Embracing the Good Enough Parent
About the Guest
Life often doesn't go as planned, and that held true for author Karis Kimmel Murray. Murray shares how her five-year plan was upended seven months into marriage when she discovered she was pregnant. Ten months after welcoming her first child, baby sister was on the way. Murray tells how she and her husband adjusted to life's surprises, starting with letting go of perfectionism and being a good enough grace-based parent.
Karis Kimmel Murray shares how her five-year plan was upended seven months into marriage when she discovered she was pregnant. Murray tells how she and her husband adjusted to life’s surprises.
Embracing the Good Enough Parent
Bob: The Bible says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child and Karis Kimmel Murray says it is the wise parent who doesn’t allow foolishness to linger there.
Karis: If we allow them that now, we are not acting in a loving way toward our kids because we are about to send them into a world that does not suffer fools. We have to love our kids exactly as they are—but we also have to love them enough to not let them stay that way—to do our darndest to shape them into the people that we want to send into the world.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. So, exactly how do we extract foolishness from a child’s heart—and how do we implant wisdom there instead? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It’s always nice when your guest on the program when their name and their topic are the same. Did you stop and think about that?
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Bob: Our guest today—her name means grace.
Dennis: Karis—Karis Kimmel Murray joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome, Grace.
Karis: Welcome. [Laughter] Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Dennis: She’s written a book called Grace Based Discipline: How to Be at Your Best When Your Kids Are at Their Worst.
I want to talk about you and your husband Mike. You got married back in to 2001, and you started out with a five year game plan for your marriage.
Dennis: Tell us how that went.
Karis: Yes, five year life plan went off the rails about seven months in—
Dennis: How’d it go off the rails?
Karis: —to our marriage.
I was in school and I was studying to be a journalist. He was in business school—he was going to start a business. We were going to have some time to be married and get our careers going and then, maybe I would have a couple of kids.
Seven months into our marriage, I was like—“I’m pregnant.” It was like—“Oh, this is new. We’re going to be parents.” I had my first daughter Riley—and ten months later, I was like—
Karis: —“Uh-oh.” [Laughter]
Bob: Was there a sense of grief or loss when you saw those two lines the first time?
Karis: I just think shock. Then—as I processed of course—we came around to the idea pretty quickly—
Karis: —like—“Hey, we’re going to be parents. This is an exciting thing.” Once I had my daughter, I found that parenthood is wonderful—but it can also be isolating. For me, because I was so young it felt—sometimes—like I got yanked out of my life into a totally different world that didn’t feel like I chose that world. It kind of chose me.
Everybody who I’d known who I’d done life with was living a different life, and I was in this kind of parallel universe.
My husband had to work really long hours at the time—and I just had a baptism by fire into adulthood.
Bob: When your five year plan goes off the rails at seven months, how did you guys calibrate that—and how did you make the adjustments so that you could thrive in circumstances you were in rather than being defeated by them?
Karis: Both my husband and I came from great homes. So, for us, we saw the role of parent as being hugely significant. We recognized that we were about to do the most important work of our life—by having kids and raising them and being parents.
I know that that is not many people’s story—that when they think of childhood and their own childhood—there’s just so much pain and so many scars that go along with that. So, they just go into their own parenthood with so much baggage and leftover stuff that they have to work through.
We were so fortunate and blessed to not have that baggage, which I think helped us.
You never feel prepared—I don’t think—for parenthood, but we were—we really weren’t prepared—financially or educationally or with our careers. I mean we were married—and that was it. We did that part right, but everything else just felt like it happened to us. I didn’t always deal well with it. I dealt with some depression, and I dealt with some—like I said—feelings of isolation and a little bit of loss of identity that I had to work through to say, “Who am I now? What am I about? What is my life about?”
My mom is a wonderful lady, but we are so different—she and I are. She’s never put pressure on me to be like her—to be her—to do everything the same way as she does, but when you see your own mom you think—and she’s a great mom—you want to be just like your own, great mom.
And I figured out, pretty quickly, that wasn’t who I was.
I had to make sense of—“What does it look like for me to be a grace-based mom? What does it look like for me to be a grace-filled wife—where our marriage relationship looks different than my parents’ marriage relationship—because we’re two different people?
Bob: What would you say as you examined that question—what were the key ideas that you’ve learned over time to say, “For me—to be a grace-based mom and a grace-based wife—this is what it’s going to need to mean? These are things I am going to have to be intentional about. Things I’m going to have to work on. Things I’m going to have to—maybe they don’t come natural, and I’ve just got to cultivate a rhythm here.” What are some of those things that have reshaped how you are a wife and a mom?
