FamilyLife Today® Podcast

From Caretaker to Consultant: A Parent’s Role

with Bruce Johnston | September 1, 2008
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What is your parenting philosophy? If you’re like most, you don’t have one. Today on the broadcast, Bruce Johnston, the founder and president of JH Ranch, talks to Dennis Rainey about a parent’s changing role as a son or daughter transitions from childhood to adulthood.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What is your parenting philosophy? If you’re like most, you don’t have one. Today on the broadcast, Bruce Johnston, the founder and president of JH Ranch, talks to Dennis Rainey about a parent’s changing role as a son or daughter transitions from childhood to adulthood.

  • 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.

What is your parenting philosophy?

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From Caretaker to Consultant: A Parent’s Role

With Bruce Johnston
September 01, 2008
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Bob: Bruce Johnston remembers as he was raising his son, the night he prayed the prayer of the helpless parent.

Bruce: He was about 12 years old, and everything that I said he undermined, and it was so frustrating because we'd go through this night after night after night.  And I can remember sitting at the table one night trying to bring a positive conversation to the table, and he took the opposite side, and it was at that point that I stood up, slide my chair under the table, and I left, and I went on a long, long walk.  And I said, "God, you made this boy."  I said, "I want to understand him.  You said, in James, if I ask for wisdom You'd give it to me.  I'm ready for wisdom, because I don't know where to go."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you are the parent of a teenager or maybe any child, you have probably reached the point where you've prayed the prayer of the helpless parent.  We'll talk more about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Your daughter, Ashley, who is your oldest child, she was born what year?

Dennis: 1974.

Bob: You had to stop and do the math there.

Dennis: I did, I did.

Bob: That's fair.  Did you have a parenting philosophy ready to go when Ashley …

Dennis: [laughs]  I had six theories and no children.

Bob: And later on you had …

Dennis: Six children.

Bob: And lots of theories.

Dennis: No theories.

Bob: No theories.


Dennis: They've completed scrubbed it clean.  Oh, I do have a few things that I'm convinced of, though.

Bob: But when did you begin to develop your thinking about what are the responsibilities of parents?  What's our assignment as we raise our children?

Dennis: Honestly, Bob, it was when they handed me the baby – it's when Ashley was put in my arms, I realized, you know what?  This little thing right here doesn't come with instructions, at least, attached to her.  The instructions were given in the Scripture, and it was at that point that I really began to become a student and began to interact with Barbara around what do we want to accomplish with our children?

Bob: Well, and I would say, in the early years of our parenting, we were kind of coasting, figuring that as long as we were relationally involved, you know, as long as our kids knew we loved them, and we were providing for them, that we were doing what was required of us.  But there's a little more to parenting than just expressing your love and paying the bills, right?

Dennis: And taking your kids to Sunday school.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: We have a friend with us on the broadcast, Bruce Johnston, who should know a little bit about parenting because he was one of 12 children.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: He had to observe a lot of parenting as his parents raised him and his brothers and sisters.  Bruce, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Bruce: Glad to be here.

Dennis: Bruce was recommended to me, Bob, it has to be 15 years ago by a mutual friend, Dr. Ron Jensen.  Ron lives in San Diego, and Ron was after me to take one or more of my children and to go to Bruce's camp that he has up in, I guess it's Central California, is that correct?

Bruce: It's Northern California.

Dennis: Northern California – JH Ranch – and I never had the opportunity to go, but there is one person besides Bruce in the studio who has been.

Bob: That's right.  My son, John, and I had the opportunity to fly into Medford, Oregon, rent a car and …

Dennis: That really is in Northern California.

Bob: We're talking far Northern California – drive down into – is it the Sierras that the ranch is in?  What mountain range is that?

Bruce: We're backed right up against the Salmon Mountains.

Bob: The Salmon Mountains – you drive in back there, it's a beautiful, picturesque spot.  We spent a week there – dads and sons.  And I think there were maybe some dads and daughters who were there as well.

Bruce: Correct.

Bob: And the whole design of the week was to get dads and sons and dads and daughters to have some connection around what the Scriptures teach, to grow in their relationship with one another, and if our listeners are interested in more about JH Ranch or about Outback America, we've got a link on our website at that will take you to the website where you can get more information and find out about all that Bruce is up to and what's going on out at the Ranch.

Dennis: Bruce, as you've developed these training programs for parents, and although you work with young people, you really have a heart for equipping moms and dads to be effective as parents.  But for parents to be effective, they have to understand certain things about children and what God is up to in their lives.  You believe a child is on a transition?

Bruce: Absolutely.

Dennis: A journey of transition?

Bruce: We do, and this whole journey of transition that we teach parents really came out of my own development with my son, David.  We have two children, David and Mallory, and Mallory was that perfect child.

