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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ask the Matriarch: Uh-oh! Romance on the horizon!

Good morning, friends!  We have a great question on the table this morning -- what happens, what might happen, and how we might respond with wisdom and grace, when one of our cherished PK offspring starts to date the offspring of parishioners.    And we have two great responses from the Matriarchs already to this Interesting Situation (one that was not at all touched upon at my seminary, by the way.  Maybe because it was Roman Catholic?):

Here's our question:

Hello all,
I'm happily ensconced in a long term relationship with my congregation, a good, mostly very healthy place that is nourishing to my soul while challenging to me as a pastor. A quite unexpected thing is happening right now.  My college-age daughter seems about to embark on a relationship with a (completely age-appropriate) young man who is a member of the congregation.  He is a part of a multi-generational family that attends.  It is a good and loving family. . . . like every other family on earth they have their issues.  Don't we all?
Thing is, I'm a little freaked out about this.  I see all kinds of potential landmines.
1. At their ages, young people pair off and break up.  I look at this as, inevitably, ending without marriage.  Then I'll be parent to one and pastor to another person in a break-up situation.
2. I feel all sorts of threats to my privacy.  The congregation and I are pretty transparent about things--nothing in my closet, so to speak.  But ... gosh, now there's a young man who will get to know pretty intimately what life is like in my house.  I assume.
3.  Other unnameable anxieties!
Help?  Anyone been through this before?  Am I totally out of order here?  I think my daughter deserves to have wht might just be a summer romance without my getting all weird about it, and she is old enough to make her own decisions. (I mentioned this to my hairdresser as a concern--no names of course--she said, "Well, isn't this better than meeting someone at a bar?"  I don't know.... IS IT?)
Happy Pastor, Loving Mom, Maybe Unnecessarily Freaked Out.

Our first response is from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

Dear friend,
I'd advise taking a deep breath.  You're concerned about boundary issues, with good reason, but this is a new relationship, right?  And it really could be just fine. 
I suggest that you deal with it as you would any of your daughter's relationships, and certainly not more heavy-handedly, just with the very slight flagging of "what ifs" that concern you.
I'd be sure to have a conversation with your daughter and one with the young man and one with the young man's parents, all very calmly and non-anxiously and then . . . step away from it all.  (There's just nothing worse than a meddlesome parent.)
Chat with your daughter about the fact that she is dating a member of the congregation and name what you're concerned about.  Be transparent with her.  She may not have thought about any of the things that are on your mind.  Ask her what she might be able to do to help address your concerns.  Let your daughter know that you'll be chatting with the parents about some of the same things.  Chat with the parent/s of the young man, casually, of course, because you don't want to assume what the outcome of the relationship will be and sound like a prophet or the portent of doom.  But do let them know that you're worried about any potential awkwardness between you and them, should things not go happily ever after.  I think I'd even wonder out loud if you and the parents could agree to be low-key about the pastor's kid dating their son, because it's really their little romance and you hate the thought of any drama being played out with your dual roles as pastor and parishioners with this new twist.
Really, your concerns sound like they're about your role as pastor.  Be sure to be as affirming of (or even more affirming of) what's delightful about this than you are about the potential pitfalls that you perceive.  Recall and repeat that this is really about them--and find a one-line response to repeat to nosy parishioners who will be all a-dither about the new romance in their midst. "Summer romances can be fun, can't they?" might be nice and benign.
All the best to you.  As the parent of two young adults who grew up in a loving congregation who watched all of their activities with interest, I can tell you that calm, non-anxious acknowledgement of that which is is usually a pretty great way to model what it means to parent (nail-biting that it always brings).

