I think the most sobering question I ever asked myself when my kids were teenagers is, what if my children turned out to be like me in every area? What if they drive a car the way I drive a car? What if they handle anger the way I handle anger? What if they treat their spouse eventually the way I treat my spouse?
What if they treat their teenagers the way I treat them? Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson. And I'm Dave Wilson. And you can find us at familylifetoday.com or on our Family Life app.
This is Family Life Today. So I'll never forget the day that you told me in the kitchen, this is 30 plus years ago, that I had an anger problem. I remember that day.
That was a fun day. I mean, it was one of those moments where... Where you didn't say, thanks, hon, for sharing that. I think maybe I do. No, you know, I remember when you said, literally, I remember your words were, I don't want to bring anything up to you again because you just blow up in anger. In the moment, I didn't receive it. But the good thing about it is it forced me to go, do I have an anger problem? And the answer became yes. Well, you even went to God and asked that question. Yeah, and then I went to my guys that I did life with and long story short, I started to investigate the root of my anger problem.
And I discovered what it was because I didn't want to be that guy. Yeah. I think as a parent, we have the same journey we need to take with our kids to help them, whether they're five years old or 15 or 18, know how to manage their anger. And so we've got a guy in the studio today, Gary Chapman, back at Family Life Today. Gary, welcome back. Thank you. Good to be with you. You're over there smiling at my anger problem.
As a therapist. You're laughing at my anger problem. That's making me mad right now, Gary. But you've written about that in Love Language's book, which so many people know you from. And then recently you've written a book called Things I Wish I'd Known Before My Child Became a Teenager. We've already talked a little bit about this. And you shared that beautiful, heart-wrenching story about a moment where you blew up in anger with your son, Derek.
Yeah. But how important is it, you know, as you wrestle through our own anger as parents and then we see that in our kids? As teenagers especially. Sometimes they copy what they saw in their mom or dad or both. How do we wrestle with them to help them understand, like, I had to go on a journey and I was 30-some years old to understand anger and some of the root. How do we navigate that with our teenage kids? Well, you know, mismanaged anger destroys more relationships probably than anything else.
Between husband and wife or between parent and teenager. Mismanaged anger. There's nothing wrong with anger. Anger, I believe, is a gift of God.
The Bible says God is angry every day with the wicked. We get angry because we're moral creatures. And when we encounter something we believe to be wrong, we feel anger.
And we should. But I think there's two kinds of anger. There's what I call definitive anger. Someone has wronged you or wronged someone else and you should feel angry. And the anger motivates you to go try to straighten things out. But we have a lot of what I also call distorted anger. We get angry because we don't get our way.
And this is most common in the family. The teenager gets angry because they don't get their way. They want to go to this party and you've told them they can't go.
For whatever reason. And they get angry. Well, I think first of all, talking about anger in the family, discussing anger in the family.
Because most parents don't understand it either. And they're talking about the two different kinds of anger and how do we process anger. And if the family can say, you know, from time to time all of us are going to get angry. So why don't we just agree as a family that if you get angry with me, you come and say, dad, I'm angry.
Or mom, I'm angry. Can we talk? And I'll listen to you. And if I get angry with you, I'll do the same thing. I'll come and you say, John, I'm angry.
Can we talk? What you're doing is teaching them a skill that's going to serve them well the rest of their lives. Because we're going to all get angry from time to time. And we should on the definitive anger. But we also are going to feel that anger when we don't get our way. And so if we talk about anger, most families don't talk about anger.
They've never had a discussion on anger. But have a discussion on anger and let's say, let's learn how to handle anger in a positive way. And you do that with a teenager, you're doing a great service for the teenager. Because you're helping them understand the whole thing and learning how to do it.
And they're going to need that when they get married. And how do we discover if there are underlying issues? If that teen is continually exploding and they're constantly saying, I'm so angry at you. But they're exploding when they're saying because they're so emotional. How do we deal with that or know, are they angry about this surface thing that they can't go to the party?
