Mike Berry: And I think that by decluttering the material stuff, we also decluttered what was in the way of really leveraging our influence in our children’s lives, connecting with them, um, building a relationship with them instead of this rat race where I was keeping up with the- the Jones’.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Mike Berry. He’s our guest on Focus on the Family, sharing about some of the challenges of being a parent. And if you’re guilt ridden as a mom or a dad, uh, feeling like a failure, worried about how your kids are gonna turn out, stay with us. This conversation is for you. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I can envision so many parents leaning in when you just said that, if you feel like a failure. I think every healthy parent feels like a failure from time to time because there’s no perfect parenting. Um, there are formulas, but I’m gonna tell you, uh, formulas do not guarantee outcomes because God produced independent thinking people.
John: Yeah, there are too many variables-
Jim: (laughs) right.
John: … and they’re very, very small usually.
Jim: But it is true, we feel like if we give the right inputs we get the right outcome and I’m here to tell you, we hear every day from literally hundreds of parents if not thousands of parents that are struggling in that, uh, manner, you know.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: They’re doing all the right things, but something’s not working, what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with my child. Well here’s the issue, um, you have incredible influence over your child, but ultimately you cannot control them. You give them boundaries, you give them love, you do all the right things and then you gotta trust the Lord for the outcome. And through all of that you gotta maintain a great healthy relationship and we’re gonna talk about all that today with our guest.
John: And Mike Berry has been a parent coach for a number of years and he’s the co-founder along with his wife Kristin of the award-winning parenting blog called The Honestly Adopted Blog. Uh, Mike speaks extensively, he writes a great deal and he has a book called Winning the Heart of Your Child: 9 Keys to Building a Positive Lifelong Relationship with Your Kids, uh, we’ve got that at our website and we’ll invite you to stop by and get your copy. That’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Mike welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Mike: Yeah, thanks for having me back, I appreciate it.
Jim: You know, uh, you and your wife Kristin, uh, you’ve adopted eight kids.
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: And one of the things that I’ve learned and Jean and I had been involved in the, uh, foster care effort here at Focus, Wait No More which is a tremendous effort, Dr. Sharen Ford heads that up here. But one of the things that I learned, especially through the late, uh, Dr. Karyn Purvis is how much, um, those of us who have our natural born children, how much these models apply to us as well. Foster parenting and adoption and the things that you learn through that process or maybe they have greater intensity, but they’re applicable to all parenting skills, right?
Mike: Absolutely. Uh, I would say, uh, what I’ve learned as an adoptive parent and a parent who has discovered a new approach to parenting, um, through what we would call trust-based relational intervention parenting, that’s Karyn Purvis’ model. When- we hear from parents all the time, whether they’re biological parents, foster parents, adoptive parents who say these concepts, uh, revolutionized my parenting, uh, because I learned that this child’s behavior is not- it- it comes from a bigger place, a deeper place which is their trauma history, so.
Jim: Just let me ask you observationally ’cause a lot of parents come to you for coaching, you’re a parenting coach.
Jim: Which I think-
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: … is amazing, we need many more of you.
Jim: And, uh, Focus tries to do that as well with all the resources that we have here and councilors, but, um, this idea that, you know, it’s about behavior that we- especially we in the Christian community, we concentrate heavily on behavior.
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: You know, and-
Jim: … that’s the report card. If you’re behaving properly then we’ve done a good job, but man, there is so much more and so many deeper and important things aside from the behavior. The behavior’s nice ’cause if you have a well-behaved child, you’re not embarrassed. It feels good.
Mike: Right, right.
Jim: I am a good parent, look at me, I get an A+.
Jim: Look how my kid says please and thank you.
Jim: Or whatever it might be.
Jim: But speak to that issue between the heart and the behavioral outputs-
Jim: … and what we need to concentrate on as a parent.
Mike: Yeah. You know, the- the thing that I have realized personally as a parent is that, uh, and also through sitting at the feet of world renowned medical therapeutic child psychology experts is that behaviors are an indicator of something greater. All behavior, all human behavior has an origin.
