Meg Meeker: Rather than writing down how you should perform and how you should perform to get your kids to perform, to get the straight A’s, write down what character qualities you want your child to develop.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician and mom to four adult children, and has some grandkids, too. And she cares deeply about helping moms find some rest in their parenting journey. She’s our guest again today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and thanks for joining us.
Jim Daly: John, we’re honoring moms today, as we did last time, in a lead-up right into Mother’s Day weekend. This is a great weekend. You know, even though my mom passed away a long time ago, it’s fun to just watch my boys appreciate their mom. That’s always fun. And you probably have that in your house.
John: Well, we do have that. Yeah.
John: With a lot of gratitude for what mom has done.
Jim: You know, unfortunately, I think too many women are very anxious or stressed and overwhelmed in parenting and in life. It’s why we’re here, I mean, to help you in that space. But we hear from a lot of moms who are struggling because they’re feeling simply inadequate. Last time, we talked with Dr. Meeker about how moms feel pressure to always do more and be more and really setting that impossible standard of perfection that there’s only one way to go and that’s down. Once you start with perfection, you’re only going to go south. And today, we want to continue to talk about, where you find rest. And that’s in Christ in developing those healthy habits to have that more simple capable life that you can have. Her book on this topic is The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. And Meg, welcome back to Focus.
Meg: Oh, it’s fun to be here.
Jim: It’s always so fun to have you.
Meg: It’s always fun. Yeah.
Jim: You know, we did talk about a lot of the fatigue and the stress that are causing moms pain last time. And if you missed that discussion, get a download. And John, you can tell folks how to do that. But let me just cover the 10, because we didn’t do that last time, and I think it’s a great place to start. But for you, the mom who’s listening – if you’re in one, two, three of these spots, get a hold of us. We’ll get you a copy of the book. If you can help us – great. If you can’t, I still want to get this into your hands, because it’s a great tool.
So let me hit it. Habit 1: understand your value as a mother. Man, this is gonna be your weekend coming up. And it should be year-round. But I hope you know that you’re valued. Number 2: maintain key friendships. We talked about that last time. Habit 3: value and practice faith. That can be hard with your schedule. And you’re going, “Amen, Jim. That’s right.” But there are ways to do that. Habit 4: say “no” to competition. And we ended the last time with Meg’s great story of racing her doctor companion friend to the hospital to see who could get their first, unintentionally. Habit 5: create a healthier relationship with money. Habit 6: make time for solitude. We talk a lot about that with men, but not always so often with women. Habit 7: give and get love in healthy ways. Habit 8: find ways to live simply. Habit 9: let go of fear. And then number 10: hope is a decision, so make it. I love that.
Meg, those are great profound truths. What do you want moms to hear when you’re expressing these issues of exhaustion, and how they can reduce stress in their daily lives. I’ve listed the 10. What do you want to say?
Meg: Well, as you read those 10, I don’t want the mom out there listening to go, “Ugh, now there’s 10 more things I have to do.”
Meg: Because, this isn’t about doing. This is about pondering and thinking and saying, “Okay. I have a strong faith. But look, I don’t have an hour and a half to pray.” That’s okay. You don’t need it. As a young mother, you know, Christ’s heart is so loving toward the young mother…
Jim: And accommodating.
Meg: …So tender and accommodating.
Jim: He knows.
Meg: You know, when I was a young mother, I just learned to pray in a car. I learned to pray, you know, 15 seconds at a time. I learned to sort of picture Jesus in the car with me. So things like that develop your faith. So it doesn’t mean you have to sit down and do your devotional for half an hour and then pray for another half an hour. That just makes you go, “Ugh.” Because sometimes Christian mothers feel like, “Okay. I’m not doing enough. And I’m not reading enough Bible scripture to my kids. And I’m not praying long enough.” Just take that pressure off yourself. It’s okay. I always say, you know, your goal as a mom is to raise a healthy 25-year-old.
