The Grace to Forgive
Mike Berry, a foster dad of 23 kids over the years and father of eight adopted kids, talks about winning the heart of a child. Berry recalls the darkest season of his parenting years when his son, who suffers with fetal alcohol syndrome, was out of control and injured another child. He recalls what he felt that day and the words he spoke in anger. Seeking forgiveness, Berry tells how being willing to confess and offer grace to forgive is key in winning a child's heart.
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Mike Berry recalls the dark season of his parenting years when his son was out of control and injured another child. Berry tells how being willing to confess and offer grace to forgive is key in winning a child’s heart.
The Grace to Forgive
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. Someone has said that rules without relationship will lead to rebellion. We’re going to talk with Mike Berry today about building a positive lifelong relationship with your kids. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the big ideas that comes out of the Art of Parenting®video series, which you guys are a part of—
Bob: —have you been all the way through? Have you watched all of the episodes?
Bob: Probably haven’t.
Dave: We need to watch that.
Ann: I know; sorry. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, you don’t have kids at home; right? It’s not like immediately applicable for what you are dealing with, but great contributors to the Art of Parenting. One of the big ideas that pops out of it is that we need to be connecting, heart to heart, with our kids—that if all we’re trying to do is shape their behavior, but there is no relationship/there’s no heart connection, that is not a good strategy for parenting.
Dave: Yes; and I can tell you this, as an empty-nester parent now, that is the goal; you know? Now, when you’re adult to adult with your kids, if you haven’t built a relationship over those decades, they are not coming home; and they are not calling, so it’s crucial.
Ann: Well, I can remember the first time we heard Josh McDowell—and you have all heard this: “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.”
Ann: That stuck in us, as parents.
Bob: Well, Dennis Rainey, for years, said, “The relationship is the bridge that you can carry a truckload of truth across in those times when you need to; but if you don’t have the relationship/if the bridge is out, the truth doesn’t get from your side to the other side.”
We’ve got a friend back with us on FamilyLife Today who believes in this idea and has written a book called Winning the Heart of Your Child: 9 Keys to Building a Positive Lifelong Relationship with Your Kids. Mike Berry joins us. Mike, welcome back.
Mike: Thank you. It’s good to be back!
Bob: Mike is from central Indiana—from the Indianapolis area. He and his wife are the proud parents of—you ready?—eight children—
Bob: —eight adopted kids. We’ve already talked about this on FamilyLife Today; but you have adopted kids between the ages of—see if I get this right—10 and 34/24?
Mike: Close: 32—that’s close.
Bob: —10 and 32.
Bob: One of the unique things is—you adopted a 24-year-old daughter when she was 24.
Bob: Six of the eight, you fostered before you adopted—and we didn’t get to talk about this last time—but you fostered a lot of kids. How did you make the decision that some, who you fostered, you were going to adopt and others, you fostered, you didn’t?
Mike: You know, there are some situations where—and we fostered 23 kids—
Mike: —total, which is—here is what is interesting. When you say that number to—if you’re speaking to foster and adoptive parents, that’s like minor league.
Mike: There are people in front of us who have fostered like 300—
Mike: —400 kids; no kidding. So, like we’re softball compared to—
Bob: —the major leaguers.
Mike: —the major leaguers; yes.
Ann: Mike, you guys aren’t that old—
Mike: No; thank you.
Ann: —to have fostered that many kids.
Mike: You are like one of the only people who says that about me. My kids don’t believe that, but thank you. [Laughter] I’m not that old; no.
Dave: And you’re a grandparent.
Mike: I am; yes. I became a grandparent at 38, which was—
Mike: —that was kind of hard to get used to; but now, I’m used to it.
Bob: So, back to the question. You’ve got 23 kids going through the family, and 6 of them stick; why those 6?
Mike: You know, it really comes down to—when you foster to adopt, there are situations where reunification is not going to happen; and that’s really what it came down to when we—
Bob: Because the goal of fostering is—
Bob: —for those kids to be able to be back with their bio parents.
