Dave & Ann Wilson: Learning How to Parent
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
Learning how to parent can feel part adventure, part battle, part dumpster fire. Dave & Ann Wilson have your back with solid advice & practical application.
Dave & Ann Wilson: Learning How to Parent
Ann: We’re going to get started here in a minute; but before we do, we wanted to bring you, our listeners, into something we feel like is really important.
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Ann: —which is remarkable!
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Ann: I think there is a fierce battle going on in our country.
Dave: Oh, I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. You’re talking about COVID?
Ann: What do you think I’m talking about?
Dave: I think most people, when they would hear that, would think the pandemic that we’ve been walking through for over a year, or the protests, the things going on in the streets—
Ann: —or politically, our differences. No, I was actually thinking—
Dave: But I don’t think that’s what you were talking about.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Ann: I was thinking that there is a fierce battle going on over the hearts and souls of our sons and our daughters.
Dave: —which is not a new battle.
Ann: No; it’s a battle that has been raging since the beginning of time. Yet, I felt, when we got married and started having kids, I felt ill-equipped to engage in the battle; because I wasn’t sure what we were trying to do; you know? I had just gotten married, thinking, “We’re going to be happy, and we’re going to raise happy kids and successful.” Man, there is so much more to it than that; isn’t there?
Dave: Yes, I don’t think we had a clue when we got married; although I do remember sitting at the Weekend to Remember®, downtown Chicago in a ballroom. It was the first time I ever heard that concept that your marriage is not taking place on a romantic balcony but at the center of a spiritual war—man, oh, man; that very concept—I had never thought of.
Ann: I had never thought of that either. And then, take that into parenting:—
Ann: —“How do you think that relates to us as parents? Does that put fear in you, thinking that there is also a battle raging for the hearts of our sons?”
Dave: No, I get excited.
Dave: There is something about me, as a man, that says, “I want to be in a battle; I want to fight.”
Ann: I don’t! I want to hide in the bunker.
Dave: I do, too; but I want to defend. And I want to send warriors into that battle because it is epic/it’s about eternity.
Again, one of the things we learned, early in our marriage, is that it is not about us; we get the opportunity to multiply a godly legacy; that’s exciting to think. You know, I was sort of handed a godless legacy, and we get to change that. The Wilson name can be about warriors, going into the battle. So—
Ann: I want that for parents. I love what you said—like you’re excited—I think I could be driven, especially with teenagers, with so much fear of how the culture will affect our kids. And yet, I look at what you just said; and I think, “Oh! No, that’s what I want. I want to have that idea, like, ‘Oh, we’re raising warriors, or just men and women, who will impact our culture positively for the kingdom of Christ.’”
Dave: We sure didn’t do that perfectly, but we tried; and actually, wrote a book, where that was the whole purpose. It’s called No Perfect Parents. It really was/we hope to inspire parents to a higher vision/a grander vision of—not just trying to raise happy, well-adjusted, popular kids: nothing wrong with any of that—but warriors to send to a spiritual battle that is real.
It was sort of fun to go back to our church, that I pastored for 30 years, and speak on the book but really to inspire the parents and the families in our church to a higher calling that: “What are you trying to raise?” and “How do you raise warriors?” This is a message we gave; and hopefully, you will be inspired to do what God has called you to do as a parent; and that is, send a warrior or warriors into a real battle.
Dave: Here is what we are going to try to do today. We’re just going to walk you through an overview. Some of you are parents. Some of you were parents—meaning your kids have grown, and they are gone—but they are coming back. Some of you may have gotten pregnant last night—you don’t know—and maybe, you are going to be a parent; you’re going to find out this week. [Laughter] You’re like, “Yes, I remember the Wilsons; they are a little wild.”
You know, we became parents 35 years ago; right? We were not prepared. I mean, just the next thing you know is you are a parent: like yesterday, you weren’t; today, you are. I do remember bringing our first baby home, CJ. I remember standing above him in the crib, literally, looking at him as he is sleeping and thinking, “How do I be a dad?” I didn’t have a dad—grew up in a home with no father—I didn’t have any idea. I’m like, “Where is the parenting manual for this?” The truth is there actually is one—it’s a pretty good one—it’s called the Bible.
Now, I grew up not really reading the Bible. I was dragged to church by my mom and didn’t start reading the Bible until I became a follower of Christ my junior [year] in college. I had no idea that the Bible is really relevant to practical issues in our life, like marriage, and family, and parenting. You pick it up, and you start reading it.
By the way, I’m not saying the families in the Bible are the kinds of families you want to copy. They are the most dysfunctional families you’ll ever read about in any book; I’m not kidding. They are just—don’t copy those families—but the truths about family and parenting are literally life-changing.