Karis: Well, a big thing for me—and this happened, fortunately, for me pretty quickly—because it had to—but I had to let go of a sense of perfectionism.
Learned really quickly that I’m not going to be a perfect parent. First of all, I didn’t have perfect parents. They were amazing, grace-based parents, but they were not perfect parents by any measure—and neither were my husband’s parents.
So, I didn’t have to be a perfect parent. I just had to be a good enough, grace-based parent—and what made me good enough was not my personality or my skills or what I do—it’s who I am in Christ. I mean that’s why any of us are good enough. Obviously, there is a sanctification process that we all go through and my early marriage and early baptism into motherhood has been the biggest sanctifying work in my life.
Bob: Was that hard giving up that perfectionist tendency?
Karis: I just had to trade out that vision. It was a vision of a way that a grace-based, Christian woman could exist in the world. It was a wonderful one—the vision of my mom and who she is. I had to let go of that and say,
“But God made me different than that, and it’s okay that I’m different than that. But I had to see those things in myself—and call them good the way that God calls them good. Then, see my weakness and recognize what those are—and just try to mitigate those as much as possible.
Dennis: I’ve never thought of Wal-Mart of being a place where you can find God, but God did show up early with you as a mom when you took a two-year old and a six month old to Wal-Mart thinking you kind of deserved some time away from the house and from the shackles of motherhood—to kind of get out and about.
Karis: That was my first trip out of the house with both of my kids for about five weeks because we had been sick and somebody had been down with some kind of a virus, but we were just out of everything. It was a trip of necessity to go to Wal-Mart with two kids—and any parent listening who has attempted this knows what I was walking into.
It is a gauntlet, and kids kind of have a tolerance fuse for shopping trips. Sometimes, that fuse is lit before you even back down your driveway to leave.
So, we reached the end of the fuse. My two year old daughter had reached the end of her fuse about ten minutes into the trip. I was racing around Wal-Mart with both of them in the cart just trying to get everything so that we could get out of there before they exploded—two little bombs exploded. It would have—maybe, been fine—it would have made it if my flip flop hadn’t broken. So, we’re running around, and I hear it snap. I look down, and I realized that my flip flop had snapped. It was not functional. I couldn’t fix it.
Bob: Well, you’re at Wal-Mart. You can get new flip flops at least.
Bob: You’ve got that going for you.
Karis: And I might have just walked out except that it was July in Phoenix, and you can’t—well, I don’t know if anybody’s familiar with our heat there—
Karis: —like the asphalt is like—it’s like 300 degrees.
Bob: It will burn your feet.
Karis: It will just melt your face off.
Bob: Yes; right.
Karis: It’s crazy.
I couldn’t walk to—you know—even a few feet to my car without something on my foot. So, we went to the shoe department and I just said, “I’m going to buy the first pair of flip flops that I see. I don’t care if they’re the ugliest things on the planet. I’m going to get them and we’re going to get out of here.”
My two year old had been begging to get out of the cart—begging, begging—because my kids see that kind of confinement like total oppression. They just—they start writing letters to their congressmen if you have confined them in some way—and they launch a campaign. They just think we’re the worst for strapping them into something—so she wanted to get out. I had a moment of weakness—and I let her out. I knew by the look on her face that I had made a mistake by letting her out.
She comes up to a row of shoes—shoes boxes lining walls all the way up—and she puts her little arms out to either side of this row of shoe boxes and holds them out. She walks kind of resolutely to the other end of the aisle, and she knocks every box of shoes off in—
—I don’t know—retaliation for her confinement and in protest and in rebellion of the fact that we’re not home yet. The Wal-Mart shoe department looked like a bomb had gone off—and metaphorically, it had.
Yes, I just—it was in that moment that I just looked at her and wanted to die out of embarrassment—wanted to give her a spanking—but I also said, “This is a child that has needs right now, and she’s two. She doesn’t know why she’s erupting, but she’s hungry and she’s tired. She’s done.” So, we cleaned it up—I had her help me clean it up even though she’s having a fit—through tears and everything. We got out of there—but yes, that’s just an example of the craziness of life with kids.
Bob: Here’s where I think, as you in a sober moment of reflection pulled back and remembered, “This is a two year old.—
What she did was probably not intentional disobedience. It was childishness. It’s what two year olds do. They knock things over.
