Series 10: For the Love of Parenting | Episode 02
Parenting Through All Stages: When To Hold On & When To Let Go with Dr. Jim Burns
Parenting is a lifelong job, even after our children have flown the coop and are tending their own broods. Throughout the various stages, from the early “no sleep” baby years to the endless carpool years, we barely have the bandwidth to think about next week, let alone the next few decades. But what happens when our kids grow up and start making their own decisions? How do parents lay the groundwork for happy, healthy relationships with their adult children? And how do we, as daughters and sons, honor our adult parents as we forge our own way in the world? Today’s conversation helps walk us through reframing our parental relationships. Dr. Jim Burns is an author and executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Burns tells us how parents can be a sounding board for their adult kids (without being a clanging bell). He also helps us think through scenarios like what do you do if your child partners up with someone you’re not crazy about, what kinds of boundaries to maintain if your child moves home, how to stay connected to a child who shuns a relationship with their parents, and how you, an adult child yourself, can create a healthy bond with your own parents.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody, it is Jen Hatmaker, your happy hostess on the For the Love Podcast. Super glad to have you today. Thrilled to bring you this next episode in our parenting series.
So, if you’ve been around the podcast for a while, you do know that I like to talk about a lot of stuff on here. Sometimes there’s serious things like restorative justice and egalitarianism, and sometimes it’s sparkly earrings and enchiladas, you know I’m kinda all over the map. But that is life, a little serious, a little silly. And today’s conversation runs the gamut of a lot of these things because we are talking about what I consider a very under-talked-about discussion when it comes to parenting, which is talking about parenting our kids as they’re growing up and becoming adults.
So if you know me, you guys, I have five kids. I’ve got a 20-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old. Like, we are literally learning how to parent adult children this very minute. And nobody talks about that a whole lot. And so this is kind of a tricky subject. And it can feel really, really lonely.
And so no matter where you are in this, if you’re not to that stage yet, if you’re in the middle of it, or if it’s in your rear-view mirror, you know that there’s some hard parts to it. There’s landmines. And we really wanna to do this season well so that we end up with healthy adult relationships with our kids.
So we have a guide today that you guys are going to love. And so I am delighted to bring you today’s guest, Dr. Jim Burns. This is absolutely his area of expertise. He’s the founder and president of HomeWord. He’s the Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. So, you guys, every single year he speaks to thousands and thousands of people all around the world about how to create strong marriages and confident parents and empowered kids and healthy leaders. Literally he has almost two million resources in print in over 30 languages. So I mean, this guy knows his stuff, you guys. His radio broadcast is called HomeWord with Jim Burns and it’s heard in over 800 communities. He’s an award-winning author. We’re gonna have all of his books linked over on my website page for the podcast. You’re gonna have links to all of that. So he and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California. They have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi. They have two sons-in-law and two grandkids.
And so he’s actually been through this “parenting adult children” phase as a parent and also as an expert. You guys, he has so much awesome stuff to tell us today. Wait until you hear some of his advice. I mean, it is like grab-your-pen-and-jot-it-down worthy. And so I know you are gonna love this conversation.
And listen, to my listeners who are either not a parent or you’re not yet parenting young adult children, you’re still in the weeds with the toddlers or the elementary school kids, you still wanna listen to this. I’m serious. I wish I would’ve had this instruction in my hands a decade ago so that I could start thinking about the long game, and I could start thinking about how to begin transitioning my parenting toward launching kids. I mean, all of a sudden we just landed in this zip code and started looking around going, Who can help us? Who will tell us how to parent adult children? We have no idea what we’re doing. And we don’t know if we’re doing this right.
So you’re gonna want to listen to this, no matter where you’re at on the spectrum. This is great, great instruction. And we also talk in this hour about being an adult child and what happens when our relationship with our parents in difficult, and how do we navigate that with grace and how do we play the long game there? How do we squeeze the most amount of health out of our adult relationships with our parents, even if they’re difficult? Even if we struggle or have a lot of differences?
So this conversation is packed and you are gonna be really, really glad you listened to it.
And just let me say this real quick before we jump into the conversation. This will all be transcribed over on my website, so don’t worry about it. If you hear amazing nuggets that you’re not in a place you can write down, always, always go over to jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast, the entire episode is written out with links, with bonus material, with resources. So don’t worry, we are here for you.
So, you guys, I love this guy. Help me welcome to the show Dr. Jim Burns.
I am so pleased to welcome you to the show, Dr. Jim Burns. Thanks for being here.
Jim: Jen, it’s great to be with you and I was telling you beforehand that I’ve got a whole family who worships and adores everything you write and speak. So I’m now a big deal in my family where I wasn’t two days before. It’s a big deal.
Jen: Listen, if I’d have known that, I’d have twisted your arm sooner to come on earlier in the show. I had no idea I had this leverage, but I’m thrilled about it.
Jim: Yeah, you do. I’m just telling you, you really do.
Jen: That’s amazing. You know I was telling you before we popped on here that this is sort of our first time on the podcast to tackle this specific niche of expertise, which is kind of adult children and growing up children and even being an adult child. I just find this information really useful, but under resourced.
Okay, so let me tell you sort of about my family here and why I’m so excited about this next hour with you. I have got five kids. It’s just five, it feels like a million. And our oldest is 20, the next one’s 18, so we are absolutely hedging into this zip code.
Jim: You are living the life.
Jen: We are living the life. We are, for the first time, trying to figure out how to parent, what is on paper, an adult child.
Jim: Right. So true, isn’t it?
Jen: And it’s just new rules. And when I was younger with parenting littles and early childhood and even elementary, it felt like resources were endless. Like, everybody wants to talk about raising littles, but I feel kind of on a weird island when it comes to parenting adult kids.
And so, just listen, whatever you say, I’m telling you in advance thank you for guiding us for the next hour. And I wanna make sure our listeners know that we’re also gonna talk about not just raising adult children, but also being an adult child.
Jen: We’ve got parents and we’re adults. So anyway, thanks for being on the parenting series.
So I’ve told our listeners a little bit about you already and what it is you do. But I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about your family. Can you tell us about the people in your life? Your kids, your grandkids, all of that.
Jim: Okay. Well, I’ve got three daughters. So we have no hormones and drama in our life, of course.
Jen: Of course you don’t.
Jim: I never did. Teenage years, whatever. They’re all adults now. Two of them live in New York and one of them moved to that sweaty state of Texas on Wednesday, just the other day.
Jen: Are you kidding? What city?
Jim: They live in a place called Bedford, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Jim: And they’re running the 100-degree weather and she’s a surfer.
Jen: Well, God love them.
Jim: So that’ll be interesting to see how the surfer does. But yeah, so we’re gonna be making a whole bunch of trips to Texas.
Jen: Yeah you are.
Jim: In fact my wife was just there to help her set up the house, and she came back and said, “I know we didn’t have it planned, but we are going in August.” And I don’t know that it’s to see my daughter as much as the grandkids, to be honest.
Jen: Oh, I know the game. Listen, the first time I had a kid, I ceased being my parents’ daughter.
Jen: At that point I was just the person who drove my son around. That’s what I was.
Jim: Exactly. So anyway, three daughters, the other two live in New York City of all things. So we’re kinda way far from our kids. We live in Southern California. And Cathy and I have been married 44 years. And we don’t feel like we’re that old, but I guess we are because if you’ve been married 44 years, that means you’re old.