Jim: So, it’s symptomatic.
Mike: So, it’s not like if I wake up in the morning and I feel happy that it just comes out of nowhere. You know, it doesn’t just ex- appear out of thin air, there’s a reason why I’m happy, there’s a reason why I’m regulated. Same thing with anger, with frustration, um, all of it is an indicator of something bigger. And I think that one of the things that we struggle with as parents is that we look at the behavior and we think, well, this is just a bad kid who wants to ruin my day or who wants to just behave badly. This is just a front, this an indicator of something greater that’s going on and if we can shift our approach and stop targeting the behavior but start asking bigger questions on what’s going on behind the behavior.
Mike: It allows us to respond differently and respond with compassion and we talk about winning the heart of our children. When we can harness that response and change our response, that’s when you begin connecting with the heart.
Jim: And I think it’s important before we get into the- the four parenting types that you describe in the book, um, everybody’s at a different stage or a different phase-
Jim: … in their parenting.
Jim: And so, I- I’m sure some parents are listening going, no, we’re in a great place.
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Jim: Our kids are, you know, they’re connected or they’re doing well.
Jim: They’re behaving well.
Jim: They’re compliant.
Mike: Behavior modification, right.
Jim: And then there’s gonna be the- the other parent that’s really struggling with that 15, 16-year-old-
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: … that’s going in an independent way. So, we recognize that and again, we wanna give you kind of general themes here today-
Jim: … that’ll help you in your parenting. So, let’s get to the four, uh, different parenting types that are unhealthy.
Jim: Let’s describe each one.
Mike: So in the book I talk about, uh, four we- I call them parenting approaches, um, you have the dreamer, uh, the BFF, the best friend forever, I think that’s what the kids say.
Jim: Parenting type.
Mike: Yeah, parenting type, um.
John: It’s in- it’s indicative that you have to say I think that’s what the kids say.
Mike: Yeah. I don’t know anymore and- and it changes.
Mike: It may have changed.
Jim: Give a little description-
Jim: … of the dreamer.
Mike: Sure, yeah.
Jim: What- what’s the adjectives that go with the dreamer parent?
Mike: So, the dreamer parent is the parent who, uh, kind of latches on to this idea that this child is going to be amazing, we’re gonna have this amazing relationship. Uh, they’re gonna rise and call me blessed every morning.
Jim: See, I think that’s wonderful.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: I must be a dreamer (laughs).
Mike: It sounds great.
John: There’s nothing wrong with that, right?
Mike: Sounds great, yeah, it’s okay.
Mike: And actually, I even say in the book it’s okay, there’s portions of this that are okay, but the dreamer parent is I equate them to Lorelai Gilmore and Rory Gilmore from the Gilmore Girls.
Mike: You know, and most people have seen that where it’s this idealistic relationship. You know, these- this mother and this daughter have this best friend relationship and even when they fight they work it all out in a couple of episodes and- and it- it’s just this idealistic view, like, we’re gonna have this witty banter. No matter what stage they’re in, they’re gonna move into preteen, they’re gonna love me, teenage we’re gonna best friends forever, right?
Mike: And then very closely related to that, you have the BFF approach and I equate that to Buddy the Elf from Elf, you know, Buddy the Elf never wants to, uh, he always wants to please people, he likes smiling’s his favorite.
Mike: And, uh, he doesn’t wanna disappoint anybody. So, he takes on this BFF approach and this would be the parent who they consider themselves their child’s best friend, you know.
Mike: So, the child may be making all of these bad mistakes and the mom or the dad is saying hey, it’s cool, as long as you do it in the house, you know, or- or something like that or as long as I’m the one that purchases. You know, things like that, they’re the best friend, like, we don’t wanna disappoint you. And then you move to more of the negative s- well they’re all four negative but this is where you get into the darker approach, the commander and the instructor. The commander I relate to, uh, General Patton, it’s control. You know, it’s behavior modification, behavior, uh, control, it’s the my way or the highway, uh, rules, rules, rules. You’re not participating in this, you’re not able to do that, you can’t be friends with him, you can’t be friends with her, it’s iron first ruling. Then you have the instructor who is, uh, much like Mr. Strickland, I use, obviously you guys that I’m a movie- movie buff, right?
