FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Purposeful Parenting

with Susan Merrill | April 30, 2013
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Mom, you know you have to protect your children. But do you know how? Mother of five Susan Merrill, director of the popular website, talks to moms about cultivating patience. Susan tells how, in one particular situation involving a wayward child, she relinquished her anxiety and frustration to the Lord and found a refreshing answer. Susan reminds us that God loves the prayer of a helpless parent.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Mom, you know you have to protect your children. But do you know how? Mother of five Susan Merrill, director of the popular website, talks to moms about cultivating patience. Susan tells how, in one particular situation involving a wayward child, she relinquished her anxiety and frustration to the Lord and found a refreshing answer. Susan reminds us that God loves the prayer of a helpless parent.

  • 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.

Susan Merrill talks to moms about cultivating patience.

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Purposeful Parenting

With Susan Merrill
April 30, 2013
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Bob: As a mom, do you need to back off a little bit? Susan Merrill says a part of the art of motherhood is knowing when you need to be engaged and when you need to let your children do life on their own.

Susan: I think we see this a lot—even in just homework—and I have failed at this. You’re so—you want them to be done. They’ve got to get in bed. You do it for them because you are impatient for them to go to bed.

I think, as moms, it’s really hard not to do that for your kids because they are born to you, helpless. You’re used to doing everything for them. You’ve failed to recognize, “Okay, they are growing into little people and that the Holy Spirit can work in them.” Let Him do that instead of you trying to fix them.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. One of the things every mom needs to learn is when to be a wall to protect your children and when to be a gate to let them experience what life is all about. We’ll talk more about that with Susan Merrill today. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, were there more walls or gates at your house when your kids were growing up? [Laughter]

Dennis: Well, maybe we should have our guest on today’s program explain the difference between—

Bob: A wall and a gate?

Dennis: —a wall and a gate. Susan Merrill joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Susan.

Susan: Thank you.

Dennis: What’s the difference between a wall and a gate?

Susan: Okay. The wall is really the mom. The mom is the wall. So, it’s building you to be a strong protection for your child.

Every January, I kind of choose something to study. As I read Nehemiah, I just got excited because I could relate to him. He was passionate about the Israelites the way I am passionate about my children. The people were in trouble because the wall was broken down and the gates were burned. He knew that meant danger to them—physical danger. We all get that, as parents. We do not want our children to be physically in danger; but Nehemiah had another concern, and that was the wall protected the temple.

Well, where does God reside today?—in us. So, the temple is our bodies. Well, what wall is protecting the little temples or potential little temples? We have to be that wall.

Dennis: And the gate?

Susan: And the gates are opportunities for your child to go out into the world, with privileges, and see if they’re ready to do it. So, you open the gate.

It’s like when you have a child. Your child goes into your arms. They can’t move without you. When they are a toddler, they don’t really leave a room—they can’t even reach the door knob without you. Then, they get a little bit older, and you let them in the backyard. They don’t go out the gate without you. When they go to school or a friend’s house, they are watched as tykes. Then, you know, in teens, they start—the gates get a little wider. [Laughter]

Bob: So, I have a practical question for you; and that is: “Let’s say you have a ten-year-old daughter. She comes home; and she says: ‘Mommy, Ruthie is having a sleep-over at her house on Friday night. Can I go?’ Do you open the gate? How do you know—whether you open the gate or not—with your ten-year-old?”

Susan: Well, here’s where you would have had to been perceptive about how your child handled similar situations that might be leading up to that. Like, have they been to birthday parties alone that were just an hour? If they did, how did you set that up? Did you go and meet the mother first? Did you talk to the mother? Do you know these people?

I always ask my children: “Do you like this family? What do you like about their family? What do you like about this child?”

Dennis: I’ll bet you actually went to some of those birthday parties and just watched.

Susan: Oh, yes!

Bob: That’s what walls do; isn’t it?

Susan: Exactly; if your child wants to go somewhere with another child—call the mom—offer to drive. Don’t send your daughter up to the door to pick up the child. You go up to the door—introduce yourself to that mom. You have to build your mom- network. Then, I always say—when you’re done and you’ve brought the child home—maybe, you took them to the zoo or wherever—you walk the child up again and give that mom a compliment about their child. You will win friends.

