Your Kids Aren’t Your Report Card
About the Guest
Do you feel like you're being graded for how your kids turn out? Author Melissa Spoelstra reminds parents they are not their children's report card, and if they measure their parenting by their children's behavior it will lead to disappointment and discouragement. Instead of worrying about how their kids are doing at that moment, parents need to strive to lead their kids to know and love God over the long haul.
Melissa Spoelstra reminds parents they are not their children’s report card, and if they measure their parenting by their children’s behavior it will lead to disappointment and discouragement.
Your Kids Aren’t Your Report Card
Bob: Does your family spend time together each week purposefully, intentionally, pursuing some kind of spiritual growth or spiritual disciplines? Melissa Spoelstra says, “A lot of families don’t—and they have a lot of reasons why.”
Melissa: The pushback I hear from parents is—“You know, we’re so busy anyway. We’re at soccer practice—and we’ve got gymnastics.” They’re running, running, running so hard. What I would say is, “It doesn’t mean—we’re not talking about a three-hour program every week—this is not rocket science. These are small posture changes that we can make. This is intentionality. This is a posture that says, “Prayer is vital to my child’s spiritual life—not just today—but for the rest of his life.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Okay, so, how can we be more purposeful and intentional about spiritual formation in our family—especially in the summer? We’re going to talk with Melissa Spoelstra about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dennis?
Dennis: Bob, have you ever thought of your kids being a report card?
Bob: A report card?
Dennis: That your children are your report card—that you’re being graded on some kind of curve of how you’re doing with your kids?
Bob: I don’t like a report card where I’m not in complete control of the outcome, you know? [Laughter] I want to be—I want to be responsible for what I did, but I don’t want to be—I don’t want the grade shifting because I had nothing to do with it; right?
Dennis: Well, we have a mom who is a mom of four—and only she could be courageous enough to write a book about—Total Family Makeover—discipling your kids. Melissa Spoelstra joins us on FamilyLife Today. Melissa, welcome to the broadcast.
Melissa: Thanks so much—my pleasure to be here.
Dennis: She is married to her—and I noticed she said this on the back of her book—“her pastor husband”—
Dennis: —Sean since 1995. They live—
Melissa: Well, he is both—he is my pastor and he is my husband.
Dennis: There you go. You’re just honoring what’s due there. So, explain what you mean as you start your book out talking about how your children are not your report card.
Melissa: I think as moms we often feel like—“What is our role? What are we doing, and what are other people thinking about it?” It’s hard. We measure ourselves all the time. I can think of a time going to pick up the twins when they were three years old from their classroom—
Dennis: They’re now 16.
Melissa: They’re now 16 so, this was long ago—but I dropped them off and went and sat in the church service. They come and get me because I’m one of the pastors’ wives and say, “Hey, someone really got scratched bad in the three year old room.” I’m like—“Do we know who the scratcher is?” They were like—“No, I don’t know, but we need to find this new family visiting.”
Dennis: There’s the scratchee and the scratcher.
Melissa: There’s the scratchee and the scratcher.
So, I say, “Yes, I actually met that visitor when I dropped my own girls off. So, I know who they are.” I locate them, and I bring them back. I just have a pit in my stomach. Of course, we get there and yes, my child is the culprit. She wouldn’t even—I couldn’t even get her to apologize. You know you do the thing where you’re like—“Now say you’re sorry.” I just packed up my four kids and got in the car, and I just cried. I was like—“What are we doing wrong? We’re doing something wrong here.” I felt like I got an “F” at the top of my parenting page.
I think—before I had kids I thought, “If you just do X, Y, and Z—you know you read all the parenting books and you do what they say—then, it will produce obedient, kind, loving kids.”
Dennis: That’s what Bob was talking about. You’re dealing with a commodity here that has its own will.
Bob: A living organism. [Laughter]
Melissa: There is no doubt about that! We shame ourselves and try to grade ourselves based on kids’ behavior on any given moment—but the opposite spectrum of that is the pride that can come.
