I have this running joke with a couple of teenagers I work with. They are daughters of dear friends of mine but also in my youth work circles. Sometimes they come and hang out on the weekends because we’re doing youthwork-y things and sometimes just because I’m offering caregiver duties to parents stretched thin. Either way, we joke fondly about my role as a Weekend Mom.

These girls, and so many others that I am lucky enough to spend time with have become my ‘kids’. It’s a term of endearment for me, although other youthworkers I respect dislike the terminology. I get that, I really do but there are some young people who transcend my ‘regularly scheduled youth work’ relationships and become part of the fabric of life.

What It Heals In Us.
Often, I will tell my friends how grateful I am for the opportunity to express something of a communal motherhood in the role they let me play in their children’s lives. It is a gift to be trusted to walk alongside young people, particularly when they are the children of other wise, gracious and experienced youthworkers and teachers! I get to play mom when parents go away or even take them on holiday with me. We share in one another’s lives, even birthday parties and school events.

“The first third of your life is about learning, the next third is earning and the last third of your life is about returning.”

A wise friend shared this saying with me many years ago. I’ve learned the parts are not chronological. We never finish learning, therefore are constantly earning and we ought to, as soon as we have anything of worth, start to return investment back into our communities. So it heals something in all of us (the question of self-worth) when we discover we have something worth returning, worth giving back.

It’s what keeps me coming back to youthwork and investing in people, over and over again.

The Gift Of Being A Youthworker In Your 30s.
By the time you’re doing youthwork in your 30s, things are probably (hopefully?) a little different to when you were at college or barely out of school yourself. It’s slightly different too, if you are single. You have capacity, a different set of resources to invest as well as a few more freedoms than others may have. The other great thing about being a youthworker in your 30s, are the young people who have graduated and become friends. They offer plenty of input as to what was helpful to them and not so.

1. Experience counts for something.
I don’t believe that the longer you are around, the better youthworker you are. Being a good youthworker has to do with learning, practicing, listening and being committed to developing your leadership and skills. A graduating youth worker can be just as impactful as a long-timer, but likely in very different ways than a youthworker who has invested years in learning about adolescent development and the challenges that young people face.
For starters, hopefully you’ve had the chance to read, converse and grasp hold of learning opportunities when they come your way. I’ve been lucky enough to find a few mentors (and friends) who have expanded my practice, my understanding and my abilities.

2. Youthwork is an intentional lifestyle choice.
Lots of young adults get involved in youth work because it’s an opportunity to meet and work alongside other young adults. It’s also something of a common practice for young adults who have grown up in youth groups to graduate and work within those youth groups too. When you’re in your late 20s and 30s, regardless of whether you are a fulltime youthworker or a volunteer, youthwork has become an intentional lifestyle choice. You already know the cost of weekends, evenings, extra gas mileage and the impact on your social life and family. There’s likely to be more of a gap between your personal life and your youthwork than there was when you were younger, probably more consideration of balance between the two as well.

3. Resource is probably a little easier to come by.
Having a group of teenage girls over on a weekend afternoon is a lot easier now that I’m older, live with fewer people and run my household. I have space that I can easily make available to young people, young adults and other youth workers to meet, spend time, eat and generally feel at home. A big part of my Weekend Mom routine comes from the reality of welcoming young people into my home. They come and eat, make food, laze about on the couch and know the Wi-Fi password. Extra gas money, a few extra dollars for snacks and activities are all far easier to come by now. It’s no big deal to take them camping for a weekend, when I used to spend enormous amounts of time budgeting for such days.

4. Your role can be Mentor/Friend/Aunty/Mom.
It’s challenging for a twenty year old to play more than one or two roles as youthworker. Even as a twenty five year old, there’s still so much learning about your own ideas of being friend, mentor, caregiver to be done and rarely can you step into the wisdom and security of a parenting role. Mentorship changes over time. It can be instructional, simply learning how to be in certain ways. It can be a devoted do-as-I-do discipline. Or it can be more ancient – the practice of encouraging someone in how to think their way through problems and questions. The joy of being a Weekend Mom, as well as youthworker, mentor and friend – is the way those questions come about.

5. You know when to stay calm and when to escalate.
We all know that not every youthful crisis is actually a crisis. But you have to learn to read the signs carefully, because the younger you are the closer to those same heightened emotions and new experiences you are. That’s potentially controversial, but I find it anecdotally to be true. What seemed overwhelming as a twenty-something youthworker feels very approachable and manageable today.

Something We Should Always Do.
That’s it – the gift of being able to return something from how we are constantly learning and then what we earn. It’s not just money, but wisdom, experience and the capacity for grace and generosity. We should be returning it back into people as soon as we grasp hold of it. So I think, that after years of wondering and questioning if I am done with youthwork and years of trying to figure out how to do it well – I’ve settled on it. There are young people and families who have chosen me as their youthworker and at times, a Weekend Mom. What a joy, what a healing experience – that I’ve grown into someone who has something to offer beyond my youthful exuberance.