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Healing Parent and Adult Child Relationships (Part 2 of 2)

Healing Parent and Adult Child Relationships (Part 2 of 2)

Dr. John Townsend offers parents guidance and encouragement for resolving a strained relationship with their adult children. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: November 24, 2021

Preview:

Dr. John Townsend: Look, we’ve had these talks about values or money or if I’m right or whatever, and I want to kind of put it to bed and say, “Either I’m going to change my opinion here, or you change your opinion here, or we lovingly agree to disagree and have a great game of pickleball.”

Dr. Townsend: There’s, there’s room for that for adults.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Dr. John Townsend is back with us for a second day on Focus on the Family offering words of wisdom and insight about estrangement between parents and their adult children. They may need to hear this discussion now more than ever before, and we’re glad you’re with us. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Uh, John, we spoke last time about some of the contributing factors in the strained relationship between parents and adult children and why healthy boundaries are so critical in families and other relationships. This is a deeply felt need. In fact, one of the top issues that our counselors are hearing about every day. Uh, last time we talked about control and manipulation and irresponsibility, uh, some of the sin that causes families to fight or stop talking all together. Today we’ll go deeper into the topic and look for godly solutions and healing for those broken relationships, so stay with us.

John: Yeah, and Dr. John Townsend is a well-known psychologist, author and speaker, and along with Dr. Henry Cloud, wrote the bestselling book Boundaries, which has now been updated and expanded. John is the founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership & Counseling. Uh, he and his wife have two adult children.

Jim: John, welcome back to Focus on the Family.

Dr. Townsend: Thanks.

Jim: Hey, uh, we touched on it yesterday, uh, that setting a firm boundary with an adult child or parent is necessary for spiritual and emotional well-being. Uh, but why is it hard (laughs), yeah, for, for us to set those boundaries? I mean, what’s working against us? It’s logical, it makes sense, and it’s so hard to do.

Dr. Townsend: It is so hard to do and has nothing to do with logic and making sense.

John: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: There are three reasons that we who have adult children, or just anybody, have a hard time with boundaries. The first one is because of the risk of loss of relationship. That somebody will say, “I’m taking my ball and going home from this relationship.” And they’ll distance from you, they’ll shut down. They’ll do what, uh, the Gottman’s, uh, the marital research is called stonewalling. “I don’t want my friends and the people I love and my kids and my family to withdraw from me.” So, we say, “I- I’ll just wait another day or I’ll, I’ll pick my battles.” Or my favorite is, “I’ll kick the can down the road,” thinking it’ll get better, and it never does. But the first one is loss of relationship.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: The second one is, um, fear of conflict. You know, a lot of us aren’t built and got good training in conflict. And I always tell people think about when you were a kid, at seven years old, on a Sunday night at, at a Sunday dinner. What did you learn about conflict? What were the rules you learned?

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: They probably weren’t very healthy rules. But there were some rules. What did you guys learn-

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: … yourselves?

John: Yeah, yeah, blow up and express, and then walk away.

Dr. Townsend: There you go. There’s-

John: It’s all better.

Dr. Townsend: Th- There’s a rule.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Eat fast.

John: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: (laughs).

Jim: I’m the youngest, I got to go. (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Those are rules.

John: Yeah.

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: And, and so, most people didn’t get great rules about that. And so, they get really afraid that… “What I’ll do with their anger? I’m going to feel bad. Are they going to escalate at me?” So, we get afraid of loss of love and relationship. We get afraid of conflict. The third one though is we get afraid of our guilt. You know, we don’t want to hurt people. And I think about my adult child and if I say this to them, are they going to feel bad about themselves? Is it going to affect their self-image? Will let discourage them, will it damage them in some way? So, you have to work through those three fears to have good boundaries.

Jim: And I guess the natural follow-up is why is it worth it to set those boundaries? What’s the payoff?

Dr. Townsend: Yeah, only the child’s future. That’s all you got.