Dennis: Firstborn?

Bruce: No, she's the second born.

Dennis: Oh, really?

Bruce: Yes, she is, and she's just one of those gals that deals with life in a very stable way.  Now, David, on the other hand, was a young man that you would say "Go to the right," and he would immediately want to go to the left.  And we saw this trend in him at a very, very young age.  When he was three, we looked forward to taking him to a little Mother's Day Out program at a church down the street, where it gave Heather some time off, and we got a phone call the second day that he was there, and they said, "We don't take biters."  And I said, "Excuse me?"  They said, "We don't take biters, come and pick up your child."

I brought David home, and I said, "Now, why did you bite the teacher?"  And he said, "Well, Dad, she just kept trying to tell me what to do."  And so what happened is he wasn't used to this new authority and, of course, we disciplined our children, we were right on top of their progress, but coming under a new authority that was a transition for him that he wasn't ready to step into.

And so we started seeing that there were challenges that other kids would move through rather quickly that were very difficult for him, whether it was in sports, with soccer, whether it was t-ball.  With your children you've got to try to figure out what makes them tick, what they're really hearing, what they're listening to, and that can be challenging sometimes.

Dennis: So at what point did you really find the crisis reached the apex that really took you to your knees with your son?

Bruce: Well, some people see the glass is half full, and others see the glass is half empty, and that's a positive on both sides.  Those are very complementary ways to look at life, and God created us that way.  But David, by nature, would see the glass is half empty, and he would see things largely from a negative perspective, and it continued to escalate through elementary school.  We had challenges into junior high, and I can remember sitting at the table one night trying to bring a positive conversation to the table, and everything that I said he undermined, he took the opposite side, and it was so frustrating because we'd go through this night after night after night.

It was at that point that I stood up, slid my chair under the table, and I left the family, and I went on a long, long walk.  And I said, "God, you made this boy.  I've done everything I know to build into him, to encourage him, to do what I know to do right as a father, but I'm not making progress.  I feel like we're going backwards."

Dennis: Now, you were president of JH Ranch during this time, right?

Bruce: Yes, and everything is supposed to work when you have a ministry about family.

Dennis: Oh, yeah.  Now, we need to say, at this point, this is really a myth because people in ministry raise real kids who are related to real parents who have real issues. 

Bruce: … that have real marriages.

Dennis: Yeah, and all you were doing in terms of taking that walk is you were being real with God.

Bruce: I was being real with God, and I said, "God, you made this child.  I want to understand him.  You said in James if I ask for wisdom you'd give it to me.  I'm ready for wisdom because I don't know where to go."

Bob: How old was David at this point?

Bruce: He was about 12 years old.

Bob: Okay.

Bruce: For about two hours, God began to download into my mind a visual picture of what was going on.  I went back home, I got David out of bed at about midnight, he was in his pajamas, we got in the car, and I said, "David, let's go for a drive," and we drove around the city streets of Birmingham, and I said, "David, what is it that you really want?  Just be real honest with me."  I said, "I want to be a good father, but you've got to help me."

And when he felt like I was really looking for answers, and I was not there to give him some answers, I remember he clutched his fists, and he raised them up, and he said, "Dad, I want freedom."  And I said, "Son, that's great, because I want you to experience freedom in your life.  I don't want to be raising you the rest of your life.  Will you tell me what the areas of freedom are that you're looking for?"

And, basically, the areas of freedom for a junior higher came down to these five – it had to do with movies, money, malls, music, and eventually a mate.  They're looking for freedom in these areas.  And I said, "David, that's wonderful," and I just started listening to what was on his heart.  I said, "When would you like to have total freedom and independence in your life?"  And he looked up, and he said, "I think at 18 years old."  I said, "All right, let's start at the end in mind where you'd like to be at 18."  I said, "Would you like a car?"  "Yes, I'd like a car."  So we wrote down "a car" on the napkin.  "Would you like a house?"  He wrote down – he said, "Yes."  We wrote down "a house."

Dennis: At 18?

Bruce: He said that's what he wanted.

Dennis: Okay.

Bruce: And so from his 12-year-old perspective, he thought at 18 years old, he'd be ready.

Bob: A car and a house?

Bruce:  I said – that's right.

Dennis: I wouldn't say the glass is half full at that point – or rather half empty at that point.

Bob: Right.

Bruce: Well, he didn't end with that.  He said, "And I think I'd like to have a wife."  I said, "All right, we're going to put down wife."  And what we did, we put a number by each one of those things because this is all going to cost money.  I said, "You're not going to believe it, son, but your wife is going to want to eat.  So we need to put down food, and she's going to want clothes," so we put that down, and we started adding all this up, and I said, "Do you know what this comes to?  The bare minimum is about $4,000 a month on your little laundry list here.  So if we start with the end in mind, that's where we want to be by 18, what I want to do as your father is to help you to get to where you want to go. 

