Mom #1: Having three boys, the hardest thing as a parent for me was when they came to me and said, “Look what he did,” and I have to be the referee and decide where the guilt is.
Mom #2: I love my kids, but they drive me crazy.
Dad: Yeah, what really frustrates me is when my daughter um, kinda does her homework assignments by memory, rather than looking at her notes to see exactly what’s supposed to be done. That drives me nuts.
John Fuller: Well, kids don’t do things the way we want them to do them. And maybe you can relate to those comments. As a mom or a dad, you may feel like you’ve got everything under control most days, but every now and then, something unexpected happens and then nothing goes right with the kids. If that’s been your experience, we’ve got a great encouraging Focus on the Family broadcast for you today. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: I’m laughing, John, because that sense of frustration and wondering “What do we do now?” is something that my wife Jean and I have experienced many times with our own boys. So nobody is perfect is this, and I’m sure you and Dena have dealt with that too.
John: All the time, yeah.
Jim: If we’re honest, parenting often surprises us. It’s a lot harder than we expected. It doesn’t always go according to the manual – that’s if you have a manual – maybe you’ve let things coast a bit, or thought you could raise your kids kind of on “autopilot”. I’m generally guilty of that. I think, “Well, you know, everything will move ahead normally.” And we just, you know, order our affairs in a good way, a Christian way, and things will work out, but it takes effort. But life as a family doesn’t always work that way and neither does a cookie-cutter approach. There’s no formula that A plus B is gonna give you C. Instead, we need a plan and some intentionality with our children. We have to pray for them and get to know who they are and what they are on the inside, and then apply a biblical approach to help them grow.
John: Yeah, and you’re gonna hear all sorts of great advice today. We should mention that our broadcast today is primarily for healthier families, where there aren’t super serious conflicts or issues in the home.
Jim: Yeah, that’s right, John. We have other broadcasts that deal with divorce or abuse or what to do with a prodigal child. And I’m hopeful those tools are worthy of consideration if you’re in that spot. Plus we have counselors here if you need their help. Those kinds of problems need greater attention, and I wanna encourage you to contact us here at Focus on the Family if you’re dealing with a crisis like that.
But today’s program is about common challenges that we parents face, and we’re going to feature the practical wisdom of some great friends to the ministry – Bill and Pam Farrel. They always have wonderful insights to share, they’re great people to just hang out with, and I think you’ll hear that in their responses and our conversation. Whether it’s about marriage or parenting, or family life in general, they have some sound advice.
John: Yeah and the Farrels have been on guests on this broadcast many times before. In fact, they were here just a few weeks ago, talking about romance in marriage. Today, we’re gonna turn to their book, The 10 Best Decisions Every Parent Can Make. And we’ll start with some opening remarks from Bill and Pam.
Pam Farrel: Now we can’t take all of the credit if our kids turn out well. And we also can’t take all of the blame. You know, even God had, you know, He was perfect. He’s the perfect parent, but even – it just took one generation for people to start rebelling against a great God. And so, it’s us doing the best we can to try to be loving like God.
Bill Farrel: The picture I like to give parents is I think parenting is a lot like feeding of the 5,000.
Jim: Yes it is.
Bill: Jesus is talkin’ with this crowd. There’s 5,000 men. The implication is their – their families are there, too, so it’s probably more like 12 or 15,000 people. Um, Jesus looked at the guys and says, “You feed ‘em.”
Bill: And – and they went and got all the resources they could find and they came back to Jesus with the equivalent of two lunches.
Bill: And said, “Jesus, here’s what we have.” And Jesus said, “I can work with that.” And parenting is – is us making sure that we bring bread and loaves that are good. ‘Cause Jesus doesn’t want moldy bread; he doesn’t want stale fish. He wants the best we can bring, but our part is still the small contribution. The biggest contribution to parenting is begging God for the hearts of our kids. Because if our kids give their hearts to Jesus, we’re gonna look like good parents.
Jim: And connecting those dots – they can say it, but they have to live it, as well.
Jim: Okay, let’s quickly just go through the list of 10 and then we’re gonna dig into a few. But you know, we gotta give people some hope here and I’d like to just jump in and just reference the – the 10 quickly and people will identify and we’ll put these up on the website.
Jim: And uh…
Pam: Exactly. So, decide to be proactive. You know, decide that you’re gonna make some decisions as a parent. Decide to be consistent. Have some integrity yourself. Decide that character counts. Decide to have a plan. Sit down together and create a plan. Decide to be creative. Sometimes you have to think outside the box – your kids are not all cookie cutters.
Bill: Yeah, kids don’t fit formulas.
