FamilyLife Today® Podcast

“B” is for Boundaries

with Barbara Curtis | March 29, 2006
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Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with author Barbara Curtis, a mother of 12 children, about setting appropriate boundaries for your children.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with author Barbara Curtis, a mother of 12 children, about setting appropriate boundaries for your children.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave 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 church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Barbara Curtis talks about setting appropriate boundaries for your children.

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“B” is for Boundaries

With Barbara Curtis
March 29, 2006
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Bob: Does it feel like holding to biblical standards as a parent is becoming harder and harder with each passing year?  Barbara Curtis would agree.

Barbara: See, I've raised children in two different generations.  A generation ago when Samantha was a teenager, the girls all put t-shirts over their bathing suits, and they didn't – I mean – they had one-piece bathing suits on, they looked fine, but they would put a t-shirt on if a boy came to the pool because they had this natural feminine modesty that the girls today just don't seem to have.  I don't know how we eliminated that in the generation, but we did.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 29th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll share some strategies for raising teenagers today, when it feels like you're swimming upstream as a parent.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  My kids have asked me to stop using certain language at our house.  They've really called me on this, and I'm thinking it through and trying to decide whether they're right.  They've asked me …

Dennis: Your kids have asked you to stop using certain language?

Bob: They've asked me to quit using the "B" word at our house.  You know what I mean, the "B" word, don't you?

Dennis: Uh, no.

Bob: The "B" word, they don't want to hear me talk about boundaries anymore.  They don't want me to use that word, because I'm always saying, you know, "Mom and I need to set some boundaries."  They go, "Dad, would you quit using that word, "boundaries?"  It's just making them made, I think, is what's happening.  So I'm trying to see if there is some alternative – do you have some suggestions other than boundaries?  Is there a euphemism?

Dennis: Oh, I've got some …

Bob: … "guidelines," "suggestions?"

Dennis: "Parameters."

Bob: "Parameters" is good.

Dennis: "Fences."

Bob: Oh, good, you do have some vocabulary.  I can stretch it out.

Dennis: "Jail cell," "bird cage."  Those were words my teenagers used back at me.  I'll tell you, I know this, Bob.  We have a guest who joins us again – Barbara Curtis, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Barbara: Thank you.

Dennis: Who knows a little bit about boundaries.

Bob: You believe in boundaries, don't you?

Barbara: Absolutely, boundaries are like the guardrails on bridges, they keep you from falling off and drowning.

Dennis: Yeah, and with 12 children, that's right, you heard it, count 'em, 12 children ages four to 35.  Barbara needs a few boundaries.  If she didn't, she'd be the one jumping over …

Bob: … off the bridge.

Dennis: Off the guardrail.  She is an author of a number of books including a new one called "Dirty Dancing at the Prom and Other Challenges Christian Teens Face."  And I just want to challenge our listeners to get this, because if you're raising a preteen or a teen, you need to get this book.  It will help you anticipate issues that your teenagers will face.  It talks about proms, it talks about modesty, morality, different issues that you face, but one of the things I found most interesting, Barbara, you talked about how there's an important 20 minutes of the day that every parent needs to seize, and personally [he pounds the table] I can pound the table about this one as well, but I'm going to let you.

Barbara: Well, if you want a way to increase your children's SAT scores, if you just want to do it for selfish reasons, improve their chances of staying away from drugs and alcohol and of not having premarital sex, there is one answer, and that's having dinner together as a family.

Dennis: With the TV off.

Barbara: With the TV off, yep.  I know it's a hardship because, of course, I've got kids who have soccer and baseball and all kinds of things, and I also know that we can be very creative about how dinner happens, and that's that we choose the timeslot when everybody is going to be home or at least almost everybody will be home.  I think the important thing is that you're sitting around the table together, and that you say grace, and that you have a conversation while you're eating.

Bob: Why do you think this is such a big deal – having dinner together as a family – why does that change SAT scores and why does it make a difference in how your kids live their lives?

Barbara: I think it demonstrates a willingness to stop the day, come together around a table and just be there together.  If we did other things together, if we were all sitting in the living room reading or listening to the radio, like people used to do, maybe those things were satisfying, but nowadays that's not happening.  And so that's the one time when the family can gather.  It's kind of like communion, do you think, maybe?  Like we're sitting down and breaking bread together.  I mean, there's a spiritual significance to it.

 There are also some other things that parents can do, even if both mom and dad work, and you don't have many hours at home, and you've got time taken up with cleaning up after dinner and homework and stuff.  I make some practical suggestions in the book about ways people can engineer their homes so that there is more family time.

 Number one suggestion – get the TVs and the computers out of the bedrooms.  Nobody should have a TV and computer in their bedroom.  First of all, there is the temptation factor of porn, and there is also just the complete addictive nature of computer games and things like that.  So for accountability's sake, it's good to have them out of the bedroom.

