FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Parenting–and the Shame of Falling Short: Esther Liu

with Esther Liu | May 23, 2024
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Could shame be shaping your parenting? Esther Liu shares how shame impacts relationships, parenting, and self-worth. From cultural influences to personal struggles, she explores real-life examples of how shame can affect our parenting styles. Ready to break free from this cycle?

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • 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.

Could shame be shaping your parenting? Esther Liu explores its impact on relationships, parenting, and self-worth, offering ways to break free.

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Parenting–and the Shame of Falling Short: Esther Liu

With Esther Liu
May 23, 2024
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Dave: Hey, before we get started, we’ve got question for you: “How can we pray for you?”

Ann: I love this question!

Dave: I knew you would love it.

Ann: Because we talk about a lot of serious things here on FamilyLife Today; and those details about our families often need our prayers. So, can we pray for you? We’re serious!

Dave: Here is how you can let us know: text FLT, plus your prayer request, to 80542 to let us know. It will be our privilege to pray for you. That’s: text FLT, plus your prayer request, at 80542.

Ann: We want to pray for you.

Esther: There’s actually Someone else, other than my parents, whom I’m called to please; and it is good for me to live a life of obedience on cue. It’s not just because my parents say so, but it’s because my Creator and my Savior has called me into this abundant life that I’m missing out on when I go astray.


Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: So, we started a conversation yesterday about shame. We discovered that I carry some shame, and we have two women in the room who have no shame. [Laughter]

Ann: I think that Esther and I revealed that we both have shame. I would guess that most of us have shame, whether we admit it or not. There’s things in most of us that have been hard to deal with.

We have Esther Liu back with us. Esther, we’re so happy that you’re here with us.

Esther: Thank you for having me.

Dave: She’s counseling us—is what’s happening. [Laughter]

Ann: Basically, that is what is happening.

Dave: She’s counseling everybody who’s listening.

One of the things we didn’t talk about yesterday, that I’ve often heard and I saw it in your devotional, is the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt could be: “I made a mistake.” Is this true? Shame is: “I am a mistake.” Is that sort of close to what shame feels like?

Esther: Yes, I think so. I think it’s a good starting point to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is: “I did something wrong.” It’s action-/behavior-oriented. Shame takes it a step further. It’s not like I just did something wrong. You can do something wrong but still feel like an okay, good person, good Christian, etc., but making a mistake. Shame takes it a step further and says, “I am wrong. There’s something wrong with me.” It becomes an identity statement rather than an action-/behavior-sentiment.

There are some of us—we didn’t doing anything wrong, but wrong was done against us; and yet, we still carry that weight of shame for being sinned against and treated poorly. If we were rejected and bullied as children, we don’t necessarily own that, as if I did something wrong—that’s guilt; but shame is: “What is it about me that people keep picking on me? Why am I so small and scrawny?” or “What is it about me that makes me tease-able and makes people gang up on me?” There are so many instances where shame enters in, where you didn’t really do anything wrong; but you still feel like something is wrong with you.

Ann: Esther, is there any time that shame can be a good thing? I say that—

Dave: —like a healthy shame?

Ann: —yes, a healthy kind of shame? What do you think?

Esther: That is a great question. For me—coming from an Asian-American culture that is very honor and shame based, there are a lot of scholars who will propose the value of shame. That might take a bit to unpack.

Shame is actually a communal type of experience. When you are rejected for doing something wrong, when you’re accepted for doing what is honorable and good, there’s that collective sense to shame and a relational sense to it. When you are doing something that is truly wrong and grievous, and there are people who can call you into account for that, there’s something good about that. There’s something good about calling right for right and wrong for wrong. When you’ve gone astray, to be called forth into something better; and shame can function that way.

For an Asian culture, that is very collectivistic—that means we care a lot about what other people think; we care a lot about honoring the people around us and taking care of the people around us—if we’re not doing our due diligence to uphold the harmony and the sense of well-being in our community, maybe there is something good about feeling the sting of that, and saying: “I want to go a different way, a different direction.”

I think what is so tricky about that is it’s very easy for that to cross the line from something that could be restorative—and helpfully, corrective—to something that is very paralyzing and something that is very destructive.

Ann: —or performance oriented.

Esther: Yes.

Dave: That’s my question, even as we talked yesterday about shame; a lot of parents are listening, and they may have little children or teenagers—we’ve got adult children now—but the last thing they want is to create shame in their kids.

Esther: Yes.

Dave: There are some different parenting philosophies. One would be: “Don’t ever shame them.” “Don’t ever tell them that they are wrong.” “Grace, grace, grace; love, love, love.” Because if you tell them they are wrong, or they’re doing something wrong, it’s going to become inherent within them; they’re going to walk around with shame.

