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Man: You know, my wife and I are having some big arguments over getting our kids to help out around the house. I mean, I think they need to have responsibilities, contribute to the family, develop some new skills. But you know, she feels like they should enjoy their childhood for as long as they can. I mean, what are we supposed to do about this?
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John Fuller: You can hear the obvious tension points in that relationship, as a husband and wife try to figure out, what role do our kids have, if any, in taking care of chores around the house? We're coming back to a Best of 2015 "Focus on the Family" program and we're gonna tackle the issue of chores and children and along the way, you'll have some fun as you hear some very practical things you can do in your family.
Happy New Year! This is "Focus on the Family" with our president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, we're going to be looking at this with the help of some friends who have joined us here at the studio.
Jim Daly: That's right and you know, when you think of Focus on the Family, you might think this is a small issue when we talk about chores and children and how we teach them these responsibilities. It's important, because they're beginning to form their attitudes and there are some age-appropriate things that really are helpful for parents to employ, so that their kids, you know, are ready to launch at 18. And we're gonna discuss that today with three great folks. First, Dr. Greg Smalley, who is on staff here at Focus on the Family, his wife, Erin Smalley who works here part-time, as well and also my wife, Jean. Welcome!
Dr. Greg Smalley: Hey, thanks for havin' us.
Mrs. Erin Smalley: Yeah, thanks.
Mrs. Jean Daly: Thank you.
Jim: Let's talk about that clip. I'm sure the five of us sitting here and it's too bad Dena's not here--
John: No, that was by design. (Laughter)
Jim: --but let's talk about that clip. There was a lot of emotion there for him as a husband. He wants it to kind of, you know, go by the letter of the law and it sounded like his wife is a little more comfortable letting the kids experience life a little easier. So, what's happening there?
Greg: You know, one, it just illustrates the beauty of a marriage, that here you have two people so different than one another and that's a part of just living life with another person in a marriage that, you're gonna have differences. And so, they are, their personalities are very different.
What first and foremost though needs to happen, long before you figure out how to solve this with the kids, they have to be unified. That is so important. You both have to matter, so what you're trying to do is take what both want, put those together, but they really need to be actively pursuing, hey, you know what? We as parents, we need to be one. We need to be unified.
I'll tell you what. Our kids, I love 'em, they know when Erin and I disagree. They know who to then go to and so, that's why in this situation, that would be goal No. 1, is that we need to be unified as a married couple with our kids.
But then also, to realize, you know, as parents, part of our job, not only is to train them up into their relationship with the Lord, but it's to teach them certain things like responsibility, like good work ethic. I mean, those are important. So, somewhere in there, those parents need to figure this out, but that's gonna happen because they get unified first. Then they can go to the kids and talk this thing through with them.
Jim: In fact, we have here at Focus on the Family, a list of age-appropriate chores that parents can use with their kids. Let's post that online.
John: Yeah, we will. I'm thinking that'd be a good starting point for this couple. You could hear in his tone that he is pretty disappointed by his wife's approach to this and that kind of presents, I guess, an objective piece of data that he can bounce off of and they can maybe talk about without feelin' too defensive.
Greg: Erin uses that list for me though. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, let's talk about that. (Laughter)
Erin: That's a whole 'nother show.
Jim: You know, but it is the other end of the continuum, 'cause it's important for us as parents to understand why. Why go to this effort? It's a lot easier just to kinda do it and get it done. Why fight your kids on chores? I'm being a little facetious here obviously. But I would like an answer to the why question. Why is it important to start at the age-appropriate level? It might be 4, 5, 6, to begin to have kids chip in? What are we teaching them?
Erin: Well, like Greg said, we're teaching them work ethic. But beyond that, we're teaching them that they're part of the family unit and that they also have a part that they play in the family, a part of responsibility. I love [that] our kids have had certain chores that they started when they were younger and they've morphed and changed the level of responsibility over the years, but they know they're theirs.
When we pull up from school in the afternoon and the trash can is out on the curb after the trash man has come, Garrison knows. I don't even have to say. I mean, he knows that, that is his job to pull that can in.
Jim: You don't have to say anything?
