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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Embracing the Messiness of Parenting (Part 2 of 2)

Embracing the Messiness of Parenting (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and his wife, Jean, discuss the cultural pressure moms and dads feel to be perfect parents with perfect children, and explain how imperfect families can actually be healthy families when grace is freely given and received. Dr. Meg Meeker sits in as host. (Part 2 of 2) 



Jim Daly: We are projecting perfection, yet behind the scenes there is a lot of messiness and that is normal. And I think what we’re missing is the idea that messiness is normal, and that we should be comfortable with it.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: On our last broadcast, Jim Daly shared his heart about parenting in a world that is messy and exposes our imperfections. And that’s part of life. We have more encouragement for you and more perspective from Jim on today’s “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller and Jim, that was a good conversation last time. I really appreciated it.


Jim: Thanks, John. I am really enthusiastic about the content of this book. I think for the Christian community for so long, we’ve talked about perfection. Of course in Matthew, you know, there is a scripture there that says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” I mean that’s a tough one to live up to. I know the Lord knows that we can’t be perfect; that’s why He had to die for us.

And in that parenting space, it’s critical for us as parents to take a deep breath, realize that we give birth to sinners, and we ourselves are sinners, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish in When Parenting Isn’t Perfect. It’s not gonna go perfectly. And I’m grateful to come back a second day and talk about this with a great friend, Dr. Meg Meeker. And Meg, it’s so wonderful of you to come in and help us host this program. It’s odd for me to be on the other side of the table here.

Dr. Meg Meeker: I know, I’m literally in your chair.

Jim: You are!

Meg: But what a joy for me, Jim, because as I said yesterday, this is a book that’s long overdue. Because as a pediatrician of about 30 years, I’ve watched mothers and fathers rearing their children, and I’ve watched this increasing angst that they have about getting it right, and this real difficulty in accepting that they’re not doing it perfectly and are striving to do it perfectly. And as Jean talked about, a lot of that can be from social media, I think.

So I think the beauty of When Parenting Isn’t Perfect is that it really exposes [that] that’s not what our kids want; that’s not what we want; and we need to start from a different place.

Jim: That’s right and maybe my last task here as not-the-host here today is to introduce my wife, Jean, who I am grateful is alongside me both in our marriage, as well as our parenting journey, as well as being at the table today. So welcome to “Focus,” Jean.

Jean Daly: Well, thank you. It’s always an honor being here with you, Jim, and Dr. Meeker, and with John.

Jim: I’m stepping out now. Over to you, Meg. (Laughter)

Meg: Okay, over to me, cute. We talked a lot about the struggles that parents have to accept their imperfections and their struggles when their kids fail, so we’ve got sort of double failure. Mom feels like she’s failed, and she feels like her kids have failed, too. And Jean, yesterday we were talking about how mothers can extend themselves grace and how you, as a mother, could extend yourself grace. How can mothers and fathers get off of this blame train and say, “I’m not gonna keep blaming myself for my failures and for my kids’ failures”?

Jean: Well, that’s a good question, Meg. For some of us, it is really difficult to do that. It’s really difficult, and I know for me it really is a daily intentional thing that does not come naturally to me to give myself grace, nor my children, nor my husband. And the way I have done that, it’s helped that I’m a little bit older and a little bit wiser, and just hearing day after day after day, if you spend any time in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, it’s all about grace. It’s all about grace. So it helps me to read the Word, because you can’t escape grace when you read the Word. It does help me to listen to Christian radio, and I choose programs that are uplifting.

Jim: And you listen to Focus, which is great.

Jean: Yes, I do. I do listen to Focus.

Jim: I’m often shocked. She’ll say, “I heard the program today,” and I’m like, “Wow!”

Jean: Yes, I do, and the boys do, often, as well on our way to school when I take them. But I also have to say to the Lord, “Help me today. Help me. Help me, especially show grace to my children.”

Meg: Yeah, you know, and that’s what I love about the book, When Parenting Isn’t Perfect, because this is really kind of a mea culpa. You invite us into your home; you really do.

Jim: Very dangerous.