Mike: Yes; and that’s actually—I’m glad you said that; because a lot of people get into that journey, and they don’t realize that that is what the goal is; but there are also certain situations, where you can tell reunification is not going to happen. Birth/bio parents are not doing what they needed to do, and that becomes a foster-to-adopt situation.
Bob: In those situations, where you’ve not adopted, do you continue to have relationships with those foster kids?
Mike: We do; yes. We actually—we actually have continued to have a relationship with a child that we fostered when they were in their teen years and now older. We are still connected; it’s really cool—which is interesting; because back in the day, we didn’t think we would have a connection, and now we do.
Ann: Are you done adopting, or do you just keep that window open?
Mike: Now, if Kristin were here, she would answer that very differently than how I’m about to answer it. [Laughter] I believe that we are done because of what we do now and what our work consists of now, which is equipping parents—foster/adoptive parents mostly—but again, Kristin may look at you and say, “Well….” If you hear the “well,” it’s like: “Uh-oh. [Laughter] Hold on a second. Wait; wait, what’s…”—so, no.
Ann: So, her window may never be quite closed.
Mike: That’s true; that’s the momma’s heart.
Bob: Last time you were here, we talked about your book, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent. We’re going to talk about the new book you’ve written: Winning the Heart of Your Child.
Before we dive into this, when you were here before, Ann asked you a question about the darkest moment in your adoption journey and asked if you’d be willing to share that. Are you okay with telling us about—
Mike: Yes; yes.
Bob: —the challenges you’ve faced?
Mike: Yes; I am. I think I told you that I wrote about it earlier in the day, so it’s already out there; but I’ll share it again for anybody who doesn’t read our blog.
In 2011, I was called home from work, which I worked in the church at the time. I had kind of gone through a period, where over the three months previous, I think I had been called home about ten times because, at the time, I was working at the church. Kristin was a stay-at-home mom; and our oldest son, in particular, was just very—we had just received a diagnosis of alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorder a year earlier, which basically confirmed what we already knew—that he had this disorder.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder manifests itself in a lot of different ways. One of those ways can be extreme aggression/impulsivities, which can lead to dangerous circumstances. This particular day, he was completely dysregulated, destroying things in our house, out of control to the point that Kristin was like, “I can’t do this on my own anymore.” She called me, and I remember getting on the phone with her and talking to her. She says, “You know, I think everything is going to be okay.” Then we get off the phone.
About an hour later, I was in a team meeting with our family life team; and I get a call again. This time, she is sobbing—like I can’t even make out the words she is saying; you know? All I can make out in the middle of that was she mentioned our other son Jacob and, then, the word, “skull.” Then, when I finally could understand what she was saying, she said, “I can see Jacob’s skull.”
Mike: What had happened was—my oldest son became very, very aggressive—wasn’t getting his way. What you have to understand—listeners, who are in this circumstance with children who have FASD, they understand/they would understand this—that sometimes, it’s just—it’s all of a sudden, like the smallest thing, and they completely flip out.
He was standing in our living room. He didn’t like something that Kristin said to him, and he picks up a broom handle that didn’t have the brush part of it—it just had like the little part that you screw the brush on. He hurled it, like a javelin, across the room at her. As he did that, my—at that time—three-year-old son Jacob comes walking through the room, turns, and the broom hits him right about an inch from his eye—
Mike: —in his forehead. That’s why Kristin told me she could see his skull, because it just pierced right into his forehead. She calls me; and she says, after she calms down—she says, “I need you to come home right now,” because she had to take him to the ER; she had no way. She was like putting/holding a cloth on his forehead—pressing it/holding it close to his head.
I drive home really, really fast. I get there, and I’m already really, really scared; and I’m really, really angry. Now, I understand how trauma changes the brain; but back then, I didn’t. I thought we were talking about a bad kid who behaves badly. That’s not what we were talking—we’re talking about a child, who has gone through trauma; and it’s rendered him with an incapacity to think logically; right?
I walk in, and I am loaded for bear—I am going to take this eight-year-old out; I am so angry. I come upstairs; I bust into our room, where my wife is holding our other son. She is actually in an argument with my oldest son, at that point, because he had not cycled back to remorse. At that point, in his brain, he is still just agitated and angry.
