Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to be the Perfect Priest's Wife

This weekend, I got an email from a future priest's wife who said she likes my blog (who knew?!), and it got me to thinking: 

What do I wish I knew then that I know now after two years of diaconate and almost 10 years of sharing this life with my priest-husband? Some of this advice will work for any mom, some I failed at and learned my lesson, some I never really had a problem with, and some I still fail miserably at- here goes...

Make peace with 'octaves' - Christmas & Easter are his (and your) busiest times. Find a way to make it work. He might have to minister to the sick on your anniversary; be accepting and celebrate before the octave of the holiday is over.This might be the most important advice I can give. Mother's day won't be 'all yours'- you might be busy in the kitchen making a luncheon for the other women in the parish. But you can be smart about it. The parish men can plan something for the women for Mother's Day, and the women can reciprocate on Father's Day. There is no point to being gloomy and bitter because your husband has to minister to a believer on a day that is important to you. Just make a 'deal' that you two will celebrate before the octave is over. I also find chamomile tea on the balcony is a good way to unwind without being far away from the kids and spending money.

Find your niche- One of the hardest things about being a priest's wife is that you might be expected to fulfill duties that you have neither the time nor the talent for. Tread lightly, but do what you are good at. If you sing, sing. If you are an amazing cook, then cook. Maybe you can be the new party planner. If your believers are a bit 'prickly' at first because they are afraid they will lose their 'jobs,' then start slowly by working behind the scenes on the webpage and bulletins. Let's say that your parish is well-formed and all of the lay people are happy with how they contribute. You might get into a lot of trouble if you replace someone- so start something totally new. Maybe there hasn't been a Vacation Bible School in years and you could work on that- or maybe you speak the old world language and could teach a 'culture' class or perhaps you could organize a knitting/sewing ministry. The choices are endless, and the choice is yours. The only obligation you have is to participate in the Divine Liturgy like every lay person in the parish.

Help your husband- Is your husband a bit absent-minded (not mine)? Take his cellphone from him before the Divine Liturgy starts! It is always a good idea to have a box that gets filled with things to bring to church; it's impossible to remember everything when one is running around in the morning. Depending on timing, have a very simple breakfast waiting for him- some people do a very strict fast, but our Sunday Liturgy is finished at 1:00 in the afternoon at the earliest. I drive the way to Liturgy (it's a hour one way) so he can relax, read or take phone calls.  It is up to you and your husband to balance out responsibilities as parents and spouses (yes, he can do the dishes)- but church days won't seem very balanced. He will be very busy fulfilling his duties as a deacon or priest, and you might feel 'alone,' but you aren't. Fulfill your specific duties as wife and mother, and you will feel accomplished. After a busy day, help your husband decompress. Sometimes we play a bit of soccer in the church parking lot with a small group of parishioners who stay after the meal and the clean-up and the after clean-up talking.

Pray with your husband- more prayer?! You might feel like you are always praying, but that is public prayer. It is a great idea to have a prayer life with your husband.

Pray with your family- Tomorrow I will write more about the mom-side of being the 'perfect' priest's wife, but one needs to be reminded to help children towards a good prayer life. Having the kids be in Mass with the family is not enough. It can lull one into a false sense of security.

Never discuss money, ever- A few years back, a parishioner heard me complaining about the price of gas (over $3! little did I know...) to another parishioner. The person who overheard assumed that I was complaining about the amount of the stipend that they gave my priest-husband. No, I was simply complaining about the price of gas. She never looked at me the same way since, and she talked badly to other churchgoers about me and my kids. I learned my lesson after that kerfuffle. I was always careful to never touch the money basket or to participate in stewardship council meetings. But now, I don't even comment on how much the chicken cost. It is what it is.

Use emergency hand signals- You have a kid with a blown-out diaper and you must leave the Liturgy. He is on the phone- is it important that you should tolerate this interruption or does he want your help in getting off the phone? He is talking to someone in the sacristy- does he need to go hear confession or is it just small talk? Semi-secret hand signals would be helpful in these situations so that you can do an immediate about-face if he is dealing with a confidential crisis.

