Terra Mattson: They want to see that their mom and dad can love like Christ, can stop and pray for someone, um, who’s actually opening the Word for answers and not just talking about it, but they see them actually opening the Word. Uh, it’s one thing to give lectures, but it’s another when your kid catches you in your authentic, real life.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Terra Mattson is with us today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today, we’re diving into a world that’s a bit foreign to me. I’ve got two boys, but I have not had that privilege of raising daughters. Uh, John, you have – you have three.
John: I have, and I’m not an expert…
John: …but I am experienced, and I love those girls so very much.
Jim: Well, today, uh, we want to help you understand the precious relationship you have with your daughter and the role you play raising her, both as a mom and a dad. Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you be the best parent you can be. I hope you know that. Um, so today, we’ve asked Terra Mattson to join us. She has two girls of her own, and she’ll give us some insights on how we can help our daughters become courageous by being firmly rooted in grace.
John: And Terra is the clinical director and marriage and family therapist with Living Wholehearted, which is a counseling and consulting firm that, uh, she founded with her husband Jeff. She’s also the also the author of Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace which we have copies of at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: Terra, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Terra: Thank you so much.
Jim: Um, that’s great that you have that background in helping so many. I mean, I’m assuming hundreds, if not thousands, of, uh, women and girls you’ve…
Jim: …Counseled, and that’s great to bring that to bear on our discussion. What kinds of things are you hearing from those people that you’re helping, uh, about being a girl in a modern culture?
Terra: There are just so many confusing messages from the church to the culture. We’re being asked to do more, be more, and so many women are struggling with their own messages about who I am, my body image, my anxiety, depression. The loneliness factor with the digital age…
Terra: …Has just been enormous. And then being able – how do we help our daughters? There’s mean-girl issues. Uh, we are just struggling on so many levels.
Jim: Well, you know, I thought about this as I was preparing to do the broadcast today. And, you know, I sit in my chair about 6 in the morning and read through all the prep in the book and, you know, become more familiar with your message. The thing that catches my attention is women for the most part – especially I look at 20-somethings – certain indicators would say that girls are thriving in our culture when it comes to the number getting college degrees, the number getting advanced degrees. And when you look at master’s programs, they are heavily tilted toward women now, where it’s 60 – 70% female enrollment…
Terra: Mm hmm.
Jim: …and only 30% male enrollment. So, in some ways, by some definition, it seems like girls are doing far better than their moms did, but it’s not helping, is it?
Terra: It’s not, and again, it depends how you define better.
Jim: Well, what – yeah. Give us that definition.
Terra: We are performing better. We have more opportunities. We’re given a – more of a voice in the culture, and – but on a deep, fundamental level, we’re missing this, um, opportunity to find our identity apart from what we do.
Terra: That’s what it means to be a girl, a courageous girl that says, “I am loved no matter what.”
Terra: And that is the shift of a courageous woman. So, we’re trying to really get to the root, the fundamental root issues.
Terra: I work with high-functioning leaders. I work with the leaders of the church…
Terra: …And their families, and we perform really well. We’ve got so many opportunities, and yet at a fundamental level, there’s just this disconnect with relationship…
Terra: …The eye-to-eye connection, being able to really be present with one another – we’re missing those things.
Jim: And the – you know, the idea that everything’s on the rise, even the bad things – so when you look at, uh, female suicide rates – are moving up and up and up. So again, what are you seeing in there that that isolation, that loneliness, is causing a person to make that decision to take their own life – a woman to take her own life, which – that has been predominantly a male-dominated statistic?
Terra: It’s so sad. It just – it breaks my heart, but that’s a huge reason of what I’m speaking to. Being trauma informed, I think we’re not dealing with the deep, hidden parts of our stories, and that’s a huge piece of what I’m trying to help women so that we can model to our daughters. It’s OK to be human, it’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to be honest about our stories. Uh, the amount of abuse, amount of sexual assault is enormous. We are over-sexualized in every way, and so I think that’s adding…
Terra: …to a huge piece. And then we’re coping with those deep burdens in really maladaptive ways – um, the overdrinking, the being constantly on social media, trying to find our identity. There – there’s just a lot of factors, and I don’t want to oversimplify by any means, but really, the core of what I’m trying to speak to is – is the undercurrent need of our humanity. It’s OK to have needs as women, and I think we’ve gone to this other place of – being a strong woman means you got it all, you can do it all, and you don’t struggle.
