About the Guest
Motherhood. It's beautiful and chaotic. Recovering control freak Sarah Parshall Perry talks about her decision to step out of the law profession into the role of full-time mommy of three. Perry, who is raising two sons with autism, along with a daughter, tells how she's learning to relinquish control to God even in the middle of an unpredictable, chaotic life.
Sarah Parshall PerrySarah Parshall Perry (JD, University of Virginia School of Law) is a wife and mother of three young children. She is the coauthor of When the Fairy Dust Settles (with her mother, Janet Parshall) and the author of numerous magazine articles, award-winning short stories, and poetry. Sarah has served in youth ministry for over ten years and is currently writing for www.ChosenFamilies.org where she encourages other families living with disabilities....more
Sarah Parshall Perry, who is raising two sons with autism, along with a daughter, tells how she’s learning to relinquish control to God even in the middle of an unpredictable, chaotic life.
Bob: Sarah Parshall Perry is a planner—she likes structure and order. She’s also a mother. Sometimes, those two things don’t go together.
Sarah: The thing about kids is they do things you don’t see coming every single day. So, the Lord really did see that as an issue in my life. I would lay in bed, going, “Okay, Lord, I really need You.” And that’s the funny thing about hardship and challenges—it’s only when you are so weighed upon by challenges that your knees are on the floor and you’re going: “Okay, that’s it, Lord. I give up!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Thinking you’re in control of anything is an illusion anyway. So, you might as well get over it. We’ll talk about how you can be a mom and learn to be more flexible.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious how somebody, who has a planning obsession, handles life—
Dennis: Are you talking about a control freak? [Laughter]
Bob: Well, I was trying to use a more—
Dennis: Our guest’s laughter is giving her away. [Laughter]
Bob: —trying to use a more gentle term. It’s the term—
Sarah: Oh, it’s alright; I’ve heard it before.
Bob: She uses the term in her book, planning obsession. I’m just wondering, “How you deal with that, when you’ve got two kids who are on the autism spectrum, and a third child who’s right in the middle of all of that?”
Dennis: And the ages of all three are?
Sarah: Eleven, eight, and six.
Dennis: Wow! Well, it results—
I think it results in, Bob, a book called Sand in My Sandwich: And Other Motherhood Messes I’m Learning to Love. Now, that’s a good wrap up to that book title—that you’re learning to love. It doesn’t mean you’ve got it nailed.
Sarah: I’m a recovering control freak—as in: “I’m not totally cured yet, but I’m trying.”
Dennis: Well, that’s the voice of Sarah Parshall Perry. She and her husband Matt have been married since 2001—live in Maryland with these three young children.
One of the things you talked about, early in your book, was that you went to law school at UVA, the University of Virginia. And after you had your—who is now your oldest son, Noah, you quickly stepped out of the profession. Why did you do that?—because here is all this training that you had. You’d gotten married later in life. Why did you step out of the profession of being an attorney?
Sarah: Oh boy! For a very simple reason—I was blindsided by how much I loved the baby they put in my arms.
And you could make all the plans you want—in fact, I had very foolishly decided: “Well, if I get a raise—that means that they value my input. And maybe, I’ll take that as a sign to go back to work.” I remember, when they laid him in my arms, looking up at Matt, going, “I think I need to call and put my two weeks’ notice in.” It just was, without a question, the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make.
Bob: Even with all the investment of the years, and the sweat, and the toil over those papers you wrote in law school?
Sarah: Oh, and the bar exam—which if I had an option to negotiate with the Lord on workload, I would trade the bar exam again for what I do on a regular basis with these three kids—but I have to tell you—it was such a decision that was made with complete clarity. I prayed about it, and Matt and I knew we’d have to make sacrifices. We cashed out a 401k, and we sold our car.
We made some things / you know, some decisions that hurt a little bit; but it was such peace about the decision.
Bob: Hot dogs and mac and cheese.
Sarah: Hot dogs, and mac and cheese, and ramen.
