Dave & Ann Wilson: Parenting Kids When You’re Far From Perfect
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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
When it comes to raising kids — what if perfection isn’t the goal? Dave and Ann Wilson dive into the monumental task of parenting kids right here, right now.
Dave & Ann Wilson: Parenting Kids When You’re Far From Perfect
Dave: So the most important job I’ll ever have in my life is—guess what?—and you too.
Ann: —being a parent?
Dave: Yes, being a mom and a dad.
Dave: I mean, you know, I just found out, after 30 years of leading this church, that I can be replaced in a week. [Laughter] I mean, a new guy comes in; and he is great, and people love him, and think, “Wow; who was that guy who used to be here?”
But let me tell you something: you can’t replace me or you in our home.
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 Today.
Dave: If we were gone [deceased]—and you know, you got remarried or I did—and our kids had a different dad, it still would never be their dad. It’s that critical of a position. Yet, we often don’t consider it the most important thing we’re doing on our planet.
Ann: It’s so interesting that you say that; because that’s a weighty conversation that I feel, as a parent, like, “Oh no! That’s true. That role that God has called us to is so important.” Then I feel like, “And I’m messing it up!”; you know?
Dave: That’s why we wrote the book, No Perfect Parents, because we weren’t perfect; and there aren’t any perfect parents. There is only one perfect parent, and it’s God.
As you think about what we’re trying to do, as a parent—trying to raise, as we said earlier, warriors who take our legacy and change the world for good for the kingdom—real critical passage that we mentioned earlier is Deuteronomy 6, which really lays out how to do this. It’s really a vision and a mission of what a parent is, but how you actually do it.
We mentioned before that it says: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Then listen to this, parents: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
We miss this; but we go right to: “Let’s talk about them, and let’s sit, and drive and talk.” It’s like, if it’s not in us, as parents first, you can’t pass it on. So we’ve got to start there and inspire parents, to say, “Okay, what’s happening in me?—because whatever is happening in me is going to be passed onto my legacy.”
Ann: And we’re going to listen to a message/the second half of a message that we gave together at our church, Kensington. We went back—we’re done [pastoring] at our church now—but we went back just to do this special message on parenting with our parenting book, No Perfect Parents.
Dave: Now, obviously, the key to this passage is you can’t give away what you don’t, first, possess. That’s true as a parent; that’s true in any part of your life. But if you are hoping your kids will walk with God, and you are not—guess what?—good luck! That can definitely happen; but the percentages are a lot higher if they see a mom and dad living this.
In fact, you want to know something? There have been studies done; because a lot of kids—who are involved in the church and involved in the youth group in high school—go off to college and walk away from God. In fact, it is a whole growing movement right now: kids walking away from Evangelicalism because of—you know, they grew up in great youth groups, mega churches—and they walk away.
You know what studies have found?—the kids that don’t walk away? Guess what the difference is: churches had better youth groups?—they had cooler music and better speakers?
Dave: No; you know what it is? These kids that are involved in those youth groups go home to parents that are actually living it. The home is modeling what the church is teaching them. Those kids tend to stay walking with the Lord when they’re adults, compared to the others.
So man—if it isn’t an overflow of you in your home—you’re not going to talk, and drive, and pray, and talk about Jesus, if it’s not in your life.
Dave: You know, I watched Ann—she’d be driving the car—she’d go, “Let’s just talk to God right now.” Our kids are in the back seat, and they are drinking a bottle; and she’s praying and listening to worship music. It was not like we’re trying to get this into our kids; this was the life she and I were living, and it just overflowed into them.
Ann: We didn’t do it perfectly. Our kids saw that; they knew it. I would have to confess sin half the time in the car, like, “Lord, I’m sorry I yelled.”
Dave: Her a lot more than me, too; you know? [Laugher]
Ann: Yes, probably.
But even I had this thought—and even if you don’t have kids—I had this thought: “Has God given me anything? Have a spent enough time with God today that I have something to give someone else?”—like that thought should happen every day. When you read God’s Word, like, “Ahh, this is so good!” And when something’s so good, what do you want to do?—you want to give it away!