Jim: You don’t need help.
Terra: You don’t need help.
Jim: And that’s kind of – well, it’s everybody’s core problem, but it does seem to me that women carry a lot of guilt. I mean, that’s one of the things I’ve said often on the program, John. When I am interviewing, you know, professionals, women professionals, there’s always this edge that – they look so quickly to their own failings first. We men, we tend to have that ego that blocks that a bit.
Jim: It’s always the other guy’s fault, right?
Terra: The blamer, yeah.
Jim: But with – with women – I’ve noticed this with my wife Jean. She has this incredible capacity to say, “Where did I blow it? Where am I wrong?” And there is that amazing ability for women to load guilt onto themselves for a broken family, for children that aren’t performing well. Speak to that issue of why a woman goes there to self-loathe, to, you know, be on her own back about, uh, failing in her – in her life and her family – those kinds of things.
Terra: Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of different reasons for different women. Part of that’s wiring. I think some women’s wiring is more bent towards, um, relationship and being able to say, “What part can I own?” Another piece are – is our stories and what we were taught in our homes growing up, and I think the other part is the church. The culture of the church really – um, I think we’re creating co-dependency in women.
Jim: Describe that. What does that mean?
Terra: It means, “I’m OK only if you’re OK.” So, I spend my whole life trying to make you OK. Whether you’re my kid, whether you’re my spouse, whether you’re my friends, it puts all the burden on me.
Jim: OK. Spiritually speaking, is that the curse of Eve? Is that something that is so in the DNA of females – and I’m – you know, I don’t mean to stereotype, and I get it.
Jim: It’s the 80-20 rule, so if I’m offending a woman there, I get that. It doesn’t apply to everybody. I understand that.
Terra: No offense here.
Jim: But generally speaking, yeah. That’s such a female attribute…
Terra: It is.
Jim: …that you – you are hard on yourselves.
Terra: We’re hard on ourselves, and we’re discontent. That’s the curse of Eve.
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting.
Terra: That’s the curse. She had everything in the garden. She had perfect relationship with her husband, with her God. She had all of creation, and yet, she wanted more. And I think that discontent is only fed in this culture more and more, and I would say that’s – you know, even as a woman married to a wonderful man, Jeff – I’m gonna put him out there the temptation to think that it’s better somewhere else is right there all the time. So, I have to keep myself grounded in what is good and what is right and…
Jim: So, worry…
Terra: Worry and perfectionism…
Jim: …that I’m not enough for my husband.
Terra: …that I’m not enough.
Jim: Yeah. Wow.
Terra: And it’s not enough.
Jim: That’s not a good place to live, is it?
Jim: It’s unhealthy.
Terra: It’s filled with shame, and then it leads to unhealthy coping.
Jim: But it’s so typical. Uh, you know, in your book you launch with some stories that I really want to touch on. Uh, I think, you know, the Lord taught us to speak in stories, and I want to get some definition about what you’re, uh, expressing here. One, you had a 14-year-old client who was approached by boys – this hits at the social media issue – and the boys wanted her to do something. Describe that environment and of course, to the degree you can in general, that counseling, umm, approach, that you had with this particular young girl.
Terra: It was actually pretty surprising at the time because she was in a Christian school, and I’m often working with parents of – should we public school, homeschool, Christian school? And regardless of what environment we’re at, our children are potentially in harm’s way when it comes to…
Terra: …temptation. So, she was in a Christian school.
Jim: Good Christian school, good Christian home…
Terra: Christian boys.
Jim: …good Christian girl.
Terra: Yes. There was nobody to blame.
Jim: So, all the indicators are positive, so the environment’s great.
Terra: The environment’s great.
Jim: But what’s happening underneath what’s observable?
Terra: Yeah. She was, again, not feeling very seen and known in a loving home and was looking for some attention. Uh, that’s what we ended up getting to the bottom of at time. But these boys – very pretty girl – were bombarding her again and again. So, she would try to say, “No, I’m not going to send you” – they wanted nude pictures. “I’m not going to send them. No, no, no.” And eventually, she cracked. She didn’t go to her parents out of feeling like she’d get in trouble.