If you make it a point to connect and: “I really enjoyed having your daughter. Her manners are so good. I love that our girls are friends. I’d love to have you over,”—it is hospitality. You want to be hospitable with the parents of your children’s friends.

Bob: We should explain why our guest knows so much about being a mom and—[Laughter]

Dennis: Well, she gives leadership to®, which really wants to come alongside moms—encourage them, provide them with daily tips and reminders about being a mom. You’re a mom of five children, yourself. You’ve been married to Mark Merrill for 24 years. He heads up Family First®. You’ve just completed a book called The Passionate Mom, and you’re all about alliteration in this book—lots of “P’s”. [Laughter]

Susan: Lots of “P’s.”

Dennis: Lots of “P’s” around the wall. The one that I think is in short supply, in a lot of moms’ lives today, is the one we’re going to start out with today.

Susan: Okay.

Dennis: It’s the “P” of patience.

Susan: Patience, yes.

Dennis: You think a mom should be patient. You’re really—this is really stepping on some toes, at this point, undoubtedly—

Susan: Yes.

Dennis: —because I don’t know anything that tests the patience of a human being more than a child does, especially the mother.

Susan: Well, and in the book, I start with a big, fat confession. This is in my top-three list of failures—is being patient. You’d think—I’ve had so many great lessons from God. You’d think I would have learned to master this, but it’s just really tough. I say: “Patience is like my car keys. They are lost and found in the strangest places.” I mean, sometimes I have it; and sometimes I don’t. You never know where it’s going to show up.

Bob: You had to cultivate patience. A couple of your kids dealt with loss in their past by not always telling you the truth; right?

Susan: Yes; yes. I have two children that I adopted—older. They were raised in Russia—in a remote area, in a very difficult situation—and learned to really cope by lying. So, that created a little three-ringed circus in our house when we got them.

Dennis: What do mean they coped by lying—

Susan: Well—

Dennis: —because I don’t think you have to grow up in an orphanage in Russia—

Susan: Right, that’s true.

Dennis: We had some little liars, at certain ages, with our kids, as well.

Susan: Yes. They had learned really to distrust adults. So, they made things happen their own way in the way that they saw that was right for them.

Bob: They just manufactured the reality they wanted.

Susan: Exactly.

Bob: Yes.

Susan: Exactly. And then, it didn’t even matter, sometimes, if they hadn’t done something wrong. If they were put on the spot, their defense was to lie, even if it wasn’t anything wrong. It was just a mechanism, I guess.

Bob: So, how did you deal with that, as a mom, because you want to be able to trust your kids? Sometimes, you don’t know if they’re telling you the truth or not. You’re suspicious, but you don’t have proof. What did you do?

Susan: It was really hard because with five kids there’s lots of wiggle room there. It could have been anybody. In this one situation—I talk about in the book—it was really tough because I really knew that, in my heart, that she had done this—but especially, with adopted kids—that you adopt older—you don’t want to always be coming down on them and suspecting. You’re trying to build a relationship. So, it’s really hard to build the relationship and also maintain discipline and accountability.

So, in this one situation, I was not patient. I was trying to solve it on my own. It was creating havoc—what she was doing—and I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t catch her in it, and I was really stressing myself out. I was being impatient. I was anxious. I got to the end of the rope. I talked about this earlier. I literally was dreading picking them up from carpool, where the whole cycle would begin again.

I lay down, and I was still, and I just prayed: “Lord, I have tried to figure this out. I have been impatient with it. I am wrong. I know you have a plan for this in our family. I know You will bring it to an end when You want.” That’s when I got this idea—just from being still—is that I was going to send her to her room, and tell her that I knew she had done something wrong, and she needed to write it down. When she had written it down, she could come downstairs and show it to me.

All of a sudden, when I finally relinquished my control and patiently waited for God, He revealed all kinds of things in the next three days because the burden was then on her to produce the truth instead of the burden being on me to find the truth.

Dennis: She wrote a long list—a confessional list.

Susan: Many lists.

Dennis: As you were writing about this in your book, I couldn’t help but think of the need moms have to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Susan: Yes.