I had that thought, like every day: “Did God give me…” Of course! It says that God’s Word is our food: “Have you been eating His food and ingesting what He has to say?”
Dave: Yes; so you know, Ann and I tried to capture certain moments in a day: bedtime, drive time, dinner time. I mean, this sounds crazy; we decided dinner was really important for a family.
Ann: —and car time.
Dave: We had three boys playing sports. They [the days] were crazy: sometimes, I was coaching over at Adams High School. We wouldn’t get home until 8 o’clock at night, and we’d have dinner at 8 o’clock as a family,—
Ann: —or 9 o’clock.
Dave: —sitting down.
Ann: When they were in high school, it would be 9 o’clock sometimes, where we would sit down together. They would have some big snack; but there was that time just to say, “Hey, how was your day? What’s going on?” I think that’s huge.
Dave: So it’s—you know, it’s really interesting to understand—obviously, in this training stage, where they’re still in our house: 0-12; 0-15/16—is: “Who are you?” and “Who are they?” In other words: “Who are you as parents? and then “Who are they?—who has God uniquely made them to be?”—because you want to tailor how you train and instruct them based on who they are.
So many parents—and we had a temptation to do this—try to make our kids what we want them to be rather than stepping back. I think, every day, a parent should step back and go, “Wow! You are so gifted by God. You are so unique in this way, and it’s totally different than the way we are; and that’s a beautiful thing.”
One of the things we discovered, early in our home, was that this woman, right here [Ann], is a party animal—she is a joy-bringer/laughter—she made our home a haven; it really was.
Ann: Well, I love the Scripture that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” No matter the circumstances, the joy of the Father can live in our hearts. Joy was one of—I mean, Dave and I, in the Enneagrams, were both 7s; so everything’s like a party. [Laughter] I think God knew that—maybe, knew that our kids needed that—but joy, no matter who you are/your personality, you can bring joy; and you can bring yourself into your home to make it a haven.
Dave: Yes; so again, we are going to go back to our bullseye. The first word was train—and again, we just skimmed that—but the second word was train and “launch.” A key word is launch. Launch means you’re letting go; you’re sending that child to the world/toward that bullseye, hopefully, to do what?—it is in the rest of our mission statement, which we’ll get to—but this is sort of the teenage stage; okay? So it’s like 12 up to maybe 17, 18, 19 years old—or maybe you’ve got a teenager, whose 9 right now. [Laughter] They hit teenage years pretty early—
Ann: Yes; right.
Dave: —but it’s like, at that stage, what we realize, as parents, is they’re pulling away. Am I right? They’re pulling away. It’s when they start saying things in middle school like, “Dad, can you drop me off like a mile from school? I don’t want anybody to see you with me”; you know?
Ann: The danger of those teenage years is feeling like, “They don’t need me anymore.” So when they push you away, you just walk away. Can I tell you and remind you?—even with teenagers, who are grandkids: “Your teenagers need you to pursue them.” They may be pushing you away; but then they/you know, teenagers are always going back and forth, like: “I love you,” “I hate you,” “I love you,”—so don’t stop pursuing your teenagers or any of your kids, no matter how old—even your adult kids. Don’t stop pursuing them.
Dave: Yes, it’s real easy; and we’ve seen parents do this. They’re [teenager’s] pulling away; you think, “Oh, they don’t want me around anymore,” which, in some ways, they don’t; but the truth is what Ann said—they long for, still, a relationship with you—and when we pull away, because they pull away, that relationship tends to end.
I think you need to be creative to figure out, “How can I grab a moment with them?” Because, when you say, “Hey, let’s go do something,” they just say, “No, I’m going to hang with my buddies”; but if you—I remember, our oldest, CJ, was a techy guy. I said, “Dude, you want to go to Best Buy®? I’ll buy you something”; he’s in the car! You know, it’s just they have certain bents, and you just want to grab those moments.
