Author Jill Savage offers some practical ideas for how parents can make their family's home a safer and healthier place for their children.
John Fuller: If someone asks, how do you describe your family, are you loud and energetic? Or perhaps a little more quiet and introspective? Is your house a revolving door? Or is there a semblance of peace and quiet? Well, that's our topic for this New Year's edition of "Focus on the Family," as we'll hear about creative ways you can make your home and your family more fun and encouraging and really better for everyone. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I think the one word that describes most families, not all is "busy." I mean, we just seem so busy today. We're busy with everything. And it really robs us of the opportunity to enjoy each other, to get to know each other, to love each other, to be family the way I think God designed it. And I think the cracks that we're seeing in so many families is because of that hectic pace, in part and our inability to communicate and love each other through that.
We've gotta do somethin' to change that dynamic and make family time a priority again. And one of the best ways to do that is by making dinner time a priority. That's somethin' we do at our house. I'm really proud of Jean, my wife, because she has really put her all into that, to where dinner time is our time to hang out together and to really love each other. And that's something we do here at Focus on the Family called Make Every Day Count. If you don't know about that, there's some wonderful tools [sic] that we can give you and we can offer that at the end of the program. But we're gonna talk about this topic, how to really set your home up for the best possible environment. And that's with one of our very good guests, Jill Savage.
John: Oh and she's well-known as an author and speaker and is the founder of Hearts at Home, which is a ministry and online community that supports and encourages moms to be all who God designed them to be. And I'm looking forward to the conversation, Jim.
Jim: Jill, you've written this book, My Heart's at Home. I love that desire, that for me describes a desire and I love the fact that you've written probably mostly to women, because I don't know that men connect in quite that same way. But thanks for doin' that and welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Jill Savage: Thank you. It's always good to be with you. And it's interesting that you would say that about writing for women. Yes, most of my books are. My husband thinks that My Heart's at Home is my best book.
Jim: Oh, wow. And--
Jill: He …
Jim: --why would he say that?
Jill: Part of the reason is he came from a pretty dysfunctional family environment and this really laid out a plan for what a healthy home and a healthy family looks like.
Jim: And he liked that.
Jill: And he liked that. It was doable. It was clear and it gave him a picture and a vision for what we were working on together, but for him, he needed a clearer picture--
Jill: --of that needed to look like.
Jim: Well, let's start there, because I think there could be some great differences between a husband and a wife when it comes to that. But how do you get couples to just talk about what expectations are there between the two of them?
Jill: Right, because there's a balance. I think you need both sides of that, you know. Oftentimes, dad's a lot more fun that mom is sometimes, too.
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, say that again! (laughter) Did you hear that, John? (Laughter)
John: I think she had …
Jill: Again …
John: She was looking straight at you when she (Laughter)--
Jill: We're speaking--
John: --said that.
Jill: --in generalities here. (Laughter) But I think at least in our home, that's certainly the way that it is.
But definitely, I mean, my husband and I came from completely different backgrounds and so, of course, one of the first things that causes conflict, because I expect him to see things the way I see things and he expects me to see things the way he sees things and we don't. So, we really had to be intentional about talking through these things. And one of the first things we did is, we took a parenting class. And even though we didn't maybe agree with everything that was taught in the class, it caused us to actually talk.
Jim: To talk about it.
Jim: You know, we're laughing about that comment you made a moment ago, but there is some truth to that. I think for Jean and I and there can be a bit of well, pain in that, that when dad gets home, it's fun time.
And you know, you bring home the little goodie; it might be the caramel, soft caramel treats. I get those at Denver airport. My boys (Laughter) … there's a place I go. There's these little squares. So, I mean, there's a routine to when I get home from a trip. I've got a goodie in my pocket, you know, that I'm givin' the boys and we're havin' fun and we're wrestlin' or, "Hey, let's play a board game." And mom's been trudgin' away, tryin' to get 'em to do the homework, makin' sure everything's battened down, and all the hatches are battened down. And I think when Jean and I talked about it, she can feel like, yeah, I mean, it feels unfair.
Jim: Is that how a lot of couples might be experiencing this?
Jill: I think that's very normal. I think that oftentimes it may even be switched genders. I mean--
Jill: --it might be the mom who's--
Jim: Fun-loving, outgoing--
Jill: Right and a dad who's really, you know, kinda keeping that foundation firm and steady. So, it could be either way. I know one of the things that Mark and I eventually learned how to do is, that he would call me as he was coming home from work and we would debrief a little bit. So, that helped him to know what he was walking into and it also helped me to connect to him and you know, what a difference that made and then we were working a little bit better together.