And my background, I was not raised in a church home. So I didn’t have that whole thing going on. I became a Christian when I was in high school. So my excitement has always been working with kids. And I was a youth pastor in another life and loved it. Love teens. My PhD is in working with adolescents. And all of a sudden, people have started asking me to speak on the adult child thing and I would laugh. I remember the first time I ever got asked, it was for a big conference in Honolulu of all places.
Jen: Wow, terrible.
Jim: Yeah, you speak, you go, “Hey let me pray about that. Yeah? Honolulu.”
Jen: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: So I did it and as I was speaking and I was talking about having adult kids and it being messy and violating values and straying from faith and all the various things that so many of us deal with at that time, the people groaned, Jen. And when they groaned, I went, Whoa. I’m hitting on to something that’s key.
Jen: You hit a nerve.
Jim: And what had happened was, we had been in a workshop room, but they made announcement at the general session that my workshop was moving to another one, it was a lot bigger. And I thought, Well why? Why does anybody wanna come to this? I hadn’t even read very many resources on it. Come to find out it, it was because it was a felt need that people keep saying to me. I have a book coming out called Doing Life with Your Adult Child: Keep the Welcome Mat Out and Your Mouth Shut.
Jen: That’s so good.
Jim: And what’s funny about it is people just go, “I want it now,” because I’ve just met people who are desperate. At HomeWord, where I work, we had some focus groups. And of the seven focus groups, six of them had people in tears because they were just shocked, like, “Where did it go? How did it happen?”
Jen: Oh wow.
Jim: I know I’m getting farther along, but that’s kind of our family. It’s not a perfect family. Yes, we love the Lord, we are unashamedly Christian and at the same time, you know, we’re trying to figure it out. Cathy and I are what we call a transitional generation. So the Bible talks about you inherit the sin, at least the sin bent of the previous generations. And we decided we were gonna try to break that. You either recover or you repeat. And we decided we’re gonna try to recover. And that’s what our process has been. And it’s been a great one. At the same time Cathy—
Jen: I love that.
Jim: Yeah. Cathy said, “I thought life was supposed to be easier once these kids go to be adults.” And you know, it has its wonderful times, moments incredible, incredible. And then it has its moments of going, “Seriously? Where did that come from?”
Jen: Oh my gosh. I’m just like . . . I feel like one of those people in your seminar in Honolulu, like I’m already greedy to get further down this conversation because there’s just not enough people talking about this.
Jen: And I love this. I like putting this conversation in front of my listeners who aren’t here yet, who are still parenting younger kids.
Jen: Because I would’ve . . . I craved this instruction five years ago.
Jen: Six years ago. As we began to sort of move the needle on how we were parenting, but I just wasn’t sure where we were moving it. I didn’t know what the end game was with growing children.
Jim: You’re right. And it changes. When kids are, say, 2 to 10, you’re in control. I mean, you’ve gotta be, it’s not like you’re gonna take them downtown Austin and say, “Hey, have a great time,” during a big festival or something. But when they get to be those, even preteen and then teen, you kind of move to coaching, where you’re still the leader, but you’re giving them some room and some leeway. You still gotta put them on a timeout or take them out of the game or whatever every so often. As they get older, you’re consulting, and that’s kind of most of their day-to-day decisions should be done by them. That’s of course with your 20- and 18-year-old.
And you’re moving in that direction, but then all of a sudden they become adults. And what’s fascinating is we live a parallel journey because they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re reinventing the relationship. And we don’t know what we’re doing because we’re reinventing the relationship.
Jen: That’s so true.
Jim: So what we have to do—
Jen: That’s such a good point.
Jim: Yeah. I even say to parents. I go, “Look, you’re fired. Your role as their day-to-day parent must change. You’re still a parent.”
Christy called me up today, my daughter in Texas, and had . . . She said, “Daddy?” And, you know, had questions, but at the same time the day-to-day role is not that I’m telling her what to do, and if I did, I always say unsolicited advice is usually taken as criticism, anyway.
Jen: Good point.
Jim: There ya go.
Jen: So, all right. You mentioned your girls. I wonder if we can walk back one phase.
Jen: So they’re adults now, obviously. But can we talk about your girls and your home and family when they were entering teen years? Is there some tangible instruction you can give us for backing off and empowering them to make bigger decisions on their own? I mean, I’ve got a bunch of teenagers. I’ve got a 16-year-old, I have a 15-year-old. Some of these decisions have some pretty big life-altering consequences. I mean they’re choosing big, big things.
So I’m gonna have a daughter who is moving to the East Coast from this home, that I raised her in, to navigate the next four years of her life. It’s not a decision without consequence, it’s humongous.
Jen: And she essentially made it on her own. And so I’m wondering if you can talk to us a little bit about how you figured out, or what you learned about beginning that back-off process, when you start to empower your kids to make bigger decisions on your own, ones that even have pretty big consequences, even life-altering. How did you figure out, or how did you learn to allow them to make mistakes? Whether relational or financial or spiritual? Even if the consequences weren’t small.
Jim: Yeah. Well, again, you learn . . . It’s always easier when you’re passed this phase.
You know, like when you say, when you just said emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, you name it and we kinda went “Seriously? Wait, you’ve been raised in our home and you’ve done this?” And, again, our kids were not the world’s worst people, they just went at life at a different angle than we ever dreamed.
Jim: In fact, Christy said, my oldest who’s now in Texas, when she graduated from college, she said, “I had to disown my parents’ faith to own my own faith.” And what’s funny is now the faith isn’t very far apart, but during that season she had to kind of break away. We didn’t know some of that stuff, actually. We probably are grateful we didn’t, because when she came home she was fine. But that was an interesting side.
So, again, this is hindsight, it’s not during the process. Because during the process we were panicked. And I remember the day that we dropped her off at school, I went into the bathroom and cried. You know I was like . . . It was crazy.
But we did have to, it was a process, what I call the weaning process. It’s very similar, I think, to when a mom is breastfeeding. My daughter, Christy, is breastfeeding our little granddaughter, Charlotte, you know she’s gonna go through a weaning process here real soon because she’s a teacher, so there’s gonna be a process of that. And you know I don’t think that’s, you know, very easy for really either one. So I think it’s a process. And it’s, for me and I know for my wife, it was three steps forward and a step back and five steps back and two steps forward. We had to learn, for us, the hardest thing for us was to take the monkey off of our back and place it squarely on our kid’s back.
And actually all three of our kids, during that season, what I would call the kind of 18–20 . . . now remember they are saying they’re adults, but even if, I don’t know if you knew this, but last January the country of Great Britain changed teenage from 13–18 to 10–24, because they’re saying they’re still—
Jen: No way.
Jim: Yeah, it’s really interesting. You can google it and find it, it’s just fascinating.
Jim: What’s fascinating about it is it’s probably more true because 10-13 is kinda preadolescence, but already they’re going through so much and you know they’re now “screenagers,” and so life has changed with their screen time. And then as they get older, it’s again a process. So what we found is we had to hand that stuff over to Christy and to Rebecca and to Heidi, our three, and then . . . You know, there were times when we went, “Ow,” but putting the monkey on their back, they were gonna learn. But that’s how we learned. I mean we learned through some failures and we learned through some mistakes.
But what we wanted was for them to still know that the welcome mat is still out. We are there to help, but we had to move away from being intrusive. And I think that was a big word for Cathy and I because . . . We tease Cathy. One time we were in England with our family and there was a sign out in front of a window that said “Citizens Advice Council.” And my girls all go, “Mom, that’s the perfect job for you.”