Terra: And looking back, I wish she would have just gone and gotten help. And that’s really a fundamental piece of training our kiddos – to say, “When you’re in a corner of some sort, get help. There’s no shame in that.”
Jim: You know, in that regard, this is a great little, uh, tutorial for parents listening right now. So if they have that girl in their – you know, their daughter, and she fits that kind of, uh, you know, dimension – that she’s active in social media, those kinds of things – how does a parent create an environment where she can feel safe coming to her mom or dad to talk about this?
Terra: Good question. I think a lot of it is what happens when they come to us with their mistakes or their disagreements. How do we respond? Are we quick to give them the lecture? I’m guilty of that many times. Or am I quick to listen and try to hear her perspective and, again, to recognize we all struggle? And the question is, what are we going to do with that struggle? So instead of getting – it’s normal as a parent to get scared, and out of that scared, we react. We react with anger or shame.
Jim: But the point is, it’s not that moment that can be built. It has to be built over time…
Terra: Over time…
Jim: …in many other instances…
Jim: …to have the credibility and the relationship with your daughter so she feels comfortable coming to you. And I can’t think of a parent that I know that wouldn’t want their daughter to come to them.
Jim: And it’s unfortunate. We’re just – we have blind spots as to how do we develop that relationship with our daughters.
John: So, Terra, when – when you were setting up this story, you were saying that at the root, she didn’t feel like she was being heard or seen at home. So, help me. I’m a dad. I’ve got daughters. They’re adults now, but what could I do if that were my daughter that would help her? What could I do that would affirm her in a way that is meaningful to her?
Terra: This is where there – we are practicing all the time to be slow to speak and quick to listen. And so those moments where our daughter or son is coming to us, uh, and they’re setting it up with maybe some fear – “Mom, you might be mad. Dad, I’m not sure what your response is going to be.” Those are cues to us of, “Slow. Slow down. It’s time to listen.” And all I’m gonna do is really just -uh, we call it mirroring. I’m gonna – I’m gonna repeat back to my kid what I think they’re trying to tell me. That slows down my own body and my own anxiety if I’m slowing down to mirror it back. And if I could find something to actually validate and to go, “I could see how you – you’re tempted. I could see how you would struggle there. Every girl wants attention from boys. That’s normal.” Not, uh, shaming her for – for even being tempted there – and then the empathy piece, which is what that might feel like for her. She’s feeling scared. I mean, that takes time to do that kind of listening. It takes an enormous amount of slowing down, and we – I think that’s the other factor that’s playing in is we’re so busy.
Terra: And so those conversations don’t get to happen because our kids are saying, “Mom and Dad have really important things to do. I’m not as important.” And in this home, that was a lot of what was happening – wonderful, Christian parents doing a lot of amazing things for God’s kingdom, but their daughter was feeling lost in the shuffle of it all.
John: Well, that’s pretty sad, um, but it is avoidable and, uh, today on Focus on the Family we’re talking to Terra Mattson. Uh, we have her book. You can find it at our website. It’s called Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace. Our site is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast and can also call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY
Jim: Terra, I – I love your message of raising courageous girls, and it’s so, uh, underneath the surface, too. I mean, it’s just not – you know, it’s not making men out of women.
Jim: That kind of courageous – but women, too, need the courage of their convictions to say no to boys who want to exploit them.
Jim: That’s courage.
Jim: And, uh, so I don’t want to, uh, conflate those two things and, uh, mislead people. You’ve created an acronym to explain what a courageous girl looks like, um, and we’ll post that online, John.
John: Mm hmm.
Jim: But let’s quickly run through it and then we’re going to come back and dig into a couple as we have time. So, what is the acronym COURAGEOUS GIRL? What does that spell out for you?
Terra: Well, the C is for a girl who’s confident in who God made her to be. O is that she’s open to people who are different than her. She understands and applies God’s word. And the R is she’s willing to risk for her faith. A is asks for help willingly. G is generous. E is empathetic. O is obedient to God and his voice. U is unique from the world around her, and S is a servant heart. And then the last is the GIRL. G is she’s a good friend even when it’s hard. I, she can initiate with integrity, and R, real and honest with God and others. And the L is she leads and lives wholeheartedly.
