Julie Lowe: And then I’m realizing actually it’s always the Lord that has to be at work. I have a responsibility how to respond to my child’s behavior, but I’m not responsible for the outcome. And when I keep that focus then it actually frees me.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Some great encouragement from author Julie Lowe and she’s our guest today on Focus on the Family. She’ll have advice about relying on God’s wisdom in your parenting journey. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Now John, if we’re honest, uh, we’d like our parenting journey to be easy, right?
Jim: Like a formula, if you do A, your kids do B then you get C as the outcome. It sounds great doesn’t it, but, uh, man it doesn’t always work out that way. I think formulas can be predictive, they can be helpful, but we’ve got this little thing that the Lord struggled with with his teenagers Adam and Eve, it’s called free choice.
Jim: And your own will and our kids do tend to demonstrate that and it blows the formulas up. I know for Trent and Troy, I mean, they were very different people, one a little more introverted, one a little more extroverted and the whole, you know, the whole way I would have to approach parenting and Jean too, it was different. Uh, and we have learned that in watching their personalities grow. Um, again, there are no formulas that are tried and true that work every time and, uh, today we’re gonna talk to a special guest about how to put the formulas aside and put biblical truth into action in your parenting.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: So that the outcome is predicted that your children will be following Christ which is job one.
John: Yeah and- and she has some wonderful insights on this, Julie Lowe is an author and licensed professional counselor and today we’ll be exploring, uh, what she’s written about in her book Child Proof: Parenting by Faith, Not Formula. And of course we have copies of that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Julie, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Julie: Thank you for having me.
Jim: It’s great to have you.
Julie: Thank you.
Jim: I’m a non-formula person.
Jim: So, I love the fact that you’ve written this book about not really pursuing a formula, but go for the heart. But I think it’s important for our listeners, our viewers to understand what you and how you define what formula means. Everybody’s got a different definition, what does a formula in parenting sound like?
Julie: I thi- I think it sounds like taking sometimes even good Christian principles and turning them into a formula that this is what a family must look like, a marriage must look like, our children must look like and act like. And we get so busy trying to- trying to run after the picture of an ideal family that it prevents us from loving and understanding our actually family.
Julie: And taking scripture and really saying what does wisdom look like to love the family God’s given you.
Jim: Let me ask you, the- the difference between that behavioral molding and then deep spiritual understanding, I think there is a difference ’cause you can get kids that, young people that they- they do the right things, they behave the right way, they earn their sticker, but then they have underlying, uh, relational issues, maybe with the Lord, maybe with the parents et cetera where they know how to perform for their parents, but it’s not who they are underneath that. Have you experienced that?
Julie: Yeah, absolutely and particularly in counseling you see people, parents, coming, wanting … they’re coming to counseling ’cause they want behavioral change, they see problems, um, indeed problems in their children and-
Jim: And they’re real, those behavioral issues.
Julie: They’re real. They certainly are and they want help. And sometimes help means just fix the problem and the problem could stem and often does stem from what’s going on in our hearts, right, what- what drives our behavior, what motivates us. And so we don’t wanna just change behavior, we want the hearts to be an expression of love for others and love for the Lord.
Jim: And I don’t- I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but I think we gravitate toward the formulas because they give us a sense of security as parents.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: The if then statement, right, if we do these things. But the- the caution there is that there’s no guarantee.
Jim: And the disappointment can be quite high.
Julie: Right, good kids come out of bad families and bad kids come out of good families. And what’s the danger in that is you and I begin to shape our parenting based on an outcome rather than based on what God’s called us to do.
Julie: And I don’t want to parent based on what my children may or may not become, I wanna be faithful to what God’s called me to do. So, success doesn’t look like what we imagine it to be, success isn’t a certain outcome, it’s faithfulness to the task of loving our kids well. And then what that does is it frees me not to care, I mean, I obviously do care, the outcome of my children, but my job’s to parent well and in a godly manner then the outcome’s left to the Lord.