Or is there something deeper? I think it's questions. Parents ask questions of the teenagers. Not when they're angry. But after an anger episode, you know, maybe the next day or the next afternoon, the parent says, John or Mary, let's talk a little bit about anger. And you know, yesterday you told me that you were very angry with me because da-da-da-da-da.
And explain it to me a little bit because I'm trying to learn, you know, why you're angry. And I want to know if I can do something different that will help you, you know. And asking questions of that teenager when they start talking, keep asking questions. They'll tell you eventually. They'll tell you eventually. In fact, I've said to a father, why don't you ask your son, son, I've been thinking about how it could be a better father. And I'd like to ask you to give me some ideas on how it could be a better father. Your teenager will tell you.
They will tell you. And see, part of their anger is probably based on the fact that you're not doing these things that they're talking about. So, if you ask questions and open yourself up for them to tell you how you could be a better mom or better dad, you'll likely discover what's lying underneath the surface. I'm thinking about how our teenagers. I remember when I had a toddler, you know, that two, three-year-old toddler were in those years where they're just, it feels like their emotions are all over the place and they're having tantrums. And then you have a teenager. Sometimes that can feel like the same thing going on. And we're talking about your book about teenagers. But how do you manage that with a toddler who just feels out of control?
There's no, there's no... It's like a meltdown. Yeah, it's the meltdown tantrum. Well, for one thing, you don't let it work. That is, they're having a tantrum because you wouldn't get them this cookie or whatever, you know.
Don't ever let it work. That is, don't break down and give them the cookie. So, if they're in the aisle checking out and they see the candy and they're screaming because they want it. They fall on the floor.
Yeah, they fall on the floor and they're in the cart screaming their head off. You're saying, don't give in. Don't give in. Don't give them the cookie. Because then you're teaching them how to get a cookie. And they'll do it every time.
You don't let it happen. And you say to them, if you want to lay there and scream, you can, but you don't get a cookie. And they'll scream, but they'll learn the screaming doesn't work. So, the toddler will stop screaming. So, if you ask your teenage son or daughter how I can be a better parent and you don't like what they say and you get angry, what is that saying? It's saying, you have an anger problem too.
And see, that's typically the deal. If you ask yourself, where did my son learn this? Chances are, if you look in the mirror, you may well see why they learned it. And I know when Ann said that to me, our kids were little at the time.
I mean, toddlers, probably the oldest might have been five or six. I knew when I settled down and I literally went into my office and got on my knees and said, God, did you just speak? And I felt like he said, yeah. I knew if I don't get a grip on this now, it will be a legacy. It'll be something I pass on. And long story short is I realized, and when I used to preach on this, I would literally take an extension cord and wrap it around my waist and say, you've got to go find what that's plugged into. You think it's your spouse. If I wasn't married to you, it may be somewhat that, but it isn't. There's something you got to dig around and go find. And obviously, as I searched through my life, it's like, oh, I'm still mad at my dad for walking out when I was seven with his girlfriend.
Here I am in my thirties. I need to go on a journey to forgive him. And again, it's a long story and we've talked about it many times here. So I go on that journey, again, thinking it'd take a week because I'm a pastor and I know Ephesians 4-32, forgive as you've been forgiven. It took four or five years before I actually got to the place where I gave up my right to punish him.
Here's the question. So I went on this journey with forgiveness. How important is that in teaching our teenagers to forgive, to let go? I mean, I went on that journey, but now, you know, you've got a son or daughter who's 15, 16, and they've got forgiveness issues, maybe with you, maybe with other friends. How important is it to help them walk through a journey of forgiveness? Well, if they don't learn to forgive, they will separate themselves from everybody they encounter.
Because if you get close to anybody, they will sooner or later say something, do something that's going to hurt you. And so it puts an emotional barrier between the two of you and it will not go away with the passing of time. If they apologize to you, then the biblical response is you forgive them.
You remove the penalty, you remove the emotional barrier, now our relationship can go forward. If you don't forgive them, the barrier stays there and they will build into a wall after a period of time. If the person doesn't apologize to you, I like to use the word release, you release them to God. You say, Lord, you know what they did to me and you know how they treated me.