I had the tendency, as well, when they started to pull away, to pull away. This is the time where Ann—and we put in the book—we said: “Parents of teenagers: pursue, pursue, pursue.” You’ve got to pursue them.
Ann: I just talked to our granddaughter yesterday. She said, “Oh, I had my date with my dad today.” She said, “We went to this restaurant.” I could tell it was one of the greatest things she had done in a long time.
We interviewed this guy, who wrote a book—what is it called?—Donuts/Donut Dates?
Dave: Yes, Donut Dates.
Ann: He said that every time he would go out with his kids—he would have a double date with his kids—he would take a journal. He would ask them questions. Every time the kids would give him an answer, he’d write it in their journal/this journal that he had.
Now, his kids are adults; and his daughter said, when he would pull out his red journal, and he would write down what I’d say, I thought, “I must be the most important person on the planet.” Isn’t that sweet?!—just that your dad would write down what you say.
Dave: And all I got to say is it’s real easy to pull away. The teenage years—pursue, pursue, pursue—because here’s the truth: “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” If all you’re doing is giving your teenagers rules, and there is no relationship that you are pursuing and developing, it can lead to: “I’m not going to obey your rules!” because there is no relationship. It’s just: “A dad or a mom giving me a bunch of rules.” Number one complaint of teenagers about their parents is: “They don’t listen.” Guess what?—they are right; we don’t. We just tell them.
Then the third one was: model, model, model. In other words, what you say is not what they are going to do. What you do is what they are going to follow. If you are not living it, guess what?—you’ve got to be modeling it.
Again, the teenager years—we just flew by them real quick; but they are—
Ann: I do have to—
Dave: I think they were our favorite stage.
Ann: It was.
Dave: We’re out of time. I want to hit this last part really importantly, because it is so critical. You’ve got to decide what your bullseye is; but we decided to train and launch/let them go.
By the way, parents, you’ve got to let them go. If you are still parenting them, when they are 25 and 30 years old—and I understand there are different circumstances—they are adults; they have to go. That is our job: “Let them go.” It doesn’t mean we don’t love them and be involved in their life. Anyway, that’s a whole other thing.
But we said, “We are trying to train and launch L3 warriors.
Shelby: You are 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 difference. There is a community of people called FamilyLife Partners who believe in our message and give financially every month.
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Alright, now back to Dave and Ann.
Dave: When we look at what Jesus was trying to raise as a disciple: “What does a disciple of God or Christ look like?” We thought it really boiled down to—and there is much more than this—but three sort of core values.
- In fact, Jesus was once asked, “What is the most important commandment”—remember this—“Teacher?” He said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” He was quoting Deuteronomy 6 that we just talked about; then He added: “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
We decided the first core value of a disciple at Kensington was that they would love God and others. That’s the first “L”: “Love God and others.”
- The second one is that we are called to do life in community; so we called that: “Lock arms in community.” Like, man, if you are a follower of Christ, man, you are going to love God and others. You can’t do that alone; you can’t do it in isolation. You’ve got to get connected with other people. That’s why small groups here are critical. This [church service] is not a small group—this doesn’t work—one hour on Sunday is not going to change your life; but if you do life with other people, locking arms in community, that is going to change your life.
- Then the third “L” was “Live open-handedly.” What does that mean? We take our time, our talent, and our treasures that God has blessed us with—we don’t hold onto them selfishly—we live open-handedly. We don’t do this [keep it close to yourself]; we do this [freely give it away]. God wants us to use our time to bless others; God wants us to use our gifts to bless others; God wants us to actually give our money away to the kingdom. So that’s: “Live open-handedly.”
We decided, as young parents: “Man, if our three boys, when they are men, love God and others, are locking arms in community, and living open-handedly, we’ve succeeded.” That was our target. I’m not saying that should be your target; but we decided, “Man, we’ve got to have something that we are trying.” Here is the thing: if you know what your target or bullseye is, then, you step back from that and say, “If that is what we’re trying to hit, there is a strategy/there is an aim that helps us get there.”
