Friends of mine and my sister referred to our family as ‘The Cosbys.’ But I thought the dynamics of our household were typical. I never thought there was anything particularly special about our family.
My parents dated in high school and got married not too long after. After a few years, they had my sister. Three years later, they had me. My dad did blue-collar work; my mom did administrative job. Dad also served as a Deacon at our church, while Mom served as a Minister.
Because it’s all I knew, I never thought of my family or my childhood to be abnormal. Of course, when I moved from home, I immediately learned that it’s not as healthy from the outside looking in. Here are some of the reactions and questions I’ve received as both a Church Kid and Preacher’s Kid (PK)
“Wasn’t it annoying going to church every Sunday?”
The thing about a routine is that, once you’re used to it, it’s just something you do. That’s how I viewed church during my childhood: it’s something we do. Was I always enthused about going to church? Not. But as a child, I just viewed it the same way I saw school; I don’t want to get up, but this is something that I’m supposed to do.
I grew up in a small Baptist church, so everyone knew everyone. If you weren’t related to someone, chances are they’ve been friends of your family for so long that they feel like family.
As a kid, I enjoyed church for the social experience more than anything. Most churches have some program for younger kids, partially so they can learn on their level but also so parents won’t have to deal with their kid’s minuscule attention spans. During the service, we would all be in the back having our classes.
For the most part, the church is a place where I got to see my friends and not have to fight to stay awake through a long service. When my friends and I were past the age of ‘children’s church,’ we all just sat in the same pew during regular service. I paid attention sometimes, but I was mostly goofing off with a couple of friends (sorry Mom).
“I heard you [Christians] don’t celebrate Halloween. What’s up with that?”
For the most part, Christians don’t really ‘do’ Halloween, or at least not the same way everyone else does it. I never necessarily felt deprived of this as a kid, though.
Most churches I’ve been to have some alternative activity/festival for kids to enjoy on Halloween instead of classic trick-or-treating.
The church of my childhood called it “Hallelujah Night.” The church I currently attend is more prominent and can pull a lot more resources for their kids.
They get to play games, win prizes, have dance parties, moon bounces, and — of course — candy! You can still wear a costume, just nothing that’s scary or demonic (obviously). Trust me; we’re not missing out.
“You know they say that preacher’s kids are the absolute worst ones.”
By “worst ones,” they mean to say that we’re supposedly the most unruly as kids and teens. Imagine your mom preaching about the dangers of sinning on Sunday, and you committed 97% of those sins the night before? Awkward.
I can only speak for myself, and I was a pretty good kid. I still messed up and did dumb things, just at a lesser frequency than my peers. It also helps that I’m not a good liar anyway, so it was harder for me to get away with things. But if I’m honest, it varies.
There are people I’ve met with the same upbringing as me that take a turn for the worse. Some people grew up to become leaders in their church. It all depends on whether or not someone felt smothered in the faith or if they felt nurtured within it.
Kids who feel smothered will inevitably rebel, whether it’s because they genuinely want to or out of spite for the repression they feel from their parents.
“Did your parents force you to read the Bible all the time?”
Not at all. I did go to Bible study just about every week, but as I previously stated, it was only part of the routine. Go to school, come home, do homework, go to Bible study (Thursday night).
A lot of times when people hear that I not only grew up in the church but was raised by clergy, they tend to project the typical Church Kid narrative onto me.
In their eyes, I was forced against my will to go to church every Sunday and couldn’t read anything that wasn’t the Bible or listen to secular music.
They imagined a reality in which I would answer to ‘unreasonably strict’ parents who monitored my every move. They pictured a mother that accused everything of being ‘the devil.’
I’ve encountered people who have grown up in such an environment, and rarely are they involved in the church anymore. For some, they denounce the entire faith altogether.
On the contrary, I became very well read at an early age. My mom only listens to Gospel music these days, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s a huge fan of Luther Vandross. Dad will hop back and forth between Gospel music and classic R&B or Soul.