Erin: It's his. I don't have to say a thing. (Laughter)
Greg: That's the point. We're part of the family and I think that the mistake that we make is just giving out chores without backing our kids up into a deep understanding that we are all responsible for the upkeep and the care of our family and it takes a lot to manage our family. And that's not just mom and dad. We're not the ones that are just responsible. That's also part of your job. If we don't communicate that, then it's always gonna be a constant power struggle, 'cause they don't have the value attached to that.
That's why I think one of the best things we can do is to have family meeting and really get clear on certain family values. It doesn't mean we're not gonna argue and it certainly doesn't mean that we're not gonna have to remind them over and over and over to do things. But our kids really need to understand the foundational values here, that are driving a lot of these chores and why we do them.
Jim: Let's get practical. Let's aim at that 12, 13, 14 level, where you know, there's a bit of emotional detachment going on. They're starting to separate and kids at that age generally, you know, you'll have that child that's always been doing it well and you don't worry about them as a parent. You could say, you know, "Have you checked your chore list? Is it all done?" "Yep, it's all done," or "I'll get it done."
There's the other child, that it's a fight and it is a fight and now the parent—either the mother or the father or both of them—are really on that child and they're seeing this as a character flaw now; there's an issue there. Is that a good way to look at it or is it a season? You look at that and say, you know what? We need to make sure they're doing what they can do and you take a deep breath and you just continue to chip away at helping them better understand, rather than making it this big fight that ends up damaging your relationship.
Greg: Well, with a teenager, we have to remember that just the differences where they're at developmentally, instead of taking that personally, it's important to realize, remember they're striving for independence. They're beginning to separate. They're wanting less control. They're wanting to figure things out on their own. Friends become so important.
And so, just a few weeks ago we had three teenagers in our home and then our 19-year-old become a 20-year-old. But you know, it's important to keep that in mind, otherwise I'll personalize that and then it becomes this power struggle on, I need to get 'em to do it my way.
You know, with little kids, we laid it out for them. You know, I need it done this way and we tell 'em exactly what to do. They're very compliant. But that's not gonna work for a teen. And you don't want it to work that way for a teenager. Part of our job as parents of teens is to begin to release them into learning, okay, how do I do this? How am I fully responsible for this, if mom and dad aren't there to tell me exactly how to do it? Otherwise they're gonna suffer in school and then on their own. We'll get 'em for the rest of our lives in the basement . That's not what we want.
John: Well, one thing we've done, Jim is we've tried to associate your desire for freedom with some fulfillment of responsibility around the home. So you're only 14 now, but in a couple years, you're gonna want to have access to the car. You've got to demonstrate that I can trust you with the car and you can do that by letting me trust you with some chores around the house. So there's … I try to have their eyes a couple years out when they're … when they hit those teen years, because they're living for the moment so much, that they're gonna wake up and find out that they haven't done anything and I'm not gonna be so inclined to give them too much freedom or help them achieve anything.
Jim: And we're talking in terms of success here. I really want to dig into that couple that's having a hard time with that one son or daughter and they're just--
Greg: Stronger willed.
Jim: --not getting it and you know, you can say, make sure your room's cleaned up by Saturday and many Saturdays they get it and some Saturdays they miss it. But there's a perpetual, "I don't want to" kind of thing going on there. What do you do with that situation?
Greg: Well again, first of all like we heard with our clip from the beginning, you have to be unified as parents. So, if those parents approach this, "Well, I want you to have a little bit more freedom and I want you to relax," and we're goin', "No, they need to be doing the [chores]." That's never gonna work and so, that's why for that couple has to be unified. Then you go to your kids and really work this thing through.
But I think for that child who wants, you know, just a little bit more strong will, you've got to train towards that. You've gotta be aware of that and then how you lay out chores and your expectations will be based on some of that. You know, it's how you word it. I mean, for even a toddler who's more strong will[ed], you know, if you're trying to dress them, you can either say, "You will dress in these clothes that I am setting out here." Or you can lay three outfits, it's your choice. You know all three work, but it's their ultimate choice. I mean, that's a part of what we have to do with our teens, as well.
