The Critical Parent
About the Guest
What does it take to be a spiritually healthy parent? Michelle Anthony talks about six different dysfunctional parenting styles moms and dads often default to, like the micromanaging parent or the critical parent. Anthony reminds moms and dads that there's great power in the tongue to bless or curse our children. Anthony encourages parents to affirm, appreciate, and admire their children for the good things they see in them.
What does it take to be a spiritually healthy parent? Michelle Anthony talks about six different dysfunctional parenting styles moms and dads often default to, like micromanaging or being critical.
The Critical Parent
Bob: You’ve heard about the helicopter parent—right?—the micromanager. Is that you? Here’s Michelle Anthony.
Michelle: What’s interesting about the micromanaging parent—the one who has to be in control—if you stop and think about it, the things that matter most to us in our lives are completely out of our control. So, what we do is—we create an illusion by micromanaging the smaller things—to think that: “In the abundance of a lot of things, I’m actually in control.” When really the important and the big things—we’re not.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There are some parenting strategies that work pretty well and others that don’t work very well at all. We’ll talk about how you can grow a spiritually-healthy family today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You think you and Barbara were ever helicopter parents?
Dennis: I think with six kids—I think it’s impossible. I think you’d have a split personality if you tried ever.
Bob: What about—there is also the tiger mom. Do you know what the tiger mom is?
Dennis: I have heard of that one.
Bob: That driver parent, who is trying to make every child into a perfect child. I guess with six you can’t—you’ve got to abandon that hope too.
Dennis: I don’t know, though, if you’ve got a couple of hard-driving parents—which Barbara and I were—we might have erred on that side a bit; but we were aware that we were like that. So, we really asked God, “Help us, and save us from our own weaknesses here.”
We’ve got an author of an excellent book called Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family. Michelle Anthony joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you. Thank you for having me back.
Dennis: Michelle has been married to her husband Michael for 27 years. They have two children—live in Colorado Springs. She does work for David C. Cook in their curriculum division.
And Michelle, I want to go back to the question, “What does a spiritually healthy family look like?” because I think your little synopsis of that is really—well, how shall I say it?—healthy. [Laughter]
Dennis: Helpful and healthy.
Michelle: Well, it’s a word picture. I like to envision things rather than big lists of to-do’s and to-don’ts. It’s to envision a director’s chair in my home. Then, at any moment, to say: “God, are You writing this script? Are You calling the shots? Are You allowed to be First-in-charge? Or am I picking up that script and deleting lines and adding scenes because I think I should have more or better?” Whoever is sitting in that chair is a really good gauge of whether we are dysfunctional any day or we’re spiritually healthy.
Bob: So, is it possible to be a spiritually healthy family if you’re a helicopter parent, or a tiger mom, or some of these labels we hear about in the culture?
Michelle: I think on any given day, I can be any of those things.
Michelle: In fact, this book could be an autobiography because, on any given day—if I just sit in that chair for a day—then, yes, I can be those things. Spiritual health is not something you undo in a moment. That’s the grace of the good news of the gospel. So, if I eat something terrible today, I don’t all of a sudden become instantly unhealthy; right?—it was a bad day. We have to give kindness and grace to ourselves—as parents, we are really tough on each other and ourselves. So, no, I can be spiritually healthy and have a helicopter day. I can be spiritually healthy and have a micromanaging day, but I need to recognize it.
Dennis: You talk about six different dysfunctional parenting styles. I do think you are right. I think we can all suffer from all six of these; but just a high-fly-by real quickly—the double-minded parent, who is trying to please everybody; the “I can’t say, ‘No,’” parent, who is kind of the people-pleaser / wants to please the child—that’s a mistake—
—the driver parent / that’s the tiger.
Bob: Yes, that’s the tiger mom—
Bob: —the driver.
Michelle: Oh, yes.
Bob: And what’s the core problem there with a driver parent?
Michelle: Well, I’m measuring my success by how much I can accomplish or gain. I’m not really—I don’t have a good sense of my identity, that’s grounded in Christ, that’s outside of those things that I do. It’s really—I’m defining myself by who I am / by what I do—and not who I am in Christ.
