Working with parents is one of the most critical (and often confusing) aspects of student ministry. The dynamics of this can be very complex, depending on one’s context. Some are in a context where parents are highly involved and can be overbearing with opinions. Others are in contexts where the vast majority of parents are absent entirely and the work it takes to get parents to engage at any level is exhausting. Then, there are many serving in a context where parental involvement is all over the spectrum and trying to balance this in ministry events/trips/small groups/etc is tiresome, to say the least. The good thing is there are all sorts of resources you can check out for help in these areas.
But there are very little if any for college ministry, specifically. In fact, I think much of that is due to the fact that people don’t think ministering to parents is a core part to being in college age ministry.
Granted, there is some truth to this. They are over 18 years old and therefore don’t need parental permission slips for over night retreats. Many have moved away to go to school or have moved out of the house and therefore are outside of some of the natural daily “oversight” of parents.
But in college ministry there is a whole other world to working with parents. The biggest difference is the dynamics of relationship. At this stage both child and parent(s) are trying navigate their change in roles and how they are supposed to or want to relate to one another. This can be very complex during this life stage and can be disheartening for families. Parents are wondering what their child needs from them and how they can help. The child is musing on how much they actually want their parent(s) to be around and involved…and then in what areas, specifically.
Complex parental situations come up in things like:
- When the child “walks away” from the Church. Out of a desire to have the best for their children, sometimes parents can make unrealistic demands. They often will ask, “I was wondering if you could give my son a call because I’m worried about him.” Although I understand the heartfelt desire for someone to reach out to their child, this is simply weird. And, thus, you have a new complexity to working with parents.
- When the child is making a shift in convictions. When a parent sees their child holding to different convictions than they were raised with, parents will often rely on for answers. This might simply be in the means of advice for them, but it can also mean they are looking to you to solve the issue. And, sometimes, the child is embracing a different conviction from their parents because they have been listening to your teaching! And, thus, you now have a new complexity to working with parents.
- When dating goes a different direction. When a parent does not support a dating relationship their child is in it can become very complex for you in college ministry. The child seeks your advice because they don’t see eye-to-eye with their parents, which this is a tough balance to keep as a leader because you don’t want to unnecessarily create more division between the child and parent through your counsel. Secondly, sometimes the parents will contact you as a leader and ask you to “talk some sense” into the child. But often times you don’t think the parent is correct. And, thus, you now have a potentially complex ministry with parents.
There are all sorts of myths out there, but don’t buy into the one that says you don’t have to deal with parents if you’re in college ministry.