Dennis: Yes! I want to go back just to the decision that you made to have children because you and Matt married later in life. Was it a given that you guys were going to have kids? Did you like them?
Sarah: I had always loved kids / knew I would have them, but really had set this internal path—again, see “control freak” in footnotes—that I was going to have children, and then, I was going to go back to work.
And it is very difficult to manage—for those working mothers, who are listening—very hard to do both because you don’t get to come home from a job and suddenly go: “Okay; I’m clocking off. Somebody bring me my slippers and my paper.” Mom is always Mom, whether she is in an office or whether she is at home all day with children. That’s actually something I address in my next book, which is coming out next year—Mommy Needs a Raise (Because Quitting’s Not an Option)—
—you don’t get to leave!
You have to kind of figure out the balance between work and family and what it feels like to give it up. I had to figure out where I was going to find worth because it wasn’t in a paycheck, it wasn’t my signature on a brief, it wasn’t in a raise, and it wasn’t in a promotion—it was in three little children. I went from tangible benefit, and concrete deadline, and finite value to intangible, long-term, and hard to put my finger on. That was challenging for me. My husband would come home; and I would think: “Well, everyone’s still alive! So, I guess that’s what I did for the day.”
Bob: Well, and Sarah, a lot of moms today look at the profession of motherhood—
Bob: —and they really cannot see the value in it and feel like, “If this is all I’m doing, I’m really not doing all I ought to be doing.”
Sarah: Yes; yes—oh, I cannot agree with that more.
I have had a number of friends—the Lord has really surrounded me with women who understand the peculiar nature of that struggle. Many of them have advanced degrees like I do. I have a girlfriend who is a dentist. I have two who have master’s degrees in social work. They have all given these up to stay at home with their children. We have all had the conversation: “Are we doing the right thing? Is this important enough? I mean, we’re going to do this for like the next 10 to 15 years; but we gave up all of this education.”
What I’ve ultimately found is that the Lord uses everything leading up to motherhood in ways you never expect. He doesn’t mistakes. If He’s called you to a particular line of study / to a particular profession, you will use that later on. What He’s done is said: “You are going to put this on hold because what I’m doing is—I am reaping a harvest of these tiny human beings, who have essential and eternal worth in My kingdom, who you will leave behind after you are gone.”
If the Lord tarries: “They will have their own relationship with Me, and they will go on to have their own children who will also have their own relationship with Me.” It is the ultimate long-term investment—all that means is you put what you’ve learned on hold for a short period of time.
Dennis: You know, anytime we do a story like this, we are going to get emails from folks, who are going: “You know, I can’t believe you guys! You guys need to come into the 21st century.” [Laughter] And it’s interesting—you mentioned a word. You said that your profession can be a calling for which you prepare to be able to fulfill.
Sarah: Absolutely; no question.
Dennis: I believe—I really believe the Bible teaches that, if you’re married and you get the privilege of having children, motherhood / fatherhood are both callings that demand a response and a responsibility that is embraced by both a husband and a wife in that situation.
Speak to that, if you would.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. If you undertake something, the Lord requires us to undertake things well—you work as a workman who is not ashamed. Second Timothy tells us your whole heart and soul is in what you do.
And in the case of my raising my children, I actually found myself—I talk a little bit about this in the book—kind of, again, control freak—trying to over-parent; right? So, we’re going to do Mommy & Me class in the morning. Then, we’re going to have a healthy, organic snack. Then, we’re going to do sing-along time. Then, we’re going to watch Baby Einstein videos, and the house is going to be clean. And I’m totally going to nail it! I have to tell you—the Lord went: “You know what? Sometimes, just being with them—holding them / listening to them—is what I want from you. Sometimes, the quiet moments are just as important as the active moments.”
So, here I left this profession of the law—where I had really worked my hardest to get where I was—and the Lord said, “Okay; you’re going to put it on hold.”
