This past weekend I had an interesting opportunity to chaperone a trip for “another” youth group my kids are involved in. It is not one in which I am a leader in any capacity. In this setting I am a mom and a volunteer. My eyes were opened at just HOW hard it is to be the parent/volunteer on so many levels!
For years I have avoided this position, because I wanted my kids to have someplace they could go where we are not leading everything. They get to have a “genuine” youth group experience without Mom and Dad around. Yet, this time around I gave in. (They needed a van driver who was over 25.) Often the volunteers who tend to sign up happen to be parents of kids in our group. This experience gave me a HUGE appreciation for the parents who show up to serve.
Here is what I learned:
1. The Youth Pastor Always Views You Through the Lens of “Your Kid.”
Let’s say you have a suggestion about the way something should go. You think it’s a great idea. It may have nothing to do with your child. Even when they listen and treat you with respect it feels like they don’t take ideas or strategies from you seriously. Why? They appear to run all ideas through a filter of, “So are you truly just trying to do this for your kid?”
2. We Ask Questions For Clarification Not To Annoy You
I knew I wasn’t the leader, I was a volunteer. So I just wanted be clear on what was expected of me. It felt like I asked “too many” questions all the time. I wanted to be proactive, but also wanted to play by the same rules as everyone else not just think about my own kid. I realized that parent/volunteers are very aware of the two hats they are wearing. They/we ask loads of questions to ensure in this setting we are being a “good” volunteer.
3. There Are Times When It’s Really Hard to Have Your Child in the Room
Now my kids are used to me wearing two hats. They have often seen me in situations where I am being the youth worker and then having to put on my “Mom” hat. I know many groups have the “rule” that parent volunteers don’t “teach” their own children. Still there are times when you interact with your kids. When they do things that are not acceptable you have to decide at what point you give them a “Mom” lecture. On the other hand, I had an experience this weekend where another student treated my child really poorly. If it hadn’t been to my child, I 100% would have stepped up and called the student off. However, because it was MY child, I knew the situation would have only been seen as “Mommy saving them.” It would have made it worse. So I couldn’t do anything but watch my child navigate a hard life lesson. It was excruciating.
4. Students Actually Like Parental Volunteers
There were several “younger” and “cooler” chaperones on this trip. It was an event where students were required to “check-in” but not spend the whole time with an adult. Somehow I ended up with a posse of 8 Junior High girls who hung with me. I kept telling them they didn’t have to. They kept sticking around. One of the girls actually whispered in my ear, “I like having a Mom around, it makes me feel taken care of.”
In the end as a parent, it made me appreciate my kids way more than I had before. My children are imperfect, quirky and sometimes difficult. Yet, I also came to appreciate the amazing qualities my kids do possess, and they are mine. As youth people, I think we need to remember that parents who volunteer don’t HAVE to. It isn’t always so they can “spy” on what you are teaching their child or a distrust of their safety. Sometimes it just gives a mechanism to connect with our kids. The feeling that they are “growing up too fast” is overwhelming and sometimes it’s just a way to be where they are.
Just remember to love on those parents, and direct them. I think they are a great addition to any team. (That of course is strictly my biased point of view.)
What’s your thought on parent/volunteers?
Leneita / @leneitafix