Help us, as parents: “I don’t want to create shame in my child!” How do we parent in a way that is healthy for our kids?

Esther: Yes, yes. There are these three questions that are mentioned in the book, but I have talked about as well, which many others have found it to be helpful. It’s that sense of: “Whose eyes matter?” “What standards are you living by?” and “Who makes it all okay when you fail?” I feel like those three questions are very helpful in orienting us to a more constructive direction when it comes to parenting, or marriage, etc.

To the “Whose eyes matter?” There is a way of parenting that can highlight: “It’s my eyes that matter,”—“as your mother, as your mom, as your dad.” “My eyes or my approval matters most, and that’s what you should live for.” So, “I’m going to parent in a way that highlights: ‘You should care everything about how I think of you, and I should be the one whom you are trying to impress or please’,” etc.

Ann: What would that dialogue look like, as the parent to the child, if that’s the approach?

Esther: I imagine, even the way that we discipline, where it’s like: “Because I said so! I’m the one who matters here.”

Ann: “I’m the authority here.”

Esther: Yes, “It’s my voice; it’s my way,” versus, I think, the sense of: “Whose eyes matter the most? It’s God’s.”

Actually, as parents, there are going to be times where we get it wrong, too. At the end of the day, when we parent in a way that says: “God’s eyes matter the most, and He has these standards that are good,”—this is dovetailing into the second question—it reframes it a bit; it puts parents and children at almost a [level] playing field, where both are recognizing their neediness.

The parents are recognizing: “I don’t have it all together. I’m not always going to get it right. I’m going to need forgiveness from you.” And the children are going to learn: “There’s actually Someone else, other than my parents, I am called to please, and that it is good for me to live a life of obedience unto. It’s not just because my parents say so, but it’s because my Creator and my Savior has called me into this abundant life that I am missing out on when I go astray.”

Ann: “And it’s out of His love for us,” you’re saying, too.

What’s the second question?

Esther: Yes: “What standards do you live by?”

Ann: “What standards do you live by?”

Esther: For parents, I think that is a very good point of self-reflection, because as parents, we do have a lot of goals, and ambitions, and hopes for our children. Some of them maybe are more conformed to our Christian values, and some maybe not so much.

I imagine my temptation, when I become a parent, is going to be over-esteeming academic achievement, because that was the world that I was raised in: “School matters and good grades matter.” That’s just been so indoctrinated in me that I feel like, “Oh, I’m going to need to be aware of what standards I’m imposing on my children,”—because I want what is good for them, and I want what is best for them, and I think, “This would be what’s best.”

But it’s important to delineate between: “What are those standards that are of me, and maybe even of the world and of the culture that I’m imbedded in, and how much of those standards are actually God’s standards for us?” Because He actually has very different standards from us that, sometimes, are counter-cultural. He doesn’t make everyone straight-A students; He doesn’t make everyone socially charismatic; He doesn’t make everyone this certain weight, or this certain height, or this certain physique. And there’s a reason for that.

And yet, as parents, the temptation can be having a certain view of what the ideal child, growing into an adult, could be. Sometimes, that does conform to God’s standards; and sometimes, that doesn’t as much. It’s valuable, as parents, to consider: “What are the standards that I’m asking my children to live by, and how does that reflect God’s standards or not?”

Dave: Yes. I think the trick is, it takes wisdom and maturity for a parent to differentiate between God’s eyes and my eyes.

Esther: Yes.

Dave: Because it’s really easy to say to your child, especially a toddler: “Hey, my eyes are God’s eyes. They’re the same.”

Esther: Yes.

Dave: It takes maturity to say, “No, not always.” Like you said, my eyes might be: “Straight A’s—no A-minuses even; it’s got to be an A.” And then, you have to be able to step out and say, “God’s not straight A’s. For some kids, they wouldn’t be trying. It would be because they’re so gifted. It means they’re not even applying themselves; but others, no matter what they do, they’re not getting a straight A—they may get a B or a C-plus, and that’s the best they can do. To lay into them and say, “You have to make this standard,” is going to cause a lot of shame, right? Because they’re going to think, “I never measured up, even though I did the best I actually could. Couldn’t have studied more; couldn’t have done more, and I got a B-plus.”

Esther: Yes, yes. As parents, it’s just a worthwhile endeavor to take those steps back occasionally and say, “What is it, God, that You want for my child?” and “How am I fostering and cultivating that?” and “What are ways that I’m asking my child to conform to a certain image and a certain package that, maybe, You didn’t even intend for my child to fit into?”

Ann: What was that third question? We didn’t get to the third one.