And I loved it because Cathy kind of goes, “Well, you’re probably right.”
So, her love language of giving us all advice, and it doesn’t matter if it’s about diet or Jesus, she had to learn to kind of keep her mouth shut.
One day I was talking on this subject—and this kind of displays Cathy and me—and I put a Band-Aid around my tongue, which makes it look kind of weird. And I just opened, I opened my talk with this Band-Aid on my tongue. And I was going . . . kind of just mumbling almost, and I said, “So I have a lot of scars on my tongue.” And so what we had to learn was honestly to give them advice when it was there, set some boundaries because they were still under our dime, so to speak, but actually kind of let them learn to figure it out and trust that in God’s sovereignty, they were gonna come out fine.
Now I’m on the back side of that. My kids have made good decisions, they don’t have the same . . . we’re not in the same agreement with a lot of things, but you know they made good decisions. But through that process, one of the things that I say to parents is, “This is your chance to get as . . . talk about healthy. Emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy as you possibly can because you’re letting them go.”
I don’t know if you ever read to your kids the Judith Viorst book on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Jen: Of course.
Jim: But she also actually spoke about adult children, which is very fascinating. Obviously not in that book. And she said, “Letting go of our children must be counted among our necessary losses.”
For Cathy and I, now this is in hindsight, we didn’t even realize we were grieving or that it was a sense of loss, but it was . . . because our kids had been dependent on us and they were moving from dependence to independence. And with that process of letting them go, again, that was not an easy adventure. And at the same time, they needed us. They needed some of our money, they needed our counsel, they wanted our input at certain times. I mean still, again, today because of technology I mean we probably talk to them everyday, or at least what they call talking in terms of texting them.
Jim: But that was a hard time for us. And it was a hard time for us to understand that there is a bit of loss, but that’s our job description. What’s our job description? Our job description is to give our kids their passport to adulthood and hope and pray they’ll figure it out. And, again, on the backside like I’ve mentioned, our kids have figured it out in a good way.
Jen: I love hearing you talk about this so much. And I think what I am feeling a sense of relief about, even just listening to you thus far, is that there is kind of a simple equation here, which is letting our kids go and handing the reins, largely, off to them. It’s just hard.
Jen: And I think a real simple thing to say, but you know my generation has kind of been told that with the right ingredients, we can control all the outcomes we want.
Jim: Right, right.
Jen: We’ve been handed that narrative. “These are the 10 steps to parenting, and this is what you do, and this how you guarantee that your kids are gonna follow this path.” And, honestly, I bought into that when the kids were little, and I was still largely in control of things. But the truth is, there’s loss and there’s struggle and there’s a bit of heartache in that season, and it doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong.
Jen: It just means it’s hard.
Jim: No, it’s perfect. You just said it perfectly. Your generation, Jen, we dubbed it the “helicopter generation.”
Jim: Because they were so involved in their kid’s life. I mean it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful, but it was probably too much. So what we’re trying to say here is land the helicopter, but landing the helicopter is not easy and it’s not without its pain and confusion. And, again, like I said at the very beginning, no one really understands how to do this. I mean the kids don’t either. So they’ll bounce back and forth. They’ll be, “I’m an adult, I’m gonna make an adult decision here.” And then they make a decision that you would go, “I’m not sure that’s an adult decision.”
Jim: And so we’re going, always, back and forth. The parents who I’ve seen do the best, and I’ve interviewed so many parents on this and read every book there is on this subject, and these are the parents who move from being day-to-day parent, to now mentor/coach when asked.
Jen: When asked—that’s a big caveat.
Jim: And notice that I said “when asked.”
I have a daughter who’s 32 who called today asking about car insurance. And I went, Well, I get that. We’ve been pretty much paying for her car insurance until the last couple of years. And she all of a sudden realized Geico had a better deal than somebody else. So how cool is that? But she was calling me now more as a mentor/coach than as a her dad who needed to try to fix it. And you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to go online and just take care of her.
Jim: And I had to say, “No this is, that’s great. This is what you do. Here’s your options.”
Jen: Wow. That’s so great. It seems to be a teeny bit more clear on the front end and a little bit more clear on the back end.
Jen: And then there’s this muddy middle, the transitionary time, which is exactly where I live right now.
So you mentioned correctly that my generation has been called the helicopter generation, with good reason. We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do that, and somehow it was handed to us. I don’t really know where that came from, this sense of “the children shall be the center of your universe or they’ll be damaged for life.” I mean, I really, we heard that loud and clear.
But I wonder, ’cause you see so many parents, you get this like 35,000-foot view on a whole generation of parenting, so what would you say that those of us who are parenting teens and young adults right now, what would you say we’re maybe getting right? What are they doing that’s maybe helpful that no generation has maybe done before them, simply because of the culture we live in or the advances that we now have to navigate? What are your observations there?
Jim: Yeah, and by the way, that’s a great question because we typically kind of whine and complain about it. But I think this generation of parents, I think your generation of parents are doing so many things right because you’re building relationships. There was a previous generation . . . and it’s not friendships. If you’re trying to be their best friend, forget it. You’re too old. But if you’re continuing to have a relationship with them that’s meaningful, previous generations didn’t have that as much.
My dad was a good guy. I didn’t come, again, from a Christian home. I came from an alcoholic home and what not, but he worked hard. The way he said he loved us was he worked from morning until night, so we didn’t see much of him. And my mom was more the relational goddess in our family, if you would.
But the point being is that people have leaned into relationships. People do stuff with their kids. They make memories with their kids. They really do. And I actually think that it’s a great generation of parenting. You know, HomeWord, the organization I work with, is the largest provider of parenting seminars in the U.S., and so I hear all the horror stories every week. But I also hear the great stories of parents in the summer season taking on . . . taking some great trips and playing with their kids. We played with our kids when they were little, but now as our kids are older, well you know, we still need to have serious fun with our kids, and I think this generation is doing that remarkably well.
And I think this generation, I think where they get in trouble, which is good and bad, is that they sometimes become a child-focused marriage if they’re married, and I think the ones that are . . . but I see a lot of people who are saying, But you know what? We need to have a date night. We need to have some boundaries that way. Sure, we’re gonna put a lot of energy . . .
And you know, if you have a two year old, it’s not like you say, “Hey, fix yourself some peanut butter, we’re going away for the weekend.” But, I think that’s one of the more positive things too that I actually see people waking up to the factthat if they’re a child-focused marriage, it’s not gonna be healthy for the kids.
So, I’d say relationships and the marriage side really, really good. Yeah.
Jen: I think that is a great observation. We’ve had to sort of shift the way that we spend time with our kids, obviously. We have almost all teenagers. My husband, right this very minute with my daughter, who we’ve got exactly four weeks left with before she goes to college, they are in the . . . this is their summer of watching together all the old classic 80s movies. So I mean, they made a list, and they’re just powering through. Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, they’re doing them all.
Jen: It’s great. It’s really great, and it’s just a different way to connect, and I think sort of adjusting like that is mark of a really good parent. And thank you for saying that about balancing what is good connected parenting with what is also good connected marriage.
Brandon and I travel. We make a point to travel at least once a year just us with our friends, without any kids. And I do, I get kind of weird twisty insides about that sometimes, that not every trip we take involves all these spawn, but it’s so good for us. They’re all gonna leave. They’re gonna be out of my house in eight years, all of them.
Jim: Yes. One time I was speaking in Australia, and Cathy said, “I’m sorry,” and we were gonna have two extra days of play, and she goes . . . the kids were little, and she goes, “I need to get home.”