I can think of another time when my son—who is now 20—was in third grade and for the entire school, they picked one student citizen of the year. They—lo and behold—they called my son’s name. Afterwards, everyone is congratulating me—“Oh my goodness! He’s such a good boy,” and “Oh, yes, he so deserved that award.” I was flying high. I think social media has invited more of this because everybody is posting—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Melissa: —“My kid won this award,” and “My kid….” We’re scrolling through going—“Wow, there are all the A parents, and I’m sitting over here in the C-average section—or maybe, in the F section.” I believe that our kids are not our report card because God was the perfect parent. He’s in the garden. He’s got His kids. He did everything right—and yet they still disobeyed—they made some bad choices. I don’t believe today God is in heaven—or right here with us—grading Himself based on whether you or I obey Him.
So we can put that to rest and kind of take a big sigh of—“Okay, they’re not my report card. I’m not a terrible parent or a great parent based on whether my kids choose to follow God.”
Bob: But let’s face it—we are responsible for some of what goes on—and, maybe not totally responsible—but we do have some responsibility here; right?
Melissa: That’s the question I began to ask myself. I’m not responsible for the results—but what am I then responsible for? What did God do—what does He do? He pursues. He’s very intentional. He’s sacrificial to reveal Himself to us.
So many times in Scripture, I find this little phrase, “Then they will know I am the Lord.” He says it over and over and over again whether it’s—“I’m giving them consequences, then they will know that I am the Lord.” “I’m going to give them the land that they can go live in and then they will know that I am the Lord.” We have this God who wants to be known—and that following Him leads to life. How can I help my kids want to know and love Him?
So I looked at the life of Jesus. How did He—with His disciples—what were the intentional ways that He spread this? It wasn’t very programmed—is what we find as we read through the Gospel. I find kind of these two over-arching things that He did. First of all, He modeled it. He prayed—He knew the Scriptures—He did it for us—He modeled it for us. Don’t we know, with our kids, the whole—“Do what I say and not what I do?”—that stuff doesn’t work. They do—they parrot. I mean, we love these YouTube videos that go viral of these kids that are saying what they’ve heard their parents say, you know? They’ve got these big words.
I can think of our daughter Rachel—barely had language, barely had words—and coming in and stomping her foot and saying, “This is ridiculous.” We’re like—“Where did she—where did that come from?” The very next day, my husband comes in and finds the mess of toys on the floor. Guess what he did? He stomped his foot and said, “This is ridiculous.”
Bob: “This is ridiculous.”
Melissa: Oh, that’s where she got it! They’re listening to how we talk about church. They’re listening to how we talk about prayer. They’re watching, and they’re listening. This one key aspect is the modeling part.
Bob: So, modeling is one aspect. What’s the second?
Melissa: The second is training. You know Jesus—yes, He went off by Himself and prayed—but He also took some very intentional moments with His disciples to say, “Hey, this is how you should pray,” “This is how you should rest,” and gave them some very intentional guidance.
I think about my son—when he turned 16 and got his own car, we let him register it—he paid for it. A year later, something came in the mail that he needed to renew the tags and I remember getting the piece of mail and laying it on his dresser and thinking, “I need to talk to him about that.” Then, I forgot about it. So, he comes in one day and he’s gotten a ticket on his car, parked in front of our house. He’s like—“What is this for? Can you get a ticket just for being parked in front of your own house?!”
I read it, and I go—“Babe, it says here your tags are expired.” He’s like—“What’s a tag?” I realized we modeled for years that you need to update and reregister your car, but we hadn’t explained. We hadn’t sat down—and some of us, as moms—we’re praying, but our kids don’t see it because maybe they’re asleep or we’re having that time reading and studying God’s Word—but it’s after they’ve gone to bed. So we need to take these moments to help them—to train them.
Bob: So, the modeling and the training—
Melissa: Those are the two.
Bob: —those are the two rails on which parenting runs. If we’re doing those right—to the best we can before God—you’re saying, “We’re being faithful. Now, the results are in God’s hands.”
Melissa: I do. I believe that if we will live it and if we will train it then, that’s all God asks of us. That’s His calling for us to do—it’s what He did. When we do it—in His strength, in His power, in His way—it’s not a one-size fits all, like—“This is exactly the way you need to do it.”
