For Barbara Schmidt being a mum and grandma has been a huge blessing full of times to treasure.
While she did receptionist and office work before she was married and finally realised a long-held dream of being a nurse for 17 years when her children were older, motherhood has been her most cherished role.
Marriage to a pastor – Kevin Schmidt – naturally meant multiple moves around Australia. Their four children were born during service in three different parishes, often away from extended family support.
As adults, Barbara and Kevin’s children Julie, Phil, David and Tim have also been scattered in different states, following their own vocations and families.
Despite these separations, Barbara has placed a high priority on being involved with her children and their children as much as possible, at times through interstate visits. In fact, she and Kevin have been an important presence for each of their seven grandchildren.
‘We just feel very blessed at having had that opportunity to spend time with them. I’ve just loved every minute of it’, she says of school pickups, sleepovers, bicycle rides and general babysitting with Kate, Sam, Ruby, Matilda, Oscar, Cooper and Miranda, who are now aged between 29 and six.
‘I’ve also seen people who’ve had very little input with their children or their grandchildren and I think they’re missing out on so much. Just having that love and that connection with each one is precious. Just to see your grandchildren following their chosen field is wonderful.’
Barbara says she and Kevin wanted their children to choose what they would do as adults. Two sons, David and Tim, have followed their father and studied to become pastors. David Schmidt serves as youth and family pastor at Prince of Peace Everton Hills, Queensland; while Tim Castle-Schmidt, a former teacher, is in his final year at Australian Lutheran College and is doing his vicarage at Faith Warradale, South Australia. Elder son Phil Fagan-Schmidt works for the South Australian government in housing, while daughter Julie Wiesner, a former teacher, works on her family’s farm at Walla Walla in New South Wales.
Kevin was originally from the Murray Mallee area in South Australia, while Barbara (nee Liebich) was from Nuriootpa, in the Barossa Valley. She was involved in church, youth group activities, teaching Sunday school, singing in choirs, playing basketball, and helping and caring for her mother who wasn’t well for many years. She loved music and was a two-time Barossa Vintage Queen, the latter of which she is quick to play down.
Kevin was already an ordained pastor at Victor Harbor, south of Adelaide, when the pair met at a state Bible camp at the seaside holiday town in January 1957. They were married the following year. Their first child Julie was born in 1959 and they moved to Queensland in 1960. Philip was born in 1960 and David in 1964. Tim joined the fold in Adelaide in 1971.
While Barbara was a member of the Brisbane Philharmonic Choir during their time in Queensland, she scaled back other commitments to be with their children.
‘Once I had family I didn’t get involved with a lot of things because God gave me family to look after and that’s where I needed to be’, she says. ‘Family always came first. I wanted to spend time with them and love them when I could.’
The most challenging time of being a mother for Barbara was when her children were sick. Each of the four had serious or life-threatening conditions before they reached adulthood. Understandably it remains an emotional subject for Barbara even today.
Philip and Julie each contracted acute nephritis within their first couple of years of school, which required months of medication – and staying inactive, quite an ask of young children. At about three years of age, David had a suspected bowel blockage, which left him writhing and screaming in pain and surgeons poised to operate. However, during a barium meal x-ray, the situation changed.
‘All of a sudden he said, “Mummy, it’s stopped, the pain’s gone”. The doctors just looked each other. They couldn’t believe it’, Barbara says.
‘The doctor said, “It’s a miracle”. They were ready to operate. They thought David was in serious danger. But we took him home, the doctor came to check him out in the next few days and everything was okay. It was a miracle.’
Then when Tim was 16, he went fruit picking in the South Australia Riverland during the summer holidays. He was found collapsed and in a coma, having suffered an aneurysm and brain haemorrhage. Barbara believes God’s hand meant an ambulance was on the property Tim had been working on and that a shooting in a nearby town that same day had brought an air ambulance retrieval team to the area.
Tim was airlifted to Adelaide, operated on and was in a coma for two days. Despite everything happening around her, Barbara says she had an ‘inner peace’ her son would recover.
‘I knew he wasn’t going to die’, she says. ‘I said to Kevin that I knew he was going to have a long, hard road back, but it was just an amazing peace I felt.’
The episode severely weakened the left side of Tim’s body and affected his vision and at first he was unable to walk or talk. After lengthy rehabilitation, he was able to complete his high schooling and go on to tertiary study. For Barbara, such trials reinforced her family focus and her faith.
‘I just believed God was there in each situation’, she says. ‘One of the most important things to have as a mother is that faith and trust in God. And that thankfulness you have. And that’s just something I’ve always treasured about my family.’
While she thinks mothers today are under much more pressure to work in paid employment while their children are young than when she became a mum, Barbara says the main requirement of a parent is simply ‘being loving and kind and patient’.
‘Yes, you do get tested, very much so; children challenge you. They certainly need a lot of patience and guidance.’
What advice would she give to first-time mums? ‘To treasure that time with them. They’re little lives that have been given to us to love and train and treasure and care for.’
Now in her early 80s, Barbara has no hesitation regarding what makes her most proud of her children.
‘It’s wonderful to see them doing what they have chosen and doing it well – and we just hope and pray that they retain their faith and it grows’, she says. ‘Each of our children have become caring people. That has always been very important to me.’
Barbara and Kevin Schmidt are members at Our Saviour Lutheran Church Aberfoyle Park, in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.