Episode 7: Ashley Boulais on Life as a Pastor's Wife

home you Mar 16, 2021
Ashley Boulais Knows Life as a Pastor's Wife

Ashley Boulais is wife to Brandon and mom to three boys.  Today she shares a candid look into life as a pastor's wife in a small town. We discuss stereotypical expectations as well as how we can encourage moms who are living life in public view.

Connect with Ashley at her website or Instagram.

Ashley's favorite gadget is...her headband headphones (similar to these)

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This is a transcript of the This Mom Knows Podcast - Episode - 7

Jennifer Uren
Hello, hello! I am excited to introduce you to my friend Ashley Boulais. Ashley loves Jesus, her husband, Brandon and her three boys who are aged eight, six and four, which feels impossible to me. She's an avid reader and enneagram nine and is currently learning hand embroidery and might take up whittling because you know, COVID and by the way, she is a pastor's wife. So welcome, Ashley.

Ashley Boulais
Thank you for having me, Jenn.

Jennifer Uren
Oh, it is such a pleasure. So I've told a few things about you, and it's hard to believe the boys are that old just because I've known you for so long. I've known you before you were a pastor's wife. But why don't you just tell us a little bit more about yourself, like how long you've been married, where you live, where you're from originally? Just some fun stuff like that.

Ashley Boulais
All right. Well, I grew up in a very small town in northwestern Ohio. And I actually met Jenn when I went to seminary, which is also where I met Brandon. So we've been married going on 10 years. So 10 years in May. Jenn was our wedding planner coordinator. Yes. Yeah. So and they she and Jim kind of mentored us while we were dating. So you've known us for what? 12 years? Probably

Jennifer Uren
A long time. Yeah.

Ashley Boulais
But just just crazy. So yeah, we have three boys. They're in second grade and kindergarten, and then our youngest will be going to school this August. So I'm kind of in a weird transition right now figuring out what is my life going to look like when all my kids are in school? So that's why I started embroidering. I made this.

Jennifer Uren
Oh, that's beautiful.

Ashley Boulais
I need hobbies. Thank you. I need I just need hobbies. You know, to get in my head, right? Yeah. So we are in our eighth year of ministry here at Riverside Evangelical Free Church in mayville, North Dakota. So I grew up in a small town and I never thought I'd live in a small town. But here Yeah. So...

Jennifer Uren
It suits you and small town, North Dakota no less.

Ashley Boulais
Right I know, I'd never thought. When we actually interviewed for this job, Brandon. He doesn't agree with this. But I remember him telling me that it was in South Dakota, on the map. And I was like, it's in North Dakota, that we really do love it here. So it's been great.

Jennifer Uren
That's great. Well, let's talk today about something that you know, and you've alluded to, which is being a pastor's wife. So is this a role that you kind of aspired to? you always knew you wanted to be? or is it something you just kind of fell into and and had to accept?

Ashley Boulais
Yeah, no, I remember my mom saying when I was a pretty new Christian, and she said, you're gonna marry a pastor, and you're gonna move to Africa. And I was like, No, no, that's not happening to me. I'm not doing that. That's, that's a stereotypical thing for Christians to do. Right. So I was like, Nope, not me. But it was in 2008. I was working at a summer camp, and we were in staff devotions. And maybe you don't even know this, Jenn. But I was taking notes and the phrase, marry a youth pastor pastor popped into my head. And I was like, That's weird. But I didn't have time to process it. So I wrote it down. I actually still have that piece of paper.

Jennifer Uren
That's great.

Ashley Boulais
So it wasn't something that I aspired to. But I actually went to seminary, not. I know, people say you're you went to seminary to find a husband, right? I didn't. I wanted to learn about Jesus and I wanted to get the education. So I did, I went to seminary, I started out with my Masters of Divinity and transitioned later to a Master's in Theological studies. And so I met Brandon, my first weekend there. And it happened really fast. We were dating within a month and engaged after four months and got married, like a year later. So yes, but I just, I just knew and I knew that he wanted to be a pastor. So that was something that I did sign up for when we agreed to start, excuse me, always agreed to start dating. Yeah, I brought my mom mug. But when we agreed to start dating, I knew that I was signing up to be a pastor's wife and I was excited about that. I still love it.