Pam: Decide to be a student of your child. Every child’s unique. Decide to partner with God and we’ve already talked a little bit about that. Decide to build a network. It’s the one time I do believe that it does take more than a village. It takes a church. It takes a community. Uh, it takes a lot of us.
Jim: Yeah, you don’t want everybody in the village helpin’ your kid.
Bill: When your kid comes home and says, “Do you know what Jim said today?” And it’s what you’ve been telling your kid for 10 years.
Pam: That’s a good thing.
Bill: Rejoice in that, instead of saying, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell you for 10 years.”
Bill: Just be glad somebody echoed the truth.
Pam: And then decide to trust um, train and then trust your kids – oh, that’s the teen year chapter.
Bill: ‘Cause when you say to your kids, “I’m trusting you to do the right thing,” rather than “Don’t mess up,” it – it changes the mindset of your kids.
Jim: Okay, John just gave the “I am guilty” look.
John: Well, yeah.
Pam: We can parent by faith or fear. I choose to parent by faith.
John: That’s a good reminder.
Pam: Then the last is, decide to celebrate. You know, have – we like to say put traditions and memories – put your trademark traditions and memories on your kids. So, celebrate all along the path.
Jim: I like that. Um, let’s start with the birth of your son, Brock. I think uh, he came into the world. You guys were probably formulating these things. You’re a Christian couple, although, Pam, you did not come from a Christian home.
Pam: Neither of us did.
Jim: Oh, you didn’t either.
Jim: So, I identity with that. Neither did I. Um, but what happened when, in your fairy book story, all of a sudden, your firstborn comes along.
Pam: Well, Bill was a youth pastor and…
Jim: Even better, well…
Pam: So, he was a youth pastor and I was sitting holding Brock and I remember praying, “Lord, it seems like some kids seem to soar and succeed and some seem to stumble and fall by the time they’re 18. What’s the difference? What makes some kids be able to soar and some stumble?”
So, I started praying and there in my quiet time and thinking of the healthy families and so, I wrote down all the traits and skills and leadership qualities that were in the healthy kids. And I showed it to Bill when he came home and – and the list is in 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make. It’s like 100 things long. That day I was very overwhelmed. And I’m like, “Look at all this stuff!”
Bill: Which is – isn’t that how a lot of us feel as parents?
Jim: Oh, yeah!
Bill: We’re just overwhelmed. We – we look at all that needs to be done in these kids’ lives and we just – like how am I ever gonna get it done? Why did God trust me with this? Uh, like it’s impossible. And as I looked at the list, it suddenly occurred to me, there were actually categories.
Pam: They kinda group together.
Bill: Yeah, the – the first thing we wanted for our kids is we wanted them to be learners. Like in this highly informational age, if our kids don’t learn, they’re gonna fall behind really quickly. So, they had to have this aggressive sense that I’m gonna learn something new every week of my life.
Pam: And that jumps into one of the next chapters. Um, that would be the student of your child, ‘cause every child’s motivated uniquely. And so, you have to know how God’s wired that child.
Bill: And I’ve come to the conclusion that kids – kids are naturally motivated, but they tend to be overwhelmed by their strengths when they’re young. So, let me use our middle son as example. Our middle son is really gifted with people. And when he was young, people were overwhelming to him. They were so important to him and he picked up on so many clues from them, that he was mean to them to drive them away. So, it looked like he didn’t like people. And – and what we had to discover is that if we want to motivate this kid, we have to invite friends along whatever he does.
Pam: All about people.
Bill: We have to bring friends along, even though it looks like he doesn’t like people.
Bill: And – and so, one of the – the clues to figuring out to motivate your kids is the thing that they’re stressed about, the thing that they’re irritating in, is probably a strength that’s underdeveloped and they don’t know what to do with it. Like our oldest son, Brock, he was just made for leadership. Like some of those kids, God just drops them into the world and you realize, this kid has to lead or he won’t know his place in life. Well, when he was young, he would boss everybody around.
Pam: “You’re going up the slide the wrong way. You shouldn’t be smoking, that will kill you.” He’s like 2, you know, and bossing the world around. We – we need to channel this energy.
Bill: And teaching him that you don’t have to address.
Pam: Tact. Tact!
Bill: …everything you see in life, was a – was a tough challenge for him. And – and it was easy to demotivate him. “Well, you can’t say that.” “Okay, I won’t say anything.” And so, motivating kids, you have to tap into that overwhelmed sense that they have. And then you have to learn to speak their language, which again, is not an easy thing to figure out. But once you get it, you – you can tap into it and – and pretty much, every kid can be motivated. It’s just not easy to see how…
Jim: How do you start that conversation though? I mean, this is really helpful. I don’t know about you, John. Are you runnin’ through your mind about…?
