FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Turning Epic Parenting Failure to Mind-blowing Opportunity: Paul David Tripp

with Paul David Tripp | February 24, 2023
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Dealing with epic parenting failure? Author Paul David Tripp hands you hope, truth, and practical ideas to transform failure into unforgettable opportunity.

  • 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.

Dealing with epic parenting failure? Author Paul David Tripp hands you hope, truth, and practical ideas to transform failure into unforgettable opportunity.

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Turning Epic Parenting Failure to Mind-blowing Opportunity: Paul David Tripp

With Paul David Tripp
February 24, 2023
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Ann: Dave, what was your best and maybe your worst moment as a parent of teenagers? Can you remember, like, what was your best moment?

Dave: I loved, and I think they did too, coaching all three in high school, standing on the sideline on Friday nights on a on a football field, being at practice with them, driving home with them, hearing their thoughts and dreams, going out on dates—you can't call it a date when it's sons; we hung out—but hearing them talk about their girl. I just being, being their dad, but also being another man with them.

Give me your worst moment.

Ann: No, I wanted you to share your worst moments. [Laughter] I have too many.

Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: My worst moment would be when two of my sons said, “You were more intimate with the congregation than you were with us.” In other words, you shared stories in your sermons of weakness for thousands of people that they had never heard in our kitchen. You know they were men at this time, reflecting back but I would take that back.

The good thing is I can do that now. They're still alive; I'm still alive. God's given us those moments, but I would have said these young men in my house are more important than anybody outside my house in terms of what I'm pouring into them, and I would have been more strategic.

Ann: Well, this is going to be a fun conversation because we have back with us today, Paul David Tripp. Paul, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Paul: Thank you. I'm loving our conversation.

Ann: Me too. It's been so helpful.

Dave: Yes, and you wrote, years ago, the book Age of Opportunity about parenting teens. What a great title. You've already told us why you wrote that, because we so often think teenage season, teenage years are not the age of opportunity. They're the opposite. But you so well have said, “No, this is a moment. This is a season to seize these moments.” You have a best or worst moment when you think about parenting your kids when they were teenagers?

Paul: Yes, I think that there were many moments where I responded in anger. It was like, “How dare you do this to me.” when that was not what was happening at all. But here's what I want to say to parents of teenagers. One of my favorite moments in Scripture—it's just one of those moments that gets you up in Scripture—is in Jonah. Jonah blew it. He ran from God. He tried to get as far away from God's call. You know he was swallowed by this big fish, and he was vomited up on the beach. Sometimes Grace looks like vomit. [Laughter]

Chapter three begins with “The word of the Lord came a second time to Jonah.” Isn't that beautiful? You would think God would say “I'm done with you. I have plenty of prophets. Get out of my sight.” God is saying to Jonah, “I'm not done with you. I love you. I'm going to use you.” The end of the book of Jonah—parents need to hear this. It's one book in the Bible doesn't have an ending—it ends with a question by God. That means God’s still working on this man.

Parents, it's never too late to confess what you've done wrong and to set a new agenda for your child because God won't give up on you. He's going to give you an opportunity to flip the script and to turn and go in another way. Don't let despondency paralyze you. Because if God can look at Jonah—he is the example in Scripture running from God—and say, “You have a second chance and I'm going to keep loving you,” then there's hope for all of us.

Dave: Yes, let's talk a little bit you wrote in your in your book. The goal in the teenage years is to raise children who were once totally dependent on us to be independent, mature people who, with reliance on God and proper connectedness to the Christian community, are able to stand on their own two feet. Obviously, this is a parenting goal you've thought a lot about. And, you know, as we talked to parents, many parents have never even articulated “What are we trying to do? What is our goal?”

Ann: Or thought about it.

Dave: Yes, and so explain that to parents, help parents understand what the parenting goal looks like.

Paul: I want to start first by the importance of a goal orientation.

Dave: Good.

Paul: If you don't have goals in your mind, then your parenting becomes reactive. You’re just reacting to the moment and usually that means emotionally reactive. That doesn't produce good things. If you have goals in mind, then when something happens, you're asking yourself the question, “How can this be an opportunity to advance the work towards the goals that I know I need to have for this teenager?” The goal orientation shapes the way you now deal with the problem that's going on. Let's just say you have one goal. You want your teenager to have a Godward perspective in his life, a God awareness. That there's agenda greater than my happiness.