Jennifer Uren
Mm hmm. Well, that's good. That's, that's better than the potential feeling of a bait and switch. You know, I thought you were going to be a lawyer and here you are doing this instead. So this question, you know, is a very important question, because you know, one of the stereotypical requirements to be a pastor's wife is to play the piano. Do you play the piano?

Ashley Boulais
I do not. I know, there are a lot of ways in which I am not your stereotypical pastor's wife.

Jennifer Uren
You know, I think I think the stereotypical pastor's wife just frankly doesn't exist.

Ashley Boulais
You're right.

Jennifer Uren
But phew you don't have to worry about playing the piano and doing those things.

Ashley Boulais
That is not my forte, no.

Jennifer Uren
Which is a musical term, but that's okay.

Ashley Boulais
I learned to play the guitar once, you know, like youth ministry play the guitar, right?

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, there's another.

Ashley Boulais
I couldn't sing. And there's too many things going on with your hands. So pianos even worse, because you're doing things with your hands and your feet. So right.

Jennifer Uren
Yes. And differently. Yes. All different and singing sometimes.

Ashley Boulais
I'm not that coordinated.

Jennifer Uren
So a mom listening might just be wondering, What is so special or different about being a pastor's wife? So what would you tell her? And how would you describe what it is? Why it's why it's different?

Ashley Boulais
Yeah, honestly, someone in my congregation asked me this, and I don't think I'm that different than most people. You know, I, we struggle with raising our kids and what that looks like, and we are walking with people through hard things. And I think all Christians are called to do those things. You know, we're, we're called to walk through the hard, difficult situations. And Brandon just gets to do it, and get paid for it. And I get to follow alongside him. And I really get the fun part of ministry. Like, I don't have to do all the planning. I just need to be there for the, like, sweet moments. Right? So

Jennifer Uren
yes, yes.

Ashley Boulais
Yeah, it's not really that different. The harder parts I think, come with, you know, Brandon has to maintain confidentiality. And he can't always process with me about things happening in the church, for my sake, to protect me. Right. But also for for the sake of the people in the congregation as well. And so I think the other hard thing is raising kids in the spotlight and having expectations on them that might not be another kids. And I think Jenn, you can probably speak to that to being a pastor's kid yourself. So,

Jennifer Uren
absolutely, absolutely. So your heart though, I was gonna say really, that to me, the big difference is you're living in the public eye. In some ways, being a pastor's wife is like being a politician's family because people are watching you. Different. Different motives, different things, but it's in the public space. So your heart, though I know is to share, you know, candidly about the joys and the struggles of being a pastor's wife, which as you said, I'm a pastor's kid. So I really do appreciate that. Because I can relate Not, not to the wife part, but to being part of the family and being under scrutiny with expectations that no one told me I was supposed to make.

Ashley Boulais
I'll have to pick your brain about that later.

Jennifer Uren
Right. That's right. We can talk about that. But I know you want to help people understand the joys and the struggles. So let's talk about some of those things. What was your biggest fear or concern about being a pastor's wife?

Ashley Boulais
Yeah, it actually didn't have anything to do with raising kids, which has ended up being I think, the hardest part for me, but I was afraid I wouldn't have any friends. Because, and I asked that actually, I said to my previous pastor's wife. I don't know I said, Well, are you lonely? And she said, Yeah, sometimes because nobody wants to hear about your pastor leaving his underwear on the floor. And as a wife, you know, you want to be able to vent about those things. And you need to save space to do that. And that's not always with people in your church because they look at your pastor differently. And so I was really afraid that moving to North Dakota, where I knew nobody, it's kind of a different culture. I mean, it's very Scandinavian Norwegian. And that's not something I grew up with. So yeah, I was really worried I wouldn't have any friends.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, so loneliness. I think you'd also told me that you were worried about your husband, actually, in that confidentiality space, you know, counseling or or working with women one on one and what risks kind of could come from that?