Bob: And part of it is—nobody’s taught them not to knock things over yet.
Bob: As parents, you have to come along and you have to instruct—“These are not here for us to play with or knock over”—that’s the instruction—“What you did was wrong. We’re going to have to put this back, and you shouldn’t do that.”
Bob: That’s the instructional part of discipline—
Bob: —that you have to go through long before you get to—“I’m going to give you consequences for what you just did.”
Dennis: You actually talk about this in your book. You had four freedoms that parents need to give their kids. I like this because—I think—many times parents always break it down into right or wrong. Explain those four freedoms.
Karis: The four freedoms are a core part of our message at Family Matters.
My dad wrote about them in his book, Grace Based Parenting; but the four freedoms is a way that we build a secure love, a significant purpose, and a strong hope into our kids. We do that by giving them these key freedoms. Those are the freedom to be different, the freedom to be candid, the freedom to be vulnerable, and the freedom to make mistakes.
Dennis: To be childish.
Karis: Yes, to be childish, to be different—
Karis: —to be vulnerable.
I would say, actually, what was going on there with Riley—I mean, this is just in retrospect thinking about it—she was actually showing vulnerability in that moment. It was her just crying out for—“I need something.”
Sometimes, kids—they do what they do sometimes because they are trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. You can’t always pin their behavior to this because, sometimes, we just don’t know why they do what they do.
But sometimes, they have a need that’s not getting met, and they subconsciously behave in a way to try to get that need met—and those ways can be illegitimate.
Bob: Okay; I hear you describing that, and I’m thinking of the bratty kid in the Wal-Mart—not your daughter—but the kid that’s throwing a little tantrum. Now, if I’m a parent and I go—“I need to stop and think, ‘Is this a vulnerability need that’s being expressed by my child?’ No, I need to get my bratty kid to”—
Bob: —“who is manifesting selfish, sinful behavior—I need to instruct and train and correct and those kinds of things.” How do we, as parents, know when is the time to recognize, “There’s really something going on in the heart of my child here that I need to be aware of;” and sometimes, it’s just—“This is just a child being a brat and they need to be retrained here?”
Karis: Right; yes. I mean we have seconds—split seconds—
Bob: To make those decisions.
Karis: —to make those decisions as parents.
Karis: I would say the big key is that—
—what our goal always is, is to respond to our kids rather than to react to our kids—because what a reaction is—is kind of an unthinking, programmed—meeting what they’re doing with some kind of anger or lashing out or retaliation or protection of ourselves.
Bob: A reaction is usually not thoughtful.
Bob: It’s not others-centered. It’s just us flinching.
Bob: It’s us reacting to whatever we don’t like about the moment.
Karis: It’s not intentional—whereas response is intentional. We are thinking about what the needs of the moment are—we’re taking context into consideration—and then, we’re formulating what we’re going to do based on what we see. We’re being intentional about it and focusing on our child—not necessarily on how they’ve made us angry or made us scared or pushed a button, and we’re just going to lash out.
That’s really hard to do in the moment.
Dennis: It really is. I’m just smiling sitting over here thinking, “I’m glad that’s over.” [Laughter] I really am glad it’s over.
I’ve got a question for you about these four freedoms—freedom to be different, to be candid, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. You don’t have in here—freedom to be a brat, freedom to be rebellious—
Dennis: —to be disobedient.
Karis: Because there are rules, and those things are not in our kids’ best interest. If we allow them that now, we are not acting in a loving way toward our kids because we are about to send them into a world that does not suffer fools. So, we have to love our kids exactly as they are—but we also have to love them enough to not let them stay that way—to shape them into the people that we want to send into the world.
Dennis: Earlier this morning, I was having a conversation with a dad. I said, “The Proverbs speak about four different kinds of people.”
“There is the wise person. There is the fool. There is the naïve, and there is the evil person. Now, at some point, our children are going to manifest one of those four qualities.”
Bob: Yes, probably all four at some point or other; right?
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Karis: Within about a two minute—
Karis: —time span.
Dennis: And you have to understand what’s taking place there. If it’s naïve, it means they need training. They need to understand how the world works.
Dennis: If, however, it’s being evil—as in mean, hateful, harmful to a brother or a sister in terms of hitting, biting—we had certain rules at our house you didn’t get away with. So, those have to be dealt with—with discipline that does train them at the same time.
Karis: Those are the kinds of things that when you’re responding rather than reacting, you are taking those things into consideration—very quickly—but you’re taking them into consideration.
