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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll shares how her perfectionism led to her being discontent in her marriage for over a decade, how she learned to find value in who Christ is, not in what she does, and practical ways everyone can accept the messiness of marriage and of life.
Original Air Date: May 30, 2018


Amy Carroll: I became a believer at 10, but I didn’t break up with perfect until I was in my 40s.

End of Preview:

Jim: Huh.

Amy: And so, I lived in this trap of feeling like I had to earn God’s love and acceptance, my husband’s love and acceptance, my kids love and acceptance, my friends love and acceptance for decades.

John Fuller: Well, maybe you can relate with that feeling of always having to work to earn approval. That’s Amy Carroll, and you’ll hear more from her today on Focus on the Family, about finding rest in the fact that your life doesn’t have to be perfect. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: And, John, relationships are complicated. Have you noticed?

John: I have.

Jim: (laughs).

John: Yeah, (laughs) They can- they can be very complex.

Jim: But the most complicated relationships are the ones we have, maybe, with ourselves. Uh, have you ever thought of it that way? I mean, think about that. You have thoughts and ideas and conversations in your head. One side of you is trying to convince the other side to do the right thing, right?

John: Mm.

Jim: I mean, those things happen. We all wanna be the best parent, the best spouse, the best friend that we can be, especially in the Christian context. And, uh, sometimes we struggle with that, because of our flesh and our sin nature rises up. Uh, today we want to remind you that you are enough. I mean, that’s- it’s hard to embrace that, but you are enough, and that you are unconditionally accepted and loved by God. And, uh, today we’re gonna hear from an author, Amy Carroll, who has described this in a wonderful book called, “Breaking Up with Perfect“, and I’m looking forward to it, John.

John: And I am, too. Uh, we’re thrilled to have Amy with us. She’s also a speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries and a podcast host and is married to Barry. They have two grown sons. We can tell you more about Amy and her book when you call 800-232-6459, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or check it out at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Amy, welcome to Focus on the Family.

Amy: Oh, thank you so much. I am delighted to be here.

Jim: I’m looking forward to it. I love your energy. This book, “Breaking Up with Perfect“, let’s start with this question. You make an analogy between bad boyfriends and perfect. I’ll use air quotes, perfect-

Amy: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … boyfriends.

Amy: (laughs).

Jim: Um, share what you’re meaning by that. Did you find Mr. Perfect in your husband?

Amy: Well yes, and he has said how-

Jim: (laughs).

Amy: … dare I write a book called, “Breaking Up with Perfect“, that I have to stay-

Jim: (laughs).

Amy: … and he’s right. (laughs)

Jim: He’s in the audience, so we’re definitely throwing you a softball-

Amy: I did-

Jim: … from the opener.

Amy: God did give me the perfect man for me, for sure. But, all-

Jim: (laughs).

Amy: … of us probably have that bad girlfriend or bad boyfriend in our past. And when we think about that person, usually we started with this huge attraction. So, he looked so good, and we just were so excited about trying to connect with him. And so for girls especially I think a lot of times will try to morph into whoever we think he wants us to be. And so we dress the way we think he wants us to dress, and we talk the way we think he wants us to talk, and we show up wherever he is and bat our eyelashes a little bit-

Jim: (laughs)

Amy: … and we work and work and work-

Jim: Is that how it’s supposed to work?

Amy: (laughs).

Jim: I never knew this (laughs).

Amy: Well, this is- is allegedly teenage girls, right.

Jim: Yeah (laughs).

Amy: Um, but then we work and work and work to try to get this boyfriend and then we get him. And he is not at all what we thought he would be, ’cause he’s the bad boyfriend. He’s the one that makes us feel less than-

Jim: Hm.

Amy: … who makes us feel like we never measure up. And it’s hard to get out of that relationship once our self-esteem starts to be affected, and perfection is the same way.

Jim: Well, and your title, I wanna make sure people are grabbing what you’re trying to express, “Breaking up with Perfect“. I think what you’re talking about is this glamorous view of perfect, either externally or with ourselves, which is what I was mentioning in the opening there. Having that breakup with yourself and that conversation with yourself. What do you mean by, “Breaking up with Perfect“? Just give me the definition.