Jim: Wow.

Dr. Townsend: And I mean that and not in a funny way. Is when you look at the research, longitudinal studies… I studied a lot of research. The longitudinal studies of parenting about… You know, if parenting is the oven that produces this thing called an adult, over time they measured, you know, now that somebody’s in their 20s and they’re autonomous, on their own and all that, what were the factors that made them that way? They call it the meta studies. Studies of studies.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Townsend: Always came down two factors. One was, uh, warmth. Did you get down on their level? Did you listen?

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: Did you love? Did you kind of like connect with them? Warmth in relationship. And the second was appropriate strictness. Appropriate strictness.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Townsend: That there’s got to be structure. There’s got to be rules. There’s got to be appropriate consequences. And that’s… If you want your house to be baking a thing called a, a good human, you have to have those in place. And so, when people say, “Well, is it worth it? I say, “Yeah, only the, the future of your adult child’s worth it.”

Jim: In that regard, John, I mean, the idea of, I guess, legalistic parenting-

Dr. Townsend: Hmm.

Jim: … if I could label it that, where maybe it’s in the right direction, but it’s just taken too far.

Dr. Townsend: Like a formula.

Jim: Well, formula, but also, it’s just not everything’s a mountain.

Dr. Townsend: Oh, too harsh.

Jim: Too harsh. I mean-

Dr. Townsend: Overreacting and that ca-

Jim: … to everything.

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: You know, the, the, the mountain out of a molehill kind of thing. Another metaphor people might use is pick your battles wisely.

Dr. Townsend: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Um, speak to that intuitive line as a parent n- not to be just about the rules, and then create lots of rules. Knowing when it’s okay t-… for the child to, to, you know, be okay.

Dr. Townsend: Yeah. I have some principles that really helped me to think through that because it’s so varied these days. One is what would you have wanted? You know, Jesus’ law of empathy. You know, treating others as you like to be treated.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: Think about what you would have wanted in your mid 20s and how would you like be treated by your parents back in the day and what would have worked. Uh, the law of empathy helps a lot. Jesus’ law of empathy, of treat others that way.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: The second thing is, um, is it a onetime event or is it a pattern? Now, I don’t think we should do boundaries from onetime events unless it’s like robbing a bank or something.

John: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: Because there’s a, a passage in the Bible, in Proverbs that says, “Is it glory to a person to overlook an offense?”

John: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: Well, offense is one time. In my book, a pattern’s three times, and not after a one-timer. So, keep that in mind. But the third thing is with a boundary there’s got to be a consequence, and if the consequence is going to matter, it’s got to be either they’re losing something they want or they’re gaining something that they don’t like. Now, if the kids are at home, then you got to clean up the dog poop all next week because your sister was going to do it. That’s getting something they want. Or losing something they love would be social media. With your adult children, you don’t have a lot of that because you don’t have the leverage, especially live… living on their own. So, that’s when it changes from, “I can do a lot of consequences with you,” to relationship, relationship, relationship.

John: Hmm. And, and in regard to that, uh, essence of relationship being the key, I have seen some parents that actually withdraw the relationship because they’ve done what you’ve talked about. They’ve set up, uh, Dr. Townsend, the boundaries and it hasn’t worked with their adult child. And they don’t have that leverage, and so they just feel like, “Well, okay, well, I’m not going to have a relationship with you, ” because I think what the child hears is because you’re not pleasing enough to me.

Dr. Townsend: That’s what the child experiences, and often, John, it’s not the intent of the parent, I think that they just feel helpless.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: And they feel like, um, nothing’s working, and so this is all I’ve got. And what I tell those parents is this is when you, you do have the hard talk and you say, “We’re going to agree to disagree, I guess, about sex or, uh, work ethic or, you know, bad behavior or whatever. We’ll agree to disagree. But I want to enjoy all the rest of the relationship with you. And I want to be there as much as I can. So, you know that I’m different from you. And I’m not going to preach at you. I’ve told you clearly, I’ve told you what I thought about it, and I always prayed for you. And if you ever want to talk about it, that’s great. But there’s so many other things in our life to talk about that I want to connect with you on.”

