How to Deal with the "Mean One Percent" of Parents

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Do you have any mean parents? If not, you can skip this article. If so, read on.

Ninety-nine percent (99%) of our parents are wonderful. They are supportive. If they have a concern they know how to “speak the truth in love.” They assume the best and seek understanding, reconciliation, and unity for all concerned. They don’t sugar coat problems, nor should they, but neither are they sour. They can deal with unpleasant issues without leaving a bitter aftertaste.

One percent are mean. By mean, I mean that they write mean-spirited, unfair, accusatory emails to teachers and other staff. They never seem to be happy. They jump to conclusions without all of the facts and assume the worst. They behave as though the world–and the school–revolves around them and their children. They required a disproportionate amount of teacher and staff time, robbing time from other students and parents. They suck the joy out teaching and ministry.

Tips for Dealing with the “Mean Once Percent”

  • Don’t be surprised. Everyone deals with mean people. The customer service agent, the political representative, the airline attendant at the gate, and the cashier all deal with the “mean one percent.” Christian teachers and staff are not exempt from working in a fallen world with fallen and mean people.
  • Don’t become cynical. Unbelievers don’t act like Christians. Many Christians don’t either.
  • Remember that we are sometimes mean. Each of us, at sometime or another, has been mean, impatient, unfair, and assumed the worst about someone. Before we condemn the actions of others we must first examine ourselves. Doing so will make us more patient and understanding.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matt. 7:3ff

  • No matter how we are treated, remember Jesus’s words, “do to others as you want them to do to you.” How do you want to be treated when you have “blown it?” Treat others accordingly.
  • Always be respectful. There is never an excuse to be disrespectful toward others.
  • Pray for those whom you believe are mistreating you.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matt. 5:44ff

  • Don’t take it personally. Develop what I call “alligator skin.” Life is not about us anyway so there is no point in taking obnoxiousness personally. Deal with the person and the situation properly and move on. Do not hold a grudge nor permit a “root of bitterness” to develop:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Heb. 12:14ff.

  • Forgive 7x70. How many times has God forgiven you and me?

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times… Matthew 18:21ff

  • Never respond in kind. Maintain the high moral ground, respond objectively, factually, and never emotionally. Remember, the “mean one-percent” can and will use anything you say or do against you. Don’t give them “a bullet” with which to shoot you.
  • Respond—don’t react. Take time to pray, calm down, and consider your response. Have a neutral party review your email before you click send. I often remove the name of the person to whom I’m writing before I have someone review my email so that I receive objective advice about what I’ve written.
  • Don’t gossip about them. Their sins do not give us an excuse to sin. Gossip is always wrong.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Luke 6:26ff

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder 2 Cor. 12:20ff

  • Protect your staff. There are times when you must confront the “mean one percent” and protect your staff. While we should be willing to endure personal insults and abuse, as leaders we also have a two-fold obligation to:

Confront sin by following Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 18 If people are sinning agains you or others it needs to be dealt with biblically—but not in the flesh:

Know this, my beloved brothers:let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19ff

Protect those under our authority and stewardship. Just as we are to protect our students from bullies, we almost must protect our staff from parent bullies.

One of my principals recently received a mean-spirited, factually incorrect, obnoxious email, which also implied legal action. After receiving a copy of the email, I decided that I needed to respond to the parent to protect the principal and to set the tone for the remainder of the year. I attempted to be conciliatory and helpful but clear that I was drawing a line in the sand.

I am pleased to say that this parent came to the school and personally apologized to all affected staff. It does not always end this way. Sometimes parents continue to be mean but I have discovered that more often than not, responding appropriately often results in reconciliation, or at least a truce.

There are times, however, when you may need to “expel” a parent. When a parent becomes so consistently mean and obnoxious that it is a cultural cancer in the school and negatively affects the ability of teachers and staff to serve others, a parent may need to be told that he or she is no longer a fit for the school. I have only had to do this a few times in twenty years, but I have done it.

The vast majority of our parents are supportive and strive to do what is right. I’m sure that many “overlook” many of our mistakes and never complain. When they do bring a concern to our attention, they are fair and reasonable.

Don’t let the “mean one-percent” make you mean. Respond biblically and professionally. Remain above the emotional turmoil. Do what is right. Leave the rest to God and his providence. As the great preacher and theologian John Knox encourages us:

Abide patiently, and give no place to the temptations of the adversary. Let him shoot his darts in his despite; but say you in your heart, The Lord is my defender, and therefore shall I not be confounded: dolour (physical and mental pain or distress), shall be but for a moment, but ever and ever shall we reign with Jesus our Lord; whose Holy Spirit be your comfort to the end. Your brother, John Knox, From Newcastle, 1553