I remember looking at him and saying: “You’re not my son. I don’t want to see your face again, and I want you out of my house,” to an eight-year-old kid. You know, those words haunt me to this day; they will forever haunt me. One of the things that happened in that moment is—I walked away from that feeling like: “Gosh, I’m such a failure! What kind of father says that to his child?”
Now, I was speaking out of—and anybody could say, “Well, somebody, who is very scared.” Yes; but in my mind, I felt/I kept thinking: “I’m a failure! I’m no good for this, and I’ll never be good for—I don’t deserve anything good.” Those moments happen often in my life. I realized—I just said this recently to a crowd I was speaking to—I talked about: “We go through these moments, where we feel like: ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘I’m a failure’; because we’ve screwed up,”— right?—but I said to the audience: “Do you want to know the truth? God never thinks that about us. We are the ones that think that about ourselves; but God doesn’t think that about us.”
My wife never thought that about me; my kids never thought that about me. I’m the one that thought I was a failure. Oftentimes, we beat ourselves up when we forget that our heavenly Father isn’t beating us up; you know?
Ann: But there is someone that is beating us up; and that is the accuser of our souls,—
Ann: —who is continually speaking lies to us of discouragement/of condemnation. I think that that’s important to recognize that there is a battle going on, even for us as parents.
Mike: Oh, absolutely. One of the things that the father of lies does is—he’s able to manipulate our voice and use it against us. That’s why we believe it, because we hear our own voice saying things/whispering to our own mind; and we believe our own voice. We wouldn’t believe Satan if he showed up in his true form—
Ann: —with his voice.
Mike: —with his voice. It would be like an orc from Middle Earth showing up. You’re like, “I’m not going to believe that”; right? But I am going to believe my own voice—right?—and I think that’s how the enemy works; you know?
Bob: You’ve come a long way from 2011, saying to an eight-year-old: “You’re not my child. Get out of my house. I don’t want to see you again.”
Ann: How did you handle—what went on? What happened after that that you reconciled that and forgave yourself?
Mike: So, I will be the first to say that the part of grace that I struggle with is giving grace to myself.
Ann: This is true for all parents.
Mike: —for all parents; yes. Like I always say, “You know the verse in 1 Timothy, Chapter 1, verse 15, where Paul says, “Everybody should believe this; that Jesus came to save sinners, for which, I am the worst.” I always react to that, like, “Yes; Paul, I’m going to accept that; but here is the part I’m accepting: ‘I am the worst,’—that’s what I accept”; right?
One of the things that I remember in that moment, in particular—and I think this is something that, when parents do this—it teaches their kid/their child such a valuable lesson. When you are able to go before your child and look them in the eye and own what you did—even if it is, maybe, embarrassing and hard—and seek their forgiveness, I think you’re teaching them how to seek forgiveness and how to forgive others.
I think that’s something that—for parents, that struggle with pride; like, “No, no; I’m just going to push it down; I’m going to forget it happened,”—I think you are missing out on a valuable opportunity to teach your children how to forgive others; how to seek out forgiveness, and how to give grace to others.
Dave: Did you do that with your son?
Mike: I did. You know, with my son, I knelt down before him. I just looked at him; and I said, “I—no father should ever say those words to their son. I wish I could take them back, and I am so sorry.”
I’ve had those moments because I’m the first to admit that I am still a massive screw-up in need of grace. I have had those moments, often, where I’ve had to say, “I own this.” I think ownership is big; I think ownership is a catalyst/it’s a funnel to forgiveness. It propels forgiveness forward; you know? When you can own something and say: “I own that. I made that mistake,” “I did that.”
Ann: And his response was?
Mike: He is a very forgiving kid. He said, “It’s okay, Dad”; then he hugged me. It was not easy. It’s still not easy, because pride always wants to claim first spot.
Dave: Well, it’s part of what the title of your book is about; right?—Winning the Heart of Your Child has to be you modeled it.
