What Parents Really Need from Us
Ask parents in your ministry what they really want, and you likely hear a lot of “right” answers-something along the lines of teaching their children about God or leading their kids into a relationship with Jesus. These are akin to kids’ “right” answers in Sunday school: No matter the question, the answer must be “Jesus!”…Right?
But we know that parents–who also often bear the roles of breadwinner, spouse, friend, mentor, volunteer, and so many more–aren’t always expressing what they really need from your ministry. They typically aren’t saying things like, “I need help teaching my child to be happy for others when they have so much more than we do,” or “Our family is devastated; we discovered our teenage daughter is doing drugs and sleeping with older men. How do we handle this with our younger children in the home?”
The truth is, even though ministry is by nature personal and meaningful, so often parents resist truly opening up–for many reasons. They don’t want to be judged, they’re embarrassed, they feel overwhelmed, they don’t want generic responses such as, “I’ll pray for you” or “What would Jesus do?” Parents often struggle with a wide range of issues that lurk under their calm and collected surface–unspoken, unaddressed, unresolved, and unknown to others.
With this reality in mind, we asked scores of parents to anonymously open up to us about the very real issues they’re dealing with right now. What we heard was surprising, honest, and, yes, sad at times. Venture with us through this secret window into a regular parent’s thoughts and feelings. Listen in on the lingering whispers that tug at parents’ hearts, the worries that consume them. You’ll discover expert insights and maybe even a few new directions for your ministry.
Many parents say they feel confused and at a loss when it comes to issues of character development in their children. They worry about the everyday things…and not-so-everyday things.
• How do I handle the sex talk? I need to get past his embarrassment so it has value.
• How do I teach my child to accept that sometimes things don’t work out right–even when you do everything right and try really hard?
• What do I do to train my child’s heart to have great character qualities like tenderheartedness, kindness, compassion, and truthfulness?
• What do I say to my son whose friend has two moms?
• We give our kids so much. How do I keep them focused on the true necessities in life like faith and health rather than material things?
Every parent wonders how his or her child will “turn out.” Will she be kind and honest? Will he follow the morals and values I do? That’s why parents work (often diligently) to instill specific character traits in their children.
“One of parents’ biggest fears is that they’re going to ‘mess up’ their child one way or another,” says Shelley Noonan, author of the Beautiful Girlhood Mentoring Program (pumpkinseedpress.net). To allay this fear and to help parents who are struggling with these issues, Noonan says children’s ministers “can best support parents by actively listening to their concerns and purposefully responding in a way that builds up the family unit as a whole.” Provide plenty of resources–and reassurance–for parents. Focus on strengthening and affirming families. Provide positive, interactive experiences that help parents effectively convey their thoughts and beliefs to their children.
CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES
Parents express a great deal of concern when it comes to the choices kids make–and their natural consequences. They also worry about knowing their boundaries. How far do they go to protect their children from poor choices or the grim realities of our world?
• What are viable consequences for my kids’ poor choices, and how do I follow through consistently?
• How much freedom should I give my kids? How much should I shelter my kids?
• Should I stop “saving” my kids from the hard knocks in life?
• What will finally teach my kids to honor and respect me?
• I don’t know how to teach my kids about money.
• When should I let my kids fight their own battles, and when should I step in?
• My kids have an “it’s-all-about-me” mindset. What can I do to change that?
• I want my kids to learn personal responsibility and to know when they need to be willing to walk away from a friendship or situation that’s not healthy.
• How can I help my kids see that sometimes the friends they choose prompt the poor decisions they make?
• I can’t stand some of my child’s friends. How do I handle this without alienating my child?
Child development experts say that a parent’s role is to act as a mentor when children are faced with choices–small ones and big ones–knowing that the child will make many wrong or poor choices along the way. It’s the very experience of making choices–along with the patient and guiding voice of a mentor–that develops a child’s ability to discern good decisions from poor ones. The end goal of all this choosing is that the child will, by early adulthood, be equipped to make good choices. This opens the door for you to provide support to parents by helping them view themselves as mentors.
“Encourage and support parents in their role as mentor to their children,” advises Noonan. “Mentoring children is a lost art. And the passing on of Christian values, biblical truth, and cultivating personal faith doesn’t just happen. Mentoring is the act of engaging in authentic discipleship of children through purposeful and intentional parenting. Children’s ministers can support this process by ‘mentoring the mentors.’ How? By encouraging parents to be in God’s Word…by shoring up families with resources.”
You can also support families by crafting your ministry so kids get opportunities to make choices, mentor one another, and take on leadership roles. When you give kids a healthy forum to make choices and take the lead, you offer them the positive experience and feelings involved in making good choices.
It may give you comfort to hear that parents struggle with discipline, too! Parents say they’re constantly second-guessing their discipline techniques. They worry they’re not effective or that their discipline methods hurt more than they help. Here are some of their most common worries.
• What do I do when I catch my child in a lie?
• How do I discipline my kids fairly when they have such different personalities?
• How do I respond–rather than react–to misbehavior?
• I feel like a drill sergeant. I don’t like it and neither do my kids. How do I stop?
• My spouse and I can’t seem to find a middle ground on our discipline styles. This confuses our kids and frustrates me.
• What’s the best way to balance my time between kids? One is strong-willed and requires a lot of my time and energy, while my more compliant child gets ignored.
