FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Worry-Free Parent: Sissy Goff

with | May 1, 2024
Play Pause

Anxiety has an amazing ability to spread. Time and time again, when veteran counselor and parenting expert Sissy Goff has an anxious child or teen in her office, she's found they have at least one very well-intentioned but anxious parent. Anxiety is contagious. How can you keep it from defining your family's future?

  • 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.

Anxiety has an amazing ability to spread. Are your kids picking up on your worries? Don’t let anxiety shape your family’s future.

MP3 Download Transcript

The Worry-Free Parent: Sissy Goff

May 01, 2024
| Download Transcript PDF

Sissy: Parents today come in wanting tools for their kids more than anything. I think tools help us, but tools don’t really transform us. It’s our faith that transforms us, so we want to come at worry and anxiety from a really practical level that’s going to help us in the moment, and we want to come at it from a foundational level of faith that’s going to change us in the process.

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

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: So, we wrote a book called No Perfect Parents.

Ann: Yes, we did.

Sissy: I have it in my office from before I ever met y’all.

Dave: Oh, really?

Sissy: Yes.

Dave: Here’s a question: have you ever read it? [Long silence] That’s okay. Whatever. [Laughter] Like most people. No. I don’t even think our kids read it, and they wrote in it. So often, as parents, we strive to be perfect; not that we can, but we want to be the best we can be. At the end of the day, there are no perfect parents at all.

Ann: It’s funny, Dave, because I remember the stage of having toddlers and babies, and I would lie down in bed every night, and I would be tormented with my failures; with my loss of compassion, with yelling, with trying to get a clean house, and I was failing at everything. I do remember, as I wrote the book, all the things I felt like God reminded me: “Talk about and think about in your mind the things you did right today.”

Sissy: I love that.

Ann: I got up, and I bathed our children that day, and I fed them three meals. Many times, we don’t think about the good things we’ve done; we only think of the negative.

Dave: We have an expert sitting in the studio today. Sissy Goff is back. I mentioned one time, you’re the world’s renowned, in my mind, one of the best counselor-therapists I know.

Sissy: So kind.

Ann: To us you are, Sissy.

Sissy: Y’all are so sweet.

Ann: We have you on a very high pedestal.

Sissy: There are a lot out there that are really great, but I’ve been doing it a long time, which helps.

Dave: I want to know from your perspective—your parents, my parents, our parents worried. I know they did.

Sissy: Yes.

Dave: But compared to the culture we’re in today, it just feels like it’s so chaotic; and as parents, and now as grandparents, the worry feels heavier. You’re the expert. Is it? Is that’s what’s going on? Is that what you’re seeing?

Sissy: Yes. Two things: I think it feels more pervasive. I feel like it’s everywhere because of these—

Ann and Dave: —phones.

Sissy: —our phones, yes. So, we’re inundated with all the things that are going wrong in the world, we’re inundated with all the things that might go wrong, and we’re inundated with all the people who are telling us exactly how to do it right.

Dave: Yes.

Sissy: And they all have different opinions.

Dave: Yes.

Sissy: I think that’s one of the hardest things as I hear from parents today. It’s like, “Well, I read about this new thing I need to be doing,” or “I heard about this—” I literally have been saying to parents, “I want you to pick one or two voices that you trust, and don’t listen to any other ones.”

Ann: That’s good!

Sissy: “Just pick a couple that you feel like resonate with you and what fits for who you are, and let the rest go.” That whole movement right now is making me want to lose my mind about, “You only have 18 summers and 52 weeks and 395,000 seconds.” [Laughter] Every time I hear that—I’m not even a parent, and I think—

Ann: —we’ve preached that! We did a series in church on that. [Laughter]

Sissy: Oh, no. I’m so sorry.

Dave: Yes. I even got up there with a jar full of marbles, and I pulled one out and said, “There goes one week.” [Laughter] “There goes another one.” I remember people carried marbles around in their pockets for years.

Ann: And other signs that you’re an anxious parent. [Laughter]

Dave: You’re right. Even back in the day, when we were young parents, there was just starting to be quite a bit of material.

Sissy: Yes.

Dave: I don’t think there was before that, but Focus on the Family and James Dobson—

Sissy: —I was going to say, probably before Dobson, there wasn’t a lot.