Bob: So, the driver parent is not so much driving the child as driving herself or himself?
Michelle: Well, they are. They do that; and then, by extension—because your children are extensions of you—you will also drive them, and drive them crazy, probably, in the midst of it; right?
Dennis: And how does a child feel in the midst of that? Do they feel like they are being driven, literally, off a cliff?
Michelle: You know, I think, as children, they manifest signs of this; but they probably don’t know it until later. But what happens—my husband was the product of a driver dad. What happens is—
—then you are constantly seeking that. You’re constantly going after for the next thing that you can accomplish, and it’s never satisfying. It’s this well that you never get to the bottom of, and it just deteriorates your identity.
Dennis: There is also the absentee parent; the micromanaging parent; and then, you mention the criticizing parent. Let’s talk about that one for a moment. I think parents are there—obviously, they are trying to help a child grow up. They are trying to correct bad behaviors. It’s hard not to fall into this one and be critical of a child because they get a “C” instead of a “B” or an “A.”
Michelle: Right. And so much of our parenting is to correct. So, it is easy, as you say, to fall into criticizing. Oftentimes, people can be criticizing their child; and they really have it from a place of love in their life. They are saying: “Well, man, if I don’t point this out in my child’s life, somebody else will. Wouldn’t they rather it come from me?” or “I want my child to strive for more.”
It’s the tone and the delivery of these words. You know, it’s the how these are delivered.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:21 that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Our words have the power to bless or to curse. We have to be asking ourselves, as a parent: “Are these words to bless my child?” or “Am I just frustrated and angry, and I’m just fed up, and these words will really be a curse to my child?”
Dennis: You talk in your book about different ways we can bless our child. I really think these are good. If you would, just give us a quick illustration of each of these. The first one is admiration. How do you show that to your children?
Michelle: A blessing of admiration is to affirm something about who they are—not necessarily their looks or what they do—but who they are: “Wow, you are a good listener,”—
—I am admiring that in you. We pull something out, and we bless them. We can also do the curse side of that and say, “My child is shy.” Do you see the difference? One is sort of negative; and one is: “Oh, but my child’s a really good listener. That’s why they stand back a little bit.”
Dennis: So, say things that build up rather than tear down. The next one is affirmation.
Michelle: This could be “I see God giving you His heart for those in need.” I am pulling out something that—maybe, this child is generous. Maybe, this child is the first person to give half of their banana when a child doesn’t have food—or whatever it is—and we affirm that in them. So, now, we are identifying them with that so that the next time there is a need, they begin to build that identity.
Dennis: I think, as parents, we forget that our tongues can either be an icepick that chips away at them or a paint brush that puts a few brush strokes of color on the canvas to help the child realize who he or she is. I think it’s tough to be a kid today.
Dennis: I think the demands are off the charts.
Michelle: It really is.
Dennis: And as parents, we need to be building them up.
Bob: So, you admire / you affirm. You also talk about appreciation. How is appreciation different than admiring or affirming?
Michelle: It’s an expression of gratitude. We are going to give that appreciation to God but through that child. So, you can say, “Thank you for helping me,” of course—but “I give thanks to God for providing for us, and you were a part of that.” So, we always want to go back to God because, otherwise, it becomes pressure on the child to consistently be that way. “What happens the day I eat my whole banana, and I didn’t share?”
Michelle: “So, now, am I not a giving child?”
When we used to affirm our children or show appreciation, we would say, “I see God doing this through you.” The pressure is on God—a perfect God.
Bob: I heard somebody talk, one time, about noticing evidences of grace in somebody’s life and being able to say: “You know, what I’ve seen in you—that God’s doing….”
“You know, I’ve just watched as….” That changes the whole dynamic rather than saying, “You’re such a great kid.”
Bob: It really is saying, “It’s really great to see how God is at work in you.”
Michelle: Or “God has given you a clever mind, and you’re using that in the area of math or science,”—but God has given you.
Dennis: Yes, just remind them of their giftedness—how God made them. This last one, I think, is really good. I wouldn’t have listed this, but I understand what you are talking about here. You bless them by using the concept of anticipation. It’s the concept of hope; isn’t it?