Jim: It’s funny you aim at 25 because I know that between 18 and 25 there can be a lot of valleys.
Jim: So it’s funny, that’s a good thing.
Meg: And to realize at 18 you’re far from done because your child’s brain is just not there.
Jim: It’s still developing.
Meg: It’s still developing. And so I think it’s important. But what I’m trying to say to mothers is reflect. Give yourself some grace. And one of the things I think is really important is for moms to put on their calendar on their phone twice a week, half hour on Tuesday, this day is all mine. And I remember when I was a young mother I would actually hire a high school kid to come over after school and to play with my kids. And I would go up in my bedroom for half an hour. And I would sit there quietly. Sometimes I would pray. Sometimes I would just sit there. But I needed that solitude. And every mom needs to be able to take a breath and go, “Okay,” and to give herself permission. It’s okay if your kids miss soccer practice one night. It’s fine. I mean, it really is fine because you know what? Chances are they’re not going to go to college and play at a D1 school and be the star soccer player, because all of these kids – 90 percent of these kids – that are running around doing all this kind of stuff never end up pursuing it.
Jim: Yeah, you know what I like about that? And of course, you’re a – you’re a physician, so you know this. But they say if you can’t work out on a treadmill for 30 minutes, if you do 10 minutes it actually still has an advantage for your body. And of course, you know, if you’re sports-minded I can think, “Oh, no, it’s not worth it if I can’t get a full workout in.” But doctors will say, “No.” I mean, 10 minutes – additive – if you can do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, it’s better than not doing anything.
Jim: And I think spiritually, what I’m hearing you say, is it’s true, too, not only for the body, but for the spirit. If you can commune with God for five or 10 minutes in the morning, if that’s all you’ve got, God will take that.
Meg: God will take that. And you know, God gives you so much more grace than you give yourself. You know, He gets what’s going on in your life. And He loves you. And He will eventually give you that time for, you know, long periods of solitude. You know, I don’t have any kids home, and my husband works a crazy schedule, so I have a lot of time for solitude. Plus, I’m an introvert. Plus, I love to write. So stick me alone in a room with my computer for eight hours and I’m happy. But you know, we can do it. But the whole point of the book is to back off, not move in. Because moms know what they need to do. And I’m saying, “Let’s cut that list down and back off a little bit and give yourself some grace.” You know, solitude is really important. Faith is really important. And I think we live with a sense, too, with a hope issue. Christ is hope.
Jim: Yeah, amen.
Meg: He is hope. If we didn’t have Christ, we would have no hope. You know, people who are all about social justice, and I understand that – and somebody – I heard what somebody once say, “If we didn’t have Heaven there would be no justice.” Because for some people living such horrific lives, women who are living in such bondage and that kind thing, if they didn’t have Heaven and they just died, there would be no justice. So hope is who Christ is. And that means that we can live now with an 8-year-old who’s out of control or feeling out of control and having terrible anxiety and depression – that. We can have hope that life will be different next month and next year.
Jim: That is what keeps you going.
Meg: So grab onto that. And say, “Lord, look, You said You’re hope. Show it to me.” And I’m trying to encourage women to walk into that. And the only way you can walk into that is to pay attention and not be living on the crazy train.
Jim: You know, I’m mindful, and we receive, you know, phone calls and letters and emails from single moms. And I know there’re single parent dads, too. But we’re focusing on Mom, because it’s Mother’s Day coming up. So for that mom who has a huge load to carry – I mean, she’s got to work, she’s got to be that present, engaged mom, exhaustion is kind of just normative. It’s part of the deal, unfortunately. What do you say to her? I mean, how does she find margin? How can she do the things, being kind of one arm tied behind her back?
