There have been a few posts recently in the Orthodox blogosphere about PKs (Priest’s Kids), but interestingly enough, not by a PK. There’s no doubt that the life of a PK is unique. Here are some things we’d like you to know about us:
1. We all make mistakes. When my dad was ordained, there was nothing in the service that said, “Henceforth, your children will be sinless. They will be a shining example of ideal children for every parent in your parish.” No, nothing like this was ever said. We struggle with the same struggles you try to overcome, regardless of the fact that our dad is a priest. Although…we get to be in the spotlight when we make a mistake.
2. Our moms sometimes wish they owned an invisibility cloak to cover us during church services. This is not because she’s embarrassed of us but because of her natural instinct to protect us. When I hear stories from Presvyteras, Matushkas, and Khourias about people coming up to them and telling them their children were unruly in church, I immediately think about C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew in the second letter that he should not yet despair about his patient becoming a Christian. It’s still easy to distract him away from the enemy (God) even while he’s attending church. He tells Wormwood to help the patient fixate on the people around him in the pews instead of concentrating on the Liturgy. I think this is profound. The focus should be on why we all gathered in the first place – to pray together as a family and receive Holy Communion – not on those standing (or fidgeting as the case may be) around us. PKs squirm and cry just like all other small children, and our moms are fully aware of how we acted in church without it being pointed out to them.
3. Last to know…almost everything at church. Believe it or not, our dad does not share everything that went on during his day at the dinner table. Actually, we’re lucky to even eat dinner with him. Most of his meetings and classes are scheduled in the evening so he can meet the needs of the parish as a whole. Additionally, our dad tends to only share information with us that you told him was free to share. If you don’t specify this, he tends not to share it. So please don’t assume that just because you told our dad something that it automatically means he tells us.
4. Fasting and praying does not come easier to a PK. I’ve had many people over the years tell me, “Oh…well, you’re used to fasting and praying, so it’s easy for you.” I’ve also heard, “We’re too busy to do that stuff. Your dad’s a priest, you don’t have a choice.” My dad was not ordained until I was fourteen. I still vividly remember saying prayers all together every night before eating dinner, gathering together before bed as a family to say prayers, fasting every Wednesday and Friday, fasting before Liturgy on Sundays, and during all the fasting periods – for many, many years beforemy dad became a priest. It actually became harder to do all these things after my dad was ordained and assigned a parish. Oftentimes, he was busy at work during weeknights. Eating dinner together as a family became a lot less frequent, and prayers before bed did not always happen with our dad anymore. It all depended on how long the parish council meeting lasted, if someone was sick in the hospital, or an emergency popped up. I would go out on a limb and say it’s actually much harder for the priest’s family to fast and pray together. As a parent now myself, I still struggle with fasting even though I’ve done it my entire life. It never gets easy. But then again…the point of fasting has never been about ease.
5. Please don’t complain to us about our dad. First of all, most of the time we don’t even know why you’re upset with him until you’ve cornered us and felt the need to tell us. Secondly, do any of your co-workers approach your children and try to convince them to convince you to change your mind about something at work? Granted, the analogy of the priest and parishioners being co-workers is not a great one, but I hope it helps to make my point. Thirdly, he’s our dad. We naturally want to defend him, and it hurts to know you’re upset with him when we see how much he tries so hard to help all of you.
6. Our parish involvement as an adult does not equate to our dad trying to create a family monopoly. It has been our experience (my siblings and myself, as well as several other PK friends) that it becomes even harder to be a PK when you become an adult. Either way, it’s a no-win situation. If you grow up and are able to look past all the hardship you’ve watched your parents endure over the years and STILL want to be involved at your parish, then your next hurdle is the hesitation of others as you try to be involved. They often think and ask, “Is Father trying to have a family monopoly so he can do things his way?” or “It’s not right for Father to play favoritism by letting one of his kids be in charge of this.” On the other hand, if you decide as an adult PK you’ve had enough and don’t want to be involved in the parish, then it looks bad on your parents for not raising you to want to be an active part of the parish life despite all the nonsense you’ve witnessed. Believe it or not, if we’ve grown up and still want to be a part of the parish life, it’s by the grace of God. It has nothing to do with wanting to have “family control” of the parish. It’s just not worth the heartache if that’s our goal. We’re there because it’s important to us.
7. We have special PK rules. This is where we venture into murky waters and reveal some of the many unwritten rules of being a PK. There have been countless times we’ve waited for our dad to finish locking up after a service before going home and a parishioner will start talking to him in front of us. We’ve learned not to repeat what was said in front of us. Ever. We’ve also learned that you’re watching us oh so closely. We try very hard to behave how you expect us to behave and then relax as soon as you walk away. Honestly, trying to write this post without offending or inviting criticism from the majority of the readers has drained every last ounce of any PK super powers I may have ever possessed. I spent a great deal of time talking to my sister as I wrote this. It’s really hard to explain being a PK without having lived it. There were several points my sister and I wanted to share about being a PK but scratched them quickly off the list.
It’s true, our parents chose the life of a priest’s family and we were along for the ride. While most of us grow up embracing our faith with fervor, some of us walk away after witnessing the nastiness of some people towards the priest and their family. As a PK, we see the very best and unfortunately also the very worst of many of the parishioners. We don’t witness or share in all the joys and sorrows of our dad’s “job,” but sometimes you just can’t help but be a part of it. Two examples come immediately to mind. The first being my brother telling me about the home he visited with our dad when they dropped off a full Christmas dinner to a poor family. The family was literally eating dog food because that was all they had left in the house. Helping that family left a permanent impression on my brother to help those who hunger. It also vicariously left an impression on me. The second example is when I opened our front door one evening when I was a teenager to a crying parishioner. Her husband had just asked for a divorce, and she wanted to talk to my dad who had been in bed all day sick. They spent the next hour on our front porch talking.
I don’t think there’s any way to be a PK and not be affected by this in some way. Hopefully it’s for the better and not for the worse, but a lot of that is dependent on the parish your father is serving and the attitude you have as a family.
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