Dennis: If you think about Galatians, Chapter 5, and how Paul said, “The deeds of the flesh are evident.” He talks about all these nasty things that we do when we get full of ourselves and we don’t allow God to be God in our lives. They’re all natural; but it says, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience—”

Susan: Patience.

Dennis: Patience. And I don’t think we often enough call moms and dads—or for that matter, just friends—to rethink and reapply who the Holy Spirit is and what He came to do in our inner most being. He came to produce mature fruit in our lives. The fruit won’t occur immediately. It won’t be an instant love, instant joy, instant peace, patience.

But over time, if you do what you’re talking about—and as I listen to your story, what you said was: “I relinquished. I gave up.” You said, “Okay, God, I’m not going to fix this. I’m going to see what You can do.” At that point, as God produced patience in your life, He had a chance to work in your daughter’s life. I wonder, many times, if we don’t short-circuit the process with our kids by trying to be God in their lives and fix everything immediately. We’re missing a real opportunity, in our own lives, to grow and to mature.

Susan: I think we see this a lot—even in just homework—and I have failed at this. You want them to be done. They’ve got to be in bed, and you do it for them because you are impatient for them to go to bed. I think, as moms, it’s really hard not to do that for your kids because they’re born to you, helpless. You’re used to doing everything for them. You fail to recognize, “Okay, they are growing into little people, and that the Holy Spirit can work in them.” Let Him do that instead of you trying to fix them. It’s really hard, as a mother, to start pulling back on that and allowing God to do it in them.

Bob: Let me ask you how that story ended. When your daughter finally came down with the long list of things she had done, did that mean she was grounded for life? I mean, how did you respond to that confession on her part?

Susan: Well, she had already been in her room for three days. I just thanked her for the truth. I laid all the papers on the table. I said: “This is a lot that I knew was going on. It’s really important for me to know, as the mom. It’s really important for you to understand, that when you lie like this, it wreaks havoc on the whole family; and it’s not fair. You wouldn’t want me to do that to you.” So, there wasn’t a huge consequence at the end of that or anything.

Dennis: But it was a spiritual breakthrough.

Susan: Yes. She became an honest person. I didn’t always like what she said, going forward, because she was already at a more rebellious stage; but I appreciated that she had learned to be honest.

Bob: Well, and I think what you did was important for this reason—when she confessed—at some level, you affirmed the goodness of confession—if we do that with our kids—when they tell us the truth—when we say: “That is good. Thank you!”—and what they did was wrong and has to be dealt with—but when you can affirm the goodness of the confession, it helps them learn to be confessors rather than concealers.

Susan: Right; right.

Bob: And kids are natural concealers. If they’re going to get in trouble, they’re not going to tell you; but if they learn that confession is affirmed, they’ll start to do that.

Susan: Yes.

Dennis: It really brings health; it brings life. That’s what a mom wants in her child’s life.

I’ve got to clarify one thing because there is a listener still caught back at the statement you made—you kept your daughter in the room for three days.

Susan: Right.

Dennis: Now, what exactly did that look like? I mean, you didn’t shut the door and keep her in the room for three days.

Susan: No, no, no. She had meals with us and went with us wherever we were going; but she wasn’t allowed to go out with friends or that kind of thing. So, she was basically—until she produced the lie that I knew about—which wasn’t the big one. It was a little one. I said, “No, Honey, there is still more out there.” It was more of an assignment for her: “You need to go finish your assignment. Your assignment was to tell me what you’ve done.”

Bob: She was under house-arrest, not in prison—just under house-arrest.

Susan: Yes. [Laughter]

Dennis: I couldn’t help but smile as you tell the story, though. God loves the prayer of a helpless parent.

Susan: Yes, helpless!

Dennis: And you were helpless—a helpless parent—and He loves to break through, at those moments, if we’ll just relinquish and let Him go to work.

Susan: He did. Well, and I’ll tell you. It caused me such a chuckle because I’d spent so many weeks trying to figure it all out. Things came out that I had no idea had been done!

Dennis: Some—

Susan: I was like, “This is very freeing.”