Meg: Yeah, well, the first thing I would say to single moms is don’t try to be two people. And a lot of single moms try to make up for their kids what their dad is not giving them. You can’t. And they try to overcompensate. You can’t. But here’s what you can be. You can be an extraordinary mom who can raise an extraordinary kid. And I’ve seen it over and over and over. Here’s the other thing. Kids get what’s going on in your life. And they’re okay with it. You know, there’s a huge difference between a child who stays at home alone a lot because mom is choosing to go to work because she needs the pool in the backyard and the extra car and all this kind of stuff, who’s opting to spend time away from kids. Kids who grow up with single moms know their mom wants to be with them but can’t, and that mom is going out and working for them and she’s exhausting herself for them. So I believe that kids give single moms a lot more grace than moms are willing to accept. That’s what kids of single moms tell me.
Jim: Yeah. I think it’s true. I was the child of a single mom.
Meg: They get it. They say, you know, “My mom is working so hard. What can I do to help her?” And so moms need to give themselves the grace and to realize that just because they’re not spending enough time with their kids that they would want to be, it doesn’t mean your kids are not going turn out okay. Really and truly, give your kids the best of what you have, which is just spend time with them. That’s what they want. Don’t feel you need to compensate by buying them better clothes or getting a bigger house or making sure they get help with buying a car when they’re 17 or 18 or, you know. It’s okay. Kids don’t need those things anyway. What your kids want is your presence. So when you’re able to be with them, sit down with them. Sit with them while they’re doing their homework. Sit with them and just kind of read the newspaper. And get off your phone. I want to tell every parent out there, if you could hear what kids say about your phones – and I’m just talking about single moms – you know, it makes kids feel so isolated and lonely. But single moms need to really dial down on their expectations of their selves. And I can say that knowing that your kids can be great, because I’ve heard your kids talk about you.
Jim: You know, one of my favorite memories of my mom being a single mom, trying to provide – she was a waitress. And you know, she’d – I’d get home from school, and she’d be heading off to work, because she would work, like, 3 to midnight. And I remember hanging on her car door – this is all politically incorrect – I’d hang on the car door. And she would be backing up down the driveway. And I would be talking to her, and I’d be begging her to bring me home a chocolate shake or something because she always brought this great food home – right? From the restaurant. And I just remember that. I was not worried that she was leaving or anything. I was just, you know, in my manipulation mode to beg her for that chocolate shake. But it was fun memories of her running off to work and me saying, “Bye, mom! Bye, mom. I love you, I love you.”
Meg: Exactly, and…
Jim: And I’m sure she felt more guilt about it. I didn’t. I went right back to playing.
Meg: …You – exactly, particularly sons. One things I’ve learned about sons who grow up with – with single moms, it’s testimony to how much they love their moms. And I work with a number of the NFL guys, you know. Once they get grown up and they’re established in their careers, what do they want to do?
Jim: Take care of their mom.
Meg: Take care of their mom.
Jim: That’s exactly right.
Meg: Now, if she were a bad mom, would they want to take care of her? No, of course not. But that’s how endeared moms are to their sons.
Jim: Dr. Meg, you write about the importance of inward simplicity. I think I get that for moms. But describe what it is.
Meg: Really, inward simplicity is self-reflection and looking inward and saying, “Why do I feel I need to do what I need to do,” and getting to understand yourself, and to sort of say, “I want to calm down on the inside. I want to understand why I feel so pressured to do what I want to do,” and I want to sort of do some real soul-searching and say, “Okay, why do I feel those pressures? Where are they coming from? Are they real? Are they not real?” And I think we’ll find a whole lot of them are not real. So the inward is really just self-reflection. And as a Christian mother, it’s prayer. It’s going to the Lord and saying, “Okay, I need – I feel I need” – I do this with myself because like you, I just have a crazy schedule – but to say, “Okay, what do I really need to do? Who do I really want to be,” and really focus on a few areas and let the rest go, because that really is so good for the soul. It’s good for your faith. It’s good for your physical health.
Jim: And you have to be purposeful in making that reflective time.
