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November 13, 2014
The Real Issue
Responding to a Nasty Email
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I run the activity days for Primary girls, and it’s not going very well. The sister I used to work with has moved away, and no one has been called to fill her spot.

I’m trying to plan and carry out worthwhile activities, but the last few months have been terrible. I have asked the girls’ parents for help with some of the activities, but they have not responded to my calls, texts or emails. They bring their daughters to the church, then sit in the hall and chat while I run the activity.

That’s fine. It’s my job, after all, not theirs. But I found out recently that they have been talking about what a bad job I am doing, and telling other ward members what a mess the activity days are.

On top of that, I got an angry email from one mother accusing me of doing a bad job on purpose because I am supposedly angry at the parents for not helping, and taking it out on the girls, which, apparently, is “not fair to the kids.”

I don’t even know what to say to that. Until I got this email and heard about the gossip, I wasn’t even angry with the parents. But I am now. I’m hurt and offended and I’d really like to punch this person in the nose.

How do I respond to this person’s unfair, untrue, angry email?


First of all, I’d like to punch that person in the nose, too. What a wretched thing to do. People who are doing their best at church callings do not deserve to receive nastygrams from other ward members. Really — I’m appalled.

I also dislike the phrase, “it’s not fair to the kids.” Fair? Who ever said life was fair? And what’s unfair about participating in a struggling program instead of a stellar one?

It’s not like the children are being deprived of something they have earned through effort or hard work. They are not entitled to participate in only the best of all Primary classes and programs. In the Church, you get what you get, and you work to make it successful. And you support whoever is in charge, even if you think he is doing a poor job.

Further, when youth programs are not running smoothly, it is the responsibility of the parents to teach children how to roll with the punches. Parents should model a mature response that is focused on supporting others and making the best of the situation.

For example, if Billy thinks Cubs is boring, Mom and Dad should say, “That’s okay. It won’t kill you,” or “What do you think we could do to help?” or “Billy, Sister Denton works hard on those activities. We will not criticize her efforts.”

What parents should not do is complain publicly about the program and its leaders. Such criticism teaches several bad lessons:

  1. That it is acceptable to complain about the way ward members do their callings. It is not. If you have a problem with the way a person is doing his calling, you should talk privately with the supervising auxiliary president and let the president handle it.

  2. That poorly run church programs merit freaking out and being offended. They do not.

  3. That the child somehow merits only the best. Children are of infinite worth, but they do not deserve only the best. It is far better to teach a child to make do with what he has than to give him only the best.

So, that said, what should you do now? I have four suggestions.

One, do not hit Reply. Perhaps you are tempted to fire off a stinging rebuke that will strike this person dumb with regret and remorse. But I don’t think you should because I don’t think it will work.

The person who sent you that nasty email is probably too worked up to be conscience-stricken by a stinging rebuke. Instead, a rebuke will elicit further angry communications from this person, which you will have to deal with. It will be an escalating battle of righteous indignation that will leave you feeling worse with every sortie.

Indeed, I cannot think of any response that will not be met with further anger and contempt from this person. Usually, a calm conversation helps people resolve their differences. But here, it seems that even a simple, “I’m sorry Florence is not enjoying activity days. I am doing my best,” would throw fuel on the fire.

You can attempt a simple, non-defensive reply, but don’t be surprised if it invites further contention instead of contrition.

Two, forward the email to the Primary president. And copy the bishop. They need to know what kind of crap you are getting from this parent, and it is easier for them to read the email than for you to explain it.

Does this sound like tattling? It’s not. It’s giving information to the people who need it. This is not a run-of-the-mill problem, and the Primary president needs to know about it in order to do her job. The bishop also needs to know when such conflicts happen, even if he is not directly involved in their resolution.

Won’t you sound like you can’t handle your own problems? Yes, but from your question, that’s true. You are having a big problem that you cannot handle on your own. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the president of your organization to help you deal with this parent.

Three, call the Primary president to discuss your calling. The horrible parent is a problem, true. But your bigger problem is that you desperately need help with your calling.

The Primary president is responsible for the activity days, and if you are having a terrible time, she needs to know about it. Talking to her about your struggles and telling her what you need is not complaining — it is asking for much-needed assistance.

Tell her that you should have come to her months ago, and explain the problems you have been having, both with the calling itself and with the parents. It may be painful, but tell her everything, including what the parents are saying about you and about the nastygram. She may not check her email frequently, and might not have seen it yet.

Then, tell her what you think you need to be successful in your calling. Perhaps it is a new partner with certain skills. Perhaps you need to meet less frequently. Perhaps you need a babysitter for your own children instead of trying to manage them and run the activity all at the same time.

Perhaps you need a bigger budget. Tell her your ideas and listen to her suggestions. Be honest. If you have already tried what she suggests, tell her. If she proposes something that is completely unworkable, tell her. If she proposes a partner you really can’t stand, tell her.

Four, decide how you will act when you see this angry parent and the other ingrates who were gossiping about you. It’s going to be difficult, but the only thing to do is grit your teeth and rise above it.

Avoid the temptation to sneer, glare or spread rumors of your own. Or to grovel and flee. Instead, behave with grace and dignity. You are in the right (so far), and if you behave correctly and maturely you will have the confidence that comes of behaving well.

Finally, I strongly suspect that the author of the nasty email has done this before to other members of your ward. If so, you can be sure that when other ward members hear her complaining about you, she is the one who will look bad. That may be scant comfort, but it is something.

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