Amy: Well, that’s such a great question because I think our culture has gone- swung to some really opposite extremes. So on one hand we have social media coming at us and the things on our screen that show perfect beauty, perfect, um…

Jim: Physique.

Amy: Yes.

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: You know, all kinds of perfection coming at us all day, every day. And on the other hand, there’s been this, us, swing in our culture where people are talking about embracing your imperfections. Well I think scripture reflects something different because it does say, Jesus says, “Be perfect as I am perfect” and be perfect as our Father is perfect. So, what does that mean? Well, the root word there actually means, whole, mature, or complete.

Jim: I love that.

Amy: So God is calling us to be perfect. He’s calling us to be whole, mature, and complete. What I’m talking about in “Breaking Up with Perfect” is this whole, um, idea of perfection that we’ve developed in our own mind. Like you said, Jim, this relationship with our self and our own thoughts of what we think is supposed to be perfect.

Jim: When, you say your relationship with perfect lead you to being discontent in your marriage for over a decade.

Amy: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Now, some women are saying, that’s nothing, I’ve got three decades.

Amy: (Laughs).

John: (Laughs)

Jim: Of believing this and, uh, you know, I think again this goes right to the bullseye of what you’re expressing in the book. Why do we feel we have to be perfect and why, particularly for women, when it comes to their marriage and what their expectations are about their marriage, um, why are they expecting more than what can be delivered? And to give us your example of your marriage.

Amy: Absolutely. I think there are two things in women’s lives that really amp up this perfectionism. One is our marriage, and the other one is parenting. And those were the two places where it was just started to explode in my life.

Jim: (Laughs). Ouch.

Amy: And I walked down the aisle with a train loaded down with expectations (laughs).

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: And I call these things the ‘Pictures of perfect in my head’. I had an idea of the way everything should work, the way everything should look. And one of them revolved around making our bed. Now that seems really silly, right? But my parents have an amazing marriage, and one of the things that I loved about my parents’ marriage is that they always went to bed together and then they always got up together. When their feet hit the floor, they immediately stood across the bed from each other and made the bed together. To me, somehow in my mind that translated to what a perfect marriage looked like.

Jim: (Laughs). You held on to that. And there’s probably harp music in the background.

John: (Laughs)

Amy: Oh yes. Of course. When my mom read this in my book she was like, “Are you serious?”.

John: (Laughs)

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: But this is what (Laughs)

Jim: He never made it right.

Amy: I know (Laughs)

Jim: Your dad. (Laughs).

Amy: That’s probably right. Um, but, uh, I had really internalized that. Well, Barry is a night owl…

Jim: (laughs)

Amy: I’m a morning person. We rarely go to bed at the same time. We never get up at the same time. I made the bed by myself for over 15 years. This was just one of those low-level discontent places in my heart and in my mind. Now if you would’ve asked me, “Do you have a happy marriage?”, I would have said, “Yes.”. But until I started recognizing what kind of expectations that I had put on Barry and our marriage and letting go of those, there was always this low level discontent.

John: Mmm.

Amy: And when I started letting this expectations go, the happiness quotient in our marriage just multiplied. It was amazing.

Jim: But you, when you get to Barry’s understanding of your expectations, on behalf of husbands worldwide, did you ever actually say, “Barry, this is what I expect, that we get up in the morning and make our bed together”. Did you ever, I mean, you gotta tell us.

Amy: No, and he is sitting out in the gallery shaking his head no.

Jim: (laughs)

John: (Laughs) So like after a week.

Jim: Is this the first time he’s heard this?

John: (Laughs)

Amy: (Laughs)

Jim: Barry, make the bed.

John: (laughs)

Amy: Well, when he read the book, there were a lot of revelations actually.

Jim: (Laughs). This is the point. How can that be. Where are we falling down as couples? I mean, husbands, we’re not always on the ball picking up the cues. So what advice to you have to that married woman that is expecting things from her husband that she’s never actually expressed? And it it frustrates her that he doesn’t know it.

