Early in my marriage, with three small children under the age of five, I found myself spending several days at a time throughout the year parenting and “holding down the fort” on my own. My husband’s job as a research agronomist took him out on the road to test plots in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and sometimes Missouri. He would go out for days to scout for plots, plant the crop, go back to spray for weeds and take notes at various times as the crops matured, and finally, harvest. I didn’t have many relatives or friends around to assist me at home. We lived on an acreage without next door neighbors. At times, I felt quite isolated and alone, and sometimes desperate for adult contact, and frankly, wishing someone would magically swoop in to help me with the children.

As I become acquainted with pastors and their families, family members have similar feelings, but year-round with no “off season”. In addition, church worker families have their actions and lives scrutinized by parishioners and folks in the general public. There is overwhelming pressure to be a “perfect” family that handles all situations and stresses flawlessly and without breaking a sweat.

We know there are unique stressors for church workers and their families. Written on the Focus on the Family website, January 20, 2021 stated:

“As a pastor, you know better than most the struggles married couples face. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought increased rates of marital discord and divorce nationwide, your congregation likely saw its fair share of these challenges on a consistent basis.

But what happens when your marriage is the one that has reached a point of crisis? The demands of ministry are intense even under the best of circumstances. Those who follow the high calling to the pastorate and who invest their lives in shepherding God’s people often find themselves depleted, with little left over to invest in their own marriages. And there is no one our spiritual enemy would like to see struggling more than those in spiritual leadership.”

Here are 4 ways to build and maintain a healthy marriage and family:

  1. Develop and comply with healthy boundaries.

The phrase “good fences make good neighbors” suggests that fences serve a useful purpose to protect what is inside the fence and keep what is outside the fence out. Boundaries involve your physical space: your home, your yard, your vehicle. Boundaries involve your time: work time, alone time, family time, recreational time. Boundaries involve your emotions: reactions to events at work affecting home, reactions to home issues affecting work.

Good questions to ask yourself are: Do I feel that my physical space is encroached upon? That my home, because it is a parsonage, is not my home and open to scrutiny? Do I feel there is no end to my workday, no significant day or days off? Do I carry irritation or worry home with me and think about those feelings when I am interacting with my family?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, and feel these aren’t helping you maintain a healthy marriage and family, you may need to shore up your boundaries.

  1. Accept the busy season, but make use of the “off season”.

Church workers have seasons during which they are busier than others, such as Advent and Christmas, Lent, and Easter. It is important for family members to understand and accept this, but equally important that plans be made to help mom get some relief while dad is occupied with his duties. Perhaps hiring a teenager to come in to help with dinner time or play with the children while mom completes other tasks inside or outside the home might be a short-term splurge during the busy season. During the off season, make plans to ramp up family time and couple’s time to take advantage of fewer services and meetings. Because it is too easy to let that time slip away, it is vital that plans be made, and a commitment be given to utilize that time to the fullest to maintain a healthy marriage and family.

  1. Communication is key.

Communication needs to include practical day-to-day plans and happenings such as where you will be, what you will be doing, when will you be doing it, and who is performing what task related to home and/or children. Ideally, this conversation should occur in person on a daily basis with updates throughout the day. Communication also needs to relate to emotional issues, sharing positive feelings and encouragement on a daily basis, and expressing concerns and worries. Positive feelings and encouragement can be expressed throughout the day with phone calls and texts. Concerns and worries can be as well, but if the concerns and worries stem from spousal relationship difficulties, the discussion should be face to face.

For those with children of elementary age and older, family meetings on a weekly basis can be helpful. These meetings give everyone a chance to “catch up” on each other’s lives, identify schedules for the coming week, share accomplishments and affirmations, share concerns and worries, and problem solve. It is also an excellent forum to experience a devotion as a family. When the focus is on shepherding your congregation(s) and members, shepherding your family can sometimes take a back seat. Building a healthy marriage and family unit rooted in Christ is incredibly important as well as your own spiritual nourishment.

  1. Don’t wait for a crisis to seek help.

We all can use outside assistance at times in our life when we are traveling bumpy roads with marriage and family. Lutheran Family Service counselors can assist couples and families with any of the above (or other) issues to help smooth out that road. There are times when a handful of sessions can help a family get on the right track. Waiting for a crisis to occur before seeking help can intensify emotions to the point that more time may need to be spent in counseling to rectify what has happened. Early intervention has many benefits and can lead to a better outcome.

Preventative wellness checkups are ideal. It is here that you can obtain the tools and skills you need to keep your healthy marriage and family on the right path such as communication, conflict resolution, coping with stress and more.

Our mission at Lutheran Family Service is “We walk with people who are experiencing hard times and are there for them just as God has been there for us.” No matter what path or how bumpy the journey, we approach all marriage and family counseling with hope and faith rooted in Christ’s never-ending love for us. Reach out to Lutheran Family Service to schedule your marriage and/or family wellness checkup today! Fill out our website contact form at https://lutheranfamilyservice.org/contact/ or call 515-251-4900.

Toni Larson, LISW
Director of Church Worker Wellness
Lutheran Family Service

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