Josh & Jenn Mulvihill: 50 Things Every Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home
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In parenting’s daily grind, are you losing sight of the end game? Josh and Jenn Mulvihill unpack skills for every child to learn to thrive in faith and life.
Josh & Jenn Mulvihill: 50 Things Every Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home
Lord Jesus, thank You for today and this incredible topic that we get to talk about—what a privilege—but really a heavy responsibility to be parents, who are seeking to raise a godly legacy that honors You, knows You, expands Your kingdom.
Lord, give us wisdom and direction as we talk about this that would really, really help people. I pray it would change homes and the way families are doing what they are doing. I pray it would inspire parents with a new grander vision of who they are and what they are about, and it could really create godly legacies that would change the world. We give this to You and ask You to lead us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
I have asked, I would guess, hundreds of parents—as a pastor, they come up after a service or something; we’re talking—I’ve asked them: “What’s your goal? What’s your plan? As a parent, what are you hoping to raise, as your sons or daughters become adults?”
Guess how many—give me a percentage—I’m asking you:—
Dave: —"How many percentage of parents said, ‘I have a plan’?”
Dave: I think it’s three.
Dave: Yes, I don’t know an actual percentage; and there I was, asking you for one. [Laughter]
Ann: I’m thinking, if my parents—like: “Did my parents…”—no, they didn’t have a plan. I’m thinking of us, as young parents—we’re barely surviving the day—let alone, having a plan.
Dave: You know, as we sat down—when we were young parents, and it was crazy—we did decide: “We have to have an idea of what we’re trying to do”; right? Well, we needed help. [Laughter]
Now, we’ve got help in the studio today! We’ve got a couple who wrote a book about this; and when you write a book, that means you are an expert; right? [Laughter] We’ve got Josh and Jen Mulvihill in the studio—wrote a book about this, which we will get into in a second—but let me ask you the same question: “Have you asked other parents, and do you find that parents have a plan?”
Josh: I have; and as a pastor, was shocked when I found out that many did not—nothing against them—but many just weren’t raised with that as a role model; so just went into their parenting, doing what they were raised with.
I had a very good role model of parents, who had great intentionality. I thought that was the norm only to learn that it wasn’t. [Laughter] Oh man!—that partially is what, many years ago, launched my desire to put a resource like this in people’s hands, recognizing that it wasn’t something that many had implemented in their homes.
Ann: It’s kind of that idea in that quote: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it.”
Josh: —“every time.”
Ann: —“every time.”
Jen: —“every time”; yes.
Ann: You guys have been on FamilyLife Today before. You’ve been several times, actually; you’ve written several books.
Dave: You’ve even written a grandparenting book.
Josh: —seven of them!
Dave: You’re not grandparents!
Josh: No, I know!
Dave: But obviously, you’ve had a vision and a passion for family and parenting. This one is really—
Ann: —it’s beautiful.
Dave: —it’s a glorious/it’s just a beautiful book—50 Things Every Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home: Raising Children to Godly Adults. You wrote it together.
Tell us a little a bit about yourselves; you’ve got a few kids.
Jen: Yes, yes. We live in Minnesota. We have five kids; and yes, it’s been a joy to raise them and work with them. We’ve been married for 21 years—and by the grace of God, hopefully, many, many more—but yes, we are excited to minister to families. Our first priority is to minister to our own family—so just walking alongside them, discipling them—but doing it in a way that is intentional and with a plan.
Josh: That’s the end goal. At the end of the day, that’s what we really want to see: is our kids operating in the areas that God has called them to and living for Him. Of course, when that doesn’t happen for us, as parents, there is a lot of heartache there. There is a lot we can do today, on the preventative and the intentional side, to help our kids love Jesus Christ and serve Him. That’s our heartbeat; that’s our passion. This book is one of the tools towards that end, hopefully.
Dave: And in some ways, it sounds like your passion—you sort of gained that from your parents—you mentioned earlier they were very intentional. I was shocked by your story of when you went to lunch, I think?—or something when you were 17 years old.
Josh: So my parents were in full-time ministry, 37 years, with Cru®. When I was 17, in between my junior and senior year, my parents invited us out for breakfast—actually, me out for breakfast—and slid a piece of paper across the table to me and said, “You are leaving in about nine months for college, and we want to make sure that we have accomplished some specific things in your life.”
I looked at this piece of paper; and on it were all kinds of things from my childhood and my teen years; I had never seen it before. There were things like spiritual habits, and character traits, and life skills, and just things that some of them were scriptural commandments; but many of them were just parenting preferences. They had checkmarks and dates next to them, as they had worked through them, over the years, with me.