Mike: Yes; I’d like to think so.
Dave: I mean, there is a lot more to talk about, but—
Mike: There is; yes.
Bob: I was thinking the same thing. At the center of Winning the Heart of Your Child has got to be this ability to confess, to reconcile, to repent, to seek and grant forgiveness to one another. And moms and dads have got to recognize that’s not just teaching your kids how to confess and how to seek forgiveness; but it’s you demonstrating when you mess up that you confess and that you seek their forgiveness.
Sometimes, as parents, we feel like: “If I do that, I’m surrendering the authority position with my kids. I’m giving them power over me by saying: ‘I messed up. Will you forgive me?’ I just put power in their hands, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do with that power.” But it doesn’t work that way; does it?
Mike: No; it’s—I think that that is pride talking when parents believe that; you know? That’s exactly what our enemy wants us to believe. He wants us to believe that we’re going to lose power.
One of the points that I make in the book is—I pose this question: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be connected?” I think that we have this—we feel like it’s our job to always make sure our kids know that we are in charge, and we’re the boss, and that our word is the final word and whatnot; but I think in the process, if we get so drilled down on that, we miss an opportunity to communicate with their heart. I think that that focusing on their heart, while you’re still presenting them with boundaries, I think it teaches them to respect you even more so than if you were just lecturing and lecturing and always trying to have the last word.
Ann: Well, in the book, you have your nine keys; so can you walk through some of those? I mean, I’m looking at the first one—it says, “Blend love and discipline for influence.” What does that mean: “for influence”?
Mike: You know, I think that we have this imbalance, sometimes, as parents. We want to be all loving/all loving so our kids aren’t mad at us, and they are not upset, and they are not—they have this good life. I see young parents doing this all the time—it’s like, “Well, we don’t say the word, ‘No.’” I’m always like, “Well, then what do you say?” because we say, “No,” in our house; right?—you know?
Or you have the parents, on the other side of it, that are like: “It’s all rules/all rules.”
Ann: —and it’s always “No.”
Mike: Yes; yes; it’s always rules—it’s rigid; it’s like marching orders.
I think that—if you can figure out how to blend those together/if you can present boundaries in a loving way—discipline has this stigma that it has to be harsh; it doesn’t. You can discipline your child in a loving way.
Mike: It has to do with the way you present yourself—the tone that you use.
Bob: Well, the root word is the same as the word, “disciple.” Disciplining a child is discipling your child. Jesus was not a harsh discipler of men.
I go back—I was reading your chapter—and I was thinking about a study that was done—I think this was at the University of Minnesota, years ago—they said, “All kids are asking two questions of their parents: “Do you love me?” and “Can I do whatever I want?” They said, “Some parents will answer that question by saying, ‘Yes; I love you desperately, and you can probably do whatever you want.’”
Bob: Those are the parents who have left the discipline out of the equation, and they are the permissive parent. They’ll have a great relationship, but those kids are going to get away with stuff that are going to be/could be harmful to them.
Then there is another group of parents; and they say, “No; of course, you can’t do whatever you want; and you are going to wonder whether I love you, because I’m so committed to the rules,”—that’s the authoritarian parent. That goes back to what you mentioned, Ann, which is: “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.”
We’ve got to be saying to our kids: “I love you desperately; and of course, you can’t—
Bob: —“get away with whatever you want; because that’s—the reason you can’t get away with whatever you want is because I love you desperately”; right?
Ann: Well, I was so intrigued, several years ago. I was speaking to a high school youth group, and I had several girls come up to me afterward. One girl was 14 years old, and she was crying. I said, “Tell me what’s going on.” She said: “I have a mom that’s raising me that lets me do anything and everything,” and “I have no curfew. I can do anything I want with boys.” I said, “What do you feel about that?” She said, “I don’t think my mom loves me”—
Ann: —“because all of my friends—they have some restrictions and rules. I feel like—I feel like their parents are more invested, and they love me.” Isn’t that interesting?
Bob: Yes; that is.
