Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Imperfect Parents and Imperfect Kids

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Do you ever get discouraged by your failures? Amy Baker says we need to change our perspective.

Dr. Amy Baker: I don’t want the bottom line to be, “Oh, now I see more ways that I’ve been blowing it!” I want the bottom line to be, “I have a Savior who I can praise, because once again He has forgiven me!”

Nancy: Welcome to Revive Our Hearts for March 3, 2021. I’m Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

When you hear the word “failure,” do you think of it as something negative? I think most of us do. But, you know, failure may not be as bad as you think. In fact, it can be a great opportunity!

Today we’re listening to the final episode of a series on perfectionism. One of our guests this week has been Dr. Amy Baker, who is a counselor and has dealt a lot with this subject. In fact, she’s written a book on this topic called Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up.

That book is available in our Resource Center at ReviveOurHearts.com, and if you’ve been helped or maybe even convicted, by the conversation this week, I hope you’ll get a copy so you can continue grappling with this subject.

Here’s a line from Amy’s book that I think many of us can relate to; she said, “The terrible truth is that perfectionism is a crushing burden that can leave us angry, anxious and paralyzed.” Wow! We may have seen ourselves being angry, anxious, or paralyzed and not realized that maybe that’s because we’re coming under the crushing burden of a perfectionist spirit.

This conversation has been not just convicting, but it’s also been helpful. It’s a gospel-centered, Christ-centered discussion, not only with Amy, but also with Erin Davis—who is the Content Manager for Revive Our Hearts and one of the co-hosts of our Grounded program.

Also, we’ve had Patricia Saladin, who is “my voice” on Aviva Nuestros Corazones, the Spanish ministry of Revive Our Hearts. And of course, you’ve been hearing from Dannah Gresh, who is my co-host here at Revive Our Hearts. She’s going to start off today’s conversation, which is about perfect parenting . . . or the illusion of perfect parenting!

In fact, what parent has not felt frequently like a failure? When you hear the word “failure” maybe you think of that as something disastrous and negative. But as we’re going to hear today, failure may not be what you think. In fact, it may be a wonderful gospel opportunity. Here’s Dannah.

Dannah Gresh: Of course, you’re all experts in this topic, right?

Erin Davis: No! (laughter) I’m an expert in imperfect parenting. Is that what this is about?

Dannah: Awkward silence! Alright, so there is no such thing as perfect parenting. We don’t have a secret formula for you today. Instead, we want to equip you to be a parent who helps your children overcome unhealthy perfectionism.

Research has really shown that perfectionism has increased among children and teenagers of the past few decades. It’s manifesting in ways like anxiety, depression . . . and we’re talking of the clinical kind, friends. We really want to know how to help our children overcome what’s being termed “maladaptive perfectionism.” 

About twenty-five to thirty percent of children and teens really are in that category. Amy, what are some signs or symptoms that a child might be struggling with unhealthy perfectionism?

Dr. Amy: That’s a good question. I think we would observe some of the same things that we see happening in our lives when we struggle with perfectionism. And I can say that because we all come with the same original equipment. Our hearts all began the same way. We begin as people who don’t have hearts who love God.

We begin as people whose original equipment is a desperately wicked heart, who is prone to deception. Since we know that our children come with the same hearts that we come with, I think in some ways that can make it a bit easier for us. We’re not looking for some esoteric answer to, “How do we help our children?”

The answer to how we help our children is the same as the kinds of things that we would do in our own lives, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It’s not, “Jesus is this way for adults; Jesus is this way for children.” So I just want to get that out there to give us hope.

We’re not looking for something that is, “What’s the key for the children?” It’s the same key for us. We want to show them the gospel. We want to show them that the same gospel that has redeemed us, that has brought us into relationship with our Savior and our King. It is the same solution for them!

So, what does that look like, then? I hate to say this, but one of the places that we may need to start when we’re seeing our children being anxious and frustrated and “never good enough” and all those kinds of things is . . . This is hard, so are you ready for hard?

Dannah: Yes.

Dr. Amy: We may need to say, “Is there something that I have been doing as a parent that is indicating to my children that this is the way we should live?”

Dannah: Ouch! Okay, I’m not ready for hard. Let’s not do hard! (laughs)

Dr. Amy: Okay, let’s do easy (laughter)

Dannah: No, I was reading an article last night preparing for this interview, that perfectionism can be “heritable.” I’ve never seen that word. I’m assuming that means it can be inherited, we can pass it on. There’s a genetic factor or learned factor from Mom and Dad. Is that right, Amy?