Jim: Yeah and we’re gonna, through the program, we’re gonna talk about those tools and we’re gonna hopefully equip parents to get a taste of what’s in your great book Child Proof and, uh, and we’ll continue that part of the discussion. But a little more setup, uh, one of the other things that can be harmful to us as parents is the comparison game. You know, well, you know, Jean’s doing all these things correctly and I’m not and, you know.
Jim: Speak to the damage of having that over the top comparison attitude.
Julie: Well I’ll pick on myself, if I were to look at other families and say wow, look at how their kids are, look how they engage, look at this marriage and well, uh-
Julie: … they interact with each other and I- I take what they’re doing and I try to apply it to my marriage. I assume that my husband, my children are exactly the same as that husband and- and those children, um, and that’s just faulty thinking. I can look at principles, I think there’s wonderful principles to say they are doing this really well and I need to figure out what they’re doing well and what the principles are behind that-
Julie: … and apply that and learn how to apply that to my marriage and my children. So, we certainly can grow from watching how other families do things and have creative ideas for parenting and living life, however it’s the biblical principles behind it. And then we’ve gotta contextualize it to our own home.
Jim: Yeah, I like that because really if comparison is leading you to bitterness or resentment, it’s- it’s fueling the rotten fruit-
Jim: … of your flesh.
Jim: You got a problem.
Jim: But if it’s urging you on to something better that you’re observing good habits in other parents, that’s something to really look at. I like that-
Jim: … differentiation that you’re-
Jim: … referring to there. Uh, you and your son AJ, again this is a good example, I think, you’re very different people according to what you wrote in the book.
Jim: I’m sure it’s true, but you’re a quieter spirit and he was more verbose child. Uh, what happened in that relationship and how did you get a hold of it?
Julie: Yeah, from the- from the time, uh, Andrew or AJ’s what he goes by, by the time he- when he was little, I mean, he just talks non-stop. I could- I could walk around the house and he would just follow me talking non-stop.
Julie: I could leave the room and come back and he was still talking and answering his own questions.
Jim: I like this guy.
John: (laughs) [crosstalk 00:07:06].
Julie: He didn’t need me there.
Jim: He’s my kinda kid.
Julie: He is and- and as he’s gotten older, his temperament has not changed and it was really interesting because I am, I’m an introvert at heart and I would be counseling or working with people all day long and I come home and I have this in my ear all night long and I’d say, “oh my goodness, he’s driving me insane.”
Julie: But I had to look at it and I realized, you know what, love means I am willing to let him talk and let him process and that’s who he is and I don’t wanna make him into me, I wanna let him be who God’s called him to be. Now the flip side of that is he also talks so much that nobody else can get a word in edgewise and I would have to say “honey, you need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. You need to be willing to let other people answer their questions, you don’t answer for them,” which he’s notorious for doing. He’ll ask the question and then answer for his siblings. Um, and so it was both, right, it was me learning to love him the way he needed to be loved, not the way I preferred to.
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julie: It was also me speaking into his life and challenging him to grow to- to be more Christ like.
Jim: Yeah and again, that’s a good example of learning your child, right?
Jim: Not all- all children are gonna be that way, others-
Jim: … are gonna be wired differently and different temperament. In fact, uh, you discovered kind of, uh, many attributes of your children, how many children do you have?
Julie: We have five currently.
Julie: It’s always changing.
Jim: Yeah, but the, uh, but in that environment, you’re- I think you had a house fire or something.
Julie: Mm-hmm (affirmative), we did.
Jim: And you observed how your kids were reacting to that, explain what happened.
Julie: Yeah, so in 2013 we had a house fire, lost the whole house, all of our pets, it was, uh, very tragic in that sense. Um, thankfully nobody was home, but we all grieved very differently, I- I grieved a ton, but our children were all under the age of- of 12 at the time and it was very interesting to watch them all process it. And it was so key that we were already trying to be in tune with our kids and would ask them questions and we’d say things like how are you thinking today or what do you think about what’s happening and wow, the- these people gave you guys bikes after the fire, you know, what a blessing that God allowed that, how are you processing that? So I was always to check in with them and figure out how they were internalizing it and they were all very different. One was emotional and crying all the time, another was over the moon about all the attention she was getting from people around her, just thriving on that.