Amy: Exactly. When I started recognizing my own expectations, in asked Barry one day, ’cause I realized how many I had brought into our marriage, and how it was affecting our marriage negatively, so I asked Barry, “So, Barry, what did you expect when we got married?” And seriously, he had the most puzzled expression on his face.

Jim: I was going to say, maybe one.

Amy: Yeah, he said…

Jim: Maybe two.

Amy: “Um, that you would love me forever.” I mean, he was seriously puzzled. And so, I realized and when I reflected back that Barry’s greatest gift to me over the years is that he has just let me be. That he has had no expectations. That he has supported me and encouraged me. When I realized that, it became my life’s goal as a wife to give that gift back. But it has changed everything for me. Let me give you an example. Last year, my husband was in a really hard place at work. And it was a hard time for him. And for the very first time, I realized I am feeling compassion for my husband. Now I’ve been married for a long time and really it makes me tear up to even say that for the very first time I had this great compassion for him. So I started asking myself, how come I haven’t felt compassion for him before? And I realized it was because I was always critiquing him before.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

John: Mm-hmm.

Amy: Well, so, and, you know, I’m the worst to myself. But man, I’m going to help everybody around me be perfect too. That’s the way I had always viewed it before. It’s so damaging to our relationship.

Jim: And Amy, I so appreciate that vulnerability. One of the things that we can observe in our relationships, especially in the marriage relationship, is you get comfortable with your spouse and with your kids and you treat them like you would treat yourself. And it’s always interesting to me that often in marriages you will make the observation that you treat your friends a lot better than you’re treating me.

Amy: Yes.

Jim: Why is that? And I think you’re hitting on because, well, I’m treating you the way I treat myself. And it’s not healthy.

Amy: And Barry would tell you, he’s very aware, that I’m much harder on myself than I am on anyone else.

Jim: Right, it starts with you.

Amy: But it still does start to transfer.

Jim: Well, and that drives me to the next area that I wanted to get to in your book, “Breaking Up with Perfect“, is this idea of perfectionism. And I, I love the topic because again I think so many people, and I think particularly wives, women, are struck with this, this enabling of perfection. Describe perfection a little more concisely for you and how it has manifested in your life. Let’s start there.

Amy: Okay, well, first of all, I’ve had so many women who have read my book or heard me speak who have said, “Well, I never considered myself a perfectionist”. But what I would say to your listeners, if you’re listening today, and you walk around feeling like you don’t measure up, you are a perfectionist.

Jim: That seems pretty broad.

Amy: Yes. Because it can, well, a lot of people say, “Well, I’m not a perfectionist ’cause I don’t have to have the perfect house”, or “I’m not a perfectionist ’cause I’m a little bit fluffy”. Maybe you’re like me and a little fluffy and so you think, I don’t have the perfect body, like, you know, what’s on the magazine covers or things. But usually, my friend Kathi Lipp says that there are pocket perfectionism. And so we have this place that is important for us that we have these unrealistic expectations. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a perfectionist in every area of your life. The way that it has manifested for me is in my relationships. A friend of mind asked me, “What’s the worst thing that perfectionism has done to you”? And I said, immediately, without even having to think, “It has damaged my relationships”. I went through a five-year period where four close friendships imploded. Now, whenever that happens, there is always two in the relationship.

Jim: Well, they were imperfect friends.

Amy: Exactly.

Jim: Obviously. (Laughs)

Amy: Exactly. But when I thought, started thinking about all this hurt and the damage behind me, I realized that I was the common denominator. That was really powerful and painful realization. And that’s when God started showing me my perfectionism and how it was damaging our relationships.

John: Well, if you look in the mirror and don’t see perfection, or if you do, either way, we have a great resource for you. It’s called “Breaking Up with Perfect“. It’s written by our guest, Amy Carroll and she’s on Focus on the Family today. Get the book and an audio copy of our conversation when you call 800- the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Or you’ll find those and other helpful resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Amy, you described two kind of belief systems with perfectionism and that, that’s where I want you to drive this next answer is, your explanation about good girl syndrome and never good enough girl syndrome. Because I think that hits to the heart of many, many women.

