I’m new to the Circle of Sisters, but I wondered if a new topic could be discussed regarding life as a Bishop’s wife. Having a newly released bishop-husband, I have come to realize that there are many unique aspects to fulfilling the role as “the Bishop’s wife.” There are fears, doubts, questions, uncertainties, lessons learned, and expectations. I’m wondering if some of your readers could offer their input into how they handled the role of a bishop’s wife, what did they do that helped them cope, how did they handle having wayward or rebellious children during that time period, how did they help their husband adjust to his release, what unique sacrifices were they and their families required to make? There are so many aspects that could be discussed. I feel there are many sisters out there who could benefit from a discussion on this topic including me!
We’ll do some idea shopping, swapping, and swiping. I think it would be fun. I hope the sisters whose hubbies are never likely to put them in that position will not feel they are being relegated to a “less than” corner, even temporarily. Maybe we can serve this slice of pie in such a way that it doesn’t seem exclusive. I know it is not intended to be and in fact the Bishop’s family’s role is very much impacted by the concern that others will think they occupy some rarified social niche that doesn’t really exist in the daily press of duties and sacrifices.
Just butting in for a second to pass on some great resources I found. I’ll be back later for a real response!
Dallin H. Oaks
Common Sense vs. Nonsense, or, “Bishop, how do I fix my lawn mower?”
Clair F. Rees
How to Sustain Your Bishop
Annette Paxman Bowen
Side by Side: Supporting a Spouse in Church Service
Jeanette Goates Smith
My husband served as branch president and then bishop for eight consecutive years. When he was first issued his calling, a very wise and sensitive stake president called our whole family into his office. He told us that family life as we knew it would radically change. He emphasized that this was not a negative thing. Rather, it would be a very blessed, but arduous journey. There would be times when a tangible blessing of stamina would be ours and times when we would falter. There would be praise and a substantial amount of criticism and scrutiny.
He warned us against the pitfall of trying to pour our children into the “bishop’s family” mold and admonished us to “be ourselves.” He also told my husband that on issues that were not confidential, he could seek my advice. Because of this last bit of counsel, I felt included. Perhaps this is the reason I rarely felt shut out when it came to those confidences that were none of my business. In fact, I was grateful not to know all that was discussed for two important reasons:
- Unlike bishops, we, who do not wear his mantle of authority would be influenced by what we heard. It would be easy to take sides and worst of all, we would probably remember every detail. My husband said repeatedly, one of the greatest miracles a bishop can experience is the “veil of forgetfulness” after problem resolution is in place. It is very literal.
- I was so thankful that my husband honored his calling by not letting those sacred confidences “slip.” I knew that others, who desperately needed someone they could trust, felt safe telling him their most private and tender feelings. I knew how violated I would feel if everything I told a bishop would also pass through the ears of his wife.
I tried hard to stay in tune with my brothers and sisters. Many times, I was able to pick up something a word, a statement or subtle body language and mention it to my husband. This heightened his awareness and proved very helpful in opening doors for discussion or conflict resolution.
Oh, boy, as I think back, it certainly wasn’t all roses, either. We traveled about 40 minutes each way to Church. There were many Sundays when we arrived early in the morning and waited many hours after meetings while he did interviews. Our children were usually good-natured, but there were times when I could have gladly marched into whatever meeting or interview was in progress and said, “Hey, we are so out of here.You find your own way home.”
One Sunday, in particular, my kids were tearing around the building like enraged bull elephants and someone made the comment under his breath, “Yes, and those are the bishop’s children, too!!” I felt like asking him how he or his children would behave if they had been at Church for nearly seven and a half hours. Luckily, I resisted the temptation to flatten him, bit my tongue, and smiled. In retrospect, maybe I should have said a little something. Perhaps it would have opened his eyes and raised his level of tolerance. I did learn to pack a basket on those long Sundays and tried to be creative in the game and entertainment area. As the years passed, the kids learned to cope and we bought a second car!!!
Two aspects of the stewardship were very difficult and I’m sure all of you bishops’ wives will agree. First, hearing either first-hand or through the ward grapevine, unjust criticism about the bishop or a decision he had made. My husband, my bishop, taught me something unbelievably valuable about criticism. Upon hearing a particularly hurtful comment, he grabbed a piece of paper and pencil. He drew a small triangle at the top-middle of the page and said, “This is what they know and this is what they comment on.” He then took the pencil, extended the two outside sides of the triangle downward until they hit the bottom corners of the page. The drawing resembled an iceberg. He looked at me and pointed to the huge extension saying, “This is what I know, this is how I make my decisions, and I can’t say a word.”
People will judge. How many times have I judged without knowing all the facts? This small illustration helped me to be merciful even to those who had offended and I tried to remind myself of it each time, thereafter.
Secondly, when he came in late at night after a bishop’s court or difficult interview, it was hard to see him weighed down by the heaviness of what had transpired. I tried to have something ready for him to eat, if he had an appetite. If he needed to cry or share his feelings, I got pretty good at listening even if my evening alone with the kids had not been the smoothest. I developed a great deal of respect for him and the calling he was trying his very best to magnify. It put bedtime squabbles or being alone in perspective pronto.