Jim: And so we just made the flight change and what not. Okay, sometimes you have to do that. But most of the time, you know what, your kids are gonna be fine as long as there’s good people watching them, and that’s what you do.
Jen: That’s it.
Jim: Yeah, you have to build into it. Or, too many people in my world, their kids are now where my kids are, and they look at each other and kind of go, “Who are you, and do I even want to be with you?”
Jen: Yeah, what have you been doing for 25 years?
Jim: No, really, really sad when you begin to see what are the timeframes of when people disrupt their marriage and get a divorce or whatever, one of them is after the kids get out of the house. And I understand some of that, but at the same time, I’m sad about that because I think they could have put some energy into it while the kids were there.
Jen: Thank you for saying that. That’s what all of us want. We want to raise healthy kids and we want to still have a marriage at the end of it. I think that is the end game that we’re all striving for and looking for a lot of counsel on how to get that.
Jen: So I want to go back to something we just mentioned, ’cause you said positively this will happen.
My mom has been a high school principal or teacher for about the last 25 or 30 years, and she says inevitably at the beginning of the school year, she’ll have a weepy mom sitting in her office. It’s her oldest kid’s senior year, so she’s having some mental breakdowns, which I understand. And my mom, who’s very no-nonsense, she tells every one of them every time, she’s like, “Listen, lady, just dry up your tears, ’cause they’ll be back. Don’t you worry about it. This is not the end, it is only the beginning of a chapter you did not expect to write.”
So I want to talk about that for a second, because I would suggest that our adult children are inheriting a little bit of a different world than we did, than our parents did for sure, and so a lot of these kids, when they’re coming out of school, their student debt is at an all-time high in the history of student debt, and the jobs are a little bit more scarce because the job market is shifting, and a college degree is a tiny bit devalued because everybody has one. And so a lot of them are indeed having to move home to make ends meet.
So let’s just say that we have folks listening that have had a kid move back home, or maybe they’re the kid that moved back home. I wonder what kinds of boundaries you would suggest that we develop with an adult child moving home, to make sure that the relationship stays intact and are like, We’re setting our compass toward the north star where that kid moves out and everybody’s healthy.
Jim: Yeah, and you’re 100% right. I even remember when our daughter Heidi graduated from college, the Undersecretary of the Navy was speaking, and she said, “Eighty percent of you are gonna move back home,” and there was a groan. The groan wasn’t from the kids, it was from the parents’ section where we all were.
But you used the right word. The word is boundaries. I mean, we’ve got to set up boundaries. What I oftentimes will say is, “It’s the same house, it’s a different family.” And so I think the really good thing for a parent to do is to set boundaries and expectations within reason, and also kind of have an exit strategy. Like you have when you speak, and you talk about movies and things, you have very meaningful movies. One of my favorite movies is a movie called Failure to Launch. It’s just a goofy movie, right?
Jim: But the truth is, is that so many kids kind of have this failure to launch because I don’t think we set boundaries, expectations, and literally help them with an exit plan. And I think we can be very . . . lavish them with grace and lavish them with that kind of time, but you know, the job for them is to become . . . you know, your bottom line, and I say this about parenting, I don’t care if they’re five, but is for them to become a responsible adult, not to become an obedient child.
Jen: That’s good.
Jim: So if you want them to become a responsible adult, then there has to be that exit. Now, different cultures do it different ways. At HomeWord, we do a lot of work in the Spanish speaking culture, and a lot of the especially young women aren’t going to move out of the house until they’re married. And if they get married late, then they didn’t move out of the house.
Jen: Good point.
Jim: I get different cultures do it different ways, but I believe strongly that when we set some of those boundaries, express the expectations, that that’s a key. But part of it is, if they’re gonna be in our house, then there are certain rules that they’re gonna have to live by, which are our house rules.
Now again, you can’t have the same rules that you had . . . a lot of people will say, “Hey, when you were 15, these were the rules. Now you’re gonna have to live by them.” I mean, you know, that’s not gonna happen. My kids went away to college, they came back with totally different sleeping hours than they had left with.
Jen: That is a fact right there.
Jim: Right, and so our deal was kind of like, Oh my gosh, do we put a curfew? And I was the one who would be staying up late. You know, my kids aren’t doing anything horrible, they’re just with their friends doing whatever, but I’m up still going, Okay, where is she and why didn’t she call? And well, she’s 23 years old. Does she really need to still be calling her daddy? I’m not sure about that.
But again, I had to have boundaries and expectations as well. And I would say during those adult years when they moved back in—because I saw some of the decisions they were making, which I didn’t think were the smartest decisions—I had to basically move to, “Well, you know, you earned it.” So I needed to help them earn some of the consequences of a poor decision and let them go, when I’d really liked to have helped them, ease them that way. But I think experience is a better teacher than advice, and it’s a hard one when they’re living at home.
Jen: That is so true. I think your advice is very sage, which is right upfront, have an exit strategy, ’cause I think that, if it’s open-ended, all of a sudden two months is two years.
Jim: Yeah, no, exactly.
Jen: And that will really sincerely put a strain on your relationship one way or another.
Jim: Right. And you know, we have a daughter who had lived out on her own, and she’s awesome, and she started to decide to get a degree in clinical psychology and become a counselor. She’d counseled us all of her life, so she might as well get paid to do it.
Jim: So she said, “Hey, Mom and Dad, can I move back in for a bit while I’m going to grad school?” But we didn’t leave a boundary. So she, all through grad school, she had a great deal. It was our house. But it was hard for her then to move on, and she has, but it was hard for her to move on. It was hard for us to let her go because we knew she was incurring graduate school debt, we knew she was getting her hours as a counselor and all this kind of stuff, so we just kept putting her in there. And in a sense, she now says, “I’m not sure I grew the way I would have liked to have grown.”
She’s not blaming us, ’cause she was happy to get the deal. But at the same time, I had to say to her, “Look, this is not a hotel. You’re part of our family, so that means you’re doing some dishes here.” And we also set times. Like, “We want one night a week with you and we’ll do a fun dinner,” and she loved that. But so there were kind of some fun things too, but we found out later, after 24 months, we went, “You know what? We need an exit strategy here.”
Jim: And it was tied into money.
Jen: Yeah, of course.
Jim: Because my goodness, she had just spent a bunch of money going to grad school, she was working at the time, but you know, just barely making the payments. So our exit strategy was six months that turned . . . once at six, she wasn’t ready, and we said, “Hey, my goodness, let’s go with eight.” At eight, we were both excited that she moved out, and not because there was tension, we just went, Wait, she has to figure this out on her own.
Jen: Yeah. Yeah, and we did. We did. I have to remind myself on the regular, because I will admit right now to being the parent who . . . my bent is to want to minimize my kids’ struggle, or swoop in a little bit and make it a little easier, or give them a little bit of a wider safety net. That is positively my way. That was my dad’s way. So I have to remind myself regularly that we moved out as young adults, we did not have two dimes to rub together, but we sorted it out. And it was good for us. It really was. It was good for us and we learned a lot, and I wouldn’t trade those years for easier years necessarily.
Jen: But for some reason, watching my own kids have to scrape and scrap it all together feels harder than it did for me, but it’s not any harder. And I don’t want to rob them of that.
So let me ask you this, because you’ve already . . . your daughters are . . . are they all married?
Jim: No, I have two who are married, and one who is not married.