Here is a passage that we sort of based our book on: it’s Psalm 127, where the psalmist is writing just a perspective about children. He says this: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord.” By the way, for some of us parents, we need to be reminded the person sitting beside you right now: she’s a gift/he’s a gift.
Ann: I would say this—no matter how your child was conceived, whether they are planned or not—that child is a gift.
Dave: Yes; so it says, “…the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them.”
Now, that passage there: “Like arrows,”—even highlighted that—“…arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children,”—I mean what do you do with a bow and an arrow? You shoot it at a target—whether it is animal or a bullseye—whatever. It’s the same thing with children. It’s like you need to step back and think, “What are we launching these children toward?”
One of the things we tried to do in our book is try to/the subtitle is: The One Secret That Will Change Your Parenting. Our marriage book was The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage. It was really, as you might remember, we almost lost our marriage at year ten until we realized, “You’ve got to go vertical”; that’s why it’s called Vertical Marriage.
The secret in parenting is the same thing—the vertical aspect. We were going to call it Vertical Parenting; but our publisher said, “No, you guys write about all your flaws, and it’s sort of like mistake after mistake; so we’re going to call it No Perfect Parents. Our kids wrote in it, so they get to tell you what worked and what didn’t work. We tried to say: “Okay, what is the secret?” The secret, besides building your house on the Rock of Jesus Christ, is knowing what you’re launching your children toward.
Here is a question most parents never ask—and if you are a young parent, or about to become a parent, man, oh, man; you’re in/you need to ask this question right now and write it down—I’m not kidding—or take notes or take a picture of it. It is basically this: “What do we want our child to be, as an adult, when they are an adult? What is it that we are shooting at? What is the arrow being launched toward?” We call it a bullseye. The cover of the book has a bunch of arrows missing the bullseye.
Ann: Here is the truth—you’ve heard that old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it,”—I think what happens, as parents, you get in the midst of the demands of life; you are just making it through a day. And yet, if you don’t have a plan, what happens is the truth: our children are being discipled, whether we know it or not. If we don’t have a plan of what we are doing—
Dave: Discipled means mentored.
Ann: —mentored—and if we don’t have a plan, our culture is mentoring our kids. You can love that or not like it; but the truth is they are being swayed/they are being poured into by our culture.
For us, as parents, this should put this passion in your heart, like, “Oh no! I want my kids to experience all that God has for them. I want them to become who God created them to be,”—because God has a plan for our kids, just as He has for us—“and I want our kids to discover who they are and what God has.”
Dave: I think it is really easy to not even realize that, as parents, we are being mentored by the culture as well. If you walked up to most parents and said, “Okay, you’ve got a three-year-old,” or “…an eighteen-year-old,” or “…a sixteen-year-old. What is it you are hoping they’ll become as men or women?” Most parents have never answered that question; they are like: “Well, I hope they are happy,” “I hope they are successful.” Sometimes, you hear, “I hope they are popular.”
Then, when you step back and go, “What do those words mean? Do we really want them…” “What is success?” “What is happy?” “What is popular?” I think the Bible has a better mission/a better bullseye. We took that as sort of a parenting manual and said, “What is it that we are trying to hit?”
By the way, we are going to give you the Wilson Parenting Bullseye that we tried to raise our kids to. By the way, our kids never knew what this was.
Dave: They never knew.
Ann: We were on the radio; and our cohost called Cody—he’s the only one he could get a hold of—and he said, “Hey, Cody, your parents are on the radio right now, talking about their bullseye in their home.”
Dave: “What they are trying to raise you to be.”
Ann: “Do you know what it was?” He goes, “I have no idea.”
Dave: But it is important that you know.
By the way, I understand if sometimes there are disagreements here between mom and dad about this. Sometimes, you are a single mom, like my mom was, and you’re doing this alone; or you’re a single dad. But you need to sit down and say, “Okay”—and it doesn’t have to be this perfectly stated little thing—but it’s like: “What are we trying to raise?”
All we are going to do today is walk you through ours, because our little statement—and we’re not saying it should be yours—it’s just an example. Each word matters; and they can sort of define what we call the four stages of parenting, from little kids to adults. We don’t have time, [so] we’re just going to do a quick overview. You’re going to be frustrated because you’re going to be like, “I’m in this stage; you need to spend more time there.” We can’t.
Here is our bullseye; okay? You don’t have to write this down, but this is an example of what we tried to hit. Again, we didn’t hit it; that’s why it is called No Perfect Parents—and no perfect kids—because it’s just something you are trying to hit, but you’ve got to know what you are aiming for. Ours is simply this: “Train and launch L3 warriors, who make a dent where they are sent.”