Jim: So, let’s take a couple of these. Confidence – I mean, that’s one. I think we as parents struggle with this with both girls and boys…
Jim: …frankly. Um, so how does a parent encourage their daughter to gain confidence? What are some practical steps?
Terra: Well, ideally, it starts when they’re little and we’re giving them opportunities to get to practice and to struggle, uh, and not to come in to rescue them, to be able to discover what they’re good at. And really, a lot of the affirmation from parents – we need to use our words to be able to spotlight them and to say, “I see you, and I see where you’re doing this really well,” but less on the performance. I think a lot of children end up being performers. They know they can do well out on the baseball field or the basketball court.
Terra: Soccer, yes. Soccer – that’s where we’re at.
Jim: That’s it.
Terra: But they don’t know, apart from performing, am I still valuable? And that’s the affirmation we’re wanting to give our kids.
Jim: You know, Terra, I think our culture is so steeped in performance. We as Christian parents don’t even know when we’re setting that bar.
Terra: We don’t.
Jim: And some of us might even think – and I think to an extent, I’m guilty of this as a parent – “I want you to do well with academics. If you choose a sport, I want you to do well, so I may even try coaching you up even if I didn’t play that sport.”
Jim: But I mean, it’s that thing, huh? How do we as Christians de-emphasize performance in a culture that’s dripping with accolades for performance?
Terra: Yeah, you know what? In God’s economy – and you know this, and so I’m not speaking, uh, brand new information. But in God’s economy, he’s not looking at the high performers. I look at his disciples, and I’m like, eh.
Jim: That’s a good point.
Terra: So – so…
Jim: Fishermen that hadn’t caught any fish…
Terra: Yeah, and I – He really doesn’t see what we see in our culture. And I’m a high performer. That’s why I work with high performers. And I know what it’s like to feel so seen by my performance and not feel known on the inside. And that’s really the message is – I’m trying to give slow, tangible how-to’s to really know one another beyond the performance. So, it’s kind of – I honestly – I have to check myself when I’m cheering my girls on.
Terra: Is this me being proud that I’m the mother of the star athlete? Or, I mean, it’s really about me…
Jim: I’m smiling because I know the feeling.
Terra: Yeah – or slowing down and to say, you know what? I want to spotlight my daughter and how she went over and helped that player pull them up and – um, when she knocked them over. The character development and the – the way that she was able to cheer her friends on…
Terra: And she passed the ball instead of always needed to be the one who shoots. I want to spotlight those character attributes…
Terra: …And the things that God sees in her heart more than just, “Wow, you scored that many points.”
Terra: “You’re a star.”
Jim: Um, you know, the most important relationship a girl or a boy will have is their relationship with Jesus Christ. I mean, as Christian parents, that’s what – that’s the foundation for everything. And, uh, I think the right question is, what does the faith of a courageous girl – you know, the F in – the F in courageous…
Terra: (Laughter) I love it.
Jim: (Laughter) Where…
John: That’s got some listeners wondering.
Terra: (Laughter) Where did that go?
Jim: But how does that – how does that faith component lay the foundation for everything?
Terra: It’s honestly at the core. And really, the point I’m trying to make, and what I’ve seen in my office, is – I’m asking parents, “Where’s yours?”
Terra: “Where – where – where’s yours?” Because that’s the disconnect when these kiddos get older. They go, “I didn’t see it in real life behind closed doors. I saw it at church with my parents. I saw it, um, when they’re sitting in the office with you, Terra, but I’m not seeing it at home.”
Jim: What does – I mean, help the parents listening. What does that look like? What is that teen daughter looking for?
Terra: She’s looking for – “Are you slow to speak and quick to listen to me?” “Are you willing to, um, have compassion for someone that’s different, that believes differently, which is huge in this culture right now?” They want to see that their mom and dad can love like Christ, can stop and pray for someone, um, who’s actually opening the Word for answers and not just talking about it, but they see them actually opening the Word. It’s one thing to give lectures, but it’s another when your kid catches you in your authentic, real life. Um, to say here’s where we’re – we’re struggling financially, but we’re praying and we’re trusting God to help us here. We’re scared, but God’s got us.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah.
