Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Loving Your Kids for Who They Are (Part 3 of 3)

Loving Your Kids for Who They Are (Part 3 of 3)

Author Jill Savage and educational psychologist Dr. Kathy Koch explain why parents should avoid pushing perfection on their kids, and instead maintain realistic expectations and love them unconditionally. (Part 3 of 3)

Original Air Date: August 20, 2014



Jill Savage: 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.

End of Recap

John Fuller: Okay, so step back and let go. That warning comes from Jill Savage and she’s back with us, along with Dr. Kathy Koch on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller and last time, Jim, in fact, the past couple of days now, we’ve had such a great conversation with our guests and our listeners have enjoyed it so much, that we’re back with another day.

Jim Daly: We are. It’s been really good. I’ve learned so much and even that comment there. I mean, to be human is to be controlling. It’s in our nature to want to do that. And uh … you know, I’m thinkin’ about it, John. When you buy a car, you get the owners’ manual. You get to read through how to fill the washer fluid, how to put oil in it. You know, when it comes to parenting, we don’t get a lot of coaching. And uh … that’s what I love about what we do here at Focus on the Family–

John: Yeah.

Jim: –to be able to provide that kind of owner’s manual, things that you can do that work and that have been tested over decades. And I hope you’ll join us in not only supporting parents, but also strengthening marriages and helping families thrive in Christ, which is what we’re about here.

John: Well, it’s what we do and you can be a part of that ministry when you donate today at or call us at 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And Jim, there is so much encouragement that we have for parents with our conversation today.


Jim: Well, there is and let me formally welcome back Jill Savage and Kathy Koch to the “Focus” program. Great to have you back.

Dr. Kathy Koch: Thank you.

Jill: Thank you.

Jim: You guys have done such a great job in this book, No More Perfect Kids. And again, all parents struggle. All kids struggle, because we’re not perfect. Kathy, you talk in your book, a powerful story because you’re tall.

Kathy: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, you’re 6’1″. That’s a good height for a woman.

Kathy: Uh-hm.

Jim: Talk about what that was like growin’ up, probably most of your life, lookin’ over most of your classmates.

Kathy: Uh-hm.

Jim: And what did that do to your heart and how did that help shape you?

Kathy: That’s great. When I was 6, I was already looking out over the crowd and was uncomfortable doing so. And I didn’t fit in the desks. Those were back in the days when the custodian would have to come and raise the desk–

Jim: Right.

Kathy: –or lower the chair. And I was miserable and I walked home from school one day and sat down with my mom and I said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be tall anymore.” And I’m so grateful that I knew she was there intuitively. I knew she was there. I knew she would clap for me. I knew that she would have compassion and love and acceptance and perception. And I knew that I wouldn’t be rejected in that moment. In fact, she did not say, “Well, get over it. You’re gonna be tall.”

Jim: Right, we can’t cut your legs off.

Kathy: Yeah and frankly, I think a lot of busy, hurried parents who aren’t clapping for their kids, that would’ve been their response. “Well, get over it.” “Mommy, I don’t want to be tall anymore. And Mommy, I’m clumsy.” I tripped over things that weren’t there. I was really pretty miserable. And she loved me in the moment and that night, she told my dad, her husband, “We have a daughter with a perceived problem that cannot be changed. She’s going to be tall. What are we gonna do? And a perceived problem that can be changed. She is kinda clumsy. What are we going to do?

And that’s such a core part of parenting. As children feel that, wanting them to change what can’t be changed, no more perfect. For sure they’re gonna feel rejected. So, by the end of that week, I was enrolled in tap dance class. And I sit here today, believing with everything in me, that if I would not have had the guts to speak up and my parents would not have had that ability to feel and fix, I might not be here today, because I wouldn’t want to stand before thousands of people if my body image had been weak.

I became the center of the back row, a position of high honor that only the tallest girl was allowed to have. And so, all of a sudden, my height was not a defect. It was a thing that energized me. And tap dance, of course, is how I became less clumsy over time.