Jim: Yeah, right (laughs).
John: [crosstalk 00:08:41]
Mike: All throughout the book I use movie quotes. Uh, Mr. Strickland from Back to the Future, you know, the principal, everything is a lesson. So your child may have gone four for five on the softball diamond and instead of celebrating the four hits that she had, you spend the drive home telling her how she could have gone five for five and honing in on that one mistake. Everything’s a life lesson, everything’s a lesson even if the child isn’t asking to be taught.
Jim: What was your relationship like with your dad?
Mike: My relationship with my dad was very interesting. Uh, my dad, uh, had a- a gift of being able to take current curse words and create new cuss words that nobody ever knew- had heard before.
Mike: It was a gift, right? So, I heard a lot of things growing up, but he was very, um, very angry. Um, we spent, my sister and I spent a- a lot of time especially in our older years when we would, late elementary years, preteen, high school, uh, hiding and- and here’s what I mean by that. He would work from five o’clock in the morning until five o’clock at night, I mean he was a- a phone lineman, um, for the phone company. And so, um, our- my relationship with him would look like this, we would be playing, we would be creative, we would be building things most of the time with his tools and things that he-
Mike: … did not want us using or leaving out in the yard.
Jim: Yeah (laughs).
Mike: And then all of a sudden there would be this moment where we would look at the clock and it was four o’clock and we were- we’re like oh no, dad’s gonna be home, dad’s getting off in an hour, means he’s gonna be home in an hour and a half. Then we get to five o’clock, it’s like, dad’s gonna, we’d stare at the clock, dad’s gonna get off work. Then five thirty would- would roll around and if dad didn’t pull in the driveway, we’d start to find relief and then if it got to be five forty five, six o’clock, we’re like okay, he’s gone to the bar with friends for the evening, we won’t see him till after bed- he won’t be home till after bed time. And there was relief for us because we knew that there would be an all-out verbal attack on us as children, um, for our creativity or our exploration or our adventure as children or- or maybe just because it was a bad day. And so that was really the definition of my relationship with him probably from age seven, eight, all the way until the night I left for college actually. Um, the night I left for college was a major blowup and I left basically in tears.
Jim: Wow, do-
Jim: Were you ever able to reconcile that?
Mike: At- we were. Uh, that’s the beauty of this story, you know, we talk about family and you talk, you said earlier about the perfection, you know, we get in this idea, this trap of thinking it has to be perfect. My family story is messy and yet today I could leave this studio right now, call my dad and we’d have a- a great conversation, you know, and he would tell me he loves me-
Mike: … before we get off the phone. So there was reconciliation, um, it took several years, I went all the way through college and it was still up and down, rocky, but years after that into my adult life, uh, there was reconciliation and now we have a- a friendship. And I love my dad, uh, my dad loves me, and he lets me, he’ll say he loves me before I say that to him. And so, I think that is the hope as well as the reality, you know.
Jim: That’s what we hope for as parents.
Mike: That- that- that is.
Jim: Even with our imperfections.
Mike: Absolutely. Yeah.
John: I hope you are hearing the heart here that, uh, no matter what type of parent you are, there is, uh, a redemptive possibility even if you’ve blown it. Uh, so appreciate the insights that Mike Berry is offering us today on Focus on the Family. Uh, his book Winning the Heart of Your Child: 9 Keys to Building a Positive Lifelong Relationship with Your Kids, what a goal that is. Um, get a copy of this book from us. It’s available when you call 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY or, uh, stop by our website, that’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Mike, you’ve- you’ve said you’re a dreamer and, uh-
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: … I appreciate that, I think I tend to lean in that direction, I’m kinda confused, I’m not sure, I’m parts of all this. But, uh, but in that dreamer capacity, you described your own family as a counterfeit, I’m curious about that, what does that mean to you and how did you correct being a counterfeit?