Meg: Very dangerous (Laughter), but it’s so lovely and it’s beautiful, because that’s how it really teaches us. And you talk about your struggles in your marriage and you talk about your struggles parenting. And you have very different parenting styles, very different personalities. And specifically, you talk about you have two boys, and you talk about one of your sons had a little difficulty following tasks. Is that right? Can you talk about how you each handled that and how you came to work it through so that, you know, you could help him?

Jim: Well let’s go to the perfect answer first. Jean? (Laughter) No, I think, you know, we always … both of our kids struggle to some degree, one less so, but the one who struggles with following through and just as simple as homework, trying to get the homework done, it’s a challenge. It becomes such a burden, you know, and when we lay our heads down on our pillow, as we’re going to bed, I know I’m in trouble when Jean says, “You know, Boy A is really struggling, Jim, and we need to do something. We’ve got to get him on a better track.”

Meg: But wait a minute.

Jim: And I’m going, “I want to go to sleep!”

Meg: Does that mean we need to do something or you need to? (Laughter)

Jean: Yeah, our touché.

Meg: Because my “we” in our home,” means my husband.

Jean: Touché. (Laughter)

Meg: “You need to talk to him.”

Jean: Yeah, because [one] half of us has already tried.

Jim: You’ve already tried.

Jean: Or [we] are trying to do something.

Jim: Well, there’s an epiphany occurring right here in my midst. She meant me, Dr. Meg? I didn’t realize that until right now. (Laughter) But it’s true. It’s how do you work as a team? And sometimes, you know, you think of fatigue. I mean we’ve had this conversation, “Hon, I’m doing so much. Is this something you can take care of?” I know everybody in the audience just went, “You really said that?” Uh, yeah. I say things that are not always helpful to Jean in her moment of concern as a mom.

And you know the one thing, and I’d love for you to respond to this, Jean, you know, men and women typically (but not always, and I have that disclaimer) but when moms see a teenager struggling, they go immediately to, he’s going to be in prison someday.

Meg: Yes! Right!

Jim: There’s no idea of the big picture.

Meg: I do.

Jim: And I feel that from my wife. I mean Jean will [say], “He’s bringing a D home in Algebra. He’s gonna be an axe murderer.” (Laughter) Wait a minute; how did we get there?

Meg: It’s weeks away. (Laughter)

Jean: Exactly!

Jim: But it’s true.

Jean: It is true. It’s not quite that extreme, but it’s true.

Meg: You feel that way.

Jean: Or even when they’re very young, yes, we go to, oh my goodness, they’re gonna stray from the Lord. They’re never going to go to college. They’re gonna live in our basement until they’re 45. They’re never gonna get married. Yes.

Jim: But I mean some of that, again, you have to have trust. You know the Scripture is clear, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Really, Lord? Do you ever pray—and let me ask the listeners—do you ever pray, “Are You really with me, Lord? Are You really with me in this parenting journey? ‘Cause, right now it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve got a prodigal. I’ve got a daughter who is pregnant.” It might be that severe. And what do we do with that? How does that reflect upon us? Heaven forbid it should be the pastor’s daughter.

Meg: Right.

Jim: But, you know folks, this is life, and we’ve gotta figure out what we believe in and what can we inculcate into our children, like my mom did? We referenced last time how she was able to really paint that picture for me. These are the big things. Be honest with yourself and with other people around you.

You know, we talked about the Golden Rule. My mom was big on that. She was raised in the Catholic Church, and she had the Golden Rule. But I remember one day I was fearful of being lost in a grocery store. I was probably 6-years-old. And my mom was checking corn in the produce section, so she was gonna be there a while. I didn’t understand that as a 6-year-old, and I was fearful of being lost, but I wanted a G.I. Joe outfit so badly.

And so I said, “Okay, I’ll go pick it out, but don’t move. Be right here.” And she said, “I’ll be right here, honey.” And I walked down four or five aisles to the little toy area in Crawford’s grocery store in Southern California, and I pick out my outfit. I’m on my way back. I pass the one aisle, I pass the second aisle, I look down the third aisle, and there’s my mom in those black slacks and that paisley black blouse, and I run up behind her and I punched her in the back.