Meg: Yes, because the time just doesn’t jump into your lap.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, you’ve got to set it aside, even if it’s 10 minutes, to sit in a big chair and just say, “Okay, what am I trying to be?” I love that. But the day will consume everything.
Jim: Everything. And at the end of day, now you’re more worried because you didn’t take the time to do what you wanted to do. And then it just, like, it ruminates…
Meg: And you hate yourself. And then, you’re anxious, yeah.
Jim: Okay, here is the million dollar question. Are you ready? Is everybody ready? This is the big one, John.
Jim: Meg, how can a mom hold their children loosely and trust God with their lives? I mean, is that not the question? I see it all the time in moms. They are paranoid, petrified, tired, working themselves to death trying to build character into their kids and all those things that they need, and they’re just not joyful.
Meg: Right. Well, I think that comes with age. But remember, God says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” God does not give us fear. So – and I really strongly believe we are not to live in fear, but in strength. And as Christian moms, we need to let go of our kids. It’s so painful.
One of our daughters, after she graduated college, felt called to do some mission work. And she said she felt called in mission work in South America. Great. I could deal with that because she’d been to South America with her dad and da, da, da. Well, over time – over a month or two she came, and she said to her dad and I that God opened a door in Indonesia, and she felt she was called to go there. Well, you can’t get farther away from home than Indonesia. And she came to us. And my – my husband said, “You really prayed about it a long time?” “Yeah, I did.” And I said, “Well, listen to me. God needs to talk to the mom first. I’m not okay with this,” because I was terrified of letting her go halfway across the world to a country that really wasn’t so happy with Americans.
Jim: What did she say when you said that?
Meg: She said, “You know, Mom, I’m grown up. I’ve prayed about it. And this is what I think I need to do.”
Jim: Wow. That was a moment.
Meg: It was gut-wrenching for me, because she could have died. She learned very quickly that where she was living they didn’t like Americans very well, so she learned to fake an Australian accent. She had long blonde hair. She stood out like a sore thumb. I found out after she came home that two miles down from where she was working in this school, there was a jihad training camp for boys.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Meg: And she was walking past that every day. And when she came home – so it was a huge test for me of letting go. Terrifying, gut-wrenching for me, because I’m like any mom, controlling, “They need me to square them away to teach them this, to love Christ this way, not that way.”
Jim: I love this confession.
Meg: Okay, you know, I led the pack of controlling moms. And I know medicine. And I know how to prevent meningitis, cystic fibrosis, da, da, da, da, da. I’ve given my kids so many illnesses. You can’t imagine. My pediatricians said, “If you don’t stop running tests on your kids, I’m booting you out of my office.” But when she came home from her year and a half there, I said to her, “Tell me one thing – the one most important thing you’ve learned about being there.” And I will never forget. She looked at me and she said, “Mom, I know who God is. I know how to trust that God can take care of me in any situation.” And I burst into tears. That was a lesson I never could have taught her.
Jim: Yeah, and you had to learn to trust.
Meg: She knows, “I can trust God in all things.” She’s a 22-year-old kid.
John: Hmm, and it was a lesson for you, wasn’t it?
Meg: Oh, I still have a hard time letting go, even though I’m an Israelite. I know that God has been faithful. I know it. But can I trust Him in the future? To every mother I say, “Yes, because He loves your child more than you love him.”
John: Dr. Meg Meeker is our guest on Focus on the Family. And she’s written a great book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. And we’re going to combine that in a bundle with a CD of this 2-day conversation. Get that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Meg, you encourage moms to make a couple of lists of goals in their lives. How do you suggest they go about making that list? That can be a broad list.
Meg: Yeah, oh, of course. Well, make sure you put yourself on that list.
Jim: And what does that look like? What are those things you’re putting down?