Terra: That kind of language.
Jim: And speaking openly. I don’t know why for parents we have such a, uh, you know, predisposition to hide. Other than our fleshly nature (laughter). Right?
Terra: And fall.
Jim: Yeah, but I mean we don’t – “Let’s not talk about this with the kids. We gotta show strength.” But I don’t see that in the Scripture. “When You are weak, I am strong.” Right? (laughter)
Jim: That’s the whole point. But in parenting…
Jim: …you know, there’s wisdom required to make sure that’s done well. Uh, Terra, friendships can be the toughest component for teen girls.
Terra: Oh, yeah.
Jim: It’s all about my friends, you know?
Terra: Mm hmm.
Jim: So, what are some things to keep in mind as a parent of a – of a girl as we teach our girls about making and maintaining healthy friendships?
Terra: Oh, there is so much there…
Terra: …and again, I’m always going to go back to the parent to say, “How are you doing with your friendships? What were your triggers growing up? Were you the one who felt lonely or were you the one that was always in the middle of the popular crowd, trying to” – I want moms to understand their story because it’s playing out with their kiddos. It’s playing out with what they’re…
Terra: …putting emphasis on, and that’s the piece that I think helps us with this shift. But I’m really wanting – especially for believers, Courageous Girls – to understand that love initiates. God initiates with us, and if you want to be friends with someone, you initiate. We’re always waiting for everyone to come to us, and that’s one of the greatest struggles. Um, also, boundaries, learning – we use something called Red Light, Green Light, Yellow Light, um, in Courageous Girls. And learning – when is this a person that is – I can say, “You’re hurting me,” and they want to own that. And we want to repair, and we’re teaching how to repair instead of the typical girl – mean girl stuff is, “You hurt my feelings. Now I’m going to go gossip about you, and I’m going to ghost you on my texting and make you feel bad.” That’s the common girl response these days, and we’re trying to say, “Move through conflict instead of avoiding it.” The yellow light friend is somebody who says sorry all the time, but there’s no changed behavior. And the red-light friend is – are those that are doing harm.
Jim: Toxic people.
Terra: Toxic people – and we’re trying to teach girls – again, trying to equip them for the long haul to be able to be more discerning and to love well. But you don’t have to be a pushover…
Terra: …which is confusing.
Jim: And again, that’s often a weak spot for women.
Terra: It is, yeah.
Jim: I mean, they – they want to help. They want to please. And that’s all good.
Jim: But you need some protection…
Jim: …some wise protection.
Terra: Absolutely. Grace isn’t soft on sin.
Terra: And it’s hard because we can love, but we can also…
Terra: …be honest with one another. So, we’re trying to teach friendships to be honest and then maybe talk it out with mom, get some advice, and then maybe practice going to your friend – not over text, not over social media, but face-to-face. Get back to the eye-to-eye contact, which is really hard.
Jim: Yeah, it is…
Jim: …very hard. Let’s speak to the dream big. Uh, again, I have my big dreams for my boys.
Jim: One of them was professional football…
Jim: …but that’s not happening. No, I’m teasing.
John: Then it became graduating from high school. (laughter)
Terra: Lower the bar a little.
Jim: Graduating from high school – now it’s college. Graduating from college. So, all the normal stuff that, uh, many parents dream for their boys. Describe for me those big dreams for girls and how they – how to do that in a healthy way, spiritual way. And maybe even identify some unhealthy ways – again, some experiences that you’ve had in counseling where parents have dreamed big, and maybe their daughters have, um, been harmed because of it.
Terra: Yeah. There’s so many shifts that have happened in the last maybe even five years that, um, every child thinks they’re going to be a superstar. Every kid thinks they’re gonna make it, um, to – American Idol kind of started that.
Terra: Uh, the reality TV – so it’s a very much a norm now that all you have to do is post something online and pretty – you’ll be discovered. And so, we’ve lost sight of the ordinary, um, how to really – to dream big and how to love someone really well. So, I’m trying to shift the – what dream big means in God’s economy.
