In the early days of her marriage, it was simply understood that the rabbi's wife would attend certain events, such as meetings of the sisterhood. But then came the women's movement, "and things changed, the world changed, and I changed my modus operandi," Tattelbaum recalls. "I found that I could choose the things I could do and wanted to do, and still be a part of things."

Tattelbaum helped found the Spouse Support Group of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She cites congregational expectations as one of the top two issues for rabbis' spouses in the group. The other is loneliness, which is a major issue for clergy spouses in general, according to Priscilla Blanton, a University of Tennessee professor of child and family studies who has researched clergy family stress for the past 15 years.

"It's not that they don't have social activities, it's that they don't have intense friendships," Blanton says of clergy spouses. "They are part of their communities, engaged in activities, but there are perceived boundaries. It's emotional loneliness."

Other stresses mentioned by Blanton and the clergy spouses I spoke with include low pay, frequent moves, and the lack of equity and privacy associated with living in a parsonage. Blanton notes that paying clergy more, offering counseling to families in trouble, and making sure clergy and their spouses get positive feedback and not just complaints would help ease the stress.

One thing that surprised me as I talked to a wide variety of clergy spouses is how many concerns we have in common--despite profound differences in religion, culture, and geography. Blanton says her research bore out the same conclusion. "I found far more similarities than differences," she notes.

Kiyo Masuda, for instance, the Buddhist minister's wife, shares one of my pet peeves. "Sometimes the minister is seen as this perfect person," she says with a smile. "He's so wise, kind, this and that. But he can still come home grumpy, and he can still upset me with what he did or didn't do. My husband is a human being like anyone else, with good points and bad."

My husband, Lee, a Presbyterian minister, has often been described, and rightly so, as a person with an unusually calm, serene presence. What his admiring parishioners don't know, however, is that at home this quality sometimes evinces itself to a point where it borders on the catatonic. This is particularly true when his wife and three children all clamor for his attention the minute he gets home from a day of prison visits, hospital calls, and the Presbyterian favorite--long meetings.

But like the Masudas, my husband and I have been blessed with a happy marriage and an ability to laugh, most of the time, at the foibles of life in the holy fishbowl.

After 40 years of marriage, Meryl Tattelbaum and her husband, Harvey, can still see the lighter side of their roles as well. "My greatest joy in being a rabbi's wife...hmmm," she muses as we start our telephone conversation. Suddenly, she laughs. "My husband just said my greatest joy is listening to his sermons!"

"Humor, I think, is the best gift God ever gave anyone," says Mary Alma Parker, who runs a mail-order library in Charleston, South Carolina. Parker's led an unusual life even by clergy spouse standards. In 1976, her husband James, then an Episcopal priest, decided to convert to Roman Catholicism. In 1982, special permission from Rome allowed him to become the first married Roman Catholic priest in the U.S. Parker has faced enough scrutiny and curiosity in the years since then to know first-hand just how important a sense of humor can be. "You have to be able to laugh at odd situations. Maybe not laugh at the time--that might get you in trouble! But laugh when you can."

My interviews end, and I find somewhat to my surprise that I am feeling a little less lonely, a little stronger about facing the church's expectations, a little more confident with my coping toolbox. I determine not to let so much time pass again before I spend time with my brother and sister clergy spouses. Their grace and humor in facing this challenging life is something I realize I need a dose of more often.

Judy and I may have been on the right track after all.