And I've gone to them and I've explained it to them and they don't agree and they don't apologize, so I'm going to put them in your hands. You're releasing them to God and you're putting them in good hands because God loves them. If they ever confess to God, God will forgive them.
If they don't, then God judges them, the Bible says. So I think learning the practice of forgiveness is a skill that's absolutely necessary in adult life or teenage life to have good relationships. You will not have good relationships if you don't forgive. So that's a skill that we need to teach our kids before they get out of our house so that even as they get into marriage, they know how to do this. Right, and that means that we forgive our children, our teenagers. When our teenager does something that's horrible and we confront them and they apologize, we forgive them and we move on down the road. And we don't hold it against them the next day or pout or act.
Yeah, that's good. So much of what we're talking about really comes down to a spiritual foundation that we have and we're hoping we can impart or guide our kids to. You write about that in your book. This is a really big question for parents of teenagers. How do we guide them spiritually? How do we navigate alongside them their spiritual walk? Help parents with that.
I think one of the most important things in communicating our relationship with God to our children is modeling what we say we believe. I think the most sobering question I ever asked myself when my kids were teenagers is what if my children turned out to be like me in every area? What if they drive a car the way I drive a car?
Oh boy, you didn't have to go there. My wife right now said, okay. What if they handle anger the way I handle anger? What if they treat their spouse eventually the way I treat my spouse? What if they treat their teenagers the way I treat them?
And it's on down the line. It's a sobering question, but if you honestly ask that question, you get an answer and you will know where you need to change. I mean, I read that toward the back of your book. And Gary, I'm telling you, it was a sobering question.
I was like, wow, what a great gut check. Because if you don't like your answer, guess what, change it, right? Absolutely. Because they're going to be far more impressed and far more impacted by what they see in our lives than by what we tell them. We can teach them whatever, all the biblical things, we can teach them. But if they don't see it in our lives, they're not likely to respond to it. We've said this before, but I feel like I did a pretty good job of laying the foundation spiritually for our kids when they're little.
You did a phenomenal job. Like reading the Bible, like bringing Jesus and God into the everyday part of life. And yet I remember asking our young adult children, like, what do you guys remember of me teaching? And I was so depressed, Gary, because there wasn't a lot that they remembered of actual Bible teaching. But they did say, Mom, the thing that we remembered is you prayed all the time and you read your Bible. And I thought, well, that's a good thing because they see my dependence, my need for Jesus. And also we talked about earlier apologizing, asking forgiveness. They knew I did that a lot. And so I think as parents, that's a really good thing to remember.
Like, what are we modeling? I remember sitting at the dinner table thinking, do I have anything to share with my kids of what God has taught me today? And when there was a long gap, I thought, I need to be in the Word.
I need to be connecting with God more so I have something to pour out to them. I know that my perspective might be wrong on why so many young people are walking away from church these days. Gary, I'd love to hear your thoughts. My thought is it isn't so much about doctrine or theology. It can be a little bit. I think it's more about modeling. They're seeing the way we live and they're like, I don't buy it.
No, I think you're right. For example, you know, from my perspective, the central lifestyle theme of a Christian is serving others. You know, Jesus said about himself, I did not come to be served. I came to serve and give my life a ransom for others.
So if the parent is modeling a servant's attitude in all of life, the teenager sees that. They don't forget that. And that's why, you know, I would take our children with me on some of the service things, you know, going to the food pantry. Y'all like to go with me and go over and pack food and yeah, man, yeah, they go.
They remember that, you know. They remember when I would take them in the fall of the year in North Carolina, leaves are all over everywhere. And I'd get them in the car and say, we're going to go find somebody that's older that hasn't got the leaves raked. And I'd knock on the door and say, hi, I'm Gary Chapman.
I live down the street here and I'm trying to teach my children how to serve. And we would like to rake your leaves if it would be all right. And they would say, say what?