When it comes to discipline, “encourage parents to seek God’s answers,” advises Steve Nelson, pastor, author, father of eight, and co-founder of Premeditatedparenting.net. “I’d love to try to answer every discipline question that parents have, but even that would merely scratch the surface of the real issue–that parents need support!
Many parents are so desperate for support that they turn to nannies on TV for advice rather than to their churches. No doubt, many good lessons are available from a variety of sources–but the Bible and church are priceless touchstones for encouragement and support. Parents need their confidence strengthened that God’s Word has the answers to everyday issues they face. They need to be able to view church as a place where they can safely share their struggles and not feel condemned at every misstep of their children. My bottom line? Realize that one of the best ways you can minister to children is by ministering to their parents and equipping them as ministers.”
EMOTIONS AND BEHAVIORS
It’s no wonder that parents struggle with how to handle their children’s emotional and behavioral issues. No parent wants his or her child to suffer on any level. So it’s not such a surprise that this area of need garnered the most responses–and some of the most poignant pleas for help.
• How do I help my child with her behavioral disorders? Her school seems to have given up, our family is always in an uproar, and I feel completely lost.
• I watch as my child suffers with depression…I don’t know what to do.
• How do I coach my physically maturing daughter (who’s developing way ahead of all the other girls)?
• My children are struggling through our divorce. How can I help them?
• My older child mistreats my younger child and wants nothing to do with him. How can I fix this?
• My child has an explosive temper. I don’t know how to handle it.
• My young son has an unhealthy obsession with girls’ clothing and toys.
• My child’s emotions are out of control.
• My child has a very negative self-image and outlook on life. How can I help her?
• Other kids are purposely excluding my son. It’s agonizing. What do I do?
• How do I get inside my very quiet child’s head and heart?
• My daughter has a special need that’s made her very challenging. I don’t want to hear one more time that it’s my fault or that I need to discipline her more. I want a community of support for her, not just me fighting to be her champion.
Parents may be unlikely to let you know they’re struggling with their child’s emotional or behavioral issue because it’s a very tender subject. Many wonder if the problem is somehow their fault. Others may’ve sought help only to feel rejected or embarrassed by a carelessly given opinion. In this area, ask God for great discernment.
“Any significant change in a child’s behavior can be a signal of something amiss,” says Steve Rossi, Christian counselor and author of A Father’s Words: How Fathers Make or Break Their Children. “But it’s got to be particular to that child. And every child is different.”
Get to know the people you serve; you’ll likely discover there are as many quirky emotions and behaviors and worried parents as there are kids in your ministry. Counsel parents with kindness, gentleness, and careful words. And when you encounter an issue you’re unfamiliar with or that’s over your head, help the family connect with a Christian counselor who can help.
“By connecting with someone who’s suffering…we’re less likely to say or do something that’s going to worsen the situation,” says Rossi. “The worst thing we can do is be insensitive or do nothing.”
Parents have deep concerns about their children’s spirituality…most of which can be boiled down to one underlying question: Am I doing it right?
• How do I teach my kids about tithing when my husband doesn’t believe in it and refuses to practice it?
• How do I actually lead my kids to God?
• How will I know if my kids’ faith will last or if they’ll walk away from it later in life?
• How do I find a church that meets all our family’s needs? It seems impossible. I’m tired of jumping from church to church looking for a good fit.
• How do I effectively communicate my intimacy with God for my children to witness?
• I don’t want the church to raise my kids to be Christians…We do that as a family.
• How do I teach my kids to pray for others and not just for themselves?
• My kids don’t want anything to do with church. What can I do?
“The common denominator of the questions on the hearts of these parents is that they understand that it’s their God-given responsibility to raise and train their children,” observes Nelson. “It’s exciting that they want to be the ones equipped to train their children! These parents aren’t looking to pass off the discipling of their kids. Some churches have done away with children’s programs altogether, and others have gone the opposite direction and tried to train children without parental input. To avoid going to one extreme or the other, a children’s minister must recognize that parents must be supported and not replaced by the ministries of the church.”
Most parents confess to struggling with personal issues that impact their children. This area garnered a high number of responses, and it revealed some significant truths about parents’ needs. This sampling of responses offers a vista into the heart of parents everywhere–sadness, feelings of inadequacy, and deep questioning…all under the veneer of healthy, functioning families.
• My spouse and I have a very tense marriage. I know it hurts our kids, but I don’t know what to do.
• How do I accept the obvious reality that my children don’t embrace the same values I do?
• My spouse is emotionally disconnected from our family.
• How can I feel love for my child when his behavior is driving a wedge between us?
• Children changed our marriage; I feel closer to my kids than my spouse. I’m worried my marriage is empty.
• How do I keep my focus on my kids when my marriage is unraveling?
• How do I teach my kids about God when I have a LOT of unanswered questions–and my spouse doesn’t have faith at all?
• Am I failing as a spiritual leader to my kids?
• I’m extremely burnt-out on the same-old church routine. I don’t want to go anymore; I’d rather do home church with my kids. Is that bad?
• Our family barely gets by every week. Our kids have nothing, and we’re often short on food. I want to ask for help, but I don’t.
Your ministry is just as much to parents as it is to children. Never miss an opportunity to reach out to parents and point out all the good they’re doing. Provide support when parents do share a need. Build a relationship with moms and dads. Pray daily for them. And reach out when you sense someone is hurting–in the best case, you’ll be wrong and the person is fine; in the worst case, you’ll connect with someone who needs your prayer and emotional support.