Daring to Parent
About the Guest
Being a mom can be the biggest stretch of your life. But it’s so worth it. Those are the sentiments of Susan Merrill, as she reflects on her own life as a mother of five. Susan admits that she found her mothering answers in the book of Nehemiah. Like Nehemiah, Susan states that mothers need to build a wall around their children and open the gates, which she equates to privileges like dating and cell phones, only as wide as each child is appropriately able to handle. A mother’s perception will help her in this task.
Susan MerrillSusan Merrill is a wife, mother of five, director of iMOM.com, want-to-be blogger, and the very imperfect Merrill family manager. Susan lives in Tampa, Florida, with her handsome hubby, author Mark Merrill, and two or, depending on the day, up to five of her children ages 16 to 22. On those days she happily forsakes all other responsibilities to run a bed and breakfast / Laundromat for college students.
Susan Merrill admits that she found her mothering answers in the book of Nehemiah.
Daring to Parent
Bob: How tuned in are you to what’s going on in your son or daughter’s life? Here’s Susan Merrill.
Susan: I think there are a lot of things that happen in our children’s lives that, in the busyness of today, we miss. You know, you pick them up from carpool and all of these comments start flying: “I saw Sissy get hit on the playground!” or, “My teacher says I don’t make my 6’s and 9’s right,” or, “Somebody said this, and I don’t know what this word means.”
You’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh! What’s going on at school?” But you pull in the drive and you instruct everybody to get their baseball, and their basketball, and their ballet stuff, and you’ll get the snack. You pile back in the car, and guess what you’ve forgotten? Sometimes, with kids, you have to catch those little hints.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Being a mom is about more than just being there. It’s about being all there for your kids. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Didn’t you think that this book was going to be called All-Pro Mom? I mean, you had to think that that was coming; didn’t you?
Dennis: Well, I actually thought it might be titled The Mafia Moms.
Susan: Oh, no! [Laughter]
Dennis: The Mafia Moms. Do you know why?
Dennis: Because this mom—we’re about to talk to today—ran a secret, underground group of moms who all ratted on one another’s children to help raise them through adulthood. [Laughter]
Dennis: And she’s not done yet; so she doesn’t want me telling that!
Susan: No, I don’t! [Laughter]
Dennis: Susan Merrill joins us on FamilyLife Today. Susan, welcome.
Susan: Don’t—you’re telling all of my secrets! [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, you shouldn’t have put it in your book!
Susan: I know; I know.
Dennis: You shouldn’t have put it in your book if you didn’t want the secret told. Susan is married to her husband Mark—and has been—for 24 years.
Bob: And the reason I suggested the book should be called All Pro Mom is because Mark heads a ministry called All Pro Dad®; right?
Susan: There you go; there you go.
Dennis: And so, here she is. She has written a book called, not The Mafia Mom—
Dennis: —but The Passionate Mom. You’re talking about how moms need to dare to parent in today’s world. You have five children. You dare to parent; and yet, you’re a self-admitted perfectionist. You were afraid you wouldn’t be able to do it—you wouldn’t be able to get it right.
Dennis: Do you think that’s true of a lot of moms?
Susan: Oh, absolutely! It’s the thing that’s nearest and dearest to your heart—being a parent and a mom. That’s why we didn’t call iMOM® “All-Pro Mom” or “All Star Mom”. When we went to name it, they wanted to do that. I said: “Moms never feel that way. They’re not going to be able to relate to that term because we never feel like we’re doing everything that we want to do.”
Dennis: Susan, you referred to iMOM. It may have gone by our listeners. I want them to know what you do, exactly. Share with them what that’s all about.
Susan: Well, Family First® started All Pro Dad—like you said. That’s our fatherhood program. About five years into that, we were starting to hear from mothers: “Well, we want a daily email,” “We want insight,” “We want articles,” “We want access to those Christian authors who have such wisdom.”
They pulled me into the office and said, “Okay, we’ve got to start a mom program now. What’s it going to be—‘All Star Mom’ or ‘All Pro Mom’?” We called it iMOM.com because we think mom is a verb, not a noun.