Erin: Well, and I think it's such a key. You're saying that you start this training as a toddler, so the moms that are out there that have these young children, there's greater purpose in training them as young kids around responsibility. And you know, making choices, giving them choices, so as they age and they become teens and then eventually leave your home, they have this inbred in them, that we have responsibility. They have the work ethic. And they also then have learned how to make good choices in your home. And it started at, you know, age 2 and 3.
Jean: And I think it is very important for us as parents to be okay with how they do the job, especially when they're young. It's true, it is so much easier for you as a parent, it's so much faster to do whatever it is, the task. You get it done more quickly. It's done better frankly. But then we're not--
Greg: How you want it done, yeah.
Jean: --teaching our children anything. And we really do have to let that go, that the clothes won't be sorted correctly or the wash cloths folded correctly, whatever it is or that the area isn't going to be cleaned quite as well as what you'd like. But we need to allow our kids the freedom to learn how to do those tasks and to grow in responsibility.
Jim: Okay, but this is so funny, 'cause the other day I'm having Trent rake pine needles from the rock bed in the front yard. So, this rock bed along the driveway and you know, I was gonna pay him for it. I did pay him for it, but he was to rake these things up. And he did a really good job, but there were some areas that were not perfect. Of course, I come in and I say, "Hey, let me show you how to get those really hard-to-get ones." So, I'm there rakin', like 10 or 15 yards worth of pine needles and all of sudden it dawns on me, he's got this big smile on his face. (Laughter) And he's just standing there watchin' me. And I said, "Oh, yeah, now I get it. I'm doing what I asked you to do. Here, you take the rake back (Laughter) and you now go ahead. I was just tryin' to show you how to do it better." He goes, "No, thanks, Dad; it's half done."
Greg: But what you were doing though is, you're clarifying your expectations and that's a part of what our kids need to understand what are our expectations. I think that's why family meetings are so important, having these rules and responsibilities and chores written down somewhere, 'cause you clarify it, what you expect. You've showed them.
I know that one of the values that we've really worked on with our kids is that whole idea of serving wholeheartedly, from the verse in the Bible, talking about, you know, serving with everything. Part of doing that is to do it for the excellence. I mean, how many times will we ask for kids to go to something and they do it sort of half-hearted, you know, kinda, you know, "Hey, go hang this up." "Well, I made it into my bedroom.
Greg: It's on the bed."
Jim: One sleeve will be on the hanger--
Jim: --and the rest of it's hanging off.
Greg: Yeah, you know, so I mean, that's one of the things though we need to do, is to help them to follow through in a way of excellence that, "Now listen. When I ask you to do something, my expectation is then you complete it fully, not just partly." I mean, I'm tellin' you. I catch 'em all the time, you know. So, "Will you put the dish in the sink?" "Well, no, it needs to go into the dishwasher, you know." (Laughter) Hang that item up in the closet. So, I think that's also a part of the value that we're tryin' to teach them, which will pay off later as adults.
Erin: And I think you referred to this, as well, but there's such a relational aspect to it. Just recently we had two major huge dump trucks of mulch dumped in our backyard and it needed to be spread. And so, I mean, the expectation was, hey, this is our house, our yard. We're all goin'--
Jim: Family time.
Erin: --out in the back, family time exactly.
Greg: Grab a shovel.
Erin: But you know what? We had so much fun as a family. The relational aspect of it was, that we were all out there together with a task that needed to be completed. And like you said with Trent, you got in there and you were with him. And I think often, you know, we miss out on that. There is a relational building opportunity that's there, that we can use to strength our relationship with our kids or as a family.
Jim: Well, and I think here's the big miss that we often have. We're teaching attitude as we get through the chore. And I think so often, for us as adults, we're not thinking that way anymore. It's how fast can I get it done. And so, when you're watching your child do that, we're I think oftentimes, I know for me as a father, I'm missing that, because I'm just about getting the task done, checking it off and I'm forgetting the relational component, the fact that I'm actually modeling for them how to do it and how to do it with a good attitude.
Jim: You know, I'm thinkin', as Greg, how many of us dads, especially when it comes to yard work with our kids, you know, they rake a pile of leaves and they missed half of 'em.