Ashley Boulais
Yes. Well, you hear all these stories right about big name pastors having affairs, and I kind of just thought that was going to happen - it was inevitable. And it was nothing to do with Brandon's character. He gave me every reason to trust him. I just kind of thought he's gonna be counseling women, one on one. One and I remember sitting in my seminary class where they talked about that they talked about the ethics of counseling women, and, you know, being a male and I was sitting next to Brandon and I was in tears, because I thought, this disqualifies me from ministry. I can't be a pastor's wife and not be comfortable with him, you know, ministering to women, one on one. And a gal stood up in class and she said, maybe I don't want to meet with a pastor's wife, maybe I just want to meet with the pastor. And I ended up leaving the classroom crying because I just thought, okay, I can't do this. And I think once I worked through a lot of the insecurities behind that, and I grew in trusting Brandon, even more, it hasn't been an issue, honestly, I have been given freedom to say, No, I don't feel comfortable with you doing that. But I haven't had to use that. Like he, I trust him. And I know that the people he work with, he works with watch out for him, too. They want for each other. If he is meeting with a woman, or a female youth student, there's always an adult present. So maybe not in the same room, but in the room over their window. So there are safeguards in place. And I don't worry about that anymore. I know that. We still have to be cautious and mindful, but it's not something that I feel disqualifies me or, you know, yeah, makes me a bad pastors wife. Right.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah. No, that's good. It's It's so hard sometimes to balance the requirements of ministry with somebody who's those other things that are concerns, especially....

Ashley Boulais
Insecurity. I mean, it was insecurity on my part.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah. And yes, but balancing, insecurity with prudence, you know, being wise is, is hard. Right? So what kind of pressure do you feel from those around you, you know, to be supermom, or to be involved with everything to be there every time the doors are open?

Ashley Boulais
No. So I, when we were interviewing for this job, I asked the pastor's wife, I said, Do you feel pressure from other people to be involved in everything or to play the piano? Right? You know, those? She said, I haven't felt that. And I'm not saying that. That's true everywhere. I'm sure there are pastors wives who have felt those pressures, but I had the the pressures really come from internally, like I, I remember, again, interviewing and saying, Yeah, I'm going to be my husband oversees youth ministry primarily. So I said, I'm going to be there, I'm going to paint my face and hold signs and be all their activities. And I really genuinely like I want to do that. But I have three kids, I can't and I only had one when I came here. And he was very little. So I just didn't have realistic expectations for myself. I've had to change those a little bit and give myself grace. But yeah, those expectations really come from myself and not other people. And I'm very grateful. And I don't know if that's just something that's unique to my church, or if other pastors wives can say the same thing.

Jennifer Uren
Right? Well, and I was gonna say, you're in a small town, so. So you have a lot of people not in the church who know, who know you're a pastor's wife. And, you know, I think there's some anonymity in a bigger area. Right. So I was I was gonna ask you, how much is there a distinction? Do you feel treated differently out and about in public, by non church people? Because of your husband's role?

Ashley Boulais
Not anymore, that often I will say, when we first moved here, we'd be walking, taking a walk down the sidewalk and be like, hey, you're the new youth pastor at Riverside? And we're like, Who are you? How do you know? You don't even go to our church? So yeah, there was some of that. So just being known in the community, and there are some people who you say who you are, and like, I know who that is. And they kind of tone down their language a little bit or try to act differently. And I kind of wish they wouldn't I don't, I don't have expectations on them to be like me or to have the same morals as we do as Christians. So I do feel like we're a little net less anonymous, but that's okay with me. I'm fine with that.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah. And and there's the newness is worn off. So now it's just that's who you are not, you know. Ooh, the new who you are. Yeah. So let's talk parenting in the public eye. So how do you balance letting your kids be kids with the reality That, you know that really, frankly, they're running around their dad's office, you know, they're, they're at his job and yet, you know, it's a place you're involved. So how do you balance that, that letting them make their choices, behave, be themselves with the expectation that you know, it is going to reflect in some manner, whether it's conscious or subconscious. On, on you and Brandon?