Jen: Okay, got it. So I obviously have no married children yet, but I’ve got a 20-year-old, so we’re hedging into the 20s. And so what do we do, what should we do, if our child, our adult child either dates or marries a partner that we don’t particularly love? Like, how do we keep ourselves from becoming those in-laws? You know, those awful in-laws that people make movies about. How do we avoid that terrible space?
Jim: That’s actually a very good line. Well, first of all, there is a principle, “they’ll never know how far the town is if you carry them on your back, and so you can’t carry them on your back.”
Here’s my principle for that: Wear beige and keep your mouth shut. Honestly, if they know how you feel, if they know what your values are if they’re breaking them, or if the person is just . . . you’re going, Seriously? This is the person that you’re hanging out with? I don’t think it’s bad for them to know that there’s some concerns, but pretty much I don’t think you have choice. You raised them to make good decisions. They’re not gonna always make good decisions, and so I find that that isn’t the best thing.
I was telling a woman the other day, she was having trouble with getting access to her husband and grandkids, and I said, “Hey, your access,” I mean, not her husband, to her son. I said, “Your access is through, they’re married, but is through the wife.”
And she goes, “Well, I don’t really like the wife.”
And I said, “Well, you know what? There’s a lot of people we don’t like at work and other places, and we just, we kind of learn to do it.”
And she called me the other day. She’s a personal friend of ours, she was actually talking to my wife and then she said, “Put Jim on the phone.” And she said, “Hey, I’m kind of winning with Starbucks cards.”
And I go, “Well what do you mean?”
She goes, “Remember we were talking, and you said, ‘What does she like?’ And I said, ‘Well, she loves coffee. And you said, ‘Well, get her a Starbucks card and just go over. Don’t even ask her, invite yourself to get Starbucks, but just start doing that.’”
And she goes, “You know, that Starbucks card, all of a sudden, now I’m doing a little babysitting, and it just kind of opened up.” Now again, it’s not the end of the story where now everything is perfect, ’cause then she went on to tell me that she still didn’t like this lady, but the point being is there’s not a whole lot we can do.
Jim: It’s just not simple, but I believe that we kind of need to keep our mouth shut and adapt. So, when it comes to issues with in-laws, step . . . and I’d call in-laws even people that they’re dating, in-laws, step, the blend, whatever . . . you know, I think we adapt. For example, we be the number one supporter of them.
Jen: That’s good.
Jim: So you know, you support their marriage or you support their relationship, and if you don’t like the person that they’re dating, then they should come to your house more often if they’re in the area, come more often for a meal or whatever, and again, then go into the back bedroom and you and your husband scream into the pillow.
Now again, other people will have different advice than that. I didn’t say never talk to them about it, I just simply said don’t become a one topic person.
Jen: That’s good.
Jim: Way too many parents of teenagers or adult children become one-topics. They go in a different direction than us or they’re dating somebody that we don’t like, or they marry somebody we don’t like, and that becomes all encompassing. Well, fine, they know how you feel, now go shopping with them or go to a ballgame or whatever it is. Binge on 1980 classic movies. Do whatever you’re gonna do, but still keep the relationship going, because you would do that with a friend, you would do that with somebody else in in work, at church, whatever, and I think that’s what we do.
I love this, but I have this quote that I’ve been saying a lot lately, that “Good thing Easter isn’t just one day and that it’s a season, because some miracles take time.” You know, how many times has that happened? I don’t think my parents actually liked my wife.
Jim: And then later, I think they actually liked my wife better than they liked me. But again, some miracles take time, and Cathy won them over. It’s a different story, but again, it’s like . . . you talked about the fact, you’re in an interesting place because more in your stage of life, many of your friends are the adult children to their parents who are still alive, and they’re now beginning that process with adult children.
Jen: That’s right.
Jim: Yeah, so you just . . . again, no easy answers, but I would say honestly the number-one support, when Steve, who we adore, he’s the son-in-law who just moved our daughter Christy to Texas. I’m not sure we adore him for that, but anyway—
Jim: But again, what happened when she first started dating him, I went, “What are you thinking?” That’s not who I would have chosen. I would have chosen the cool and groovy youth pastor who had it all together. And Steve’s kind of this fun, outgoing, hard worker, messy kind of guy who didn’t have the education that Christy did. And today I just see that blending. And I think he’s a wonderful father to my two grandkids, and he’s becoming a great friend to me. But at the beginning, I was like, “Christy.” I didn’t say it to her, but I just went, “Christy, seriously, there’s like a lot better people, and I am glad to choose. And if we lived in India, maybe I could just do a match for you, but we don’t live in India.”
Jen: Right. I really like that you said that. Give it the gift of some time and see what develops. You are so right. I mean, I can name a dozen relationships in my life that progressed to a wonderful, beautiful space that didn’t start there.
And also, I’m reminded as you’re talking, I’ve got a good friend who when she was dating her now-husband, but way, way back in the day when they were just dating, his mother talked about her in a way to him that to this day has injured their relationship, to this day, 25 years later. You can’t ever undo that. You can never put those words back in. You can never take them back. You can never unhear them. And so I appreciate your caution here to go gently, to go slowly, to be patient, to say less rather than more. I think that is wise virtually in every context, but certainly in this one.
Jim: Yes. And your illustration is perfect. I actually give an illustration in my book on doing life with your adult children about a woman who her son-in-law was into drugs and he made some horrible decisions relationally, and so she just totally badmouthed to her daughter, just totally badmouthed the guy, and there’s a child involved. And lo and behold, they get back together. Well guess what? She doesn’t have access to her daughter or grandchild because she had badmouthed him, and of course her daughter told her husband, they were still married. You know, again, if you have to do that, have a small group, say it with a friend, speak into your own pillow and put the pillow close to your face. But I just don’t think we do that. Why bring that kind of drama to it? Offer support, don’t criticize. Don’t criticize the in-laws, don’t criticize even when they have children, don’t criticize their parenting.
We had our daughter Christy and Steve with our grandchildren, it was the total joy of our life, but from May till this week, they were living with us, trying to save some money for their Texas home dream. And there were a few things that they did with their two-and-a-half-year-old and I was like, “Oh man, you guys, I wouldn’t do that.” And then I thought, Nope, I just need to be quiet. They’re great people. Keep my mouth shut, and I tried to. So that’s what you do.
Jen: That’s so good. It’s such an exercise in restraint.
Jim: Yes, it is.
Jen: It’s so weird because as parents, it’s really all we do when they’re little is tell them what to do. I mean, that is our job description.
Jen: And so it’s such a monumental change to transition that, like, button it up. It requires so much internal restraint and patience. I always think, I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve raised teens, ’cause you know, there’s just a minute there where they just lose their minds, you know what I mean? They’re just . . . like you’re living with insane people.
Jen: And I try to just remember, like, Okay Jen, right now, put your eye on the long game. They are not gonna be this insane forever. They’re not. Their brains will return to working order. They’re not gonna act this foolish for the rest of their lives. They’re gonna shut that smart mouth one of these days.
And I just don’t want to say anything or do anything, in this little short window—and frankly, it is short. I mean, in the span of our relationship from the time they’re born until the end of our lives, these years are a minute. Just literally a minute—I don’t want to do anything irreparable while their bodies and minds are just competing for domination in their weird little bodies that I will regret for the next 25 years. I don’t want that. And so that long game approach helps me parent sometimes, when I just kind of think, You know what? I’m gonna walk away from you. You’re a crazy person, and I’m not gonna get on this insane roller coaster with you. I’ll see you when you land. Good luck. Go with God. I wish you well. And they do eventually come back.
