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Can you raise “perfect kids” by being a “perfect parent”? Not only is it impossible, but you’ll bring more harm to your kids the harder you try to achieve perfection. Hear Meg Meeker, Karis Kimmel Murray, Elisa Morgan, and Reb Bradley share their parenting stories.
Michelle: Pastor Reb Bradley couldn’t accept that his son wanted tattoos; he was a pastor after all. They needed to part ways, and his son left home. A while later, when the prodigal wanted to come home, well, Reb had some requirements.
Reb: So here is my son—20 years old—he was living in Lake Tahoe. He calls me; he says, “Dad, I can’t make it up here. I really need to come home. I want to come live with you and go to school.” I said, “That’s no problem, son; but look, you’re going to be a pastor’s son again at home, if you want to come home, you can’t be—I can’t have people pointing at the pastor’s son, saying, ‘Don’t be like him.’ You’ve got to wear sleeves to cover your tattoos.” He said to me over the phone, “Okay; never mind then.”
Michelle: How would it feel if your dad had said that to you? We’re going to hear more from Reb Bradley, and we’re going to talk about the pitfalls of performance-driven parenting: what it means for the parent and the child. We’re going to give some hope and help on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Michelle: Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Trial When I first learned how to cook, I was introduced to a pressure cooker. You use a pressure cooker so that you can cook your food in shorter amounts of time and get it done quicker—so that combination of steam and pressure—and that boils the water at a higher temp. Well, probably the most important part of that pressure cooker is the valve—the valve that makes sure that the pressure doesn’t get to dangerous levels inside of that pot—you know, when the whistle starts?
But trial is my wondering, “What happens if the whistle doesn’t go off?—it malfunctions.” I’m pretty sure that there would be a nasty explosion; right? It seems to me that a lot of people are under that kind of parenting pressure. Today, we’re going to talk about the substantial pressures facing parents that tend to be caused by perfectionism.
Pediatrician Meg Meeker, who is a good friend of FamilyLife®, is going to set things up for us and let us know just exactly what we’re dealing with. Here is Meg.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Meg: Many young moms—and many older moms—really have lost their joy in being mothers. They don’t feel valued; they don’t feel they are doing a good enough job, and it makes me very sad because being a mother is such an incredible joy. A lot of the joy has been robbed from us. I think it is because, honestly, of peer pressure—we can talk about that a little bit later—but a lot of mothers feel so much peer pressure to be perfect moms/to produce perfect kids.
Mothers are a fiercely competitive lot. If you go into a new school, and you meet another mother in a class, the first thing you do is sort of size her up: “Okay; what neighborhood is she living in?” Of course, we look at her weight; we always do that—[Laughter]—once we get through that and figure out, “Okay; are we in the same kind of shape?”—then we move onto the kids: “What is her child like compared to my child like?” “Is her child in the fast reading group? My child is in the slow reading group.” We go on, and we go on, and we go on; and that’s not what motherhood is all about, but we do that because all our friends are doing that.
Mothers—now, if trial are at-home moms, they feel, because they are not out earning money, that they need to be super-duper uber moms. They need to have perfect kids; their kids need to be in three extracurricular activities after school, not just one or two.
We’ve gotten ourselves to a place where, no matter where we are in life—whether we are full-time at-home moms, part-time moms, or we’re working full-time outside the home—no matter what we’re doing, it’s never good enough. We’re never reaching the mark; we are always falling short, and we’re not happy. Guess what?—if mom ain’t happy in the home, you’ve got a dad who isn’t happy, and a whole lot of kids who are not happy. I see that all the time.
Michelle: Ooh; ouch! Did those words hit a little too close to home for you? I mean, is that how you’re feeling? Well, Meg Meeker should know these feelings well because she has raised four kids, and she has been a pediatrician for 25 years. You can bet she hears, all the time, from some super moms, who are just tired, and can’t seem to meet that mark. That’s the cost of perfectionism to parents. We’re going to hear more from Meg a little later on, because she has some really good points.
