Author Jill Savage and educational psychologist Dr. Kathy Koch explain why parents should avoid pushing perfection on their kids, and instead maintain realistic expectations and love them unconditionally. (Part 1 of 3)
Jim Daly: Jill, you have five children. Are they all perfect?
Jill Savage: (Laughs) I wish I could say that they were at times, but you know the truth is, no they're not and neither am I.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Hm. Well maybe your children aren't perfect and maybe you're feeling, uh, I'm not so good myself at times. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're going to have, I think, an enjoyable conversation for you to kind of take the pressure
Jim: John, you know, so often we think of ourselves as far more perfect than we are (Laughing) in every way—spiritually, physically.
John: Yes, I agree with that.
Jim: Man, when I think about all the touchdown passes I threw as a high school quarterback, those yards are longer. (Laughter) It wasn't just a 12-yard throw. It had to be an 80-yard bomb,at least in my mind. And the same is true, you know, I love that old saying that we're sinners who give birth to sinners.
John: Uh huh, yes.
Jim: That's a good place to start every day when you're praying. Lord, help me to remember, I'm sinful and help me to remember my kids are not gonna be perfect. And, we'regonna enjoy our conversation today.
John: Well that kind of perspective is so important, Jim, and we have a couple of guests with us to help us remember a good view of parenting and to go into it with some grace and to recognize the individual strengths of our children. Our guests are Jill Savage. You just spoke with her for a moment there about her kids. She's an author and speaker and founder of Hearts at Home. Dr. Kathy Koch is with us, as well. She's the founder and president of Celebrate Kids and she really connects with our listeners when she's on, talking about kids and learning and the world around them.
Jim: I so appreciate the talents, the gifts and skills that both of you ladies bring to Focus on the Family.
Jim: Thanks for being with us.
Kathy Koch: Thank you for having us!
Jim: Jill, let me start with you. Why do we as parents, especially Christian parents if I could just go after us a little bit. Why do we have such a high level of expectation that our kids need to toe the line. They need to be perfect.
Jim: And we may not even think of it that way, but in my own parenting I know I don't want my kid misbehavin'.
Jill: I know.
Jim: Especially as the president of Focus on the Family! (Laughter) It mean, it's horrible and I try to fight that all the time. I don't want my kids to have an unnatural expectation.
Jim: But when you're in the limelight, uh ... it's hard.
Jill: And I've experienced that as well as the CEO of Hearts at Home. You know, I've been encouraging parents for 20 years and at the same time, have not wanted to put that kind of pressure on my kids, as well. I think part of it comes from our culture. I think that Christian parents or non-Christian parents, I think that culture presents to us a picture of perfection that without realizing it we internalize. For instance, you just walk through the checkout line at the grocery store and you see magazine covers with perfect bodies, even headlines that indicate some sort of perfect families and the reality is, that we may not believe that on the outside but we internalize that message on the inside. I think then you add in, being Christians, we add in certainly God's word, and the instructions it gives to parents and without realizing it, we think that if I do A + B, I will get C.
John: Uh-hm, yeah.
Jill: And that's where we think that there's like this formula and, you know, [if] we follow the formula we're gonna have this outcome. But that's not what always happens because our kids are very individual. Theyhave different talents; they have different struggles and they have their own sin issues.
Jim: Well and the question is, and you know, I think a good parent is constantly thinking this through. What's motivating me to have those expectations? Why am I puttin' the bar so high? And then you feel guilty like, well, but I want the bar high. How do you balance this idea of perfection with doing your best?
Jill: Right and I do think that that's extremely important because we do want pursue excellence. Excellence is attainable, perfection is not. And when we can pursue excellence, and that means that we're intentional about what we're doing. We're intentional about how we're tuning into our kid's lives. We're intentional about having compassion and acceptance and loving our kids, even though they're different than us; being perceptive parents. That's okay for us to pursue excellence, but when imperfection shows up, then we have to be able to know what to do with it.
