John Fuller: You want your child to excel academically, but are you affirming their effort and recognizing their individual strengths and aptitudes? Dr. Kathy Koch was one of our guests on the last “Focus on the Family” and shares this insight.
Dr. Kathy Koch: This is the common story that I hear: My dad was lookin’ at my grades and he wasn’t happy with my math grade and he said I could do better. He didn’t really tell me how to do better, he just said he was quite sure that I could. So I went to school and I studied and I asked for help from my teacher, and Dr. Kathy,I did better. I went from a 90 to a 93 and I got home and I showed it to my dad. And my dad said, “Oh, you can do better.” I have tears in my eyes, because the dads, they don’t have any intentionality in that of hurting their children. They deeply desire the best for them and they believe that a 100 percent is best. Is it best? If the child is capable of the 100 percent, of course it is. But for a lot of children, a 93 is their 100 percent.
End of Recap
John: Dr. Kathy Koch is back with us on today’s “Focus on the Family,” along with Jill Savage and your host is the president of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we’re talking about perfection in our children and Jim, as you peel this back, it seems that it’s really the kind of perfection that we seem to want to chase as parents.
Jim Daly: It certainly does, John. Hey, last time it was really interesting to talk about the themes that we talked about, you know, how to raise your children with healthy expectations, but not to overload them so they feel like failures.
Jim: If you missed the discussion last time, you’ve gotta download it. Pick up the CD. Certainly pick up the book. John, you’ll give more details about that throughout the program today, both Jill Savage and Kathy Koch talking about No More Perfect Kids. John, I think the reason for me, it’s relating to my environment with two boys, you know, in their teen years now. We’re livin’ it and there isn’t any perfection in our children. Guess what? There’s no perfect in us, either.
John: Yeah, it’s so much easier, Jim, when you can pick up a child who is belligerent or not doing what you want. When they get to those teen years and they start looking at, you know, I want to get out of here, I want to move on and I want to live my life,that becomes a much harder equation. All the way through though, we’re settin’ the tone and where we landed last time with parents have to model grace and we’ve got to model how we deal with imperfection and letting go. That was really important stuff.
Jim: Well, we’re talking enough. Let’s welcome both Jill and Kathy back to Focus. Great to have you.
Kathy: Thank you.
Jill Savage: Thank you.
Jim: You know, so many folks contacted us after the last program. We need to pick it up and really delve even deeper into this. Kathy, you had a comment in the book that really caught my attention and it’s kind of around this theme where what kids are desiring in their heart of hearts, the question they ask is, “Do you like me?”
Jim: That almost brought tears to my eyes, that a little child would be wanting [to be liked]. Almost as a parent, you take that for granted. Of course, I like you. Now let’s get on with perfection. (Laughter) But that child’s just looking up and he’s going in their heart, “No, really, Daddy, do you like me?” That caught me. And in fact, you had a story. You talked about one teenager who told you, “I wish I felt like my parents loved me all the time. I just feel like they love me when I do things the way they want me to do it. Whew! That should pierce all of our hearts as moms and dads.
Kathy: Yeah and I hear it sadly far too often. And then I’m so privileged to say to the children, that most of their parents don’t intend for them to feel badly.
Jim: I don’t think we don’t know what we’re doin’.
Kathy: No and I love to empower children to be honest, to be able to speak in love, “Daddy, that hurt my heart. What did you mean by that?”
Kathy: I mean, that brings tears to my eyes, to imagine empowering a child to be confident enough to say, “What did you mean by that, Daddy?” You know, and for a parent to sit back and wonder, how did that come across to an 8-year-old or to an 18-year-old? I think the question, “Do you like me?” comes partly from a potential constant negative. Clean your room. It’s your turn to load the dishwasher. You just spilled your milk. It’s important to find out the things they’re not doing well, but we’ve gotta talk about what they are doing well.
Kathy: We’ve gotta talk about their heart and their beliefs and not just the visible behavior.
Jim: Why do we live there though? I’ve gotta say, again, I’m just trying to hear what you’re saying. I’m sure there are moms and dads, if they’re honest with themselves, deep in their own heart, they’re saying, “You know what? I really don’t like my child.” Now what they’re saying is, “I don’t like the way my child’s behaving.”
Jim: Or maybe it’s gotten to the point where now there’s so much tension that 14, 15-year-old, I really don’t like them. What do they do?
Kathy: Own it. Grieve it. Be responsible for anything that you’ve done. Apologize; ask to be forgiven. Study your kid again. Go out on a date night with your child and say, let’s talk about what’s going on.
Jim: Do something.
