The Inner Battle: Dealing with Difficult Parents

If you’ve been a Youth Minister for more than 3 minutes, the title of this post probably resonated with you. Anytime you are dealing with students of any age, you are going to encounter some tough parents along the way. It’s a foregone conclusion in youth ministry that parents can sometimes be your biggest fans and supporters, and sometimes they can be the source of the most stress.

When it comes to “difficult” parents, I think we can categorize them as follows:

The “helicopters” – These are parents who are always buzzing around your ministry, looking over your shoulder, making sure everything is up to their standards, and often being critical when things are done differently than they would prefer.

The “worry-warts” – These are the parents that always assume the worst, and always overthink everything that could potentially go wrong. They don’t want to know where you’re going – they want to know the proximity of the nearest hospital “just in case.”

The “built in adult leader” – These are the parents that just can’t seem to let their “little one” go. So, instead of letting them try out youth group on their own, they become your new adult leaders. Most times, you didn’t ask them to be adult leaders, but it is simply assumed.

The “haters” – These parents don’t really give the ministry a chance, but instead fire criticism at it from afar. Sometimes, this criticism is shared with you. Often, it is shared with everyone EXCEPT you.

No matter what sort of “difficult” parents you may see in your context, there are some sure-fire ways you can make the most of it. Utilizing these methods will help you get past these difficult parents and keep you from losing sleep thinking about them. When it comes to dealing with “difficult” parents, here are some steps I’ve taken in the past to keep pressing on.

1. Pray for them by name
I don’t know about you, but I have found it really hard to hate or resent someone I have prayed for fervently. Perhaps Jesus was on to something when He commanded His followers to “pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” Take time each day to pray for your students, for their “difficult” parents, for your leaders, and for your own attitude when it comes to dealing with others. Not surprisingly, it will make a huge difference.

2. Remember parents aren’t the enemy
The Bible tells us we are at war, and Ephesians 6 reminds us of our true enemy. Nowhere do I recall God’s Word asking us to wage war against parents who bring their kids to church and want the best for them. Actually, most of us would believe quite the opposite – that we should be PARTNERING with parents as we minister to students. When we stop treating “difficult” parents like the enemy and being seeing them as partners in changing the lives of the students we love, our approach will change dramatically. Maybe that “hater” would become your biggest fan if you just befriended them and helped them see your vision and your love for students. Maybe that “helicopter” would trust you more if you showed them the details of your upcoming trip in advance. Parents aren’t the enemy – they are your ALLY! Treat them accordingly.

3. Understand their fears
Being a parent can be terrifying. I can’t tell you how many nightmares I’ve had where my own children got hurt. Parents truly love their kids, and they don’t want any harm to come to them. If we understand this and empathize with their fears, we can turn “worry-warts” into supporters. So that parent wants to know the proximity of the nearest hospital to your retreat location? Google it and let them know. They want to see the list of adult leaders and emergency contact information before you leave? Give it to them. Go the extra mile to help parents see how much their child means to you. They should know that their child’s safety is as important to you as it is to them.

4. Evaluate your ministry honestly
Often, a critical parent can be a great tool for evaluation. Sometimes, a “difficult” parent sees issues to be critical of because such issues exist. Instead of getting defensive and prideful, hear those parents out and evaluate your ministry honestly. Perhaps they have something to teach you. Perhaps they can help you shore up a part of your ministry you hadn’t thought about before. Or perhaps they are completely off base. But you will never know if you write them off, ignore them, and refuse to evaluate your ministry in light of their concerns. Listen to “difficult” parents and grow from them.

5. Be excellent and trustworthy
Do you want parents to trust you and stop being critical of your ministry? The best way to do that is to let your track record speak for itself. Strive for excellence in every area of ministry. Communicate well. Make safety a priority. Make wise decisions and admit when you make a mistake. Hang in there through the good and the bad, and love students no matter what. After a while, your record will speak volumes, and your critics will fade.

How do you deal with “difficult” parents in your ministry? How do you keep them from stressing you out and zapping the joy out of ministry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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