Jim: And so often we go, "Okay, just give me the rake." And we have this attitude of, you don't measure up. That's what we express. You know, you're an 8-year-old and you're just not getting' it done right. So, you've gotta be careful with what you're communicating, don't you?
Greg: You really do and that's why I think that it's easy to get our kids to do something and then to move on to the next task and you move on to the next chore. But there is something important about just recognizing, saying to them, "You know, I noticed you did that really well. Thank you for doing that." I mean, to express gratitude is such an important thing, 'cause that's a part of what we're teaching them, too, is to express gratitude, but we need to be thanking them, as well.
Erin: And I think part of that too, and you kind of alluded to this, is to have grace, to keep a bigger picture of, you know, especially with teenagers. What do they have going on? I mean, if they're in the middle of finals week and their bedroom isn't perfect, you know, where's the grace? I know if someone was, you know, looking at me in the midst of, you know, finishing a book or having, you know, just a crazy week or month for that fact, that I would want someone to greet me with grace. And so, just to keep it in perspective of what do they have going on? Look at the bigger picture. Yes, there are responsibilities that have to be completed. Again, get them a time frame of, you know, this is when my expectation is that you're gonna complete this. But then to give them that grace, that they're living busy lives, as well.
Jim: You know, as we have talked about kids chipping in and getting older, there is a need to make sure they're carrying their fair share, as well and that does take some of the burden off the parents. How have you guys managed that in Smalley household?
Greg: You know, we sit down as a family. We divide out chores. We talk these things through.
Jim: Do you pull 'em out of a hat or how do you do that?
Greg: We have a Focus on the Family gift bag that we put them in and (Laughter) we pull them out of there. Although I tell you, this is one of the things though, that creates some conflict between Erin and I is, that there are times where we're all there in the kitchen and Erin will say, "Hey, Greg, will you go get me this?" And I'm like, there's four other children here. (Laughter) Why is that me?
John: Call one of the servant children.
Greg: Exactly, yeah. (Laughter) Why am I the one to have to do that? I mean, we've had that conversation going, what--
Erin: Oh, yes, we have.
Greg: -- what is it about, you know, why do you not ask them? Why is it that you're putting (Laughter) that onto me? And I think, well, why don't [you ask them]??
Erin: There are times that I just simply ask you and yes, there are times that the kids can do it, but often with certain jobs, when you ask the kids, then there's a role that I have to play in it—
Greg: The supervisor; it's a manager.
Erin: --it's supervising.
Jim: So, you're thinking three steps ahead.
Erin: Yes and so, it's just more work and it's easier to have--
Erin: --Greg go and do it.
Greg: He's a good boy; he's smart; he can get this done. (Laughter)
Erin: Yeah, I don't have to supervise him.
Jim: Okay, Jean and I have this same experience. It hasn't been so much around chores, but it's more about instruction, you know. I'll be standing next to Trent and Troy and she's upstairs, putting something away or something like that and she'll yell, knowing I think that Trent and Troy are nearby and she'll yell down, "Can you tell Trent he needs to …" And I'm starting to say, "You know, he's 3' away from me. (Laughter) Can you address that--
Greg: Those things on the side of his head--
Jim: -- to him? (Laughter)
Greg: --to help him hear. (Laughter)
Jean: I'll just say it again.
Jim: And of course, Trent starts laughing, 'cause he knows the pattern is here.
Jean: All right, in my defense (Laughter)--
Jean: --especially Trent has fabulous hearing.
Jim: He does.
Jean: So part of it, that it's two-fold.
Jim: Is it authority? Is that what it is?
Jean: No, well part of it is that I believe you are closer to him.
Jim: I'm sorry; what difference does that make?
Jean: Well (Laughter), so he can hear you better, but probably the most significant component and I usually try to say it in kind of muted tones so they can't hear me, I want you to remind them to do the negative thing sometimes.
Jim: 'Cause you don't want to be on--
Jean: Because I feel like--
Jim: --the hook.
Jean: --so often--
Jim: And that's fair.
Jean: --I'm the bad guy.
Jean: Mom, we do homework. I tell them to clean their room. I'm telling them to pick up. Dad's just fun and throws the football around. So, I am very intentional about that. I want you to tell them--
Greg: He's like your wing man in--
Jean: --it's time to go to bed.