Ashley Boulais
Right. Yeah, I don't have a balance. I don't know yet I am still, I know, we've been here for going on eight years, and I still haven't figured it out. Every season of life has changed. And it is very different. Because you think about when you're at home, or you go to a really close friend's house, you make yourself at home, you know where their coffee is, you know, where their bathroom is, you don't have to ask, you just go grab a cup, and you sit on their couch and just relax. And I think that's kind of the atmosphere that my kids are growing up in at the church, they, we can go there any day during the week, and they can play in the gym, or, you know, run around or watch movies in the sanctuary. Those things happen. And so they feel really comfortable there. And so they're more likely to make themselves at home. And and we really have to balance, which is still not a strong point. But figuring out how to say, yes, you're comfortable here. There are still rules in place. So we, aside from the gym, we don't allow them to run, or jump on furniture, or the kinds of things that we wouldn't let them do on Sundays. There are those boundaries in place. And I think it's hard. The hardest part for me is on Sundays, because I don't know what to let them do and what not to let them do when we're sitting in pews. And they're expected to be all prim and proper and quiet. But they're four and six, and eight. And is it appropriate to let them dance in the pews during worship? Or is that distracting to people? Or, you know, is it okay, if they sit in color while we pray? Or do they need to have their heads bowed and eyes closed? And, and so those kinds of things we've really struggled with, and Brandon and I kind of go back and forth between? Okay, is it really a big deal? Or you know, another example, which maybe a lot of parents deal with? Do I make my kids dress up for church? Right? 'Cuz to an older generation, that's a sign of respect for, for God. And on the flip side of that, my kids are really proud to wear their sweatpants and mismatched shirt that they chose themselves. Right? And if I make them dress up, then they I hate church. I don't want to go to church. I hate wearing dress clothes. Yeah, well, you have to kind of is that a battle that I'm willing to fight?

Jennifer Uren
Right?

Ashley Boulais
How what we choose does reflect on Brandon? And you know, I don't know - I want my kids to grow up loving Jesus and loving going to church. So that's, I think a balance we haven't figured out yet.

Jennifer Uren
I know. And it is hard. You, you hit the nail on the head when you said every season is different because it changes and truth be told, I think those struggles are struggles that every parent faces, whether they're the pastor's family or not. I know people all the time, we're like, oh, let your kids be kids. We'd rather they're here and disruptive. They say it right. And in reality, you know, you, we've been in places where people have come and said, You know, I think you might be more comfortable in the foyer. Like I would have started there if I thought it would be but thank you. So it is a hard thing to balance. You know, the individual needs of your kids with with the group of the whole worship experience at church in the sanctuary.

Ashley Boulais
And again, no one has ever said anything. No one has ever made a single negative comment. And actually, I've heard the same thing that you mentioned is we love hearing your kids. It's a sign of a healthy church that there are kids here and we we welcome that. But internally, you're always thinking, yeah, what are you thinking about my parenting right now?

Jennifer Uren
Right.

Ashley Boulais
So, yeah. But we have a very gracious comment, you know, congregation that love us. So...

Jennifer Uren
That's a blessing.

Ashley Boulais
It is it is for sure.

Jennifer Uren
That is a blessing. We talked about this a little bit. You talked about relationships and how they can be tricky. Friendships in particular. So how have you fostered safe and authentic friendships and are you finding them within the church? Are you finding them with with people who are outside of the church?

Ashley Boulais
That's both.

Jennifer Uren
Okay.