Julie: Another got really quiet and silent and then you have Andrew again, um, where he- he was really interesting, it’s not an angry kid, but one day I asked him, “How are- how are you making sense of all this or how do you think everybody’s responding?” And he says, “I- I think everybody’s angry.”
Julie: You’re angry, honey?
Jim: So they’re all having a different response.
Jim: Um, people, parents are hearing this, obviously, and they’re saying, well, yeah, Julie’s a trained counselor, what a great mom to have, (laughs) I mean, but what about the average person. But you can learn these observation skills, you can learn to understand your child, you can learn to respond in their language sort of speak, emotional language.
Jim: Um, it doesn’t take, with all due respect, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, it takes intentionality.
Jim: But speak to that, you need to want to-
Julie: Yeah, I-
Jim: … as a parent.
Julie: I tell parents, you are the expert knowing your child, I’m just gonna help draw out what you already know. And I- I say in the book, you know, parents instinctively can see when their kids are lying, when they’re upset, when they’re angry. It would take me months to learn that by getting to know the child what parents instinctively know from years of hundreds and thousands of observations about their kids. And I wanna work myself out of a job, I wanna teach parents to be their children’s wise counselor and equip them and many times they- they instinctively know their kids better than I do.
Jim: Yeah. You know, one of the- one of the I- I guess, uh, disasters of modern family life, it’s true in marriage, it’s true in parenting, is the busyness of our lives. You know, when you talk to many experts, they’ll say the hectic pace, uh, for a marriage or for a family is really destroying-
Jim: … relationships in the family in the normal course of just being family together because kids are off to 1400 things and parents have work responsibilities plus home. And so in that context, how have you guys managed that? I mean, a family of five’s pretty big, so how do you guys keep things-
Jim: … relational-
Jim: … when you got so many time demands on you?
Julie: It’s- it’s an intentional decision, it’s not easy and I could get sucked up in it and I think occasionally I do get sucked up in the busy life, busy work, but I would argue every parent makes the decision am I gonna make this a priority and where will I sacrifice and where will I be more intentional and where will I put down the electronics and my own phone to say I wanna pursue my child.
Jim: Yeah. Now, that brings us to the other phase of parenting (laughs) and that is you’re recognizing you n- need to engage, you know, some- some of us laugh ’cause it’s our fix.
Jim: You know, with our kids, I just did this last night with Troy ’cause I was on a fairly long trip and- and, uh, I- I’d missed him the last four or five days I wasn’t at home. So I really wanted to engage him and talk with him and hey, let’s go sit down and get together and, okay. So we got there at the couch and it was like, “How you doing?”, “Good.”
Jim: “Great, uh, you know, what’d you do while I was gone?”, “Eh, you know, homework.”, “Okay good, what kinda homework?”, “Geography.”
Jim: (laughs) you know and it’s, it can kind of difficult to engage.
Julie: I’m glad you said that because a lot of parents will say, well, they just don’t want to and I’ll say, so what? You still pursue them.
Jim: Just keep going.
Julie: You keep going, yeah, love moves towards people, it’s persevering, it engages and- and you demonstrate it by pursuing them and so I get that reaction on my kids or they’ll roll their eyes and they’ll say, “Not again, mom.”
Jim: (laughs) good, no, I’m glad to hear that.
Julie: Yeah and I’m like, “Oh, sorry, you were stuck with this mom, you- you have to deal with it.”
Julie: Um, but it is, it’s so important that we wanna pursue our kids and we don’t let their own resistance deter us.
Jim: You know, there’s been survey work that’s shown, uh, when they do the research on these children, teenagers particularly, they’ll say although kind of although I give that standoffish thing, I love when my mom or dad talk with me.
Jim: I mean, it does seem to show that, but they’re just in this awkward stage of learning independence and, you know, but we as parents can take that stuff a little too personally I think-
Jim: … ’cause we’re reading the fact that they’re not verbose with us means they don’t wanna talk to us.
Julie: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Jim: But that’s not necessarily true, right?
