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Attentive Parenting–or Just Overprotective? Sissy Goff & David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
June 10, 2024 5:15 am

Attentive Parenting–or Just Overprotective? Sissy Goff & David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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June 10, 2024 5:15 am

Wondering if you're being attentive--or could you be one of those overprotective parents? Join Sissy Goff and David Thomas as they talk about parenting fears, emotional baggage, and effective strategies. Discover the thin line between being vigilant and overprotective, and how to navigate it.

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Connect with Sissy Goff and David Thomas and catch more of their thoughts at or listen to their podcast. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @raisingboysandgirls

And grab Sissy's book, "The Worry-Free Parent: Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can Too" in our shop.

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Hyper-vigilance is when we cross over into becoming obsessive about whatever the thing is, rather than, I hope this is not happening. I've done what I can to keep them safe.

And I'm going to do the work now I need to do not to be hyper-vigilant. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at This is Family Life Today. So here's a question for you. What is one of your biggest fears when you became a parent? I know I didn't prep you for this. There's nothing in the notes.

This is out of nowhere. Probably my number one is that they would not know and walk with Jesus. That's probably the biggest one. But the other one is that I would mess them up and that I could really mess them up and it would be my fault. That was a fear. You didn't have to worry about it because I did it.

It was already done by the time. Did you have that fear? That was my biggest fear.

The brokenness of my family of origin, two alcoholic parents, divorce, abuse. I'm going to pass that on. We all think that. Are we going to continue that? Yeah.

So we got to talk to some experts about this. Aren't you that excited? I'm so giddy right now. Who do we have with us? We have Sissy off with us. No, we're with them. We're in their place.

And David Thomas. And if you have ever listened to Raising Boys and Girls or you've ever gone onto their website, you see the yellow house with the white picket fence. We're in the house. With the dog right at our feet. I know.

Patches. It's a new therapy puppy. You guys, we're so excited to be with you. Y'all, we are delighted to be with y'all. And on our turf is so fun. I know.

I can't believe you're here in Nashville. I know. And you just had Martin's Barbecue. We did. Which means we've given you our best offering. And it was pretty remarkable.

It is remarkable. Thank you. Well, tell our listeners if they don't know. What do you guys do?

I mean, what is this house we're sitting in? We are both therapists with kids and families. I have been in practice at Daystar Counseling Ministries since 1993. And I have since 97. Wow. We started when we were six and seven.

We wouldn't be very clear about that. A lot of years. And out of the great privilege of doing this work here, we get to travel and speak and write and have our own podcast and do all of those things. But this is really where we spend the bulk of our time in this place, which is why it's so sweet to get to have the two of you with us. David, what's your favorite part of all the things you do?

Like, what would you say, oh, this is what sets my spirit on fire? You know, I have long said that if you get to go to work every day and work with kids and dogs, like you really do have the best job in the world. So walking through it was so fun hearing you two talk about what it was like to walk through these doors. And I think we work with the most amazing team of folks. And so I do love this place. It's why we both wanted to stay. We believe in the mission.

We've seen the impact and just so grateful for it. We were interviewing somebody yesterday for an internship and she said, what's it like being on staff in this place? And it's really like a family. I mean, we have so much fun together.

We have a Christmas party where we wear our pajamas and we go see a movie together and do gifts together. And I mean, the work of counseling is so heavy and it's 30 years. It's heavier than it's ever been and more to carry than I think it's ever been. And especially in this community in Nashville, a year post the Covenant shooting.

And so, yeah, I can't imagine doing it solo. So grateful to have like-minded folks that were praying for each other, with each other, all of those things. The atmosphere of this, it's a home. It's a home. It feels so warm. But it's decorated.

It is a home with a kitchen and a dining room and rooms with dogs. I think it just tears down all the walls of walking into a therapeutic session of a sterile building. Not that those aren't great, too.

Sure. There's something about the atmosphere that feels so much like you guys. It feels like walking into a good home that you're really welcome.

A little girl said, we redecorated recently, and right before she was walking through with me and she said, I didn't know this would feel so much like my grandmother's house. And I didn't know if I should say thanks, but I said thanks. I think usually that's a really good comment. A great comment. Yes.

Yes. You heard us talk when we started about, I mean, honestly, I didn't know it at the time, but when we had our first son, first of three, I was not an emotionally healthy man. I would have told you I was. I would have looked like I was. I was pastoring.

