’t ideal. Reflecting on my upbringing now that I’m living on my own, I realize the toxicity that largely surrounds my pastor’s kid identity.

Being a pastor’s kid is like living in a glass house. As in, there was no freedom to act out in any way without everyone looking at me and my family as failures. My dad told me a lot that if I did x, y, or z, even after I move out of the house, that he could lose his credentials to be a minister. I never believed him and at times we fought about it. He claimed he signed papers every year promising his kids wouldn’t do x, y, or z, but would never show them to me. To this day, I don’t know if he says that because it’s true or to have some extra element of control over me.

I wanted to trust people. But my parents had been hurt at a previous church and made it clear to me that people will hurt you when you least expect it. I wanted to feel like I could talk to people about my life, especially my spiritual life, but for anyone outside of my close friend circle, it felt like a trap. What if I told someone a weakness of mine and they told my parents? It felt impossible to confide in anyone at church about my sin and struggles because I felt like they would tattle on me instead of helping me improve.

When it came to sin, somehow my dad always found out. I would come home and he would be standing outside the door ready to greet me. He would claim God told him what I had done. The power of sin is in secrecy. Or he would get sick and end up in the hospital. My parents would say dad only goes to the hospital when I’m hiding my sin from them. So anytime he got sick, it became an attack on me. It made me start to resent God and dive more into my sin. I began to not like God. God is just staring at me through a microscope waiting for me to trip up to kick me while I’m down instead of helping me up. God is telling my dad all my sin so my dad would make me feel guilty. God doesn’t care about helping me improve, just making me feel dirty.

My Achille’s heel was sexual sin. When my dad found out, which didn’t take long, instead of accepting these were normal problems for a 16 year old, he asked me who had touched me as a kid to make me do that. There was no mercy or compassion, only anger at my actions. It is your fault. You have ruined yourself for marriage. You should not feel these feelings. They are wrong. For almost 10 years, my parents have brought up my sins as ammunition against me. Rebel child. You are destroying this family by your actions. Why aren’t you being considerate of us? You are a disappointment.

My mom thinks counseling is for the weak and mentally insane. When I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for depression, self-harm, and suicidal intentions, her opinion blazed. I am ashamed of you. Never tell anyone you went there. It will look bad on our family. Your life is so much better than everyone else’s. You have no reason to be depressed.

I was by this point sick of living in my parents’ shadows. My parents’ denial that there was toxicity within our home was overwhelming. Moving 1500 miles away from them was the best thing that happened to me. For the first time, my identity was in myself as an individual person, no longer myself in relation to my family. I could be honest with people about my shortcomings and not feel any judgment or worry that I was ruining my family’s reputation. I was now my own family.

Being in counseling has helped me overcome some of the many toxic beliefs that were shoved down my throat. It’s helped me to find my own identity apart from my family. It’s helped me to accept that it’s okay to be weak and broken because I am made whole in Christ. It’s taught me how to have grace for myself and my family, even when I think none of us deserve it. It’s taught me how to identify spiritual abuse. I’ve learned how to properly deal with triggers that I face when interacting with my family. Ultimately I’ve learned how to rely on Christ when I don’t know what to do. I can’t rely on my own strength so God is there to help me stand.

I still have a long way to go before these scars are healed. But counseling has been one of the most positive steps of my life’s journey. I am thankful that I have this opportunity to grow in emotional and spiritual maturity."

-- shared anonymously