So what’s the opposite of perfectionistic parenting? Well, our friends, Tim and Darcy Kimmel, would say it’s grace-based parenting. Karis Kimmel Murray—she is daughter to Tim and Darcy—and she grew up a recipient of grace-based parenting. Karis would say that she’s not graceful—she’s kind of a wrecking ball—it’s not a quiet life. So grace-based wasn’t in her plans until she had kids. Let’s listen to Karis explain every parent’s worst nightmare on a shopping trip.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Karis: My first trip out of the house, with both of my kids, for about five weeks—because we had been sick, and somebody had been down with some kind of a virus—but we were just out of everything. It was a trip of necessity to go to Walmart® with two kids. Any parent listening, who has attempted this, knows what I was walking into. I was racing around Walmart, with both of them in the cart, just trying to get everything so that we could get out of there before they exploded/two little bombs exploded.
It would trial maybe, been fine/I would have made it if my flip-flop hadn’t broken. We went to the shoe department. I just said, “I’m going to buy the first pair of flip-flops that I see. I don’t care if they are the ugliest things on the planet. I’m going to get them, and we’re going to get out of here.” My two-year-old had been begging to get out of the cart—begging/begging—because my kids see that kind of confinement like total oppression. They just start writing letters to their congressmen; if you have confined them in some way, they launch a campaign. [Laughter] They just think that we are the worst for strapping them into something.
She wanted to get out. I had a moment of weakness, and I let her out. I knew, by the look on her face, that I had made a mistake by letting her out. She comes up to a row of shoes; there are shoeboxes lining walls all the way up. She puts her little arms out to either side of this row of shoeboxes, and she holds them out, and she walks kind of resolutely to the other end of the aisle. She knocks every box of shoes off in—I don’t know—retaliation for her confinement and in protest and in rebellion of the fact that we’re not home yet. The Walmart shoe department looked like a bomb had gone off. [Laughter] Metaphorically, it had; yes. I just/it was in that moment that I just looked at her—and wanted to die out of embarrassment/wanted to give her a spanking—but I also said, “This is a child that has needs right now, and she is two.” Yes, that’s just an example of the craziness of life with kids.
Michelle: —and an example of grace-based parenting. I’m sure you are laughing hysterically, because you’ve lived through that scene that Karis just described; or you were horrified, because you lived through that scene that Karis just described.
Parenting is hard. And what’s trial harder?—parenting with grace and realizing that the toddler just had all they could take. Their self-control mechanism just has not fully developed yet, and neither has their way of expressing frustration or anger, because they are two! Give them a break.
For some parents, who grew up in a broken home, parenting may give you a chance to make right what you feel went wrong; but then there might come a time when you realize that not even your parenting is as perfect as you hoped it would be. That’s what happened to Elisa Morgan. Elisa Morgan is a sought-after speaker, leader, and author on mothering and spiritual formation. She is also the CEO of MOPS International. Elisa Morgan and her husband had the urge to do better when they became parents to two adopted kids, but Elisa quickly found out that being a perfect mom wasn’t as attainable as she thought it would be. Here is Elisa.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Elisa: Trial she was about three years old, I remember truly one night putting her to bed; and then she called me down the hall to come back; I did/I had nothing left; I was like, “Seriously? I was so close to getting to watch ER and George Clooney”; and I was just done.
I go back in the room, and I am on empty. It wasn’t a pretty moment; monster mom emerges, and I got through the moment. But I went back to my bed, and I didn’t feel like I deserved mommy time anymore. I found myself praying Hannah’s prayer from
1 Samuel, Chapter 3: “For this child, I prayed. Now, I give her over to the Lord all the days of her life; because you’re going to better a parent than I am, God.”
It was like God just pushed at me there and goes, “Elisa, do you really trust Me with her?” I’m like, “Sure; You are God.” It’s like, “Well, do you trust Me to decide if she should get married or not?—or see her through a life-threatening illness?” He pushed me; and He goes, “If you trust Me with her truly, then do you trust Me to pick for her the very best mother for who I know she will become?”