Jill: And that's really why we wrote, No More Perfect Kids.
Jim: Yeah. Now Kathy, you're working with, I don't know if it's hundreds or thousands of kids; you're almost like a parenting coach in so many ways. And you're dealing with it. In reading the book, I mean there are so many things that grabbed my heart. One of the things that you talk about is this idea of feeling, as a child, that I can never please my parents.
Jim: You know, the more I thought about that, in my own experience, that desire in a child's heart to want to do well--
Jim: --but am I measuring up? And so often as parents we're only saying, "You're not! You didn't do well on the test. You didn't do well" at whatever activity. We gotta be careful about that, 'cause in a child's heart, what they're really dying to hear is, "I love you and you're good enough."
Kathy: Exactly and we actually might be saying positive things, but they hear the negative because they're so eager to please us, if that makes sense. I think the negative becomes really loud and so we need to amplify those strengths. And I think, back to what Jill was saying, even if the excellence that we want in a child doesn't match the way that child was created, we're still gonna have a huge conflict and we're still gonna be creating a child who feels broken; the idea that they're individuals. You know, one of the passions that Jill and I have is that you would raise the children you were given, and not the children you wish you had.
Jim: Oh, that's powerful!
Kathy: And when we say that, you could hear a pin drop and then I know in my experiences there's been tears in the audience because you do have a desire when you want to have children and then you conceive and then you see the ultrasound and then you have this baby and she's mine. Well, she's really not, but that's a whole 'nother speech.
Kathy: But oh my goodness, but you know, our heart is that if you were given a tomboy, raise a tomboy. And if you wanted a ballerina, grieve that, and grieve the loss of what you do not have and celebrate and embrace what you do have and when you're able to celebrate and embrace all that you have, then you'll see the positives and you'll put the negatives in proper perspective and you'll decide as a parent I don't even need to point out that negative today.
Jim: I need to press you for more practical application here because I know, I think it's wonderful what you've just said that as a parent you have your child and you have expectations, dreams that you want to see fulfilled. That can be dangerous ground. I know for me, you know, having Trent, having a boy,as a man, I mean, that, you know, it just meant something to me. Now we have Trent and Troy; we weren't blessed with daughters. But I remember with Trent, man, for me it was, "I bet he's gonna be a football player," just like my brother, Mike, just like me. And you know, you're thinking about those things and I remember he came home in elementary school, even, I mean subtle things like I'd say, "Are you playin' football at recess? What do you do at recess?"
Jim: That's what I'm doin'. I'm trying to probe to see what's he doin'. "Well, I play with a couple of my friends, we run around." "You run around? Is there any balls (Laughter) out on the, you know, do you play baseball?" I mean, I'm starting to probe now, because now I'm worried.
Jim: Oh, he's not picking it up. And I remember, I think it was fifth grade, he came home, he said, "Dad, I won a gold medal!" I was thinking all right! What'd you win a gold medal in? He goes, "Chess!"
Jim: And I had to make a decision, show pleasure or show concern. And thankfully I had the wisdom to show pleasure. I went, "Wow! You got a gold medal in chess?!" Now I feel a little guilty because inside I was like, really? Chess?! (Laughter) But I didn't let him see that. We talked about it later and it was fun, but you need to learn how to parent the child you're given.
Kathy: Exactly, so study your child, right? Jill and I are both big believers in that reality; that you need to get to know them. You need to sit back, slow down, open your eyes and observe. Where do their interests appear to lie? What do they do in their spare time? What kinds of questions do they ask us? You know, Jim, there's nothing wrong with you have a dream for your son. There was nothing wrong with you wanting him to be a football player, because it gave you joy and you thought he might like it. What was cool was that you began to see that wasn't gonna be his reality and you didn't force him onto the field.
Jim: Well the good news is he's both a chess player and now he's enjoying playing football. (Laughter)
Kathy: He is.
Jim: So I've got both worlds.
John: Yeah, if you give 'em enough time they can sometimes go where you didn't think they were gonna go at all.