And I thought I’d be a good basketball player. I wasn’t, because I thought I was so tall, I didn’t have to jump. (Laughter) Great story, you know. But when I became a teacher of second graders, I was popular, because I could hang things from the ceiling without using a ladder and other teachers would come and borrow me instead of dragging a ladder down the hall. (Laughter)

Jim: You became the ladder.

Kathy: Yes and when I go overseas on those really big airplanes, I have no trouble putting my suitcases into the overhead bins.

Jim: Yeah.

Kathy: When I speak in front of an audience, I can be seen and it’s not that y’all can’t be, but there’s something beautiful about my height and I saw the longer I lived, that it was a part of God’s perfect design. And I praise God my parents didn’t reject me in that moment, because then it would’ve been a rejection of God’s design and God makes no mistakes.

And we are passionate in this book, that we raise the children we were given, not the children we wish you had. You know, the subtitle, Love Your Kids for Who They Are. My parents loved me in my height, in my clumsiness, in my struggle and in my pain and here I am.

Jim: Well, and the good thing about that, you could put in any of the adjectives that you need to. I mean, in your case it was height.

Kathy: Right.

Jim: And you had to manage that and your parents had to help you manage that. But an effective parent is going to notice what their kids’ issues are and deal with it in a similar way.

Kathy: Exactly and Jim, one of the saddest encounters when I do school assemblies, I enjoy telling that story and the rest of the story that goes with that. And I had a teenager, I believe he might’ve been a freshman, come forward and he said to me, “Dr. Kathy, did your parents ever ask you to get short?”

John: Hm.

Kathy: And I really wasn’t sure I understood him correctly and I said, “Well, say that again.” “I was just wondering, did your parents ever ask you to get short?” And I said, “Well, no, that wouldn’t have been possible unless I hung out with an NBA basketball team.” That was a joke, you know. And he said, “Dr. Kathy, I think my C in math is a permanent condition like your height is a permanent condition, but they keep asking me to earn a B. How can I help my parents respect my C? And how do I go there?”

John: Hm.

Jill: Wow.

Jim: So, how do you measure that as a parent? I mean, intellectually, we’re all gifted in different ways. But it’s one of the great measures of our culture is, how bright are you? And it shows up in our scores. And I’m not saying for a parent to accept a poor score. That’s a different issue. But what about a child that just doesn’t get the concepts right now? They’re maybe in 6th, 7th or 8th grade and they’re strugglin’. And they’re bringin’ home C‘s, maybe some D‘s. And you’re talkin’ to the school. You’re doin’ all the right stuff and you’re tutoring and you’re doing it all, but where can you break that child’s spirit?

Jill: Are you going there or am I? (Laughing)

Kathy: Let me first say this and then I bet Jill has much to say. We have to look for evidence that they’re capable of more than a C. Do we really have evidence? Have you talked to the teacher? Have we observed the child study? Is he making every honest attempt? Is he using the tools that he’s been given? Is he able to ask us to help? Or have we shut that door? Is there apathy and laziness and a lack of commitment? Or is the commitment there? And then I think as parents, we step back and recognize, it’s not about us. And their future can be extremely bright, even if they’re not good at math.

Jim and John: Hm.

Jill: Uh-hm.

Kathy: That’s part of the key, is recognizing that their future is not going to be limited, unless they needed to be an accountant. But why would they need to be that? So, to understand that, that C or that dropping out of track or whatever it may be, doesn’t mean their future can’t be fully fabulous. That attitude I think is key.

Jill: And I think where we want excellence is, we want excellence in their effort.

Jim: Right.

Jill: That’s where we want to look for excellence, is in the effort. And if they’re giving a strong effort, but the result is not what we hoped they would get or what they hoped even that they could get, as long as we know the effort was there.

You know, we dealt with this with one of our sons, who was struggling in class and he just always has had trouble asking for help. And we finally, you know, we kept encouraging him to ask for help, to meet with the teacher outside, to get some tutoring. We finally had to require that of him. And you know what? Once we required it, he didn’t even fight requiring it. We just had to step in and be the parent and say, you are going to do this.

