A Better Way to Deal With Difficult Parents

Difficult Parents

If you could go back and redo your first year of youth ministry…

…what would you change?

This spring, some of the top youth ministry minds are weighing in.

They’re all going to be answering this one question:

If you had a mulligan on your rookie year, what would you do differently?

This post from Chris Wesley explains the better way to deal with difficult parents in youth ministry.

I’ll never forget my first angry parent email.

The parent wrote about my shortcomings as a youth minister and pointed out the flaws in the ministry I had worked so hard to build. I felt defeated after reading it, and instead of moving forward, I held onto that mom’s words. I remember printing out the email and pasting it to the outside of a binder:

This is a reminder of whom I have to prove wrong.

My pride was hurt. I was angry and ready to make it “ME vs. PARENTS.” I wish I had known that this parent’s email wasn’t about me at all. It was written to me; however, it was really a cry for help. Fortunately, someone I trusted was able to help me see that her problem wasn’t about me.

When a parent unloads on you, it’s easy to act defensively or emotionally, but you shouldn’t.

To move through that storm of emotions, and to keep yourself from being derailed by a parent’s comment or accusation:

Listen for the story beneath the story.

It might sound like they are accusing you, the ministry or even your church; however, there is a deeper story going on in their lives. Fight all temptations to close down or push back and just listen. Slow down; reflect on their words and process what is really going on beneath their emotions.

Bounce the situation off a friend.

The point of plugging into a network of youth ministers is to share the burdens you carry. After listening to a parent’s scenario, share it with a trusted volunteer or fellow youth worker. Get their thoughts, insights and instruction. Do not take the burden on your own shoulders.

Respond with love.

The best way to diffuse anger and volatile emotions is with kindness and love. Assure the parent that you are listening to them. Repeat key points that they have made. Give them an action plan and assure that you’ll follow up. Parents want to know that they are not alone in the journey with their teen.

Build your entourage.

One of the best ways you can be proactive with parents is by entrusting other parents to advocate for you. If you can show that you are trusted by other parents in your ministry, it’ll help the ones who are struggling to see you as a resource as opposed to a sounding board. This way, they’ll come to you with less hostility. It will enable them to seek your wisdom, energy and insight.

The relationships you will have with parents will be difficult, especially if you are not one yet. I hated hearing that as a young youth minister; however, it was true.

No parent wants to fail their kids and it’s your job as a youth minister to coach, encourage and guide them along that path. Give them grace, patience and love, and they will give you their trust.

So how about it—what’s your largest frustration with parents?    

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Chris Wesley
Chris graduated from Xavier University in 2003 with a BA in Communications: Electronic Media. He moved to Baltimore in the fall of 2003 where he served as a Jesuit Volunteer for a year. During that time, he was a Case Manager at Chase Brexton, met my wife Kate and felt God's calling to Student Ministry. In the summer of 2004, heI was hired by the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland as a Middle School Youth Minister. Today he oversees grades 5-12 as the Director of Student Ministry.

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