Dennis: I can’t tell you how much I identify with what you are expressing there, as a dad, and for Barbara, as a mom, too. Many of our listeners don’t even know who this person is—but he was an actor, Peter Falk. He was Columbo, and he had a top coat. He would rub his forehead, trying to figure out these detective mysteries. He was like Sherlock Holmes.

Bob: Yes—“Just one more thing. I’ve just got one more question;” yes.

Dennis: “Just one more question.” And Barbara and I felt like we were Columbo, as parents, who could determine: “What’s right?” “Who did it?” “Who’s wrong?” You needed some kind of spiritual DNA testing on the child to figure out what the truth was; but in these moments, when you finally say to God: “God, look, You know what’s happening here. You know what the truth is. I beseech You. Would You help me?”

Susan: Yes. And I have to say I’m one of those moms who feels really bad, too. So, I didn’t want to always accuse— especially, my new adopted children of what was going on—but you knew this behavior wasn’t here before. So, it was something—it’s got to be something. It does put a mom in a tight space—to always be accusing. It’s hard.

Dennis: Well, Barbara—I’d come home from work, and Barbara would say to me—she’d say, “All I’ve done today”—“All I’ve done today is discipline the kids.”

Susan: Yes, you feel so badly!

Dennis: You know? Time-out, here! Yes, we spanked our kids. There were spankings. There were, “Send them to their rooms,”—a penalty—but she would just get exhausted.

Susan: It is exhausting. And it pops that pretty bubble in your head of your picture of your family and how you are going to be. You know? We all want that family that’s loving and fun. And when you have days like that, on end, you feel like: “What am I doing wrong? Why is this like this?”

Dennis: There is something else you talk about that I think moms just need to be reminded of here, briefly. You talk about the need for adding the brick of purposeful parenting—being purposeful about what you are building into your child’s life. Explain what you mean by that.

Susan: Well, I didn’t have this in the beginning. I mean, I knew what I thought I would want my child to look like; but really, for parents, we don’t sit down—like we would with a job and do strategic planning for the year, or strategic, long-range planning—the ten-year plan. Really, we should. We should have that target we’re shooting for because without the target that we’re shooting for, we have no purpose of what we’re doing.

So, I kind of developed Luke 2:52 as my target. I would like my children “to grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.” I kind of broke it into parts, saying: “Okay, so, are they getting wiser? Are they making wise choices? Are they doing well in school? Are they doing this? Physically, are they healthy?” So, it just helped me break it up with each child—and you as—you have a lot of kids. You know, as you add kids, it’s kind of hard to keep track of it all; but I needed the parameters to assess.

Bob: Yes. I don’t want to run too fast by Luke 2:52 because I think it’s a great grid for parents to use. Grow in wisdom—skill in everyday living, knowing how to make wise choices, wise friendships—all that. Grow in stature. So, you want their physical bodies to be growing—to be healthy, to be developing. To grow in favor with God—and that is developing spiritual disciplines and a spiritual routine.

I’ve said to parents, many times, “Our kids know there is a God.” They do! It’s imprinted on their heart. The question is not, “Do they know there is a God?” The question is, “Are they going to yield their lives to that God?” So, growing in favor with God is really learning to depend on, to yield to, to submit to—that His will supersedes their will. That’s growing in favor with God. And then—growing in favor with men—being a good friend, cultivating healthy relationships.

If you get those right, as a parent, when a child 16, 18, 21, you’re going to look back and go, “I feel pretty good about where my son or daughter is;” aren’t you?

Susan: You are. And I will say this to moms because I don’t want them to be discouraged, right off the bat, hearing that. I have also had to trust in each of my children in different areas—that maybe they’re not going to be where I want them to be when they leave home—but that God is going to use that in their life—and go back to my life—I wasn’t there in all areas, but everybody grows in paces at a different tempo. I have such different kids, and I just see that. I think moms get anxious, “Oh, they are not doing this or that!” Again, it’s allowing God to equip them as He uses things in their lives.

One of my children is not healthy. She’s not. She has Addison’s Disease, and she’s going to struggle with that her whole life. Would I have wanted that? No, but God is going to use it in her life. So, that’s just where, as a mom, we have to also let go and not be discouraged if we don’t feel our children—

Bob: And our children may not be walking with the Lord like we’d like them to—

Susan: Exactly; exactly.

