Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip parents and churches to minister to emerging adults. He writes and teaches regularly on spiritual formation, delayed development and emerging adulthood at EA Resources and More Than a Beard. If he can help your community, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Handle an Angry Parent
Over the years, I have found myself in more than one contentious conversation with a parent. Sometimes the disagreement ends well, while other times it, well, ended. These difficult conversations seemed to come the day after a retreat, soon after I finish unpacking, or when I was in the midst of a demanding week of programming.
I didn’t understand it then, as a young youth pastor, but parents will become emotional when their child feels hurt or upset. We must remember that while their anger gets directed at you, it might not be about you, but a natural desire to protect their child.
Three ways to handle an angry parent
Next time you end up in hot water, here are some ways to get back into a parent’s good graces:
First, seek to understand where they are coming from, and then validate their perspective and emotions. Unfortunately, when confronted with a problem, many of us instinctively retreat to a defensive position. In my experience, most parents were not expecting me to be perfect. However, they did want me to show responsibility for the situation which led to the problem. A heart-felt apology can cover a multitude of late bus arrivals. Conversely, a defensive response or insincere apology can fan smoldering frustration into a blaze of anger.
Note: If an upset parent approaches you in public (it usually happens in the hallway at church), ask to schedule a time and place where you can focus on their concerns.
Allow yourself, and the parent, time to reflect and do some research before closing the book on the issue. Rarely is a parent’s frustration aimed solely at you. Depending on the situation, it may be necessary to schedule a meeting with other parents, students or volunteers to solve the current crisis. After gathering the facts, I often sit down with a friend or mentor to talk through the situation and pray before any final meeting takes place.
Learn to release your frustration in a healthy manner. Having a finger pointed in your face isn’t a fun experience and can cause stress. Make sure to build natural rhythms into your life that allow stress release, including exercise, hobbies and other relaxing activities. Find ways to keep you from internalizing anxiety or redirecting it toward your family and/or loved ones. Decompressing helps you handle the conflict and its aftermath.
All pastors deal with conflict, even those with book deals and speaking gigs. In Romans 12:18, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” However, we must remember that perfect peace is not always possible. You can only control your behavior. God doesn’t require us to fix everything. He calls us to walk faithfully with Him and strive to respond to challenges in a way that pleases Him.