Underneath that practicing of law was, really, a desire to write—that’s something that’s kind of been in my blood for a long time, and I put that career aside. I had these children, and I started writing because I had two children on the autism spectrum. I started writing for two different blogs that minister to families with disabilities. One is SpecialNeedsParenting.net, and the other is ChosenFamilies.org.
Both of these blogs—not paid—just provided me with an opportunity to tell my story. The story came from the children I gave up the job to spend time with. So, everything came together at the same time. From that, the outline of this book, Sand in My Sandwich, was born because I thought: “This has been such an interesting, ordinary-but-extraordinary journey. I think other people will appreciate how to persevere in difficulty in what it’s like to have kids, who are both normal and sort of extraordinary, at the same time.”
So, everything was not wasted. The Lord wastes nothing—He wastes no hardship / He wastes no lesson.
Sarah: And He’s very clear that, sometimes, things are uncomfortable for a period; but ultimately, His aim is to benefit and prosper us. He loves us—He hears our cries / He covers us with His feathers. I love that analogy because it really is a parent bird shepherding his chicks underneath his wings, saying: “I’ve got this. I’m going to cover you. It’s okay.” And that helped me do that for my own children too.
Bob: We have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to the two blogs that you mentioned. So, if listeners are interested in checking that out, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find that information. We’re talking with Sarah Perry, who is the author of the book, Sand in My Sandwich.
I just find it really interesting, in God’s providence and design, that someone with a planning obsession has two kids on the autism spectrum.
Sarah: Right! [Laughter]—who you cannot predict anything about! [Laughter]
Bob: It’s like God’s saying, “I’m going to cure you—
Bob: —“of your addiction to control by giving you two very uncontrollable kids.”
Sarah: That is exactly what happened. And you know, you can make anything an idol in your life. And my previous response to handling hardship and difficulty was to squeeze it as hard as I possibly could. I thought, if I perseverated on something long enough, I could come up with a solution—not—
Dennis: —and fix it.
Sarah: —and fix it! That’s exactly it: “If I just stay awake long enough at night, turning it over in my mind, I will have that bolt from the blue; and I will figure it out.” Well, the thing about kids is they do things you don’t see coming every single day. So, it’s like that except times a thousand—and in my case, times three—so 3,000 times harder than that. So, the Lord really did see that as an issue in my life.
I didn’t realize it was an issue until I had these kids. I thought: “Well, shoot! I can’t predict anything about this. Now, I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.” I would lay in bed, going, “Okay; Lord, I really need You.” And that’s the funny thing about hardship and challenges. It’s only when you are so weighed upon by challenges that you’re knees are on the floor and you’re going: “Okay, Lord; that’s it, Lord. I give up! You have to come up with a solution because I can’t figure one out on my own.”
Bob: I had a friend, who said, “Anything that drives you to dependence on Jesus is a good thing”—
Sarah: That’s it.
Bob: —no matter what it feels like in the moment.” Do you feel like, today, you are cured of your planning obsession; or are you still trying to force things into the way you wish they’d happen every day?
Sarah: I would say: “Of a 100-percent cure, I’m like 80 percent there.”
Sarah: I think we have an inclination, as sinners, to fall back into our own ways. I really have to pray about that a lot, “Lord, help me not to spend time getting anxious about this;”—
—the Lord is very clear about worry and anxiety—“but help me to just give this to You. You brought this into my life,”—again—“You do not make mistakes. This is a part of Your divine design. I can’t see it. This is a long-term race that I’m in with You. So, You just bring it to fruition. I’m totally relinquishing the control.”
But that has been—it has been an ongoing struggle. I will tell you—I’m willing to let the laundry stack up a little bit as a former neat and control freak. You would be surprised at the amount of filth with which I am totally comfortable at this point. [Laughter] My husband was the slob going into the marriage. Now, I’m like: “I haven’t vacuumed in a week. I won’t die!” [Laughter]
Dennis: If you had about 90 minutes, I’d drive you north of here to my oldest daughter’s house. She has seven boys—
Sarah: Oh, God bless her!
Dennis: —ages 15 to 1 year of age.