Kathy: Well that's the point.
Jim: But I mean, there is and what I wanted to get to is for that parent, that practical applicable application. When you're in that moment, Jill, what do you have to think about to make sure you don't crush the spirit of your child?
Jill: Well, I think that there's a two-step process that I've identified, and it's grief and know. And step one is grieve that dream that you had and you know, for you, it's great that he ended up loving football. Not every parent experiences that.
Jim: Right, it turned out for me.
Jill: Right, it did and so you, you can share that with him, but we have to grieve, first what those dreams are and you know I think about, okay, when I was in school, when I was in high school I loved doing student government. I loved doing anything leadership. I'm sure that surprises you.
Jill: Andso I thought my kids would do that.
Jim: It's genetic!
Jill: Well that's what I thought!
Jill: And so, they get into junior high and high school and they're not trying to become a class officer and they're not interested in Student Council and I'm encouraging, you know. And I'm thinking they're fully capable, but the truth was it didn't interest them in any way, shape or form., any of them! You would have thought at least out of five, one of them (Laughter) would have gotten those jeans. Now they are leaders in other areas of life.
Jill: But that did not interest them to lead. And so, I remember, I can remember that particularly one afternoon with our oldest daughter, Ann, and I had been encouraging her to do some extracurricular things because I just thought, "Gosh, she's just not getting as involved as I thought she would." And I went and knocked on her door after school one day and she was reading a book in her bedroom by herself. And I realized she was being true to herself.
Jim: She enjoyed it.
Jill: She enjoys that. She's an introvert. She gets refueled by being alone, not be being with people and she knew that she needed to monitor how much she was active outside of the home. And she was active in our youth group and in some other things. So I think the first step is that we have to grieve. And in that moment, I remember grieving; thinking she's not ever going to do the same things that I did. And that makes me sad, because we can't share it, but that's okay. Now I'm knowing her. I'm taking that next step and I'm tuning in to who she really is and I have to celebrate that, first inside and then externally, as well.
Jim: In your book, "No More Perfect Kids," I love the title by the way, that makes the entire point (Laughter), you always like a book title when it does that. But you talk about having a "come to mama attitude."
Kathy andJill: Uh-hm.
Jim: That really intrigues me. What did you mean by "come to mama?" And does it work to "come to daddy?"
Jill and Kathy in unison: Oh, absolutely. (Laughter)
Jim: What did you mean by that?
Jill: Well, come to mama, itreally talks about the concept of progress, not perfection. You know, when a child is little and they are learning to walk and they are so, you know, we're just celebrating their every step. And you know, we're putting our hands out and, you know, come to mama, come to daddy and they take one, two steps, and they fall down and they get back up and they take a couple more steps and as parents would we look at that as failure? We wouldn't look at that as failure.
Jim: No, we keep encouraging them.
Jill: Right!! We think that's great!
Jim: We'd [say], "Hey Honey, come here!"
Jim: "Watch this!"
Jill: We keep working with them. So why when they turn 8 or 10 or 12 and they take one or two steps and they fall down, why do we not see that as progress? Why do we see that as imperfection or unacceptable?
Jim: Can I again, drill into this, because I think, and I speak from my own shortcomings, I can relate to that at 10, 11 and 12, where you start to dig in a bit as a parent. Actually you can use shame.
Jill: You can.
Jim: And you can do things and that is so destructive to that child's spirit. How do we pull back and what's happening in the parents' emotions and spiritually, even drive in that direction? Do you not see the damage you're doing when you shame your child?
Kathy: Yeah, I think it's back to that high expectations, back to that, "I want the best for them." And mistakes hurt; you want to protect them. You know, they're the bike helmet generation, right? (Laughter) This is the generation of kids that we don't let them fall down and hurt themselves. They wear knee pads and I'm not against that.
Jim: You could start a fight at my house tonight. (Laughter) Every time Jean is always about the bike helmet. I think they sleep in bike helmets. (Laughter) And I'm like, "Honey, they're ok!"