Bob: —at different stages in their life. Or they may run off into the wilderness and say: “You know what? I’m not interested in this.”

Susan: Exactly.

Bob: As parents, we have to continue to be faithful to do what God has called us to do—to pray for them, to ask Him—the One who loves them more than we do—to draw them back, and just stay faithful in that process.

Susan: It is—it is a hard thing for a mom. We’re often under the pile.

Dennis: I appreciated you—you almost said it under your breath—but I appreciated you saying that you didn’t have a clear purpose when you started out, as a mom.

Susan: Oh, no. Yes, absolutely. Part of the reason that—I didn’t plan on writing a book. I give a speech to MOPS mothers, and—my husband heard about it—is that I want moms to know what I didn’t know. I think if they could use some of what I learned—through all the different situations in my children—to assess, and get a picture or ideas of what they can do with their child, they are going to be better—so much better—than I was. That’s really my hope for the book is that it will be that place where they can assess, “What am I doing before it is done?”

Dennis: I quote this passage, many times, when we talk about moms. I turn over to Proverbs, Chapter 31. I just love the phrase—it says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing,” speaking of the Proverbs 31 woman, “and she laughs at the time to come.”

Moms need to realize that they’re not always going to be herding a bunch of “rug rats” and always dealing with human nature that refuses to be conquered by a mom—and they are going to rebel. They’re not always going to do what we ask them to do. But if we’re faithful, as moms and dads, to do what He called us to do, then, it allows God to be God in their lives as they are grown-ups.

And I have to say to moms, “You’re not ever going to stop being a mom.” You need to know that. That is your DNA, and you’re going to worry. I had to correct my mom, as an 80-year-old woman, one time and say: “Mom! I’m an adult. Stop worrying about me!” I didn’t realize, at the time, because I didn’t have enough sense, at that point, to realize she was a mother!

Susan: Right; right. Yes.

Dennis: That’s a part of what it is to be concerned about and kind of fret over and think about how your children are doing, even when they become—

Susan: It’s that passion. It never leaves you—

Dennis: Yes.

Susan: —as a mom.

Dennis: So, don’t give up.

Susan: No.

Dennis: Keep on preserving because you are performing, I think—it has to be one of the top three jobs in America. If it’s not number one, I don’t know what is.

Susan: Yes.

Dennis: It’s shaping the character, and the conscience, and the soul of the next generation. They’re going to take our place if Christ doesn’t come back. We’re in that relay race. We’ve got to make a good hand-off.

Bob: You are so right. If you care about the direction the culture is going, the most important thing you can do is pour into the citizens who are going to be in the culture, a generation from now.

Dennis: Raise a warrior—a son, or a daughter, or a herd of them—that are going to make a difference in the next generation because, I promise you, the next generation is going to need them.

Bob: And moms are on the frontline of that, and they need help. They need encouragement. That’s what Susan is providing for them in the book that she’s written, called The Passionate Mom. You can go to to request your copy. Order from us online—again, at—or call and request The Passionate Mom. 1-800-FL-TODAY is our toll-free number—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

Now, we are very appreciative of those of you who get in touch withus, from time to time, to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. I think most of yourealize the programs you hear on this station—most of them, like FamilyLife Today—are listener- supported. It is folks, like you, who say: “You know what? That program—that’s something I want to make sure continues—not just for me—but for other listeners, as well.” And you go online, or you give us a call, and you make a donation to make sure that happens. We are grateful to those of you who do that, from time to time—very grateful for our Legacy Partners, who do that on a monthly basis.

And today, if you make a donation to help support the ministry, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Tracey Eyster’s book called Be the Mom. In it, Tracey talks about some of the traps that moms can routinely fall into. She offers counsel on how to avoid those traps and what to do if you do step in one of them. Again, go to You can click on the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation. We’ll send you a copy of Tracey’s book when you do that, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone; and ask for a copy of the book, Be the Mom, when you get in touch with us. We appreciate your support, and we’re always happy to hear from you.

And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’ll continue our conversation with Susan Merrill and talk about the important role a mom plays in shaping the lives of the next generation. I hope you can tune in 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 will 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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