Jim: Lay the boundaries.

Jill: And his grades improved. They didn’t make it to an A, but they improved from where they were. And we knew that at least there was extra effort being given. And so, we had to be okay with where the result was, because we knew at least effort was being made for improvement.

John: Okay, so I’m listening to you and agreeing and I hear you. But I had a teacher for a high schooler say, “Oh, definitely has the ability, certainly can do this. Child certainly, certainly could do this, child really didn’t care to do this. So, how do we deal with apathy, laziness, whatever it was, that kept that particular child from really trying, because we did not, as parents, see the effort? And in the school setting, the weeks tick by. What can you do in those circumstances?

Kathy: I think, you know, we cannot change another person, as much as we want to.

Jim: Are you serious? (Laughter)

Kathy: As much as we want to.

Jim: Man!

John: It was my child, so I can change them. (Laughter)

Kathy: And this is the hard part though of parenting, is because we want to believe that if we nag enough, if we comment enough, if we whatever enough [it’ll work].

John: Yeah, but none of that works.

Jim: Use more sarcasm.

Kathy: Right and it’s not going to work and at that point, sometimes we have to let our kids fail or we have to let them be where they’re at. And it may be three, four years down the road when they realize the consequences of their choices.

Jim: Let me turn it to the emotions for a minute. Because again, there’s no cookie cutter approach with your kids. You may have five kids like you have Jill. Jean and I have two. John, you and Dena had six.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, there’s combinations here. But what I see in my two boys, quite different personalities. Let me describe what I’m talking about. So, for Trent, the more I press, the more he withdraws.

Kathy andJill: Uh-hm.

Jim: For Troy, he’s got a sensitive spirit, so when I press, he feels like a failure. He actually is feeling like, I’m not measuring up and I can tell it. And I think I’ve gotten to the point with Troy, particularly, he can verbalize that. So, if I’m wounding him, he’ll say, “Dad, why are you sayin’ that?” Or “Why are you on me?” And I like that, you know. And then, I’ve gotta catch myself. Okay, that’s unrealistic.

But there’s a battle there. Troy, I think he can deliver that. Trent will just kind of pull back. He’s more introverted in his temperament and I can see that he stews about it and he won’t come out and let me know where I’m blowin’ it.

Jill: And you know what you’re talking about there, you know, having five children, I know one of the things that I’ve been guilty of is parenting by herd. (Laughter)

John: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: It’s a lot easier.

Jill: It is. (Laughter)

Jim: By the pound, right.

Jill: Right, you know, we guys just get everybody here and everybody there and everybody gets, you know, we take care of all their school things at once. And that’s not effective. And what you’re talking about is using that tool of perception, because you’re perceiving how each of your boys are receiving your comments, your instructions differently. That’s so important.

And so, parenting by herd is circus parenting. And what we want to do as we rid ourselves of this perfection-infection parenting, is we want deep intuitive parenting. It takes a lot more effort. It takes a lot more of our time, but it’s also far more effective in leading our kids.

Jim: In fact, you talk about this three-prong approach to affirmation. Describe what you mean by that, ’cause again, these are hooks for us to do our job as parents a bit better.

Kathy: Right, instead of saying that children are good, which they can deny, right? You know, you did a good job.

Jim: But they don’t feel it.

Kathy: Right and then do it again. And they’re like, “Oh, no, I’ve got to do something again and I don’t even know what I did.” So, use specific adjectives. You are compassionate. You are generous. You are gentle. You are loving. You are putting forth effort. You are creative.

Jim: So, being specific is important.

Kathy: Be specific with an adjective. And then, I know because blank. Because like if somebody were to come to my house and they’d walk in my living room, they’d say, “Boy, you’re really organized.” I’m very tempted to say, “Come to the junk room.”

Jim: Yeah (Laughing) Go look in the closet.

Kathy: I don’t have a junk drawer, people. I have a junk room, (Laughter) and I don’t think God intended for us to reject the compliment. I just think that, that’s part of what’s happened.