And I wonder about this question. So, I mentioned many times I have a 20 year old, and he’s a boy. Now, you have all girls, so I don’t know if this is different or not yet. I’m not far enough on my own parenting journey to know, ’cause my oldest is a son, and my next one’s a girl, but she’s still here. So, my 20-year-old is not calling me enough. He’s not. That’s just a fact. This is not an opinion. In fact, I’m not joking, this very morning, his girlfriend texted me and said, “I wonder,” ’cause my son went with her and her family to the beach last week, she said, “Did you get any updates from our trip?”
And I’m like, “Do you think I got any updates from this trip? I didn’t even know he was going.” And so she sends me all the pictures, right, and tells me what they did, and I’m thinking, Okay, I did something wrong. My son doesn’t call me. So how do we interact with these adult children, or almost adult children, whatever they are, who are either pulling away from us or they’re interacting with us way more infrequently than we wanted?
Or, let’s take it one notch forward while you’re talking, what do we do if they decide maybe even for a season not to have a relationship with us at all, ’cause I know I have some listeners like that.
Jim: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think you are in the majority with the boys not always connecting. I think, and again, gender issues are always interesting, but I do think guys for some reason sort of forget to talk to Mom and Dad. I remember because of not having cellphones when I was in college and what not, if I called my parents once a week, it was amazing, and I would forget a week here and there, and it just didn’t enter my mind.
My parents must have been incredibly patient, because when I would get that call finally, they would just go, “Oh, it’s so great to hear from you,” and you know, blah, blah, blah. So, I think you’re going through a normal thing. I would also say that sometimes you might, without making them feel guilty, I think it’s possible to say, “Hey, how about a Sunday conference call and we’ll bring your sister into it too? Or something. I think there’s some practical ways where they go, “Oh, yeah okay, I’ll do that.” Where they don’t see that as as big a deal.
They honestly love you, they aren’t thinking about the connection. That doesn’t mean that their love goes, they just, they forget that we think about them 24/7/365 and will until the day we die. We will. I mean, we are going to, and so part of that is that loss. So I think you’re in the norm ,and I think there are some practical things you can do in terms of trying to get the conference call thing happening, especially if they’re outside of the area.
You asked me another question. It was really good, and my mind slipped on it.
Jen: I wanted you to speak to the parent listening whose adult child or young adult child has pulled away entirely and for whatever reason is sort of not willing to maintain an adult relationship with their parents.
Jim: I would actually give your advice back to . . . that you just gave. I would give it back to you in some ways in the sense that know that it’s a season. I would still, I would send birthday gifts. I would send cards, “I was thinking about you.” Never make it preachy, never make it kind of the mom or the dad who kind of goes, “Oh, you’ve broken my heart,” things like that, not lay any of that stuff on them. I would just keep the relationship up. It may be one-sided and send the card, but really I think you’re on their timeframe.
If there is something that needs to be mended, then do that slowly. I mean, you might be totally ready to mend it, they may not. Let them know that you’re open to mending that, and do whatever you can to do it, but don’t say, “Hey, we need to go to counseling right now,” or we need to do this and that because they may not be ready for it.
Jen: That’s good.
Jim: People respond to warmth, and people respond to tone, and people respond to the atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be . . . I mean, sure, it’s within the house. I mean, with your silliness of having still four kids in the house, I mean, life’s chaotic. If it’s not, you’re the first in the world.
Jen: Right. No, it is. Trust me.
Jim: Yeah. You can’t always have a tone of warmth and an atmosphere of walking six inches off the ground, and isn’t life perfect. No, but even from a distance you can do that. Be the one who sends the goodie package. If you don’t get a thank you, you don’t expect a thank you, especially if they’re in a mood where they’re not connecting with you. As time goes on, and I’ve seen this over and over again where I’ve seen people who are in those broken relationships and they start praying about it, they start really focusing on being positive, they don’t flood their kids. And guess what? The kid gets married or the kid has a grandchild or now they have a grandchild and they want a relationship. They go, “Wow, for the last several years even, these people have been kind of nice to me. They weren’t what they used to be.” If you have to apologize, then apologize. A lot of times, we keep waiting for our kids to apologize, but I find that one of the strongest things that we can do is say, “Hey, I’m sorry. That was more about me in my season than you.”
Jim: When we do that, we’re going to reap the benefits. Very seldom will they stay that way forever, and if they do, what a loss for them and what a loss for you too. But it’s more loss for them because you did everything you could do. As you know, there are plenty of listeners who are in that place. You might not be able to even identify with that or I can’t identify that with my own personal life, but the people that are around us experience that every day.
Let’s talk about the flip side of that because not all my listeners are parents, but all of us are adult daughters and sons. That is something we share in common. We have parents that we may or may not have good adult relationships with. Sometimes our own parents cross boundaries or they hurt our feelings or we hit some sort of fork in the road where our ideology or our value systems sort of break off from one another or we choose something they didn’t choose or vice versa.
I wonder how we as adult children maintain relationships with our parents while still standing our ground maybe on things that matter to us, on our own personal convictions, on things that we believe in and the life that we have sort of chosen, without both parties just ending up a puddle of tears on the floor. How would you counsel us as all adults to maintain those relationships?
Jim: First of all, if I had an easy answer, wouldn’t that be wonderful? But, you know what, Jen, I honestly think that if we have boundaries . . . we have to have boundaries even with our adult parents. Sometimes we have to lower the expectations. They aren’t going to be the parent maybe that we are, or they’re not going to be the parent that we had ever dreamed of them to be, but we can still have a relationship with them. We can either choose not to talk about some of those types of issues because we don’t have to have a conversation every time about politics, religion, values, whatever it is.
Jim: Honestly, it goes back to us talking earlier about keeping our own mouths shut with our own kids. It’s keeping our mouths shut with our parents. That doesn’t mean that our parents, they may not have that philosophy. Sometimes you just have to kind of shake your head and lower it. But I do believe that we were meant for relationships. We want to have relationships with our parents, even though it’s not perfect. I think we continue to take three steps forward and a step back, like I said earlier.
But with that, I think we need to have the discipline to just simply not go there. Let’s say that there is a moral issue, or it’s a political issue, or it’s a religious issue, or whatever it might be. I think sometimes you just have to say, You know what, these are not the people that I feel safe around having that conversation, so I’m not going to do it.
Jen: That’s good. Just don’t have it.
Jim: Yeah. When they bring it up . . . My family, not being really raised in a Christian environment or whatever, my family would sometimes bring stuff up, and I would just kind of smile. I think sometimes my smile, they thought that meant I agreed with them on something or whatever. Frankly, I just had to take the hit because I thought, You know what? I am not going to jump in that pile of doo because that’s not going to work at this Christmas thing, or at whatever it is. Having strong boundaries is a good thing.
Two of my best friends are some guys who wrote books on Boundaries: Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Jen: Yeah, I’ve had them on the show.
Jim: Oh great. I’ve kind of done life with them since . . . well, in the early ’80s. The idea of having boundaries is a loving thing. Sometimes we think the idea of having boundaries with our parents.
Jen: Yes, it is.
Jim: But, no, it’s a loving thing. I know it’s sometimes not easy, but sometimes you just go, You know what? I’m just simply not going to go there. My own relationship with my mother-in-law, and you always can make the mother-in-law jokes, but she was a tough lady, and my wife would be the first to say that. She’s now passed on. She liked me more than she liked . . . We teased because everybody would say, “Why does she like you so much?” But it was because I never went negative on her, and I had something negative every day, even about how she treated my wife.