Dave: —you name it; and now it’s everywhere. I think now as you just held up your phone, if you want a sermon—I used to love it when I was the only preacher my people heard. It’s like there are so many voices, and that causes anxiety.

Sissy: Yes, yes.

Ann: I think the thing that we can do, because when I was a young mom, I’d maybe listen to Dobson, and you know what I did the other times? I just prayed my guts out.

Sissy: Yes.

Ann: So, now what do we do? If a young mom asks me, I say, “Oh, have you listened to this, or this, or read this book?” When it would be better for me to say, “Oh, man. Fall on your face before God, and tell Him everything you’re feeling and carrying, and give it to Him.”

Sissy: I think to hear God’s voice, we have to quiet the voice of worry, because it’s talking to us so much.

Ann: Yes.

Sissy: Can I read y’all something that I read in a devotional that I love, that talks about God’s voice versus Satan’s voice? Have you ever read this? It’s in a lot of different places.

It says, “God’s voice stills you; Satan’s voice rushes you. God’s voice leads you; Satan’s voice pushes you. God’s voice reassures you; Satan’s voice frightens you. God’s voice enlightens you; Satan’s voice confuses you. God’s voice encourages you; Satan’s voice discourages you. God’s voice comforts you; Satan’s voice worries you. God’s voice calms and convicts you, and Satan’s voice obsesses and condemns you.”

Ann: Ohhh.

Sissy: Doesn’t that feel true?

Ann: Really true.

Sissy: That’s worry to me. That’s how worry impacts us. I love the truth. Just even reading that makes me feel differently. So, when we can get to His voice and realize that He’s going to talk to you about your kids more than he’s going to talk to me as the “expert” (I’m doing air quotes) in the room.

Ann: I remember, our kids—I’ve shared this, I think, before, but—they were all teenagers. I think two were in college. It was the summer. They were all home, and I’m asking them to do something. You know, the first weeks a kid comes home from college, and when they’re out of school, it takes you a week or two to adjust to the craziness of everyone being home in the summer.

So, I say, “Guys! We need to get this done!” And I’m giving this whole list of things to do, and they’re laughing, and they all have their phones in their hands. I say, “What are you guys laughing about?” And they say, “Oh, Mom, we’re just texting each other saying how crazy you are.” I got so mad. I said, “You know what? Nobody appreciates me,” so, I go stomping out of the house, and I go for a long walk.

I started venting to God: “Lord, did You see how unappreciated I am? I do so much,” and I’m whining, but venting to Him. And then. I feel this in my soul: I feel like the Holy Spirit impressing me to think about—and this was my prayer: “God, tell me what You think of the boys. I’ve vented to You what I think is going on, like [whining] ‘he doesn’t do this, and he never does this’.”

It was one of the most miraculous walks I’ve ever been on.

Sissy: Wow.

Ann: Because just through the Holy Spirit, He reminded me of all the greatness in each boy. Things that I had never thought of came to my mind. I came home, and I saw them in a whole different picture. Things like, “This boy—wait until you see his voice and his leadership.” I came home, and instead of seeing who he couldn’t be, and who he wasn’t being, I had a picture of what they could be as they walked with Jesus.

But, man, isn’t that true, that we can get in this pattern?

Sissy: Yes.

Ann: But also going before God and just telling Him everything you’re feeling, because He wants to know, because He loves us, and He wants to carry it for us.

Sissy: Yes, and He loves them.

Ann: Yes. He loves them so much.

Sissy: Yes.

Dave: Several times in your book, you say, “Great parents get it right maybe half the time.”

Sissy: Isn’t that wild?

Dave: Yes.

Ann: That’s so good.

Sissy: That comes from attachment theory, which you know is about the very beginning of a child’s life, when their brain is growing, doubling in size. So, if, during that time of life, parents need to only get it right 50 percent of the time when their brain is growing that fast, of course it’s true for the rest of life. That’s so good. Fifty percent! This bar that’s being created as I’m scrolling is not real.

Dave: Yes, and I think a lot of our anxiety is we don’t get it right, and that’s probably ten percent or twenty percent, and we’re beating ourselves up, like you do [Ann]. You did it every night. Talk about 50 percent! You were way over 50 percent, and yet you think, the best parents miss it that much. That gives you some peace.