Dennis: That commitment you made to God, when she was three years old, is one thing; but you said, 27 years later, you look back on it; that was a watershed moment. In your book, you talk about several additional times when that commitment was put to a severe test. Which test do you think was the most difficult?
Elisa: When she was a teenager, I had a dream. I was walking through a home, and in this home—it was under construction, and Jesus was my tour guide in this dream—He led me through different rooms. He stopped at a bedroom; He said, “This bedroom is for your daughter.” Then he went to the one right next door to it; and He said, “This bedroom is for the baby.” I went, “What?!”; and I woke up. The next night, truly, I had the same dream repeated: home under construction; Jesus is the tour guide: “This room is for your daughter; this room is for the baby.” I remember saying, “She’s not pregnant.” He looked at me and said, “Yes, she is.” I, truly, shook this off.
Just a few days—maybe weeks later—I was at MOPS, where I served as the CEO in those days. We were sitting around at a conference table, talking about the formation of Teen MOPS for moms, who were teenagers themselves. I felt God whispered to me, “You’re going to know more about this than anyone in this room.” I thought, “Oh my gosh! I better talk to my daughter.”
I went home. I asked my beautiful varsity-swimming medalist—back from a mission’s trip in Kenya, serving HIV orphans; just back from that—I stopped her in the hall, and I just said, “Is there any reason you could be pregnant?!” She looked at me and nodded. I—never-before-pregnant me—I get in my car, and go to the grocery store, and get an at-home pregnancy test; and I bring it home. Yes; she’s pregnant.
I’m blown away by this. It felt like, to me, that—“I have come from a broken family; and I have given all of my life to creating this perfectly in-tact second family. We’ve spent time with Jesus; we did it right!”—and it felt, to me, like my second family fell and broke again.
Dennis: The trial of love; forgiveness; compassion of a mom, who had chosen this little girl, really came to bear in a big-time way; didn’t they?
Elisa: Such a long journey and a beautiful one, where God began to reveal—in ways that I couldn’t translate, at first—the beauty in broken. My daughter went through this process of this pregnancy—ended up having a baby way early through an abrupted placenta; made the very painful trial but important decision, to relinquish this baby; and then continued with her life—but veered off into some other surprising choices.
Trial story goes on in our family of my daughter, with another pregnancy, and an accident that changed her life in dramatic ways, an abusive relationship—we go on and on here—and this is not a tie-it-up-in-a-bow story. This is a real life—like everybody listening—story of people, who want to cling to God, and do; and sort of bump along behind Him, trying to find our way.
God began to trial me that I am responsible to mother my children as best I can, but I’m not responsible for their choices and their responses. I’ve had to relinquish that—understanding, as well, that I can throw myself over a pothole; I can say, “Don’t go near that pothole!” and put my body on top of it—and they may pick me up, and throw me out of the way, and dive down by their own choices. In those moments, I need to relinquish responsibility of their choices.
Michelle: Wow; what a difficult story to hear from Elisa Morgan. Her family is broken, just like the rest of us, and just like the one she came from. How hard, when you have different hopes and dreams for your life and your kids’ lives.
We’re going to trial from Meg Meeker and Reb Bradley on the other side of the break—more about pitfalls of perfecting parenting—when we come back. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. TV commercials are created to sell things; they are to build ideas of a better life; you know?—“If only I had one,”—sort of thing. I’m thinking about the commercials—with the family sitting around the dining room table, smiling and laughing, and having a great conversation over food—in our minds, we want to create this idyllic-looking life: the perfect cleaned house, smelling of chocolate chip cookies; the perfectly-manicured lawn; the happy, successful spouse; and the children, who have perfect ACT’s, play perfectly in volleyball/act perfectly around their friends and your friends.
But in the process, we can somewhat find ourselves building an impossible world for ourselves and for our kids. Here is some helpful advice from Meg Meeker again.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Dennis: If a mom is going to navigate, really, the pace of life and the comparison that is taking place, she better pull out—
Dennis: —of the battle; reflect; and re-center herself; and know what God is expecting of her as a woman, wife, and, most certainly, as a mom.