Julie: No, you’re absolutely right and again, it’s- if I focus on the outcome, look what they’re doing, then I get discouraged, I get angry, I get frustrated and I- I approach them that way. If I just look at my f- my call to be faithful, to love them well, then it doesn’t matter how they respond to me.
John: We’re talking today on Focus on the Family with Julie Lowe and, uh, you can find her book Child Proof online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. It’s a great resource and has a lot of practical ideas for not being a formulaic parent.
Jim: Julie, you also mentioned in the book, uh, this idea about role playing which I think is great. I- I think what I need to learn from you is age and stage, so when they’re five, six, seven, eight and then maybe when they’re ten, eleven, twelve and then (laughs) role playing at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen gets pretty tricky.
Jim: Hey, let’s pl- role play this, but how- how would you address kinda those three segments of your parenting experience?
Julie: Well, I’ll give you an example of how we do it in our home and- and families can do it however is helpful, but with around our dining room table, we have meals together and we’ll say agree, disagree. And so it’s not a role playing, but it’s agree, disagree, secrets are good and everybody goes around the ro- the table and has to say why they agree or disagree. So they state they agree or disagree then they have to say why, that’s role playing for several reasons. We’re teaching them the skill of thinking (laughs) and debating out why they agree or disagree with something. We’re also getting a picture into how they’re thinking and whether we should be concerned or not. And they’re all- they’re all learning from each other, they’re learning from us and we really value this. So, role playing can take on lots of forms and our teenagers will still do it. We’ll still ask questions, we have a little talk it out box on our dining room table that the kids will still say, hey, can I pull the card tonight and they’ll ask a question. Why? Because they actually enjoy airing their opinion.
Julie: Um, and it fosters communication, it gives us a window into how they’re thinking about life issues.
Jim: Yeah, I remember having lunch with Chuck Colson, of course he’s passed away and, uh, yet he came out and had lunch with me several times, uh, right as I was stepping into the role, I- I cherish those times. But one thing that he said if you’re looking at the research when it comes to parenting, he said it’s pretty clear that a child’s moral compass is pretty much formed by 10 years old and then from 10 on, it’s trying to keep them, you know, the bumper guards.
Jim: And they learn to experience those lessons of- of good and wrong.
Jim: Um, and I- I- I’ve always thought about that, so again, that idea that you’re role playing, even at an early stage, five, six, seven, eight-
Julie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: … don’t diminish the impact, it’s actually having profound impact on the formation of your child’s moral compass.
Jim: Um, what would be some of those, uh, role playing questions for teenagers again, where a lot of parents struggle.
Jim: This is where formulas break down, right?
Jim: (laughs) it’s the teen years.
Julie: Yeah, well, there’s tons of resources, so I always tell parents, you don’t have to rely on coming up with your own questions, like, use all these resources. There are apps, there’s wonderful things out there to ask your teenagers questions and to say what would you do in this situation. Whether it’s from peer pressure or drugs or bullying or, um, in college what kinda things could happen in college and I think the more I model this as safe to talk about, the more my kids will be comfortable talking to me about that. Do I think they’re always honest, do I think sometimes they’ll give me the right answer versus what they really believe? Sometimes. But constant communication means I’m asking them what would you do if you were in this situation. And as a counselor I’ll sometimes say, hey, I heard this situation, what would you say to the person, but what I’m really trying to do is find out what they think about the topic.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: Yeah and it’s- it’s interesting too, don’t be surprised when your teenagers go pretty deep with you.
Jim: I mean they, at that age, they can think much deeper than I think we as parents, uh, anticipate.
Jim: And I would dig for it.
Julie: And when they’re hesitant to share about what they think and feel, they’ll certainly share what their friends and peers are doing and thinking.
Julie: So that’s a way when doing the figuring out how they’re thinking too.
John: Yeah, Julie what are s- you use that word safe and with teens, um, there has to be some bridge building that goes beyond the instruction so part of safe is not saying too much to instruct them, but to give them room to kind of express themselves. What else goes on in a safe home with teens?
Julie: I think you ask a really question, so our tendency is to lecture-
Julie: … or to tell them, um, where I’d rather be I want to proactively shape my children’s views rather than have to go back and debunk inaccurate views. But proactive means I can just be really thoughtful of drawing them out and asking good questions. And so I think we need to be better at doing that.