Don't be your husband's secretary- Jen- a Lutheran pastor's wife- has a great post on this subject...maybe Jen can post a link in the comments! ;) But the important thing to remember is this- let's say someone comes up to you and says "tell Fr. my family will have a memorial service for John after Liturgy next week." Now, this is only 10 minutes long and they provide the bread and wine. It's not that big of a deal. But they should talk directly to their priest. There might be issues of scheduling, Liturgical propriety, confidentiality, but also- I might forget to relay the message! Maybe they told me to pass on the message as I was going to change that fore-mentioned blown-out diaper on the toddler with the four-year old whining at my feet. So- learn to say- "Please talk directly with Father"

Make an effort to be social with everyone- I wrote that Divine Liturgy ends at 1 PM or later on Sundays. My husband won't be eating anything until 2 because he is busy talking to every person in the coffee room. I can learn a lot from him. As an introvert, I might rather be busy in the kitchen or sit with a friend or two or be occupied with the children. I make an effort- which always ends up being pleasant- to greet everyone, starting with the older ladies.

Never gossip or be around gossipy discussions and quit it with the negative humor- this might go without saying, but run the other way if people start gossiping- maybe they will learn from you and change the subject.

Realize that you cannot please everyone all the time- sometimes you have to make like a Madagascar penguin and "smile and wave."

Tomorrow: How to be a perfect ClergyWifeMom and Preparing for Sunday & other busy days


  1. i think the post you want is this one:


    i also have this one on blogging as a clergy spouse:


  2. Thanks Jen!

    My post is probably only specifically for about 10 Catholic women or so- but I hope I can give food for thought to others

  3. more advice for clergy wives- let's say it is after dinner and your lovely husband is doing the dishes. His cell phone rings and you pick it up- be sure to say "Fr. John's cell phone" so that the caller knows not to go right into a confidential subject. Give husband enough time to dry his hands and then he'll take the call (or you can just let it go to voice mail)

  4. i also just blogged this entry as a response to yours:


    i do have a number of clergy spouses (and clergy) who read my blog so i'm sure the comments will be interesting.

  5. Great post. Thanks for the great advice. :)

  6. I'm the wife of our parish's music director. In some situations, it wouldn't be that high-profile, but we are at a small parish in a small town, and my husband is the only person on the parish staff besides the secretary. So it can be similar to what you describe, though he's not in quite so much demand as a priest.

    I agree that flexibility is key! If your husband has midnight Mass and 9:00 Mass and 11:00 Mass on Christmas, the presents probably won't be opened until the afternoon.

    I do try to stay out of his purview, though. I make a webpage for his cantors, but am not in the choir or the bell choir. This way I can avoid getting into any disagreements with his volunteer crew.

    We also decided to live two (small) towns away from our parish to give ourselves some space. It's only a 15 minute drive, but at least I don't encounter everyone from church at the grocery store and the bank. Compared to when we first moved to the area and had a temporary apartment nearer the church, this makes a huge difference.

  7. jkm210- music directors are VERY high-profile and important to the church- it's too bad you feel like being a member of the choir isn't for you right now- but it makes life easier, I know.

    about seeing people out and about- we live in a very large metropolitan area- you would think we would never bump into people, but we do! "Just smile and wave"

  8. Kim- I clinked on over and you are gorgeous! AND I might steal the word "Byzymom" for something ;)

  9. Thanks Priest's wife, that's very sweet of you :)
    The rector of our seminary is Byzypriest and my husband is Byzydad..haha...it seems to have caught on.

  10. What a wonderful post! There is so much helpful advice in such a short post. Ofcourse, I'll never be a priest's wife, but many of these tips are interesting for 'regular' relationships too.

  11. thisjourney- I think some of the tips would be good for any marriage (now I need to take my own advice)

  12. Your posts also apply to every Orthodox priest's wife, too. In Coptic, we call her "tasoni," meaning my sister. Thank you for supporting them through your insightful posts :).

  13. Priest's Wife - I just love your blog! My husband is studying to be a deacon in the Ruthenian Catholic Church. We have 2 young boys ages 2 and 1 and I feel I have so much to learn! Thanks for all your words of wisdom.

  14. Love your blog! My husband is an anglican bishop and I have to give a talk to clergy wives, can I print this blog and give it to them as a handout? OR use it in my talk. Holly Michael

  15. Hi, I might have commented on another spot on this blog...I'm a bishop's wife in Anglican church. I have to give a talk to the clergy wives at our synod next week. Can I use this post (of course, I'll give credit to you and your website). I really love your site and am your fan now. Oh...I so can relate. My husband has been a priest for 20 years this June.


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