I remember looking at it, thinking, “Oh man! I remember when we did that manners thing: like how to set a table, how to sit at a table, how to shake a hand, look somebody in the eyes, how to enter a room, how to even do laundry, and how to study the Bible.” Some of them were just practical life kinds of things.
They asked, “Is there anything on this list that you don’t think we’ve accomplished?” It was essentially kind of their asking me to assess their parenting. I remember looking over the list, and there was one—it was small engine repair—I remember saying, “You know that’s not happening. [Laughter] That’s just/I’m not wired that way.” They crossed it off the list. It really goes to show just how they were working on that, over the years, with us as kids; so the last nine months, they put some finishing touches on it, launched us. They did the same with my siblings.
I remember I went back to my dad, not too long ago; and I said, “Do you still have that?—because I go out and speak on this; and people are like, ‘I’d love to see that list.’” He doesn’t; he’s like, “It’s probably in a file somewhere, but I can’t find it.” I just thought that was the norm for families that parents were intentional, to some degree, like that—only realizing, as a pastor—that’s not often the case.
Dave: I’m sitting over here, smiling; because I’m like,—
Ann: I am shocked!
Dave: —"I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent, who is that intentional.” Part of me is like: “That is inspiring”; the other part of me is like: “That is scary,—
Ann: I am depressed in a way. [Laughter]
Dave: —"because I think I can’t do it.”
Ann: If I slid over a piece of paper to our sons, I’m thinking, “What would I have put on it?”; we were intentional of some things. I do remember going to visit our oldest son in college—he was rooming with some guys in a house—I walked in, like, “This place is a pigsty.” [Laughter] Then I go home; and I say to the younger brothers in the house: “You guys,”—they had chores, growing up—“you are cleaning your rooms!” “You are changing the sheets,” “You are cleaning the bathroom. I need to see that you can clean the toilet and do it really well.” They hated it; but I did feel like: “Oh, I have not equipped them for something as simple as knowing how to clean something well.”
Dave: Is it possible for parents like us—I not saying we’re not clueless—but we’re not as intentional as your parents. I mean, that’s—
Ann: We’re not great planners.
Dave: That, in my mind, is like: “Wow. That’s the top; that’s a high bar,”—you know, sliding over a piece of paper, with dates and check marks, which is awesome—but I’m sure there are a lot of parents listening, who are like, “Wow; I don’t think I could ever do it like that, but I could do it differently.” So if you are not wired quite like that, how would you work this out as a parent?
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Josh and Jen Mulvihill on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear their response in just a minute.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Josh and Jen Mulvihill, and what you can do to prepare your kids for life, even if you are not exactly as intentional or as organized as the Mulvihills.
Josh: I think, many times, we don’t have a plan when it comes to an area that matters the most.
Josh: Whatever area of life that is, we’re probably going to suffer for it. Let’s just use a different area of life to compare:
- If it’s in our finances, and we don’t have a budget, you know we can get by; but we’re going to be more impactful/more effective if we have an idea/a plan for our money.
- Same with retirement: none of us want to get to the day, when we are ready to move into that retirement age, and go, “Oh man! I didn’t think about this at all”; and now, I’ve got a world of problems that I now need to sort through.
- Or even building a home—I’m sure you could build a house without any kind of blueprint or architectural plan—but you are going to have some form of chaos.
The same would be true with raising our kids, that: “Do you need that level of intentionality?”—probably not—but it is helpful to have some goals, some plan, some clarity about what we’re aiming at, and some way to get at that end goal. So many of us—we are on a path—but are we on the right path? Is what we are doing on a daily basis actually helping us get to the end goal that we think we want or hope we want?
One of the things I think I’ve seen is that, many times, we have these misplaced priorities—that we say one thing is really important: you know, we want our kids to know, love, and serve Jesus—I bet everyone listening/any Christian listening would say that is kind of the heart of what we are getting at. But then, we look at our calendar on a daily basis, and the things that we are doing: “Do they help us actually accomplish that?” Many times, there is just a miss there. So we’ve put things on our calendar that, you know: they get our affection; they get our time; they get our energy—
Ann: —like sports/—
Josh: Yes; you know, they are not bad things;—
Josh: —but they do take us down a path, and they communicate something to our kids about what we think is most important.
Not only do we need clarity on that, we also want to match that to the home—that’s where I think there is a miss on both of those sides of things—the misplaced priorities and then the intentionality/the planning at home.
Ann: Jen, did you guys have a plan? Did you write it out? How did that come about that you thought, “Okay, we need to have a plan in place”?
