Occasionally, most of us will tell our spouses, “I’m not your mama”…or “I’m not your father.”  Of course, we are letting our wife or husband know that we won’t take some action that s/he is requesting us to do. Perhaps we are telling him or her that they must complete a certain task on their own.  We are referring to the fact that we don’t want to parent our partner.  Even if we have the good sense to not verbalize the snide remark, we certainly think those thoughts. 

Sure, that is a marital problem.  Yet, it goes deeper when we are in ministry.  More times than not, our members will try to put us in a parental posture, then reject the very image they have created.  Without thinking, program directors may absently revert to either a “mommy” or a “papa” position.  There are many things that we should do when we sense ourselves either slipping into this mindset or find a member or members putting us there.  Here are some tactics that might help.

  • Don’t allow your members to call you mom, dad, grandma or granddad.  As soon as a member refers to you in that manner, quietly say, “Sorry.  I’m not your dad.”  Don’t make a big deal of the issue but be firm and insistent.  Each time you are called mama issue the same statement.  “Nope.  I’m not your mom.  Don’t call me that.”   Here quiet consistency and firmness are the key.
  • Don’t treat your members in a childish way.  Don’t comb their hair or tie their shoe laces or cut up their food.  Unless there are real physical disability issues make your members act as independently as possible.
  • Don’t coddle your members in the way you speak to them.  Terms of endearment can be deadly for our members especially if they denote childlike nicknames.  Sissy and Bubba are a good example.  While these may be cute, family names for children, by the time a person becomes an adult, everyone–except the family–has shed these terms.  Pet names you may use for your members such as Little One or Baby speak of a child or an extremely close family relationship.  Avoid these terms. 
  • Don’t become a nag about things that only a mother would notice.  Even as an adult, there are certain things that my mother would say to me that no one else would ever say.  Unless, you are in a public place and the behavior is extremely offensive, don’t tell your members to chew with their mouth shut, wipe your face, don’t eat so much, don’t talk while you eat or sit up straight.  Sure there are extremes; but don’t nag. 
  • If you must help a person become aware of food on their face or something in their teeth, do it in a quiet and dignified way that won’t call attention to your member.  Never announce, “Hey, zip up your pants” or “Your shoes are on the wrong feet.”  Take the person aside and speak to them in quiet tones.  Afford them the same courtesy, you would any other good friend or collegue.
  • If a member continues a behavior that is extremely offensive, be sure that you aren’t the only person who thinks this behavior is harmful to their dignity.  Years ago, I had a perky, little lady in one of our programs that everyone else thought was funny.  I found her actions silly and even offensive.  People would lovingly laugh at her antics.  I never heard anyone say that she was inappropriate.  I saw nothing funny about her.  From the beginning, I knew this was my problem, not hers.  I tried to avoid correcting her because I knew that my correction would be harsh and parental in nature.  I let others who thought she was funny do the correcting.
  • Examine yourself first.  If your first reaction is “I would never let a child of mine act like that,”  you have probably slipped into a parenting role.  You should either allow someone else to correct the person or ignore it until you can get a better handle on your emotions.

These seven ways to handle this knotty parenting dilemma are only scratching the surface.  What are some of the tactics that you find help?  Perhaps, you think this entire column is an overreaction to a situation that doesn’t exist.  Tell me what you think.