Bob: You know, as you’re describing this sense that moms have—wanting to do it right—wanting to do it perfectly—I’m thinking back to when our kids were first born—and Mary Ann reading books, and (back in the day) listening to cassettes, and trying to get all of the training—wanting somebody to give her the checklist: “If you will just do these things, you will raise perfect, healthy kids, who are well-adjusted and who love the Lord.”
Susan: The moms today would say: “Where’s the Google map? How can I download the app that’s going to show me how to parent?” But you are right! You do! You want it to be clear; and yet, every mom is unique and every child is unique. Even, in one household, you have to parent some of them in a different way than others. My kids were all so different.
Bob: When did you realize it was going to require something different for each child?
Susan: My first child went to a small, private school that was very classical and somewhat strict. She was in there two years—no problems—you know, first child—she was very in-the-box and did very well.
My second child went. She got in the car—I picked her up the first day. She said: “Mommy! Guess what? I went to the wall today.” I panicked: “Megan has never been to the wall! What happened?” The wall is where they send you when you’re bad—you know, you have to go face the wall.
I said, “Honey, what happened?” “Well, Ariel, the mermaid, was playing in my head; and I just had to sing it out.” That’s when I knew I had different children [Laughter] because this child was not going to be like her sister before her. This child was very creative, and containing that in a very structured school was going to be a task.
Dennis: That’s what makes it so challenging. We have a child; and we think, “Well, this is going to be a piece of cake.” The first one is a conformist—or tends to be that way. Then, the second one, as you said, comes along and completely throws away the box.
Dennis: So, as a parent, I think it’s a great builder of your own personal faith because I think what God taught us, as parents, was, “If you’re going to raise them to adulthood and raise them according to the Scriptures, you have to be dependent upon Me.” That’s where you say moms need to start. They need to start with a foundation of their own personal faith.
Susan: They do. You have to be confident in that. You have to be willing to patiently wait for God to answer when certain things happen to your children. You’re not seeing the way to go—you’re not seeing the right way to train them so that they get it—they’re not getting the lesson. Sometimes, we have to wait for God to work through them and you to bring it to a point. It’s hard to understand. It’s hard when you want your child to get something and be the best they can be. Yet, God has His own timing.
Bob: Well, you have your own personality—
Bob: —your own way of thinking. Here’s a child—who is different than the way you think—and it’s your job to adjust to them. It’s not their job to adjust to you. That almost sounds counter-cultural. It sounds like I just said, “The kid’s going to run the family,” instead of, “Mom running the family,” or, “Dad running the family;” but you’re the grown-up. You’re the one with the wisdom and the skill. So, you have to bring that to bear; don’t you?
Susan: I think being a mom is the biggest stretch in your life! It really is. It’s selfless. It’s sacrificing. It requires discipline. It’s so many things that you just never dream of. You just think you’re going to have those sweet little peapods: “It’s all going to fun, and cuddly, and cute. It’s all going to be precious.” You have those visions of what it’s going to be like. It turns out: “No! These are people. They struggle with sin, and they have a walk to walk through.”
Then, on the flipside today, moms have so much more going on—so many of them work, so many of them are single parents, so many of them have financial stresses and things—that, again, usurp parenting. It’s a tough thing.
Dennis: Let me ask you this, Susan, because you were in banking at the time you met your—well, he was an attorney, at the time.
Dennis: Mark was practicing law. So, if you got into trouble—in the banking industry—so you could have an attorney rescue you. Were you planning on being a mom?
Dennis: Was that a part of your heartbeat?
Dennis: Even as a career woman?
Susan: Yes; absolutely, from the start.
Susan: I love children! I was a camp counselor, a babysitter. I have just always loved children. I really can honestly say I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t passionate about her children. They all are! There are some women who are not called to have children, but every mother I know is passionate about her children. They just don’t always know how to direct that passion and what to.
Dennis: You use an illustration—in fact, your book is built around this—that we’ve talked about, here, on FamilyLife Today. We’ve talked about what’s needed, today, in families. It really is tantamount to what Nehemiah faced in his day—in the Old Testament. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down—
Dennis: —and Nehemiah prayed. He fasted. He went to the king. He got resources. He went back to the city of Jerusalem and called the people to build.
Dennis: And they built a wall in 52 days. You compare what moms are doing today to building a wall around their children.
Dennis: Explain why you came up with that illustration.