Mike: Well, I w- I will say this, I’m a dreamer mixed with BFF because I never wanna disappoint people, I’m an eternal people pleaser, so that- that’s a been a big struggle for me. Back in 2014, we- we were living in a, I had a really, really good job, uh, I was living in a really nice big suburban home and yet while we had all of these things, all of this material, these material possessions and we’re- we were really living the- the so called American Dream, our kids were falling apart. As I often describe it when I’m speaking on this topic in particular, we had a lot of clutter in our lives. Um, material possessions, mixed up priorities and yet we realized that our kids were just floundering, they were drowning. Um, part of that had to do with we were parenting children who had significant trauma histories-
Mike: … as foster and adoptive parents, um, so that was a big contributing factor. But then at the heart of it, we had just lost connection with our kids. And in the middle of this there was a couple other contributing factors, but in the middle of this, we decided to do something that was very counter culture to the upscale suburban culture we lived in and that was we just decided to sell this big suburban house and move to this, I- I think the house was, like, 4500 square feet with a finished basement.
Mike: It was pretty sweet.
Mike: Um, our kids are still to this day are like, I don’t understand why we had to move from that house.
Mike: But, uh, they’re better for it and the reason for that is that we decided to sell it and downsize to a 1500 square foot house which is insane. So, we literally just about sold or gave away all of our possessions, all of our st- the material things ’cause we could not fit it in the house. We also didn’t have a garage nor a finished basement in this house, so we just got rid of a lot of this clutter that we had. And I think that by decluttering the material stuff, we also decluttered what was in the way of really leveraging our influence in our children’s lives. Connecting with them, um, building a relationship with them instead of this rat race where I was keeping up with the- the Jones’ and always stressed out and anxious about that. Making sure my lawn looked perfect or making sure that I didn’t leave the trashcans out too long and got a- a letter from the HOA, you know, and stressing out on all those things. Um, I was now able to focus on my kids and I also was able in the process, my job changed, I lost my job, just a downturn in finances, it was over just like that and that also gave me this time where all I had to do was be with my family. And I don’t say that like it was a sentence or anything, but that was gift.
Jim: It was a change.
Mike: It was a change and it was a needed change. And I finally had this time and it really led me to this place where I thought I’m never going back to the way life was. Um, there was so much, we were in such a rat race that our kids were exhausted, we were exhausted, our kids were fighting all the time, we were fighting all the time. And we realized that it was because we were- we were immersing ourselves in a culture that number one we didn’t fit in- in with and our kids also didn’t fit in with it. Subsequently, we ended up moving from that 1500 square foot farmhouse that was in the suburbs out to a farm in the middle of the country that’s surrounded by commercial farmland and we realized that our kids were drowning from a culture that prided itself on material possessions and, uh, how much money you made, what kinda pa- cars your parents drove and this and that and our kids were, they were exhausted. So, we- we made this change because we knew that our kids needed that freedom away from that, they needed that freedom from those voices that they couldn’t keep up with and we couldn’t keep up with it. So, now we live on a farm.
Jim: What’s the outcome?
Mike: The outcome is it’s not perfection, I don’t want anybody to think that we’ve perfected it, but the outcome is peace. There’s a lot of peace. Um, there’s a lot of reasons for that, but emotionally and psychologically speaking, we’re just, we’re much more peaceful people because there is no competition. There’s no competition for our time, for our- our possessions, our, you know, we- if that makes sense, I- I just found-
Jim: It does to me.
Mike: We found a whole lot of peace by- by making that change and we often tell people, especially foster adoptive parents when we’re coaching them or working with them, um, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re in a school district that is not providing what your child needs or you’re in a community that, uh, or you’re in a church that’s not understanding what you’re going through as a parent or what your children actually need, then consider making a change. You can do that. Maybe not everybody can do that, maybe their financial situation would prevent them from that, but I find that most people can say you know what, this isn’t working for my family, this isn’t working for the betterment of my children, so, uh, it’s time for us to make a change.