Ashley Boulais
So, I do have friends that are from seminary that I've really been able to connect with who are in ministry too. And Jenn, you're one of those people we can talk about things with and I prayed fervently for over two months straight, that I would find friendships here. And when we interviewed, there were no other people our age here that weekend, I don't know where they were. But they kept assuring us there are people your age, there are people your age, and I'm like where I don't see any. But when we got here, we connected with a life group of about four or five other couples who all got married in the same summer as us. And we just clicked, you know, we were all in a stage, the same stage of life. And I'm not a person to shy away from conversations, I'm very candid, I don't get embarrassed easily. For better or for worse. We were able to connect really easily. And we, we've stayed connected, we don't have the same life group anymore. Life groups change over time, they grow, they multiply and divide. And so we have different life groups now. But we have a text group, we talk every day, and we walked through deaths of spouses, miscarriage, adoption. And so we've, you know, we've been through it all together. And I do feel like I have safe relationships. And I think fostering that. Part of that is just being open and authentic and honest. And that's something that my generation values a lot and the generations to follow. Just being open and real. And so I think that's it, and I do have to be mindful about what I share, you know, with anybody, and so we kind of always edit ourselves, right, to a certain extent with different people. And so I can be open and honest with this group of friends, but maybe I don't share everything that would include Brandon. So,

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, so you have some discernment and discretion there with, with whom you share what, but I love how you have found this way to still use, you know, the tools at your disposal, texting, which everyone's like, that's impersonal. It's this, but what it does is it gives you consistency. And it's that consistency that really develops that depth of relationship. And so I love that even though you're not face to face weekly, in the same group the way you were, you're still face to face and in each other's lives. And yeah, that's, and that's a gift too, because not everyone finds that pastor's wife or otherwise. So that is a that's a really sweet thing to have that group

Ashley Boulais
It is for sure. And two of the people in our original life group actually moved away. So one is in Minnesota, and one is about an hour away. And texting allows us to all communicate at the same time.

Jennifer Uren
Yes, yes.

Ashley Boulais
Which builds our community, I think. Yeah,

Jennifer Uren
Absolutely. So this, you've kind of talked about this a little bit, you know, if you're free to feel like you can be yourself or do you find yourself being more cautious and guarded around people and from what you've said, it sounds like you feel a lot of freedom. But is there is there a guardedness initially? Or do you just sort of go in at face value with people?

Ashley Boulais
Probably more so the latter. And again, for better or for worse, kind of what you see is what you get. And I think, you know, I haven't mentioned this before. But I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2017. And that has its own stigma. And we went through a really dark time and people in the church didn't necessarily know what Brandon was going through with trying to balance ministry and also, being there to support me, he was doing everything, Jenn. He was cooking all the meals. And you know, and taking care of the kids and trying to do ministry and I have been really open about that. And I've been open about the struggles of parenting, and all of that. And so the things that we have to use discretion about really are things that we're struggling with within the church. Yeah. And so, you know, those are things that and I don't know names, because again, Brandon is very cautious and protective of me and of the people in our congregation. But I do know some situations that are happening. And so I can't talk about those with anybody because I don't know who they are about something and then they think that oh, you know,

Jennifer Uren
yeah, she knows everything. Yeah. So, so what have been some of the blessings? What are the joys? We've talked about some of the potential hard things but what are the joys of being a pastor's wife and what are the things you wouldn't trade?

Ashley Boulais
The list is endless. There's so many things I wouldn't trade. One is I have a walking commentary as a husband, oh, I have a Bible question. I'm like, hey, Brandon, and he almost always knows. And if he doesn't know the answer, he has commentaries like rows and rows and rows and rows of commentaries that he can say, Oh, this would be a good book for you to read. And it's also true as a parent, you know, your kids ask you these random, weird theological questions. And you're like, I don't know.

Jennifer Uren
And you have a seminary degree. So you're not supposed to be off the hook.

