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Parents: Friend or Frienemy?

OK, I am just going put all my cards out on the table….I LOVE PARENTS. Seriously I do. Well, like 90% of them anyways. But really, that’s a pretty good average I think! And no, it’s not because I am now a parent of an Edge teen (which is just weird, by the way). It’s because, over my ten years in youth ministry, I have come to realize a couple of key things about parents and how they work. And I am here to let you in on the secrets.

Parents are PEOPLE

WHAT??? Parents are people just like you and I. They are NOT, contrary to popular youth ministry folklore, animatrons sent to make our lives more difficult. We are really good at telling ourselves and anyone who will listen why we are so busy. Then, in the next breath, we will rant for days about how parents never read our emails, turn in forms on time, know what is going on, or (insert current parent struggle here). So here’s the question we have to ask ourselves: why do we expect everyone to understand how hectic our lives are, but we are not willing to acknowledge the same truth in the lives of our parents?

Parents want the best for their teens

Now, not every parent will let you know that they want what is best for their teen in the most loving, or palatable, way – but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. When I am dealing with a particularly challenging parent, I try to keep this in mind because I know that deep down we want the same thing: for their son or daughter to be happy. The difference comes in how we each believe happiness will best be achieved. I often insist it’s reached through a loving relationship with God and His Church while parents insist it is through a loving relationship with (insert sports team here) and also God and the Church, at least on Sundays when they don’t have a tournament. While this drives most of us in youth ministry bonkers, it is important to listen to the undercurrent here. What parents are saying is, “I love my child, and he loves soccer. I know faith is important but if I ask him to miss out on soccer, he will not be happy, and I want him to be happy.”

Parents on Core and parent communication

Having parents on Core and communication with parents has been one of the hardest “find the right balance” lessons for me. When I was a Core Member, the youth minister had a fairly “hands-off” policy with parents. Parents were not allowed to be on the Core Team, and very little information was shared with parents about ministry content. This led to parent disconnection and feelings of distrust between parents and the ministry.

Now, if a parent approaches me about being on Core, my answer is always, “I am totally open to that if it is the right fit for you and the ministry. First I need to talk to your teen and see if they are alright with you being on the Core Team.” Why? My priority is creating a community where all the teens feel safe to open up and share their hearts. If having a parent on Core is going to hinder that, I need to put the teens first.

At the same time, I have stepped up my communication with parents. I do a weekly email newsletter through MailChimp that shares the content provided by Life Teen in the Parent Letters (available online in both Spanish and English) and we have started a simultaneous parent ministry during Life and Edge Nights. I also make myself available to chat with parents when they ask.

A little humility goes a long way

It can be hard to face criticism or admit we don’t have all the answers. But you will be amazed by the power of the words, “I don’t know”, “I never thought about it that way”, and especially, “I am sorry – I was wrong”.

When we can step back and acknowledge that we are not Super Youth Minister (able to save souls at a single Life Night) we honor a parent’s perspective and uplift their primary role in their teen’s life. So if you make a mistake, own it. Apologize and move forward. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. Humility like this will go a long way!

If you genuinely love their kids, they will love you

This is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned. Parents love their teens immensely, and they want to know that other adults who have influence in their life love them too. So tell them. When I email parents, I make a point to put somewhere in the email how great I think their teen is. Point out particular things that you love about their teen, and affirm the job they are doing as parents.

By creating a community of unconditional love for the teens and their families, the more parents, teens and the entire parish will invest in the work you are doing and the more on fire for the Lord your teens will become. It’s a win-win!

So moral of the story: parents are great assets in ministry. Approach ministry to parents with humility, love and compassion to create friends and allies verses frienemies and adversaries.

About the Author

Daughter of God, wife, mother. Lover of glitter, bad dance moves, cheesy 80’s movies, and laughter. Basically just living the dream one day at a time doing the best job in the world – leading teens closer to Christ.

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