Susan: Well, every January, I kind of choose something to study. When I do that—because I direct iMOM—I’m always looking through that lens of motherhood. As I read Nehemiah, I just got excited because I could relate to him. He was passionate about the Israelites the way I am passionate about my children.
The interesting thing to me was—in the beginning, he heard that there was a problem. He perceived it. He really listened—which, I think, is hard for a mom to do today—and he pondered it. He didn’t just let it go away; he pondered. There was nothing he could do in that moment, but he pondered it. I don’t think we ponder too much anymore. We don’t have time.
The people were in trouble because the wall was broken down and the gates were burned. He knew that meant danger to them—physical danger. We all get that, as parents. We do not want our children to be physically in danger. But Nehemiah had another concern—and that was the wall protected the temple.
You know, in that day, that’s where God resided. That was the whole point of their communication and their salvation. Everything was wrapped up in that temple. It had just been rebuilt. The foundation had been laid. It was done. Ezra had done all that work, but it was still in danger.
Well, where does God reside today? In us! So the temple is our bodies. Well, what wall is protecting the little temples—the potential little temples? We have to be that wall, as moms. We have to be strong. We have to be girded up. We have to be put together with brick and mortar. We have to be wise, and we have to become that wall.
Then, we have to be the gates because the purpose is not to protect your child and pull them in forever. We have to train them for when they will go out from underneath our protection and into the world. We do that with the gates. Nehemiah also gave a lot of instruction about the gates—when they were to be opened—who was to guard the gates.
The gates, to me, were a great picture of—these are privileges and things that we can give our children and test them, as they go out. Open the gate and see if they’re ready. If they aren’t, pull them back in and give them a lesson about it. Ask them to earn the privilege to go through the gate again until they reach adulthood and, then, they go into the world, under God’s umbrella. Hopefully, they’ve been trained.
Dennis: And it’s really the mom’s responsibility, at home, along with the dad, to hammer out that plan to protect their children but also turn them into warriors so—when you do finally open those gates and send those warriors out—they represent Jesus Christ to the next generation.
One of the things you talk about is—you talk about how there’s a need for moms to be perceptive. I immediately thought about Ephesians, Chapter 5. I haven’t quoted this in a while, Bob, on our broadcast. It talks about being wise about the time because the days are evil. It’s really calling us, I think, by way of application to parents, to really be on the lookout for those things that are coming at our kids, from the culture.
Susan: Depth perception is really crucial for a mom. You have to stay ahead of your child. You can’t open the gate to certain things, and then walk away, and think they’re fine because the enemy can use it, later on, when you think a child has mastered something or they have the discipline to handle something—and then you find that they didn’t.
Bob: So one child, at age eight, may have had a privilege that another child didn’t get until they were ten or eleven?
Susan: Right. So, at our house, this really came into play when we adopted because I ended up adopting a daughter who is the exact age, two weeks apart, of one of my other daughters. Well, my biological daughter had been with me for 12 years. The new daughter had not—she had been in a difficult environment.
She was not ready for some of the things that my biological daughter had. You have to explain: “These are privileges to be earned. You don’t necessarily get your driver’s license when you’re 16. You get your driver’s license when you show me that you’re ready for that privilege.” That’s counter-cultural! Every child looks forward to that—when they turn 16. It’s kind of tough.
Bob: So, did you hold off on the driver’s license with your 16-year-old daughter?
Susan: Oh, yes! But also, my son, Grant, still does not have his driver’s license.
Dennis: You’re a tough mom!
Bob: What were you looking for them to prove? I mean, if I’m the kid—wanting the driver’s license—“What do I have to do, Mom, to get a driver’s license?”
Susan: Right. “Well, I have to be able to trust that you’re going to be where you say you’re going to be. If you haven’t demonstrated that to me, or you’ve not told me the truth about something, or you’ve not made wise decisions in that—then, I really can’t give you the car keys because, without following you around, I don’t know where you’re going to be.” It’s a trust issue! For one of my children—he doesn’t have it because he’s just impulsive.
Susan: To me, a car is a weapon. It’s one thing if you want to kill yourself—it’s another thing if your impulsivity kills somebody else. As in hunting, or anything else, you have to demonstrate a certain level of—
Dennis: You didn’t just apply this issue of being perceptive about what’s taking place in your child’s life around 16, 17, or 18—later on.