And a slightly different take from our friend Jan, who blogs at A Church for Starving Artists

Dear HP, LM, MUFO,
Wow-- this is tricky but do-able.  I have a pastor friend whose daughter married a parishioner and then he got fired from the church.  Awkward.
This does not have to be awkward.
Have "the kids" talk about potential scenarios (from "This could all be great for everybody forevermore and there are no problems of any kind ever" to "We end up hating each other andd then Christmas Eve is weird forever.")  This could be a fun conversation actually.
It's important that somebody have a talk with Young Man about how pastors have to take boundary training and for these reasons . . . And then point out how having him in a privileged place to see how the pastor's family deals with life up close and personal could be dangerous in terms of everybody's privacy and healthy boundaries.
"This is not to say that you can't date," you might say, "But just as a pastor's family has to be aware of these boundaries, those who are invited into the pastor's family -- even as a casual romantic relationship -- need to become a part of the family within those same boundaries."

Please report back and tell us how it goes!
Bless you!

Thank you, friends!  I really resonate with the "nosy parishioners...all a-dither".  Fortunately my daughter and her eventual husband were somewhat older, and she was no longer living at home when they began dating.  And Eventual Son-in-Law was our Music Director -- not quite a "child of the parish" in the same sense.  Even so they were most intensely observed once they allowed themselves to be observed at all.  I remember the parishioners' reports: "Reverend Rambler!!!  We noticed your daughter turning pages for the organist during the postlude!  Is this... SIGNIFICANT?????" and during Holy Week, "Reverend Rambler!  We saw your daughter and Music Director in the supermarket!  And they were shopping for A HAM!!!  Of course we didn't STARE, we wouldn't do that..." (my daughter OTOH described their eyes, staring or not, as bugging out like organ stops).  Mostly the parochial interest was benign, but not entirely--there were people observing them for whom any concept of boundary was completely unknown, as they were aware.

And what has YOUR experience been?  We're looking forward to your reflections on this challenge!

As always your questions about any aspect of our strange and wondrous calling are welcome at

Be well, all...


  1. Dear Mom/Pastor/Freaked Out Person,

    I have three almost grown up children. Who they date, at this point, is their business. What would happen if you just treated this as . . . the may-be-a-couple's business? I mean, if you know your daughter has a history of breaking guy's hearts, that's one thing. Or if you know he's needy or greedy or something. But, absent that. . . My approach would be: Don't talk to the parents. You don't lay out expectations for every family of a person who gets to date your daughter, do you? Treat the young man like you always have. Let your daughter figure it out unless or until she is about to do something that really does cause you trouble. But try to relax. This is life. Stay out of it as much as you can and you minimize the damage that can happen to YOUR relationships with these people. Especially and most importantly, with your daughter. If you make the "rules" at the outset, the result is gonna be on you. If you stay out of it, then everybody gets to take responsibility for their own outcomes. Just my two cents.
    All the best!
    Another Happy Pastor, Loving Mom (but Pretty Laid Back)

  2. Ah... memories.

    I dated a pastor's son for a while. And yes, the church was VERY interested in knowing about everything while we were (a) dating (b) if it was serious and (c) why we broke up. Thankfully, his parents were very laid back, gracious and welcoming, even when we weren't a "thing." We did joke on our first dates about the fact that I was "dating the church." (That's what it felt like.) And we were careful to keep our relationship on the DL but all it took was one time when we left a church function and he reached for my hand...

    We separated amicably when we went to two colleges on opposite coasts. Interestingly, HE went into architecture and I went into ministry! Neither one of us have returned to that church as we graduated and moved on, but when we are both there, there is also genuine affection and interest. We've met each other's spouses. We're happy with the ones we have. (whew) And really, the only people who remember and gossip are two sweet old hens, which we both can deal with because we know it's coming. "GEORGE AND JANIE! How sweet to have you both home. Why, I remember when you two were DATING!"


    Trust me, they've thought about this... a frank conversation with your daughter should suffice. And then give her a hug and say, "HAVE FUN" when she goes out with him.

  3. Thank you for your input on this one, friends -- and, while we're at it...

    Here's a pertinent link to the "glass house" aspect of family-in-the-manse...


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