Sissy:  Yes.

Ann: That’s true. What about blended families, Sissy? Are they dealing with even more anxiety? Do you think they carry guilt and maybe some other things as well?

Sissy: I know blended families who aren’t necessarily dealing with more. I really do think, y’all, in this day and time, every family has at least one anxious child, and often the oldest.

Ann: Really?

Sissy: Yes. So, I would say every family is dealing with it, but I think in terms of the impact of a blended family, I think the way the parents work through it is the game changer, and it can make all the difference.

Ann: Yes.

Sissy: And then, I do see parents who feel guilty, so I think they are overcompensating.

Dave: You mentioned a couple terms in your book I’d never seen before about types of parents. We’ve heard about “helicopter,” but you have all these other ones. Let’s talk about it.

Sissy: Well, I made them up.

Dave: Did you make them up? These are all your own?

Sissy: Yes. Not helicopter, obviously. Yes. Well, out of the parents I’m seeing in my office—obviously I’m seeing helicopter parents who are stepping in and fixing things, hovering constantly—and then snowplow parents, who are pushing the moguls out of the way so their kids hit no hard places, no hiccups, which makes a lot of sense when you think about, of course, [how] you want good things for your kids.

Ann: Because they love them.

Sissy: You love them, and you don’t want them to have to do hard things, when every person who works with kids with anxiety would say, “They have to do hard things to work through it.” So, snowplow parents. I have a four-year-old nephew who loves construction, so, I’ve thought about a lot of construction tools.

Backhoe parents: “I’m going to clean up the mess behind them that they have made, because I don’t want them to have to deal with the consequences.” I know a family where the child didn’t make the student government position she thought she should, and so, the parents called the school and threatened to sue. That is a very extreme backhoe parent, but that’s totally what that is.

Then, sidecar parents, which were probably all the age of Adam West being Batman and Robin. Remember that old after-school show?

Ann: Yes.

Sissy: So, you think about Batman and poor Robin in the sidecar. Batman is flying through the streets of Gotham, and Robin’s hair is blowing everywhere. I think that came out of some parents that I saw, that really had the thought of, “My experience is their experience. We’re so similar, that if I felt anxiety when I was growing up, this must be anxiety in my child,” when maybe it’s not even. It’s kind of shifting our own experience over them.

And then, the last would be parade float parents, and the parade float parents are the ones who are wanting everything to be fun and happy: “You’re not going to be sad. You’re not going to worry.” My mom was a parade float parent sometimes, but when she moved into parade float parent, one of the times was when we lost a dog in our house. I’m not kidding. Every time we lost a dog, my mom would go out the same day, get the same kind of dog, and name it the same thing.

Dave: What? [Laughter]

Ann: No!

Dave: Really?

Sissy: I had two Dixies, two Blues. Yes. Of course, we noticed that it was a puppy, not a grown dog, but she just did not want us to be sad about losing a dog. And her mother did it, too. She had two dogs named “Chris” growing up. Isn’t that wild?

Dave: That’s legacy.

Ann: Yes. One of the things you talk about in your book is, parents that worry are conscientious. They’re good parents.

Sissy: Oh, yes. She didn’t want us to be sad, because she loved us.

Ann: Right.

Sissy: We had a lot of dogs named the same thing.

Dave: In some ways, when you hear about the helicopter, snowplow, or backhoe parent—in some ways—you think, “Those are good things.”

Sissy: Right.

Dave: But they can go to the extreme. Is that what you’re saying? They can be bad?

Sissy: Yes, exactly. Well, it’s the difference between vigilance and hypervigilance in parenting, that I think is the important distinction, because vigilance is required. Hypervigilance doesn’t help.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: When you talk about [how] anxiety only gets worse if it’s untreated, what do you mean by that?

Sissy: Well, really, kind of that idea we were talking about, that the amygdala actually enlarges, and we create, based on—there are these psychologists—Catherine Pittman talks about a “use it or lose it” phenomenon. Our brains literally prune themselves; so, the neural pathways, which are “this thought leads to this leads to this,” those neural pathways are strengthened by use. It’s the same reason that we all have on pants today, all three of us. None of us probably know what leg we put in our pants first. Do you?

Ann: Maybe my left.

Dave: Left.