By the way, if we want our children to love God and others, we’ve got to expose them to others they don’t even like. Mission trips and going to places in our own community—that people look and act differently than us—we keep our kids away from that. No, we need to do it. Ann went down to Detroit and picked up a drunk lady one day. I mean, there are so many stories.
I remember taking our kids on mission trips. They’d come back, and they are like, “Nobody in the world lives like us.” I’m like, “Thank you. You’ve finally realized not everybody even has a glass of water a day.” Things like that—expose your kids to help them, hopefully—again, there are no guarantees.
Dave: This doesn’t mean, “Oh, if we do this little thing,” “If we get Dave and Ann’s book, it’s a…”—no, basically, the biggest thing I would say is get on your knees, and pray and pray.
Ann: And that is how I was going to end. I think one of the greatest things that Dave has done—as a man, and as a father, and as a husband—is he has taken every single Friday and fasted for our kids, starting at/when CJ was born. For 35 years, every Friday, he has fasted for our kids, their wives, our grandkids, our marriage.
Sometimes, you do that; and you think, “Does God hear? Does this work?” I look at our lives. We have messed up so much; but the thing that we have seen is God’s faithfulness in the midst of even the hard stuff [Emotion in voice] I think so much of that has been our pleas and our cries to God—of being on our knees before Him—saying, “God, we can’t do it apart from You, and we don’t want to do it apart from You because You are our source of life; You are our source of strength; and You are our hope.”
Our kids can’t do it apart from Him either. We’re living in a culture that, without God, it’s scary. We can impact our culture through our own lives/through our walk with God by the light and the love that Jesus gives and the power that lives within us through His Spirit.
Dave: As you can imagine, we’ve had really difficult, hard conversations with our adult kids about how we raised them. You know all of this stuff sounds great; and then, when you are a Wilson boy, and you’re raised in a home with this, there are some things we really missed/I really missed and made some big mistakes.
In fact, the last chapter of the book is my top five parenting mistakes, hoping that parents will read it and not do what I did. I’ve had hard conversations with my sons about where I blew it and let them down.
I’m not sitting here, acting like—we are nowhere near perfect—and our kids aren’t; our family isn’t.
Ann: We would also say: “It’s never too late.”
Ann: It’s never too late to begin saying to our kids: “Guys, I messed up,” or “I have been messing up,” or “I haven’t seen you; I’ve been on my phone”—whatever—“I need to start again. Can you forgive me?” Those are great words to say.
Dave: You know, the rest of that mission statement was basically this: “Train and launch L3 warriors”—all we’re going to say is: you’re in a/we’re in a spiritual battle. There is a war going on for our kids—it’s not physical; it’s spiritual—and that’s why I was on my knees; and we’re on our knees still—“who make a dent where they are sent.” That was just this simple thought: “Your legacy”—and we’re all leaving a legacy—single; parents—we’re all leaving a legacy; the question is: “What kind of legacy?” and “Are we being intentional about that legacy?” That’s where they can make a dent—wherever God takes them; wherever God sends them—they are going to make an impact.
Some of you might remember this—I’ll close with this—I was talking to a woman, years ago, about her legacy. She was pretty excited to tell me about getting married in the ‘40s and having what she called “four Jacks and a Queen,” which meant four sons and a daughter. Her husband was an airline pilot. They built this big home/a mansion in New York—New Jersey that looked into the city of New York—as he flew out of New York.
She is telling me this great story; and then she said, “At about year 25, it all ended.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” She goes, “I started to suspect that my husband, now a captain with the airlines, was having an affair.” This was back in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s—so there is no way, like, surveillance cameras—she just made a phone call to the hotel, where Captain Ralph often laid over on his trips to find out if she could find out if he was actually having an affair. The woman who answered the phone/the hotel receptionist said, “Yes, Captain Ralph has just checked in. He just went to his room with his wife,”—not knowing she was talking to his wife.