Jim: Very true. Julie we’ve kind of eluded to this a bit in terms of your fluctuating family, that kind of thing, but you, uh, had been active foster parent even before you were married.
Jim: Uh, and then when you got married, uh, you and your husband then adopted foster kids that you were actually taking care of.
Jim: But why did you get involved in foster care?
Julie: Some of it I think is probably naturally my temperament, I go for the underdog, my parents would say at a young age, I- I just liked to- to care for people. And I think, so some of that is naturally my temperament, my heart, I believe very deeply God calls us to care for the orphan too and that’s how my husband would answer it if he were sitting here. So it’s interesting how, uh, some people go into it because of their- their own natural desire to help people and help the orphan, other go into it ’cause they feel, they see very, uh, firmly that call in scripture. Um, and I think both were true in our- our case.
Jim: Was there any hesitation, if I could get a little personal in that regard.
Jim: With you and your fiancé at the time when you’re talking about getting married and then what are we gonna do. You had one or two kids at that point-
Julie: Yeah, two girls.
Jim: … already? Give us a picture of that conversation with your husband, was he all in or did he have concerns or, you know, we’re gonna get married, it’d be nice to have time to know each other, get to know each other, a honeymoon period.
Jim: But with foster kids, that would maybe add some complexity to your own relationship.
Julie: Yeah, it- it certainly did, but, um, my husband Greg was very equipped for the task, he was all in right away and that was probably one of the things that- that brought us together in dating is he had a heart for that. And he experienced as a teenager, uh, becoming a Christian and seeing how God adopted him and the value of that. And so right away he was on board, of course we did it kinda the unconventional way, uh, and I had two children going into marriage which weren’t my children and- and made for some funny introductions in churches some days.
Julie: When we walk in and neither of us were married and we had two kids with us.
Julie: I’m trying to explain that I got myself in a couple of funny situations.
Julie: Um, so and within the first year of marriage, so we- we adopted the girls within the first year of marriage, we were asked to take two little boys, biological brothers. So, within the first year of marriage, my poor husband went from being a bachelor to a home owner, a husband and a father of four.
Julie: So that speaks a lot to his character.
Jim: Well, and yours to be honest, both of you doing that together and just having a heart for, uh, the orphan. I mean, you’re living the book of James which I admire so much being that former foster child, I mean thank you on their behalf, they’re gonna be so much better in their, uh, spiritual journey and their emotional journey because of you and Greg, so.
Julie: I hope so.
Jim: Oh, I- they will, there’s no doubt. But this is an area and I think a lot of moms struggle particularly with this, I- I have a book title I’d love a- a woman to write ’cause I can’t write it, it’s called The Curse of Eve: Fear and Control.
Jim: And I think a- a mom of teenagers particularly and with my observation with teen boys is when a mom’s fear level rises that our children are not behaving the way we want them to, then control goes way up.
Jim: And it’s really in those teen years when that mom or dad starts exerting that kinda control. Then you get a disaster because they’re trying to gain independence, they’re trying to stand on their own two feet sort of speak and you’re now trying to control them. The phone, whatever it might be.
Jim: So speak to that dynamic of faith-based parenting in the context of letting go.
Jim: Which is the goal and letting God take care of the rest, right?
Julie: Yeah, well think about a formula feels so much easier because I just punch in, I do the right thing and the outcome should be there, right? And when the outcome isn’t there, then we start scrambling for all right, what’s gonna work. And that leads us down all kinds of unproductive and sometimes treacherous paths when I- when I go for pragmatism, but when I say “Lord, I need you, my child needs you,” then I am looking for the Lord to intervene, I’m looking for the spirit to be at work in my child’s life and then I’m realizing actually it’s always the Lord that has to be at work. I have a responsibility how to respond to my child’s behavior, but I’m not responsible for the outcome and when I keep that focus then it actually frees me. It’s- there’s a greater responsibility ’cause it means I have to be wise myself, I have to be biblical and godly in the way I’m responding, so it’s harder. What I’m advocating for is so much harder than a formula, but so much more freeing and liberating.