John: Hmm.

Jim: And John, you’re really getting back to the control factor it sounds like that we covered last time. The, the parents of adult children… Again, this is your 25-year-old son or daughter or 30-year-old son or daughter. You don’t have that leverage.

Dr. Townsend: No.

Jim: You’re no longer the parent in that context of them living at home with you, you can control their environment, you can control certain aspects of their lives. This, this is now transitioning. I think a helpful thing for us to hear… And I’m living it right now. I’ve got 21-year-old and a 19-year-old.

Dr. Townsend: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And, uh, what are those mental things that we as the parent need to do to treat this differently and to really act on that different thinking?

Dr. Townsend: Yeah. The first one is there is a type of leverage, I think, and it’s the leverage of love.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: There’s tremendous power in not just saying I love you, but actually reaching into their heart and asking how life was? How’s work going? How’s dating going? How’s your friends? How do you feel about things? And of course, the adult child’s going to say, “I don’t wanna talk about that.” That’s fine. But there’s a part that wants to know it and just to keep asking good questions about what’s it like? How’s it feel? And sooner or later they go, “They really don’t wanna preach to me.” So, the leverage of love, if they really get me, is very powerful then to think, “Maybe I need to open them up to other ways.” The second one is I do believe there are boundaries we can set within the confines of what we own. You know, Galatians 5, the fruits of the Spirit, says, you know, there’s the fruit of self-control. It never says other control. Interesting.

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: It’s self-control. So, I can’t control what they’re doing in their homes and their lives. But if they’re at my house, like so many people who live at home for whatever reasons, I can say, “Look, you don’t have to believe what I believe or agree with what I agree with, but this is my home. So, there’s going to be behavior that’s required. And these are my house rules. And, um, I’d like for you to respect those.” And those you can say, and I think it’s good for them and good for us. So, those are boundaries because that’s our self-control part.

Jim: Well, I appreciate that, John, because that… I mean, again, I’m living it, so it’s good to experience these things. I love… Trent the other night said to me, he goes, “Dad, what I really appreciate right now is I’m thinking of us developing our friendship for the rest of our lives.”

Dr. Townsend: Wow.

Jim: And I thought, I thought-

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: “Wow, that’s perfect.”

Dr. Townsend: Something’s going right.

Jim: You know, that- that- that’s what he’s looking forward to, and frankly, that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: ‘Cause it’s hard work to parent. It’s a little easier to be the friend.

Dr. Townsend: I tell parents, “When are you gonna retire?”

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: “And maybe it’d be fun.” Like-

Jim: Wow.

Dr. Townsend: … I’ve retired from my functions with my children. They’re out there on their own. And I told ’em and I said, “Now, come to me for advice, but I’m not gonna go to you and say, ‘Here’s your advice for the day.’ I’m done with that because you are an adult.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: “But I wanna be a loving friend who has some wisdom, hopefully, that you would go to, and that we have an incredible history behind us. But that’s what I wanna be f-… with you.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: And we’ve pulled that off.

Jim: And it’s really healthy and it, it is fun.

Dr. Townsend: It’s fun.

Jim: That’s the thing. If you can enjoy each other in that context, not trying to manipulate or control each other-

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: Then it’s fun. Let me move to bigger, uh, kind of broader family dynamics. Uh, you have something that you call triangulation. I started laughing when I was reading this, early this morning actually, and I was talking to my wife, Jean about it. ‘Cause it’s such a normal… Not healthy, but normal dynamic. And this triangulation where sibling “A” talks to sibling “C” about sibling “B” (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: And describe it-

Dr. Townsend: It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

Jim: Well, it is, but it- it’s so typical-

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: … of what we do as human beings.

