Why are parents the way they are?   

These two things will help you better understand parents

By:  Rev. Dietrich Kirk

When I was a youth pastor in my twenties, parents would regularly tell me that I would be a better youth minister when I had kids.  They quickly followed up with,  “you’ll understand when you have your own.” Honestly, I resented that statement.  Partly because I thought I knew a lot already, even though I didn’t.  And, partly because I believed that I loved the youth in my youth group.

Once, I even had a dad come and find me on a mission trip. There had been a drive by shooting across the street from where we were staying. The Dad wanted to know, “would you take a bullet for my kid?”  Without hesitation, I said yes.  I thought I understood what it meant to love teenagers.

Then my daughter was born and I learned that they were right.  When she was born, I not only understood parents in a different light, I understood God’s love differently.  Why?  Because I loved her unconditionally.  She couldn’t do anything for me and yet I loved her.  I realized that I loved her simply because she existed and that is how God loves us. 

The most important thing you can possibly know about parents is …

Parents love their children!

This seems obvious, but I judged more than one parent when I was in my twenties. No matter what you know about a family situation, you should give every parent the benefit of the doubt that this is true.  All families have their strengths, some of them just need help finding them.  Because parents love their children, there are some fundamental beliefs that we should hold true as we do ministry with families:

·      Parents want the best for their children.

·      Parents want you to like and appreciate their kids.

·      Parents are committed to nurturing and developing their children’s personal growth.

·      Parents want respect.

Parents love their kids.  They do care about other kids, but their primary interest is how their son or daughter is experiencing your ministry.  Be aware of this and understand it, so you can respond better to them.  They are not interested in the 99.  They are concerned with their 1 (or 2 or 3).

Be intentional about bragging on the kids to the parents.  When you see the parents after church or when you see them in the community, say one really positive affirmation about their child.  Or, be proactive and shoot them an email or text naming how you’ve seen growth in their son or daughter.  Showing your specific and intentional care for their kids will go a long way with parents and help alleviate some of their fears.

Secondly, this love generates an emotion in parents that all youth ministers should know:

Parents are Afraid!

When I was a  twenty something youth pastor, I would occasionally be asked to speak to the parents of teens Sunday School class.  Every time I left that group, I was struck by how much fear they carried for their teenagers.  Behind love, the second most prominent emotion felt by parents for their kids is FEAR.   

Parents are afraid:

·      that they aren’t doing it right

·     of the things that they can’t control: school relationships, bullies, school shootings, their child’s emotions, and their child’s future

·      that their parenting mistakes will ruin their children

·      of drugs, sex, boys, girls, alcohol, social media, peer pressure …

·      of their own adolescent fears

Parents want to protect their children.  They instinctively want to keep them safe.  As their child becomes a teenager, they are trying to find a balance between letting them go and keeping them safe.  Think of a parent who is first teaching a child to ride a bike.  They run alongside holding the bike to keep them safe.  If they hold on too long, the child never learns to ride.  If they don’t hold on at all, the child will inevitably crash.  At some point, they must let go.  Parents do that with hopes and fears. As youth ministers, we need to acknowledge that letting go is hard.  We need to acknowledge their fears while also cheering for them to let go.  As youth ministers, one of the privileges we have is providing a space where parents trust that their child can safely grow.  So we must alleviate their fears. 

How to Alleviate Parental Fears

Amazingly, parents have similar desires from preschools and youth groups.  Not because they are looking for a babysitter, but because they are looking for someone who will protect their child physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  Here is the Christian preschool list of parental expectations, can you see the connections?

PreschoolYouth Ministry
Protect themKeep them safe
Pay attention to themSee their unique gifts and personality
Care for themBe there for them
Teach them:·      Learn to get along with others·      Bible stories·      Separation/Life skillsTeach them:·      To get along with others·      Bible stories·      Separation/Life skills

Keep these two things in mind when you find yourself frustrated with parents:  They love their kids, and because they love their kids they carry lots of fears for them.  Remember to give them the benefit of the doubt and look for ways to help them let go by creating a trustworthy ministry that has their kids’ best interest at heart. 

If you are a parent, you already know this.  No one is an expert on parenting.  So although I understand parents better now that I am one, I also know I too have the same fears as the parents of my ministry.  Support your parents by connecting them with people in your community who have expertise in the areas of their concerns.  Have training nights where you invite those leaders in to teach them about specific topics.  Develop a set of resources including books, blogs, articles that you can share with parents. You won’t have all the answers, but you can point parents to the right resources.

I’m a big fan of CPYU.org – Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and Axis.org’s The Culture Translator as related resources. 

Join the conversation by commenting with resources that have been helpful to you as you seek to minister to and with parents.