Kathy: Right, right.
Jim: She thinks it's wise to wear a bike helmet. She thinks my lack of discipline in demanding a bike helmet is a lack of adult supervision.
John: Yeah, you don't care.
Kathy: Well, I won't enter into that discussion (Laughter), I think very wisely.
Jim: Well, well, you know, what are we trying to aim for?
Kathy: Yeah; healthy kids who are resilient, who are willing to stand back up. I think part of it is, Jim, have I taught my children how to succeed or do I just expect them to succeed? Did they make a mistake intentionally to push a button, to get a reaction? Are they giving up because they're choosing to be apathetic? Or were they really making an honest attempt to earn an A in biology, or to do well in the piano recital and something just happened, that they just didn't do their best. Well, good heavens! I don't always do my best. I'm very grateful for people who surround me with love in those moments and, of course, we could talk about God accepting us in those moments when we, you know, whatever.
Jim: Don't go there. (Laughter)
Kathy: Yeah. (Laughter) And really, what Jill and I write about too, is that if we don't demonstrate grace to our children in those moments, why would they ever expect that the God of the Bible would? And that's a very huge factor for us. I know in my ministry I talk to parents a lot about teaching, not telling. If you're disappointed in their performance on the football field, piano recital or biology, ask yourself, have I helped them? Children tell me all the time they really resent it when we ask them how they did on their test and we were not available for them to help on their homework.
Jill: And I think part of it is as parents we have to be okay with failure; first with our own failure and second with our kid's failure. We have to make failure a safe thing to happen in our home. And when I look at, you know, what we call perfection infection parenting is when we don't let our kids fail, when it's not safe to fail, when our expectations are off the charts and unrealistic. That's perfection infection parenting. And in my early years of parenting, I was a perfection infection parent.
Jim: It's pretty normal for new parents.
Jill: It is.
Jim: It's not unusual.
Jill: It's not, but then we have to step back and we have to say, "Okay, wait a minute, I want it to be safe for my children to fail in my home." That was important for me when I really started looking at this and I thought, "I'm not safe for them to fail with;" because they get a lecture from me when they fail. And oftentimes, you know, sometimes they do need teaching. Sometimes they do need instruction. Sometimes natural consequences [are] enough.
John: Well, I really appreciate your candor right there, Jill. It's very, very helpful, I think, for all of us as parents to be able to step back and recognize just what you're saying there. Our guests are Jill Savage and Dr. Kathy Koch. We're talking today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly about their book, No More Perfect Kids, which Jim, is really all about no more perfect parenting, I guess.
Jim: That's exactly right, no more perfect people. Oh, were we ever there? Jill, I've got to step in on behalf of probably many people [who] are going, hey, wait a minute. This sounds so soft, you know, driving your kids toward imperfection. There's a standard. We want to try to drive them upward. And frankly, there may be a little gender play in this. I can hear a lot of dads going, wait a minute. That's so feminine. That's so mushy. You know, you gotta be a bit hard on your kids, 'cause this is a tough world and you gotta pick yourself up by the boot straps. Am I overplaying it?
Jim: Or do you know what I'm talkin' about?
Jill: I do know what you're talking about.
Jim: There's a balance there.
Jill: There is a balance. You're exactly right and what I would say is what we've tried to do with No More Perfect Kids [is] it's not so much a resource about correcting your kids as it is about connecting with your kids. And parenting, good parenting needs both. It needs both sides. So absolutely, do I need to give my children leadership? That's what parenting is. It's really about leadership.
Jill: You're leading your children; equipping our children. It's teaching them and it's correcting them, certainly, but it's also connecting with them.
Jill: And I think that's what we're really trying to talk about here, is the balance between those two.
Kathy: If I could jump on what you were saying about the dad. One of the things that kids tell me all the time is that they can never please their dad.
Jim: It'sa force in their hearts isn't it?
Kathy: And it's so sad because if they feel they can never please their dad, they may actually quit trying.
