FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Parenting Principles

with Chris Groff, Michelle Groff | February 24, 2016
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What does it mean to parent for God's glory? Chris and Michelle Groff recall their son's multiple stints in rehab and share a few of the parenting principles they learned there. Armed with renewed faith in God, the Groffs tell how they realigned their priorities and started parenting in a way that would teach their sons responsibility, while still nurturing their hearts.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What does it mean to parent for God's glory? Chris and Michelle Groff recall their son's multiple stints in rehab and share a few of the parenting principles they learned there. Armed with renewed faith in God, the Groffs tell how they realigned their priorities and started parenting in a way that would teach their sons responsibility, while still nurturing their hearts.

  • 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.

Chris and Michelle Groff recall their son’s multiple stints in rehab and share a few of the parenting principles they learned there.

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Parenting Principles

With Chris Groff, Michelle Groff
February 24, 2016
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Bob: Every parent wants their son or daughter to act right; right?  Well, Chris Groff says, “We actually should want more than just right behavior.” 

Chris: If all we’re looking for is behavioral change, then we are missing the boat because behavior is driven by the heart. If all we do is surface behavioral change, then we miss the biggest issue. For a long time, that was our experience with our son. It’s a big paradigm shift to start to look at conflict and mistakes as valuable opportunities. I think that’s what God does with us.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How can we, as parents, get to the heart of the issue with our sons and our daughters?  We’ll take time examining that today. Stay tuned.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I’ve—over the years—had people just say: “You’ve been at FamilyLife for a long time. What’s your best parenting advice?”  One of the things I’ve said is: “You read the Book of Proverbs, and there are really three things that you see in there. Kids are born foolish, and you’ve got to help them cultivate wisdom.” 

Dennis: Right. You can learn that two ways—either from the Book of Proverbs or just raise a few. [Laughter] 

Bob: That’s right; wisdom—you can either learn it the easy way or the hard way.

Dennis: That’s right.

Bob: I said, “The second thing is that kids are born self-focused, and they have to learn how to be others-centered.” 

Dennis: That’s clearly in the Book of Proverbs; and that, too, is also proven over time.

Bob: “And the third thing is that kids are born with”—and this is interesting—



—“they are born with the knowledge that there is a God. You have to introduce them to who He is and—

Dennis: In fact, that’s the assignment, Bob.

Bob: It is! 

Dennis: That’s what a parent is supposed to do. They’re supposed to take their child’s hand and put it in the hand of God. It depends upon the child, however, if they are going to grab hold.

And we’ve been listening to a story this week of, really, parents who were off track themselves but finally got on track through a crisis with their son, who got off into drugs and later into some serious problems with drugs; but in that process, woke up spiritually—so much so that they found themselves, both, going to Dallas Theological Seminary, graduating—both of them—and now, being used by God to help parents know how to do it God’s way. They’ve written a book called Parenting by Design: Discovering God’s Original Plan for Your Family.



Chris and Michelle Groff join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.

Chris: Thanks.

Michelle: Thanks.

Dennis: We appreciate you guys being honest. I know there have been a number of people who have called in response to your story because, frankly, it’s the rare parent who raises children and watches them grow up to become the perfect children they had imagined from the beginning.

Bob: You have a son who has been in rehab a couple of times—who, as Dennis said, struggled with addictive behavior with marijuana and with other drugs. In the process of that, you got taught some principles about parenting that turned on some lights for you. Then, you began to build that out and explore what the Scriptures have to say.

One of the things that was really eye-opening for you was to understand that we all have different styles of parenting that we kind of bring to the table, whether we know it or not; right? 

Michelle: Absolutely.

Bob: So, what are some of the styles that somebody listening to this program—



—what kind of parent might they be? 

Michelle: Well, I think the main ones are—you’ve got authoritarian, and that is heavily rooted in obedience.

Bob: Yes.

Michelle: It’s less about warmth and knowing the child and more about rote obedience. Then, you have permissive parenting, which you don’t have boundaries. Everything is about letting them just kind of figure things out their own. Then, you have authoritative parenting, and it’s our belief that that’s how God parents us. I think the big concept there is—it’s a balance of bonding and boundaries.

Bob: Yes, I heard somebody explain it this way years ago, and this was really helpful for me. They said: “Every child is asking two questions. Question number one is: ‘Can I do whatever I want?’  



“and question two is: ‘Do you love me?’” 

Michelle: Yes; right.

Bob: And they said, “How you answer those questions—

Michelle: Love it.

Bob: —“the permissive parent says, ‘I love you so much,’ and, ‘Yes, you can probably do whatever you want—up to a limit’; right?  The authoritarian parent says, ‘There’s no way you’re going to do whatever you want!’ and, ‘You’re going to have questions about whether I love you in the process.’” 