Dr. Townsend: And it’s unfortunately so destructive-

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: … and divisive. The way God created the communication was if you love someone and if you see it, say it, right? And if somebody bothers you, you’re supposed to go ’em. Go to your brother or your sister. And triangulation is the opposite.

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: “A” made you upset, so instead of going to “A”… You’re “B”… You go to “C” and say, “Can you believe what they did? Pray for them because-”

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: “… they are just a, a lunatic.” And so, “A” never gets the benefit of the feedback so they can change their behavior. And “C’s” sitting there just thinking, “What am I, like a dumpster for everything you don’t like in life?” And it gets better when “C” disappoints “B”. And guess what “B” does? You [inaudible]-

Jim: Call’s “A”.

Dr. Townsend: Nope.

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Call’s “D”.

Jim: Oh, “D” (laughs).

John: Oh.

Jim: The, the fourth.

Dr. Townsend: And says, “You know, I am so unlucky.”

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: You know?

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: “”A” disappointed, and then “C” did too and, and I hope you won’t.” And they go through life… It’s like church hopping, you know.

Jim: Right, right.

John: (laughs).

Jim: No, it’s true.

Dr. Townsend: And, and I, I always tell people, you know, this is called triangulation clinically. The Bible would call it gossip and it’s never good for anybody.

John: Hmm.

Jim: Okay, so the right question is how do you break that cycle? Uh, those four siblings, A, B, C, D. Uh, what do you do? “Hey, timeout. I wanna call a family meeting. Let’s get this out on the table.”

Dr. Townsend: Yes.

Jim: It’s… I- I- Is that-

Dr. Townsend: Yes.

Jim: … the right thing to do?

Dr. Townsend: Yeah, you s-… I- In leadership circles it’s called positive disruption. And if you see that in your family, then you just tell them… Not all at one time because they’re gonna do whatever they do. You say… And I go to the one that does it the most, that kind of start everything and say, “I understand they hurt your feelings, but I need to know why you don’t go to them because this is kind of cutting everybody up here.”

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: And they’ll have a bunch of excuses and say, “I’d like to request that… And I’ll, I’ll moderate it, or I’ll get a counselor for you or whatever. But I want you to go to them.” Now, if they’re an adult child, they can certainly say no. But you gave them the option.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: You know, in the work circles, like in business, you can say, “You need to talk to that person.” Or something happens in HR, but you don’t have the authority. And so, in relationship with adults, you just say, “It’s not good for us to be together. We’re not having fun if people don’t feel trusting. And can you kind of be the person that breaks that chain?”

John: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Townsend: And you go to the person that uses that tool the most.

Jim: Yeah, th- th- that’s kind of humorous actually to think of a family review. (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Pretty much.

Jim: “You know, you’re gonna be written up-”

John: (laughs).

Jim: “… if you don’t straighten out.” That doesn’t work so well in the family HR department.

Dr. Townsend: But don’t do it a group.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: Until everybody has gotten the skill, don’t do a group because it can be chaos.

Jim: Yeah.

John: Hmm. Well, we’ve got Dr. John Townsend with us today on Focus on the Family. And, uh, we’d encourage you to look for his book, Boundaries. Uh, it is a bestselling book that has all sorts of great insight, uh, with a variety of family dynamics, including, uh, that relationship you have with your adult child. We’ve got copies of that here. Uh, just stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Jim: John, uh, I wanna touch on forgiveness because that’s critical, obviously.

Dr. Townsend: Yeah.

Jim: It’s a… It’s the way we human beings reconcile things. Uh, but as Christians, we are called to forgive. How do we forgive our family member who has so deeply wounded us? What, what does that functionally look like? Um, some people bury it. I tend… I think I can tend to be that person.

Dr. Townsend: Hmm.

Jim: “Yeah, I’ve forgiven him.” But I don’t know that I really have. I just… “Yeah, whatever.”