Now, here is the thing: you read that and you’re like, “I don’t even understand half those words.” Okay, so we’re just going to highlight a couple things; because they get at the four stages:
Training is really the first 12 years:
- We actually call the first stage the Discipline Stage, [ages] 0-5. Some of you are in that stage. It’s the hardest thing in the world, and you have to discipline them.
- Then we go into what we call—the [ages] 5-12—we call the Training Stage.
- Then the teen stage we call the Coaching Stage.
- Then the adult stage, which we are in now, is the Friendship Stage.
Let’s talk about what training looks like. And we base that whole thing on a passage, back in Ephesians 6, where Paul writes a little excerpt about parenting. He says this: “Fathers”—I think this would apply to mothers as well—“do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” There is the very word: “training and instruction of the [Lord].”
By the way, let me say this—whether you are a parent right now, or you were one, or you are going to be one—parents, let me ask you: “That verse says whose responsibility is it to train and instruct our kids in the Lord?—whose is it?”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. We’ll get back to their message in just a minute; but first, I wanted to let you know about how you, as just one family, can make a huge difference.
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Alright, now back to Dave and Ann.
Dave: “Whose responsibility is it to train and instruct our kids in the Lord?—whose is it?” It’s ours; it’s the parents’ responsibility.
Ann: But it does say, “Fathers.”
Dave: Look at her; she’s going to throw it on me. [Laughter]
Ann: No, I’m serious; because I think we feel this—I’m just going to talk to the men—we feel this as women; we feel the weight of that. I think, as women, we carry that all the time, like, “Oh, I want to do this…” I look at Dave, and I think, “He has so much influence.” I think it is easy for men to feel like, “I’m going to use my influence outside our home.”
Ann: When you can come inside the home—this was one of our fights—“It’s like, ‘Oh’—
Dave: —many, many fights actually.
Ann: —“‘I can just chill and relax here.” I was like, “No! Be that guy here that you are out there.” Do you know what I mean? I’m just saying, “Fathers, we need you in the home.”
Dave: —oh, big time!
Ann: Our children are dying for male figures, who walk with God, and show them: “This is what the Father’s love looks like.”
Dave: This isn’t in our notes—so I’m going to add it right here—and there is no way we’re going to stay on time. [Laughter] Here is the thing: I remember when our boys were toddlers; we were at Rochester Park. I’m a new dad, and I’ve got little boys. I remember sitting on a bench as Ann and the boys are playing on the jungle gym. I’ll never forget this moment, just thinking, “This is incredible! I’m now a dad! I never had a dad, but now I’m a dad. I have three sons, and my wife is playing on the thing.” I look around. There are other dads sitting, and the moms are playing with the kids.
Ann: I’m watching this, and I go over to Dave. I say, “What are you doing?” He goes, “This is amazing! I’m just watching you guys.” I said, “Oh, are you going to be one those dads?”
Dave: Let me tell you: she did not say it like that. [Laughter] She’s being super nice [now]. She sat down; she goes, “So what are you doing?!” I go/I said, “This is awesome.” She goes, “Are you going to be one of those dads? Look, they are all sitting, watching; all the moms are doing it. Are you going to engage with the kids or just be one of those dads?”; and she left.
It was one of those moments—I’m not kidding—that changed me, as a dad, because I was going to watch. There were a lot of dads watching; I was going to watch. That day, I made a decision, like: “I’m going to be the dad, who is engaged. I’m going to be on that stinkin’ jungle gym. I’m going to be in the front yard;—
Ann: And I’ll tell you—
Dave: —“I’m going to be in the backyard. I am not going to let that window”—by the way, you know this—the window that you have influence in your kid’s life is closing. It’s really 0-12—
Ann: It’s 0-12.
Dave: —and 13 and 14; it’s closing. When we were young parents, older parents would come up and say, “Hey, enjoy these days. You’re going to blink, and they are going to be gone.”
Ann: I would be like, “Please, be quiet”; because every day feels like a million years.
Dave: Yes; “They are never leaving. We don’t sleep”; you know?
Ann: You slept. [Laughter] He would fake being asleep.
Dave: I did fake it. I’d hear them crying—and go like this—she would go—[Dave snoring]—and she would go get them.
But after that moment at the jungle gym, I—
Ann: Yes, you were amazing.
Dave: —decided: “I’m getting engaged.” I’m not kidding; the neighbor kids started coming to our house.
Ann: They would knock on the door; and they would say, “Can Mr. Wilson come out and play?” They really did.
Dave: Yes, because I decided that window—and now, we’re older parents—and we’re telling you: “It’s closing quick. You won’t believe how fast they’ll be gone.”
Ann: Some of you have that chance with your grandkids, like, take advantage of those years where they want to be with you.