Sissy: Really? Y’all are so impressive! I have no idea.

Dave: It’s always left.

Sissy: But I think that’s a neural pathway. It’s why you end up driving somewhere you didn’t mean to go, because you’ve driven there a million times.

Ann: Yes.

Sissy: You have a neural pathway for that. We develop neural pathways for anxiety.

Ann: When we talk about marriage, we say that if you aren’t intentional—

Dave: —you drift toward isolation.

Ann: That’s it.

Dave: You don’t intentionally move toward isolation. It’s the natural drift. You have to intentionally work to be one.

Sissy: Yes.

Ann: So, are you saying that we could possibly continue on this road of anxiety unless we intentionally turn back with some of this?

Sissy: Yes, not just continue, but it’s going to get worse.

Ann: It’s going to get worse. That’s an eye-opener.

Dave: Again, we’ve already said that, if I as a parent am drifting toward anxiety, and it’s something that’s pretty prevalent in my life, [there is] a good chance it’s being passed to my kids. That’s a reason right there to say, “I have to do the work.”

Sissy: Right. That courage and conviction.

Ann: And your book is doing the work. You’re helping us.

Sissy: Well, that’s my hope. And I have a book for parents of girls, I have a book for elementary-age girls, and a book for teenage girls because there are parts of the country where it is much harder to find good counselors, especially Christian counselors. So, I think knowing there are folks who can’t get to somebody, my intention was to write these books as kind of a first attempt to get help: “Try these things.”

In fact, sometimes in our office parents will call and say, “I want to get my child in,” and our office staff will say, “They’re this age. Read Braver, Stronger, Smarter, and if it feels like it hasn’t helped in six weeks, then bring them into counseling; but try this first.”

Ann: When we talked about those different styles of parenting—

Sissy: Yes.

Ann: —have you seen people change?

Sissy: Yes.

Ann: Have you seen parents become worry-free parents?

Sissy: I feel like the word is kind of a trick, because of living in a fallen world. [Laughter] I don’t know that we’re ever going to fully get there, but yes! I’ve seen parents do the work of walking themselves back, and I think it’s work emotionally, and it’s work spiritually. It’s in both places, because—I hate to speak negatively against my profession, because obviously I believe in counseling so much, but I think so many of the tools that I hope are littered throughout the book. . .

Parents today come in wanting tools for their kids more than anything. I think tools help us respond. They help us in the moment, but tools don’t really transform us. It’s our faith that transforms us, so we want to come at worry and anxiety from a really practical level that’s going to help us in the moment, and we want to come at it from a foundational level of faith that’s going to change us in the process.

Ann: How do you help parents with that, when they come in and say they’re believers, but maybe they haven’t really locked in, surrendered everything? Is that one of the things you encourage them to do?

Sissy: Yes, definitely. And I think some of that is where we can pull it back into tools, like we’ve talked about, having Scripture that you go back to. But I think also, when we teach on this topic, the last thing we talk about is trust. Melissa, who you haven’t gotten to meet yet, started Daystar, and she’s still involved as our Founding and Senior Director. She said something, teaching a group of middle-schoolers at our little camp one time, where she said, “Courage isn’t the antidote to anxiety, but trust is.”

I think that’s what changes us. Trust is what transforms us. Trust moves us from worry to wonder, and it moves us from grabbing and trying to hold on tight to a place of gratitude. There are all these beautiful things. Frederick Buechner is my favorite author of all times, and one of his quotes says something about, “In the end, the commandment, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind’ becomes more of a promise than a command, because it’s all we have.”

And then I talk about [moving] from fears to reminders of His faithfulness. I think that’s what I want parents to anchor to. It’s interesting, because, again, science mimics faith so much of the time when we really dig deep. And one of the things that we’re supposed to do when we’re anxious is remember times that we have done the hard thing, times that we were brave, that we got through whatever it was.

I think, as we look back over what God has done in our lives, that certainly takes us to that. I had the most transformational experience since the Covenant shooting. I spent the day with the parents from the Covenant school, and ended up talking to them as a group about how to talk to your kids once they were reunified with their kids.

I don’t have words to describe what the day was like for me, on the outside. I can’t even fathom walking through it as a parent. And because I had been there, and because of a variety of things, I ended up being asked to do some interviews afterwards. One of them is that I was asked to come and be on CNN live the next morning.