When he came home, this woman, Janice, confronted him, only to find out that this was one of many affairs. They ended up divorced in the early ‘60s when divorce was not that common. They moved to where her parents lived; because now, she is a single mom with a seven-year-old boy and a five-and-a-half-year-old boy. Then she tells me that several months after the move, they find out that the youngest boy has leukemia; and he dies.
She is in tears, and I am in tears; because many of you know—some of you don’t—Janice was my mom; Captain Ralph was my dad. I was the seven-year-old boy that moved to Findlay, Ohio, with my mom to be near her parents. That was my legacy.
I grew up with no dad, and I become a dad—right?—when Ann and I get married and have boys. I’m literally looking at that crib, saying, “I have no idea what to do.”
Ann: You had never seen it.
Dave: And I’ve never seen it.
Here is all I can tell you: “God is the God of resurrection.
Dave: “He raises people from the dead. He rose His Son from the dead. He raised our marriage from death. He can create a new legacy for you.” What God has enabled us to do—and again, it’s not perfect—but man, it is a different legacy. The Wilson name carries a different value than what was handed to me.
I don’t know what your legacy is: if it’s a great one, continue it; if it’s not a great one, change it;—
Dave: —because you can make a difference.
Some of you have said, “I’ve blown it so many times; I can’t...” Today is your day to start over—right here, right now, you commit, and you surrender, and say, “God, I can’t do this,”—He goes, “I know you can’t, but I can. Give Me a chance; and I will do something in you, you could never do;—
Dave: —“and it will impact the world.”
Father, God, thank You for who You are. And Lord Jesus, I pray for the parents and the influencers—and we all in some ways can influence somebody—so I pray, Lord Jesus, that You would do, in us and through us, something that glorifies You/bring glory back to Your Name.
Lord, for parents, who are really struggling right now, God, I pray for Your comfort and Your peace. I pray for other families and parents to come alongside and walk together/lock arms together to follow You.
Father, I pray, too, for the single parents that are doing this alone. It’s so hard, and they are weary. I pray that You would provide and that You would make Your presence so known to them that You’re parenting alongside of them.
And those who are blended, Lord—they’re just like trying to put these two families together—will You give them wisdom, and strength, and perseverance to follow You, to trust You, and to lay their lives and their families—all of us—in Your hands? We love You so much, and we pray in Your name. Amen.
Dave: We’ve been listening to a message that Ann and I gave at Kensington Church about our book, No Perfect Parents. Even listening to that now is just almost emotional, to think God has enabled us to change a legacy.
Ann: I agree.
Dave: Again, it’s not perfect—we would never say that—but to do the best we could with God’s help to send warriors to the world/to take the gospel to change the world.
Ann: I’ll never forget the first time we listened to Dennis and Barbara Rainey at our staff training for Cru®, talking about what a godly marriage and legacy could look like. I had never heard anything like it. I just recall desiring that, like, “I want that. I want everything they are talking about.” It’s amazing to me, especially coming from where we’ve come from in our past—no Christian upbringing—that God has been so gracious to answer those prayers.
Dave: Yes. I would say to you: “Don’t give up.
Ann: — and “It’s never too late.”
Dave: “It’s never too late. Get on your knees right now and ask God to do what He does.” We said it there: He resurrects dead things, and He can do immeasurably more than anything you and I imagine or dream, according to the power that is at work within us. That power is the power of God—the power of Jesus/the Holy Spirit—can do a miracle. Some of you want a miracle; ask Him to work and change you and change your legacy. He can and will do it.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today.
Now, if you know anyone who needs to hear today’s message, you can share it from wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, it would really help get the word out about FamilyLife Today if you’d rate and review us.
Now, coming up next week, Dave and Ann are going to be talking with Gary Thomas about how to have lasting intimacy, friendship, and purpose in your marriage. They’ll also be talking with Jim Burns about how to live a life with serious fun and making each day count. Sounds good to me!
I hope you have a great weekend, where you are able to worship in your local church.
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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