Dennis: You tell the story about watching your son, Grant, bouncing off the walls with energy. I thought that was a great story of how you took, really, a high-energy kid and you channeled that toward something productive—that is even continuing on today.
Susan: It is. That’s where your offensive and defensive perception work together. We had adopted him. It was Christmas, and the children were all home. He was really getting in trouble in the neighborhood—he’s just very physical. When the mother, across the street—whose son is a defensive lineman for your high school football team—calls you and says, “Your son hit my son in the face,” —and he outweighed him by 300 pounds, almost—you know there’s a problem! [Laughter]
My kids were complaining; I was getting complaints from the neighborhood. I finally said to Grant, “Hey, Grant! Go get my bike. We need to go for a ride.” He said, “Oh, I’ll get my bike, too?” He had this little Russian accent that was so cute. I said, ‘Oh, no, you don’t need a bike.” We started going around the block. He said, “Mom, where are we going?” I said: “Well, Grant, this is the way it’s going to go from now on. Every time something happens—either in the neighborhood or in our house—and you do something that we’ve talked about—that you know is wrong—you’re going to run a lap.” Our block is half a mile.
I’m explaining all of this and I said, “This is for hitting Emily. This is for this.” He is literally jumping on and off the curb, swatting at trees—seven times around. I finally stopped the bike; and I said, “Grant, did you run in Russia?” He said, “Oh, no, Mom. They never let me out of the orphanage,”—and, you know, whatever. I said, “You need to run every day, Bud.” He did. He ran five miles before school every day.
Dennis: But that continues on to this day. He’s still running; right?
Susan: Yes! Months later, we had this thing called the Gasparilla Distance Classic. By this time, he’s running—some days, I can’t tell you how many laps—it was a lot. A friend of mine was running in the 15K—not Mark and I—we’re not big runners. I said, “Al, will you just let Grant run behind you? I think he can go the distance!”
Dennis: Now how old was he?
Susan: He was ten. The run is on the Bay Shore. You can kind of drive down the streets and go look. So, we—strategically, every mile—would be there, waving signs. He was just running behind Al and waving at us. He thought this was the biggest deal, you know? We were kind of making it a family “cheer-Grant” time. We got to the finish line and we’re like, “He’s going to make it!” I was looking for my friend, Al, who’s very tall and was wearing a bright yellow shirt. He was like our identifier because Grant is very short. We couldn’t find him.
Finally, his sister yells, “Here comes Grant!” Sure enough, he’s bee-lining for the finish line—no sign of Al. [Laughter] Al said, at eight miles, he was chattering like the little box that he was—a little chatter box. Al said: “You see those flags up there, Grant? That’s the finish line. Go for it. Your parents are there.” He won his age group.
Susan: Yes, he just took off and, literally, ran so fast. Today, he is in high school, running cross country; and he is very gifted.
Bob: If you were coaching a mom—who had one of these high-energy, bouncing-off- the-walls, getting-into-trouble, aggressive boys—you’d say, “Send him out and let him run around the block”? [Laughter]
Susan: Well, in today’s school, you really have to because they don’t get enough physical exercise in school. But you have to take what God reveals to you about your child and use it. Don’t just observe it. Perceive. Ponder what it is.
My daughter—whom I talked about—who was acting out in her first little kindergarten class—she came home again, and she had tasted the Play-Doh®. I said: “Honey, Play-Doh all tastes the same! Do not eat the Play-Doh.” I realized: “This is an artistic child. What can I do to harness that?” She’s at Sanford University, on a theater scholarship right now, because I saw things in her that I didn’t see in my other kids.
Dennis: I really like what you’re modeling here for moms. It’s not just shaping the child’s character. It’s really directing the child’s life. It doesn’t mean you make the decisions for them, but you’re evaluating who they are—their gifts, their strengths, their aptitude—and you’re heading them in the right direction—encouraging them and coming alongside them.
There’s a word you’ve used two or three times in our conversation. I want you to just comment on it because I know you’re passionate about this word, too. It’s the word, “ponder”.
Dennis: Explain why that’s important for moms today.
Susan: I think there are a lot of things that happen in our children’s lives that, in the busyness of today, we miss. You pick them up from carpool; and all of these comments start flying: “I saw Sissy get hit on the playground!” or, “My teacher says I don’t make my 6’s and 9’s right,” or, “Somebody said this, and I don’t know what this word means.”