And I'd repeat my little story. And we never had anybody that wouldn't let us rake their leaves, okay. And the kids would rake the leaves and then they'd jump in the leaves. The teenagers, you know, they were young teenagers. We were doing the jumping in the leaves and all that. And then we would drive home and say, how do you guys feel about having helped some people?
Oh, dad, that was so fun, you know. So they see you serving others in whatever ways, you know, you're equipped to serve others. And that makes a tremendous impact on them. And after all, if they know God, you know, if they've come to the place where they've put their faith in Christ, there's no greater satisfaction than serving other people. You know, I was walking across the campus of the University of Virginia. I was going to be speaking in Cabell Auditorium. And a side door into that auditorium etched in stone above the door with these words, you are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.
And I thought, man, what if every university had that as a theme. But that's what Jesus demonstrated himself. I was going to say, those are the words of Christ.
Absolutely. So that's why I say our model is so important in teaching them the central motif of the Christian life, is we're here to serve other people. And both of them now as adults, that's what they do.
I mean, she's a medical doctor, you know, she delivers high-risk babies, and she identifies with these mothers who are struggling. And my son works with kids on the street, you know, he has for years, and people that nobody else would have time for. Which would make sense because your whole life has been dedicated to serving people. You started out serving troubled teens, and you said you even took your son with you to do that.
What's your love language? Words of affirmation. Okay. You're amazing, Gary. Awesome having you on here.
Nobody better. And my wife has acts of service, so I've got to get home and take the trash out. But I think by you modeling, every time we've been with you, you've shared stories about people that you've reached, troubled kids that needed help, that needed a parent, and you were there. And so you've modeled that all along the way for your kids, and now their lives have been dedicated to serving others.
That's really well done. I remember, again, it was our youngest spring break, his senior year in high school. And instead of going on some crazy party deal with all these kids, we said, hey, let's do a trip, and you can take a buddy. So Cody took Matt, and we went, I don't know, where did we go? We went on a cruise. Yeah, we went on a cruise.
And anyway, we ended up in Florida probably before the cruise or after. All I remember is in this rental car, we're driving to the airport or something, and somehow I made a wrong turn, and we ended up in this little cul-de-sac, and there was a woman in a car stuck in sand. She couldn't get her car out of sand. Now, I'm from Michigan.
I've never seen this. I'm like, snow, I can rock your car out of snow. I've done it many times.
But sand, right? And so we drove right by her, and I stopped. And I said, hey, I think she's stuck. Let's go back and help. And they're like, what?
What do you mean, help? I'm like, I don't know what their situation is, but it looks like she's in a snowdrift, and she can't get out. And so we pile out of the car, and both of them are like, we're going to go help some strange lady.
I'm like, we're going to try, and we go back there. And of course, they're both high school football players, and they ended up pushing this lady out. It was just like getting out of snowdrift.
We get her out of snowdrift. And these two guys are big football players. They're muscle bound.
They're going to play college football. And we get back in the car. And I'm not kidding.
I don't know what you think, Ann. Of the entire spring break trip, including this incredible cruise, that's the memory that I have and they had. When we all got back in the car, we were cheering. It was just this endorphins.
We were excited, like, wow, we actually helped some stranger lady out of just a simple sand thing. But like you said, is that act of serving others brought something to our soul. So you're saying as a parent, when we model that and get our kids involved in that, it's going to do the same thing for them? Absolutely.
Absolutely. You know, certainly reading the scriptures to them as they're growing up and having them in a youth group at church, all that's very, very positive. You know, they're hearing all those things at church and other things. But our model in serving and other things, our model of the way we live our lives is going to have the greatest impact on our teenagers. And those are the things they're going to look back and they're going to remember.
Well, what that does too, it takes their eyes off of themselves, which as teenagers, it's easy to be looking at themselves a lot. And that takes us into that mental health or emotional health area where parents are talking about this so much because their kids are depressed, they're dealing with anxiety, they're not sure how to help. And you talk about this in your book too, of even how the love languages can impact that.