Dr. Amy: Well, the fact is, it is heritable, because all of us are born with a sin nature, so, yes! We inherit that from our very first parents. We are all born with that sin nature, where we don’t naturally go toward God. What we naturally do is set ourselves up as His enemy.

Erin: Alright, there’s a momma listening who just got a dose of mom guilt, and we’ve got to release her of that. Because, you know what? Yes, our sin nature is heritable. (I love that word! I’m going to try and win at Scrabble with that soon, or something!) It is inborn in us because of our sin.

I have four sons with four very different personalities. I’m thinking of Judah, who has not a perfectionistic cell in his body! His first-grade teacher sent me a picture of an art project that Judah created: nothing was inside the lines, nothing was according to instructions, it was a mess. She said Judah sat back from his work and said, “Nailed it!” (laughter) So that’s how Judah thinks about his work.

But then I have some more perfectionistic children, so it’s not necessarily that because I struggle with perfectionism, all of my children will struggle with perfectionism. It is that sin nature, and it’s my two that are natural-born achievers, that are more task-oriented like me. They all look like their daddy, but—uh!—a lot of their sin patterns, they get from me . . . (and him too). But they have the other side of that, too, which is perfectionism.

My second-born, Noble, we call him Noble the Repenter, because he’ll come to us very upset and very worked up. We’ll ask, “What’s the matter, Bud?” And he’ll say [takes a sobbing, gasping deep breath], “I . . . I . . .” We have to work it out. He’s got the sob-sobs. He’ll say [gasping with grief], “I . . . I . . . thought about hitting my brother!”

And we’re like, “Buddy, we’re in so deep with your other brothers that, until you actually sin, you don’t have to come and repent to us! If you’re just worried you’re going to . . .” But he’s got those perfectionism tendencies that he’s worried he’s going to fail. I don’t know if that’s necessarily something I gave to him in my genetic code. It may be something he saw me live out, probably.

But I think it’s going to require his own walk with the Lord, his own walk in Scripture, to work through some of that. So, part of it’s kid to kid, right?

Dannah: It’s probably safe to say, Amy, that we can pass it on to our kids. We can probably respond to them in ways that make it worse or feeds it; it’s also possible that they’re just walking their own path. It’s hard to tell, case by case. Is that right?

Dr. Amy: Absolutely. And I think the encouraging thing is, because let’s say that what you’re seeing in your child is not something that you see in your life. So you feel like, “I don’t know how to help them with this, because that’s not something I struggle with!” Let’s say that you never struggled in school with what your teacher thought of you.

And here’s your child who if they miss one point on a quiz, it’s just devastating to them, because they didn’t do perfect work. And it’s like, “So, what’s the big deal? Good grief! You got a ninety-nine percent. When I was in school, I was happy to scrape by with the C.”

So I think for parents it’s like, “I don’t know what to do with this, because I haven’t struggled with it.” And again, the comforting thing is that we have a Savior who helps us with all these things. It’s what’s going on in my heart and the desires of my heart that the Savior can bring healing to and provide answers for.

Dannah: So for our children, Amy, we start to see perfectionist tendencies, that they stress about their homework; they’re discouraged because they got second place in the soccer tournament—all that kind of stuff. We see those symptoms rising up. What might be going on in their little hearts that we need to address?

Dr. Amy: Yes, that’s a great question. For our kids, just like for us, it’s tempting to make my primary goal what other people think of me. “Are other people going to think well of me if I don’t do well on that test? if I don’t score any points in soccer? or worse yet, if I kick the soccer ball off the field or somebody else intercepts it? Are people going to think I’m stupid and I’m dumb?”

That fear of man in me, there’s that desire for, “I want life to not have hard things in it. I want comfort and I want ease. If I don’t do well in school, then I’m going to go home and my parents are going to make me do this over again. I’d much rather get on my video games and do that. But now, if I don’t do it well, I’m going to have to do it over, because my parents are going to be concerned about me learning this” or whatever.

Our sweet children struggle with the same kinds of things that we do. They struggle like we talked about in our last episode with the temptation to unbelief as well. “If I don’t do things right, then I’m going to have this horrible life, so I’ve got to . . . It’s all on me. I’ve got to make sure that I have the good things that I want, because even though doctrinally I would say that I trust God, functionally I don’t trust Him to give me the good things that I want.”