I couldn’t stand when I’d read parenting books that we’re like—“You have to sing hymns at the table,” or “You have to do it this one certain way”—but we’re so intentional about taking our kids to the doctor when they’re sick, for physical health. We’re so intentional with them socially—making sure they’re in the right friend group. We’re so intentional with them intellectually—getting them a tutor when they fall behind—but when it comes to spiritually—when it comes to knowing this God we love and serve, I think sometimes we feel ill-equipped.
We hope that—“Oh, if I just drop them off at church,” or “Maybe, Grandma will teach them some of these things.” Yet, I believe that God calls us to be the key disciplers in our homes to pass on—this faith and this—
If we really believe this is the way that leads to life—that this is the Savior of the world who gave His life for us and calls us to a mission, and we want to reproduce that across the whole globe, across the whole planet with this message of the Gospel—wouldn’t I want that for my kids more than anything else—for them to know and love Him?
Dennis: What you are saying is absolutely imperative for parents to hear today. They’ve lost sight of what is the North Star of being a parent. We’re doing a great job getting them over to play gymnastics, soccer, football, piano, education—spending the bucks there—but we’re missing the spiritual formation—the spiritual training—of our children.
I have to tell you—Barbara and I are really concerned because we’re seeing a generation of parents who don’t know what they believe. You can’t impart what you don’t personally possess. In fact, I just want to authenticate what you’ve just shared with our listeners—that it’s modeling and training—because our listeners need to know, she got that out of Deuteronomy—
Melissa: I did.
Dennis: —Chapter 6.
Melissa: I stole it right out of there.
Dennis: Stole it right out of the Book.
Bob: You’re not alone—trust me.
Dennis: Yes, exactly. It says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words I’m commanding you today shall be on your heart.” So, parents—first of all—have got to have these words on their hearts. They have to get up in the morning and be thinking about how I am representing the King—how I am modeling loving Christ for my children to see—but also just in how I live.
Then, it goes on and talks about the training portion. It says, “And these words that I am commanding you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up.” It’s talking about a way of life training of your children—teaching them how to think critically—
Dennis: —as they face choices. They’re going to face tens of thousands of choices in their lives. If you don’t train them in how to make wise choices, the world will.
Melissa: Oh, yes.
Dennis: It will not be wise—it’ll be foolish. You’re really talking about something here. If you miss this as a parent, you’ve missed your purpose. You’ve missed why God gave you children in the first place.
Melissa: Absolutely. Some of the pushback that I sometimes hear in talking about these eight practical steps—I call them spiritual rhythms—these are the things—because this came, for me, when I was at a conference, and the theme was “Rethink.”
I spent the last day—I didn’t go to the sessions with my husband—he likes to go to all the sessions. I stayed in the hotel room and I just said, “God, where are you calling me to rethink?” It was in these areas—I made the list of these eight areas of—“I want to make sure”—
Our son was two years from graduation—from high school, and I had that overwhelming sense of—Have we done this thing? that you just talked about, Dennis. Have we taught him what it means to rest? What it means to be in God’s Word? How desperately he needs a mentor?”
The pushback that I hear from parents is—“You know, we’re so busy anyway—we’re at soccer practice and we’re here—and we’ve got gymnastics”—they’re running, running, running so hard. What I would say is, “It doesn’t mean—we’re not talking about a three-hour program every week—these are small posture changes that we can make five minutes at bedtime when they’re vulnerable.”
Some of the things that we’ve done are to say—we would hear over and over again for prayer at bedtime, “God, thank You for this wonderful day and I just hope we’ll have a wonderful day tomorrow. Amen.” After hearing that night after night, I realized, “You know, Jesus took some time to train some of these elements of prayer. You start with adoration, then you confess.” We had some fun with that.
I mean made a list of the things we think are awesome about God and put them up on the wall in a little cheap, plastic frame. This is not rocket science—this is intentionality. This is a posture that says, “Prayer is vital to my child’s spiritual life—not just today, but for the rest of his life.”
Dennis: What you are training them for is real life.