Jim: What did that call sound like on a good illustrative day?
Jill: Well, you know, the first thing they say is, "How's your day been?" And we'd listen to one another. And you know, then I knew if he'd had a rough day, how he was gonna come home and he was gonna be pretty depleted.
Jim: Or have an attitude.
Jill: Exactly, be exhausted, need a nap. I mean, he's amazing. Ten minutes on the couch and he's a new man. So, I don't understand that. I have to have a bed and about 30 minutes before it makes a difference for me. But the other thing that I could do then also is, I could prepare him for something that I knew was going on at home, like for instance, oh, you know, so and so broke up with their girlfriend today. You need to be sensitive when you walk in here.
Jim: Oh, that's good coaching.
Jill: You know, or I want you to know that I had to take away these privileges from this child and here's why. So, then he didn't walk in and undermine something that I had done without him even realizing it. So, it was really just almost a debriefing--
Jill: --for each one of us.
Jim: But you did that with intentionality it sounds like. I think Jean and I do that, but without, you know, knowing what we're doing in--
Jim: --that regard. I mean, if we were to say, okay, I'm gonna call you on the way home.
Jim: And let's talk about--
Jill: Or even to--
Jim: --the day.
Jill: --just say, "What do I need to know before I walk in the door?"
Jim: Yeah and that's more intentional--
Jim: --than just happened to hit it--
Jim: --'cause I called to say, "Hey, do you need anything from the store?"
Jim: That's what I usually do. I call and say, "Hey, you need me to pick up anything from the store?"
Jim: But we get there.
John: And then there's screaming and there's loud noises (Laughter) and crashes.
Jim: I gotta work late, yeah. (Laughter) No, that's not fair. Don't do that. But you talk about setting that environment in the home. That's part of it, being on the same page if I can say it that way. What's something else that couples need to be mindful of about setting a good environment in the home?
Jill: Well, I think that we need to have a shared vision of what we're working toward.
Jim: That sounds exhausting. What does that mean?
Jill: (Laughing) Well, I don't think it's exhausting, because we could both have great visions, but they can conflict with one another. And so, I think saying, "What is important?" When our kids leave the home, what do we hope for?
Jim: So, that's the big vision.
Jill: That's the big vision, so this is what we're working toward and this I show we're gonna break it down. These are gonna be the things that are gonna be important to us.
Jim: So, do you write down a vision statement for your family?
Jill: Our family has not written down a vision statement, but we have talked about that. Many families do. They even post it, you know. They print it out and frame it and put it on their walls. I think, you know, there's different ways to do it. But more importantly, it's just making sure that mom and dad have the same vision.
And so, when I wrote, My Heart's at Home, one of the ways that I built it was around the concept of building a house, because you would never build a house without a set of blueprints.
Jill: You would never do that, because you've gotta make sure that all the people that are working on it have the same vision that they're working toward. And so, what I tried to come up with was a set of blueprints for what a healthy home looks like, based upon what Mark and I found honestly, by trial and error, much of it through our own conflict, our own failures, our own struggles. And when we would, you know, finally come upon an "ah-ha" moment, okay, what is this? Let's see if we can label it.
And that's where I came up with "home is a school" and "home is a trauma unit." "Home is a rest area." "Home is a church." And so, that helped to narrow that vision and be intentional about some of those things that we wanted to happen in our home.
Jim: Jill, even listing some of those things, what catches my attention is, that sounds exhausting. (Laughter) You got so many hats to wear at home, especially mom. But when you talk about wearin' all those hats, how does a mom do it? How do we feel good about all that demand and doing it well?
Jill: You're already wearing all those hats (Laughter). We're already wearing them and part of that is why we're stressed out, you know, because we are pulled in so many different directions and we do want something very special for our kids. We do have a vision of what we want our kids to look like when they leave the home. And so, I think that it's important that we recognize we're already wearing those hats. How can we wear them a little bit more efficiently? How can we be just a slight bit more intentional and if we've got that vision in front of us, then we're able to maximize those moments that we're already given.
Jim: You know, we talk about meal time and in the set-up, John, we chatted a bit about that a few minutes ago, a campaign that we have called Make Every Day Count. It's really focused around meal time. When you start lookin' at research and it's not the fact that you're eating. That's not it.
Jim: But you're together and you're doing the function of eating.