Sarah: Oh, wow!
Dennis: And if you want to see an immaculate laundry room, you’re going to have to go to the laundry mat to do that.
Bob: Somewhere else.
Sarah: Oh, good!
Dennis: It’s not going to be at her house.
Sarah: Because I had a moment, where I thought, “Dear Father, if he says that that laundry room is immaculate, I’m just going to die!” [Laughter]
Dennis: No, it is not—it is not that at all. In fact, I’ve never forgotten this statement: “A clean house is a sign of a life misspent.”
Sarah: Oh, wow! I need to write that down.
Dennis: I want you to go back to your book for a second. You’re talking about messes; and I mean, they come in all shapes and sizes with two autistic kids—
Dennis: —and a little girl sandwiched in between, whose name is Grace. What’s the major lesson on loving—
Sarah: Oh, my gosh.
Dennis: —that you’ve embraced?
Sarah: I like to joke that I could have titled the book, Things Fall Apart; but apparently, that title is already taken—and my editor frowns on things like that.
So, my lesson really is that chaos can be beautiful. Sometimes, it is just order in disguise because the Lord permits things in our lives that appear to fall apart; but His design is perfect, and it is always there no matter the challenges we face.
Bob: And I want you to hear something as you’re saying that—and this is going to take our engineer Keith a little work to dig this up—but as you’re describing this, I’m thinking back to an interview that we did in the first year FamilyLife Today was on the air. We called out to some moms in the middle of their day. We just said—
Dennis: It was called “Mom Check.”
Bob: Yes; we just said, “So, what’s going on at your house, and how is life?”
Sarah: Oh, wow!
Bob: And I want you to hear how one of these moms answered because it has stuck with me for more than two decades, now, as she described her day. Again, this was more than 20 years ago.
Dennis: Some things never change.
Bob: That’s right!
[Previously Recorded Interview]
Dennis: This is Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.
Bob: Hi, Brenda!
Bob: How are you?
Brenda: What are you guys doing?
Dennis: We’re calling around the country doing a “Mom Check” just to see what kind of day you’ve had with the kids.
Brenda: I’ve had a great day with the kids.
Bob: Have you?
Brenda: Well, I just have had my priorities right today, I guess. I gave up cleaning, gave up laundry, and just sat on the floor. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, you didn’t try to do anything of any value apart from building into your kids, then?
Brenda: Yes; I made smart decisions today, I guess. [Laughter]
Bob: So, you’ve had a great day; but the house is a pit?
Brenda: The house is the pits! [Laughter] You said it right.
Dennis: What does it look like?
Brenda: Well, my youngest child has a problem with spitting up. So, there’s a huge blanket that covers the whole living room floor; and his toys are everywhere. And my little daughter is learning how to feed her babies. They are lined up in a row, and she’s giving them bottles.
She’s just starting to pretend—so she has my shoes all over the floor—and purses. She’s been grocery shopping today. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; I remember it well.
Brenda: And I guess books—and the dishes are still in the sink. [Laughter] Am I supposed to tell you where all my dirty laundry is? [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: We have run into more dishes in more sinks than you can imagine—
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: —as we’ve done this.
Brenda: Well, then, the encouraging thing is my husband, Jeff, will come home today. He’ll say—he’ll be really proud of me that I put my kids first today. So, I am having a good day—caught me on a good one.
Bob: What’s for dinner tonight?
Brenda: Leftovers. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, you tell Jeff “Hello,” for us; and we’re glad you were on our program today.
Brenda: Oh, gee, you guys are funny. I will!
Bob: Thanks, Brenda.
Brenda: Okay. Bye-bye.
Bob: You can kind of relate—
Sarah: Oh, my gosh! You know, my husband and I still, to this day but not nearly as much—we joke / he said, “I’m the only husband in America who tells his wife: ‘Don’t do so much! Just be with the kids.’”
