Now That I’m a Parent…
Now That I’m a Parent…
It is probably the most common lament of youth workers across the nation (maybe even the world) – “working with parents so hard/ difficult/ frustrating/ makes-me-want-to-pull-my-arm-hair-out!” I’ve said it before and so have you. In fact I was just talking to a friend this afternoon who recently left vocational youth ministry specifically because she had negative experiences working with parents of teenagers. I clearly remember a seminary professor talking about his “youth ministry days” and railing against frustrating parents who dared to think that he didn’t understand their point of view just “because he didn’t have kids.”
Two years ago my first daughter was born…now I get it.
You see before I became a father, my only experience with parents was with my own parents and the parents of friends and teenagers. This is so blindingly obvious… but it was a life-stage to which I couldn’t relate. And because I couldn’t relate to the position of parenthood, I discounted it as having any greater value than my single life at the time. As a youth minister, I swallowed the lie that my students were primarily my responsibiltiy. I believed in my own importance and my own indispensability in these teenager’s lives. This was and is perfectly convenient for any youth worker to believe. After all, with miniscule salaries, little church influence, insane work hours, and outrageous expectations from others, what is left to console the youth worker that he or she ought to stay in the game? Self-importance. We tell ourselves that we are the “lynch-pin” in the lives of these students and that we must stick it out because we are so very important! So when a parent comes along and either implicitly or explicitly tells us that we don’t understand because we’re not parents, we get angry. They are threatening the one sliver of value that is keeping us in youth ministry.
The problem is that I didn’t get it and, if you’re anything like I was, then neither do you. Please keep reading! I grew up in Virginia, around the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a beautiful place, and the mountains really are beautiful. Occasionally I would meet people from places like Colorado and they would admire the Blue Ridge “hills” as they called them and then go on to describe the majesty of the Rocky Mountain ranges. As a Virginian, I was usually offended. Who were these outsiders to tell me that I didn’t understand the Rockies just because I had never seen them? I’d hiked mountains before, these were just bigger right? And then I moved to Denver… and now I get it. It wasn’t until I stood at the top of a 13,000 foot, snow-capped peak and looked out over a miles and miles of jagged, dramatic ridges that I had the “Aha” moment. Those outsiders were right, it really is different out here, and it just was not possible for me to fully grasp it until I saw it.
Parenthood is something like that. Parenthood is not an idea, it is existential. Until a tiny, weak, needy, fragile creature is placed in your arms and the weight of responsibility descends upon your inadequate shoulders… you just can’t understand. It is a feeling to be felt and a life-stage to be experienced, not an idea to be thought about and therefore understood.
Therefore, as youth workers we must understand our position correctly if we are to lead and serve those under our care well. Until we can humble ourselves before parents and vocally admit to them that we do not understand what it is like to be them, but that we are here to help – we will fight and fail in our attempts to come alongside parents in discipling teenagers. And we cannot humble ourselves (and maintain our sanity) without our identity being Christ-centered and not us-centered. If your value and identity in youth ministry is centered about what you bring to the table, then you will be threatened by parents. However, if your value is rooted in Christ, then you are FREE to humble yourself before parents and simply offer your help as less-experienced brother or sister.
Friends, brother and sisters, youth workers without kids – embrace the reality that there are things that you don’t understand. From a parent’s perspective, your humility is winsome and actually works in your favor! Root your value in Christ and enjoy the freedom to serve without needing to be the expert.