Kathy: And that's when you begin to see the backslide and the apathy and the disconnect and the … the fear and the distance. And when I say, "What makes you think that?" this is the common story that I hear: My dad was looking at my grades, which is academics--it could be sports, it could be any number of things--my dad was looking at my grades and he wasn't happy with my math grade and he said I could do better. He didn't really tell me how to do better, he just said he was quite sure that I could.
Sometimes kids say to me there was no evidence , but he wants the best for me, so I went to school and I studied and I asked for help from my teacher, and Dr. Kathy, II did better. I went from a 90 to a 93 and I got home and I showed it to my dad. My dad didn't say good. My dad didn't say thanks. My dad didn't say, I know you could do it. My dad said, "Oh, you can do better."
Jim: They're always getting the, "You should have."
Kathy: But I have tears in my, because the dads, they don't have any intentionality in that of hurting their children. They deeply desire the best for them and they believe that a 100 percent is best. Is it best? If the child is capable of the 100 percent, of course it is, but for a lot of children the 93 is their 100 percent.
Jim: Oh yeah.
Kathy: And the first thing that those dads need to say is, "Oh, I'm so proud of you. I knew you could do it! How did you do it?" What I wish more parents would say is, what caused the 93? So the child can reflect and go, "Oh! I was brave and I asked my teacher to re-explain something."
Kathy: Or, "Dad, remember the other day when we were driving that errand and we were talking about how math does have purpose. That gave me more energy to pay attention in algebra class." I think that question of how did you do it? And then, what I would love for dads to do, and moms, is to say, "What do you think you may do next?" And let the child begin to self-evaluate. Let the child begin to decide, "I think I am capable of a 95."
Well if that same child would say a 100, then maybe dad says, "Whoa! What would you have to do for that to be possible?" To make, because I don't them to set themselves up then for immediate disappointment after the fact. But I just want to say I am so grateful for dads who care and who are invested and who even know what their kids are taking in school and I just want them to be cautious and if I could say one more thing. Sometimes moms need to be very careful of saying, "Wait until your father gets home."
Kathy: I'm all about the father being the spiritual head of the home, I'm all about the dad being very involved and very much being an engaged dad and yet, if I could say, if a mom can deal with it, the mom needs to deal with it, because otherwise what we're doing is, dad drives up and the kid runs away.
Kathy: You know the kid hides in the bedroom: Oh no, daddy's home. And mom said after looking at my backpack, "Wait until your father gets home." That sets up the dad then to be the big red pen and to be the one that's always going to be pointing out the negatives, which is why those kids don't believe that their dads are believing they're okay.
Kathy: That's how they feel imperfect.
Jim: Kathy, let me ask you about that father or that mother that's driving that kind of comment to say, "Hey, boy, you coulda done better," even though they did well.
Jim: What is it that they experience, perhaps, as their own relationship with their parents. It seems to be generational. You know, this is what I learned. This is the way my father treated me.
Kathy: I think Jill and I have both been surprised by the number of people who read chapter two in our book and contact us. They'll come into my seminars thinking, I know this is relevant, this idea that my kids think they can be perfect. I have no clue where they're getting this from. And halfway through the seminar, they're beginning to cry as they realize that they were parented as well as those parents knew how to parent them, but with an expectation that wasn't high. It was inappropriately high and those parents began to feel rejected and like they couldn't approach their parents to ask for help. And lo and behold, they're passing that same pattern onto their kids.
And that's where we need to forgive. We need to reflect and proceed appropriately. Accept ourselves; accept our parents; move on. It's huge.
Jim: Well, again, I like the application, particularly to us as believers, because I think we create an environment where, you know, the very thing we desire, which is honesty and openness, because we feel that's important in our relationship with the Lord, but in wanting that, we create the opposite environment, 'cause our kids feel unsafe to say, I blew it. And we've got to aim for that kind of atmosphere that allows a child to be real and honest, because there's gonna be encouragement to do better, not condemnation.
