Navigating Rocky Relationships with Parents

Youth Specialties
October 17th, 2016

In the years I have overseen our youth group I had relationships with parents that have been difficult. Some were rocky because of my own mistakes. I have also faced difficulties with families where it just felt like they simply did not like me. If it is your fault it is easier to walk through but no matter what it is hard. I am not writing as an expert in this field but sharing what I have learned (and am still learning) to help those that may not know what to do. Here are some perspective shifts and ideas that have been helpful with me. When it comes to dealing with rocky relationships with parents I hold myself to Romans 12:18:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

I love the way Paul wrote this because it has two essential pieces for us. The first is “as it depends on you.” We have a responsibility to live peacefully with those around us. People are not here to serve our desires and dreams, we are called to serve them. The second is “If possible.” Paul understood that we do not have the ability to make relationships work. As a young leader this was something I really lacked and easily forget. Accepting the fact that people may not like me because of me, or because of their own stuff. But responsibility is to do everything within my power to live at peace.

Keep Your Pastor in the Loop

Bring your pastor in as soon as you can when a conflict rises up. My heart in saying this comes from Proverbs 11:14:

“Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

I was terrible at this in the beginning, and was more of a lone wolf than part of the pack by my own choice. One of the reasons I am so strongly for this is because I am called to pastor the high school students, but my pastor is called to lead the family as a whole as the leader of our church. If there is a fire burning in his congregation, and I am connected in any way, I want to let him know as soon as possible. My pastor walks with me through these issues because he has a lot more experience with people and conflict than I do. I am in the place of wanting to learn, I allow him to give me advice on if I should stand up or not, and I am active in asking “do you think I need to apologize for this?” He tells me his opinion and then I continue to bring it before the Lord to sort through it all. If the situation escalates it will end up with our pastors anyway, so it is better to let him know as soon you can. Keep going. Remember why you do what you do. It is not for the praise of man, but out of a love for Jesus that we want to share it with anyone who will listen. When I sit down with a percent who is angry and frustrated, James 1:19 is my bread and butter,

“My brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

I want to take the rest of the time to look at how this verse helps us.

Listen to Them

The issue raised is not always the main issue. When we listen intently, it brings us to a better place of understanding. When I have an angry or frustrated parent we meet in person and I ask them to begin sharing what they are feeling. I have seen frustrated parents calm down when they feel that they are heard and understood. The important thing is to understand where any parent is coming from so we know how to meet them where they are at. It is not an easy thing to do if someone is aggressive and hurtful in the things they say. The best advice I can give to you is: let God be your defender in these moments. Be calm and listen to see if you can hear what is really going on in their hearts. It could be a simple shift, or it could be a big vision shift that you don’t feel right about. But if you jump in too fast you’ll never know and could end up speaking out of your emotions instead of wisdom. I want them to walk away feeling heard and understood. They are God’s creation, believer or not, and deserve to be heard at the very least.

Don’t Say Much

A man who has been like a father to me always talks before I go into these meetings and says the same thing “say as little as possible. I used to hate this phrase but have found it to be such a simple encouragement. He was constantly trying to tell me don’t say much because you probably don’t need to. The first few times people had issues with something I did or was going to do I felt it was my need to prove why it was a good idea and ultimately defend myself. Instead my focus when I speak is:

  • What can or do I need to apologize for?
  • Asking them “What is your hope of the outcome of this conversation?”
  • Speaking to the things that I see that are noble in them. (Sometimes people think because they are frustrated and mad at us that we can’t see any good in them which when we are operating out of love we will see the good, even in the difficulty.)
  • I do not make any big commitments in these moments. I want to focus on the relationship over whatever issue has arisen.

Keep Your Cool

Lastly, this is the one I struggle the most with. When someone is aggressive, rude, and hurtful I want to go to war with them. Instead of trying to heal the relationship I want to win the war. This is not an appropriate attitude of any leader. God has called us to be shepherds not neanderthals. Even when someone is out of line I am called to still honor and respect that person. The balance that is difficult to strike is not being a door mat and apologizing for everything, or the other where you flex your authority card and how dare any one challenge your position they are just the parents. Both of these are unhelpful and will lead to frustration to you and everyone involved. Parents deserve respect and honor, but so do you. I feel it is totally fine to tell someone if they are being too aggressive or strong in their approach if they are making you uncomfortable. I had a conversation with a mom one time, where she challenged me on a few different things. I was about to respond and she said “maybe, I’ll just go to your boss.”This made me feel humiliated and frustrated I responded to her “That is uncalled for. Why are you going to my boss when you are sitting here in my office, I have given of my time to hear you out, and my full intention is to work this out? But to be honest I am not feeling very safe with how your coming at me.” I explained how I took her comment to mean that she wanted to get me fired and didn’t want to give me an opportunity to work it out. What I had wanted to say was a bunch of very different things but she heard where I was coming from and apologized. That mom and I get along just fine now and she is someone who faithfully prays for me and reaches out occasionally to talk. God can work some amazing miracles with these difficult families, if like one of my pastors said to me, “don’t get in your own way.” Let God be God, He will speak to what needs to be spoken to in each person’s life.

Cover It With Prayer

Jesus told us to “pray for our enemies.” I don’t know about you but when someone is not in sync with me it can feel like they are an enemy. I try to take time weekly to pray for those families that are struggling with me and I have seen God heal and do some amazing things. Why this is an important approach for me is it helps me stay genuine and not become jaded. I want to be able to genuinely say “I love these families” even when our relationship is difficult. Inside of myself there is no ability to do this, so I go to Jesus, the one who loves me in my difficulty and forgives me for far more than any of these families ever could.

michaelMichael Newton is the High School Minister at CALVARY CHAPEL PETALUMA in Petaluma, Ca and has served in youth ministry for 10 years in varying roles and responsibilities. Passionate about the Church, Leadership, and Students. He and his wife Kylie have two beautiful daughters.

Youth Specialties

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