John: Oh, I’m makin’ mental notes and some written ones, as well.
Jim: So, you know, um, if you’ve got some behavior issues, let’s say there’s – I mean, the common one is not listening to the parent. I mean, how often do we get calls and letters here saying, “I can’t get my 8-year-old or my 13-year-old to do what I asked him to do. Can you provide me any help?” How would you answer that? How do you motivate a child to do the right thing?
Pam: Sometimes – my friend, Kendra Smiley’s just – she says, “Be the parent.” So, sometimes an attitude adjustment on our part that we need to say, “Okay, my kid’s not gonna rule the house here. God’s placed me in authority and I need to help them learn how to obey God, because God will bless them as they learn how to obey God. But they have to first learn how to obey me.” So, sometimes it’s an attitude on our part.
And you know, if you grew up in a house like Bill and I were – they – my – my parents were not believers, so there was a lot of yelling and screaming. I knew that that was not really effective at motivating people. It either shuts them down or makes them angry. And so, that’s not what I want in a kid’s life. So, God said, “Well, what’s opposite of yelling and screaming?” Well, it’s whispering. Well, isn’t that what the Holy Spirit does; He whispers to our heart? And so, when I really wanted my kids’ attention, instead of yelling and screaming, I would get down on their level and I would hold their little face in my hands and I would whisper what I needed them to do and then make them repeat it back to me, to make sure that they understood it and then move forward.
Jim: How’d that work at 16 and 17?
John: I was just gonna ask that question.
Pam: Actually, the – the key – the key is, if you do it um, when they’re young – when you do it when they’re young, it’s less likely you’ll have to yell and scream…
Pam: …when they’re older. Now in the same way and when I had teenagers, yelling and screaming didn’t motivate them either, but following through on some consequences did get their attention.
Jim: Well, and the key there is following through.
Jim: Jean and I have this debate quite often. Jean’s really good at follow through. Sometimes I’m not as good. Uh, so what am I risking there when I’ve – “Okay, you know what, you’re showin’ some repentance; go ahead and go back to what you were doing.” Am I teaching them something not so healthy?
Pam: Exactly. It just depends on – yeah, that’s where the partnering with God decision makes all the difference in the world. God will tell us whether this is the moment of grace, a moment of mercy or a moment of follow-through and you have got to learn this lesson. We’re gonna clear the schedule and we’re gonna follow through to make sure you understand ‘cause this kind of uh, behavior’s gonna ruin your life if I don’t address it. And the Holy Spirit will teach us.
Bill: And what I would add to this, Jim, is for parents who are having trouble getting their kids to do the things they know are best for the kid, experiment with different approaches. Uh, because it’s possible that the approach you’re taking worked with one of your kids, and now you’re just trying to use it with more intensity on this child.
Bill: Um, and it – and it may be that a different approach is – is important. For instance, our youngest son, he would go through these bouts of just real stubbornness. He – he wasn’t belligerent. He wasn’t – he wouldn’t look us in the eyes and be defiant. He would just be stubborn.
Pam: He’s – like he won Christian character award every year for 12 years growing up. So, he’s a good, nice kid. But the boy could be stubborn.
Bill: And he’s motivated by the “we.” Like how – let’s do this together. And so, when he didn’t have enough time with us, he would become stubborn.
Pam: So, sometimes it’s a change on our part.
Bill: So, we could push all we want and we could set up consequences all we want but what we finally discovered is that if I said to him, “Hey, why don’t we work on this together?” Suddenly things turned.
Jim: He blossomed.
Bill: Yeah. And so, of – often it’s us looking for – “I’m gonna try something new and see if it works better” – and just keep trying stuff till you find it. And some of the kids out there, they’re moving targets. Like one of our kids, what worked today didn’t work a month from now.
Bill: And so, we were constantly praying for wisdom like, “God, show us what’ll work with this kid, ‘cause what I tried last month that was really effective, isn’t workin’ now.”
Pam: And like, the hub of the “Student of Your Kid” chapter is kind of like five different tools that can help you really understand your child, whether it’s “What’s their leaning style?” Some kids learn better auditory. Some learn better um, reading. Some learn better doing. So, know how your kid learns. Know their motivation style. There’s four basic ways to be motivated um, in life, whether it’s um, by people, by things.
Jim: Is there one in there, “Do it because I told you to do it?” Is that one of the four?
Pam: That’s not one of the four.
Jim: That one doesn’t work so well, does it?
Bill: No, it doesn’t.
Jim: But we all try it, don’t we?
Bill: We – we’ve all tried it.
Jim: It’s like, Parenting 101.