I don't even know if we knew what that was. Yeah, but I mean, honestly, I thought, oh, I'm together. I have stuff in my past and my brokenness in my family, but it's all been healed by Jesus. It's all in the past and way in the past, and I will not pass that on. And I think something about parenting brings that out to go, oh, there's stuff still here. So talk to us about that because you deal with that every single day. Is that a legitimate fear?

And how fearful should we be? I would say first, I think your story is so many parents' stories. And I think everything from how much I think this relationship stirs in us and how much we go back into our own stories. We talk a lot about Madeline Lingle, I think, who says you're every age you've ever been and how I think when our kids become adolescents, we revisit our own adolescence. When we're launching them, we're thinking about our own young adulthood.

So I think that is familiar territory. And I would even argue, I think God designed it that way, that I think we're growing as much as our kids are growing as parents. It's just a matter of are we open to that growth? Are we open to developing new skills that we didn't have earlier on or things that, not that our parents didn't want to offer us, but maybe they didn't know to offer us. And so it's fun for us to get to intersect with parents in a lot of contexts through writing and the podcast and speaking and in this space to see evidence of where they want to grow alongside their kids. I love even when parents say that to their kids, we have that happen a lot.

They'll say like, we're going together because we want to learn new things too. And I think that's a great message to send to kids. We're all growing.

There's things we all could be learning. Well, Sissy, I'm thinking of exactly what David said, what my kids would get into. I remember when they turned anywhere from four to eight, I experienced sexual abuse.

So now that comes to my surface. And I found myself being a little paranoid about that. And then they became teenagers and I'm thinking of the things that I did as a teenager. And so my heart is good and diligent to want them to experience the best.

But I wonder now, like, was my that, not paranoid, but in some ways, I wonder if I put a little more anxiety on them based on what I had been through. Is that something that's typical? Yes, it is. Yes, certainly. I don't think that means you did it.

No, I did. Well, I think any of us do that out of the very best of intentions of wanting to protect them. We talk so much about vigilance is required to be a parent.

The line between vigilance and hypervigilance is so thin. And it's so easy to step over into wanting to make sure they don't experience any of the hard things that we experience. And we do a parenting seminar.

I was doing it last night at a local church. And one of the things we talk about is remembering when you grew the most. And it's often the very things that you're trying to protect them from. Not that we would ever want to allow them to go through what you did.

But the two most common parenting strategies in light of anxiety are escape and avoidance. So I want to pull them out of the hard things when really in my own life, it's the hard things that have caused me to grow the most. The disappointment that God has used in a redemptive way to make me who I am.

And propel me into what he's called me to do. If I had made cheerleading in seventh grade, I wouldn't be sitting here with y'all today. Really? No, I don't think I would. You'd be an NFL cheerleader? What are you saying?

Yes, 53. I'd be on the sidelines still. But what happened? You did make it. And so as a result, you were probably... So I was crushed, which feels so silly looking back, but I was crushed. And I started being involved in leadership positions with different organizations and then ministries. And I just started stepping into more of helping other people and getting to give. And I wouldn't have had time. And so those things that we panic and think our kids are never going to recover are often the very avenues that God uses to move them toward becoming who he's called them to be.

We hate our kids to go through pain, but you're right. You look at the scripture. And those are the times that God really moves. But explain the difference between vigilance and hyper-vigilance.

What's that look like? Well, that's where we could get into anxiety in general. But I think we talk so much about how all of us have intrusive thoughts, worst case scenario thoughts. What happened to me is going to happen to him, kinds of thoughts. I have a mom that I'm working with right now that our whole session this week was about her intrusive thoughts.

Her daughter's struggling. And so she has reason to be fearful right now, but she can't stop the loop. We talk about it like the one loop roller coaster.

I think we've talked about this before at the fair. And I think hyper-vigilance is when we cross over into becoming obsessive about whatever the thing is, rather than, I hope this is not happening. I've done what I can to keep them safe. And I'm going to do the work now I need to do not to be hyper-vigilant. You'll describe the loop because as soon as you say it, I remember we talked about it, but I also know that I could get in bed at night as a parent and I am riding that roller coaster for hours. And I'm right there with her, hands up, screaming my head off.

Explain that and how do we get off the roller coaster? Yeah, that's called rumination. I never have productive thoughts at 3 a.m. when I can't sleep. I'm never getting to a better place.

Get your hat out and you're writing those things down. Not when I'm in a worried place, for sure. And we talk about it like the one loop roller coaster at the fair with kids because it is. It's that thought comes in and it just gets stuck.