Kathy: Do something. Pray, talk, listen, observe. Let me say this and then I bet Jill would love to bounce into this, as well; let me just add this idea. What children tell me all the time is, they resent it when the parent seems to be uninvolved and uncaring with they’re young. And all of a sudden, they turn 13. I’ve had kids actually say to me, “Yesterday I was fine. Today I’m 13 and now they want to know who I’m with and where I’m going and how long I’m staying up and how well I’m doing in math. Kathy, where were they yesterday?”
If you don’t want a resentful child when they’re teens, if you want to be able to speak love into your child when they turn into those years that can be more challenging, you better care when they’re 6. And I think when they’re 6, you find out which birthday party are you going to? And are the parents gonna be there?
Now of course, we know [where] they will be when they’re 6, but I think it’s essential for those kids to know that we’re surrounding them with care and love and support when they’re young, so that when they’re 13, they don’t resent those questions. They expect those questions. And they have nothing to do with the fact that I think you’re bad. This is called “parenting.” This is my responsibility to lead you well and to know what you’re all about.
Jill: And you know, just talking about the whole “Do you like me?” thing, I think it’s important for parents to know that, that is a normal emotion to sometimes not like your kids.
Jim: Right, that’s fair.
Jill: It really is. And I’ve always said, now all five of mine, my fifth just recently graduated from high school, so all five are out of, you know, high school. And I’m telling you, that last year of high school, their senior year, you see why they send them off to college the (Laughter) next year. Because even the kid that I had no trouble liking all along the journey, that last year, you just start kind of buttin’ heads because they’re trying to launch into life. They’re trying to become independent.
Jill: And so, there’s this tug and this pull. So, I think it’s important to know that, that is a normal feeling. Although the other thing I want to add is, that where it becomes hard as a parent and I know this from having five children, some of our kids are easier to like than others.
Jim: Right, it’s just personality clicks.
Jill: Personality, it’s their struggles and that is a place that I have determined is about me maturing.
Jill: It’s about my spiritual growth. Okay, Lord, I know You love me when I’m unlovable. And right now this one’s unlovable. Please show me how to love. It’s easy to love when somebody’s lovely. It’s not so easy to love when they’re unlovable. So, I’ve really found that, that is a place of growth for me when I get to those places where I’m struggling liking one of my kids.
Jim: And that’s true for all of us.
Jill: It is.
John: Yeah, there are some combative kids, aren’t there?
John: Some children who just naturally don’t want to do it your way. They really don’t care if they please you, although I’m guessing, Kathy, even those children deep down inside, they want to hearthat “I love you” even when you make a bad choice.
Kathy: Exactly and I think a lot of those kids have given up believing they’ll ever hear it. And so, it’s easier to choose to fail than to try and fail.
Kathy: There’s less pain.
John: Well, I had a conversation just last night, Jim, with one of my teenage girls who, I had to just keep asking questions, because I said, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that you want me to give you advice?” And she said, “No, yes. But you did give me advice and I’ve tried to go by it, Dad. It made a big influence on me.” And I said, “I didn’t know that. I thought that if I gave you advice, you were gonna just out and out reject it.” There’s a little combative spirit there, but she’s still looking for me to speak into her life, even though it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.
John: A good reminder for us to just keep at it, I guess.
Kathy: Amen, be the parent, even when they don’t appear to want you to be, ’cause it’s not about that. It’s about you fulfilling your God-given responsibility and trusting that He’ll make that all work out.
Jill: I’ve had my young adult children say something back that I said to them five years, 10 years ago. And they’ll say something back and of course, we’ll laugh about it. And I have one daughter that was a prodigal for much of her teen years, very difficult situation. And just recently, I had a conversation and she said, “I was listening, mom.”
Jill: I know you didn’t realize, but I was listening.
Jim: Well, and that’s so often the case, we think they’re disconnected. And parents then begin to tune out.
Jill: And then we can disconnect.
John: It’s easier to disconnect.
Jim: Stay engaged.
Jill: You’ve got to stay engaged.
Jim: Even if you’re getting a hard attitude back, stay the line and let them flail a little bit. So often today, let’s talk about that, part of the relationship, parent to child, especially in the teen years, how do you begin to allow them and hopefully, you’ve done it before they’re teenagers, but to allow them to fail. We have a wonderful junior high school principal here locally that we’re, you know, involved with at [our kids’ school].
And Jean and I went to visit him, ’cause we had a little issue with one of the kids. And he gave us some great advice. He said, “You know what? Seventh grade, you want your kids, if they’re gonna fail, let ’em fail now. You don’t want ’em to fail in 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Now I’m not talking about just grades. I’m just talking coping skills.
