“I just get so jealous when my friends talk about their husbands being home by 6 and having dinner together. It’s a rare thing when my husband doesn’t have an evening meeting and by the time he gets home, the kids are in bed. It feels like he is always at the church.”
What are realistic expectations for me to have as a pastors’ wife when it comes to time with my husband and our time together as a family?

This question comes up in all of our cohorts and I talk to pastors’ wives frequently who are wrestling with this, feeling either bitter or guilty – or sometimes a mixture of both. And I’ve been there. I remember. 

If you are asking this question, there’s probably some unmet needs and maybe some hurt lurking below the surface. When we can recognize those feelings and deal with our expectations, they have less chance of becoming a time-bomb in our marriage, waiting for the least opportune moment to blow up.

Here are some principles I’ve found helpful as I wrestle with this question.
#1You HAVE TO TALK about this objectively, with the calendar/schedule in front of you. Don’t wait until you are in meltdown mode and it becomes a fight. Give him a heads up that you’d like to have a conversation about managing expectations and “home” time. Then suggest that you both write down what you most need from “home” time. If you have kids, what do they need? Realize that he probably already feels guilty, so try to minimize that as a motivator. Ask “How can we be creative about getting time for us, for our family and for rest?”  If you have an Elder meeting Monday night, can we do breakfast instead?

#2.  The goal is sustainability. We want to be in this for the long haul so finding rhythms that support that is essential. Reaffirm OUT LOUD in this conversation that you want to put structures in place that help you both stay in this ministry thing together.

#3.  Watch for the Break. There are seasons of high demand, but they are almost always followed by a time of rest. God has shown us this over and over again. For example, we plan for some down time in January after the Christmas crazy ends. We shut down the church for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to enable our staff to rest. When our calling requires sacrifice, God usually redeems it by providing times of rest to refresh us.  The real challenge is to recognize when the push is over and to seize that rest and not fill it up again.

#4.  Different ministry contexts come with different demands. We have to watch our capacities and adapt. When Craig was an Associate Pastor, teaching at Denver Seminary, writing, speaking around the country and running a non-profit, we tried to make sure he had one day off each week. Now, while the number of hats he wears has shrunk, the stress level and weight of responsibility have increased. One day a week isn’t enough anymore, so we carve out another half-day during the week so that we can spend time together and he can be refreshed for services on the weekend.

#5.  Be creative. When you serve at a church where most ministries are led by volunteers/lay leaders, every meeting is at night. For us, we didn’t depend on nights alone as family time during this season. Our creative solution was homeschooling so that we could grab breakfasts or lunches together. We grabbed Wednesdays as Family Adventure Days. That’s not a good option for everyone, but there are others. Several of my friends have “date mornings” on Friday mornings because their husbands work all day Saturday and Sunday.

So I know there are some of you who are like, “But what’s the bottom line? What’s realistic as far as work hours, days off, and evenings at home? More importantly, what’s healthy?”

Just for you, here’s my take:
Home Nights – Expecting to have “home” time at least three nights a week is realistic. Remember, you are grabbing breakfasts or other time as a substitute for those evening meetings. I know Saturday night is hard to count – his mind is elsewhere.
Days Off – God modeled for us taking a Sabbath rest, so we must take one day as well, to close the door on all things “church”. The idea of two-days off a week is a western idea and not a “right”. That said, if Craig is working more than 50 hours/week (we’ve had stretches where he’s been over 65, not good), that sends up a red flag for us that we are going to have to build in some rest somewhere and reevaluate the rhythm. It’s rarely sustainable.

For more on this topic, here’s a great article by Mark9 ministry:
“Managing Expectations for a Sustainable Ministry”

Before you go, one last thought. If you are asking this question, there’s a chance you are feeling a little neglected. Maybe a little bitter. I get that. Can I encourage you that the best thing you can do is press into your “team”. Instead of pulling at him to be home, figure out a way to remind him that you are together in this. Pack a picnic and have lunch on the floor of his office on one of those long days. You are on the same team, serving the same Jesus and wanting to raise your families to love and serve Him. Stay engaged and press in.