Jim: Well, but you reject it, because you know yourself better than they know you.

Kathy: Right and so, even if that was a fair statement for the living room, right, I take it to the masses and it’s not a good thing. So, you know, you’re compassionate I know, because when Lisa fell, you were the first one to go see if she was okay. And I’m so glad, because we’ve been talking about putting others above ourselves and you just demonstrated that. I’m so proud of you.

You’re creative, I know because when I read your story, I laughed at the end. You took the main character on such a unique spin. You are a creative writer. I wonder what that means for your future. So, you are blank with a specific adjective.

And you know, parents can decide what those are. As a family, what do we parent for? What do we want our children to be? If I value generosity, then I need to look for my children being generous, so I can say, “Oh, you’re generous. I’m glad, because I saw you do this.” And evidence doesn’t lie. So, the kids know that you know them and that provides for the evidence that they can step it up and continue that behavior.

Jim: You know, I get that and it’s good. It is all wrapped up in this statement that you also address in your book, what your child’s longing for the “Am I important?” answer to that question.

Jill: Uh-hm.

Jim: In their heart, they’re saying, “Am I important to you?” And I mean, I’m telling you, here at Focus, we get so much mail, so many e-mails, contacting our counseling department, where that core question is the issue. I never felt important to my dad. I never felt important to my mom. How do we as parents make sure that our kids know that it’s not idolatry. We’re not takin’ it to that level, but you are important to me.

Jill: Uh-hm.

Jim: You’re my child.

Jill: This is a place that I’m really passionate about, I think particularly because of the technology that today’s parents have. We are very distracted.

Jim: Hm.

Jill: You know, we hear a lot about distracted driving.

Jim: Well, we’re just busy.

Jill: We’re busy, but we’re also distracted. We’ve got smartphones. We have computers. We have things that are constantly taking our attention away. And I often work from home and so, I’ve got my laptop sitting on my lap and one of the things that I have very intentionally and practically done is, I’ve taken the term, “Stop, look and listen” to a new level for my parenting.

So, let’s say I’m sitting on the computer and my son walks in after school. And he makes a comment. It’s very easy for me to just keep doing what I’m doing and you know, say something, “Uh-huh.”–

Jim: And say, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.

Jill: Exactly and I do the same with my husband and so, I would say over the last three to four years, I intentionally stopping what I’m doing. I usually shut the computer, put the phone away, and look him in the eye, completely turn my body, sometimes even get up out of the chair and then listen with my eyes, as well as my ears. That says, you are important.

Kathy: Uh-hm.

Jill: And we really, I mean, it just grieves my heart to see a mom pushing her kids in a stroller and talking on her smartphone. That grieves my heart and we’ve all done it. We’ve all done it, but so many parents take their kids to the park and they’re pushing their kids on the swing and they’re on their smartphone.

Jim: Yeah, they’re not engaged.

Jill: They’re not engaged. And I think this is key to telling our kids that they are important.

Jim: Jill, the stop, look and listen application, it’s a great idea, but I’m just thinking of so many parents who are runnin’ so fast. I mean, you’re gettin’ home. You got to pay the bills. The dinner’s gotta get made, maybe we got stuff we gotta organize for tomorrow. And you got two, three, four, five kids in your case, runnin’ around. How do you get there? How do you intentionally give each child the kind of attention we’re talkin’ about?

Jill: Well, I think one thing that we have to do is, we have to pay attention to the margin in our own life. You know, just because I can do 10 things at once, doesn’t mean it’s healthy for my family for me to do 10 things at once. Just because I have a high capacity for a lot of activity, doesn’t mean it’s wise for my family for me to be involved in a lot of activities.

So, I know I had to come to grips with that, because oh, I love musical theater. And I tried it out when I was parenting and I was like, this is crazy. I can’t be the parent I need to be in this season of life.

