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5 Must Have Boundaries To Keep Critical Parents From Eating You Alive

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Today I offer s special guest post from my friend Paul Sheneman. He has some excellent thoughts on something we all deal with, critical parents. Enjoy.


Here They Come Again

It’s youth group night. You’ve just got done pouring yourself out once again for what you love. You’ve had the range of emotions that a night with teenagers can bring. And then…you spot “them.”

[Queue That Scary Movie Sound Track]

You can see them coming from across the church. It’s “that parent.” Internally, you groan because you know what’s coming. They’ll fane interest in what’s happening BUT (and I mean a huge BUT) what they’re really there for is to give you another mini-session on how to lead a youth ministry.

The Big 3 Continual Critics
From my experience as a youth pastor, I’ve identified three types of continually critical parents or the CCP (because we like initials in YM). The CCP are a rare breed but emerge in many environments in the youth ministry world. When you first encounter one, don’t poke them because they will attack.

Know It Alls – The KIA (throwing an acronym at you:) are typically male. They come from the far off land of “unusual social habits.” They strike up conversations with everyone about everything. And you, my dear youth worker, have become one of their “everyones” that they always see.

Mama Bears – These females see their offspring as though they stopped developing at 5 months old. Everyone who is within 20 feet of their little ones must be identified, background checked, cleared through NSA, CIA and TSA, grilled via enhanced interrogation tactics, and constantly monitored. And if the offspring are poked, emotionally or via a dodgeball game, the claws come out.

Control Freaks – These can be either male or female. The control issue may be regarding their child or just because they have control issues. They are hyper involved with knowing and/or telling you details of the youth ministry but not necessarily jumping at a chance to be a part of it.

5 Boundaries To Engage a CCP

To engage a CCP you need to create boundaries. Boundaries start with prayer because they are going to be difficult to set and harder to follow through on. Boundaries are not arbitrary rules set by one party but negotiated relational practices that ensure that, when healthy, respect all persons in a relationship. It ensures that you don’t get walked all over, the parents are respected and others are protected.

Stick to 1 Topic – Doesn’t matter the type because if they have one critic then they probably have 2, or more…a lot more. But a conversation can’t be productive if you’re chasing after a web of issues. So you need to set the expectation that you’re only going to talk about 1 issue at a time.

Set Times and Time Limits – If they are stopping you in the halls, dropping by after youth group, or catching you in your office at unexpected times and then they are stealing your ministry time away (KIA can do this). You’ll need to set times and time limits. You’re going to have to say, “I can’t talk about this right now because___________. How about we do it _______________?” If it is that important for them then they’ll set aside the extra time.

No Degrading People – If any person is degrading others (you, other teens, other parents, your volunteer team, etc.), then you need to put a stop to it. Repeat what they said to them about another person and tell them that you will not listen to them if they choose to continue to degrade people in that way.
Yelling Means We’re Not Talking – If you don’t let teens yell at you then don’t let their parents yell at you (mama bears can do this). If people are yelling then they don’t want to be in a conversation. They want to be in a shouting match.

No Bullying – Don’t accept being bullied by a parent (control freaks can do this). You’re going to have to say, “The way that you’re talking to me right now is bullying. And I will not accept it.” Walk away and let your ministry supervisor know about it.

Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor, with over 15 years of youth ministry experience. He currently serves as the Methodist youth pastor in Macedonia, OH. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good and enjoys a good book. You can follow most of his ramblings at or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.

Your Turn

Which of kind of critical parent do you  deal with most often?

Which boundary do you need to start putting into practice today?

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