 But, also, if you put them all in a common living space, then at least you're all together.  You may not all be engaged in the same activity, but you're all there and available for conversation.

Dennis: What about music?  If they're listening to music that is something other than a sanctified piece of music?

Barbara: Oh, no, they're not allowed to listen – well, they listen to rock music but not if it has any lyrics that degrade women at all.  I guess that's my old feminist, too.  But I have seen obsessive behavior around computer games, and so then I'll enforce a limit, or create a boundary, so to speak – the "B" word.

Bob: The "B" word, there it is.  And that brings up an interesting point, because you and your husband came to Christ as adults.  You already had children.  When you began parenting as Christians, values began to change around the house, and you had kids who were used to one set of values who are now watching mom and dad change the picture, and they may not have liked the changes.  I mean, I would imagine that new boundaries showed up once you were following Christ, didn't they?

Barbara: But the interesting thing is that children actually need boundaries.  They may not understand that, and they may rebel against it, but at the time right before we became Christians, actually, Samantha didn't have a curfew.  She was 16 years old, and so she was – she'd be going out with Kip, her childhood sweetheart, and staying out until 2 or 2:30, because I never gave her a boundary, because I was a counter-culture person, so I didn't think that you were supposed to set limits.  She could just make up her own mind.  Honestly, I really felt that way.

Bob: As a parent, you thought, "Hey, she's 16.  We just need to let her do what she thinks is right." 

Barbara: Yeah, but she kept pushing it and pushing it until she was out 'til 3 in the morning and so, finally, it was as though a light bulb went off, you know, like, "Oh, hello, catch a clue, I need to set a boundary here."  So I told her she had to be home at 12:30.  You know what was really funny?  I was walking down the hallway later that night, and she was on the phone with a friend, and she was almost bragging to a friend – "Oh, yeah, my mom gave me a curfew."  But it was like she was almost proud of it, and she never bucked against it.  And I think that in Samantha I could see the product of somebody who was brought up in a permissive situation who actually was craving boundaries; who actually understood on some subconscious level that represented love; that if I was going to get in there and give her a boundary, that meant I cared about her.

Bob: Yeah, but do you think that putting boundaries around Samantha as a – what was she – 17 years old at this point?

Barbara: She was 16.

Bob: Okay, so you start putting boundaries around her, and you say you think it gave some security, and she liked it, but she came to you later and said, "I don't want to live with you and your husband anymore.  I want to move home with dad," and you let her move out and move back with her father.  Was that pushing back because now there were boundaries in her life, do you think?

Barbara: In retrospect, yes.  I didn't understand that then.  We hadn't yet become Christians, and it's hard when you're not a Christian, and you get involved in arguments with your kids.  Things can get out of hand really fast.  So we would have big arguments and as a result of one of these arguments, she decided to go live with her dad, which she did for a year, and it was very, very – it hurt me a lot.  It was really sad.  I felt very rejected.

 But, in the meantime, this wonderful thing happened, that Trip and I became Christians, and our marriage became better, and we were becoming stronger parents.  We'd only been Christians for about a month when Samantha decided that she wanted to move back in with us.  So she came back to live with us, and we were living in a house – we'd moved – and we were in a house where there wasn't room for a bedroom for her in it, but there was a little guest cottage out beside the house with two bedrooms.  So as we were preparing for this move back, I said, "Well, you know, Kip won't be able to visit you in the guest house when he comes over, so we'll have to come into the big house." 

 And you have to understand in context that this was a very strange thing for her mom to say because I never would have cared before, but it was as though …

Dennis: Now, wait a second – you wouldn't have cared if your daughter was sleeping with a young man before?

Barbara: Well, I wouldn't have assumed she was sleeping with him, but I wouldn't have put a boundary.

Dennis: But the truth was …

Barbara: But the truth was – the truth came out when I said that Kip couldn't visit her there, and she said, "Why?  Don't you trust us?"  And I said, "Well, yes, I do trust you, but greater people than you have fallen into temptation."  All this stuff was coming out of my mouth that I had never said before and that I barely understood, but she said – she got very mad, and so she just kind of spat out, "Well, as a matter of fact, we do it."  Like as something that would really hurt me.

Bob: Wow.

Barbara: And the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "Well, I love you and forgive you and Jesus does, too."  Now, you have to keep in mind I'd only been a Christian for about a month, so there was very little intervention between whatever God was putting on my heart and what was coming out of my mouth.  I never would have had the resources to say that because it was the perfect thing to say, because what happened was she dropped all her defensiveness immediately and said, "Mom, I don't know what's wrong.  I know somewhere inside myself I know that what's happening is wrong, and we keep trying to stop, but we'll go three weeks, and then we can't – then it will happen again," and I said, "You know what?  That's because you don't have God in your life.  You need to have God in your life to make that possible.  He can help you."