Dannah: Okay, so here’s the question: is it possible that we’re contributing to that as parents with our blue ribbon society? We can’t stand for our kids not to win. We can’t stand for our kids not to achieve, so we hand out a whole bunch of blue ribbons. Everybody gets an award at the end of the year. Are we contributing to some of that?

Dr. Amy: Well, I think what happens with our blue ribbon society is, we want our kids to be encouraged, we want to show them love. So let’s say that we’re doing this with just a desire to show love to children. But I think that sometimes we don’t realize that it could be just as loving to teach our children to rejoice with other people who rejoice.

So when somebody else wins, instead of being consumed with, “I didn’t win,” this becomes an opportunity as parents for us to teach our children, “We want to learn to rejoice with others who rejoice!”

When someone says something mean to my child, as a parent that tears you to pieces, to see your child suffering like that. And because of that sorrow and our right desire as a parent to comfort our child, sometimes our comfort gets limited to just helping them see how the other person did wrong instead of helping them see the opportunity that God has given them to learn how to respond like He responded. When He was reviled (King James word), slandered, or when people said bad things about Him, He didn’t give it back to them. Instead, He returned good for evil. 

These become opportunities. I think we might miss some of these opportunities and in doing so, when we miss those opportunities again and again and again, we begin to reinforce those things in our children that they’re going to seek after anyway, because they don’t want to have to suffer, because they want the approval of others, and so on.

I think that what you’ve brought up is just a really excellent reminder to us as parents that in all these things God is at work for good. He’s giving us as parents opportunities to come alongside our children and help them learn some really valuable lessons by what has happened in their lives.

Erin: I think another way we can contribute is in the way we teach our children the Bible. We give them the stories very neat and tidy, and they can feel very linear: “This person had this problem. They did this. The Lord helped them. The end. Go to bed. Be quiet!” And really, the Bible is much messier than that. God’s grace is never contingent on the person in the Bible story doing the right thing.

And so, I’ve noticed in my own life thatif I’m not very, very careful and very intentional, I will accidentally communicate to my sons that Jesus is very concerned about them being very good boys. And the reality is that Jesus loves them and He knows they’re rascals—just like I’m a rascal—and he loves them very much! That’s the true story.

I think sometimes it can be so subtle in the way that we talk about the Bible and Bible stories, that can by accident communicate this message of, “Jesus wants you to be good!” vs. “You’re not good, you can’t be good on your own, and that’s why you need Jesus!”

We say that a lot to each other: “This is why we need Jesus so much! This mess, this hurt . . .” Man, mornings can be explosive at my house! We have two camps. We have the camp that wakes up happy, there’s two of us in that camp, and there’s the camp that wakes up grumpy, everybody else is in that camp. 

And so we can often just look at each other at the end of a messy morning and say, “Well, this is why we need Jesus so much!” instead of, “Jesus really wants us to get it together and behave better!” That’s not the truth of the gospel.

Dannah: Yes, so true. Patricia, you parent adult children, but you’re still parenting. Does it get easier?

Patricia Saladin: Well, now I have an empty nest. It is different when your kids are grown. It’s definitely easier, because they have their own homes now. But as I was listening to you, when my children were growing up, we were first generation Christians. We didn’t know many, many things.

So when I look back, I would have loved to be more permeated with the gospel and with grace than with rules. I mean, I was so good at rules and keeping rules, and if you have a child that wants to please you, he’s going to go to school and be the best. He’s going to behave so well.

I always say that you can have an unregenerate heart in a child that looks so much like a Christian, but the stage has been set for him to do that. He wants to please you and the rules are there. Rules are good, it’s not that you throw all of them out. But the parents, the mother and father, we need to be filled with grace and with the gospel!

That was what Erin was saying: “Okay, you failed. It’s good to fail, because that takes us to Christ!” 

If I could go back to when my kids were younger, I would love to do that for them. I have to say I didn’t. But it is so good that God’s grace is more abundant. God’s grace overflows. It doesn’t matter how much you fail. God’s grace is for parents who fail, also.

I don’t know if it’s heritage or not but some children are so rigid with laws, with keeping every precept of the law. They cannot leave from their own cage; it’s like a cage for them. For that child, you have to loosen it up; let it go! Don’t be so stiff. Sometimes there are gray areas in life. It is not always white or black. 