Dr. Townsend: Yeah. That’s really common, Jim. And what we found out is that we always think, yeah, it’s just a cognitive, intellectual, rational process. I’m canceling the debt, which is what the Bible says the definition is. I’m canceling the debt. But if we don’t bring the emotions and the hurt in there, it’s half the thing. You know, God gave us with that left brain, which is the rational, intellectual feedback driven-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Townsend: … data driven part. And then, there’s the emotional, relational part on the right side. And so, that’s why now the smart people have come up with stages for this. The first one is to identify that I’ve been hurt and let yourself feel it. “You know, you, you abused me.” Or “You left me, or you judged me, or you dismissed me and that hurt.” As opposed to, “Well, that was wrong biblically.” No, that’s kind of more intellectual. It hurt. And that’s why sometimes it takes a person to help you draw that out. But the second thing is you go through protest. It… Well, it was wrong. It was not okay. And you don’t say something was right, right when it was wrong. So, you get your day in court. The third thing is you look at your part. “Did I have a part to play in this?” Now, most of the time, there’s something I did too. Um, if you’re driving along and somebody T-boned you in a car, that never was your fault. Most the time, “What did I do?” And you just gotta say, you know, “Did I contribute? Was that… Uh, did I have a bad attitude?” or whatever. But then the next thing is you move into the actual stage of what they call the grief process is, “I’m sad. I’m sad because I got hurt and now, we don’t have a relationship and I wanna get it back.” And grief is very essential to forgiveness, allowing ourselves to grieve.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: And to grieve what happened in the past and making a commitment to do better in the future.

Jim: I don’t know that we… And again, maybe I’m just projecting my own experience. I don’t know that we grieve well.

Dr. Townsend: We’re, we’re awful.

Jim: That we know how to grieve.

Dr. Townsend: We’re awful.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: And, and yet it says in Isaiah that… It says that we have a savior who was well-acquainted with grief. So, if the leader of leaders and the model of modelers said he was well-acquainted, meaning he embraced grief, we need to learn that.

Jim: Yeah. It’s just hard to go there.

Dr. Townsend: Well, most people it’s because we feel weak, and we don’t like to feel weak. And others because all of us like energy and movement. I like to get things done. You like to get things done. You know, we like to go change things. And grief says, “Don’t climb the mountain right now. Stop and feel this.” And it’s no energy there. It’s no movement and we don’t like that. But if we allow ourselves to have the grief and say, “I need to talk to somebody, just let them know I’m sad about that business opportunity or that disenfranchised child or this marriage thing, and I just need to process my tears,” it goes away.

John: Hmm.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: If it doesn’t, it never leaves. Grief is a temporary thing. When Henry Cloud and I wrote, uh, God Will Make a Way, we say that grief is the pain that cures most other pains.

Jim: Huh.

Dr. Townsend: In psychological, emotional circles, the end of the therapy process is generally grieving well and grieving healthily, and then you’re free. You’re free of it.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Jim: You do feel set free.

Dr. Townsend: You feel set free.

Jim: Yeah. I have experienced that. L- L- Let me, uh, move to a clip that we have of kind of rebuilding relationship, the need to do that. I mean, again, it definitely includes forgiveness. But let’s listen to this clip and have you, uh, respond to it.

Kelly: Hi, Dr. Townsend. My name is Kelly and I’ve been estranged from my daughter on and off over the years. We’ve recently reconciled and, um, my question for you is: how can you move forward to a place of trust that doesn’t cross the boundaries of what you’re willing to accept? In other words, how do I ease the feeling of not always walking on eggshells? And also, comfort with opening my heart and not feeling hurt again?

Jim: Boy, there’s a lot in that question.