Jen: Yes, we did; we did. We started writing our own parenting plan when our oldest was, I think, one-year-old, I want to say.
Ann: Ah, that’s even more depressing.
Jen: We sent him to my parents’ house, and we took a weekend. We had no money; we were very, very poor. We stayed in this little cabin; it didn’t even have a bathroom. We stayed there for a couple of nights.
Dave: How do you stay in a cabin with no bathroom?
Jen: It was like a rural Minnesota—
Josh: It was a very rural place.
Dave: —so the woods.
Jen: You’d have to walk to a little outhouse thing.
Ann: The pedestal that I have you on just keeps getting higher. [Laughter]
Jen: But we just took a weekend to be together—and to think big picture—and think about: “Who are these young people we are raising?” We had this little one-year-old guy, who is such a blessing and such a joy. We took a couple of days to just throw it all out there, and to make sure we are on the same page, and talk about: “Who are these young people? What do we want to see at the end?”
We stayed up late and talked. I mean, we wrote out just pages, and pages, and pages of: “What does it look like? What do we want our children to know spiritually, and how do we want them to interact with others relationally? What skills do we want them to know to fly the coop, and have those skills to live on their own?” We started/we started very big picture and just threw it all out there.
Josh: What would we do on a yearly basis?
Jen: Yes, yes, yes; we started. And then, now, every year, what we do is we take a weekend—or a day, depending on the schedule—we’ve had seasons, where/we have five children, so it takes a special person to be able to come and to watch five children for a weekend. Some years, we would go away; and we would find a cozy spot, and we’d talk through what we doing with our kids for the year. Sometimes, we would take a day. Practically, what that looks like is: we spend time assessing the prior year; and we discuss our children as individuals.
Ann: So you go through each child.
Jen: We go through each child; yes. We’ll talk about each one: “What has their year looked like? What are we observing in them? What do we see the Lord doing in their life? What are some spiritual skills and things that we want to develop in them in the coming year?”
Ann: Did you guys ever fight about this?
Jen: I don’t think we ever have; no.
Josh: I’m trying to think—one of the things that we talk about, when we encourage families/couples to do this—is that: “You are on the same team.
Josh: “We need to set down our weapons. It’s really easy to criticize; it’s really easy to attack the other person—especially if there is a challenge going on in the home or with any child individually—that’s a good reminder because it doesn’t take much on these weekends. You make a snarky comment—or you say something that, really, it just hurts the other person—and it will change the entire dynamic.”
Ann: I’m even thinking of the spouse, who is married to someone who maybe isn’t quite on the same level, spiritually, maturity wise. I think it can be easy to think, “Well, I know so much more.” We can be almost condescending or belittling; but even though that could be true, each spouse carries a level of expertise and passion. Maybe, they didn’t have it perfect, growing up; but because they didn’t have it perfect, they still have this dream of what it could have been.
Ann: I think it’s really good that you are listening to one another, and you are hearing each other; because you are different. You need both: the mom and the dad.
Josh: As early parents, I mean—let’s see we were 20/how old were we?—28—
Josh: —we were 28 when we had our first child. I mean, we didn’t—we still don’t know a lot—but we didn’t know a lot as 28-year-olds. The nice thing is it is helping us get on the same page as a couple; and many times, we have different priorities/different visions for what we are working for with our children.
I found that to be one of the most valuable things with Jen—not only that—we want to have fun on these times. I mean, this isn’t all like sit down,—
Jen: It’s not all like hard-nose planning; right? We have fun.
Josh: We have fun, and build our relationship, and strengthen our marriage; but also just to get on the same page, as far as a parenting philosophy, because we could be all over the board. If we have two separate views of what we are working for in the home with our kids—you know, kids are smart—they know which parent to play; right? [Laughter] If we are not on the same page, as one in our parenting, that becomes problematic, down the road; so that, I found, is one of the most valuable pieces.
But the assessment piece: “How are we doing as parents?” Many times, we don’t stop and truly look under the hood. If there are issues going on with any specific children, this is a good opportunity to say: “What do we need to do, from a problem-solving standpoint, before it blows up into something that really is big?” Then just to say: “You know, what one or two things are we going to really focus on this next year with each child?”
For us, then, coming out of those times, we had some intentionality and plan then for the rest of the year, to say, “Alright; with Kate, we’re going to be working on biblical womanhood,” which is what Jen is working on with Kate this year. Or with our older boys—we have a 15- and 12-year-old—we are working on: we want them to develop their own study habits with Scripture. Of course, we have done that in their earlier years; but they are at the point now, where they need to start owning this stuff. We’ve put some things in place with them this year, on a weekly basis, that we are trying to work with at home. We bought a Bible dictionary, and a concordance, and a commentary; and we want them to learn those tools. We’re studying through the book of Ephesians—a group of fathers and sons—that came out of our planning times. That is where we are at with those two.