It’s not an easy job! As parents, my advice is, let’s be filled with Christ, the gospel and grace. Every day is an opportunity to help our children with their failures, and to know that it’s good to fail. There is a little part in the book, Amy, where you talk about King Jehoshaphat. When it’s good to say, “You know what? Lord, I don’t know what to do. Please help me!”

That might come more often than we would like; we don’t know what to do. Right now, what I do more about my kids is pray for them. And sometimes I have to say, “God, I don’t understand this situation, but You do. Please help them, strengthen their ideas, help them in their minds and help them to live in a way that glorifies You.” Sometimes I cannot do more.

Dannah: Yes, you had me at, “It’s okay to fail,” because I think that’s something that as moms, we don’t want to let our kids experience that. We don’t like the pain of it in our own lives, and somehow it’s more painful for us to see it in theirs. 

I remember a time when my son who is a brainiac, and pretty chill (I wouldn’t say a super high perfectionist) was in kindergarten. The teacher gave them two sets of dogs. They were to cut them out and line them up small to large. He did one set and the teacher came around and said, “Do the other one.” 

And he said, “But you’ve already seen that I know how to do it. Why do I need to do the second one?”

I would have been the one who would be like, “Okay, so a third set! You want me to do a third set? I’ll show you how to do a third set! Got a fourth set?” So that made me happy. But we saw some of those perfectionist tendencies grow. By the time he was a freshman in college, the stress and the anxiety of a very intense first semester was revealing symptoms of perfectionism.

My husband pulled me aside and said, “Dannah. We’ve got to let him fail.” 

“What!?” This helicopter momma, this control freak, this—as Erin calls it—type double-AA woman, is going to let her child fail!?

But it was one of the best lessons of his life. You know why? That was the semester of school where Robbie Gresh learned that Jesus is enough! That was the semester in school that Robbie Gresh learned, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” We need to let our kids fail.

Erin: Yes, we have a couple of sayings at the Davis house; they’re probably not original with me. You can claim them as your own. We say, “We can go first, and we can go last.” So, we’re just as capable of leading the pack as we are of following, in our family. And, “We can win well, and we can lose well.” You’d better do both!

I don’t want my kid to be the kid on the sidelines who is throwing the baseball bat because his team lost. He’s going to get in a lot more trouble for doing that than if he failed to hit the ball, or failed to pitch a good game, or whatever. So those are such simple ways to say, “Yeah, you can fail here and you can succeed here.”

We don’t want to just have no expectations. I think I can swing a little bit that way, because I grew up in a house with a lot of expectations. I don’t want to repeat that. Sometimes I can want to lower the bar too much. So, “We can succeed and we can fail.” We can win well and lose well; we can go first and we can go last.

Why can we do all of that? Because of the grace of Jesus. Our identity isn’t contingent on that. Patricia, as you were talking about parenting, I was thinking, it’s good to be a law-giving parent and good to be a grace-giving parent. Isn’t that how God parents us, and I’m so grateful!

We have a little “good cop/bad cop” at the Davis house. I’m the law, my husband is the grace. But I’m grateful for both. That’s how God parents us, so it’s a good reminder.

Dannah: Amy Baker, close us out today. What Scripture, what encouragement can you give to the mom—no matter how old her children are—who is feeling like she may need to address some things in her parenting right now?

Dr. Amy: I think both the moms and our kids can rejoice in God’s gift of repentance and His forgiveness. In Psalm 103:1–2, David says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (NIV).

And then you think, “Okay, so now David is going to go into a list of God’s benefits, and what would you think? “The benefit of making me king, the benefit of victory over my enemies,” the benefit of this and that.” And what David says first is it, “redeems our life from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion.” 

How beautiful, isn’t it, that I can come to this topic with a sense of shame and failure, because I can see all the ways that I’ve just blown it, and yet David says in this psalm, “Don’t forget all God’s benefits! In fact, praise Him for all His benefits, because He forgives all your sins and He crowns you with love and compassion!” So I don’t want the bottom line to be, “Oh, now I see more ways that I’ve been blowing it!” 

I want the bottom line to be, “Yeah, maybe I do see more ways that I’ve been blowing it, but I have a Savior Who I can praise, because once again He has forgiven me! And He has crowned me with love and compassion!” 