So, I had to pay attention to my own pace of life. I think the other thing that we can do are [sic] just small tweaks, like the stop, look and listen. That’s a small tweak, that when somebody approaches me, I stop what I’m doing, a small tweak.

Another small tweak could be that I do a date with one of my kids once a week. And it’s just he and I and we go out and have a Coke and every week it’s a different child. Another small tweak might be that instead of running errands alone, I run errands with one of my kids.

Jim: I like that.

Jill: That, you know, you take ’em along, because [the] car is an incredible place to have conversation. You’re not looking at each other, so it’s not intimidating for them. And it’s amazing some of the conversations that’ll come out when you are both looking forward and it’s less intimidating for them.

So, I think, you know, we are very busy, but there are some small tweaks that we can make that help us to tune into our kids and to have those intentional conversations and to even just give opportunity for them. Because you really can’t schedule ’em. You can’t say, “Okay, now it’s time to talk. Let’s talk.”

Jim: Well, the best moments in life are typically not the scheduled ones.

Jill: They are not, right. so, we’ve gotta give opportunity for those moments to happen.

Kathy: I would like to add that I affirm the car, talking in the car. I’d love the car to be a digital-free zone—no radio, no handheld devices, nothing on, silence—because then someone will talk and they will often talk deep.

I think the hand-held devices off at the dinner table. Parents are telling me that their kids are staying longer, conversations are going deeper when mom’s phone is on, all the other phones are off. And mom answers only if it’s essential, during that maybe 90-minute time.

I think volunteering together as a family is a really positive way to get to know each other. And it can be a passion of a child or a passion of a parent, but we’re gonna try to go together. Or maybe it is a mom and a daughter that go and they sing at the nursing home and maybe it’s a dad and a son or a dad and a daughter. They go and they build a home with Habitat. But to go out to volunteer, to work together, side by side is often where some really cool conversations will occur. And that’s where gifting is discovered. All of our kids were created in advance with good gifts. And they’re discovered when they put them in the opportunity to use them.

Jim: I’m laughing here, because Jean has a love for animals. She always has as a little girl. She was [a] pre-vet major at UC Davis, all that kind of thing. So, she scheduled us when the boys were really young, she scheduled us to go do on a little farm kind of the cleanup. They do it with volunteer work.

Jill: Uh-hm.

Jim: But it’s scoopin’ horse poo. (Laughter)

Jill: Oh, no.

Jim: And we got out to the farm and the three of us quickly realized, we don’t’ like this kind of volunteer work too much. (Laughter) The only good thing is, we got a discount on Disney tickets. (Laughter)

Kathy: But you got to know your kids differently there.

Jim: No, it was fun. It was fun.

Kathy: Yeah.

Jim: I’m tongue and cheekin’ this a little bit. But you know, they were out feedin’ the chickens.

Kathy: And that’s like Jill said, that’s how you find out what they like and what they don’t like and who they might want to be and who they’d rather never want to be.

Jim: It’s a good environment.

Jill: It is.

Jim: Yeah.

Jill: And you’re building character in those moments, too, you know. We took our two boys when the Joplin, Missouri had the tornado, [to help with] the cleanup.

Jim: Yeah, those are good moments.

Jill: And we took out two boys with us and went and helped with that and what a difference that made, working side by side. And we still talk about that to this day.

Jim: Create a moment.

Jill: Yeah.

Kathy: Uh-hm, you know, and let’s all remember that there’s a season for everything. So, you know, I don’t have to be in musical theater now, but I could when my kids are out of the home. They’re still gonna want people in theater who are older. You know, I don’t have to be in every Bible study. I don’t have to go to every event.

I think that moms and dads need to be careful of their [busyness], like Jill was saying and the same thing is true for kids. A season of piano, a season of ballet, a season of soccer, to find out what their passions and skills may be.

Some parents are afraid to start piano for fear that they’ll have to do it forever. So, start it and see if it becomes an interest. If it isn’t, drop it. No shame in that. Doesn’t mean they failed. It just means it wasn’t their thing. But it may be that soccer was their thing, so guess what? You’re a soccer mom. Praise God, ’cause it’s all about the children, right?