Dr. Townsend: There’s a lot in that question and all too common.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: Y’all get those letters, I get those letters. And I wanna kind of make a simple process so that it’s easy to follow. Uh, but at first, I’m gonna say here’s what not to do. Don’t continue walking on eggshells by trying to read her mind-

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Townsend: … by thinking, “Uh, can I say this? Is this, okay? I- It’s not okay.” Because we can’t read their mind and you might trigger something and then there’s a big blow up. So, it’s a conversation you have with your daughter or with anybody that has… Uh, someone is back in the relationship, but it still feels fragile. And you say, “I’m so glad we’re reconnected, and I want it stay this way. I need some ground rules from you, and I’ve got some too. Some ground rules on what’s okay and what’s not okay. Go there. Don’t go there. And I’ve got a few too.” And as the older adult, always have less than they have.

Jim: (laughs). Right.

Dr. Townsend: Right?

Jim: That’s called wisdom.

Dr. Townsend: It’s called wisdom. And so, they might say, “Well, I don’t like it when you tell me to go to church.” And you say, “Okay. I told you once. I do believe it. I’m done with that.” And then all of a sudden you say, “What else? And, and what do you want me to do?”

Dr. Townsend: “Well, ask me how I’m doing with my pet.

Dr. Townsend: “Oh, I’ll do that,” or whatever. And now you’ve had the conversation. And when you had the conversation, does it… When you say it, it always makes it less intense. When it keeps in your head, it gets crazier because we’re built for relationship. So now, the adult child goes, “Hi. We had the talk.” And now they know clearly what’s okay with me and what’s not. Make them part of the process.

Jim: Yeah.

John: Hmm.

Jim: That is really good. And it helps. John, let me… Uh, for the sake of that person who’s going, “You know what? I read Boundaries, I applied it to my adult child. Uh, it’s been a while. We have not reconciled. I’m actually going through the process of grieving the loss of the relationship and I don’t know if it’ll ever come back.” And maybe they’re not even talking to each other. And then there’s the second one where we’re still engaged, but man, it’s fireworks-

Dr. Townsend: It’s fireworks.

Jim: … all the time and it’s not healthy. And… So, address those two environments.

Dr. Townsend: Well, let’s go with the first one, the estrangement. I always tell people when they say, “Well, I read the book and I’ve done everything.” I said-

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: “I wrote it, and I haven’t done everything, so…” (laughs).

John: (laughs).

Jim: (laughs). That’s a good answer.

Dr. Townsend: “… read again.” (laughs).

Jim: Yeah. (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Because, you know, as we grow, we’re like onion skin.

Jim: Yeah. That’s true.

Dr. Townsend: We, we get deeper and deeper, and we’ll say, “Oh, I forgot this or maybe I was too harsh there or I preached there, or I wasn’t consistent there.” Go through it again, especially the 10 laws, and you’ll pick up something you can do better. But let’s suppose you’re that one human being that I’ve never met that’s done everything-

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: … and you really feel good about it, and you’ve gotten feedback from your pastor and your friends and your counselors. Then that’s when I would say, “On a regular basis, it might be once a quarter, send in that email, letter, text and just say, ‘I love you. Just wanna let you know that I was thinking about you.’”

Jim: Well, what’s important there is don’t give up.

Dr. Townsend: Yes. Don’t give up.

Jim: Don’t give up.

Dr. Townsend: God always reminds us, “I’m still here.”

Jim: Okay. That’s good. That’s good advice. And… Because there’s always hope.

Dr. Townsend: Well, and the hope is if their life is really upside down, the things you’re concerned about, guess what? They’re going to suffer. Let’s read Luke 15, the prodigal son. Well, the father… You don’t have any passages where it says, “And the father, you know, reminded him of all his sins. And the father went visited him and the father said, “I’m gonna set him…” You don’t hear about the father until the boy is in the pigpen, and he didn’t like his life. And if they’re living that kind of life, it’s supposed to have bad fruit because it doesn’t work according to God’s principles, and you’re just checking in every now and then, “Thinking about you, love you.” And they go, “I don’t like being lonely or not functioning or not having a good job, and they’re nice to me.” And your chances are better. They’ll come back.

