In Part 1, I discussed the importance of partnering parents in crisis (drug abuse, pregnancy, grades, etc) with parents who have been there. Here in part 2, I look at how to develop these partnerships.
Long before the first parent comes through your door with a problem, you need a game plan. Know how everything will work. Have a plan for recruiting, training, promotion, referrals, and follow up. Be specific and detailed. You’ll be dealing with sensitive issues, you don’t want to just throw stuff together. Before you even start searching for parents, you need to brainstorm potential problems. List everything! No problem is too big or small. The one thing you leave out will likely be the next thing you face.
Once you have the list of problems, set out to find parents who’ve been through them with their teens. They could have dealt with it last month, last year, or 20 years ago, but perspective and experience is important in this situation. At this point, just list the parents, don’t weed them out yet (we will get there!). Go to you church leadership and ask for them for names. Go to parents you respect and trust and tell them what you’re doing and see if they have anything they can contribute. You might be surprised at what they’ve dealt with.
Once you have a solid list of people, now comes the weeding. You want adults who are strong Christians, good listeners, and can use discretion (no gossips allowed!). Notice I didn’t say they had to have handled their problems effectively. If that were the case, we would find a very short list indeed. Hopefully they’ve learned from their experiences in dealing with their teens and can pass on hard earned words of wisdom.
The next step is bringing these parents on board. Some will love to share, others will be reluctant, and a small minority will outright refuse. You really want to impress upon them how valuable it will be to struggling parents. You need to ask parents in person and in private—an email or public announcement won’t do. Also, be prepared to explain concisely what they will be doing and what will be expected. Preparedness communicates value to parents, and lets them know you know what you’re doing.
Once on board, you want to give them a little training. Don’t just throw them to the wolves! Listen to their story, role play through a few scenarios, help them sharpen their advice, and really hit on the importance of confidentiality. Make sure they feel comfortable doing this before letting them go. Bad advice or poor encouragement is worse than none at all. After that, tell them they’re on the list and you will forward parents to them if/when they come to you. From time to time you’ll want to touch base with these advisors to make sure they are still on board. Other than that, though, reference them when you need them.
Finally comes the referral. You have a parent who comes to you dealing with this tremendous problem. Say to them, “Hey, I have two parents who have gone through the exact same situation you’re dealing with. Can we bring them here to give you some advice?” If they say yes, then you bring the two parties together and meet with them for the first time. After that, if they’re comfortable, they can begin to meet without you. Follow up every now and then to make sure things are progressing smoothly, but your part in this is essentially done.
So how long should this last? Maybe one or two meetings is all they need. Maybe they need to meet regularly for prayer and encouragement. It really is up to the people and the situation. But if it goes on 6 months and there doesn’t seem to be any resolution to the situation, it might be appropriate to suggest professional counseling. Use your discretion and judgment in all situations.
This changes your job from a parenting problem solver (which you’re likely woefully equipped to be) to a facilitator. You’re helping parents in crisis deal with their problems better. You’re helping parents who’ve been through it to bring about good from what they’ve dealt with and use it to minister. It’s a lot harder than a few trite words, but the difference it makes is tremendous.