Ann: I was a little surprised—but not surprised—because love is discipline. Love is—
Ann: —that shows love/boundaries bring security to our kids.
Mike: I think kids crave that; you know? That’s what I’ve discovered. I would have kids come into my office, when I was youth pastor, years ago. I had this one child in particular—I’ll never forget this—he came in, and he was upset; he was frustrated. As we began talking, he would say to me: “Well, my parents don’t care how late I stay out. They don’t care who I hang out with. They don’t care whether I am here at this youth group or at a party somewhere.”
At one point, I said, “You know, there is a phrase you keep saying, and it’s: ‘My parents don’t care,’—that keeps coming back.” I said, “I think that, maybe, your struggles are you really feel lost; because you have parents who are disconnected from you,”—I don’t think I said it quite like that, but it was somewhere along those lines.
Kiddos, even if they look at boundaries—like, “I don’t want a curfew,”—they still crave that in their heart of hearts because it means that their parents are connected to them.
Dave: Yes; I actually think, when the boundary is set up and clearly defined—three-year-old/thirteen-year-old—it doesn’t matter—they actually feel safe.
Mike: Yes; yes.
Dave: You think, as a parent, “I’m restricting them; they’re not going to have freedom.”
I think they feel free because they are going to bump up against that fence/that boundary—guaranteed. Parents shouldn’t go, “I can’t believe they are,”—of course, they are! You are a sinner, who birthed sinnerlings; right? [Laughter] They’re going to bounce up against that thing; so they are sort of saying, “Will this be enforced?”
Mike: Yes; yes.
Dave: You know, as a parent, you think: “If I enforce this, I’m going to be restricting them. They’ll hate me.” You’ve already said it—the truth is—they want it enforced. Now, they know what the boundary is; they actually feel freedom within the boundary, and they feel loved.
Bob: Two of the key themes in the Art of Parenting® video series—one is that the way you build character in a child is through discipline. Discipline is how kids learn character, but just right alongside that is kids have to learn how to be good at relationships. Part of the way they learn how to be good at relationships with others is by having a healthy relationship with you—it’s what you model—so this is where these two ideas of discipline and love are melded together.
I keep coming back to what the Bible says in John 1:14, where it talks about Jesus. It says, “We beheld the glory of the Father, the only begotten Son of the Father, who was full of”—catch it—“full of grace and truth.” If grace is that overflow of love and truth is where the correction and discipline come in, here’s Jesus, who is full of both—not 50/50—100/100.
As parents, we need to be full of grace and truth—full of love for our kids; and full of truth, and correction, and discipling. That’s a part of how you win the heart of your child, which is the title of the book that Mike Berry has written: Winning the Heart of Your Child: 9 Keys to Building a Positive Lifelong Relationship with Your Kids. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
I mentioned the Art of Parenting video series that deals with this same subject. It’s an important aspect of parenting, and it’s in the video series. If you’ve not gone through this series with your small group or with another group of parents—kids [your children’s] age—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out how you can get the Art of Parenting video series that includes the movie, Like Arrows. That’s a great way to invite folks into a dialogue about parenting—watch the movie together and then say, “Who wants to go through this video series with us?”
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on this resource or to get a copy of Mike Berry’s book, Winning the Heart of Your Child; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or you’d like to order these resources by phone.
Speaking of the Art of Parenting, we’re making copies of that book available this week to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. Today’s program was made possible because listeners, like you, made it possible for you to listen. In fact, if you are a regular listener, somebody has been covering the cost of producing and syndicating this program so that you’d have access to these programs. And we’re grateful for those of you who have pitched in to help make all of this possible.
If you’re a longtime listener, and you’ve never made a donation, why don’t you join the team today? Let us send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, The Art of Parenting, as our thank-you gift. You can keep the book or pass it on to someone you know, who may be in the middle of raising a family, and would benefit from getting a copy of the book. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Thanks for partnering with us; thanks for joining the team. We look forward to hearing from you.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we are going to continue talking about how we, as parents, can maximize and leverage our influence to help our children through the teen years and keep our relationship with them intact. Mike Berry will join us tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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