So let's figure out a plan to get you to total freedom at 18 years old, and I drew out for him on this napkin, I said, "Let me show you where it all started."  I said, "From zero to five years old, we were your caretaker, and we were your protector, your provider, and at about six years to 12 years old, we kind of transitioned as your parent to play the role as a cop.  Here's the parameters we want you to live in.  It's for your safety, it's for your health, you're going to do it because we said so, we're your parents, we feel like we know what's best." 

But I said, "You know, you've made this discovery, you stood up one day in your little skiff as you're out there in this bay of security, and you discovered that there was a sea of independence out there, and you want to get there."  And I drew this big boat out there, it says the "USS Independence."  And I said, "In order to get from here to there, we have to transition through what we're going to call the "jetty of adolescence."

If you go from the bay to the ocean, there's always this jetty where boats have to transition to get from point A to point B, and in that jetty there's a lot of obstacles.  There's rocks, there's signs, there's lights in order to protect boats from boat sinkers that will really cause a lot of destruction.

So as we laid this out, I said, "I want you to have these freedoms, but let's isolate where these freedoms would be appropriate.  You said you wanted a car, you're 12 years old, so let's put that in the 16-year-old category.  And so we put this little gift box, we called it "the transition box to independence," and we put a car in that box, and we laid out all these freedoms, and we put them in the appropriate box for that year.

Well, there's nothing wrong with all these freedoms but along with the freedoms, obviously, come responsibilities.

Bob: Now here's – and the kids don't understand this – they want the freedoms, but they don't associate it with the responsibilities that are necessary if you're going to be able to function with those freedoms, right?

Bruce: That's correct.  So what we did was we – underneath the silo of freedoms, we put the responsibilities.  And I said, "Son, do you want to be wise or do you want to be a fool?"  "Well, Dad, I think I'd like to be wise."  I said, "That's a real good choice, and you know where wisdom comes from?  It comes from the fear of the Lord, the reverence of God and how we learn about God is when we read the Scriptures."

Heather and I have spent time in the Scriptures on a consistent basis.  Our children have gotten to see that over the years that that was a priority in our life.  But I said, "David, if you're going to be wise, we have to make that as the number-one responsibility in your life that you will give God the first fruits of every day because that's where wisdom comes from."  So we put down under "Responsibility" that we would spend time each day.

And then another area that we looked at is their school.  You've got to get your grades up if you're going to get into a good college and you're going to get a good job, you've got to be making good grades now, so that's another area of responsibility.  Another area of responsibility is learning to submit to authority; what it means to honor your father and your mother, and I said, "Son, God gave you imperfect parents.  We don't get it right all the time, but God knew that when He put you in our family.  But there is still a divine order to the family, and God says when you get things in divine order, there's going to be a divine blessing, and part of that is learning what it means to honor your parents.

And so we're going to learn how to talk about things together, we're going to learn how to solve problems, and we're going to work it out.  The home right now is the laboratory of your development so that when you get on your own, you're going to know how to handle your home."

And we went through some of these other responsibilities – one of the areas of responsibility was you've got chores around the house.  You're 12 years old, you need to be a contributing member of the family, and we're going to give you an allowance for those chores, and then out of that allowance, you're going to learn how to save part of the money, 10 percent; you're going to learn the importance where God says you need to give 10 percent; and then you're going to assume some financial responsibility yourself, because if you're going to be financially independent at 18 – by the way, I've got a funny story about what I did when I put my arm around him on his 18th birthday and said, "Well, David, how does it feel to be totally and completely financially independent from your family?"  He looked at me like, "You've got to be kidding me, Dad."

And I said, "Well, you need a few more years?"  He said, "I think that would be nice."  So, you know, we've readjusted those numbers a little bit.

Dennis: Kind of opened the napkin up a bit and added some more boxes out there.

Bob: You know, I think what you've illustrated, what you talked with David about that night, was really an overall philosophy.  As parents, we've got to be thinking about the end in mind.  We've got to be thinking about the fact that what we want for our kids and what they want for themselves is independence.  We want them to be functional; we want them to – of course, we want them to love the Lord, and we want them to have a successful life spiritually, but they want to be free; we want them to be free.  If we can get on the same page and have a roadmap where we're both looking at it and saying, "We're both pushing in the same direction," it can cut down a lot of the conflict, can't it?

Bruce: It sure can.  I've seen that in so many homes with parents and young people as they're transitioning from 12 to 13 on into those adolescent years, every conversation is turning into a conflict, and it's usually centered around those five Ms – movies, money, malls, music, and a dating relationship or potential mate.