Meg: Yes; absolutely. That’s where we’ve really veered away from this. Even a lot of Christian moms, whose hearts—they are really trying to do what God wants them to do—but again, it’s we don’t want to miss opportunity for ourselves or for our kids, and we’re not trusting our instincts.
I sort of look at it this way, Dennis and Bob—is we’ve got all these mothers, who have jumped on a train that is going very, very fast in a direction. We don’t know exactly where it’s taking us, but it’s picking up speed as it goes. We all want off; but we want the gal next to us to go first: “Okay; I have my child in three extracurricular activities, and I want him in two; but why don’t you go first, neighbor?”; you know?
But that’s where the freedom really comes; and that’s why I’d encourage every mother listening to us: “Be the first; jump off the train,”—you know—“because it’s wonderful; and there is an enormous benefit in it for our kids.” But since trial talking about moms—“That’s what brings some calm and sanity into our lives,”—I really worry about mothers and their health, because there isn’t calm in the American home anymore.
Michelle: A somewhat simple solution; although, a very hard solution, from Dr. Meg Meeker. “Be the first person off that train”; it’s a hard thing to do: “If you have a full schedule of ballet, and soccer, and piano lessons, what can give? Can you scratch out the soccer lessons or, perhaps, ballet?”
And sometimes, it’s not about activities trial keep you busy and looking like the “perfect parent”; maybe, it’s the appearance of being a perfect parent that has you held captive. That’s what happened to Pastor Reb Bradley. Here’s Reb telling Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine about what he learned about himself and setting impossibly high standards on his kids.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Reb: I lived in fear of what people thought. I thought I’d lose credibility if my kids looked a certain way/acted a certain way. My oldest son, when he was 20 years old, he did get his first tattoo. He walked in the door; and I saw, from under his t-shirt, something. I said, “Son, what is that sticking out from your t-shirt sleeve, son?” [Laughter] He looked at me, and he pulled it up; and “I didn’t think you could see it.” I said, “No; I can see it clearly, son; what is it?” He showed me; he said, “Dad,”—he showed me—“it’s a crown of thorns. I’ve been so flaky with God. I just/I wanted to permanently mark my body so that I couldn’t/I will look at that the rest of my life, remembering the sufferings of Christ.”
Reb: I’m thinking, “Oh, he’s got a great justification; this is/he’s got an excuse.” He is tearing up. I’m looking in the eyes of a son, who is tearing up saying, “I don’t want to turn my back on God again.” Then he looks at me and says, “I was hoping you would tell me what Scripture to put under it.” [Laughter] Now, he wants me to help him with his tattoo.
Dennis: He just turned the knife; didn’t he? [Laughter] First, he stabs you in the heart, and then he turns it.
Reb: I give him the text in Leviticus that says, “Don’t tattoo your body.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You didn’t; really?!
Reb: I did.
Dennis: You did?!
Reb: Yes—not on the spot; I called him up later—“You wanted a text. Here, look up Leviticus…”; and I told him the text. [Laughter]
Dennis: You just had to be right; huh?!
Reb: Brother, I look back—you talk about hills to die on.
Bob: Here’s where I think the tension came in for you: because you had high standards for your children—but there was not much room, in those high standards, for your children to be themselves/for your children—
Reb: —no room.
Bob: —to be individuals/autonomous. Every person, as he grows to adulthood, has to establish his own identity, his own independence, his own sense of self. You were telling your kids, “You want to have a sense of identity of self. You’ll have the one we prescribe for you; if you don’t, you’re in trouble.”
Reb: “You’ll have it within our little circle of reference.”
In fact, there is more to the story. Here is my son, 20 years old, now—talking about the tattoo—20 years old; he was living in Lake Tahoe. He calls me; he says, “I can’t make it up here. I really need to come home. I want to live with you guys. I know you’re not in town anymore; you moved out to a farm. I want to come live with you and go to school.” I said, “That’s no problem, son. Look, you’re going to be a pastor’s son, again, at home. You’ve got to wear sleeves to cover your tattoos,”—plural. [Laughter]
Dennis: So he’s got more now.
