Being a Sanctuary for my children (or why I won’t be sharing as many cute stories on Facebook)
I often get the comment, “I just love reading your Facebook posts!” I consider myself a bit of a social media guru, using Facebook, Twitter, and my blog to share about ministry events and as my own creative outlet. Writing for me is a spiritual discipline as it helps me, an introvert, to process and reflect on my experiences and thoughts. My blog has been like a therapist, helping me to process my parenting angst. When I felt most alone, I was encouraged by my online community that responded, “Me too!” Facebook serves as my online journal. As a busy mom, I don’t have time to scrapbook, so it becomes a collection of pictures, a log of our family activities, and a repository of cute kid stories and sayings that I can look back on and remember. The latter is usually the source of people’s delight in my Facebook posts. My children are 5 and 7, and due to their strong-willed and precocious nature, they provide great story material.
Although I have read blog posts about the dangers of oversharing and have friends that won’t even use the real names of their children online, I haven’t been concerned. Something about the removed nature of this form of sharing gives me a false sense of security. But unfortunately, I have learned a difficult lesson. My son has a crush on a girl in his class, and they talked on the phone after school for the first time last week. Smiling at the sweet awkwardness of second grade conversation, I posted a status about not being ready for my 7-year-old to date. The next day, Brady came home and asked if I had told his teacher about his girlfriend. “No,” I answered, “Why do you ask?” He responded with a perplexed look, “Because she knew that we talked on the phone and asked me about it.” Instantly I remembered that his teacher’s husband is a former co-worker of mine and a Facebook friend. I was filled with anger that he would share it with his wife and that she would embarrass Brady by asking about it. And then I was ashamed because I was truly the source of the problem. Facebook is not private, and I shouldn’t have expected information that I shared with a wide diversity of connections to stay that way.
It definitely made me think. For one thing, my boy is growing up. Although he is an extrovert that has never met a stranger, I sense a growing need for privacy in him. While I thought his attraction was “cute”, he sees it as something more serious. As a mother, I am deeply invested in my children’s experiences, but I am learning that I don’t own their stories, even though I often feel and act as if I do by sharing them online and in sermons. They are navigating their own way through life and I should be a safe place, a sanctuary, in which to find support and learn what is appropriate. I should offer them encouragement to build their own sense of self-esteem and value what they see as important (even if I don’t agree that seven-year-olds should be dating). My kids are more than anecdotes, and when I share their private stories, I teach them that they can’t be honest and vulnerable with me.
As a minister, I recently had the opportunity to preach in front of my son for the first time. Usually my ministry takes place in a university setting and my kids don’t often have a chance to see what I do. On this Sunday, I was doing pulpit supply for our pastor. I had forgotten that this was the first Sunday that my son, now a second grader, would be remaining in the sanctuary for the service instead of going to children’s church. It was a bit of a shock to look down from the pulpit and see him smiling back at me. It was one of the pivotal moments I’ll remember in ministry, like the privilege of baptizing him in this same church. I quickly did a mental scan of my sermon to make sure I hadn’t used any stories about him, and was a little awed by the responsibility of my children seeing me engage in ministry as they connected in worship. I want them to value faith and to feel a part of the church. I desire for them to know their worth in God’s eyes and in mine. I want to share that my love for them and my love for ministry comes from a deep sense of God’s calling and love, which I want them to experience in a real and personal way. I feel sometimes that my words to them don’t always get through, but on this Sunday I had a special pulpit in which to share my love. I wondered how much of it made sense to him, but was reassured by the picture he handed me after the service was over. I think he understands a lot more than I realized.
Rev. Jenny Frazier Call is an ordained Baptist minister serving as university chaplain at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. A graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, she learns the most from her precocious children, Brady and Maryn. She couldn’t juggle it all without the loving support of her husband, John.