There are other things that we are doing: what are we working on?
Jen: We usually aim to come out of our time of planning together with those resources. We will say, “We’re going to be working on biblical womanhood,”—let’s use that as the example with Kate. At the end of our weekend: we will have ordered those resources; we’ve looked at our calendar. We are trying to make sure we are on the same page in all facets of: “What does it take to implement what we are planning?”
With our younger kids, sometimes, it is as simple as—you know, we are working on reinforcing obedience; or we’re going to be memorizing some basic core Scriptures with them—or it looks different and more in depth as our kids get older. But the goal is to come away from that weekend, being on the same page; and having those resources in hand or showing up at the house when we get back; so that we can implement what we’ve planned.
Ann: How do you guys advise a single parent—or a blended family, who, now, you’ve got a couple households under your roof—how do you do that?
Josh: Well, I’m from somewhat of a blended family. My mom died of ALS, and my dad remarried. I actually had the joy of officiating when I was a little older. Obviously, as an adult, it’s a little different; but I’ve lived through that, personally, for the last decade-plus; and it’s not easy. It just takes time, in a blended family scenario, to mesh. I think grace is huge in a blended-family scenario.
Obviously, there are multiple factors happening in multiple homes. You can’t control what’s happening in a different home. I think there has to be a willingness to just release that and focus on what you can focus on and what you can control. With our home, and our situation in our blended family, it really focused on relationships first. That was a huge priority with the establishment of our family.
Jen: Yes; and obviously, letting the [bio] parent take the lead—right?—in that planning process.
Dave: As I’m sitting here, listening to you, and reading through your book, here is what is striking me—two words: priority; intentionality—again, you’ve used sort of those words. Josh, when you were saying earlier—“Man, you’ve got to have a plan if you’re going to build a house or manage money,”—here is what hit me; I was thinking, “Man, of all the things we do in life, this is at the top of the list. As a married husband and wife, you want to make your marriage honors God; but as a parent, it’s at the top of all the things I do at the end of my life.”
Stephen Covey—The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—he says, “Begin with the end in mind: picture your funeral. What do you want people to say?” I don’t care about almost anything else—I want people to stand up—I want my sons to stand up and say, “Dad was a man of God, and he led us to be men of God.” I didn’t have daughters, but I want my granddaughters to be able to say that.
I was thinking—even when you’re saying earlier, Josh, you guys are talking about getting away to develop a plan—I thought, “How many times have I got all excited about a golf weekend with my dudes, because we are going to go play golf?”—[Laughter]—which is great; I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that—I would still want to do that.
But I tell you what: here is what I’m saying to a dad or a mom:
Maybe, you’ve got little kids; and so you have time—and maybe, you’ve got teenagers—it doesn’t matter. Of all the things you are going to do this year—are you listening?—I’m telling you right now: put it on the calendar. Maybe, you can’t get away for a weekend; but you can get a night; you can start there. You say, “Honey,”—or you say to your husband—“could we sit down and talk about what we want to do, as parents, with our kids?”
Again, you might not be the most intentional person in the world; but that is priority. That means—of all the stuff I’m doing in my life—and I’m not saying your job doesn’t matter; your job does matter; it’s very important—but it doesn’t matter as much as the legacy you hope to leave one day when you leave.
We’re older now, and we have grandkids; I’m saying the only thing that really matters, as we look back, is: “How did we do, as a parent, raising men of God?”
I would challenge a listener to say: “You know what? Today is the day I can start,”—because I bet a lot are doing what we did—it’s like: “Wow; we blew it. [Laughter] We didn’t do a good job with that”; but it’s like: “New creation.” God’s giving you a new chance, right here, right now, to say: “You know what? That’s the past; maybe, we haven’t done a great job. We’re not going to be as great as you guys, but [we] can start.”
Ann: And it’s never too late.
Josh: Never too late.
Jen: Yes; definitely.
Dave: Start right now. I would say: “Just get on your knees, and say, ‘Okay, God; we’ve got to build a plan.’” And we’ve got to talk a little bit more about what that would look like—because you’ve given us some great handles—but I think today is Day One.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Josh and Jen Mulvihill on FamilyLife Today. Their book is called 50 Things Every Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home: Raising Children to Godly Adults. You can order a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Josh and Jen Mulvihill and help us to refocus our attention on what is most important with our kids.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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