Your teenager tells you a story of what's happened. There's no God in the story. There's no awareness of that at all. It's just “This is what I want,” and “I didn't get this,” and “This made me angry.” Well, there's an opportunity to say to your teenager. “You know, I get it. I get that was hard for you. I know some sometimes you just want to walk away and say, ‘Forget it,’ but if I could say this, there's something missing in the way you talk about this. The way you talk about this is as if you're in the center of the universe and your happiness is all that matters. And frankly, you and I are never in the center of the universe. God is.”

Now, even if the child resistant, I've taken an opportunity to talk about something very significant. Because the whole goal is a God awareness that then shapes the way you live. Submission to God means submission to his way of living, confessing my need of him. All those things flow out of that. Now that teenager might not say to you at that moment “Well you're right. I need to surrender my whole—no, it's not going to happen, but I've taken one step toward a goal. Because I have a goal in my mind, I'm able to turn that conversation toward something that's very important.

Dave: How does adversity fit into that? Because it feels like we live in a culture especially—and it's probably always been this way, but it feels heightened in the last decade or so. Parents want to pull their son or daughter out of any trial, any hardship.

Ann: —pain.

Dave: We have athletes transferring to other schools if they're not the starter. I coached high school football and I'd have parents come to me saying “My son should be on the field. You don't know what you're doing.” And I'm, you know, watching them and watching their kid and thinking this is one of the best things for your son. This is really developing—of course, you say that and they're just, “You don’t know what you're talking about.”

Ann: It's so hard to watch them in pain.

Dave: Oh yes, so as a parent—

Paul: Here's where I think the heart of the parent shapes the way to respond to your child. If as a parent, you think the goal in life is personal comfort and success, then you're going to hover over your children in every moment to make sure they’re comfortable and you're going to push every door and do every manipulation to make them successful.

The Bible says that God chooses to put us through hardship because hardship is productive. God will take your teenager where they haven't chosen to go in order to produce in them what they could not achieve on their own. You know what that's called? Grace; but it's uncomfortable grace. Whether it's good things or hard things, I should always ask the question, “How is God meaning for this to be productive in the life of my son or daughter?” instead of “Oh my goodness, how can I get them out of this?”

I was counseling a mom who was just obsessed with her teenage son getting into an Ivy League school. And he was, frankly, an average student. She was literally over him so much in his homework she was virtually doing the homework for him. Now, how is that going to help this kid—it just doesn't work—rather than, this is who this kid is and how is God trying to work in these moments in the heart of this child?

Ann: Paul, describe what that conversation would sound like. Let's say your son or daughter didn't make the team. They've been trying, they've been training, they've been working hard. They feel like it's unfair because someone else made the team and they didn't. They didn't feel like they were as good, so they come home. They're in a bad mood. You know that they didn't make it. So how would you enter into that, as just as you describe, even with the gospel, what that looks like?

Paul: Again, I would do those five questions that I used and “What are you thinking and feeling? What are you doing in response? Why are you doing it?”—expose the heart. And when you do that, there's fruit.

I want to tell you a little bit of a story. My son was obsessed with basketball. He would come from practice, get a snack, and he’d shoot free throws, sets of 100. I was used to hearing the bouncing of the ball. I'd be in the kitchen or back of the house. The ball stopped bouncing and he came in the door with the ball under his arm. He's 15 years old and he asked me this question: “Dad, how do you know when a good thing becomes an idol in your life?” We had this really great conversation.

Why I’m telling the story is, that conversation was the fruit of many conversations we had that had put that thought in his brain. That's not the typical thought of a teenager. But because we had conversations that got at those kinds of issues—because we talked about “It's not just about your behavior, but it's about what rules your heart.”—then he's thinking that way. This kid is shooting free throws and wondering, “Maybe this means too much to me.”

See, that's what those conversations will produce. You'll begin to plant seeds of thought in your teenager they wouldn't normally have that—I mean this in a positive way—haunt them. And so, they begin to ask questions that they wouldn't have asked because you planted those seeds in those conversations instead of just there's a failure and there's a punishment and that's it. You look at those as opportunities to have conversations, get at the heart; those will bear fruit in the life of the teenager.