But if we have a structure that our children agree on, up front, and that they're buying into then we, as parents, transition from cop to coach, and therein lies the key.  Parents don't know how to really coach their children because they don't have a blueprint, so they're staying in that cop role far too long.  And when they continue to cop their children on into13, 14, 15 years old, that's when the relationship breaks.  And you're not only breaking that relationship, but you're breaking generations because a lot of times those hurts are never healed, and then the same consequences wind up in future families.

Bob: You talk about this in a different way in your book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," but you talk about how parents need to help their children embrace their own beliefs.  They need to help them understand what they believe and learn how to live that out, right?

Dennis: Well, I didn't have the benefit of Bruce's training at the Ranch, but I did talk about how, as we approach adolescence, teenagers or preteens go through three zones, or three phases.  One is what I call "the innocence zone."  That's ages 10 to 12.  The next one is called "the danger zone," 13 to 16.

Bob: That's the jetties where the rocks and the waves are, right?

Dennis: Yeah, and some would say it continues on a little beyond the age of 16.  And then just like Bruce is talking about here – the last zone was "the release zone," ages 16, 17, 18, 19, somewhere in there you begin to move toward the release.  And the point is that you're raising your children to ultimately have their own set of core beliefs, values, and convictions so that at the point of release, they're not necessarily going to do it perfectly, but they're going to have some sense of who they are, how they relate to another person, what's right and what's wrong and what they believe about right and wrong, and they will also begin to understand what their mission is and why God has placed them on the planet.

And I think what parents have to have in mind for their children to help them through these different zones or these different ages that we've talked about here is just like Bruce is talking about – we need to know where we're taking them.  We need to clearly define what are the core convictions and beliefs that we think are important for them to embrace as their own, realizing when we start the adolescent years, those children are not going to have those as their own.  They're going to be hitchhiking off of your beliefs.

But as you begin to help them test those beliefs …

Bob: Right.

Dennis: … begin to take steps of faith that they make when you're not watching, and sometimes they'll fail, and you'll need to coach them, and I think, to Bruce's point, not become a cop but begin to coach them again and teach them and train them how they ought to do it.  You ultimately are building a human being and a young man and a young lady to be able to stand on their own two feet spiritually and to be able to function in a very dangerous culture.

Bob: You and Barbara did a great job of helping parents with these issues when you wrote the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," that has become a guidebook for a lot of parents as they navigate their way through the teen years and, Bruce, as you've talked about the journey of transition today, the diagram, the chart, that you put together that I first saw out at JH Ranch when I was out there with my son, has been a helpful tool that I've pulled out and reviewed from time to time to remind myself of what my responsibilities are, where my son is headed, where my daughter is going, and to help me, as a parent, engage with my children in the midst of this journey.

I'd like to invite our listeners to go to our website,, and when they get to the home page of the website, if they'll click on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast," where it says "Learn More," it will take them to an area of the site where they can get information about Dennis and Barbara's book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent."

If you purchase a copy of the book from us, we'll send along at no additional cost the full-color journey of transition foldout chart that Bruce has put together that, again, I think is very helpful.  And there's a link on our website to the JH Ranch website, if you'd like to find out more about the father/son, father/daughter, mother/son, mother/daughter experiences that JH Ranch hosts every summer, you can get that information by following the link on our website to the JH Ranch site.

And I know we're at the end of the summer here, but you get a lot of folks who are already signed up for next year because the camp fills up fast.  So, again, more information about JH Ranch at our website,  You can also go online to order a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and we'll send along the journey of transition four-color chart when you request a copy of Dennis and Barbara's book.

You know, teenagers and their parents aren't the only people in a family who experience conflict.  That can happen between a husband and a wife as well.  And not long ago, we had our friends, Tim and Joy Downs, join us here on FamilyLife Today to talk about some of the common areas of conflict in a marriage relationship – how we can understand those areas of conflict better and how we can do a better job of resolving the conflict when it occurs in our marriage.

This month, if you're able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we'd love to send you, as a thank you gift, the two-CD series with Tim and Joy Downs talking about the seven conflicts of marriage.  You can request those CDs when you go to our website, and make a donation online.  Now, if you'd like the CDs when you make your donation, you'll see a keycode box on the donation form.  Just type the word "conflict" in there, and we'll know to send you a copy of the CDs.

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  You can make a donation over the phone and request a copy of the CDs on conflict with Tim and Joy Downs.  Again, we're happy to send them out to you as our way of saying thank you for your support of this ministry.  We are listener-supported, and we depend on folks like you to partner with us to keep this program on the air on this station and on other stations across the country.  So we appreciate hearing from you, and we want to say thanks in advance for your generous support.

Now, tomorrow we're going to talk more about the dangerous waters that exist between pre-adolescence and adulthood and about how we, as parents, can help our children through this journey of transition.  I 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 back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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