I, on the other hand, listened to pretty much anything I wanted (both with and without permission). And my obsession with Prince is far from being a secret from my parents.
“Is it a lot of pressure?”
Ironically, any pressure I felt as a PK wasn’t put on by my parents. They expected me to be a good kid, but they knew it was inevitable that I would make mistakes.
They also weren’t expecting me to follow in their footsteps and be a leader in the church; preaching The Word is considered a calling, not something you do because your parents think you should. But at an early age, I could see myself through the lens of other people in the congregation. For whatever reason, they didn’t see me like they saw their kids.
It was as if an extra layer of innocence or “holiness” was put on me that made their subconscious expectations of me much higher than other kids at our church.
Older kids would say something ‘unholy’ in my presence and then immediately apologize another kid from church would be present — the same age, even — but the same courtesy isn’t given to them.
Even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I reached the understanding that my actions would determine how people viewed my parents.
If my sister or I started living crazy unholy lifestyles (aka drinking, being promiscuous, getting pregnant, etc.), how hard would it be for people to listen to my mom preach? Would they still take her seriously? Or would they criticize the youth minister who seemingly couldn’t control the youth living in her house?
I wouldn’t consider all of this ‘pressure’ more than I would find it extremely annoying. One of my biggest pet peeves was when an adult would use me as a ‘positive example.’ What was supposed to be a compliment towards me was just a criticism towards their child.
“So, you’ve always liked this?”
Of course not! My parents may not have been “unreasonably” strict, but…they were still pretty severe in certain areas.
There was the issue of clothing. As a young teen, I hated shopping for clothes. There’s ‘too short,’ and then there’s ‘too short’ by mom’s conservative standards.
A simple v-neck shirt was mostly a plunge-neck in her eyes. I also never got her to understand that a panty-line is not an indicator that pants are too tight; it’s an indicator that you’re wearing colossal underwear.
The result was me having a significant attitude during shopping trips and wearing things that I didn’t like very much. To this day, I hate turtle necks, crewnecks, and dresses that go past my knee.
There’s also the tragic story of how I got left out of the Harry Potter fandom. Every summer, as a kid, my mom would take me to the local library and have me pick out books with her library card. During that time, I realized that my friends were all abuzz about what I would eventually learn to be the Harry Potter series.
I indulged my curiosity at the library by reading the first three chapters of The Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was instantly hooked! I took that and The Chamber of Secrets with me to the front where my mom was waiting. As always, she took a look at what I picked out. But this time, she scrunched her face in confusion.
“What is this?” She asked.
“Oh, mom, this is cool. There’s this guy, and he lives with his aunt and uncle because his parents died. And they treat him bad and don’t care about him. But then he finds out that he’s a wizard and his parents were wizards, and he gets to go to this school that teaches people just like him and-”
“Put it back.” Mom stated as she handed the books back to me.
I was crushed. I didn’t stop to think that my mom might not be cool with me reading about some kid learning how to master witchcraft (refer back to the Halloween question).
I spent all of my middle and high school being excluded from one of the biggest fandoms of all time though I will say that when I got to college, I watched the entire film franchise and even got to see the final movie in theatres with my Potter-obsessed coworkers.
In hindsight, most of the things I disliked about my upbringing were petty and unimportant. Everything was done with good intention, whether it was regulating my clothing choices or continuously being denied the opportunity to go to a party, sleepover, etc.
Above all, the most important thing my parents passed down to me was the importance of having a personal relationship with God, rather than just being part of a religion.
My parents didn’t merely shove a Bible in my face, or make me feel lesser in the times that I did mess up. Their greatest strength as parents and as believers were that they never looked to themselves as experts in the faith.
They never depicted themselves as these perfect beings who always did everything the Bible said and never did anything wrong. Everything they were teaching me was things that they were practicing themselves.
It made it easier for me to seek God out for myself, not just on Sundays or at Bible Study.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it — Proverbs 22:6