Dave: Here is the key in this training—we started our mission statement with “train and launch”—train means it’s our jobs, as parents, to train them—what?—in the Lord. It isn’t just in life—although, that’s obviously a very important part of it—but he says, “No, the spiritual direction, and guidance, and mentoring, and discipling of your children”—listen to this—“is not the church’s job.”
Ann: —“or your school’s job.”
Dave: —“or your Christian school’s job.”
By the way, I’m not saying that Kensington Kids isn’t going to partner with you; we are. But here is what many parents do/it’s: “Kensington will do it,” “Here they go; I’ll drop them off; they’ll get an hour of Jesus, and then”—no, no, no; that—we are in partnership with you—but it’s your job, not ours. It’s your job to do that.
Ann: And we want to walk through this verse in Deuteronomy 6:5-7. It’s one of my favorite in terms of parenting, because it gets very specific of what this could look like. And I might even—
Dave: Yes: “How do we train?”
Ann: Think of it, too—if you are single [without kids]—like I want you to know you are around other people’s kids, and you can impact them. If your kids are out of your house, can I just tell you that the younger generation of moms and dads are looking for other older fathers and mothers to help them?
Listen to this verse from Deuteronomy 6:5-7: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”—this is called the Shema. In the Hebrew culture, they would say this every day; they would say these words because it was so important.
Then it says: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts,”—it starts with your hearts [as parents]—“so impress them on your children.” How do we do that?—“Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down, and when you get up.” Do you hear that?—it’s this time that is going on all the time.
Of that first part, when it says, “These are to be on your hearts”; I think it starts with us. Here is the hard thing of having kids: you get so busy. I, even with my grandkids, we were just with them for several weeks. I was like, “How did I ever read my Bible?!” [Laughter] You know, there is no time to take a breath; you are not even in the bathroom by yourself. “How do I have time to continue to have God on my heart?”
I think this is really important; and it’s like that because you are talking to Him all day long—you are with Him; you are talking to Him—you have Bibles all over the house, in your car, by the table, in the bathroom.
Dave: I mean, obviously, the key to this passage is: “You can’t give away what don’t, first, possess.”
Ann: You’ve been listening to Dave and me, at Kensington Church, give a message from our book, No Perfect Parents. I love that you ended right there.
Dave: Well, I didn’t actually; it’s the middle of that message.
Ann: I know.
Dave: But we’ve got a lot more to come.
Ann: We do, but I think what you said is a pivotal truth in this message. You can’t give away what you don’t possess.
Dave: Yes; and I think, as parents, we think parenting is about getting a book and learning the how-to’s and the tricks. If a parent walked up to me right now and said, “I want to raise a warrior for Jesus; what should I do?” I would say, “Get on your knees and make sure you are a warrior for Jesus.”
Ann: I agree; and I think we do have a book: it’s called the Bible. [Laughter] It really gives us practical help and truth on how God wants us to raise these sons and daughters.
Dave: Again, where we ended there—as a parent, we’ve got to look in the mirror and say, “Is the Word of God in me?”—kids sniff it out if you are faking it; they are watching. Boy, if you are just saying things, but you are not living them, the percentages go down that they are going to do what you say. They are going to do what you do.
So again, I would just say to the mom or dad listening right now: “The most important thing you can do to be the parent you want to be, and raise the kids you are hoping to raise, is surrender your life, surrender your kids, surrender yourself to a dynamic walk with God; and say, “Jesus, give me the strength, and power, and wisdom to be the parent I need to be. I cannot do it apart from You.”
I know it’s hectic, and there is no time, and you’re exhausted. It’s like, “This is one of those things you have to find time to cultivate.”
Ann: And it’s not something you do one time. I personally do it every day because I need the help from God; I need the Holy Spirit of abiding in Him/abiding with Jesus.
Dave: I mean, one of my best memories is daily walking into our kitchen and seeing you reading the One-Year Bible that you’ve gone through—what?—17 years in a row? And our kids watched you, on your knees on the back deck, with your hands up, worshipping God. Sometimes, because you were just—
Ann: It is because I am desperate, people. I’m desperate, and I can’t do it. I don’t have it in me, and I don’t have the strength; but God does.
Dave: But that is the image that I think our kids walked out of our home with: a mom and dad completely surrendered. Again, not perfectly, we blew it a million times; but boy, we wanted to make sure Jesus is, was, and will always be number one; and our strength comes from Him. That’s the most important thing any parent can do.
Shelby: That is Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. If you know anyone who needs to hear today’s message, you can share it from wherever you get your podcasts. While you are there, it would help to get the word out about FamilyLife Today if you’d rate and review us.
Tomorrow, we’re going to hear, again, from our very own Dave and Ann Wilson about how our words count when raising our kids—and that rules, without relationship, really equals rebellion—how we can invest in our relationships with our kids. That’s tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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