Jim: What they found though with that research, is your kids are so much more less likely to be at at-risk behavior if that communication is going. I mean, it's dramatic, like 20 times less likely--
Jim: --to be involved in at-risk behavior—sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, whatever it might be. (Laughter) But--
Jim: --but isn't that awesome because it's community.
Jill: It is.
Jim: That's what you're creating. What have you found about the dinner table?
Jill: Oh, it's huge. That's a really important part of home as a rest area--
Jill: --because we're pulling off the highway of life and we are resting together. And I don't mean, you know, takin' a nap or puttin' your feet up. But we are communing, taking time together. And we have certainly found that. You know what we've also found is, that tends to be a place where our kids would invite friends to be a part of it.
Jim: Wow, yeah.
Jill: And I tell you, it has amazed me how many kids over the years that sat down and had a meal with us and I can think of at least five off the top of my head that said, "Do you do this every night? This is really cool." Because they don't at their home and it was a new experience for them and they liked that feeling of laughter and conversation and tellin' jokes and tellin' a funny story that happened. And it is; it is community and it's connection and it's important for a family.
Jim: Definitely it is and you know of the things that we've done that I so enjoy is we roll out of many dinner times to a board game.
Jim: Because I'm committed to the fact that, that time, early evening, is really the boys' time for me.
Jim: And I want to be engaged with them, not just go watch the news and you know what? I guess there's a bit of guilt. I used to be there. I get it, but if you're doin' that and you have kids still at home, disconnect with the TV.
Jim: Go and spend 6 to 8, 6 to 8:30. You can watch the late-night news.
Jim: It's still gonna be there. That thing never goes away (Laughter). And you know, just invest in you kids. Do something that they'll look back and go, "Wow, dad and mom were terrific. They spent time with us."
Jim: That's what you want 'em to say at the end of it all.
Jill: You do and you have to recognize, it may not be your most favorite thing to do (Laughter). I mean, you really do have to recognize that. You know,one of the things I've learned to be and the value of, is a chameleon parent. And a chameleon parent learns to like the things that their kids like. And it's not because you really personally like that. Like I had one daughter that loved to shop, but she didn't love to shop so much for buying things. She loved to see how clothing was put together.
Jill: She was fascinated and she would come home and sit down at the sewing machine and figure out how to do it herself. She loved that. So, I hate to shop. I mean, my husband has to beg me so often, go get new clothes, because I am one of the rare women out there that don't enjoy shopping. And so, I really had to learn to be a chameleon with my daughter, who loved to go into the stores and look at things, 'cause I'd just rather be at home readin' a book or, you know, just enjoyin' the quiet of the house and not be out and about. But I needed to be a chameleon. I had to learn to like the things my kids liked.
Jim: Yeah, we usually associate that word with bad things (Laughter), but in this case, it's a good thing.
Jill: It was a good thing and she loved to see how outfits were put together. I thought for a while she would go into like fashion design. And she still has a tendency toward that, but I had to learn to be a chameleon.
John: I love what you're saying there, Jill and you can find out more about Jill and her ministry and the book, My Heart's at Home, as well as a CD or download of this program when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Jill, with so many parents, I think particularly moms, I could see this with Jean, maintaining that sense of playfulness, because--
Jim: --kids want to play.
Jim: I mean, that's that time in their life where they don't feel heavy responsibility typically. It's fun. They want to do fun things. They want to jump on the trampoline. But moms are into the routine. They got a lot to do. But they need to maintain that sense of playfulness, too, don't they?
Jill: They do. I think every mom could put a label on herself. "I'm the fun mom." "I'm the serious mom." "I'm the teaching mom."
Jill: And we have to be true to who we are. I mean, I don't want to feel guilty because I am who I am.
Jill: But I do need to be reminded to be stretched. And so, I'm not always the fun mom. I'm not always the one that would be jumpin' on the trampoline. But I have to remind myself of the importance of play. And we talk about that in My Heart's at Home, home is a playground and remembering that playing together is important. I have a constant task list in my head all the time and I think most women do.
Jim: Oh, I think you're right!
Jill: I mean, I have, you know, as soon as dinner's done, I've got 20 things I want to get done before I head to bed. And then oftentimes that crowds out my ability to be playful. So, that's where having a vision and going, "You know what, Jill? You need to be playing with the kids tonight. You need to be intentional about that." That's where having that vision and goin, you know what? I'm gonna put my task list aside. Let's pull out a board game.
Jim: In your book, My Heart's at Home, you also talk about being the dream maker.
Jim: I like that and that's where I like to live.
Jim: It seems--
Jim: --less restricted (Laughing).