Dave: How important would you rate conversations with your teenager as a parent, with your life as a parent? What you model? Because even when I hear you tell that story, I'm thinking “I bet he also saw his mom and dad living out this idol put down as much as the conversation.” Help parents understand; is it both? And if there's like a rating, is one really, really higher than the other?

Paul: I think you can just not understate the power of your living example. If you're self-righteous, selfish, easily irritated and then you talk about grace, there’s a massive contradiction there. For example, it's so easy to treat your children as if they're your indentured servants there to make your life easier. [Laughter] If your iPad is across the living room from you, don't call your teenager from upstairs to come down and “Hey, would you get my iPad for me?” Just get off the chair and get it yourself. Because all of a sudden, the children will think “I know why this guy exercises authority. He exercises authority to make his life easy.” instead of a child concluding, “Well, I’ve seen this man exercise authority because he loves me. It's for my good. He makes sacrifices for me.”

I mean, imagine you're watching something on Netflix that you just love. It's one of those things you like to binge. Something happens and you willingly get off your chair. You walk away from what you like to watch, and you spend an hour and a half in just this wonderful conversation with a teenager. What's the message to him in that moment?

Ann: You matter more than this.

Paul: Yes. Now let me take you back. Let's say you're doing the same thing and you walk into the teen's room, and you scream “I can't have a moment of peace because every time I sit down to do something I like to do, you guys get in the way. I'm so tired of your mess.” What's the message of that? “I'm important to me, my comfort is important to me, and I'll exercise authority for my good.” So yes, what you model in your actions is significant.

I think one of the reasons that teenagers want to escape Christian homes is not because of the consistency of the gospel model, it's because of the hypocrisy there. That “You talked about love, you talked about grace, but you didn't treat me with love, and you didn't treat me with grace. I don't want any part of it.”

Ann: I think that goes along with one of the quotes in your book was:

“When someone asks what you do. You can tell them I am the parent of a teenager. It's the most important job I have ever had. Everything else I do for a living is secondary. I have never had a job that is so exciting and full of opportunity. Every day I am needed to do things that are important, worthwhile and lasting and I wouldn't give up this job for anything.”

I love that attitude that our kids know and feel our pleasure. And that's how Jesus feels about them.

Paul: Yes. The Bible actually says that God sings—

Ann: Yes!

Paul: —over his children. Imagine a teenager being in a home where a parent is saying, “I love that you're here. I love walking through these years. I love our conversations. I just love being your friend and your guide and your protector, and I just love this. I feel very privileged.” I still communicate that to my grown children. We’ll be out and I say, “You know I enjoy you so much that sometimes I forget I'm your dad.” It's just this is a person I enjoyed being with. Imagine if you're driving home from a practice, you picked your child up and you say “You know driving you isn't a pain to me. I just love being in the car with you because I just enjoy being your dad.”

Ann: Paul, I remember at the beginning of each school year, so many parents so excited that their kids are going back to school, you know, because it's been so hard. I understand that. It's chaos; it's messy when the kids are home. But I remember saying to the kids, like, “I am so sad that you're going to be gone. I'm going to miss you so much. You guys are some of my favorite people to be around.”

And that same thing with teenagers of even saying “I love it when you come home, and you bring your friends. Your friends are amazing.” But I think some people might be thinking “My kid’s not that amazing right now. He's really struggling. He's depressed and anxious. He's in his room all day. Actually, I don't really like their friends. They're not having a good influence on them.” And so, we've got those scenarios that are really hard. How would you address those parents?

Paul: Well, one of the things I would say to all parents, and I think it really speaks in this moment, is make your home the most hospitable home in your community. Invite your son, your daughter, and their friends into your home. Have plenty of snacks. Have game machines that they can play on. Don't worry about your carpet; don't worry about your couch. The couch will get stained, and the carpet will get worn, all to the glory of God. Don't prioritize your comfort and your surroundings more than the soul of your teenager. Because when they're on your turf, then you get to see it happening. You'll have all kinds of opportunities.