Jim: Well, I would even think that – yeah. That shift for women – I mean, if you look generationally – the last three generations, for example – women dreaming big was not really encouraged way back when.
Jim: And then slowly over time, it’s been more encouraged, which I think is great. But what does it look like to hear your daughter’s big dreams and help and then help shape them in case that dream’s a little off?
Terra: Yeah. It – what it looks like is actually, one, hearing them, not dismissing them. And then…
Jim: And not judging it.
Terra: And not judging it, but knowing that over time developed – you know, I’ve – at seventh grade and fifth grade, my daughters have had so many different kinds of dreams.
Terra: And who knows what’ll stick? But then us praying about it and learning to listen – those are the things to say, “Let’s see what God has for you,” and to tell the stories of how our dreams have come true and the things that are still – we have not seen and how – the baby steps of how we’ve gotten there. And so, we try to tell our kids the struggle behind getting there because they don’t see it now with the culture. Everything looks so pretty and perfect, and you just see the zero to 60.
Terra: So, we’re constantly trying to help our girls to see, “Here’s how you work towards that.” Um.
Jim: Terra, I’m thinking of the mom who’s listening right now. And you know who you are, and you feel, “Wow, I have really blown it with my daughter.”
Jim: “I’ve not done these things. Maybe our relationship has even suffered because of that. I’ve tried to – out of my fear, I’ve tried to over-control my daughter, and it hasn’t worked well. It’s broken our relationship.” What would you say to that mom that is in that spot? How does she begin to repair that relationship with her 16, 17-year-old daughter – maybe 20-something daughter; who knows?
Jim: But it’s torn, and she knows it, and she doesn’t know how to repair it.
Terra: Yeah. I feel for that mom. I can feel her right now.
Terra: And I…
Jim: You see them every day in your counseling.
Terra: I do. And the – the biggest thing I love about our God is that he starts right where we are, and he can use anything. And so, for her to be able to say that she has messed up, that she’s hurt her daughter, is an enormous start instead of justifying what she’s done or how she has parented. So being able just to own, “I’ve participated in harm, um, with my daughter, and I want to start over; I want a fresh start” – but you got to do some repair. And first step is to go to her and just to own that. Um, I love the – the play therapy statement that says, um, “It’s not what I do but what I do after what I did that can matter most.”
Terra: And so the concept of grace and that God uses it all – so to be able to go to your daughter and start with, “I really want to learn how to love you well, and I’ve got some things to own; I need to ask forgiveness” – and that mom might need to start with talking to God cause I think he’s really gentle, maybe more gentle than your teenage daughter will be. So, being able to go to God and just start there with – “What could I own before I go to her?”
Jim: That’s good. That is so good. Terra, this has been good, and I hope people, uh, that are saying, “This is where I’m living,” will get in touch with us here at Focus on the Family. You know, one of the great things that we’re able to provide because of supporters is a counseling team to help listeners or podcast listeners who – however you’re listening to this to be able to connect with a real human being, to talk through the initial steps of where you’re at and maybe some of those shortcomings. And then they’ll be able to provide additional resources, maybe even a counselor in your area, to help you continue on that journey of healing and restoring your relationship with your kids, particularly with your daughters. So, take advantage of that. Uh, we’re here for you. That’s why Focus exists. And we also have this great resource from Terra, Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace. That even sounds – when I say the title, Terra, it’s funny. I just – I – I cringe a little because I know girls and women particularly struggle with applying grace in their life. Um, it’s such a battle, but again, we’re here for you, and we want to hear from you.
JOHN: And we’d be happy to send Terra’s book to you. It’s called Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace. Make a generous contribution of any amount to Focus on the Family today and we’ll send that book to you. Donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Terra, again, thank you for being a courageous mom for what you’ve written in your wonderful book. And I hope every mom will get a hold of it. Thanks for being with us.
Terra: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
John: Join us again tomorrow as we hear from Stephen Arterburn. He’ll share a man’s perspective about abortion.
Stephen Arterburn: As I looked back, I just saw – I – I was so foolish. Because here would have been this whole wonderful person that would have lived and had descendants and all of that and – and I was the one that destroyed them.