I never hit my mom at all, but you know, a 6-year-old could wallop a punch. It was fear and all that. And I hit her right between the shoulder blades. And she turned around, and it wasn’t my mother. And I started bawling. And this woman’s looking at me, “What?” I said, “I’m sorry. I thought you were my mother.” And she’s going, “Who are you?”

John: Which didn’t make it any better. (Laughter)

Jim: So I go running back to my mom. She’s still there. She hadn’t moved. She’s looking at corn. And I went, “Mom, I’m sorry. I just hit a woman. I thought it was you.” She’s like, “What?” And the first thing she did is she, you know, clicked her little fingers and said, “You move back there, and you go down that aisle by yourself, and you tell that woman you’re sorry.” And I was mortified.

And I remember walking back, and she stood at the end of the aisle to watch me to make sure I did it. And I walked up to this poor woman and said, “I’m so sorry I hit you.”

Meg: (Laughing) Why did this 6-year-old hauling me in the back?

Jim: She was still there and stunned, you know. She was like, “Who are you?” But that was a great lesson, one I remember very vividly, even down to the colors, what everybody was wearing. It seared in my memory a lesson of how you treat people and never treat your mother or your father like that.

Meg: Yeah, I loved that story, and I don’t mean to giggle as you were telling the story, but I knew how it ended, and I was thinking this poor lady was gonna get hit and she didn’t know what happened to her.

Jim: I totally blindsided her.

Meg: You know, let’s keep up with that theme of failure, because this is a real tough one for a lot of parents. We hear professionals like me and you say, and you know, a lot of other people, it’s important to let your children fail. Great, got that one. Now, go try to live that out. Right!

Jim: In front of other parents at school.

Meg: In front of others parents, intentionally, but it’s very, very important, because it teaches kids not to have a sense of entitlement. It teaches kids how to pick themselves up. It really is learning to overcome failure and [to] have perseverance is the stuff of great leaders. And we all want our kids to get there, and I don’t know about how fathers do it, but mothers in particular, we really want to protect our kids from hurting.

Jean: Oh yes.

Meg: Particularly sons, I do not want, you know, some woman to hurt my son’s feelings. Isn’t that odd? It wasn’t that way with my daughters. So how do we help our children fail and lead them into that and then help them through that?

Jim: Well, one of the clear ways is, you pray and consider what situation they’re in. I mean there can be some serious situations where your child is in harm’s way.

Meg: Right, you don’t want to endanger or harm.

Jim: So let’s put that aside. You need to intervene if that’s gonna happen. But in those typical things, the things we have to face—poor grades, poor study habits, not following through on things—kind of the normal things that all parents face, which can lead to future poor behavior, right?

Meg: Yes.

Jim: Devastating behavior.

Meg: Devastating.

Jim: So you’re trying to arrest this and get a handle on it and get them pointed in a better direction, all with the right motives. However, I do; I’m a big believer in failing, and one of the discussions Jean and I would have, and I’ll let Jean, you can express your opinion on this, but with grades. One of our boys was struggling. I’m saying, “Let him fail. Now’s the time. Let him fall on his face. Let him go to the teacher.

Let him talk to the principal. He may have to redo that class, but it will be good for him.”

Jean: And I do think the particular case that you’re talking about–there was one; I think it was sixth grade–and I did have too much emotion. I had far too much emotion, and I think it’s so important to step back and realize it’s not the end of the world.

Meg: So was the emotion anger? Did you get you mad at your son?

Jean: Angst.

Meg: Or did you get mad at Jim?

Jean: Probably.

Jim: Probably both.

Meg: Both.

Jean: Probably both, yes, probably all of the above.

Jim: Son’s not performing, dad’s not intervening. “Am I the only one around here that cares?”

Jean: Right, am I the only one around here who cares?

Jim: And that’s a fair question. The answer’s probably, yeah, pretty much. (Laughing)

Jean: And that’s God’s plan for us to be able to learn from each other and to try to not bristle against that. It is our iron sharpening iron, but hopefully that we can mature and appreciate that God has given our spouse a different personality.