Dennis: You don’t know how soon that may visit them. You had twins and when your twins turned 12, your daughter came down with a strange disease and that demanded a response from her. Explain what happened.
Melissa: She began to lose her hair to autoimmune disease called alopecia. It started in just little pieces—hair on the pillow every morning, hair in the drain of the tub, hair on the brush—and much grief. It was a grieving process for her, and she knows and loves God. So she began to pray, and I believe that she had a mistaken misconception about prayer.
Up to this point, we’d seen God answer all kinds of prayer—“Make my boo-boo better.” “Heal me of this.” “Help our family have everything it needs.” She had always seen all of her needs being met. This was her first “No” from God. The more she prayed, the more her hair fell out—eventually, her eyelashes, her eyebrows—all of it. So, she had to learn to persist in prayer when God is silent.
As a mom, that puts me in a position of—“What am I going to do?” I held her and said, “I don’t understand either, but I know this—I know that God is good. I know that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. I know that His eyes are roaming to and fro throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are completely His. These things I know.”
Dennis: You genuinely believed God was ruling in the affairs that were taking place in this young daughter’s life and you used that to comfort her.
Bob: Well, you were quoting Scripture to her—you were sharing with her what God’s promises are from His Word.
Melissa: There was a time when—because we did seek a counselor—she was sad. I didn’t know how to walk her through this. I knew that I needed help—I need a mentor—mentoring is Scriptural. It’s Elijah and Elisha. It’s Paul and Timothy. It’s Mary and Elizabeth. We sometimes don’t know what to do—and we need to ask someone else for help.
One of the things that her counselor had her doing was writing out her feelings in a journal—all of the stuff, all of the darkness, all of the reality, and acknowledging that. I was looking in there reading some of the darkness, and I realized one piece of this is missing. You look at the prophet Jeremiah. He said, “Everything I’ve longed for from the Lord is lost.” He lamented. He said, “I wish I’d died in my mother’s womb.” But right at the edge of every one of those real, authentic—lamentations, really—he always then goes and rehearses the attributes of God.
In fact, the passage that says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning,” we always quote that one—put it on a meme, embroider it on something. No one quotes the few ones before it that says, “Everything that I longed for from the Lord was lost.” So, he pours it out, but then rehearses the attributes.
So, I began to write those verses—encouraging verses—about God’s character on index cards and just slide them under her pillow.
Bob: You’ve illustrated in this story three things that are in your book that you have both modeled and trained your daughter in. You’ve talked about prayer and offering instruction in prayer. You’ve talked about God’s Word and finding your hope and your confidence in God’s Word. And you’ve talked about mentors, and the need for mentors.
Your daughter saw you praying. She heard you praying because you prayed with her—
Bob: —on this situation. She knew that you were finding your hope and strength in God’s Word because that’s what you were writing on those note cards and putting under her pillow. She knew that when you needed help, you went and found help. Did you do training in that process too—to teach her how to pray and how to find her hope in God’s Word or in a season like this—do you just model and try not to do too much training and instruction?
Melissa: I would say in that season, if we read anything, we read a lot of Psalms—there’s a lot of comfort there—and there wasn’t a lot of instruction during those times; but there certainly have been after and before. That’s a challenge for parents—especially when your kid is suffering from something difficult of when to apply grace and overlook and love covers and when to address issues.
I think there is danger on both sides and to walk that line—praise God we have the Holy Spirit—
Melissa: —who leads and guides us.
Bob: I want to ask you one other thing because I was really fascinated by the way you were explaining instruction in the area of prayer and having something in the room that lists the attributes of God. So, at bedtime, you can say, “Okay, which three are you going to pick from tonight that are going to be in your prayer?” Were there other practical things like that, that you did—
Bob: —to help your kids learn how to pray?
Melissa: Absolutely. I grew up learning how to pray with A.C.T.S—the acronym ACTS. After adoration, we move to confession—this is an interesting thing. We’re like—“Okay, now is the time to tell something you’re sorry for.” The first night we did it, they said, “Well, I just can’t really think,” I’m sitting there, as mom going, “Well, there was that time—“I can think of 40 right off the top of my head. “There’s that time that you hit your sister.” They were like, “Oh, yes—God, I’m sorry!” They want to confess. They need a little confession coach to help them—
Melissa: —because children are naturally self-centered. My husband says, “Sinner married sinner, and we had some ‘sinnerlings’. They came by it honestly.” So, our job is to help them recognize that and learn to confess it.