Jen: Sure, yeah.
Jim: Even her siblings would kind of laugh and go, “Jim, can you go talk to Martha about this because we can’t get through to her?” I have to admit, I acted as if I loved her. I actually, at the end of the whole deal, I was really one who . . . I mean, I did have a love for her. At the same time, she still drove me crazy. But also, my relationship was not deep because she wanted to talk about everything that just was like all my hot buttons. I’d go, “Oh my gosh, I just . . .”
Cathy, on the other hand, the daughter, would jump into those. My wife would just get into those hot buttons.
Jen: She’d take the bait.
Jim: Yeah, she’d take the bait and in the car back, I’d give my wife some critique, which always doesn’t work just like your adult children, but I’d say, “Wow, I wouldn’t have gone there if I was you.”
She goes, “I know. As it was coming out of my mouth, I could hear what you would probably say to me, and I think you’re right.”
Jen: I appreciate you talking about this a lot. Some of the most . . . I realize that I am super fortunate in that I’m really close to my parents. I have good parents. They were healthy parents, and they still are. We’re really close. But I’ve got, of course, a ton of friends who have contentious relationships with either their parents or their in-laws, either way. Some of the ones that I have discovered to be the happiest and the healthiest, even inside what is a difficult relationship with very real differences—I don’t say this to minimize those because some differences are severe and they matter, they’re not without consequence—but the ones that I notice who have the most joy, even inside of those relationships, are the ones who’ve decided I am going to just accept this relationship for what it is, not for what I want it to be.
Jen: Or not for what it should have been even, to be fair, or what I wish it would have been or some future version of it that, frankly, is probably never going to materialize, but rather this is who they are, this is who I am, and this is where our relationship is. Inside of those limitations, I am just going to accept it as it is. I find a lot of health in that space.
To your very good point, we don’t have to constantly pick every battle. I would say 99 times out of 100, they end poorly. We’re not going to likely convince our in-laws or parents of something important to us that they disagree on any more than they’re going to convince us. We’re just banging our heads against walls. I think there’s something very wise in saying, This is not a perfect relationship. They were not perfect parents, and we were not perfect children or in-laws, but this is what we have. And inside of it, we’re going to make the most of it and not put any expectations upon it that are just unrealistic.
Then you just can kind of release all that I wish it should have been, or It could have been, or I wish you would, or I wish you did. Deferred hope is such a drain. It’s so hard on the human spirit.
I thank you for saying that. I want to ask you one more question before—
Jim: Actually, thank you for saying that because I think it was more articulate than what I said. I mean, I really agree with you. I think there’s people who, if they take that advice that you just gave, it could change their relationship with their parents and change their life.
Jen: Yeah, it really could. We get the choice, because we’re grown adult humans, to choose. We get to choose a lot of relationships that we put into our lives: our friends, our neighbors, our church families, our . . . We get to curate a lot of really healthy, wonderful people in our life, and our family just isn’t one of them. We get what we get. I think there is something marvelous about saying, “You can’t give me this thing that I need. I’m going to have to find it elsewhere, but here’s what you can give me, here’s what you do for me. Here’s what you have given me.”
Jen: Let me ask you this question before we wrap it up: I heard that you keep a Post-it note on your desk that just has the letters A-W-E, awe, on it. I wonder if you could tell us about that and what it is supposed to remind you.
Jim: I love that. I just looked at it because I’m sitting at my desk, and I just looked at it and I went, Man, that thing is crumpled up, and I think it used to be more white and now it’s yellow. It’s funny that you’d even mention that.
It says awe, and it’s A-W-E. It stands for “affection, warmth and encouragement.” It’s a life message for me, not so much to others, but for me personally to remember to shower people with affection. Obviously, we shower people with affection at different levels. My affection level to my children and my wife, it’s different.
In fact, I just saw that at UCLA, they just did a study that said it takes eight to 10 meaningful touches a day for someone to thrive. I was thinking about my brother who’s in a wheelchair and kind of a mess right now from a stroke. I came over to him. I really couldn’t say anything to him, but I just kind of held onto him guy-to-guy, which looked a little bit awkward, especially for him. That would have been weird. You know what? He didn’t want to let go. Then he kind of held my hand. That’s affection. We don’t really do that. We don’t do that enough. With my kids, especially, and my wife, I want be a person whose affectionate with them, with obviously appropriate affection.
Warmth is what we kind of talked about. It’s setting an atmosphere.
My mom practiced a real sense of warmth. My friends would come over to see me and she’d go, “No, he’s down at the gym playing basketball.”
And they’d go, “Well, can I just come in and hang out with you, Mrs. Burns?”
It was because she asked about them, she cared about them. I just find that that whole idea of developing warmth, and I think it’s a discipline to do that.
Jen: I do too.
Jim: There’s a phrase that I use: “Does it really matter?” You know what? Most stuff . . . and there’s some things that matter, especially with families.
Jen: I love that.
Jim: Yeah, most stuff doesn’t matter.
Jen: You’re right.
Jim: I think my mom brought warmth with that, and then encouragement. It was what Mark Twain said, “You can live two months on one good compliment.” I find that even when you’re talking about discipline as a parent and all these issues in relationships, really, people thrive with encouragement. I’m looking at a little phrase that I’ve got up here in my office that says, “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them.”
Jen: That’s great.
Jim: My daughter, Heidi, who’s now 30, but she came in at Christmas and she reads that. Now, this thing has been in there probably since she’s been born—talk about yellowed—and she said, “Dad, I mean, you’re that person for me. Thank you.” And I cried.
The story is, I was, I wanted to be, but at the same time, I mean, I had to discipline her and I had to bring her around. I think that’s AWE. If you have a relationship with AWE, you can replenish a marriage with AWE, you can replenish friendships with AWE. It’s obviously at different levels, but especially with parenting. I want to be that person who can cheer them on. I think you do it through encouragement, not through giving more advice.
Jen: That’s the best counsel. I love that we ended it on that.
So listen, I’m going to do a quick wrap-up with you. These are quick, kind of rapid questions that we’re asking all of our guests in the parenting series. You can just fire off whatever, top of your head.
Okay, here’s the first one. Tell us something that your parents, one of your parents, used to say to you that you said, “I’m literally never going to say that to my own kids,” yet you did.
Jim: Oh my goodness, tons of things. One thing that my dad always used to say was, “Do we really need to spend the money on that?” I always thought of him as being kind of stingy and whatnot. I just go, Wait, I say that all the time.
Jen: All the time.
Jim: I still say it. I just thought about my dad, who’s now passed on. But I said it to my wife this time, not to my kids.
Jen: I love it. We hear our parents’ voices come straight of our mouth holes. It’s just shocking every time.
Okay, tell us this: What would you consider one of your biggest parenting fails where you’re like, Blew it, absolutely blew it.
Jim: Yeah. It was fail that kind of turned out okay, I guess.
I was actually getting my PhD, and we were living in Maui. Somebody had to get their PhD dissertation in Maui. Christie, my oldest, we were homeschooling our kids, and we’re not the homeschooling . . . It’s funny, I was getting a PhD and I couldn’t do sixth grade math, okay, and I was doing sixth grade math with her.
Jen: I get this. It’s so relatable.