And that's what's happening when we're laying in bed going over and over and over. That they're not going to make cheerleading or that their friend doesn't want to talk to them anymore. Or why are they struggling to make friends or what's happening with their grades or any manner of things. And basically, when I was doing the research for the anxiety books I've written, one of the words that kept coming up is context. And that basically kids anxiety, our anxiety attaches to the thing that matters the most to us at any given age. And so we could guess by a child's age what they're going to loop about the most. Little ones being away from mom and dad, something bad happening to them. They get a little bit older and it's throwing up because they don't throw up very often.

And somebody at school threw up and now they can't stop thinking about it. And so we really can track that, which is why so many parents say to us, I never had any anxiety until I became a parent. Because the thing that matters the most matters more than anything ever has in your entire life. And so that becomes the context for that loop. But we've got to do the work of getting out of it. David, is it any different for dads, do you think?

You know, I think it can look different on dads. But I think at the root, a lot of it can be exactly the same. And I love when Sissy talks about in The Worry-Free Parent with rumination, how if we step away on the outset, it can look like good parenting. Because I'm problem solving and I'm thinking deeply about this. But that line between thinking and overthinking, as she's talking about with vigilance and hyper-vigilance, it's a thin line. And so I look like I'm doing all this good problem solving on behalf of my kids.

And it's really rumination in disguise. Or I think for a lot of dads, we get high control in those moments. Like I'm going to manage the situation. I'm going to tell you what you need to do.

We're fixers and doers. And it, again, often is going to be from a great place. Like my intention is good. I don't want you to struggle. I'm worried when you go back into these contexts, how it's going to go. But I'm too involved or I'm involved in ways that are controlling and aren't helpful to you or to me. Is there ever the opposite where, and I'm thinking of me sometimes, because Anne would tend to be... You're describing me right now. Both of you are describing me.

Hyper-vigilance, almost casting fear into our kids that they didn't have until mom said it. And I'm over here like, hey, chill out. They're not going to make any bad decisions. They're going to go to the party.

They're not going to drink, whatever. And I was absolutely wrong as well, but it was like extremes. So I wasn't controlling.

I was hands off. Let them grow up. Let them fall in the dirt. If they skin their face, good. We'll be there to help them when they figure it out.

And if he drinks at the party, we put it in our parenting book. We want them to sin while they're under our house. We don't want them to sin. But we'd rather have it happen while we're still here to be able to walk beside them. Because when they get to college or whatever, we're not around. So let's instead of, I want perfect kids that never make a mistake. So we had this thing.

They created friction between us. Yeah, in our home. And it's so good. What do you mean? That's good. Well, I mean, research says in a two-parent household, there's an anxious parent and a non-anxious parent. And the non-anxious parent is usually dismissed.

Which then creates friction. Hey, you hear that, honey? Because I'm like, why aren't you more worried about it? Well, and that's the thing. It feels like they're not watching.

It felt like passivity and not engaged. Don't care. But kids need to grow and go. They need to wander out and experience all the things. But they also need someone watching. They need both.

But I think it's easy to get into a situation where it does create more friction. And that's why I think both voices are so important, even for each other. For you to be able to say, honey, we're okay.

They're okay. We're going to get through this. I think I was being that for a mom, this mom that I was talking about a minute ago in my office this week. She wants so many good things for a kid.

She's trying so hard as every anxious parent is trying so hard. And I have a little chair I sit in and the couch is across the room from me. And she pulled up my ottoman and sat right next to me. And started showing me the schedule of her daughter and all the things and how she wasn't sleeping and all these things. And thankfully, I have worked with this dear family for a long time. So I could say this, but I finally, literally grabbed her arm and I said, I can feel your anxiety sitting next to you. Wow. If I can feel this, I know your daughter can too.

And I think that's where we all need people who can say that kind of thing to us. That's good. Yes. What did you say when you did that? I don't want to do this anymore. Now I really feel it.

What did you do? Did you ever get on a loop? Oh, yes. Still do. You do? I thought, my goodness, how fun when I'm an empty nester and they've launched that in the world and I won't be worrying in the day to day.

Guess what? We got news for you. It's just a new kind of worry. It's a new loop.

It is a brand new loop in a different way where you have less control in the day to day. And one of the things I was going to say that I love that Sissy talks about in her work too is back to the anxious and the non-anxious parent. One of the things that she talks about that I love is how non-anxious parents can a lot of times bring humor and warmth to the equation when the anxious parent is so tight and craving control. We get so intense. And I think especially as women, we get so intense we're anxious. And I think that's an extraordinary piece that dads can bring to the equation.

Yes. Yeah, that's good to bring levity. You bring that, dude.