 And as a result of this, Trip called Kip in to meet with him the next day.  It was Father's Day, and he called him into his office, which was somewhere other than our house, and he went through the Bible with him and asked him if he really love Samantha and told him that Samantha would never know if he loved her if he didn't stop and all the biblical reasons why they should stop.

Bob: This is with you guys being Christians for a month or two?

Barbara: Yes, we didn't really even know what we were doing, but as a result Samantha and Kip both became Christians, and, yeah, and they've been to the FamilyLife conference, too, three or four times, and they are married today with five children.

Dennis: One of the other issues you talk about in your book is the subject of modesty.  And this is a subject today that a lot of Christian parents need coaching on.  They need some advice because the boundaries – speaking of the boundaries – seem to be slipping even within the Christian community.

Barbara: Oh, absolutely.  We had to leave a church we were going to because the girls were dressing so immodestly.  It's been a big issue for us, because we had four teenage boys in a row, and they struggle with it.  I don't think that women really fully appreciate the impact that that kind of dress has on men, because they're wired differently.  They don't understand how visual men are.  And it's almost unfathomable to me because Samantha – see, I've raised children in two different generations.  A generation ago when Samantha was a teenager, the girls all put t-shirts over their bathing suits, and they didn't do it to hide their fat or anything – I mean – they had one-piece bathing suits on, they looked fine, but they would put a t-shirt on if a boy came to the pool because they had this natural feminine modesty that the girls today just don't seem to have.  I don't know how we eliminated that in the generation, but we did.

 There's a wonderful book by Wendy Shalit called "A Return to Modesty," which she wrote when she was in her early 20s really affirming the fact that modesty is a woman's nature state, and bemoaning the fact that we've gotten ourselves into this predicament.  I don't know what parents are thinking exactly when they allow their girls to go out dressed like that.  I mean, when you see a fireman on the street dressed in a fire outfit, you know he fights fires.  And when you see someone in a police outfit, you know he takes care of the community.  You judge people by the way they dress.  And when girls dress in sexually provocative ways, I don't know why there's a disconnect there, and we don't hold people accountable for that.

Bob: You and Trip have had to decide, as parents, I mean, there's a lot of ambiguity in parenting.  Are we going to make this decision?  Are we going to decide against this?  You've settled on some non-negotiables.  At the Curtis home, what are those?

Barbara: The non-negotiables are no sex, no drugs, no alcohol.  So if it's anything outside of that, we have to think about it.  The reason this came up was because my son, Ben, wanted to get his ear pierced when he was 13, and this was some years ago, so it was before that became trendy, especially in Christian circles.  I felt strongly that we needed to reserve the "No's" for the things that really matter; that if we say no pierced ears and no sex, it kind of lumps it all together.  And then on the places where we could give, if it were possible, and we should allow them to make their own decisions and do some things even if we don't like it if it's not going to harm anybody, and it's not against the commandments.  So Trip and I decided that we would let Ben get his ear pierced for that reason.

Dennis: You know, these issues, what we called them were "silver bullet" issues. 

Bob: The non-negotiables?

Dennis: The non-negotiables.  Barbara and I had – my Barbara – had some issues like yours where they really weren't up for discussion.  We didn't fight over every issue.  But I think the key thing is we had hammered them out, we knew where we stood, and we stood together as a couple.  I think what happens today, though, in this high-speed culture we live in, a lot of parents never get around to determining what their non-negotiables are.

Bob: Well, and what's interesting to me is that the non-negotiables that you've outlined – no sex, no drugs, no drinking – all your kids can look at you and say, "Hey, Mom, when you were my age, you were into all that stuff."

Barbara: Yeah.  That's a hard one, and sometimes parents – there are a lot of parents out there like me, too, who have pasts that they could be ashamed of.

Bob: And you've been open, your kids know that you were a part of all of that.  You've not kept that walled off from them.  Do you think that causes them to look at you and say, "Hey, Mom did this; she turned out okay."

Barbara: Well, I have to have some faith and know that they understand what being a new creation in Christ is.  Each one of them has made their decision, and although it might not be as dramatic a conversion story, I hope that they understand that they don't need a dramatic conversion story to have a strong and real relationship with Jesus. 

 If you could avoid having a dramatic conversion story, I would say do, by all means, avoid it.

Dennis: Do you talk about the baggage that you and Trip brought into your marriage and even today, probably, have to unpack occasionally?

Barbara: You know what?  We do have to talk about that a little bit, because I don't think that our marriage is as good – although there is peace in it, and it's much better, I don't think it's as good as it would be if we didn't have baggage, and if we had been Christians all our lives and if we had only been each other's partner.  So we always tell our kids that, because we want them to know that their marriages may be even more happy than Mom's and Dad's.