Michelle: Right.

Bob: “And the way to answer that is for a child to clearly know: ‘I love you desperately; and no, there’s absolutely no way you’re going to do whatever you want.’  That’s the authoritative parent—

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: —“where the child understands: ‘Mom and Dad really do love me. Mom and Dad really do have some boundaries here that I’m not going to be able to cross.’”  There is some security and comfort for a child in that; isn’t there? 

Chris: Absolutely. I mean, I think that what they really want is the ability to do whatever they want but to know that you love them enough to put up boundaries to stop them—



—to build that fence so they can’t go somewhere that will harm them physically, spiritually, or relationally.

Dennis: And another way to say the same thing is: “Rules without relationships create rebellion.”  The real tension for a parent is to keep all the rules within the context of a relationship that is filled with love, grace, and plenty of forgiveness because you’re going to need it, not only personally, but you’re going to need it as you forgive your child as they fail.

Bob: And this really takes us back—because the foundation of what you guys are talking about in your book, Parenting by Design, and what you discovered along the way—you really pulled back and said: “Let’s look at how God parents us, and let’s figure out what God’s doing with us. Then, let’s parent our kids the way God parents us.” 

Chris: Right.

Bob: So, what did you—what are the principles you pull out of that that help us understand: “This is how God parents us”? 

Chris: Well, you know, the crazy thing is—I think, for so long, or at least in one strain of Christian parenting—



—you find this rote obedience concept that your kids need to do what you say when you say it without challenge, excuse, or delay. I look at the Bible and I think, “Well, gosh; if that was the way God parented us, we’d all be in a heap of trouble”; you know? 

And when we talk about: “What’s the most important thing?”—it’s a relationship with Christ—“What does that mean?  Why does God seek a relationship with us?  Why is it so important that we know Him and He know us?  And why do we crave that?”  That, for us, became the framework for parenting because we know that’s what God wants and expects above all. He knows we’re going to fail. He knows we’re going to fail a number of times. He knows we’re not going to obey without challenge, excuse, or delay. Yet, He still loves us. I mean, that’s why Christ had to go to the cross.

Dennis: Yes. In addition to that, you talk about kind of the beginning point of deciding “Who is your audience here?” as you parent.



Are you parenting for the world and the applause of your peers / other parents?—which, by the way, is really dangerous because the herd is not a good standard to raise children by. It wasn’t back when I was doing it / Bob was doing it.

Bob: But it’s pretty seductive.

Dennis: Oh, yes; it is!  And it’s the comparison trap. You think because you’ve got your kids involved in the right type of activities—even religious activities, by the way—

Michelle: Yes.

Dennis: —you can be missing the main thing. The other thing you contrast that with, though, is parenting for the purpose of honoring God or for God’s glory. Explain what you mean and what it looks like for a parent to be seeking to honor God as they raise their kids.

Chris: You know, I think the biggest thing for us was understanding that things are going to happen that are tremendous opportunities to point them in the direction of Christ and of the Father.



The world’s view of good parenting is—you go to church on time, you look great when you’re doing it, and you’re all smiles. When we started parenting for God’s pleasure—what we began to do was to see the value of conflict, for example.

You know, conflict is telling us there is something wrong. There is a root issue / there is an identity issue here: “Let’s take the time to resolve it, and let’s find out what the real issue is,”—to see hardships and mistakes as valuable learning opportunities instead of something you need to cover up and paper over. It’s a big paradigm shift to start to look at conflict and mistakes as valuable opportunities, but I think that’s what God does with us.

Dennis: Yes, can you give us an illustration with—you’ve got two sons. I can give you one, if you can’t think of one, because we had six children.

Michelle: I’ve got a great one; and that is, I think I was so focused with our kids on them looking right, and doing right, and punishing the behavior that I missed the anxiety that was building up in Bob that eventually led to him feeling like he had to self-medicate.



Bob: So, what did that look like?  I mean, how might that have been obvious to—

Chris: Tell the story about the Christmas sweater picture.

Michelle: Oh, well, there was one time when I wanted our Christmas card picture to just look great.

Bob: Who doesn’t? 

Michelle: So, I had my kids out there. I mean, the whole experience was about getting them to be an extension of what I wanted our PR to look like for our family. And so, as I’m yelling at them and just becoming so dysregulated—and finally, I remember I was spanking them. I said, “Youwillsmileforthepicture!”  [Laughter]  And that was kind of a sad Christmas card that year. [Laughter]



But I think the key word is curiosity. I think we need to be curious about our kids. We can, maybe, get obedience and never really know them. I think, if you can create communication—where you can empathize with their struggles, even as you’re holding boundaries—that’s the big balance that I think leads them to Christ.