You’re thinking: “Oh, my gosh! What’s going on at school?” But you pull in the drive and instruct everybody to get their baseball, and their basketball, and their ballet stuff, and you’ll get the snack. You pile back in the car, and guess what you’ve forgotten? Sometimes, with kids, you have to catch those little hints.
You have to remember to think about them; and you have to ponder them, like Mary pondered about Christ. We don’t know what she was thinking, but she pondered. If she pondered, I had better ponder because we are there to guide and train our children.
Dennis: I wonder if there are some moms, listening right now—and for that matter, some dads—who are going, “I’m not sure I really know how to ponder in a healthy way.” What have you learned about pondering?
Susan: I get in the way of my pondering because fear, worry, and anxiety kick in. I start thinking of solutions instead of really just resting. I had to learn some really tough lessons about that—where I really had to just stop my desire to fix whatever it is and reflect. Journaling can help.
There have been times when—after bad cycles of that—where I’ve just been on the [cycle] of fear, worry, and “What’s going on here? How can I fix it?”—I have, literally, lain down, with my Bible on my chest, because I couldn’t even find anything to read. But sometimes, it just gets back to being still so that God can put the pieces together in your head.
If we’re controlling, we don’t do that—we don’t trust that God’s going to reveal it. Sometimes, it’s just waiting, “Okay, I don’t know enough to act on this right now; but I’m going to make sure I write it down so I remember it and watch for God to reveal more, until I can take action on it.”
Dennis: You’re really talking about—I know from reading the book—some challenging days with some of your kids—where they haven’t just toed-the-line and just walked down the straight and narrow, all the way.
Dennis: You’re talking about some heartaches—some real heartache you’ve experienced—where you had to step back, and listen to God, and ask Him to show you, as a parent, how to be intentional and how to take the kind of steps and actions that a child needs.
As I was reading your book, and was thinking about this—one of our favorite verses, when we were raising kids—was Philippians, Chapter 4, verse 6 and 7. It talks about a command there to “…not worry about anything; but instead, in everything, give thanks and make your requests known to God.” It promises, in that passage, that the peace of God will be like a centurion that marches, back and forth, in front of a mom’s heart.
I have to believe there are some moms, right now, who need a centurion.
Bob: Maybe a little anxious?
Dennis: They may have a child—or a family, as far as that goes—where it’s just not turning out the way you envisioned. You need the peace of God. The way you get that is you don’t worry—you give thanks. You bring your requests before God. I’d also like to suggest to that mom—if she’s really worried—to get a copy of The Passionate Mom.
Dennis: There’s really a lot of—almost like a spiritual wheel alignment, for a mom. As she reads this book, she’s going to be reminded of, kind of, what really counts and really how to go about the process of raising the next generation.
Bob: And every mom benefits from having another mom, who is sharing stories about life and saying, “This is what worked for us; this is what didn’t work for us.” That’s essentially what Susan has done for us in the book that she has written called The Passionate Mom. We’d love to get a copy of Susan’s book to you. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request Susan Merrill’s book, The Passionate Mom. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, let me just take a minute and say how thankful we are for those folks who will get in touch with us, from time to time, and make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported. That means—without folks, like you—pitching in, on occasion, to help out with a donation of whatever you can do—$10, $20, $30, $40, or $50 or more. Those donations are what cover the costs of producing and syndicating a program like FamilyLife Today.
This week, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your support of this ministry,” by sending you a copy of Tracey Eyster’s book called Be the Mom. You may want to pass this along to a mom you know, as a Mother’s Day gift. In the book, Tracey outlines seven traps that moms can easily stumble into. She gives you advice on how to avoid and how to escape those traps, when you do fall into them.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation by clicking the button that says, “I CARE”. When you make an online donation, we’ll be happy to send you a copy of Tracey’s book, Be the Mom; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone and ask for the book for moms. Again, it’s our way of saying, “Thank you for your support of this ministry.” We’re grateful for your partnership, and we’re always happy to hear from you.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow. Susan Merrill’s going to be here again. We’re going to talk about how a mom can tell when it’s the right time to keep the wall steady, and when is the right time to open a gate and let a child step outside? We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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