Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Where Parenting and Vocation Meet

Vocationally I am an ordained minister, so by definition my work life is a significant part of my family's life. Were I one day to discern that my most faithful response to God would be a vocational change, our family would remain deeply involved in the life of the church (somewhere) anyway, but I have a unique role. Most of the time I love knowing that my children can be a part of my "work" life, seeing what God has gifted me to do and benefiting from the advantage of being children of "the pastor." This role has been helpful, especially when the special needs of a child become all too apparent.

What pleases me so much about my current pastoral appointment (and this was true of my previous church as well) is the degree of support that is accorded Claudia and me and our children. Because we have been open about our family's uniqueness, we have healthy, open exchanges with parishioners who find themselves involved with our children. From all I can tell when there is an issue, the adult in question is compassionate, kind and complimentary, while being candid at the same time. This is a true gift that not every community of faith exhibits. I have heard too many horror stories from other adoptive families (in which neither parent is a pastor) in which their church life has subsided or completely dried up because they or their children have been misunderstood, mistreated or brushed aside. I am grateful that this has not been our experience.

Tonight is a case in point. One of our church families has a child the same age as Dominyk, and this week during Vacation Bible School their child had an unpleasant encounter with our son. The other child appropriately asked Dominyk to share the markers he was using, and he refused. After a few more requests, his response to the child in question was, "I have a scissors, and I'm not afraid to do bad things with it."

Appropriately, the parent told me of the situation and asked if she had any reason to be concerned. I offered my apologies, but had to think about my response to her question. Well, yes, she had a reason to be concerned, because no child should have to hear those kind of words, especially not in a church setting. But, no, she didn't need to be concerned because Dominyk has no violent history at all (but then again, violent words are not to be taken lightly either).

I explained that Dominyk does have some antisocial tendencies (he's borderline Asperger's, but doesn't meet enough of the criteria for that diagnosis, but the antisocial aspects do apply to him), but he has no violent history. I asked if her child felt threatened and was relieved to hear that she did not. The parent said she took time to explain that Dominyk has a disability that causes to act in ways that are not OK and that next time a way to avoid further conflict would be to walk away or to tell the teacher so an adult was aware of the situation.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am for the kind and thoughtful approach of this parent! There was no blaming (we've received some of that in the past in other situations), there was no expectation for some kind of immediate behavioral transformation. Dominyk was understood to be a complete person, along with his disabilities, and the other child does not feel endangered, but rather, I am hoping, empowered to understand that people with emotional disabilities are not to be feared but to be treated respectfully.

The down side to my vocational life is that the peccadilloes of my family's life are often on display. Because of the public nature of my pastoral life (and because we have also chosen as a couple to be transparent and open about our lives) there are moments which make me feel a little threatened. Most of the threat is self-induced as I ask myself questions like, "I wonder if my children's behavior will negatively impact my ability to be a good pastor?" or "What is going to happen to my reputation, which is really all a pastor has in establishing and maintaining credibility?"

Fortunately I have to ask myself very infrequently these days because I serve God with a remarkable group of people who respect what Claudia and I do as adoptive parents and who are supportive of our work. For me the juncture between parenting and vocation is a close one and almost always a benefit.

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