Jim: And then what about the one you’re still engaged with, you’re having pretty regular interaction with, but it seems to always be the fireworks.

Dr. Townsend: Yeah. And there’s a lot we can do about that ’cause we can say, “Look, we’ve had these talks about values or money or if I’m right or whatever, and I wanna kind of put it to bed and say, ‘Either I’m gonna change my opinion here, or you change your opinion here, or we lovingly agree to disagree, and have a great game of pickleball.’”

Jim: (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: There’s, there’s room for that for adults. So, you do what you can to say, “I don’t want that.” The other thing though is if you’re getting attacked by your adult child, and some parents who are kind of guilt ridden will say, “Well, I deserve it. I wasn’t there for ’em, so I’m just gonna let… I’m gonna hear it and hear it and hear it.” Everybody should have their day in court, and my kids have had to do that with me. But not forever and there comes a part where you say, “I’ve heard it, I understand it. I’ve changed what I’m gonna change and it’s really kind of getting bad,” and you have to set a limit on that.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: There have to be times when you don’t take toxic, assaultive behavior after a while. You’re not doing anybody any good.

Jim: John, right at the end here, uh, obviously, uh, the key to probably all this, you would agree, is how we take this to the Lord as Christians, as believers.

Dr. Townsend: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And some people may not have that relationship with the Lord, and I understand that. I’d love to see that change. But for those that are listening that do call upon the Lord as their Savior, how do we with, you know, the right attitude, how do we go to the Lord and say, “Help me”?

Dr. Townsend: Yeah. You know, I always go to Psalm 37. It says that He’ll give you the desires of your heart if you follow Him. I think what God always calls us to do i- is to say, like you said, “Help.” I’ve always found that it’s not until we’re at the end of ourselves that He begins. And He kind of wants us to get the end of our rope because then we go into position of dependent, childlike faith. And so, if you feel like you’re being too much of a demand on God, He’s got big shoulders. So, go with the pain and go with the sorrow. Go with the losses, go with the helpless and say, “I need an answer. I need your Holy Spirit. I need something from the Bible. I need a good person.” And that’s where God shows up.

Jim: You know, for a person that hasn’t had that regular communication, prayer to the Lord can be a little uncomfortable for people. Uh, what would you recommend to that person? How do you open up to God, that really is helping you?

Dr. Townsend: Yeah, I have friends like that, that kind of go, “How do I do this church talk? I haven’t done the church thing in a while.”

Jim: Right (laughs).

Dr. Townsend: Like, yeah, we have a whole language, don’t we?

Jim: Right.

Dr. Townsend: And I say, um, “Talk to Him like you would talk to somebody that was safe. Some adult, some wise person that was very safe because He’s the model for that. And just say… Don’t edit yourself. Just come out with what, what it is. And I always tell people read David in the Psalms. He didn’t edit. You know, he’s going, “God, I’m the king, but I’m living in a cave ’cause the other guys out to get me. Are you even there?” He didn’t edit, and God can handle-

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Townsend: … the way you communicate.

John: Hmm.

Jim: But it’s so true. And again, what a great encouragement to go to the Lord first and foremost. Everything we’ve talked about today-

Dr. Townsend: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … and last time, kind of sits on that, uh, truth-

Dr. Townsend: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … that, uh, God cares for you. And I love that scripture, that He’s close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. And that’s how we feel about these relationships. Uh, John, wonderful content. Thank you for sharing your heart, your wisdom with us through Focus on the Family. And I hope you as the listener are feeling it. I mean, uh, John is speaking right to a majority of people who struggle in relationships. You want a way out of this, get a copy of Boundaries, it’s right there. It’s easy to understand, but difficult to put into play, but not impossible. And so, we want to encourage you to get in touch with us. Make a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family and we’ll send you a copy of the book as our way of saying thank you in joining us with ministry. Not only do you get the benefit of wisdom, but you also are giving the benefit of wisdom to others in a whole variety of ways. And if you can’t afford it, we’ll get it into your hands. We’re a Christian organization. Uh, it’s not about the dollars, it’s about helping you. So, get a hold of us and we’ll trust others will cover the cost of that.