Jim: And it’s true, you know, as parents, I felt that pressure. Maybe I’m not as engaged as a dad. What can I say? I remember with one of our sons struggling with grades, you know, I kept saying to him, for probably over the course of two or three weeks, I was saying, “Hey listen, if you don’t do well in school, you don’t go to college, you end up being a laborer; you may be digging ditches.” And I got into that routine, and I’d said that to him three or four times, and you think about this, and he said to me, “You know, Dad, I’ve heard you say that to me a few times now. If I love Jesus and I’m digging ditches, is that good enough?”

Meg: Ouch.

Jim: Oh my goodness! He’s 13 at that point, 13, 14. I’m going, okay, you got the big things right.

Meg: Exactly!

Jim: Maybe I gotta go back to school, spiritual school, and better understand what God’s asking me to do. Because again, especially in our culture, we measure so much by our success. I mean we’re about the vocational virtues, as David Brooks of The New York Times, writes about. We pour into one another about those virtues, you know: be successful; overwork yourself; achieve the bonus check; burn yourself out at work. Ignore your family and you will be somebody.

And he’s saying, and I agree with it, it should be about the eulogy virtues, that I spent time with my kids, that I was a good parent to my children, that we knew each other, that my spouse and I loved each other. I love that analogy. Think of the eulogy virtues, what they’re gonna say at your funeral, not what you achieved, because what you achieved is dust.

Meg: Right and that’s why I love my job, because as a pediatrician, I hear kids talk about their parents and what they think.

Jim: What do they say?

Meg: Oh, exactly what you’re saying. They describe their father’s laugh. They talk about how he looks when he comes home from work. They talk about the fun stuff they do with him. They don’t talk about his job, the amount of money he makes, how many cars they have, the clothes, nothing. It’s all about the enjoyment they have, and how they feel when they are around mom or dad. And that’s a wonderful perspective to have.

Jim: You know last night it was so fun, and this doesn’t happen all the time, but last night, you were there, we are preparing for a little trip, and part of the preparation is we had to read some Scripture together. And so, we were reading some Scripture together. And we’re done, and we’re just laying there in the family room, the two boys on two couches. I’m in a big chair, and Jean was stretching, I think, on the floor, which I was envious of. I was thinking I really need to do more of that. But you know, but we’re just there and we got the giggles, and the boys started laughing, and my one son, Troy, started laughing, and it got me to laughing, just him laughing, and then we were laughing about nothing. I mean we were in tears laughing about nothing.

Meg: It got funnier and funnier.

Jim: And we’re feeding off each other. Trent, Troy, and I were just howling over literally nothing. I guarantee you, 10 years from now we will remember last night.

Meg: They will; they will.

Jim: And they will remember that and say, “Wasn’t that fun just to hang out?”

Meg: And they will say that at your funeral.

Jim: Exactly.

Jean: Absolutely.

Jim: That’s what we’re talking about, everybody. I can make a mound of mistakes in my fathering, but create those moments where your kids will lean into you, will hug on you because you’re safe, they know you love ‘em unconditionally, and that they can trust that you’ll be there, and if you do that, man, that’s like my mom, you’ll get all the big things right.

Meg: That’s right. You know, I think while we’re talking about the big stuff and we’re talking about sort of a take-away to our listeners, because I think there are mothers and fathers listening who’ll go, “Okay, okay, can you tell me how I do what you’ve been describing about?” And you, Jim, talk about the fundamentals, the fundamentals in good parenting, and kind of getting that big stuff right.

And I just want you to comment on some of those, if you would. Parents must remember they are the number-one influence in their kids’ lives. And you talk about laughter. Can you talk about, explain a little bit more about the fundamentals, you know, bringing laughter in the home? You talk about joining your kids where they are.

Jim: Yeah.

Meg: What does that mean?

Jim: Well, let me start with this idea. When you look at our failures as adults, we become Christian, we want to follow the Ten Commandments. Here’s an “aha” for everyBody: we’re gonna fail at that. Everyone has, everyone did. God set that up so we would know that we needed Him. Those are all thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not.

And then Jesus comes along and says, “Well, here [are] two commandments. If you do these two, you fulfill the others. And that is, love the Lord your God; love your neighbor.” So it moves from “thou shalt not,” to love. That’s an amazing observation, I think. And so, what picture of a father would you like? You want the “thou shalt not” father or the love father? Do this and you’ve fulfilled it.