I brought that. But I also, there were many times, well, I mean, not many, several times where her fear was realized. It did go that way. And so after it happened, I'm like, oh, I should have been more aware. Although it didn't kill him and they grew from it and it wasn't. But it was like, oh, yep, he did go drink.

And he comes home and Ann grabs and says, you're going to work in the yard all day, boy. It was hilarious. And I'm like, really? I thought they were like perfect little boys and they're out there doing exactly what you were afraid they would do. I've never, until this moment, never saw it as a good balance. So that's helpful for even listeners to hear because I bet you, like you said, they might have the same similar backwards dynamic. But I always thought I was a better parent because I was more chilled and I was trusting God more.

And I thought I was the better parent because I was more involved. Right. So that's kind of an interesting dynamic. By the way, I love that you all just said that out loud. I can't imagine how often that happens and the dynamic between two. And for you all to say that out loud and to realize that how important you both were. And actually, as I say that, I think we could not not say if you're listening and you're a single parent.

Yes, you can be both. You can be aware and vigilant and you can have a sense of humor and help them develop independence. It takes work. But really, we believe so strongly that in this day where one in four kids are dealing with anxiety, one in three adolescents and girls are twice as likely that the best thing you can do for your kids is to do your own work.

Single parent, married parent, it doesn't matter. Yeah. What's doing your own work look like? Sort of where we started. I'm bringing in, you know, baggage. I don't even know what my own work looks like.

How does a parent identify they need to do it and then how do they start? I love Richard Roar's wise words of whatever we don't transform, we transfer. And acknowledging that, like, whatever I don't work through, I'm likely to pass on whether I'm aware it's happening or not. It's really, isn't it the sins of the father? Yes.

Passage, it's going down. There's a therapeutic statement that if it's hysterical, it's historical. So if I'm getting hysterical, that means it's about me and my past.

There's a story behind it. Oh, I mean, just stop as a listener and think, is there anything you get hysterical about? Like, I think in a marriage, you can see when your spouse does that. So to think like, oh, that means I need to go back into my past and think what happened.

Hmm. I would challenge any dads listening that I think the next step, because I have seen way too much of this, is get open. Because I couldn't begin to tell you how many parents I've sat with where the dad looked like a surly teenage boy in my office. And the mom's like, he didn't really want to come today, but I feel like it's so important. And I'm hard on dads in that space. Like, like, what do you say? You want me to tell the truth?

Yeah. It happened last week in my office, you know, and I said to the dad, I tried to gently kind of step in with, I get it's hard. I'm grateful you're here, those sorts of things, but he got more surly. And so I have said to some dads before, when you're under the age of 16, you have a lot of space to be mad about being here.

Past your 20th birthday, it's time to get on board. So you're here in the room and I've already seen some evidence of why you need to be. So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Way to go, David. How does that go? It opens up all kinds of opportunities for speaking more truth. But I think that's where the get open comes from. Like we need to be open to, we all need to grow in some way. And what are the contexts, what are the relationships where I can do that? That may be meeting with a close and trusted friend. It may be meeting with a pastor.

It may be engaging counseling myself, but get open and figure out where to do that work. I mean, some of that, I'm sure it's true for women as well, but for a guy is some of that surly, arms crossed, just fear. It is.

They're afraid of what they're going to discover in their own self and they don't want to go there and they don't want to bring it out. They just, I'm going to just, I'm going to lock it up. Back to that control.

Yeah. I'm going to stay in control. And you're not going to let them by.

Yeah, I got the key. We're going to crack this baby open. If you're in the room. You have anybody just walk out and say, I'm done.

I'm not going to do it. Or they started going to journey. You know, I don't know that I can think of a single parent that didn't stay. It certainly made a lot mad, but I think, I hope it was always from this place of, I care deeply about you. That's good.

There's good growth, good opportunity for growth. Talk about the hyper vigilance. What are some of the terms we use that a parent can hear and think, I've done that.

I say that. It creates anxiety in their kids based on what they're feeling. One of the other things I read in the research was that anxious parents even use more catastrophic language. So I think anytime we're using really big or you always or this never happens when we notice ourselves kind of that hysterical piece of it. I think when we notice ourselves using that big language, that's kind of a tip off.

And we did a podcast interview with Dr. Michael Thompson, who talked about a phrase called investigating for pain. And that when we're asking kids questions, I'll give you an example of a woman that I was doing a parenting seminar on girls and friendships. And she said, my daughter won't talk to me.

