When The Five Love Languages was all the rage, I bought a copy, thinking it would be a great book for my husband and I to read together.
True confession: We never did.
A decade later I can tell you – even without ever having read the book – that words of affirmation are my love language.
I am a words person. I love to read and write so the fastest way to my heart is through words – especially written words.
Since words of affirmation are my love language, I naturally assume they’re also everyone else’s love language. As a result, I frequently take time to send my students’ encouragement notes – handwritten notes I mail to their houses that in some way affirm who they are.
This comes naturally to me; It’s something I view as an important part of my job. What comes far less naturally is encouraging and affirming the parents of my students.
The irony is that the longer I’ve been in youth ministry, the more I’ve realized that in truth, parents need affirmation far more than their teens.
I know, as youth workers, we’re often convinced ours is the most thankless job in the world. In reality, though, that honor goes to parents, whose own kids rarely, if ever, thank, encourage, or affirm them. For that matter, nor do their kids’ teachers. Most often, parents assume communication from their child’s school means their kid is in trouble.
For this, and so many other reasons, as youth workers, we need to affirm parents.
I was reminded of this just the other day when I took time to do so after one of my student leaders led an incredible discussion. During her discussion, this student did everything right: She did her research, was well-prepared, and led the discussion like a veteran, with a grace and ease I rarely see in teens. Her peers responded, participating incredibly well in a moment during which you could tangibly feel the presence of God. What made the discussion even more remarkable was that a year ago, I was at my wit’s end with this student and so were her parents.
The day after this student led her discussion, I sent her mom an e-mail describing her daughter’s leadership. I ended by saying, “I’m so proud of her.”
Minutes later, I got this response from her parent: “Thank you so much!!!! I am crying right now, but tears of happiness.”
In that moment, I realized words of affirmation are not just my love language; They’re also the love language of parents. Through them, we can encourage parents to persevere in discipling their child.
As it turns out, intentionally affirming parents may very well be the most effective form of parent ministry we can do.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com