By Jayne Schooler
When our beautiful twenty-one-year-old daughter came home from college one afternoon, I thought it was her usual drop-in-and-do-laundry visit. However, the real reason for her visit would propel us on a path of emotional turmoil, hurt, and confusion that we never expected to travel – not with her – not at this point in our family’s life. It wasn’t supposed to be this way!
After returning from church that evening, Kristy sat down at the kitchen table and tearfully asked me to join her. “Mom, there is no easy way to tell you this. I’m pregnant,” she quietly said. “Eight weeks, I think.” My husband, a pastor, wasn’t home from church yet. He didn’t know the news that awaited him.
Facing the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy is difficult for any family. For ministry families those challenges take on a deeper dimension because of who they are. What are some of the things you need to know as you face the reality of your child’s pregnancy?
1. You will experience many painful and confusing emotions as the journey begins.
As the shock begins to wear off, innumerable painful emotions follow. When Kristy told us her news, we struggled to navigate through our own emotions. We felt....
Feelings Of Failure, Guilt, And Shame.
Early on we knew we had the support of our church family, yet facing them each week in ministry capacities proved increasingly difficult. My husband, David, found stepping into the pulpit each Sunday even more emotionally demanding than he expected it to be. He felt that he had lost his credibility: “It was incredibly challenging to face the congregation each week. How could I talk to other families about their spiritual and emotional issues when we were facing such a mountain of concerns within our own family?”
Feelings Of Intense Anger.
We were angry. No one on the outside saw it. I don’t know how much of it our daughter actually saw. We were angry about her choices. We were angry at the young man who simply walked away. We were angry at being thrown into a situation so out of our control. However, we didn’t stay in anger long, but lingered somewhere else much longer.
Feelings Of Deep Sadness, Loss And Grief.
At the heart of a family crisis of this nature is the sense of loss and the accompanying grief that follows. It was for us. One of our bedrooms serves as the memory wall for generations of family photos. One particular frame contains pictures of Kristy’s growing-up years. When I would walk into that room and glance at those happy carefree smiling pictures of a three-year-old, ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old, overwhelming emotions of loss and sadness rose up within me.
Our grieving was also for Kristy – for the losses she would face and for struggles she was currently living through. Amidst one’s own hurt, anger, and pain, you can’t help but feel fear and desperation for the child to whom you’ve given your heart and life.
Over time, we learned that we had to mourn those things that were lost and release them so that new and beautiful things could take root.
2. You need to know your daughter or son is journeying to a place where she/he has never been. Your response and support is critical.
Anger, disappointment, and fear are normal and to be expected. But after the shock, the message that emerges over time will have long-term implications. Parents often fail to realize the important role they play.
One father shared with me that he realized that his daughter needed something from him, in particular. “It was important for Amy to know that we still loved her. We told her that we wanted her to come home and we would work through this together.”
Young men involved in an unplanned pregnancy need the same support. John’s dad, a senior pastor at a large Midwestern church, said, “As the reality set in for us, we realized just how much our son needed us to walk this with him – not in anger, but with understanding. I learned that my son needed me to model what a godly and mature response looked like, and God enabled me to do that.”
3. You need support and counsel, too, and that support may be right in front of you.
For families in crisis who also serve in leadership roles, finding a trusted, listening ear feels out of reach. We felt, as do many other ministry families in crisis, that we really couldn’t or shouldn’t talk to anyone in the church. This perception brought a deep sense of being very alone. Fears of betrayal and concerns of a judgmental response blocked that source of support. I was convinced that a confidante needed to be outside our church. However, that wasn’t God’s plan.
He intended my support to be from friends who were right there in front of me. Four families in the church encircled us. Some of them had been where we were. They asked good questions about feelings, thinking, and plans for all of us. Judgment and betrayal never materialized.
What was amazing to me in those early days was the healing beginning to take place in my heart. One particular comment brought hope: “When you see your grandchild for the very first time, you will experience a whole new level of love.” From that, hope did come, for all of us.
4. You may be experiencing the ultimate test of your core values.
Some families, always vocal about the value of life, find themselves wrestling with what to do with the “problem.” Christian families sometimes struggle immensely as the core values they previously stood for clash with the current reality of their lives. Over 225,000 Christian girls experience an abortion each year. Some of them are pastors’ daughters. Why? How could this happen in Christian families?
“What this pregnancy feels like to parents in the initial stages,” says Linda Schindler, Miami Valley (OH) Women’s Center Executive Director, “can be stated in one word – threat.” What is threatened for parents? Their ministry and reputation, their way of life, their parenting skills, their plans for their own future, and their family system as they have known it.
What do people usually do when threatened? They have a “fight or flight” response. Even in the minds of parents whose core values scream pro-life, abortion offers a way to “get rid of the threat.” They can flee reality and “no one would know.” Initially, this can look like an easy way out of the whole threatening situation, but the long-term consequences can be devastating.
5. You have the gift of time.
When a family faces an untimely pregnancy, it feels like the fabric of the family is ripping and tearing. Hopes carefully knitted into the child’s life are shredded with the words, “I’m pregnant.” What often remains are bitterness, anger, shame, guilt, failure, and loss.
People may have comments about what this means for your family, for your daughter or son, for your grandchild, and for your future. There is a truth that can speak to hurting parents: All anyone can see is a fragment of a whole story. Your daughter is pregnant. Your son is a partner in an unplanned pregnancy. No one is wise enough to know what this truly means. Only God knows the whole picture. It is what it is – nothing more, nothing less.
No, it’s not supposed to be this way. Not for any ministry family. But it is what it is. As ministry parents encounter this critical time, they need to truly understand and know that they have the gift of time. Decisions don’t have to be made today. Answers will come as they give God time!