Jim: She said something so frustrating, and I blew it. I’m not a yeller and a screamer. I actually stuff, so that’s a big of a problem. My dad was a rager, I wasn’t, I’m not, and I just totally blew it. I just went, “And furthermore,” and I looked over at my wife for help. And she just looked like, What kind of a gorilla are you right now?
Jen: You’re a monster.
Jim: I walked out the door. I slammed the door, and I went and sat on the beach for a little bit thinking, How do I swim to California? I made a fool of myself.
I walked back in to Christie, and I said, “Christie,” she was in her bedroom and she had her little book on her chest because I’d sent her to her room. I said, “Christie, I am so sorry. I mean, that was all about me and some of the pressure I’m under. That was not about you. Would you forgive me?”
A little 12-year-old awkwardly puts her arms around me because she’s in bed, kind of still hanging on. I’m kind of going knee-to-knee to her. She said, “Daddy, I forgive you, and I’m sorry too.”
What I learned in that moment was, yeah, I was an idiot and I am. Well, she’s 17 one time. She goes a little crazy. I get up there and she goes, “Dad, I’m so sorry. That’s all about me and that’s not about you,” and I give her a hug. She goes, “Will you forgive me?”
I said, “Absolutely.” I give her a hug. I said, “Do you remember a time when I said that to you?”
She goes, “Yeah, I was 12, and you yelled at me.”
Jen: That’s so good.
Jim: Anyway, and I could give tons of those things. The other part of the failure side for me is I’ve always wanted to be the Disneyland dad. I always want to be liked. The mistake would be for me that instead of saying, “Here’s the boundary. I know you’re still going to like me, but I’m still setting a boundary.” I would tend to have to be reminded by my wife that, no, they need boundaries because they’re going to become better people rather than—
Jen: That’s good.
Jim: You don’t have to always be liked by them.
Jen: That’s so good.
Tell us this: What is one of your most treasured parenting memories where you’re thinking, Ah, being a parent’s amazing.
Jim: It’s funny, we’ve been talking about adult children in this part of the broadcast. I would say that it was a day, a moment where we were sitting at a restaurant right before church, and our whole family was there. Christie was pregnant. We just found out that it was a boy, and she did the name reveal. She brought a children’s book, which was kind of weird. She goes, “I wanted to share with you guys what the name is going to be,” and then she hands me the book—I’m starting to cry as I’m telling you this right now—she opens it up and it says, “This belongs to James.”
Jen: I could cry.
Jim: Oh my gosh.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Jim: It’s funny, I am right now. My office is going to go, “What’s wrong with this guy?”
That moment, Christie was definitely not the perfect kid, but that moment I went, Wow.
Jen: That is so sweet.
Jim: What a beautiful life. I’m so close to these kids now. It’s funny, it’s a parenting/now grand-parenting moment. There’s been a lot of great . . . Jen, there’s a lot of great parenting moments for me. It’s the highlight of my life. I’ve written a few books. I do some speaking, I blah-blah-blah. None of that matters at all compared to the relationship with my kids.
Jen: That’s so precious, your namesake, James. That’s so dear.
This is my last question for you. This is a question we actually ask every guest on the podcast in all of our series. It’s a Barbara Brown Taylor question. Your answer can be whatever you want it to be. It can be big or small. It can be serious or silly. The question is what saving your life right now?
Jim: You know it’s funny. What’s been saving my life has been literally the incredible relationship that I have with my grandkids. There are other things that I could make it sound more spiritual, but . . .
Jen: That’s so sweet.
Jim: They were living in our house, and in the morning, because I get up earlier than anybody else, well, besides little James, and he starts yelling, “Papa J! Papa J! Get me out of here!” because he’s got this little playpen type thing. I’m sure you wouldn’t call it a playpen. There’s a better word for it. For me to get to hold him, and he gives me this hug.
Jen: “Get me out of here.”
Jim: And then we read stories together.
Right before they left for Texas, we had finished The Beginners Bible. It’s like 500 pages. On the day that he was leaving, we finished it. It was like, Wow. That gives me life and hope and the kind of joy that I in some ways didn’t even know with my kids because it’s a different level. A beautiful, beautiful life-giving experience.
Jen: I’ll tell you right now, all this great stuff we’ve talked about when it comes to parenting, I plan on abusing all those principles with absolutely no apologies for my grandkids.
Jim: Awesome. Hey, absolutely.
Jen: “Take all my money. I’ll get you out of this playpen. I’ll feed you snacks.”
Jen: I mean, that’s not my problem now. It’s going to be my kids’ problem.
Jim: That’s right. That’s right.
Jen: I’m going to use my position as grandparent, and I’m not sorry. In advance, I’m not sorry.
Dr. Burns, I thank you so much for being on the show, for your amazing just depth of knowledge and experience. Thank you for making this whole part seem doable, like we can do this.
Jim: We can.
Jen: We can spit ourselves and our little families out on the other side and have great adult relationships with our kids and learn how to navigate this with kind of humor and grace. I feel so encouraged. I just thank you. I thank you for your time and lending your expertise to our listeners. Can you tell them where they can find you, where they can find your stuff because I promise you they’re going to want to hear more from you after this podcast.
Jim: We’ve got a great website, Jen. It’s on parenting and marriage. It’s called HomeWord, H-O-M-E-W-O-R-D dot com. It has a podcast. It has lots of free resources on all the kind of topics on parenting and on marriage. That’s probably the easiest place to find out where I do my work, anyway.
Jen: Perfect. Listeners, as always, we’ll have all this linked over on my website at jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast tab. We’ll have Dr. Burns’ contact stuff and all his books and all his websites, so don’t worry about it if you’re driving and you can’t write it down right now, we’ll have it for you.
Thanks for being on the show, Dr. Burns. I’d love to have you back another time I have more questions.
Jim: Hey, great. Anytime, Jen, and thank you for what you’ve done for so long. Your voice is so important to our world. I really appreciate you.
Jen: What a nice thing to say. Give your daughters all my love.
Jim: You got it.
Jen: Tell them the next time they’re in Austin, they’ve got a friend, they’ve got a porch, and I’ll cook them dinner.
Jim: You’ve got a deal. You’ve got a deal.
Jen You too. Okay. Talk to you soon.
Such a helpful, wonderful conversation. Oh my gosh. I am personally walking away with some really good encouragement from that hour and feel like Ready, okay. We’ve got this. We can do this.
This is just an interesting phase of parenting, but it is not forever. What great tools Dr. Burns gave us to do this as well as we can knowing that failures and missteps are literally inevitable.
Anyhow, I hope that was helpful for you. When I’m telling you Dr. Burns has a ton of resources for you, I am not kidding. Be sure to head over to jenhatmaker.com under Podcast. Amanda will have built out the whole transcript page for you, which includes links and resources, so much more. Like, what we talked about times a million. If this is where you’re at and you need more instruction, head over there and we are so happy to connect you with such a wonderful teacher, what a wonderful guy, Dr. Burns.
Thanks for joining us in the parenting series, you guys. This is a lot of fun. We hope that we’re hitting a lot of different notes of parenting, not just one note, not just the “here’s how you parent the little kid” note. That feels like there’s a zillion resources for that, but sort of all sorts of things.
Thanks for your feedback. Thanks for your responses and your reviews and your ratings. We’re just so appreciative of you. We feel like we have the best listeners ever. This podcast community is so special to us. On behalf of the team, on behalf of Laura and Amanda and everybody sort of works with us and around us, we love bringing you this week after week. You guys, thanks for joining today, and we’ll see you next week for a new show.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!