But he was really encouraging us to say, no, now’s the time, because they can make that correction. And they’ll feel the pain and it’s a good time. Just let go a little bit and that’s hard for us to do. What do you guys say to that?
Jill: Well, first you gotta take yourself out of it–
Jill: –because this is part of the reason as parents, that we have trouble with letting our kids fail, because we feel it’s a reflection on us.
Jill: And we have got to remove ourselves from this. This is about this child. This is about their struggle. This is about their places that they need to grow and mature.
Jim: But at this point, you’re at the place where you have to begin to cognitively know that.
Jim: ‘Cause you’re no longer the parent of a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old.
Jill: But I think as parents, we struggle with that all along the whole journey. We have a 2-year-old that throws a fit in the grocery store and we feel that that’s a poor reflection of us. That’s a child who either didn’t get somethin’ that they wanted–
Jill: –it may be actually a positive reflection on us.
Jill: You know, I had a very good friend that said to me, she was a few years ahead of me in parenting and she said, “Well, you know, when your child throws a fit like that, just look up at the people looking at you and smile and say, ‘We’re working on this.’” (Laughter)
Jim: Under construction. (Laughter)
Jill: (Laughing) Exactly. But you know, that continues into the elementary and the junior high and the high school years, you have to recognize, because the moment that you are connected to that child, your identity and how you feel about yourself is connected to that child’s failure, you become a controlling parent. And a controlling parent is a parent that is participating in perfection infection parenting and it’s ineffective.
Jim: What’s a practical way that a mom and dad right now hearing this program can say, “Ooh, that’s me.” What would be some of the attributes of a controlling parent?”
Kathy: You know, the first thing I thought of was the opposite of the controlling parent is the compassionate parent, who feels the child’s pain.
Kathy: Do we quickly want to fix? Or are we willing to feel what’s really going on there? So, to have compassion, to recognize it’s a heart issue. To remember what it was like when we were embarrassed in front of a peer group. To remember what we felt like when our home wasn’t chosen for the honor wall. To have compassion, to have a heart that beats, to have tears that flow, to be willing to feel the pain, that’s connecting.
Jill: And that’s one of the perfection-infection antidotes that we talk about—compassion. And when I had to look at myself, I really realized that I was what I call a “buck up” parent.
Jim: A buck-up parent, when you just–
Jill: Buck-up parent.
Jim: –pick it up and let’s go.
Jill: Just pick it up and move on.
Jill: I didn’t have a lot of compassion in the early years. And part of that is because I’m more comfortable fixing things than feeling things myself.
Jill: So, I had to learn this concept of compassion and resisting the urge to fix and stepping into what they’re feeling in that moment. It made me a more effective parent to lead through whatever the situation was because I was stepping into their shoes.
John: So, Jim, I hear them saying that if you are a quick fixer and not real compassionate, that might be a sign that control is an issue for you as a parent. I mean, I’m feeling it.
Jim: Are you lookin’ at me? (Laughter)
John: No. (Laughter) No, I’m not. I’m actually (Laughter) thinkin’ about myself here. It’s all about me.
Jim: Well, we men are often fixers. I mean, I don’t like to talk in generalities, but it’s true. Tell me the problem and let me give you my advice.
Kathy: Exactly. That’s one of the things we can do with our children, if we’ve earned the right to say this, is to look them in the eye and say, “Are you telling me this because you just needed to be heard or are you asking for help?”
Kathy: When kids throw a whiny temper tantrum, I mean, hello, do you want help? Do you want sympathy? Or do you want to be sent to your room? You know, so I think that’s a big part of that, as well. Because some of us are natural fixers. We’re natural problem solvers. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just stepping into it too soon and we believe, Jill and I both believe that you respond to emotion with emotion. Now not anger with anger necessarily in a sinful way. That’s not what I mean. But when you see a child hurting, your heart should respond first with that compassion. And then the second antidote just follows that very naturally.
Jill: Which is love and to love unconditionally. And that, boy, that is a tough one for us, because love oftentimes it’s very difficult because when we most need to love, they are the most unloving. (Laughter) And so, really coming to grips withthe reality of loving uncon[ditionally], you know, understand what that love looks like unconditionally.
Jim: Just hit the other two, so you have compassion, love, uh–
Jill: And acceptance doesn’t mean agreeing with. It means you’re always mine.
Jim: Well, it’s important to emphasize what we’re talking about there. What Jesus illustrated was connection and relationship came before correction.
Jill: First, yeah.