John: Once again, uh, get your copy of Boundaries, uh, updated and expanded when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate and get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: And John, let me add that when you donate to Focus today, you’re helping families in crisis and troubled parents who need hope and hope in Christ, especially during the holidays. Uh, give families hope today with a gift to Focus and your donation will be doubled dollar for dollar through a matching opportunity to impact twice as many families.

John: And to have your contribution doubled, just call today. The number’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Uh, John, as always, it’s so good to have you. Thank you for spending time with us.

Dr. Townsend: Thanks, Jim.

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. Plan to be with us tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day as we learn some fascinating stories about the pilgrims from Jay Milbrandt, and it’s going to help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

book cover for boundaries by john townsend

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

Receive John Townsend's book Boundaries for your donation of any amount! And when you give today, your support will be DOUBLED to Give Families Hope!

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Mrs. Meg Meeker

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Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

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Headshot of Kevin Thompson

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Cover image of Kevin Thompson's book "Friends, Partners & Lovers"

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Mr. Gary Thomas

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cherish front cover

Friends, Partners, and Lovers: What It Takes to Make Your Marriage Work

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You can confidently and lovingly share your faith—you just need to learn some new tactics to do so! In this Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast, apologist Greg Koukl outlines the “Columbo” tactic of asking questions, the “self-defeating argument” tactic to find holes in your opponent’s arguments, and other specific methods for engaging in faith-building conversations with others. Greg pulls from his over 30 years of experience debating atheists and agnostics to help you share your faith with grace and truth.

Mr. Greg Koukl

Greg Koukl is a writer, public speaker and talk show host who’s spent 30 years advocating for and defending the Christian worldview. Greg has written or contributed to 15 books, including The Story of RealityTactics, and Precious Unborn Human Persons. Greg has published nearly 230 articles and has spoken on 80 college and university campuses in the U.S. and abroad.

Tactics front cover

Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

In a world increasingly indifferent to Christian truth, followers of Christ need to be equipped to communicate with those who do not speak their language or accept their source of authority. In Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition, Gregory Koukl demonstrates how to artfully regain control of conversations, keeping them moving forward in constructive ways through thoughtful diplomacy. You’ll learn how to stop challengers in their tracks and how to turn the tables on questions or provocative statements. Most important, you’ll learn how to get people thinking about Jesus.

Giving up Sugar, Tasting God's Goodness

As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.

Author Wendy Speake smiling as she holds up her book "The 40-Day Social Media Fast"

Mrs. Wendy Speake

With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.

Cover image of the book "The 40-Day Sugar Fast"

The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation

Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 1

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

How a Former Abortion Doctor Became Pro-Life

As an abortion doctor at Planned Parenthood, Dr. Patti Giebink believed she was helping women. Later, she began reading scripture and God gradually changed her heart on the abortion issue. Patti tells the story of her long journey from abortion doctor to pro-life and encourages listeners to share the message of life with compassion.

Headshot image of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. Patti Giebink

Mrs. Patti Giebink

Dr. Patti Giebink is an OB-GYN who serves on the board of the Alpha Center, a well-known pregnancy center located in Sioux Falls, S.D. She also travels intermittently to work in mission hospitals in Pakistan and other countries. After completing her medical training, Dr. Giebink worked for Planned Parenthood from 1995-1997, during which she was the only abortion-provider in the state of South Dakota. She eventually experienced a radical change of heart on the issue of abortion after receiving God’s grace, forgiveness, and love, and she is now a passionate advocate for the pro-life movement.

Cover image of the book "Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life"

Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life

Unexpected Choice is told from the perspective of a doctor who actually performed abortions through Planned Parenthood. The book chronicles her journey from being a pro-choice physician to someone speaking on behalf of the pro-life movement.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.