 But the other important thing that we tell them is a piece of baggage, and a thing that many people would be ashamed of, I think, is that I was pregnant when we got married, and that pregnancy – when I told Trip that I was pregnant, he said, "Well, we'll get married."  And we got married in six days.  Now, that was one of those places where I, like I said before, I feel that God nudged us a little and took us above what we were capable of, because we could have had an abortion, which both of us had been through before with other people; we could have just lived together; but God wanted us married, and even though we didn't know Him, He nudged us in the right direction, and we got married, and then when we became Christians we could look back and say, "And as a result we had Joshua, Matthew, and Benjamin, who have Christian names." 

 So every year on Joshua's birthday, instead of being ashamed, instead of fudging the dates or leaving questions out there about it, we talk about that with our family, and we regard that as an Ebenezer, where this is a memorial, this is a place where we mark that God made a radical change in our lives, and so we say that Josh was like the cornerstone on which the rest of the family would be built and the beginning of this incredible legacy that was started because of the work of Barbara and Dennis Rainey.  Because Trip and I were both the first Christians on either side of our family, and we felt strongly that God had us positioned where He wanted us so that we could fulfill the beginning of this new legacy of the Curtis family.

Bob: Yeah, and for listeners who didn't hear us talk about it already this week, the two of you came to faith at a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference.  That's why you looked at Dennis and Barbara as kind of spiritual godparents, right?

Barbara: That's right.

Dennis: And the message that they heard at that Weekend to Remember conference was that there is a Savior, a Savior who forgives all our sins.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: And, Barbara, it's been a real privilege to spend this week with you and to have this time hearing of God's work in your life and to be reminded again that when Jesus Christ and a human being encounter one another, He changes lives, and He does change legacies.  I'm smiling at your legacy of how your life is different today because you met Jesus Christ, and I want you to know I'm proud of you for being faithful after you made that decision back in the mid-'80s, and going to that conference.  I'm really proud of you and Trip for hanging in there with your 12 kids and for writing and providing all these resources for young moms and parents of teens.

Bob: Yeah, thanks for passing on the benefit of what God's taught you to others, which is how we're supposed to do it in community, isn't it?

Barbara: Well, it's amazing how God has used us and brought us into areas that we never knew that we would be.  But a friend of mine said it best – Anne Tyler [ph] – she said, "God doesn't need much to work with to accomplish the things He wants to accomplish."

Bob: Yeah, that's a good word.  And I know that he is continuing to do a work both in your lives and through your life as you share what you've learned with others in books like this book, "Dirty Dancing at the Prom," which we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and we're encouraging parents of teenagers to get a copy of this, read through it, so that you can sharpen your own parenting skills and be ready for some of the challenges you're going to face as a parent of a teenager.

 In fact, we'd also recommend you get a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," which is a fairly comprehensive guidebook for parents of teenagers.  You identify 14 traps that teenagers can fall into and what parents can do to help steer their children around those traps.

 We have both of these books, again, in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If you go to our website at and click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, that will take you to a page where you can get more information about these resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife.  In addition, we have CDs of our conversation with Barbara Curtis this week, and if you'd like to get a copy for yourself or if you'd like to get multiple copies and perhaps share them with other parents you know who could benefit from hearing these programs.

 Again, go to our website, and there's more information there about how you can pass along these CDs to others.  Again, the website is  You'll find information there as well about the Weekend to Remember conference, which God used to powerfully in Trip and Barbara's life, and we have a number of these conferences continuing to take place this spring in cities all across the country, including the one that will be taking place in another four or five weeks in Dallas, Texas, where, Dennis, you and your wife Barbara are going to be speaking.  I'm going to be speaking there as well, and we're looking forward to folks joining us at the Gaylord Texan Hotel.

 Again, there is more information about all of these Weekend to Remember conferences on our website at  If it's easier for you to call 1-800-FLTODAY you can do that, and we've got folks standing by who can answer any questions you might have about conferences or resources.  They can take your order or get you registered for an event over the phone.  Again, the number is 1-800-FLTODAY, and we hope you'll give us a call or, again, go to our website at

 When you do get in touch with us, someone may ask you if you'd like to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We're listener-supported, and we rely on folks just like you to make donations, either from time to time or some of you as Legacy Partners help us with a monthly donation for this ministry.  During the month of March, we want to say thank you to any of you who would make a donation of any amount by sending you a set of our Resurrection Eggs, a dozen plastic eggs to help you tell the Easter story to your children.  We'd love to send you a set of these eggs as our way of saying thank you for supporting us financially here at FamilyLife Today.

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Well, speaking of Resurrection Eggs, tomorrow we are going to talk about some strategies for sharing the Gospel at Eastertime and some of those strategies do involve Resurrection Eggs.  We hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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