Greg: --that situation there. (Laughter)
Jean: Yes, yes.
Jim: Yes, the kids now are getting old enough, they're thinking, "Does mom think I'm deaf?" (Laughter) "Hey, Jim, tell Trent and Troy take out the garbage." (Laughter)
Erin: Well, you can't spell things anymore. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, they spell. (Laughter)
Greg: I mean, what I love about it is, when parents show a unified force to the children.
Greg: And so, in some ways, too, I wonder if it's also that, hey, they're hearing me say this, but if dad says it, too, they know we're unified. It's been clear. They have no choice, but to go do this. So, I mean, in that sense, that can be a good thing. That's just been funny, that that's where we argue, is that, get them to do it. I mean, there are times that I get frustrated feeling that Erin and I are the only ones really workin' around here. Why are we the only ones thinkin' that we have to be 100 percent responsible?
And we've begun to have that conversation with our kids, saying, no, no, no, no. Listen, look at all that has to happen so that we survive as a family and thrive as a family. You guys also are 100 percent responsible, so don't give me this, "Well, I go to school; that's my job." You know (Laughter) and I had to do homework at night. Well, so do I, you know. I mean, we all have to do [chores]. So I think that's one of the things that we've been trying to do, is to teach our kids, no, no, no. We all have to equally be responsible. So, don't wait for us to ask. You look around, too. Where do you jump in and help out?
Jim: I think and Jean, I give you great accolades, because I think Trent and Troy, they're really getting so much better at doing chores around the house. I mean, they really are and I think it's your consistency that has brought them to this point. It doesn't mean they're always doing it with the best spirit. I mean, they can be (Laughter), you know, "Uh! It's Saturday."
Greg: That would be a best-selling book, if you--
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Greg: --could figure that one out.
Greg: That's true.
Jim: You know, so it does, you know, I think they're doing better with that, but they're good. They're good about keepin' their rooms clean and you know, on Saturday, they pick up the basement and clean things up and--
Jean: Well, I appreciate that compliment.
Jim: --it's taken years.
Jean: I think what had to change for me and I laughed, Greg, when you mentioned that Erin will ask you to get the cup of water, or something when the kids are sitting there. I think for a mother, we do have to transition. It takes us a while. We think of our kids as these little needy people, who need us and we need to--
Jim: Are you talking about husbands?
Jean: --take care of them. (Laughter)
Greg: I heard both.
Jean: And I've had to do that in the last few years and realized we were doing a disservice to our children. Jim and I were doing all the packing up for camping and all the unpacking--
Jean: --and cleaning the garage and we realized, this is not good for our kids. They are old--
Greg: What are they learning?
Jean: That's right, what are they learning? And they are probably not going to be able to make enough money to hire people to do this for them. So, it was a very conscious effort to start asking them to do age-appropriate tasks. And I mean, do make them part of it; they are part of the family. And I love now I don't ever have to ask them. They unload the groceries into the van for me and they have fun putting the grocery cart away and helping pack up for trips and helping--
Jean: --unpack. That's very important and they sort their own laundry and do help around the house. And I like the taking a day, usually it's a Saturday, taking a couple of hours for the family to work together to clean. Obviously I like that, because that helps me. (Laughter) But I do think that's really important--
Greg: Yeah, the togetherness--
Jean: --to teach our children--
Greg: --of it, you're saying.
Jim: Well, but there's--
Jim: --but there's something really important with that, because it takes time to get them in the right place. I mean, they will complain bitterly and then it eases up over time as they learn the routine of it and they know, okay, oh, Saturday, we're gonna help clean, but it's okay. Just stick with it.
Greg: I think to--
Greg: --get this done within the family, is we sit down as a family, talk about again, these values. I think that's such an important part of that conversation, is that hey, one value is, we're all responsible here. This just isn't mom and dad and your job is just go to school. We're all responsible. We all want to out serve each other. Talk through, what does that look like then as it comes to chores? How to serve one another? You know, how do we express gratitude?