And so, that’s the basis for me. I think of those Ten Commandments that way. God set that up so we knew we would fail. Then He comes along and says, “Love me and love your neighbor.” And I would add, in all that is love your kids. And sometimes we perfectionists want to say, “No, no, no. It’s about performance.”

So, what are the take-always, the fundamentals? For me, we’ve got to remember that the No. 1 influence in a child’s life is you, mom and dad. That’s true of all the research, and you know that, Dr. Meg.

Meg: Yeah, and it’s one of my biggest frustrations. We’ve talked about this, because, you know, parents are so convinced that the world is gonna craft their kids, and I said, it’s gonna have an influence, but you’re it.

Jim: You’re it.

Meg: You shape that identity.

Jim: And in fact, the research shows that 70, 80 percent of kids will say, “What’s the No. 1 influence in your life?” Mom and dad.

Meg: Mom and dad.

Jim: And that must include some really dysfunctional households, because that’s 70 to 80 percent of kids. So, even if there [are] things that are imperfect going on in your home, kids are still looking towards you as their greatest influence. Their resilience is amazing. I’m a testimony to that. Kids can survive a lot, even your mistakes. So stop trying to be perfect. Join in what they do. That’s a tough one for me. I fail at that, because I like certain things, like sports.

One of my boys is not a sports guy, and I’ve got to intentionally go, okay, I’ve got to think about art, I’ve got to think about music, I’ve got to think about other things that I know nothing about. And in some ways, as a dad that kind of scares me, because I fumble in that. I don’t get my ego needs met in that arena. I get laughed at, and dads don’t like that. And so, you’ve got to–

Meg: Because he may know more about something than you do.

Jim: Absolutely he does. (Laughter) And I’ve got to humble myself and say—

Meg: Teach me.

Jim: –”Okay, teach me.” Wow, that’s hard for dads to do. I don’t know about moms.

Meg: When you’ve got a 13- or 15-year-old son or daughter.

Jim: I think that idea of the Golden Rule is critical. And I think so much comes from that humility and you know, just identifying with the down-and-outer. That consistency is critical. Model what you want to see. Is that an ouch or what?

Meg: That’s an ouch.

Jim: Let me end with this one piece of advice, especially for fathers, which I think is great. One of the things I got into (you can tell grades are an important thing in the Daly household) and it dawned on me that when their report cards are coming home or we’re online getting their results, that I need to sit down with them, individually, and say, “Okay, you got your report card. I know how you’re doing in English or math. Now give me a report card as your dad.” I have said this to different men’s groups that I’ve spoken to, and they resonate with

And what I’ve done is kept it really simple, five or six key things. Have I been a good father, A, B, C, D, F? Have I spent enough time with you that you feel, not me, that you feel I’ve given you my time? Have I trained you spiritually? Do you understand the concepts of God? Am I spending enough time with you in that way? Are we having fun time together? Do you enjoy the time that we spend together? A, B, C, D, F.

And that’s a little bit brave, but you need to do that. And actually it helps them identify and to think through, how are you doin’ as my dad? And then be ready. You know, they may have a couple of comments that, like a job review.

Meg: You know I loved, loved [it], and I wanted to make sure to get that point into this program. That’s a critically important thing to do, and I don’t hear many parents do it. I found out when our kids were in their 20s that they sort of naturally come to you with what I call “the list”–the list of things–

Jim: The dreaded list.

Meg: –yes, the list of things you did wrong.

Jim: This is why they’re in counseling.

Meg: Yeah, and then of course, the things that you did right, too. But how wonderful to do that when your kids are in their teen years. And you probably want to do it with maybe a 5- or 6-year-old, I don’t know, but how important it is to give your children the freedom to talk to you authentically and to not be afraid to tell you stuff that’s hard to hear, like, “Mom, you’re not home enough.” Or, “Dad, you’re not home enough.”

And I remember when our kids were in their teen years and I was doing some speaking, I would periodically say, “You guys are, to a large degree, in charge of my schedule. If I’m gone too much, you need to tell me.” And they would tell me, and I’d say, “Okay,” I’d cancel things.