Ashley Boulais
Well, but I'm not as articulate as Brandon is. And so he can also, he's used to working with students who don't have maybe that concrete level of thinking yet. And so he can say things in a way that kids can understand that they're abstract concepts. But you know, making it so that kids can understand it. And that is not something I'm great at So I can be like Hey Brandon, you can answer this question go ask your dad. So that's one thing that's really nice about having a pastor as a husband, but I think in general with the church, I get to see the beautiful things behind the scenes that other people don't get to see. So when Brandon gets a phone call at 11pm, at night, with a parent who's struggling with their kid who's run away, or dealing with drugs, or, you know, whatever, he is there to talk with them. And other people don't know that other people don't realize, or maybe they think they do, but I get to see it firsthand. And I get to see when the church gives vouchers for gas or to pay utility bills. And before I was a pastor's wife, I didn't even know that those things were happening. So I didn't get to see all the beautiful blessings. And I think, too, just seeing the generosity of our church members, caring for one another, and caring for us, has been a huge blessing. And it's just so beautiful. And I think I just there's so many things, I don't even know how to list them all. I really don't.

Jennifer Uren
I will speak to Brandon's ability to articulate from two perspectives. One is, you know, he was youth leader to our oldest brand. I still hear her say Well, Mr. Brandon said and Mr. Brandon told me. So he made an impact. But the other way is in with explaining board game rules. Very, very clear and thorough. So a mom listening wants to connect with her pastor's wife or encourage her pastor's wife. What is a simple, easy, non threatening thing that you would suggest that she does?

Ashley Boulais
Yeah, I love getting cards. I think having a written word is something that you can come back to again and again. Because oftentimes, being a pastor is a thankless job. We are again, very blessed in that our congregation is super encouraging, super supportive. But those cards really mean the most to us, we Brandon actually keeps a folder called an encouragement folder. So anytime somebody writes a letter to us, or a card or note, he sticks it in the folder, and when he gets stressed or we get anxious about things happening, we can go back to that. And we have it on hand to say, these people really do love us. And it's just a good reminder. And also just saying hi, saying hi on Sundays, how are you doing? being authentic asking us? I think I think that's the best way just being honest and caring and making an effort.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, that's great advice. And someday another conversation, I would love to talk with you more about the bipolar and how that has impacted, not just being a pastor's wife, but being a mom and a wife and all of that. Yes. So but as our time is wrapping up. I have a light hearted question that I love to ask all my guests, which is what is your favorite gadget?

Ashley Boulais
Okay, I actually had to ask Jenn, what, what qualifies as a gadget? I'm not very techie person, when I come up with this answer, so I'm going to just demonstrate it for you here. So this is my headphones that I wear at night. So there's an app called Scribd which is it's similar to Audible but way, way, way better because it's cheaper and unlimited. So I am an avid reader. But you know, being a mom, I can't always stop and sit down to read a book but while I'm cooking or cleaning, or when I'm falling asleep, I can just put on these headphones while you're exercising and you can listen to your books.

Jennifer Uren
And they won't fall out. And they won't hurt your ears if you roll over on them.

Ashley Boulais
Right. So when I'm laying down, I can just, you know, and I like this particular set, which is found on Amazon that has the Velcro in the back so you can make it tighter to make the sound better.

Jennifer Uren
Nice o, I love that. love that idea like,

Ashley Boulais
Listen to podasts.

Jennifer Uren
Oh, yes, that's right. listen to podcasts all the time now, people. Um, so you, you actually blog, and I know that you, you can go for stretches of time between your posts. But I tell you, when you post, I stop and read it because it is really good. And it is really worth reading. So how can people connect with you? If they would like to talk more about any of these things? But how could they also find you and your blog?

Ashley Boulais
Yes. So you can always email me. And my email address is maybe Jenn, you'll have to like include this because my last name is impossible. It's French. So it's not phonetic BOULAIS. So both my blog and my email have that in it. So it's, my email is [email protected] and then my blog is Ashleyboulais.com.

Jennifer Uren
Excellent. Well, Ashley, thanks for being here today. Thanks for taking the time to share and for encouraging us.

Ashley Boulais
Thank you, Jenn for having me. It's been a blessing and a blast.

 

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