So, actually, now, I know that Brenda’s husband told her the exact same thing. He’s not as original as he thought. [Laughter]
Bob: We’re talking with Sarah Parshall Perry, who has written a book called Sand in My Sandwich. And by the way, we’ve got copies of this book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book; or they can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,”—so, again, the website / FamilyLifeToday.com or 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book, Sand in My Sandwich.
Dennis: You know, one thing we haven’t really exploited, Bob—and I’ve got a feeling our guest on the program is grateful to be who she is. She is Sarah Parshall Perry.
Bob: And you did call her Sarah Parshall Perry—
Dennis: I did. [Laughter]
Dennis: But Sarah has a mom that a few of our listeners have listened to.
Bob: Well, and a dad who has written a number of best-selling books as well.
Dennis: Exactly. And we’re talking about motherhood. I thought, “You know,”—you don’t know this, Sarah, but one of my favorite things to do with a guest is to seat your mom or your dad—in this case, I’m going to have your mom seated across the table from you, here in the studio—and ask you to give your mom, Janet Parshall, a tribute.
Bob: And some of our listeners will know—
Sarah: Oh, wow!
Bob: —they’ll know your mom because she’s on radio with her program In the Market with Janet Parshall; but this is an opportunity for you just to—
Dennis: We’ll have you back another day to do your dad; but since we’re talking about motherhood and moms, I just have to believe there are some very fond memories. I’ll give you a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts, and then, you can just—
Sarah: Oh, wow!
Dennis: —just say it to your mom.
Bob: Just imagine Dennis is your mom and talk right to her. [Laughter]
Dennis: No; don’t. [Laughter] Don’t do that!
Mom, one of the things I appreciated most was your willingness to invest time. You were an ever-present mom, who gave up her own job to stay home with us despite your own career aspirations. You were everything that I aspired to be when I had my own children—you were hands-on, you were loving, you were affectionate.
We probably tested your patience. I remember particularly a game of hostage where my brothers tied me in the basement to a chair, and then, refused to tell you where I was because I was in charge of babysitting them. I have not forgotten the grace and strength with which you parented and weathered the storms of what were, certainly, difficult moments.
I think about your own hardships—a mom and two brothers all diagnosed with cancer within nine months, while you had small children. Yet, we still knew you loved us. You modeled for us perseverance in trials and difficulties because it was clear God was in control no matter how hard things got.
If they were hard because of regular, neuro-typical children or if they were hard because three family members had been diagnosed with cancer, your response was always the same—and that was to continue loving and following Jesus because His love for us never failed. So, thank you for showing me that.
Bob: I just have to know if the laundry got done in your house. [Laughter]
Sarah: She gave it up at a certain point. I will tell you that I think she had a very similar walk—
—it was:“I think I’m a control freak. This is really hard.” Then, at a certain point, “Oh, forget about it!” [Laughter]
Dennis: And I want to know how you were released as a hostage from the basement. How long did they keep you down there? [Laughter]
Sarah: I heard my parents upstairs, and I was probably 13 or so at the time. But you know, two brothers—and my sister had to have been in on it. She was somewhere in the house, probably scoping lookout because my parents were on their way back. But I remember my father’s voice upstairs, saying, “Go downstairs and untie her, right now!” So, I was in the basement. It was like a scene out of [The] Goonies.
Dennis: Well, let me just encourage moms: “Don’t lose heart”—
Dennis: —“in well doing; for in due time, you will reap if you don’t grow weary and lose heart.”
Bob: Sarah, thanks for being with us on today’s program.
We also want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who make programs like FamilyLife Today possible. We’re listener-supported; and as you know, it’s our listeners who make this daily time together possible by donating to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
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Today, when you make a donation in support of the ministry, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new book. It’s called Letters to My Daughters. In fact, Barbara’s going to be with us tomorrow to talk about some of the advice that she is giving to young moms these days. I hope our listeners can tune in for that. Again, if you’d like a copy of Barbara’s book, make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation; or mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and the zip code is 72223.
And again, as I just mentioned, Barbara Rainey will be here tomorrow. Hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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