Thankfulness—kids are great about thankfulness. They know to be thankful for things—but we tried to push them out beyond just my teddy bear, my dinner, my room. What about clean water? Helping them understand that most of the globe doesn’t have that clean water. What about family and our church and some of these other things they take for granted?
Then, for the last part, which is supplication—which is a big word that means asking for things—and I stole this from a friend. It’s not mine. It’s Monday, missionaries; Tuesday, teachers; Wednesday, widows and orphans; Thursday, those who don’t know Jesus; and Friday, friends and family.
So now—if I lay in bed with my daughter and pray, she’ll go, “What’s today? It’s Wednesday—widows and orphans. We’re going to pray for the kids we support in Guatemala and Grandma and a few ladies at church.” That’s not the only way to pray, but let’s be as intentional in instructing them in the ways of the Lord as we are in planning their next birthday party or our next vacation.
Bob: Let me just go over the acronym for those who aren’t familiar with it: Adoration—offering praise to God. Confession—agreeing with God that what you’ve done is wrong and verbalizing that. Thanksgiving—is expressing your gratitude to God for the blessings that we experience. Then Supplication—is asking God for whatever is on your heart to ask Him for. That’s a pretty good pattern for people to follow—and a good pattern to teach your children as you’re teaching them how to pray.
Dennis: You had helped Abigail, your daughter, develop a strong, spiritual foundation.
It’s what Jesus talked about as He summarized the Sermon on the Mount. He basically talked about a builder who was intentional and one who wasn’t. The one who wasn’t, built his house on the sand. He refused to obey what Christ said. As a result, when the storms came, when the floods hit, the winds blew, the house fell because there was no foundation.
But the one who had been intentional—that’s really set up by a parent, a mom and a dad, who intentionally helps their son—their daughter—begin to build a foundation on his or her life—so when the floods come, when the winds blow—not if—you’ll be able to handle it—and the house will stand because it’s been built upon obedience to the truth over time. That means even a 12 year old can begin to process a tragedy—a loss in her life—she can begin to think Biblically about that. She won’t do it perfectly—we as adults don’t do it perfectly—but she can begin to process that appropriately, and she can grow spiritually as a result.
I know the rest of the story hasn’t been told about your daughter, but you have to wonder if God doesn’t have a special spot in God’s work for your daughter. You’ll be surprised I think, at how He uses her for His purposes long haul.
Bob: You know for a child to respond to hurt and to pain in a healthy way—for any of us to do it for that matter—that doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because there has been some intentionality—either on the child’s part or on the part of Mom and Dad—to make spiritual formation an issue in the family to build some spiritual disciplines and habits into the cycle of life in a family.
That’s really what you’re trying to call parents to—and equip them to be able to do more effectively in your book, Total Family Makeover which is a book, by the way—that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy, or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is Total Family Makeover by Melissa Spoelstra. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY” and we’ll get a copy sent to you.
We’re talking about developing patterns and habits in a time of the year when we pretty much get rid of patterns and habits. I mean summertime is that kick-back, relaxed, no-two-days-look-alike kind of thing—especially when the kids are out of school and you’re into a summer rhythm. I was going to say, “A summer routine,” but there is no such thing as a summer routine.
One of the reasons we know this is because—we have a lot of listeners who—a part of their routine is to support the ministry of FamilyLife financially—and yet, during the summer, folks slip out of that routine. So, let me just remind those of you who are regular financial givers to FamilyLife Today—If you’ve slipped out of the routine we want to again say, “Thank you for your support,” and remind you that we still need it during the summer months.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how important it is for our kids—and, again, for that matter, for us—to have people in their lives or in our lives who can help us get pointed in the right direction spiritually. We’ll talk about the power a mentor can have in your child’s life and in your own life tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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