Amy: Absolutely. Well well, I think the root of perfectionism actually begins someplace good. Which sounds strange, but I believe that because we’re made in the image of God that He has created us with two big realizations. First of all, that He is perfect, and He is perfect in the most beautiful ways. He’s perfect love and perfect grace and perfect, um, mercy and, and all of that is rolled into a ball that the Bible calls Holiness. And He is perfect, He is holy. And then the second realization is we are not. And so, those are both really important realizations to have to lead us to a place that we understand that we need a savior. But the problem is, is that most of us go a little wonky at that point. And what we do is we start to make lists about how we can be perfect. So the good girls, those with the good girl list, that’s the list of all the things that I have to do to measure up to earn God’s love and earn his acceptance.

Jim: What are examples on that list?

Amy: Oh, I mean, I’ve had all kinds of things. Well, for you Christian girls out there, that I have to do my quiet time at a certain time every single day for God to accept me and love me. That can be a trap. Um, does God want to spend time with us every day? Absolutely. Is He going to love me less because I don’t read my Bible at 7:00 every single morning? No, He’s not. So it can even go… and for me it did. I, I became a believer at 10, but I didn’t break up with perfect until I was in my 40s.

Jim: Huh.

Amy: And so, I lived in this trap of feeling like I had to earn God’s love and acceptance, my husband’s love and acceptance, my kids love and acceptance, my friends love and acceptance for decades.

Jim: I want to ask you, you know, because my heart goes out to the person who is struggling with that, the woman who is struggling with that, and when I hear that, um, it can be rather intimidating. And how do I get there? I mean, I measure myself by getting up and doing my devotion at 7 and I go exactly 30 minutes because I know God will be pleased with 30 minutes. I mean, I’m just playing this out in my head.

Amy: Absolutely.

Jim: Um, but how do I believe that God is still tender toward me if I do 10 minutes or if I’m sloppy and I do it at 7:05? It sounds a little bit… Or yeah, man, I’ve got 3- and 5-year-olds, and I can’t get to it today.

Amy: Yes.

Jim: How do you move from that feeling of guilt to the feeling of God still loves me no matter what? And be comfortable with it.

Amy: I think we have to let go of this idea of earning anything. We have to rest in God’s love. Years ago, um, as this process started for me, I sat down with a friend of mine named Rae, and she’s been… I hadn’t known her long at that point, but I had asked her if we could sit down. I just felt like God had something to say to me through her. I didn’t know what it was. And at that point, I was hiding all of this really, really well. And so she listened to me for a little bit, and she goes, “Hey Amy, um, what I want to know is when that list of your doesn’t turn out the way you thought, what’s going to happen to your faith”? And I immediately started crying. Now, mind you, I was part of the Proverbs 31 speaker team, I was writing devotions, I was teaching Sunday School, I was doing all the stuff. And I could not feel God’s love for me at all anymore. And it was because all of the stuff was part of my good girl list. And so, um, she said, “I want you to pray that God will break through that shell around your heart and that you would experience God’s love for you”. And so I came back to her several weeks later and I said, “Rae, I’m listening to songs about God’s love, I’m reading books about God’s love, I’m reading scriptures about God’s love, I’m working so hard, and I still can’t feel God’s love”. And she goes, “Amy, did you just hear yourself? You said you’re working to feel God’s love”. She goes, “You can’t work to feel God’s love. You have to rest in God’s love”.

Jim: That the good girl syndrome, Amy. Now you mentioned also the never good enough girl.

Amy: Well it’s funny because when I wrote the book, I thought that you were either one or the other. But my childhood best friend, Josie, was part of this whole process of writing the book and my launch and all that stuff, and, and she said to me, “Amy, I swing between the two”, and I realized I did too. So the never good enough list is the list of all the things that we’ve done that we feel like we cannot earn God’s love.

Jim: So the guilt list.

Amy: The guilt list. The shame list. And sometimes, what I’ve learned from talking to other women, is we don’t even earn that list, that it’s handed to us.

Jim: Huh.