How are we gonna decide these things then as a team? Who's gonna do what? And then you sit down and just divvy these things out. And thus, our expectations are clear. They know that this is then what I'm responsible [for], maybe for this month or whatever, however you as a family want to do that. And then, you know what? Then as parents, it's our job to also hold them accountable.
Jim: That is good. I think the other thing is your parenting approach to different temperaments. I mean, we have two boys and they are very different. One is like, "What else can I do to help you?" And the other one's like, "Do I have to help you again?" And I won't name (Laughter) names in that regard. (Laughter) But that is very typical in a family, where the kids have their own style, their own temperament, their own way of doing it. And you have to recognize that. So, you might need to put a little more attention on the one that's waning and encourage the one that's struggling and you know, let the other one continue to do a great job.
Greg: Yeah and along the way, how are you releasing control--
Greg: --around what this chore actually is supposed to look like when it's completed and allowing them more ownership, to do it kind of how they think it needs to be done. We've started doing that with our son around the shoveling of snow. And so, he knows when it snows, you know, dad doesn't want to be up at 5 in the morning to do that, so how about you do that now when you come home from school? I showed him how to do it, now he does that. And would I do it a little bit differently? I mean, where he ends up piling snow, probably, but it's still done.
Jim: How about the snow blower? Have you given in (Laughter)--
Jim: --to that, yet?
Greg: We have one. I won't let him use it yet.
Jim: Dad, you know your car? (Laughter) It's a lot smaller now. (Laughter)
Greg: I sucked up a baseball and now there's a hole in the--
Erin: But I--
Greg: --window of your car.
Erin: --I think in line with that, too is, giving them an expectation of when it's gonna be done. But you know, giving them a time frame, you know, I want your room clean by Saturday. And that therefore, it gives them, you know, however long--
Erin: --and I know with Murphy, you know, she has a lot of stress. She's a sophomore in high school and studying and playing soccer and the kid doesn't get home until like 6:30 at night and been at school all day, that it gives her a time frame and it also releases her to do it when she can. She gets it done, because if she doesn't, she knows there's consequences [sic].
Jim: And again, that' knowing the temperament of the child and working that into the chore structure.
Greg andErin: Yeah.
Jim: I think it's brilliant.
Jim: Well, it's been fun to talk about how to translate chores into the family and into the household and it's been great to do that with you. Thanks for bein' with us.
Greg: You're welcome; thank you.
Erin: Thanks for havin' us.
Jean: Thank you, it was great being here..
John: Yeah, it's not always easy to get your children involved in some household chores, but as we've heard here today, it's really an important part of their growth and it certainly benefits the family, as well. And we mentioned a list of age-appropriate chores and we're gonna link over to it on our website.
In fact, it's part of a free downloadable kit available for you today. In there, you'll find a collection of articles and resources that will help you introduce your children to ways they can be more responsible in their daily chores and you can print off some pages so you have a reusable chore chart there.
The kit also has a quiz for children to take to determine where they fit in on a messiness scale. It might be obvious to you, but this'll help them kind of understand how they're wired and what they're doing. So, there's no charge for the kit. It's available when you stop by www.focusonthefamily,com/radio.
And of course, if you have any questions or you'd like to ask for the CD, you can give us a call and we'd invite you to donate then, as well. Your gifts are the fuel that keeps this ministry going and reaching out through radio programs and movie, websites and so much more. The number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY: 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more trusted advice to help your family thrive.
Filled with clear advice and practical resources, this month's free download will help your family develop healthy habits in dealing with chores and other daily responsibilities!Read More
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Greg SmalleyView Bio
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of 12 books including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and The DNA of Relationships.
Erin SmalleyView Bio
Erin Smalley serves as the Marriage Strategic Spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department. In addition to her work at Focus, Smalley is a conference speaker. She presents with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, at marriage enrichment seminars where they guide husbands and wives in taking steps toward enjoying deeply satisfying marriages. She also speaks to women on faith, family and the importance of healthy friendships.
Jean DalyView Bio
Jean Daly became a Christian in 2nd grade and rededicated her life to Christ at 17. She attended the University of California at Davis and earned her degree in Biology from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jean has been married to her husband, Jim, since 1986; they have two boys.