I wasn’t expecting her joy to make me question mine.
Part of my job as a youth pastor has been to rally parents to embrace the development and growing independence of their children. Especially as they enter middle school. I remind them of how important it is to widen the adult circle for their kids. It’s not always been easy for them to hear or believe, and now I’m starting to understand why.
I empathize with parents and guess that it might feel weird to see another adult invested in their children, and even more weird to give away some of their moments to SOMEONE ELSE.
I really have been guessing all of these years. Because I didn’t totally get it for myself.
My second grader had this conversation with me as we were walking into church this weekend:
Kirra: “Mom, I can’t wait until I’m in middle school.”
Me: “That’s awesome Kirra, I know that will be an exciting time for you.”
Kirra: “Don’t you want to know why I can’t wait for middle school?”
Me: “Of course I want to know, why?”
Kirra: “Olivia! I can’t wait to get to know Olivia!”
That’s when I learned the gravity of what I had been asking parents to do all of these years, to imagine their influence to be bigger than their house.
Olivia is our church’s new middle school pastor and my daughter is looking forward to knowing her someday.
Because of what I have learned from the parents who I have walked with, I know that this is the one thing that could hurt my child—letting my right as a parent get in the way of her discovering a world bigger than our house.
Olivia is someone that she can’t wait to get to know.
She is safe and understanding.
She is loving.
She will show up.
She will have fun with her.
She will hold her when she cries.
She will give her advice.
She will teach her about truth.
She will help her ask questions and give her ideas.
Knowing this doesn’t make thinking about her relationship with Olivia, or any other adult, any easier.
I have to be okay with the truth that there are going to be, and there needs to be, people in my daughter’s life that she trusts and talks to. There are going to be people in her life that can influence her decisions.
So, here it is. The advice I give to parents. The advice I also need to hear:
1) Talk to the person you hope will influence your kid. That person needs to know that your kid looks up to them and is influenced by them. Express your hopes that he or she will be someone your kid can confide in and that will build a relationship with them. Talking to the people that your kids will be talking to is really important and helps establish a mutual level of trust.
2) Understand the value of multiple influences. A small group leader, a coach, a youth leader, a relative, a counselor, a teacher. . . They all have different levels of engagement with your kid. But if you choose them well, they’ll be saying the same things you are saying, but they might actually be heard. They will give your kid a safe place to wrestle with things that you as a parent might freak out over. They will be someone your kid can look up to, have fun with, and help them navigate through difficult times.
3) Trust your parent intuition. It doesn’t happen often, but there have been adults in our youth ministry we thought would be great, and they turned out not to be. As a parent, you have a whole lot of time and experience with your kid that gives you better judgment than anyone else. Trust and make sure that you’re looking out for your child’s well-being and not giving in to your own feelings of insecurity.
4) Make a list of people. One person isn’t enough, and one person shouldn’t feel the burden of meeting everyone’s needs. We all have different gifts. God made your kid unique, so look for people with gifts that will light your kid up and challenge them, too.
So, make a list, pray over the names and begin talking to the people that you hope will be a part of your child’s wider circle of influence and care.
We’re having a Halloween party at our house this month. Guess who is invited? People we want to help us parent, love, guide, and fight for our kids.
What can you do this month with the few you hope will help you lead your kids?
Get to know them, trust them, and bravely show your kids that there’s a wider circle of people around them that is bigger than the people in your house, but who are hopefully sometimes sitting in your backyard and at your table.
Brooklyn has been a youth pastor since 2001. She has authored numerous books and projects, and is a youth pastor at Highland Park Church of the Nazarene, her first priority. Second she is a speaker who loves teaching from the Bible, and leading people to live in response to God’s love. Brooklyn, while named after a city in New York, lives in the sunshine state with her husband, Coy, and their sweet girls, Kirra and Mya.