Esther: Yes, the third question, which I think is maybe the most important and insightful, is: “Who makes it all okay when you fail?” As parents, there’s a way in which we can raise our children as if: “If you did something wrong”—there are times where they are going to mess up; there are going to be times when they violate God’s standards. You can have the right eyes—God’s eyes; you can live before the right eyes; you can live by the right standards, which are God’s standards set for us as we see in Scripture; and our children are still going to fail and not measure up.

This third question is really getting at: “Who makes it all okay?” I think, as parents, there’s a unique opportunity to continue to point to Christ to be the One who makes it all okay. It’s not going to be you; it’s not going to be—maybe, there are apologies to be made; there’s forgiveness that needs to be asked for; there are actions to right the wrongs that were committed; but ultimately, the One who makes it all okay is not ourselves but is Christ. How does our parenting reflect that when our children fall short? How can we point to a Savior who is greater than themselves when they fall short?

Dave: That’s good.

Ann: What does that look like for you, Esther? You’ve shared that you’ve gone through some shame. You’ve had to deal with it. How have you healed from it? What does that look like?

Esther: I think my journey of shame, maybe, maps on well to the three questions that were just presented. [I] lived my entire life, in some ways implicitly, before the eyes of my mom. I wanted to please her. I saw my older brother was pleasing to her, and so I was trying to become like my older brother; but all of that was fueled by: “I want my mom to love me the way that she does my brother.” He was academically successful; he had a certain personality. I love that you mentioned the extrovert/introvert thing, because I think that’s something I still wrestle with, as an introvert, in a world that really prizes and really values and esteems extroverts.

It was an incredibly insightful moment to realize how much my mom had weight on my sense of self. I wasn’t living every day of my life, saying: “I need to please my mom,” “I want my mom to love me.” But when I really looked deep down, I [realized], “I’m living out of this framework that I need to please her.” The standards I felt like would earn my mom’s love—whatever that would be; some I just mentioned earlier: academically, personality-wise, etc.

And “Who makes it all okay?” That continues to be a journey, where I realize, “I’ve tried so much of my life to make myself okay and make myself better.” There’s a reason why New Year’s is my favorite holiday [Laughter] [It] sounds strange, but it is my favorite holiday, because it’s all about resolutions and doing better. There’s still a part of me that is still so fixated on improving myself and getting myself up to gear. New Year’s is just a beautiful time to reflect on those things and make resolutions.

But I still feel like there’s this temptation that I need to save myself: “When I fail, and when I mess up, I’m the one who needs to do better next time.” And if I bomb this interview, I’m going to go home, and I’m going to be like: “Alright! Time to work on my interview skills—[Laughter]—and figure this out, or never do interviews again.” Either way, I feel like I’m living—I still am tempted to live my life—as if it’s a self-salvation project. “I’m responsible for myself. I need to fix myself. I need to get into shape. I need to figure that out.”

When I read Scripture—and years now of reading Scripture—again and again, the story of the Bible is: “You can’t fix yourself. You can’t save yourself. And you were never meant to.” It’s just this invitation and this revelation—page after page after page from Genesis all the way to Revelation: “You can’t make this work on your own, and you don’t have to.”

All of those invitations throughout Scripture from Jesus, like: “Come to Me”—the invitation, “Come to Me”—those always get to me because then I realize, “I’m not alone. I’m not this orphan who’s left to fend for herself to make her life work. I’m loved by God. I’m cared for by God, who promises He will bring to completion the good work that He has begun (Philippians 1:6).” I don’t have to save myself. I don’t have to bear that weight. There is Someone who is patient, and will see me through, and will walk with me every step of the way.

That’s just been one of the most life-giving realizations that, honestly, I need to relearn every single day. I came into this interview feeling like, “I need to perform.” [Laughter] Just very honestly, last night, I was a ball of anxiety. I was like, “I don’t have what it takes to do this,” and yet,—

Dave: —well, you’re in good company, because neither do we. [Laughter]

Esther: It’s just this sense that it was another opportunity for me to discover: “It’s not all on you, Esther. You live your life as if it’s all on you, and it’s not, and it doesn’t have to be. I’m here, and I will help you. And I’m committed to seeing you through.”

I hope what listeners are hearing, and what you guys are hearing here, is: “I’m still so much a work in progress.”

Ann: Aren’t we all?

Esther: Yes.

Ann: What you’re saying and what you’re talking about is so—thank you for sharing that—the truth of it. It’s beautiful.

I feel like we’re getting there, though.

Dave: Great! We’re in our 60s.

Ann: We’re old! [Laughter]

Dave: It’s about time!

Ann: But there’s a feeling of freedom: “Of course, I don’t have everything I need to do this perfectly; but He is with me, and He sets us free.” Isn’t it good that Jesus came to set the captive free? Whew!