Jim: You also, uh, speak about three big principles for winning your child’s heart and I don’t want to let the time pass today without touching on that which from my own conviction I think is the core to parenting, good parenting, is how do you maintain that relationship with your child. So that no matter what storm comes along, you’re gonna be able to weather it together.
Jim: And get through it. And we’ve seen so many good testimonies John, people that have, uh, you know, adult children and parents that have been at these microphones talking about those valleys but how it led them to a mountaintop.
Jim: Spiritually and in their own relationship.
Jim: So, what are those three core principles to winning your child’s heart?
Mike: Yeah, so in the book I talk about, uh, understanding your influence then shifting your perspective on your role and then also fighting for what matters most. And, uh, this is what each of those principles looks like.
Jim: But isn’t that the core issue for parenting? We get foggy about what matters most.
Mike: We do.
Jim: It is behavior, it’s what is happening today.
Mike: Right, right.
Jim: And that in part is true-
Jim: … but in a larger part is gonna take you down a path that may not be helpful.
Mike: Yeah. That’s very true. I think what helps is that when you have a- a bigger picture, uh, in mind, when you realize that your parenting is not just these 18 years or so, that it’s beyond that. So, you know, I look at it this way, we can- I could dominate my child in a verbal altercation, right, I could list all of my points or I could just simply cut it off by saying I’m the parent, it’s my way, that’s it, right? And I could step back and say I have won, but what’s the cost in winning that? Because now my child walks away and they think, well, dad doesn’t even wanna hear my- my perspective anyways. And what begins to happen is this chasm begins to forge between my child and me. How many times do we see the adult child who say I don’t have a relationship with my dad, you know, and I- I think that that’s what happens when we take on this approach of I have to make sure that my child knows I’m in control, right? You are the parent, you are the authority, but to fight with this perspective of I must win, and my child must adhere to this and agree with me.
Mike: It forges this chasm between us, and I think that, uh, we lose so much and so a better approach is to, I said it earlier, enter into a discussion, a dialogue.
Mike: Right? Listen to your child’s perspective, especially if they’re teenagers. Um, be willing to hear their side of what they believe.
Mike: Um, and not just look at it like I’ve got, now you may have to say this is the boundary and that’s not a boundary we can cross. Um, but I think that’s really where it starts listening, um, you also need to take a different perspective on your role. I think that we as parents, going back to that dreamer or that BFF approach, I think that we get into the trap of thinking that’s going to be the whole journey and all of a sudden you wake up one day and it’s like you’re not the number one person on your child’s list anymore. You’re not the person that your teenage daughter is like, oh, daddy, I’m so glad you’re home from work.
Jim: Yeah, right (laughs).
Mike: You know, mostly it’s like thumbs on a screen, staring at a screen and they don’t even acknowledge your- your existence, right?
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: And I think we- we feel hopeless or we feel like we’ve lost touch, but you have to realize that your role as a parent just shifts during the season. Right, you may not be, you are the primary voice of influence, but you’re not the only voice of influence. You’ve gotta hold space for your child to have friendships and listen to the culture around them in- in- in some regards, right?
Mike: And you also need to open it up for other people, other adults, to be an influence in your child’s life.
Jim: You know, Mike, so often we can go through these discussions and not get God’s perspective and I don’t wanna miss that in this case. You know, God created Adam and Eve, uh, he obviously was the perfect parent, but he had imperfect children.
Jim: And I often think about that and it is a little humorous and maybe God did it that way so that-
Jim: … we might relax a little bit.
Jim: But in that context, what is God’s view in the parenting role, how do you think he sees this, what does he want from us as sober minded thinking followers of Christ. What is he saying to our heart about being a parent?
Mike: You know, I had a person say to us, uh, a couple of- say to me a coup- this was many, many years ago, you know, when I was struggling as a young parent. You know, well, look at the Bible for your example and I- my response was, really? Because the families in the Bible were a mess. You know, if you think about the parents in the Bible, it’s like they were broken, mistake ridden human beings. But what I love about the story of Noah and Abraham and Mary and Joseph and all of these parents we see, uh, that we now refer to as the pillars of faith, David, you know, all of them, is that God still used them in powerful ways even in the midst of their mistakes.
