You know the youth person who treated the parent like they got in the way of my job. Working with mostly “unchurched” students I thought I had a good excuse. Parents weren’t around anyway. Even when I did make some small attempt to reach out to them, they just shrugged me off. I thought I didn’t really need them that much anyway.
Then my own children started entering the ages of official youth ministry. They entered some programming where I was not the leader. It happened to me. One day after church, a leader stopped my daughter and embraced her. She looked her in the eye told her how beautiful she was and that she was special. All the things I would say to a student as well. However, I stood there awkwardly not even being acknowledged by this person whom I had never met. It seemed as if an eternity before I stuck out my hand and declared, “Hi, I’m the Mom.” Apparently, she was a volunteer small group leader.
When it happened to me, conviction came. How many times had I done something similar? How many times had a parent tried to tell me about their child and I ignored them? How many times had I treated a parent like only a mechanism to fill out permission slips? Then I am the one quick to complain when they don’t come to a parent meeting. I am the one “venting” about “that one.”
As I stood there with mine I was put off. I felt like, “HELLO! You might want to get to know me too. I after all am the one who gets my child to youth group!” I was skeptical about this volunteer. What was she putting into the mind of my child? Again, that “Aha, this is how they feel when I do this,” rolled over me.
The truth is that not every parent will want to be my BFF. However, every parent deserves to be noticed. Summertime may seem like the worse time to reach out to parents, I would contend it is among the best. Yes we are navigating vacations, camps and trips. Yet, we get to move away from the “after school” slump. There are so many of our kids sitting around waiting for something to do. Many parents would love to use the less scheduled time of the season to get to know us. As we use summer to build relationships, we can’t ignore the family as a whole. It is a way that we prepare for fall.
This is when I am reminded, it is not my right to decide which parent has earned the privilege for me to be in their life. It is their right to decide if I have the honor of being in their child’s. No matter who they are.
Here is what I must do:
1. ATTENTION: Parent’s deserve my attention. This means being purposeful about reaching out to them. Get to know them beyond just “sending information” home. The “drive by parent?” Meet them at their car one week, walk the student out. The “ghost?” Take the student home instead of their usual ride and just introduce ourselves. Send an email. Make a phone call and tell a parent why we are thankful we get to hang out with them and tell them about Jesus. Use summer to have a cookout and simply get to know families as a whole.
2. ASK: ”What do you need from me?” I have a tendency to approach parents with what I need from them. However, what are they looking for? There may not be anything we can “do,” yet we can always pray. One time I had a parent who appeared to be really going off the deep end. She was drinking quite a bit. I took her daughter home one day with a purpose of just checking in and seeing if there was anything that she needed. It turned out that the doctor thought she had cancer. This was how she was dealing with it. I offered to pray with her. She refused, but said, ”Do you think you could pray for me when you are home? I’m not ready for you to pray with me, but I know I need prayers.” I responded with, “I will be praying as soon as you close the door, and I will keep praying.” About a week later I stopped by again just to see how she was. Did she need anything? Her face lit up when she saw me, ”It wasn’t cancer, the prayer worked!” Summertime can be the moment a parent slows down enough to notice struggles their children are facing. They may simply need to talk about it.
3. ATTITUDE: We must have an attitude that always includes a parent in any decision-making that includes their child. I decided a long time ago to treat a parent like the parent. I don’t judge or exclude, because of what I think I see going on. Just yesterday I had a conversation with one of my volunteers on this subject. She was asking me about hosting a sleep over at her house for a couple of girls. “I really want Sandy to come, but I can’t ever seem to find her parents. Can she come anyway?” I had to tell her not if we can’t get permission from the parent. We lose when we decide for a parent what they will and won’t do. We must ask parents permission before we do anything that might otherwise be the parent’s decision in guiding their child. Parents are often looking for us to spend more time with their kids in the summer. This is the perfect time to get to know the family a little more clearly on this.
4. Align: Thinking of it as a parent partnership can change everything. We are not looking to the students we see in front of us. Our eyes are that of Christ’s: Who is he molding them into? The parent has the greatest influence on their child. When we align ourselves with the parent, we are working together to see the our youth become leaders for the Kingdom today.
The bottom line is that my approach to parents has changed radically over the years. It shouldn’t have taken me having children to notice them. Yet, hat is when I woke up. For no matter how much time we ever spend with a student, at the end of the day, they will always go home…. The parent, or the one in that place, on the other side of the door, doesn’t need us as much as we think they do. However, we need them infinitely more than we ever realize