Dennis: What we’re talking about here sounds easy, here in a studio; but if you’re going to push back against some of the mistakes they make and truly do the work of correction—and try to get in there, and get to know them / be curious, like you’re talking about—it takes a lot of work sometimes we, as parents, don’t want to do.

I’ll never forget finding out one of our children—and this is the advantage of having six. You don’t know which one it was—had been found cheating on a test.



Now, I’m on the radio everyday across the country. Everybody knows that my kids are going to be better than normal; you know?  [Laughter] It just has to happen—right?—by osmosis because they are near the Bible. And yet, you have to choke down, sometimes, as a parent, in a church with your friends—

Bob: —on the radio.

Dennis: —well, on the radio—

Bob: Right.  

Dennis: —yes—or in a small group and say: “You know, my kid really surprised me here!  What is going on?”  Well, there was an explanation for this child’s desire to cheat. He was struggling in school because of some physical disabilities that hit him. I think it was a compensation of trying to do well somewhere that really wasn’t his bailiwick. He wasn’t—he wasn’t an “A” student / he wasn’t an honor student—and his athleticism had been taken away from him.


Bob: And I think what both of you are saying here is: “If, as parents, our goal is: ‘We want you to conform to a standard. We want you to obey. We want you to act with character,’—which we do / I’m not saying that goal is not important—but if you say, ‘That goal is more important than me understanding what’s going on in your heart—

Dennis: Right.

Bob: —‘and why you are cheating. All I care about is your quitting cheating. I don’t care about why you were cheating in the first place,’ we’re missing something, as a parent, if our focus—this is how you raise Pharisees. You get the outward behavior all cleaned up, and you ignore the internal.” 

Chris: Right. I mean, if all we are looking for is behavioral change, then we’re missing the boat because behavior is driven by the heart. If all we do is surface behavioral change, then we miss the biggest issue.

For a long time, I think that was our experience with our son, and it was an abrupt change. That doesn’t mean, if you seek heart change, you’re going to get behavioral change that’s 100 percent perfect all the time; but that’s the most important thing for a parent.



Michelle: I think a great example of that was—after we dropped Bob off at that treatment facility the first time, with heavy hearts, we came home, we went out to the mailbox, and we saw that he had gotten on the honor roll. You can intimidate them into wearing a mask. When you want them to be a reflection of you—sometimes, you are satisfied with outward compliance without really knowing who they are.

Bob: So, you guys have been through the school of hard knocks that have gotten you to where you are with your understanding of parenting. You’ve also been trained in the counseling program at Dallas Theological Seminary. You’ve written a book, you’ve done workshops, and you’ve talked with lots of parents.



I told you earlier that people ask me kind of “What’s your best advice on parenting?” If you look back on your experience and what you’ve learned—and you’re sitting down with young parents—they just brought home a baby or they’ve got a two-year-old and they’re saying, “Okay, we want to do this right,”—and you’ve got one piece of advice to give them, is there something that stands out?  Is it this idea of focus on the heart and the relationship ahead of the obedience?  Is that the main thing? 

Michelle: I think you’ve got to go back to your idea of “Where is your identity rooted?” and be willing to really look at “What motivates me?”  It is so hard to strip away what we think is motivating us and what is really motivating us—not only in our own lives but in our parenting.

Bob: So, our own identity / our own sense of “Are we parenting because we have something we are trying to accomplish for ourselves?”  or have we really pulled this back and said:



“What’s God all about, and what could we do that’s best for our child?”  I think that’s key.

Chris: And I think to add to that—so, it’s first looking at your agenda: “What’s your agenda?  Is it to create children that make you look good?—that make you proud, in a secular sense?”

Bob: Right.

Chris: Once you’ve gotten to that realization, I think, for me, the most important piece of parenting advice that I could give would be: “Walk, side by side, with your kids through life, empathetically. You don’t have to condone or accept all their choices, but walk with them and point them to God.” 

Dennis: “Point them to truth. Give them a standard to be able to live their lives by, but love them as you do that.” If you do that, then you’re going to be operating according to what the Scriptures talk about.

You guys continue in the book to go back to this concept of: “We’re really parented by God, and we need to see from the Bible how we are parented.”



Could you give us the essence of how you see God parenting us and kind of how you sought to apply that in your relationship with your two sons? 

Chris: What I see when I look at God—just the over-arching desire of God, which still flummoxes me a little bit—is He really, really, really loves us, and He wants us to respond to Him in love. He’s willing to put up with all our mistakes—big ones / little ones—in return for that genuine exchange of love. It’s that Abba Father kind of acceptance of Him and that He already gives to us.