Amy: The very people who are supposed to love and nurture us are the people who tell us we’ll never be good enough. Sometimes it’s culture that hands it to us. That culture that says you don’t have the right address or the right skin color or the right paycheck. And so that never good enough list can be generated a lot of different ways, but both of the lists the good girl list and the never good enough list, they both separate us from God, because what we need is a savior.

Jim: Yeah. That’s so true. Amy, you have also a funny story in the book about wanting to be that normal Christian family. I love that title, The Normal Christian Family.

Amy: Normal, yeah.

Jim: But what went wrong? (Laughs)

Amy: Well, I have been blessed to have so many mentors in my life and so I was really thrilled one day when one of the college girls at our church came up to me and said, “Amy, could I come over and spend time at your house. I need to see the normal Christian family”.

Jim: (Laughs)

John: And you welcomed the scrutiny, right?

Amy: Exactly.

Jim: And you showed up at John and Dena’s house.

Amy: (Laughs) I wish she had. (Laughs) But I said, “Well, I don’t promise the normal Christian family, but you can come an hang out”. Well, I said that, but it was still in my days of my worst perfectionism. So I went into Christian, um, Cleaver mode, you know. I wanted to present the perfect Christian woman to this young girl who was seeking me out. And so I, um, I’m really challenged in the kitchen. So I did my best and I was making grilled cheese and some chips and a dill pickle, you know.

Jim: Wait a second. You had to do your best with grilled cheese? (Laughs)

Amy: Grilled cheese is my best. I mean don’t talk to Barry about this.

Jim: You are challenged (Laughs)

Amy: I, I am. This is not an area of perfectionism for me.

John: But she’s let go of it, Jim, so it’s okay.

Jim: I’m just loading on to your guilt list. I know. Don’t write me about that. I’m sorry Amy.

Amy: That’s okay. Yeah, my idea of a perfect meal is one that I dial out for.

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: But that’s a different thing.

Jim: That’s okay.

Amy: Um, and so I had gotten, I was getting lunch together and I had my Bible open, you know, I’d been praying about what to share with her. Well, my 3-year-old was not on board with this whole plan. And so he was just, as we say in the south, cutting a rug and misbehaving and so, and he was not going to stop until I gave him my full attention. So I told her, please excuse me for a minute. And we went upstairs, I gave him my full attention for a few minutes (Laughs).

Jim: What are you doing?

Amy: Yes exactly.

Jim: I’m trying to be perfect.

Amy: Exactly.

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: And you were showing me up, right. This is a whole different parenting show.

Jim: I love it.

Amy: Um, but I came down the stairs with my crying child on my hip and all the sudden I realize that there was smoke swirling around my house.

Jim: Your grilled cheese on fire.

Amy: My grilled cheese was on fire.

Jim: (Laughs)

Amy: And so I rush back in the kitchen, turn off the burner and I so… I felt so humiliated. My child was misbehaving. My lunch, my meager lunch was ruined. And everything in me wanted to hand her $5 and tell her to go to McDonald’s and never come back to my house again.

Jim: (Laughs).

John: Thanks for playing, yeah.

Amy: Yes. But in that moment, you know, God was doing a work in me even then, I really heard that still small voice in my ear, “Will you love her enough and will you love me enough to open up your life, warts and all”? And the amazing thing about that is that in that moment, I’ve made lots of wrong decisions, but in that moment, I made the right decision and I said, “Hey, so much for the perfect Christian woman.” Let’s just go from here. And years later when my friend who was her campus, um, ministry person asked this girl, “What do you want your life to look like”? She said, “I want my life to look to Amy Carroll’s”. And you know, that really makes me teary every time I tell it because she saw my life warts and all. So she didn’t see perfection. She saw a woman who loves Jesus, who loves her family, and that’s what she wanted too.

Jim: That is so well said and it’s exactly what we want to project in a healthy way. That this is normal. Normal is messy.

Amy: Yes.

Jim: Yeah. What’s not normal is when it’s all perfect. You should have a little bit of suspicion when you’re seeing that, that somethings not quite right. And I love that, Amy. And, uh, let me say you went on from that day to create a list of 50 ways to leave your perfect.

Amy: Yes.

Jim: Which I think is something we should post on the website, John.