Our boys are skateboarders. We built a halfpipe in our backyard. Our entire backyard was wood, and we had those kids around us all the time. There were wonderful opportunities because they were on our turf. Will everything be pleasing to you? No. Will it cause moments for great concern? Yes. But you’re witness to what's going on and because you are, there will be enormous opportunities.

Ann: That's so true. Sometimes I found out more through their friends, especially their girlfriends that were over. I found out so many things which allowed me then to have conversations with our kids about that. And even hearing the struggles that they're friends were going through and they're opening up to me and me getting to pray for them, to speak life to them, to speak hope of the gospel to them. Those are some of my favorite years.

Dave: Yes, Paul, you don't know Ann very well, but she—and she wrote about this in our parenting book—she made our home—she called it a haven—a place where your kids wanted to be.

Paul: That's so good.

Dave: There's a sense of joy. And again, it's not that there isn't hard things and things that need to be said and behavior, but it was a place of safety because, you know our kids are out in the world and they're getting beat up. You want them running to home, not coming home getting beat up. You want them coming home like “I want to be there. My mom and dad love me. They see me, they appreciate me.” You want them bringing their friends there because that's where life happens.

One of her rules. It drove me crazy. I'm like, “How much money are we going to spend on food?” But it says, “Always have food out because they're going to come, and they're going to sit and eat and then they're going to talk.” I'm guessing your home was much the same.

Paul: Yes. Let me just say it's even more significant now. Because kids get swallowed up in social media which is really rough on the heart of a child in many ways. They're in a world where now gender and sexuality issues are terribly confusing. I want all that stuff on my turf. It's hard to face. It's hard to deal with. But I want my home to be that kind of safe place, that kind of haven, that kind of hospitality, so that my children know that I love them and I'm not afraid of anything that we're going to face.

Dave: That's good. Paul, last thought. Before you go, talk to the parent who's got a struggling relationship with their teenager, wants to make it better. What would you say? What would be maybe the first thing they could do?

Paul: Well, the first thing I want to say is don't let your teenager set the agenda for the relationship. Often parents are rejected by the teenager. They don't want any relationship and the parent just feels paralyzed by that. Just have a love agenda with your child. Everywhere you can, express love. Love is the most powerful, the most transformative force in the universe.

The Bible says, it's the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Not as threats, not as law; it's His goodness and so I want to model that in the life of my teenager. I don't want him to set the agenda. I'm going to love you even when you are not lovable. I'm not going to allow that to set the agenda for a relationship and find ways. Maybe it's he's off to school and you bake his favorite cookies and greet him at the door and say, “I made you—" That says to that teenager, “I'm thinking about you.” Or maybe for dinner you cook his favorite meal. You're just giving messages.

We were house parents of a school for blind boys. We had fifteen boys and occasionally they all do something bad. We'd have to ground them all. One time when they were all grounded to the house—why they were grounded my wife made a beautiful cake and they were all blown away by the cake. The reason for that was we wanted to say “We're not breaking relationship with you because you messed up. We still love you. We still want to do good things. What you did was wrong. There’re consequences to it but we love you.

Dave: Which is exactly how Jesus treats us.

Paul: Absolutely.

Dave: It’s a great picture.

Ann: Thanks, Paul, for being with us. This is so good.

Dave: Yes, it was awesome.

Paul: Thank you. It's been fun for me. Rattle my cage again sometime. [Laughter]

Dave: Oh, we definitely will.

Ann: We will.

Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul David Tripp onFamilyLife Today. Paul's written a book called, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. You can pick up a copy or give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” I've got an 11-year-old who's about to become a teenager, so I will definitely be reading this book soon—very, very soon.

Also, earlier this week we heard from Tim Kimmel. His book is called The High Cost of High Control: How to Deal With Powerful Personalities. We want to send you a copy as our thanks when you partnerfinancially with FamilyLife. Your partnership helps make conversations like the one you heard today possible. Conversations that families all over the country, and really around the world, desperately need to hear. You can help more families today by giving at, and we'll send you Tim Kimmel's book, The High Cost of High Control as our thanks. Again, you can give a or you can give us a call at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” 

You know with so many different social outlets, it's easy to get wrapped up in things that really just don't matter: looks, success, living a quote unquote perfect life for others. Well, don't miss next week because Dave and Ann are joined by Heather Holleman to talk about redirecting our sight back towards Christ.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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