Meg: Well, what that looks like is, “Okay, what do my kids really need? What are the three things they really need?” I don’t want…
Jim: If you filled that in, what would you have said with you – you were a mother of four and a pediatrician. You had four kids screaming, “Help me, help me.” What was your list?
Meg: My kids need more of my time.
Meg: It doesn’t have to be great time. It can be time arguing. It can be time disagreeing. It can be – but they need my face. They need me there. That’s what kids need, and they see…
Jim: So presence?
Meg: …Presence, presence, you need to be present. You know, parents always say, “Will my kids care if I’m arguing or know that and they need us to get divorced because they don’t like this way” – I said, “You know what? Your kids don’t care.” Your kids want you under the roof because they’re not thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. So kids want your presence. And I remind myself of that when I’m with my adult kids and my grandkids. So you have to be intentional about giving your kids your presence. You have to be intentional about expressing love to your kids. You can’t believe how many kids grow up, graduate high school and still don’t know if their parents love them. And it astonishes me because usually, in a small town, I know their parents. I know their parents are crazy about – but the kids don’t feel loved. Why? Because the parents are always disengaged doing whatever important thing they need to do.
Jim: Yeah, and I wanted to hit that, because, you know, some parents listening right now might feel like, “Whoops, I may have missed that.” Describe it. When you’re talking to these children, as a pediatrician, you’re talking to the parents and the kids are describing this, the parents are talking to you about it, what does that look like? Because you can be oblivious as an adult parent and not know that your kids are graduating without knowing that you love them. So pretend I’m your husband. Spell it out for me. Be blunt.
Meg: Yeah, there are two things that every troubled teen graduating high school says to me – no one cared to listen, no one paid any attention. So what kids are saying is, “Dad and Mom, you need to hear what I have to say, and you need to want to be with me.” And if you can do those things – and that means really being present. And I mean turn the cellphone off. Turn the television off. Turn your laptop off. Don’t get distracted, because spending 10 minutes with your kid, Husband, makes your kids feel, “You see me. You want to be with me. You want to hear what I have to say.
Meg: What does that do to a kid, 10 minutes a day? It makes them feel so valuable. You know, we’re all into self-esteem these days.
Meg: We feel like the way to boost your kid’s self-esteem is set them up for tutors so they get straight A’s, make sure they have a skating coach, a hockey coach, a football coach, whatever, put them out somewhere and get them really good at stuff. No! What all the research says that what makes kids feel really good and loved is not being ignored, being paid attention to and heard and listened to. And any parent can do that. Now, you may not like what your kids have to say. Doesn’t matter. Listen anyway. Buy a couple rolls of duct tape.
Jim: And then sit on your mouth. Right, exactly, the duct tape.
Meg: Put them over your mouth. So that’s how you express love to your kids. And then touch them, and look them in the eye and tell them you love them.
Jim: Meg, probably – my observation – fear is the grip. And what can a mom do who’s – who’s throttled by fear? I mean, she’s bound up by it. She can’t operate as a healthy mom because she’s so fearful. It can be external things. It can be emotional things. But she’s just fearful, fearful of the kids being outside, fearful of an overnight, fearful of this family, fearful of whatever. How can she – and what did you do as a mom of four – to kind of beat that and not be so fearful?
Meg: Well, you real – remember I told you we have – women have inner dialogue? I’m sure men do, too. But they have less of it, because we talk more.
Jim: We have a lot less of it. Trust me.
Meg: Yeah, and so the inner dialogue that says, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t let my child, I can’t let my child, because his success is on my shoulders,” so, to say to yourself your child’s success is not on your shoulders. If your child is going to succeed in high school, or go to college, yeah, you can tweak them a little here and tweak them a little here. But if he’s gonna get there, he’s going to get there, because God’s in charge, not you. You’re not God to your kids. So first of all, their success doesn’t depend on you. Their behavior doesn’t always depend on you. So if you’ve got an out of control 16-year-old, or 8-year-old, whatever, it has more to do with them and less to do with you.