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: And I think what, if God could speak to us audibly as parents, I think what he would say is- is I am still using you even through your mistakes. You know-
Jim: Well and the irony is he uses all of that in the shaping of that person.
Jim: For his mission ahead of them.
Mike: Right, right.
Jim: You know, those, look at yourself.
Jim: And the- the poor relationship you had with your father.
Mike: Totally, yeah.
Jim: I mean it turned you toward, uh, being a parenting coach if you think about it.
Mike: It did and I, you know, my dad, you know, we talked earlier about that redemption, my dad going, about seven years ago heard me speak publicly for the first time in a church I was serving with and later on after that was over, you know, I- I never know what my dad’s thinking about those kinda things, uh, because he’s not a person of faith and, but he came up to me and he said, “The whole time you were- you were giving that sermon, I kept thinking that’s my son up there and I am so proud of him.”
Mike: And that was that coming full circle, you know, and I think that God looks at us like that, um, the idea of grace is that you get back up and you keep moving forward. You keep getting up.
Jim: Even with the mistakes.
Mike: Even with the mistakes.
Mike: Even with the limp, right? You know, we talk about being foster parents and adoptive parents, one of the greatest forms of solidarity is when you realize that I’m not limping alone. That there are other parents, and this is parenting in general, I struggle through this, right? Um, my kid did this and you feel like I’m a failure as a parent, I’m the only one who has a kid that has screwed up like that. And then I sit across the table from somebody who says, yeah, I- I’m dealing with the same thing. It doesn’t fix our problems, but there’s solidarity in knowing that I don’t limp alone.
Mike: And I think that God wants us to know that when it comes to grace, that you aren’t- you aren’t limping alone, I’m with you, I am for you and I’m walking with you.
Jim: Mike, in that context, the last question is really, um, I messed up. You know, my kid’s 18, 19, 25, whatever it might be, it’s never too late, we always talk about that, but what do I do as a-
Jim: … dad or as a mom who was that commander or that instructor.
Jim: Or the BFF.
Jim: Um, or the dreamer, what can I do to correct the relationship? How do I go about it?
Mike: You know, I’m a big believer in owning our mistakes and you s- you mentioned earlier self-awareness, when we become aware of our mistakes, but I think that ownership goes a long way. When we can look at another human being and say I messed up and it’s nobody else’s fault but mine, I own this, I’m sorry, I love you and I- I want to have a good relationship with you. But the beauty of it is that, you know, my dad, he took steps to repair our relationship and I took steps to repair what I needed to repair. And I think that that’s really what parents need to do, own it, seek forgiveness, move forward.
Jim: And it’s so good. Mike, it’s helpful and I’m grateful that, you know, we were able to make time to have you come to the studio and talk about these concepts. When you look at it and what’s going on in the culture today broadly, man, at the core is your relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the foundation, then it’s your relationship in your marriage with your spouse, then it’s your parenting role.
Jim: If you are blessed to have children in the home, I mean those are the core things that are so important, vocation comes after all that. And, uh, I know when we get those things out of order, our life tends to be, uh, in disorder, but that’s why we’re here at Focus on the Family. Man, get a copy of Mike Berry’s book, Winning the Heart of Your Child: 9 Keys to Building a Positive Lifelong Relationship With Your Kids. I mean, sign me up, I’m ready.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: So thank you for that and you can get a copy here at Focus on the Family by really just making a gift of any amount and we’ll say thank you by sending you a copy of Mike’s book for that gift.
John: Yeah, it’s a great resource and we do rely on your generosity to keep reaching people through these broadcasts and podcasts and so much more, so please call us and donate as you can and we’ll send, as Jim said, that book, Winning the Heart of Your Child. Our number, 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY, or donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And please note that at the website we’ll have some additional conversation with Mike Berry as he offers solutions to parents who fit the categories of dreamers or commanders. And we’ll include that extra content as well on the CD of this broadcast. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family and plan now to be with us next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.