Yeah. If the teenager feels loved, first of all, I mean, I think that's one of the most fundamental emotional needs that a child has is to feel loved. And if we understand their love language and they give heavy doses of that love language, and we sprinkle in the other four because we want the child to learn there's more than one way to love, you know. And that child feels loved.
And then they have a demonstration in front of them every day of how to live the Christian life, what this looks like. It's a life of serving other people. And we bring them into those service things so they get to experience what you were just talking about earlier, of helping other people. Because part of the thing with teenagers is they're trying to find meaning to life. Why am I here?
What's this all about? Well, it's all about serving other people, you know, from the Christian perspective. So if we can help them do that, they feel good about themselves after they've done it. You know, they push the lady out of the sand, they're feeling good about themselves. And they realize, oh, man, this is wonderful.
So then they start looking for places where they can serve. So, yeah, we're teaching them by our model to follow Jesus. And we're acknowledging that the reason we are doing these things is because we're followers of Jesus.
You know, we've given our lives to Him, and we're His representatives in the world, and we're here to make the world a better place. If they get that image and that picture, they're far more likely to follow through with what they've been taught. Now, did you ever have to go into your son or daughter's bedroom at night after you blew it as a bad model and say, I'm sorry? You know, I don't remember going into their bedroom and doing that. But I do remember telling them I'm sorry on several occasions. But I tried to do it pretty quickly after I'd done it. So don't wait till bedtime.
Don't wait till bedtime. If you realize you've done wrong, maybe walk around the block if you need to to cool off. But then come back and say, I won't apologize to you. I think Dave brought that up because I would apologize to my kids right away. I wasn't thinking of you. I was thinking of me.
No, but then what happens as a parent, I think, I don't know if men do this, but I do this as a mom. I blew it. I apologize. I ask for their forgiveness.
But then I go to bed and I just can't get over it. Like, you know, I hear that self-condemnation. What kind of mom would do that? So then I would go back into the room, apologize again. One of our sons wrote about it in the book because I said I just couldn't get out of that rut of feeling like I'm a terrible mom. What kind of parent would do this? And that son said, I don't know why my mom kept coming back in. She apologized.
I forgave her right away, but I couldn't get over the guilt. How would you encourage parents with that? You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Gary Chapman on Family Life Today. We'll hear his response in just a minute, as well as probably the most encouraging part of his entire three-day interview. If you're a parent, don't miss it. That's coming up in just a minute. But first, our mission at Family Life is to pursue the relationships that matter most.
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That's 800 F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. All right, now back to Dave and Anne with Gary Chapman and how to get out of the rut of feeling like a terrible parent. I was speaking in a prison one night, local prison, and they invited the wives to come in with the men, and I did a marriage thing. And in the Q&A, this father said, he was the prisoner, he said, Dr. Chapman, I've asked God to forgive me, and I know he has. And my wife here has forgiven me, and my sons have forgiven me. But what I want to know is how do I forgive myself for all the pain that I caused other people?
And I'd never heard that question before. And I think God just gave me this, it was my answer. I said, okay, stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself and just say, self, you blew it. You blew it big time, and you hurt a lot of people, self.
But a holy God has forgiven you because of Jesus and what he did on the cross for you. And, you know, parents sometimes say to me when their child has done something really, really bad and they're in prison or they've gotten somebody pregnant or whatever, and they say, here's what they say in my office, Dr. Chapman, what did we do wrong? And I say to them, God himself had two children named Adam and Eve, and they blew it. And they had a perfect father. So don't take all the blame for the decisions your adult children make because they can make decisions, poor decisions with good parents.
Now, if you know some things where you failed them, fine, you go apologize to them. But don't just automatically take all the blame on yourself for the poor decisions that your adult children make. You've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Gary Chapman on Family Life Today. His book is called Things I Wish I'd Known Before My Child Became a Teenager. And you can get a copy of that book at familylifetoday.com. Tomorrow, Dave and Anne and Ron Deal will join Cheryl Shoemake as she talks through the hardship of not being accepted as a new stepmom and the importance of waiting on God through her journey. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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