Jill: But yes, exactly. You know, it struck me one day when one of my kids was dreaming about something. He was teenager and he was starting to talk about some of his friends after graduation, they were gonna take a road trip. And as they, you know, he would say, "You know, we're gonna go here. We're gonna go there." And immediately, the practical side of me comes in. So--
Jim: Where are you gonna sleep?
Jill: --how are you gonna afford that?
Jim: Where are you gonna eat?
Jill: Yeah, exactly! (laughter)
Jim: Or what are you gonna eat?
Jill: And so, what do I do? I take away the dream from him. I realized I'm a dream taker, not a dream maker.
Jill: And so, you know, that was early in parenting. You continue to grow in wisdom. And so, I remember several years later, one of the younger kids, who said almost the same conversation. This just must be, you know, wired into them as teenagers. And I say, "Oh. That would be interesting. So, where would you want to go? Why you want to do that? How would you be able to make that work if you wanted to go to college?" And I just began to just dream along with them. And you know what? The same outcome happened. Neither kid went on any road trip. (Laughter) But I'll tell you, it was much more effective for me to be a part of their dreaming than to dampen their dream.
Jim: Be a dream maker, not a dream taker. I like that. And really, the power of asking questions rather--
Jill: It is.
Jim: --than just putting a "no" on it.
Jill: Right because I tend to be very practical and pragmatic and so, I can very easily say no and I realized, you know what? That doesn't really help the situation. So, I have to resist the urge to be practical and dream right along with them. And I think that's a powerful point of connection--
Jill: --with that kid.
Jim: John, your kids, a couple of 'em are out and about. You just had a daughter overseas for a while.
Jim: How did that go? I mean, how did you and Dena feel about that?
John: Well, first admission for me personally, I so identify with what you're talking about, Jill, because my natural tendency is to troubleshoot and say why that's a bad idea. (Laughter) And in fact, this particular daughter finished high school. She said, "I want to go to Europe next February or March." And we said, "Okay. Start saving your money." And she said, "I'm gonna get a job." And it would've been easy to say, "You know, Europe is pretty expensive and what are you gonna do?" It would've been easy to say, "Well, you want a job just like thousands of other high school graduates want to get employed and find money."
But she found a way to do all that and she actually made it to Europe on her timetable and had a lovely time that she financed pretty much [on] her own. That's a wonderful thing and I think it would've been easy for me to squash that--
John: --pretty quickly by saying no. Another case, Jim, my youngest wants to play in the NFL. He wants to play professional football. And I could easily say, "Not a chance." But instead, I try to go out and play football with him and just to breathe a little bit of life in. It's taken me a long time to learn these lessons though.
John: it's hard.
Jim: It definitely is. Jill, when you talk about real experience, what John's alluding to there, some people might be listening and say, "Well, okay, you got it all wired. You've figured it out. You've made your mistakes, but you know, you're in tune. You're writing books about it. You're a professional mom." (Laughing) But life has dealt you some blows. You're speaking out of experience. You've dealt with cancer. You've dealt with marital difficulties, you and Mark.
Jim: Talk about that for a minute. You're not coming from a world of perfection.
Jim: You're coming from the school of hard knocks.
Jill: Exactly, exactly. And I think that's even more reason to have a vision for what we're working toward, because that also kept me tuned in to what I was hoping to attain in our family, even when life didn't look the way that we wanted it to look.
Jill: I have. We've had a son with mental health issues. My husband and I went through a separation when he went through a very hard season of depression and disillusionment with life. And that is when home becomes a trauma unit.
Jill: Home becomes a trauma unit in those situations. It's not neat and clean and it doesn't have a formula. You know, we can do all of these things. You know, our family ate around the dinner table I would say, five out of seven days a week and we still had a child that chose drugs, sex and alcohol.
Jim: Yeah, it's not foolproof.
Jill: It's not foolproof. It is not and so, that's when we also have to come face to face with giving grace to one another, giving love when it's hard, loving when the other person is, I guess you could say "unlovable."
That's when home becomes a trauma unit and a place where our wounds are bandaged up. And when I was going through my cancer journey, home was definitely a trauma unit for me. All of a sudden, in fact, I remember one day and my teenage son said to me, "You know what, Mom? Do you know what sounds good today? I want a peanut butter shake." And I said, "Well, that would be wonderful, if I felt well enough to give that to you, but I can't." And I said, "I'll teach you how to make that. I'll tell you how to make the peanut butter shake." And he said, "No, I only want one when it can made with love." (Laughter)
Jim: Oh, wow.