Reb: I said, “You’ve got to yank the earrings,”—the things that he had cultivated while he was on his own. I said, “You want to come home. I can’t have people pointing to the pastor’s son, saying, ‘Don’t be like him.’” He said to me over the phone, “Okay; never mind, then.”
A few months later, he calls up again—six months later—he says, “Dad, I really need to come home.” I said, “You know the rule.” He says, “That’s no sweat. The Lord has already dealt with me about the earrings. They are gone; that’s not a problem.” I said, “Well, come on home.” I regret that because, ultimately, I was saying, “I choose my church—of what they think of me—over my children.”
Reb: That—I look back—for years, that’s what was guiding me—is I was trying to please everyone else around me and sacrificing my children/ultimately, who they were. I/if that were to occur now, I would say, “Come on home, tattoos and all.”
Michelle: Great advice on parenting through example from Pastor Reb Bradley—what a humble servant of God. I would say he’s learned a lot about himself and God through parenting.
That opens the question: “How can we change our ways?” According to King David in the Bible, the answer is “God.” Now, we’ve all heard this verse that children are a heritage from the Lord. Well, in Psalm 127—just to give you a little bit of context here—starting in verse 1, David writes: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stay awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep. Behold! Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Did you catch that connection in there between resting and parenting?
Before we wrap things up for today, I want to hear a little bit more from Meg Meeker with some practical advice on how to let God build our homes.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Meg: You know, so often I tell moms, “Your child doesn’t care whether you go to a store and buy a box of brownies that are premade, or get a box and cook them, or make them from scratch. What your child really wants is to sit down and eat a brownie with you.”
What I would trial all the great mothers out there—and I know we’ve got thousands and thousands of great mothers listening right now—“Just calm down. Peel off some of those expectations that you have of yourself for your kids; and start giving your kids your company, and focus on that rather than giving them time that you are running around with them. Just try an experiment: do it for a month and see how the dynamics in your home change.”
I have a great story about that. When my daughter—one of our daughters was 13, and she was our eldest daughter—and I had a big, old Suburban. It was about 7 o’clock at night. I was—nobody had eaten dinner; I didn’t even know what I was going to cook for dinner—and I was driving her to a birthday party. It was very far away, and I was exhausted. I pulled the car over to the side of the road; and I said, “We’re done. This is ridiculous. I’m racing; I’m not going to do it.” I turned the car around, and I went home.
Well, my 13-year-old was furious with me; because that’s not what good mothers do—they take their girls to the birthday parties, even though the whole family hasn’t had dinner—she was very upset with me. We pulled into the garage, and we were pretty strict with our kids’ language. She got out of the car; she pounded her fist on the hood of my car, and she looked at me. I said something; and she said, “Mom, shut up!” I said, “Oh, you’ve done it now!” because we don’t speak like that in our home. I grounded her for a month, which meant she could only come home after school and be with me all month.
The first week of that month was not very fun. By the end of the month, we enjoyed being together so much that, when the next semester of school came, she backed out of a lot of her stuff and wanted to be home more. That was a real turning point in my life, to recognize that what our family needed was more time at home under the same roof.
Michelle: If you are a parent, your children are some of God’s good gifts to you; but they are not your ticket to validation or a project to figure out. They are your fine gifts to raise and to point towards Christ. Be humble as you encourage them, and correct them, and love them; and don’t be in a hurry about it—just something to think about this weekend as you love on those kiddos.
Okay; coming up next week, if you happen to talk to your kids about giving up some ballet, or talk to your spouse about crossing off the t-ball on the schedule, there is probably going to be a little bit of conflict. So next, we’re going to talk about conflict; you’ll want to tune in to FamilyLife This Week for that.
Thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Trial along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Bruce Goff. Thanks to our producer, Marcus Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer. Megan Martin is our production coordinator, and Keith Lynch is our executive producer.
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