John: You know, Jim, one of the reasons that I’m so glad we have our guests and the things that we’ve been talking about are so fundamental–and by the way, get the CD, get the download, get their book, No More Perfect Kids when you stop by— is a memory I have of being at a park with my brother and we were running around playing with our kids, who were younger at the time.

Kathy: Hm.

John: And there was a guy sitting on a bench in his 20’s and he watched us for a long time. And then he came over and he said, “I’ve been watching you and I just don’t know how to do what you’re doing.”

Kathy: Oh.

Jill: Hm.

John: “You seem to enjoy running around with your kids. How do you do that?” We have a culture that doesn’t know some real fundamental things.

Jim: Hm.

Kathy: Well, and what’s so interesting about that, when you ask that question, Jim, about how do I help my kids feel important, the first thought I had was, play with them. Because when you put away the hand-held devices and you enter into their world, whether that be the tent with a blanket or the tea party or a videogame for a while or checkers on a real checker board or you know, playing catch in the park or walking a mall with your daughter or going to a record store with your son who loves music, going into their space and their world and following them for a while, that says to them, my dad, my mom, they really do want to know me. And they really do seem to care about what I care about.

The other advantage of play at the park—I love that—you can’t play perfectly, right? You will fall down and you will drop the ball and you will swing too high or swing too low.

Jim: Right.

Kathy: You can’t get off the swing and go, “Mommy, did I do that perfectly?” So, play is one of those beautiful things, that brings freedom, that brings us to that point of realizing that there is no place on earth called “Perfect.” And I can relax and I can be. So, when we stop the play, ’cause we’re all so busy and we’re all so, you know, wired in, we have lost a lot of what is really beautiful in relating, even in friendship, not just in parenting.

Jim: Well, it’s so true and it’s been incredible these last couple of days to just go over the material and to really think with intentionality about how to do the parenting job in a way that, I think is the goal. And that is, to raise very emotionally healthy, God-connected kids, so that when you launch them into the big bad world, they are wonderful tools for the use of our Lord Jesus Christ—

Kathy andJill: Uh-hm.

Jim: –that they are prepared to be salt and light to the world. They’re prepared to be connecting with people, to have empathy for people, to be good people and that’s what the goal is. And you guys have certainly helped us to think through how to do that better, in your book, No More Perfect Kids. Thank you so much for being with us.

Jill: Thanks for havin’ us.

Kathy: Thank you.


John: Well, your child wants to know you care and with that, we conclude this three-day broadcast with our guests, Dr. Kathy Koch and Jill Savage.

Jim: You know, I’ve been struck by so many of their insights and the importance of accepting and loving our children, regardless of how they perform. And it’s tough to do that if we’re honest. And I hope you have been inspired, too and I know you’ll want a copy of No More Perfect Kids.

John: Get that book and a CD or instant download of this three-part conversation at

Jim: And if you have benefitted from our work here at Focus on the Family, would you help us. Help us help those who need it. The last few days we’ve been talkin’ about your relationship with your children, but a core foundation to a strong family is a strong marriage, We recently heard an amazing story from a couple, Ramon and Monica and he shared this.

“We were on the brink of divorce and had papers in hand. I was living in one place while my wife and kids were in another. The depression was so dark and nothing made sense. It got so cold that I started to question my whole journey of being a Christian. We both began listening to “Focus on the Family.” The teachings we heard on the radio, along with information on your website were instrumental in God turning our situation around. We found tips and advice on how to navigate the storms and the Lord healed our marriage. Now our family is together. We are stronger than ever before. We are so grateful to you for everything that you’ve done for our family.”

And what I what to do is direct that toward you, those who have supported us financially. Um … they, like me, we are grateful to you for making it happen and I want to say thank you. Thank you for being there for this couple and 120,000 other couples headed to divorce last year that you helped save.

John: And you can be part of our marriage strengthening, marriage saving team when you contribute generously online at or you can donate on the phone, 800, the letter A</sp

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