When I look at my kids, I don’t want them to become who they think I want them to be. I want them to become exactly who God created them to be. I think, as we relay that to our kids and our spouse—I have put so much pressure on Dave to become this man that I thought he should be instead of: “I am so glad you are the person that God made you because I need that person in my life. Together, we can reflect, even brokenly,  because we’re in Christ, the image of God back to the world.”

Esther: Yes, yes. I was thinking about the story that you were telling, before speaking, and the refrain of: “I’ve got nothing,”—


Ann: —yes.

Esther: —and the Lord being so compassionate to meet you there. I also was thinking, while you felt like you had nothing, you did; you had something. I’m sure you shared it, and I’m sure you were a blessing to the people around you. It’s the phenomenon of treasures in jars of clay. It’s like we’re a jar of clay, but there’s treasure in there; it’s worth speaking of, and it’s worth testifying to.

Even what you were talking about, in terms of being pleased with the children and wanting them to be who God wants them to be, not necessarily who you want them to be—or your spouse; there’s a way in which the differences that are there—it’s the same thing; it’s like you might look at your spouse, and say, “That’s nothing! I want this instead. [Laughter] What you have is either not good, displeasing, or nothing.” And yet, there is something there. There’s something good in your spouse; there’s something good in your children that can be seen and found, enjoyed and appreciated. That, again, might not conform to what we want, but it’s still so good.

Ann: Yes.

Esther: Everyone has that something because of Christ, and part of the shame journey is being able to recognize that and live into that; because so many people who struggle with shame disqualify themselves: “I’ve got nothing. So, I’m not going to show up. I’m not going to try; I’m not going to do this.” Or they try, to the point of, like you were saying yesterday: the striving; and “I don’t feel like I have what it takes, so I’m going to work extra, extra, extra hard and push myself to the brink of burnout and exhaustion.”

And yet, there is this voice that says, “Even though you feel like you’ve got nothing, there’s something there,” and “I want you to shine that light for other people to see. There’s a work that I want to do in and through you in the ways that I’ve uniquely gifted, created, and molded you.” It’s just a matter of beholding that and living into that.

Ann: I love it.

Esther: It’s still easier to see that for someone else.

Ann: Isn’t it, though?! [Laughter]

Esther: When I hear you say, “I’ve got nothing,” I’m [thinking], “You have something!”

Ann: I know! I think that about you, too! “Look at you, girl!” You’re right. It’s so easy to see it in other people; and yet, God sees it in us.

Esther: Yes.

Ann: I love this devotional. I think it would be really cool, if you have teenagers—whoo! This would be awesome to go through. I love that you have Scripture at the beginning, and you have reflective questions. And then, an action point at the end. They are really good, even for a spouse to ask each other; to go through these questions.

Dave: I have a feeling we’re going through this. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes! Because it’s really good.

Dave: That should be great. That’ll be great.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Esther Liu on FamilyLife Today. Esther has been bringing some truth today and yesterday, and she’ll be with us tomorrow as well. She’s written a book called Shame: Being Known and Loved. This book really offers a road map for those wrestling with shame. It helps really guide you to redemption through God’s grace, and it gives you some really practical wisdom as well. If you want to dive deeper into this topic and, as Dave and Ann Wilson were talking about, maybe go through it with your spouse or even with one of your kids, you can get your copy of Esther’s book called Shame by going online to, or you can find it in our show notes.

Or just give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Just request your copy of Esther Liu’s book, Shame.

Now, this is the month of May; in fact, we’re kind of winding down in the month of May. But it’s a good month for us here at FamilyLife Today, because every gift that you give to the ministry of FamilyLife Today will be doubled all month long, dollar-for-dollar, up to $550,000. Yes, thanks to some generous partners who have given to the ministry of FamilyLife®, they’re making it possible for every gift given to the ministry to be doubled up to $550,000.

Not only when you give—let’s say you go online, and you give $50 a month—it actually becomes $100 a month—not only does that happen for the benefit of you and the ministry here, we’re going to send you a copy of Chris and Elizabeth McKinney’s book called Neighborhoods Reimagined as our “thank you” to you. You get that gift, and in addition to that, when you become a monthly partner, you get to participate in our new online community and be part of the conversation here at FamilyLife, including the opportunity to check out a live Facebook® event with the Wilsons and myself on June 5th.

Again, you can head over to, click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page, and become a monthly partner with us and have every gift that you give doubled up to $550,000.

Now, tomorrow, Esther Liu is back one more time to explore generational shame, cultural influences, and strategies for healing when you feel like you’re broken beyond repair. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

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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