I think it helps to have some kind of a mechanism to be able to sort of disconnect emotionally—a little bit. Emotions are a good thing. There are a thing—but if we’re letting our emotions drive what we do all the time—they’re very often going to drive us toward what’s best for us. So, we might act in self-protection or retaliation—or the way that I did with my daughter when she walked in, in a shirt that was too short and embarrassed me—I was acting in my best interests in that moment.
Discipline always acts in the best interest of the person being disciplined.
Karis: It’s about them and their eventual good and their eventual joy. So, it helps to have a tool to help you in that moment when your emotions are going off—they’re happening—but you have to choose to sort of disconnect from your victimhood and act in the best interest of your kids because you are the first responder to their crises that their behaviors create.
Dennis: And you are the adult.
Karis: But you’re also often the victim of their behavior. You’re in that burning building with them—but you have to be the firefighter that responds to save them at the same time.
In my book, I talk about it right in the introduction—because I wanted parents to have this tool right away—but I talk about the concept of the basket. Really, it’s just a mental exercise—a visualization that I teach parents that they can learn—and you really can learn this stuff. You can lay down these new pathways in your brain that will help you in the moment—but all the basket is, is you imagine—in the moment of misbehavior or retrospectively after the fact—you imagine your child standing there and you imagine the behaviors that they’re doing or the words they are saying or the actions that they’re taking as external things that are hanging on your child.
Maybe—like, I imagine weights—almost like when you go fishing—that you put on your lure that pulls it down. I imagine these giant weights on them. So the sassy words that she said—
—they are there, and the violent outburst is here. You imagine seeing your child and then removing those things, putting them in your basket—or whatever container you want to think about—and mentally walking that basket into another room and putting it up on a shelf and then coming back and looking at your child. It gives us an opportunity in the moment to really see them and their heart rather than seeing them through the lens of their behavior.
This does two things. First of all, it deescalates us. We have to deescalate ourselves in order to respond and sort of disconnect from our victimization. Then, give our kid what they need—which might be consequences. It’s also biblical because this is the way that the Lord deals with us.
It says in Psalm 103 that—“The Lord does not deal with us based on our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” Then, it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” This is a process that we see modeled by the Lord. He says, “I’m choosing to give you grace and not look at you through the lens of your transgressions—I’m choosing to look at you through the lens of Christ’s righteousness and to see who you really are.”
I teach this process to parents in the first part of my book, and I also teach them—“Do this at night when you are laying there and thinking about the day and all the struggles that you had because it gives us the ability to then sort of reframe our whole connection with our kids.” We can connect with their heart.
We can still deal with the things in that basket—which I basically spend the entire rest of the book saying, “Now, go get the basket down. Let’s process this stuff and figure out what we’re going to do.”
But that’s really the first step because, otherwise, their behavior and how it makes us feel starts to define our relationship with them.
Dennis: What you’re pointing out is that every parent needs a plan—and both parents need the same plan. They need to execute together and use their strengths and weaknesses—
Dennis: —to complement one another because this thing of raising the next generation—first of all, it’s important—but it is demanding. It will wear you out if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ where you’re praying and asking Him for wisdom.
Bob: If you’re going to put together an effective plan for how to do this, it helps if you’ve got some guidance—some coaching. Having a book like Grace Based Discipline will help you put the plan together so that you can raise your kids to be the right kind of adults. That’s what the goal is here; right?
We’ve got copies of the book, Grace Based Discipline, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
You can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The book is called Grace Based Discipline by our guest Karis Kimmel Murray. You can also order by phone, if you’d like. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then word, “TODAY”.
I think all of us as parents, when we look at the job in front of us and we look at ourselves, we go—“There are some gaps here. I am inadequate to accomplish the task.” That’s why we’re grateful for God’s grace and for His enabling, for the work of His Spirit in our lives—and it’s one of the reasons that we want to try to provide you with the kind of practical, biblical help and hope you hear regularly on FamilyLife Today.
Hopefully, we can fill in some of those gaps that all of us have with the conversations—
—we have here every day or with the articles we have online or through our resources or the events that we host. Our goal through all of this is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. Our mission is to see every home become a godly home.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about some of the challenges that, Karis, you and your husband and your kids have gone through as a family and some of the fears you’ve had to face as a mom. Karis Kimmel Murray will be back with us again tomorrow. Hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today—his name is Keith Lynch—also, want to thank 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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