Jill: So, home was not only a trauma unit for me, because I was quite ill during chemotherapy, but it was also a trauma unit for my family, my husband--
Jill: --my son who was still at home, because life wasn't normal.
Jill: And we had to be sensitive to one another and tuned in to, this is a hard season of life. So, we're not talking here about perfection in any way. But we're talking about learning to navigate the ups and the downs of life and to do it with intentionality.
Jim: Jill, as we wrap up here, I want to be sensitive to those families who are struggling right now. They're in the trauma unit. They're not in the pep rally--
Jim: --as you describe in your book. Talk to them about what to do. I mean, you and Mark going through your difficulties, having separation and having a prodigal and even dealin' with cancer, you've done it. And you held it together. I mean, the Lord's grace was there, I'm sure. But maybe tonight this couple that's listening is thinkin', "We're done."
Jim: "Our family's done. It's not a trauma unit. It's a gravesite, 'cause it's over." What would you say to them?
Jill: I would say to them that there is always hope. There is always hope and I know during our marital challenges, oftentimes one or the other of us had hope, but oftentimes, not both of us at the same time. And sometimes we had to borrow hope from one another during those hard seasons. There's nothing impossible with God. Nothing! And as difficult as those seasons have been, I've just come to understand that there is nothing impossible with Him.
And so, you begin one baby step at a time. When Mark and I were in our difficult season, I learned, I had to come face to face with some of my critical spirit, the places that I was hurting our relationship. So, I began to look inward, not outward where it's easy to blame. And the more I looked inward, the easier it was for him to look inward, as well and to begin to look at the things that he was contributing negatively to our relationship. So, I think, you know, it's a time of growth, incredible growth, if we'll allow it.
Jill: And you know, it's an overused phrase. We can grow bitter or we can grow better. But I truly have found that through marriage difficulties, through parenting challenges, through this health crisis, I wanted to become better. I wanted to grow stronger in my relationship with the Lord. And you know the verses in the Bible that became most powerful to me are the verses where it says that God draws near to the brokenhearted.
Jim: Oh, I love that verse.
Jill: I love that verse and I have seen Him draw near when I have been willing to open up my hands and my heart and say, "Okay, Lord, I don't even know what to feel, where to start, but I know You're here.
Jill: And I know You're near me and so, show me one baby step at a time.
Jim: Jill, as we end, I mean, I would like to turn to the audience. If you're in that situation and your marriage is in a dark place or you're strugglin' with a prodigal child, you're not sure if the tether within the family is gonna hold. The strands seem to be breaking.
And call us. That's why we're here. We want to be there for you. We want to be able to help you. We want to provide resources for you. We want to talk to you. We have counselors who dedicate their life to being on the other end of that phone for you. And I would just encourage you to take us up on it. Don't worry. We have heard, I think, just about everything. There's nothin' you can surprise us with. And take that step of tellin' somebody what's goin' on and letting them speak to your life and to give you some advice. I think it'd be a phone call worth making. And John, you can give those details.
John: The number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 and we've also got details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Jill, your book, My Heart's at Home, what a heartfelt conversation this has been. Thank you for being vulnerable, to talk about, you know, what's goin' on in your family and the desire in your heart to do well at making the home a place where everyone feels loved and honored. Thank you for bein' with us.
Jill: Thanks for having me.
John: And I think you've shared so much hope here for a lot of couples and families who really appreciate that reminder to trust God, even in the midst of very, very difficult circumstances.
Now as you can imagine, there's much more to this subject and we can't cover it all in the program here, so Jill's book is very comprehensive. She writes about bringing faith into the family and turning your home into kind of a research lab and a business office and teaching hospitality and more. It is a great resource for a parent who wants to be more intentional--that should be all of us--about raising healthy, happy, thriving kids. And you can order your copy of My Heart's at Home when you call or when you're at the website.
You know, Focus on the Family is listener supported and we depend on friends like you who want to help us build stronger healthier families like Jill was talking about. In fact, we can be a conduit for you to minister to families around the world literally. So, please join the support team today. You can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, when we'll once again, have trusted advice to help your family thrive.
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Jill SavageView Bio
Jill Savage is a popular public speaker and has written seven books including Professionalizing Motherhood, Real Moms … Real Jesus and No More Perfect Moms. She is the founder of Hearts at Home and served as the ministry's director for 24 years. Jill and her husband, Mark, reside in Illinois. They have five children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Jill by visiting her website, www.jillsavage.org.