Jim: So often the argument typically goes like this. Yeah, but they need to be corrected. It’s as if, if you show compassion in the relationship, the other doesn’t happen. I don’t understand why that’s true. It’s so obvious how God has wired us. When we show compassion in relationship, our hearts open to correction.
Jim: That’s the irony. And we start with correction and we’re knockin’ on a[n] ironclad door.
Jim: There’s no room there. I’m not gonna listen to you.
Kathy: And I would actually say that a lot of us start with criticism, which is worse.
Jim: (Chuckling) Right. I’m guilty.
Kathy: You know, and we talk about that in the book, that one of the ways that kids can feel like failures is that, we criticize, which is to point out the wrong, rather than to correct.
Jim: Well, and what’s worse, we count that as relationship.
Jim: I’m doin’ my job.
Kathy: Exactly. Is it a part of your “job?” Sure, let’s not deny that. But again, earn the right to be heard and do it in the right context, at the right time, with the right words and all of those kinds of things, for sure.
Jill: I remember Dr. Kevin Leman saying one time at a Hearts at Home conference, he said when your child spills milk, he doesn’t need a lecture. He needs a rag. (Laughter) And I loved the practical side of that, and I have thought that so many [times]. Literally when milk has been spilled, “Jill, you know, shut your mouth.”
Jim: Was it “Jill” or “chill?” (Laughter)
Jill: Works both ways. (Laughter)
Jim: You got a good name for that.
Jill: Oh, that’s true. And then that last anecdote is perception. And perception is really important for usto see our children as they are, as they’re wired. And this was a place that many years ago, one of our sons was involved in running. He loved to run. In fact, we adopted him and from the time he was 9 when we adopted him. And he immediately just would always go out and run. We would go to the gym and he would run laps around us.
And so, we got him into you know, running at school and he was running track and cross-country and did great. Except for the fact that he hated cross country and he hated track. And we kept thinking, what is going on here? And so, we pushed him, you know. No, you’re really good. He actually won States when he was in 8th grade. We’re thinking scholarships in high school, you know.
Jim: Now we’re talking. (Laughter)
John: Get practical
Jill: That’s what we’re thinking. And finally, as we dug into that and we used this tool of perception, we realized, the kid loves to run. He hates to compete.
Jill: And that was really important for us as parents, to be in tune with how he’s wired. Because honestly, had we kept pushing him into this, you know, a square peg into a round hole, to continue to compete with his running, I think he would hate running today. But he still loves to run today and we took the pressure off of needing to compete.
Jim: Well, and that’s part of the parenting skill-set. You have to know when to back off and it should be sooner rather than later, ’cause if you stay on that accelerator too long, you wear your child down. And that’s what we’re talking about. Kathy, you talk about in the book an “I am” exercise. I was really intrigued by this and in fact, I’m gonna do it tonight with the boys, ’cause I really want to do this. Talk about what the “I am” exercise is.
Kathy: Cool. Everybody in the family gets a piece of paper. You write down 20 “I am” statements. And the challenge for 20 is, because the first five to eight are easy. You know, I’m a girl. I’m a daughter. I’m a runner. You know, I’m good at math. I like my bike. But to try to go all the way to 20.
Jim: What do you see in the last five? I mean, in your practice and what you do to help.
Kathy: Sometimes that’s where they are willing to go deeper.
Jim: What do those statements look like when they’re deep?
Kathy: Sometimes it’s “I’m a believer. I’m a saint, who sometimes sins.” “I’m a daughter, who still respects my parents.” They’ll sometimes add additional statements on there. Sometimes with the young kids it’ll become more of a, “I like, I like, I like.” I like spaghetti. I like pink. I like my room. I like my dad.
Jim: Do you ever see the thing like, “I’m not good enough.”
Kathy: Oh, definitely, really tragic. One of the reasons to do the 20 is to then analyze how much of it is positive? How much of it is negative? Are the negatives first or are the positives first? The joke is, if there are no negatives, add pride as 21 (Laughter) for your first negative. (Laughter) Because Jill and I both believe, they have to know their negatives. They have to know what they’re not doing well, otherwise they don’t know what to work on and they don’t know what to ask for help for.
But if their negatives are first, then they’re not as empowered to believe they can change them. You can also look to see, are there categories there? For instance, if I were parenting and the majority of the 20 were school-related, I would worry that my child didn’t know the whole of himself—his character, his heart, his love, his relationship, his family, his hobbies, his joys.
I’ve had a boy who wrote 17 out of 20 were physical. The No. 1 statement was, “If my school had a football team, I would be the quarterback.” So, he was living, not in a real place. He was disappointed every day he went to school, because his parents chose to send him to a place that didn’t have football. And 17 out of 20, you know, I’m better at doubles tennis than singles. I’m learning how to play golf.