John: That’s a great idea.

Jim: Um, because I think it’s your attempt, great attempt to say, here are the 50 ways that I was, uh, you know, imperfect and still am.

Amy: Yes. Absolutely. And that list, I hope people will look on your website ’cause it’s a, a really varied list. Some of the things are really serious, some scripture to memorize that will hopefully help you. But also there are some fun and silly things like wear mismatched socks, have a picnic on your living room floor.

Jim: Oh no, the best one, eat a Twinkie for lunch.

Amy: Oh, there, oh, yes. Well you know, for a fluffy girl, that’s like…

Jim: No that’s great.

Amy: Absolutely.

Jim: But those are fun things in there. I think the very first one, go through an entire day without any form of a list. Wing it.

Amy: Wing it.

Jim: You know how many women just went, What? Are you serious?

Amy: I know. Me too.

Jim: But that’s a good thing, isn’t it. It’s a good thing to do. This has been so helpful. I can see it. I feel it. “Breaking Up with Perfect“. We all have different prisms of what perfect looks like. And you’ve done a wonderful job getting people back down to the ground, what is our relationship with God? What should it look like? What is healthy? What’s unhealthy? And you’ve knocked it out of the park, girl.

Amy: Awe. Thanks.

Jim: And I want you to have a copy of this. So for a gift of any amount. If you can’t afford it, get a hold of us, we’ll get it into your hands any way we can. Um, to get this book. And if you give gift, we’ll send it along as our way of saying thank you. Amy’s wonderful book, “Breaking Up with Perfect“, uh, so that it can be a tool for you to enjoy a life that is free of this bondage of perfection. And uh, just contact us and we’ll get it into your hands.

John: Yeah. And our number is 800-the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate and get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Amy, before we go, um, I’m mindful of that woman whose past is really the burden. She’s carrying that baggage. How do you move or how do you suggest she move from this bondage of imperfection to a better view of imperfection?

Amy: Well you know, one day I was sitting in my quiet time chair talking to the Lord and kind of enumerating all the ways that I feel like I’m a mess. And God in that moment I felt like whispered in my ear and said, “I’m sorry that you are not happy with the way that I made you, but I am delighted with you”. And as you can imagine, that just brought me to tears.

Jim: Absolutely.

Amy: And so for your listeners, I want you to year this and let, let it soak in today, that God is delighted with you. There is, there is a blanket on the back of my couch that is one of the favorite things in my house because my grandmother made it. And Psalm 139 says, “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb”. And that blanket was knitted by my grandmother. When I think about the hours that she spent over that, she’s gone now. So it’s a piece of her that I have left. Jesus did the same thing for each one of us. He knit us together on purpose and he delights in us just the way he made us. He loves us.

Jim: Perfect place to end. Amy Carroll, author of the book “Breaking Up with Perfect“. Thank you for your imperfection.

Amy: Thank you for letting me express it here (Laughs).

John: Well, we hope you’ll stop by our website and get a copy of Amy’s book and please, when you do, make a donation if you can. We’ve got lots of great resources to help strengthen and encourage your family. And you’ll find us at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 1-800-the letter A, and the word FAMILY. By the way, if you have vacation plans in or through Colorado this summer, we’re going to invite you to come by and visit us here in Colorado Springs. There is so much to see and learn here at Focus on the Family’s main campus. And your kids will love our Adventures in Odyssey play area as well. Coming up tomorrow, Dr. Gary Chapman explores the different seasons of marriage.


Dr. Gary Chapman: He said, “Dr. Chapman, we took that little quiz in the book”, and he said, “I came out that we were in a spring marriage and my wife came out we were in a winter marriage”, he said, “so which is it”? I said, “You’re in a winter marriage”. (Laughter) If one of you thinks it’s winter, it’s winter.

End of Preview

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.



Today's Guests

Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Good-Bye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You

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Being a Champion to Your Grandkids

Being a Champion to Your Grandkids

Pastor Carey Casey explains how grandfathers can utilize their unique role to have a positive and lasting influence on their grandchildren in a discussion based on his book Championship Grandfathering: How to Build a Winning Legacy.