"My mom says you expect too much."
"I think this is all stupid. I don't want to do this."
"You don't realize how much my child has to do this week."
"You really can't think your class is that important to us."
"I think this class is hard. My dad says church should be fun. Why are you making it hard?"
"The last youth leader who led the confirmation class didn't make these demands."
And one I got just this week: "I need you to make the changes NOW. I mean, it is church, not an SAT prep class."
Yes, a parent said this!
So what should you do when parents or youth berate you, telling you that the commitment they have agreed to is "asking too much"?
First of all, usually it is the end of a long day or early in the morning when we are hanging with the youth. They may be coming to programs tired, vulnerable, hungry, or just plain cranky. I must remind myself often these words are coming from something else going on in their lives. The Church is like the parent who will always love you no matter what you say. They will always have to love you, unlike a coach or a teacher.
So please don't take it personally. But do try to find out what is really going on. It could be all sorts of things, none of them having to do with you or with the program. Is the parent mad that the kid wants to do the class, thus adding another complication to their lives? Is the kid failing a class? Is there a learning problem that's making it hard for them? Do they have a different learning style need? Are the parents in conflict about the child's involvement in Confirm not Conform? I've seen all of these things come into play.
It is so easy to take these harsh or "concerned" words to heart. Often something else is going on that maybe even the youth is not aware of; they may just be picking up the stress at home or at school and pushing it on to you.
So take a deep breath. Feel their pain or stress. Listen to all they have to say as long as they are not abusive. If they are, then stop them and take a five minute break.
Then ask a few questions:
How is school going? Sports?
Are your parents/spouse giving you a hard time?
Are you having a hard time with the class? How may I help you make this class work for you and your family?
May I remind you that this is a program that will make a difference in your life?
Conclude by telling them, 'I am glad you are using your voice to share with me your feeling and worries." We are asking youth to find and use their voices, even when we don't agree, even when it maybe just their parents' words in their voices. However that is, it is important to listen to their voices and celebrate that they are doing what we hope they will do: tell us what they think and believe.
Once you have collected some info, tell them you will get back to them once you have thought and prayed about it.
Don't make any promises - either of you - until you have time to yourself. Don't get caught up in their panic or stress, but tell them you will contact them. And then do just that: spend some time thinking and praying; consult with a colleague; go through the options; and finally follow through and contact the youth and parents to come to some resolution.
Maybe just listening to their concerns will be enough. Maybe they have a good point and you need to make some changes. Or maybe it is OK to say you cannot have it all and let them choose.
Always remember that we are about giving youth a voice and a choice. It may not be the voice we like or the choices we would make, but that's all part of the process. So don't take it personally, and if things don't turn out the way you'd like, do your best to let it go.