Ann: I didn’t know that.

Sissy: Oh, I was tired and overwhelmed, and I didn’t pay attention to the location. I had not yet driven by Covenant, and the location was, like they do with the White House correspondents, across the street from the school. I drove down there, pulled into the parking lot, and I’m thinking, “Sissy, don’t cry. Don’t cry. This is not the time for you to be crying about this.”

I was thinking, “You have to just think about something else. You have to think about something else for a minute,” so I turned around, and there was the sign for Covenant, and next to it, because of the time of year it was, was a sign announcing their Easter services.

I thought, “That is it. I have zero words to say about what’s happening right now, but all I know is that what is the darkest day I ever remember touching our community is not what defines us.” And that’s what defines us. That’s why we are having conversations. That’s why we have hope in the midst of tragedy and suffering, because Jesus’ darkest day was not His last, and it’s not for us, either.

So, we want to remind ourselves of those kinds of truths; fears to reminders of His faithfulness. Whatever is going on—if you’re listening right now, whatever is going on—with your kids, even if it’s their darkest day, it does not define them. And if you feel like you’re in a season of failure as a parent, it doesn’t define you. We have hope, and we can trust in something that transforms us.

Ann: Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” As we finished up with Sissy, one thing I’m coming away thinking is: one, I’ve never thought I was anxious, but now I think, “Wait, I am a worrier and I have been anxious,” and this verse is really good for me just to sit in it, to remember that God knows everything. He sees me, He is good, and He loves my kids. He can take care of things when I can’t, and I can just trust Him.

Dave: Yes, and sometimes we have to taste and see. It’s one thing to know that or read it; you have to experience it. Step out, and taste and see that the Lord is good. I think of I Peter 5:7 that says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I think there are times when we’re worried and anxious, we don’t think He cares, or He sees. You just said it: He sees.

Ann: Yes; and He cares.

Dave: And He feels what we feel, and He says, “Let Me have it. Just taste and see. I’m good, but you won’t know until you do it. Just cast it.” It’s like put it on the end of that hook and like a fisherman, throw it out to Him. I guarantee He takes worry off that hook, and He puts the peace of God back on that hook, and you reel it back in and say, “Aaahhh, He is good.”

Shelby: I know that most of us, when we hear The Worry-Free Parent, think, “Who in the world doesn’t worry or have anxiety about their kids?” Well, Sissy Goff has given us solid truth and practical strategies to help us, as parents, battle worry and anxiety. So, this conversation today, and the last two days that she’s been here, have been so valuable for moms and dads everywhere.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sissy Goff on FamilyLife Today. As I mentioned, if you didn’t get a chance to listen to our first two interviews with Sissy, make sure that you go back and listen to both of them on the FamilyLife app or anywhere you get your podcasts. She has written a book called The Worry-Free Parent, as I mentioned earlier. The subtitle is Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can, Too.

You can get your copy by going online to and clicking on “Today’s Resources.” Or you can give us a call to request your copy at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

And this is a very unique month here at FamilyLife. It is officially May, which means that any gift that you give to FamilyLife all month long will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000. That’s right. So, when you give a gift of $50, for example, it will be matched to make it a $100 gift. If you go online and become a monthly partner to give $25 a month, it’s actually all year long going to be, basically, brought up to $50 a month.

Now, when you do give any amount, we’re going to send you as our “thank you,” a book by Chris and Elizabeth McKinney called Neighborhoods Reimagined. In addition to that, if you become a monthly partner at, you’re going to be able to participate in our new online community and become a part of the conversation that FamilyLife is having, including having access to a live Facebook event with the Wilsons and me, Shelby Abbott, on June 5th at 7:00 p.m.

That’s, again, for all monthly partners when you decide to give each month to the ministry of FamilyLife. You can find out more in the show notes at That will walk you through all the details about how to become a monthly partner and have any donation that you make be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000.

Are you someone who wrestles and has struggled in the past with infertility? How about embracing your limitations, or even something as common as finding purpose in your everyday life? Well, Dave and Ann Wilson, tomorrow, are going to be joined by Sara Hagerty. She’s going to be on the program to share her story related to those specific things that I mentioned, and how God met her in her limitations. 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.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © 2024 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.