Kathy: Exactly, so, do they see us ask for help, of a spouse, of them, if they're old enough? Do they hear us call a pastor for insight? Do they hear us in an accountability relationship with a long-time friend? And do … how do they hear us pray?
Kathy: Do they hear us pray out loud for ourselves and for them? And what are we asking God for? I think that's huge, as well.
Jim: Yeah, it is. We have covered a lot of ground and we're not even into it yet. I mean, we've just scratched the surface. Can you stick with us? And let's come back next time and dive a little deeper into the list of 10 issues and the antidotes to those and we drive people hopefully, to learn more. But let's stick with it and come back next time.
Jill: Sounds good.
Kathy: That'd be great.
John: Well, if you're hearing Kathy's insights, I think a lot of moms and dads, Jim, are feeling this weight kinda come off their shoulders. They're realizing, it's really okay to not have perfect children.
Jim: Well, and the reality is, none of us do. We're sinners, who give birth to sinners. I love that statement. It's a fact of life, because none of us are perfect and we won't be until we're made complete in Christ. That's very clear in Scripture. That's the heart of Focus on the Family, to help parents learn to relax a bit, do a good job, uh ... and take some of that pressure off to be perfect. We need to learn to trust God, that He's got it in His hands and the more we can rely on Him to give us wisdom and to be a good spouse and a good parent, I think the better off we are.
We need to learn to enjoy those special moments, to create those special moments, moments that your kids will laugh and smile about when you're gone. I've thought a lot about that lately, John, on our camping trips and other things that we've done, is just seeing into the future and thinkin' about, what it'll be like with my boys standing around my deathbed. What are they gonna be thinkin' about. The good times, I hope and the smiles on their faces, laughing over marshmallows in our nose or whatever it might've been and the really thoughtful and deep spiritual times we had together.
We hear from hurting families every day, John and families who need help. They need that assurance and encouragement and that love and support that, okay, we're movin' forward and one mom recently wrote to us about her situation. And I want to say this, so that you can see the ministry that you're having through Focus on the Family. You're the ones that are fueling the ability to touch someone like this, but let me read what she wrote.
She said, "Just this past week, my husband and I discovered that our oldest son has developed an addiction. He's only in his early teens. Horror, anger, sadness and heartbreak overwhelmed me. But I knew exactly where to turn for help, Focus on the Family. I placed a phone call to you and after speaking to one of your counselors, hope was indeed, returned to us. Thank you Focus on the Family. We give thanks for all that you do each day to faithfully stand in the gap for families like ours."
Okay, you need to know when you pray for us and you support us, you deserve as much of that credit that Focus is getting. And you know what? The Lord sees that. He knows that you're the backbone for this ministry when we're there for that hurting mom or dad. I hope you feel it and I hope you'll today help us stand in the gap for those who need Jesus and need a touch from God today. I invite you be a part of it.
John: Well, join in the work here when you make a contribution of any amount and we'll send a copy of our guests' book, No More Perfect Kids, as our way of saying thank you. So, please make a contribution today and get that book, No More Perfect Kids, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Familyand on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. You'll hear more from Kathy Koch and Jill Savage about how you can love your kids for who they are, not what they do, as we once again, share trusted advice and encouragement to help your family thrive.
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Jill SavageView Bio
Jill Savage is a popular public speaker and has written seven books including Professionalizing Motherhood, Real Moms … Real Jesus and No More Perfect Moms. She is the founder of Hearts at Home and served as the ministry's director for 24 years. Jill and her husband, Mark, reside in Illinois. They have five children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Jill by visiting her website, www.jillsavage.org.
Kathy KochView Bio
Dr. Kathy Koch is the founder and president of Celebrate Kids, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping parents and educators understand and meet the needs of today's children. She is also an international speaker and the author of several books including Screens and Teens, No More Perfect Kids and How Am I Smart? Dr. Koch earned her Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University. She resides in Ft. Worth, TX. Learn more about Dr. Koch at www.drkathykoch.com.