In those moments of weakness about which our stake president warned me; when a complaint about long hours spent away from home would slip my lips, my husband would say, “Jeannie, know that if I could be home with you, I would. In fact, there is nowhere I would rather be.” This was a great comfort to me and I’m sure every bishop in the world would echo this sentiment.
One more thing I learned the hard way: Whether we realize it or not, the things we say as wife of the bishop carry extra weight. Learning to measure our words without compromising our own identity can be tricky. Things can be misunderstood, misconstrued, and just plain misquoted. I tried to listen to myself with a “third skeptical ear” when making a comment.
A great source of joy during this time was a policy our family had established. We welcomed, literally, scores of people into our home, some for a meal, some for a night, some for weeks until they were able to make it on their own. We hosted members and non-members alike, nearly all from countries other than Austria (where we resided at the time). We felt so enriched, so blessed to have had our eyes opened to cultural diversity and the fact that in spite of these differences, we do belong to one, very large family.
After eight years, one of the saddest sentences we ever heard was “We release with a vote of thanks ?” The opportunity for incredible growth, selfless service, the tangible and intangible blessings experienced during this time have had eternal impact on our family. I would like to think that this service also impacted the lives of the brothers and sisters whom we served.
Being immersed in concern for others and being responsible for the welfare of several hundred people sharpened the sense of our own vulnerability. It awakened a reliance on the Spirit that is hard to explain. Even in times of doubt or wayward behavior, our children could remember these things and were blessed by them.
Our stake president was right. It was a blessed and, in some instances, arduous journey. However, I would not trade one millisecond. To all of you dear bishop’s wives: may the Lord strengthen you during the absences and magnify your joy as you perform an indispensable service for His children.
I have never been a bishop’s wife. I have been a bishop’s daughter twice. When I was a teenager, my father was the bishop of a BYU married student ward in WyView Park. When I was older he was a bishop at the Mission Training Center. (Twice before my birth he also served, in Lafayette, Indiana, and when a missionary in Holland.) I have also been the wife of a counselor in the bishopric twice, the wife of an executive secretary twice, the wife of a high councilor twice, and the wife of an elders quorum president once. (Same husband, by the way!) My perspective won’t be exactly what you are looking for, but perhaps it can be of value to someone.
I, too, am blessed to have a father and husband who never broke the confidences of their callings. When my dad was serving in the MTC, it was almost humorous (to those who stayed in bed!) the number of middle of the night phone calls that came from prospective missionaries, suddenly seized with guilt, unable to sleep a wink until they confessed all to their bishop. Dad would get up, slip into his suit, and drive to the MTC. When he came home, sometimes after sunrise, he never said a word.
Once my husband interviewed a new member of our ward to extend him a calling. A few weeks later I found out that this man manufactured a funny watch I really liked (a Bill Clinton watch that ran backwards). When I told my husband, he said he already knew. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, since my husband knew I loved the watch and had even asked for one for Christmas. But since he had found out about the man’s career within the context of an interview, he felt he shouldn’t mention it at all.
I, too, found it critical to have a “third skeptical ear” when speaking. Critical, but extremely difficult for someone with such an active jaw muscle. In spite of my husband’s almost excessive respect for confidences, I often found that my usual, sarcastic, teasing words were misconstrued. If there was any basis in fact, even a remote connection, it was assumed that I “knew” because my husband had told me. Once I teased a lady (who had often said she did not ever want a particular calling) that she was sure to get it if she kept saying so. Unfortunately (and completely unbeknownst to me) she had just been extended that same calling, but hadn’t yet been sustained. She assumed that word had been leaked to me through my “inside sources,” though nothing was further from the truth. I have always been far less informed when my husband serves in ward or stake leadership!
I love Jeannie’s husband’s “iceberg” illustration. One of the bishoprics my husband served in had a joke that there was a rule for the amount of time a bishop served. The bishop could not be released until he had personally offended at least 90% of the ward. We would laugh but how sad it is that as a body of “Saints” we display such behavior, deciding we “know it all” and pointing out the perceived flaws of our leaders to others. Why do we find it so hard to follow the scriptural example to take our criticisms directly to the person or no one at all? No one asks to be the bishop or the bishop’s wife and we should at least realize that they are doing the best they can. And since that is all God asks of them, it should be good enough for us.
The biggest issue for me during these times of “heavy service” was the amount of time away from home and family. Frankly, in Florida I found it easier for Sam to be in the bishopric than on the high council. At least in the bishopric he was in the same ward and my kids could at least see him up on the stand. (And, of course, our current toddler could make a scene during the sacrament prayer, calling, “Daaaaaaaddddeeeeee,” when she happened to notice him at the most inopportune time.) On the high council he often had to travel an hour or more round trip to attend another ward’s Sunday block, bishopric meetings, etc. And somehow those meetings never coincided with our own, so when he was home, we were gone, and vice versa.
Over the years I have, however, gained some wisdom and perspective. What was once resentment at feeling that something was being taken from me, has turned to gratitude that I have been given such a gift to have a husband who is actually worthy and willing to serve the Lord ?in whatever capacity. That is indeed a blessing.