Jim: Well and that’s the kudo to Jean because she learned to let go.
Jim: And as soon as she did, it was like the kids turned toward her, it was beautiful to watch.
Julie: That’s neat.
Jim: It’s like the right outcome happened ’cause the heart- the hearts were correct, am I right?
Jim: Julie, in that regard, um, parents can be really self-critical. You know, if we don’t see, again, the behavior that we thought we would get et cetera, where did we miss it, how did it go wrong, um, why am I such a bad dad, why am I such a bad mom.
Jim: Um, it’s really not beneficial to go there, it’s really how do we look forward and do the right things and I want you to speak to the importance of relationship especially in your own family context, how relationship have been strengthened. Because in the end, that’s what’s gonna be critical, having a relationship with your child.
Jim: And I know that there are gonna be many people listening that they were so hard on the rules that their kids have run once they turned 18 and there’s not the healthy relationship any longer. So I guess at the end here, speaking to both parts of that, how to give yourself some grace and then try to find forgiveness with the kids that, you know, maybe you took a different approach and it wasn’t the best approach.
Julie: Yeah, well it’s not about me or it shouldn’t be, right? And so I make my parenting about me when I get upset that my kids mistreat me and there’s a place relationally to say, hey, that really hurt me and I will say that to my kids ’cause I want them to see I’m human, I love you, this is a back and forth. And that’s part of modeling relationship, but I also have to say this isn’t about me, they’re not the mature ones in the situation, I need to be mature one here.
Jim: Why is that so hard for us to get sometimes?
Julie: Yeah, it- it is, yeah and, um, and I- the danger of comparison, comparing ourselves to other people and the fear of what other people will think of me and, you know, here I am, I wrote a book about it. What if all my children are out there doing crazy stuff and I have to say, what if they are? I have to look, honest parenting looks at myself and say is there something I need to fix, but then I let go and say lord, just help me to love them through their- their failures and their sin and their struggle.
Jim: Yeah, specifically even I think you mention in the book with your son Andrew, the angst that you had and the realization that God has given you this son and your other children, he didn’t give them to other people.
Jim: And, you know, where- where you have, uh, birth children, he chose you in that way and you have these kids. How- how do we learn to take comfort in the fact that we’re the best parents our children could have and that’s why God has given them to us?
Julie: Yeah, well, one of the things we say in our home and we are a foster adoptive home, but I think this is true in every family, we say guys, we have always said, Lord, you bring into our family who you want in our family and help us to trust you. And that’s taken us a long way because then it’s the lord who is at work, it’s not us trying to force our own agenda in our own way. So if the Lord wanted you in our home honey, you gotta trust that he gave you two imperfect broken parents to love you or help you.
Jim: Right (laughs).
Julie: And we’ve gotta trust that he gave you us to sharpen us too and- and there’s all- all ground is even at the foot of the cross, we all need the Lord, we all make mistakes and I rather model humility than perfection.
Jim: That is so good and I hope people are exhaling right now and saying, okay, there’s still hope. Uh, thank you for capturing this because there really is too little expressed in this area. Uh, Julie, thanks for being with us today.
Julie: Thank you.
Jim: Again, uh, Julie’s book is Child Proof: Parenting by Faith, Not Formula and if you can send a donation of any amount to Focus on the Family today, we’ll send you a copy of this great book. That’s our way of saying thank you for supporting the work of the ministry. Together we can help equip more parents who want to raise godly children, so please, be generous in your giving today.
John: We do look forward to hearing from you, so donate and get your copy of Julie’s book by giving us a call today, 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And Jim, we should also mention our free parenting assessment, it’s an online tool to give a quick overview of what’s working well in your family and, uh, maybe a suggestion or two of areas in which you can improve. You’ll find that free assessment at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
John: Coming up next time, uh, we’re gonna hear from Paul Asay as he shares an inside look at walking through depression.
Paul Asay: But if you just take it one step at a time, can you take one more step, can you take that step to the next day? Can you take that step to the next hour, can you move forward, that is so important when you’re dealing with depression, just the ability to push forward.