Because I always wanted them to know, “You are the priority, not my work,” and I think that that’s really important. But I think that’s a really hard thing for a lot of fathers. I’m envisioning my husband saying that to our kids, because I think he might be afraid of what they’d say.

Jim: It’s true. Men are loners. We pull back. We don’t want to risk status quo. This is workin’ for me, so let’s not move off of this. You know there was a close friend of ours, a family, and we’ve had a number of suicides in the northern part of Colorado Springs to the point where Time magazine has written about it now. It’s one of the most devastating things going on in our community here. And a couple of those suicides have occurred at the school my kids go to.

And we went back, all of us dads that were connected in small group studies and things, and we do have a small group Bible study with the dads and the boys, and one of these friends went back and said to his son, “Are we doing okay? Am I there for you?” And this son said, “Actually no, dad. I miss you. You spend too much time with work; you’re traveling too much.”

Now, think of that context, in the middle of two suicides at our school. To this man’s credit, he quit his job a few days later, got on with another company that he traveled less, and that, to me, is a great model of parenting.

Meg: That’s great parenting.

Jim: It’s not just listening; it’s action.

Meg: It’s action.

Jim: I mean that son has to feel empowered that I’m connected with my dad–

Meg: Oh and important.

Jim: –and important to my dad, that he’d quit his job and took another job where I could spend more time with him, wow.

Meg: And isn’t that what Jesus would do with us?

Jim: That’s the picture.

Meg: Jesus, I need more time. But, do you understand what I’ve given you? I’ve given My whole life. Not just a job, but I’ve given My whole life.

Jim: That’s the picture.

Meg: Yeah, Jim, it’s an extraordinary book, When Parenting Isn’t Perfect. As I said, it should be Parenting Isn’t Perfect.

Jim: I like that. Should re-title it.

Meg: Should re-title it, but, I’m so grateful that you came and you opened your hearts and you were so honest and you shared so much. It’s an incredible book. It’s a must-read for every single parent, whether you have parents of little kids, or teenagers, or older kids and estranged kids. You know there are many parents out there who have adult children they are estranged from, and this is a very important read for them, too, because it can help them learn how to reconnect with their kids.

John: And so, get your copy of When Parenting Isn’t Perfect by Jim Daly at our website. Get the CD or download of our conversation, our two-day conversation, as well. You’ll find these at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us if you have any questions about the resources or if there’s some help that we can offer you in your parenting journey. Our number here is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And we are listener-supported. We rely on your prayers and your financial donations to continue this ministry. Please donate generously as you can today to support Focus on the Family. And when you make a generous donation today, we’ll make sure to send a complimentary copy of Jim’s book to you as our way of saying thank you. Once again, that’s http://focusonthefamily.com/radio, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Meg: Jim, as we’ve said, you’ve really touched a lot of hearts today. Will you pray for those moms and dads who may feel caught in a sea of perfection and need to find their anchor in God’s grace?

Jim: Let’s do it. Father, we do lift all of us up as parents, Lord, what burns in our heart [is] that our kids will know You and follow You and be with You and us in eternity. So, Father, give us that wisdom that comes from Your Word, from Your very heart. Help us to love the way You love us; help us to forgive the way You forgive us. Help us, Lord to be that example for our own children of what You are to us in heaven. That’s a tall order, but Lord, You can accomplish it through us. Help us to be gentle in those moments of error with our kids, that we will express grace to them as You have expressed grace to us. And Lord, in all of this we trust, as Your Word says, that You are with us, even in our failures. And we thank You for that in Christ’s name. Amen.

Meg: Beautiful.

Jean: Amen.

Meg: Thank you so much.

Jim: It’s good to be with you.



John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time for an inspiring message of a failed marriage that God restored, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan discusses the origins of shame, the search for self-worth in all the wrong places, and the importance of extending grace to ourselves. He also explains how parents can help their kids find their own sense of self-worth, belonging and purpose.

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Becoming a Clutter-Free Family

Joshua Becker discusses the benefits a family can experience if they reduce the amount of “stuff” they have and simplify their lives. He addresses parents in particular, explaining how they can set healthy boundaries on how much stuff their kids have, and establish new habits regarding the possession of toys, clothes, artwork, gifts and more.