I can't get her to open up with me. And so every day at the end of the school day, when I pick her up, I say, who was mean to you today? And she said, she always answers me. That's investigating for pain rather than who'd you hang out with or what was the day like, you know, whatever we want to ask him. But I think when we lead with questions like, did anyone sit with you today? Yes.

Yes. Rather than who did you go sit with today? And think about where that fits within the vigilance, hypervigilance piece. It's like, but I need to know if something went wrong.

I need to check in with her. And it's back to what Sissy talked about where anxiety is always looking for context. So these amazing kids are instinctively looking for what could go wrong already, not what could go right. And if we're inviting them deeper into that with investigating for pain, we're making the anxiety worse, not better.

So that's a great thing to look for. Their heart is good. They're thinking, I want to get it out of them. I want them to verbalize maybe some fears. The intent is good, but you're saying that in itself can create, make the child think into like, oh, wait. Yes.

What are some other of those statements that we can make? I think parents are like, oh, check that off. I remember my mom used to, when I used to come home from school, she'd say, did anybody tell you that you look nice today?

Wow. Which, you know, sometimes I'd say yeah or no, but I started thinking like, do I look nice? Like, should I look nice?

Do I always need to look nice? Are you saying that was negative to you? I'm saying that created this part of me that I'm always looking for that now.

And if I don't get it, do you know what I mean? But I would say things to our kids like, oh, so how did it go? Like on the playground, did you play with anybody? Which I thought that was a great question. Better than my question. Hey, did you dominate on the playground today? Who's your crush?

What's his name? Give us some more of those. I think it's good for parents to realize, because I would think before, I don't do that. But then when you guys start naming, like, oh, I did kind of do that. I would add to your great question, thinking about Sissy talking about how often you find moms asking girls about their relationships. And we talk about how easy it is to get too involved, hypervigilant in a girl's relational life. And I see a lot of it with moms of boys and their academic journey asking too many questions. And in this day and age where we have access to an online portal and any given day could identify what he didn't turn in, where he struggled, where he didn't test well, invites too much involvement off in that space. And I have a lot of moms who can't lead in that place. He gets in the car like, I notice you didn't turn that in.

I saw you made a 72 on your science test. And that frames the relationship in ways that I don't think are helpful. Like, too much of what we're talking about has to do with this. I had a teenage boy one day that I went down to the lobby to get, and I could tell he and his mom had had a tense conversation in the lobby.

And he said to me, if you were to go downstairs right now and ask my mom to hand you her iPad, I guarantee you her home screen is his school's online portal. That I think was his way of saying, like, it defines everything, most everything we talk about. And I think dads can get way too involved in a boy's athletic life. And I think we as males already tie too much of our identity to what we do. And I think it's the first invitation for boys, like, how are you performing? You know, even that we would lead sometimes with that question with boys, like, what sport do you play? As opposed to asking more questions just about who they are rather than what they do.

That I think is what we do with men. What do you do? That's the first question we ask. Not like, what do you love? Tell me about your family.

We don't lead with those questions that are more about their personhood. A mom could say, was your coach nice to you? Oh, yes. How much playing time did he give you today?

Yes. Yeah, I had a mom, you know, I was an athlete my whole career, and I had a mom that celebrated every single mom. You know, dad was gone. And I think that helped me as a dad, then, never to put the performance thing on them.

It's like, I just didn't. I coached a lot of them even through high school, but it was a joy to just. And when I wasn't coaching, we never went to a coach. Never said, hey, why is my kid?

Never did it. We trusted them. And they were some bad coaches. And we still trusted them, but it was like, don't step in there and don't put that pressure on your kids to do something that maybe God doesn't even create them to do. I think, too, as I go through that and wonder about the questions that I ask my kids. Because my parents didn't really ask me anything ever, besides if anyone said I looked nice. I didn't want to be that parent. I wanted to be more involved. So I think the parents have a good intent. They want to help their kids.

But this frames it up and helps us to know what that looks like. We're Dave and Anne Wilson, and you've been listening to Family Life Today. We've been talking with Sissy Goff and David Thomas. David's written a book called Braising Emotionally Strong Boys, and you can get a copy at And Sissy's written a book called The Worry-Free Parent, Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can Too. And when you partner financially with Family Life to help more conversations like today's get into more homes, we want to send you a copy of her book as our thanks. You can partner with us at or by calling 800-358-6329.

That's 1-800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word today. Or you can mail us your donation to Family Life at 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. And make sure to let us know you'd like a copy of The Worry-Free Parent by Sissy Goff. And thanks for partnering with Family Life. And thanks for listening. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-10 07:16:26 / 2024-06-10 07:29:46 / 13

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