Jim: That’s hard to believe.
Meg: It is. But you need to step back and pretend you’re your neighbor and your kid is your neighbor’s kid. How would your neighbor come in and look at your kid? Wow, they’re really having a hard day. Or wow, they – if your 15-year-old is having a fit or a temper tantrum about something, it’s not about you. It’s about them. We think everything’s about us, that we’re to blame for our kids bad behavior, we’re to blame if our kids fail, or we’re to blame if our kid is a terrible football player. No, you’re not. That’s on them. They’re their own people. Everything isn’t your fault. And their successes aren’t your fault. So you know, it’s like, you know, Christ tells us that we wanted to mission and he wants to grow. So moms need to diminish and realize I’m just a part of his life to steer him this way and steer him that way. But God is going to get him wherever He wants him to be.
Jim: But that is a step of faith. And it’s a fearful step.
Meg: And it has to be intentional. It has to be deliberate. And it has to start in your head. You need to say to yourself, “My child’s successes and failures are not all on my shoulders.”
Jim: Well, and this is a great place to end today because, you know, we’ve talked about the practical applications but, really, um, what I want you do at the end here, Meg, is to offer encouragement and hope in Christ to those moms who are listening right now, to hundreds of thousands who are discouraged and weary today because they’re not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re not looking at the long view of the 25-year-old. We’re looking at the behavior of a 13-year-old. And it’s really disruptive. And it is horrible. And I don’t know what to do and – right? Am I describing that well?
Meg: (Laughter) So here’s the thing, if you’ve got an out of control 12-year-old, here’s the good news, bad news. You have 13 years to go. And that’s good news, bad news. In other words, over that 13 year period, guess what? God will change your son or daughter no matter what you do, no matter what you do. And also to realize – you may be saying, “I’m a terrible mom. I’m a” – let me tell you something. If you’re listening to the show right now, that tells me you care.
Meg: And that you’re an invested mom, and you want to be better. And I am telling you, A, today you’re good enough in your child’s eyes. And B, you’re wired – because God wired you – with everything you need to be a better mom. It doesn’t look like what you think it looks like. Get rid of the list. Ask God what that looks like – more time with your kids, more relaxation and be kinder to yourself. Even if you just go do that handful of things, you are well on your way.
Jim: And if – the context of Galatians 6:9, think of this in the parenting, in the mothering, context. It says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good. For in due season, we will reap if we don’t give up.” That’s a great parenting…
Meg: “Never, never, never give up.”
Jim: Never give up.
Meg: I think that was Winston Churchill.
Jim: Yeah, and God is with you.
Meg: And I say that to myself all the time – all the time – because, you know, you’re your kid’s mom forever, until you die. And you’re – you know, your struggles get bigger.
Jim: Dr. Meg, this has been so good. It has flown by, two days. I think people have gotten a good idea – especially moms – about what it will take to have 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, the title of your book. And I am convinced that if you can contact us, that we will put this resource into your hand. It will make a difference. And I’m happy to do that. If you can’t afford it, we have I think enough support that we will be able to afford to do that and to send it to you. If you can help us, become a partner – a monthly partner to Focus on the Family so that we can, together, you know, touch lives in the name of Christ. So for that gift, we will say thank you by sending you a copy of Meg’s book. If can’t afford it, we’ll send you a copy, either way.
John: And as the TV commercial says, but wait, there’s more!
Jim: (Laughter) That’s right.
John: We’re going to include the CD along with the book, because we believe the conversation has been helpful. So contact us today. Make a donation. We’ll send the book and CD. And if you need other resources, let us know. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459, or online you can donate and get the book and CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: There’s no knife set.
John: Unfortunately, no.
Jim: (Laughter) Okay, good.
John: Just limited to the CD.
John: Again, the number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Meg, thanks again for being with us.
Meg: This was so much fun, Jim. Thanks for inviting me.
John: Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.