As you go on in that psalm, you see David saying (vv. 20–22), “Praise the Lord, you his angels . . . Praise the Lord, all you heavenly hosts” . . . He says to praise the Lord everyone in all of His creation. “Praise the Lord, O my soul!” And he’s been talking about forgiveness in this! 

David is not saying, “Now God expects you to wallow for two months and just feel really, really bad about all these things that you’ve just realized that you’re doing.” He is saying the result of realizing this, going to God in repentance and seeking His forgiveness is that He crowns us with love and compassion.

And then, that opens the door up for us to say, “Praise the Lord, O my soul! All that is within me!” All! Not a portion that’s reserved for, “And I feel so bad about this! And I need to continue to be sorrowful over it and make sure that I’ve done my quota of sorrow.” It says, “All that is within me praise His holy Name!”

That’s what I want to leave us with: let’s praise His holy Name, because we have such a magnificent God whose desire for us is that we be clothed with His compassion, His righteousness, and His love!

Dannah: What more could be said than that? And, my friend, I think you just said that with all that was in your heart! I needed to hear it!

Nancy: As you’ve been listening to this conversation today, maybe you’ve recognized some perfectionism in your children, and you’re concerned. Or maybe you’ve seen that perfectionism in yourself. Regardless, I think you’ll want a copy of Amy Baker’s book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up. That book is available in our Resource Center at ReviveOurHearts.com. You can order a copy there.

Just a reminder that we’re able to bring you programs like this series that you’ve just heard because of the support of friends like you who say, “I love what God is doing through this ministry. I’m grateful for the teaching. I’m grateful for the impact in my life and in others’ lives, and I want to be a part of that.”

So through the generosity and the sacrifice, at times, of God’s people, we are able to keep this program going day after day. If you’d like to make a donation today to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, you can do that by calling us at 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com and let us know that you’d like to make a gift to Revive Our Hearts.

We’re so glad that you joined us today, and again, if you missed any part of this series, you can find it at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com or on the Revive Our Hearts app.

Amy Baker is going to close us in prayer, but before she does I want to ask you a question: When fear comes knocking at your door, what do you do? Fear can so easily infiltrate our hearts and our minds, but it doesn’t have to stay there. My friend Kristen Wetherell will join us tomorrow as she shares hope for facing your worst fears.

And now, let’s join Amy as she prays over us that the truths we’ve heard in this series would sink into our hearts and change our lives!

Dr. Amy: Oh, our magnificent King, thank You so much for Your love for us! Lord, we do come to You recognizing that we fall far short. Lord, we just want to come with gratitude and humility and say, “Thank You for Jesus! Thank You that in Your love and compassion for us, You sent Your precious Son to take the penalty that we so richly deserve!” 

Oh, God, please don’t let us start taking that for granted! Please don’t allow us to become so accustomed to it that we think that somehow it was because of our goodness and our lovability and our worth that You loved us like that. Help us to recognize that all of that is because of Your worth and Your goodness and Your magnificence.

Lord, thank You that even after we have been entrusted with the gift of salvation, and as we continue to turn toward other things and set up idols in our hearts that we think will satisfy us more than You could; that You are still willing to forgive. You don’t do that grudgingly. You do it lavishly, and then You bestow a crown of beauty on us. You give us the oil of gladness. 

Lord, thank You for those beautiful gifts. We want to use Your beautiful gifts to show how beautiful You are so that others would look at us and glorify You who is in heaven, as we’re told in Matthew. Lord, we love You so much! Thank You. Please glorify Yourself! Amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you embrace your need for Jesus. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teachers

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

Amy Baker

Amy Baker

Dr. Baker serves as the Resource Director for Faith Church Ministry in Lafayette, IN. She is the author or co-author of over a dozen books and booklets. Dr. Baker is an ACBC certified biblical counselor; an instructor and counselor at Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries, and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Amy and her husband, Jeff, have two children.

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

Patricia Saladin

Patricia Saladin

Patricia serves as the Women's Ministry Director at her church and is passionate about bringing the message of biblical womanhood to Spanish-speaking women. Her longing is to see them know and embrace the truth that makes them free in Christ. She is also the voice of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Aviva Nuestros Corazones. Patricia is married to Eduardo Saladín, Pastor of Iglesia Biblica del Señor Jesucristo (Biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ) in Santo Domingo, DR, where they reside. They have three grown children and God has given them six beautiful grandchildren.