I looked him right in the eye and I said, “Who are you the day you break your leg?” Because it’s so dangerous to put all of your identity in any one category. So, part of our passion is, that we would know the whole of them, so we can help them develop all of who they were designed by their Creator to be.
So, if there is a weak area. If there’s an area where they’re not going to be who we hoped they were going to be, grieve that. Let’s find something that we can celebrate, so that they don’t feel like they’re rejected every day by every conversation they have.
It can be really fun. You’ll find it very engaging. And with men and women, I ask them, do you have husband before father? I tell women all the time, you better have wife before mother. ‘Cause I think the leading cause of divorce in the Western world is women who have children who become moms to the extent that the dad feels unnecessary and–
Kathy: –I’ve had women just grieve that and recognize, oh, my goodness. And then, where does your Christian relationship show up? On a list of 20, is it No. 17 as an afterthought? If you’re raising your children to have high faith, and their commitment to God be No. 1, wouldn’t you want it to be in the top 5?
Jim: Jill Savage and Kathy Koch, authors of the book, No More Perfect Kids, you know what? I don’t want to stop just here. I’ve got more questions and in terms of a recap, we have really covered some ground these last couple of days, but there’s more to go over. I like this acronym, CLAP, like clapping for your kids, Compassion, Love, Acceptance. Perception. We talked about, I think in some ways, the subtle thing we’ve talked about is being real.
Kathy andJill: Uh-hm.
Jim: That’s the theme I’m coming away with, is do these exercises. Sit down and do the “I am” exercise. And then talk with your kids about it, about what they perceive themselves to be spiritually, physically, emotionally. I like that and yet, let’s come back. I want to talk about how to move forward in tough relationships with your teen when they’re pushin’ back. I think we need some practical advice in that regard. So, can you hang on and let’s keep goin’.
Kathy: We’d love to.
John: Well, I have a couple of teens in the house and one preteen.
Jim: Ah, your hands are full.
John: So, this is a good refresher, Jim. I really have appreciate so much the insights Jill and Kathy have brought and this is “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. What a time in the studio we’re having with Jill Savage and Dr. Kathy Koch. These ladies have written a wonderful book called No More Perfect Kids and of course, Jim, no more perfect parenting either. There [have] been some really great reminders here along the way these past couple of days.
Jim: Well, and let me say, John, to our friends who believe in the family and want to help parents do a better job with their children, I mean, that’s job one when you look at it. We’re training the next generation, not just to do well vocationally and emotionally, but to do the work of the Lord. I mean, that’s our goal as Christian parents.
In fact, one mom who contacted us, her teen son was acting out in very troubling ways and this was in a large family. The young man was making everyone miserable. And you know, that’s part of reality, a Christian home, but it happens. And here’s what this mom said.
“My husband and I were starting to question whether or not we were gonna make it.” I mean, that’s serious. You talk about holding a family together. That’s a critical job to do and the mom went on to say, “Lost and looking for answers, I called Focus on the Family to speak to someone, anyone, who could listen.” Thankfully, we provided help and got them movin’ in a better direction.
And you know what? Let me say you, you helped to move them in a better direction. We did it together and I hope that for those of you that can help us right now, you’ll join us in helping these families get through their tough patches. You know, when you look at the rate of divorce, you know, a mom and a child, those that move into poverty after divorce, it is significant.
Jim: It’s like a 30 point swing for those moving into poverty. When we do our job well at Focus on the Family and keep a family together, we are doing, I think, the most critical work that the culture can do and that’s to keep a family intact, movin’ forward, lovin’ each other. And I hope you will join us in ministering to them today.
Jim: This is where the rubber meets the road. This is how we impact the culture and create a better world for our children. And uh … join us today. Join us in this ministry.
John: You can do that right now with your financial gift, either online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio ; when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or when you mail your check to Focus on the Family, 8605 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920.
And our guests’ book is an excellent resource. I might encourage you to get a copy for yourself or someone in your church or your sphere of influence who is struggling right now. They don’t have perfect kids. They don’t know what to do. Uh … the book by Jill and Kathy, No More Perfect Kids is a very practical resource. It covers pretty much every age and stage of your child’s development and it might even be a little bit challenging to you uh … to find your validation in God and not in how your child performs. It really is a great book as you’ve heard their heart today. That’s captured beautifully in it and we’ve got copies of that here at Focus on the Family.
In fact, when you make a contribution today of any amount, we’ll send a copy of No More Perfect Kids to you. It’s our way of saying thank you and making sure that you get the kind of resou