Recognizing that / responding like that—that’s the way I want my kids to respond to me. I want them to know I love them unconditionally, and I want to know—



—I want to know the good, the bad, but then, be able to say: “I love you. There’ll be consequences, of course; but my love for you will never change.”  That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with my kids. In those moments, when we have that, that’s the real joy of parenting.

Dennis: Michelle, when I asked that question, “What did you learn from how God parented you that you applied with your sons?” you immediately started nodding your head.

Michelle: Well, because I just love the Garden [of Eden] story. To me, that’s such a blueprint for us. It’s clear that God was the authority in the Garden. He had boundaries—“You don’t eat from this tree,”—but He also gave lots of choices: “You can name the animals. Other than this tree, you can eat from wherever you want.”  To me, there is a certain amount of—it’s clear that He was the authority—He had boundaries, but He did give choices.


When Adam and Eve made that choice, He met them and He asked, “Where are you?”  He wanted to walk alongside them. There were consequences for their actions; but you notice, as He ushered them out of the Garden, He covered their shame. They were still in relationship.

But clearly, the lesson I took from that is: “How do you give your kids boundaries?  You give them choices within those boundaries; and then, you—when they cross those boundaries, you have consequences; but you give them with empathy.” 

Dennis: And I think about how God did love us, coming out of the Garden. Immediately after Adam and Eve betrayed God, He set about a story of redemption—the story of the Savior—and began to work out what He already knew He was going to do, which was send the second member of the Trinity to become flesh and dwell among us and demonstrate what His love looked like, in person, through Jesus Christ.



If there is a listener right now listening to us, who is going, “You know, I don’t know how God parented me because I don’t know God,”—it’s through His Son, Jesus Christ, and crying out to Him: “Be merciful to me, a sinner. Forgive my sins.”  And you know what?  He will come, He will clean you up, and He will indwell you.

And I’ll tell you what—in my opinion, He, along with the Holy Spirit, are the two best friends you have, as parents, if you want to parent as God as God has parented you.

Bob: Well, and that’s what you guys are advocating for in the book, Parenting by Design. You are talking about parents looking at how we have been parented by God and applying those same principles in how we parent our children.



I’ll just mention here, Dennis, we’ve got copies of the book, Parenting by Design, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can get a copy by going to to request theirs, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—either go online,; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order Parenting by Design.

And this, I think, would be a good book for parents to go through with other parents. I think just the process we’ve talked about this week—the process of being in community with others as you work through these things—I think would be really helpful.

Dennis: And I just want to say, “Thanks,” to you, Chris and Michelle, for not quitting / for facing some tough days with your children as they grew up into adulthood, and for turning your trials into triumphs, and putting them between two covers in a book and sharing your story with others because it brings a lot of hope to people to hear other followers of Christ, who haven’t quit, and who are still hanging in there and want to help others in the process.



Thanks for joining us.

Chris: Thank you.

Michelle: Thank you.

Bob: Well, and we should say here, too, “Thanks for staying together,” because there are a lot of couples who, in the midst of what you guys have gone through, rather than getting together and getting on the same page—they turn against one another, and it begins to impact their marriage.

And at FamilyLife, one of the things we’re all about is strong, healthy marriages. That’s been at the core for us for 40 years. In fact, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. As we celebrate, we are celebrating all of the tens of thousands of anniversaries that have happened—I should probably say hundreds of thousands of anniversaries that have happened over the years as a result of how God has used this ministry in people’s lives. In fact, we want to say, “Happy Anniversary!” today to Ralph and Candace Trenary who are celebrating ten years together today. They listen to FamilyLife Today on KQCV.



We’re glad to have them as listeners and want to wish them a “Happy Anniversary.” 

A lot of folks who have gone to and given us their anniversary dates so that we can send you some tips on how this can be your best anniversary ever this year. We’ve got some ideas for you, and we’ll be in touch with you right before your anniversary to share some of those tips with you. But go to and leave us your anniversary so we can help you celebrate this year.

Then, let me just also add a word of thanks to those of you who make FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who are financial supporters of this ministry, and especially those of you who are Legacy Partners. This month, we are hoping that we will see 20 new Legacy Partners in every state where FamilyLife Today is heard. If you would like to consider becoming a Legacy Partner, go to and click the button that says, “DONATE,” to find out more; or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Just say, “I’m interested in finding out more about becoming a Legacy Partner.”



Now, tomorrow, we want to encourage you to be back with us when we’re going to talk about boys becoming men: “What is it that we need to be doing, as dads, to help our sons make the leap into manhood?”  Randy Stinson is going to join us. I hope you can be here as well.


I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time 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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