Embracing the Many Sides of Parents



By Sara Clark

For years I’ve heard horror stories from other youth ministry professionals about their experiences with disengaged, opinionated, and even challenging parents. For some reason, many involved in youth ministry have acquired an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to working with parents.

“It’s a battle of control—what trips we take and when we take them.”

“It’s a battle of priorities—the mandatory sports practice or youth retreat.”

“It’s a battle of endless reminders—seasonal/monthly/weekly posts on social media, websites, postcards/flyers, emails, and even individual day-of texts.”

You get the idea.

We’ve even started categorizing parents into different groups to help us navigate future interactions. As soon as a new youth enters the program, we quickly assess their parent/guardian, and mentally file them away until the next encounter. I’m sure many of you do this, and don’t even realize it. Some of your categories may look something like:

“The Helpful Parent”

“The Opinionated Parent”

“The Trying-To-Do-It-All Parent”

“The Apathetic Parent”

“The Invested Parent”

In my years as a Youth Director I have seen many different sides of the parents I serve, and I am even guilty of generically categorizing them into some of these groups. I’ve had the “frustrated parent” in my office who thinks that I should be doing things differently. I’ve also had the “vulnerable parent” crying on my shoulder asking for help and support. Parents can be tough to navigate, just like their teens.

Now I’m a pretty emotionally in-tune person, so I take every interaction I have with another person to heart. This means that sometimes I’m quick to take offense or feel that what I’m doing in my ministry isn’t good enough when a parent passionately voices a concern or suggestion. But I’ve learned there is so much more to parents than the brief encounters that often lead to my categorized “parent filing system”.

You see, that frustrated parent didn’t come into my office telling me how things need to change to make me feel inadequate. They came into my office because their kid loves being a part of the ministry here at my church, and at the time they had a need that was not being met. That same parent also talked about how much their youth ministry had shaped their life, and all of their many suggestions was their way of saying, “I want the same for my kids.”

So as the summer months begin to wind down and you look to the fall, let’s take a moment to consider what our ministries could look like if we were to look beyond the brief face-to-face encounters we have with parents. What if we were to engage with parents on a deeper level in order to uncover who they are and what they need?

It would probably look a lot like what we try to do with their teens every week.

It would look like relational ministry.

Let’s not forget that parents are human beings trying to navigate the extremely complex road of raising teenagers full-time. We all know that as kids become teenagers, their wants/needs/motivations/moods constantly change, and the way they are parented must also change. And like those of us in ministry trying to keep up with quickly changing trends and culture, it’s a learn-as-you-go journey. So let’s give our parents a little more grace.

Parents have needs, and we all know that adults aren’t always the best at communicating what those needs are, or what they look like. So affirm your parents and the hard work they are doing! Support them. Listen to them. And when the time comes, embrace the different encounters you have, so that you can serve alongside them as we continue to love and encourage the teens in our lives.