Michelle: Yes. This is my favorite one. When my children would go to school, I would say something about them to bless them; but then, to help them anticipate how God might work in their life that day. So, “You’re going to bring a lot of people joy today with your loving and caring ways.” And then, be on the lookout for how you bring joy to someone. Then, at dinner, we can ask them—“How did you bring joy to someone?”
Bob: And that can be anticipation for today—
—but you can also be casting a vision that’s longer than that. It can be a: “You know, God is going to do great things in your life as you grow up,” “This year is going to be a great year for you.” It’s that kind of blessing and vision casting that’s—
Michelle: That’s right.
Bob: —powerful; isn’t it?
Michelle: That’s right. And Moses did it to the people. In Number 6:22-26, we have this beautiful blessing of anticipation that he gave them. He said: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace as you go.” So, this is a life one—as you are speaking of.
Dennis: And it doesn’t stop. I just want our listeners to know—who are in the throes of raising their children today—you’re thinking the needs for these kinds of blessings will end as they go away to their own homes. I’m not raising children today—I am blessing my adult children, who are between the ages of 30 and 40.
Michelle: Yes, you are.
Dennis: And I wrote an email this morning to one of them, who will remain anonymous.
I just wrote this child and I said: “You’ve got a big idea here. I just love how you are giving life to it, and how you are leading it, and how you are giving shape to it. Keep going.”
Michelle: Yes. They eat that up. When we bless our children—we have adult children too—they don’t break gaze with our eyes. You know they’re eating it up—sometimes, tears come to their eyes.
The power of our words, as parents—I mean, if I were to ask you to think of something negative or positive that your parents said to you, when you were young, you could probably recall it right away. That negative one is right there, and it stings; but the blessing one is right there, and we remember it.
Bob: Your husband grew up with a dad who was not an affirmer with his words; was he?
Michelle: No, I think he was a driving parent—he was critical. My husband never heard those words, “I love you,” until the deathbed—just moments before. So, I am grateful for that; but he spent his whole life, as a son, looking for that blessing.
I call it “the father’s nod.” We all need that moment where Dad looks at us—he kind of gives that nod and says: “You have what it takes to be a man in this world. You have been gifted to steward the things that God has given you, and you will do so with success.”
And without the father’s nod—and then, his father passed when he was 20—he speaks about how he’s been on a journey, throughout his career and in his relationships, constantly looking and serving: “Who will give me that nod?” and it’s exhausting—it really is.
But what God redeems is that—when we had our son, my husband was intent—because he had received the Father’s nod from his Heavenly Father, he could now pass that on, even though it hadn’t been given to him. And he was intent on making sure our son knew that he had been given that nod from his dad.
Dennis: And there is an illustration in your book about a sailing experience that your husband and your son—
Dennis: —had together that is classic.
Michelle: It’s a story I love because we were all sailing for the day. We had taken our 16-year-old son and his girlfriend, at the time. We got caught in some very rough waters with some very strong wind.
Having been the mom—raising these two kids together, when there was a crisis, my husband and I would pitch in together—and we would solve it.
In this moment, when we hit the crisis, which was that our sails / both of our sails failed—which means that, when we were pulling them in, they rolled up tightly on the bow of the ship. We could not pull them in, which meant we were going to go in the direction that the wind was blowing, which was out to sea further.
Instead of my husband turning to me and saying, “Michelle, we need to fix this problem,” he turned intuitively to my 16-year-old son and said, “Brendan, I need you to go out to the bow of the ship and unfurl the sail.”
I watched him go out. There was just water coming over the bow—the wind was blowing. The mom in me is thinking, “This is unsafe!”
Dennis: Of course.
Michelle: “He’s going to get hurt.”
Dennis: Of course.
Michelle: “Something terrible is going to happen.” But I felt God’s Spirit, just saying, “You just be quiet and sit where you are sitting.” And my son—I watched his muscles rippling as he hand-pulled these sails—which we couldn’t do with the mechanism—hand-pull it on the ropes. His hands were bleeding, but he unfurled both of those sails. We were back on course, and we were able to get safe into the harbor.
Later, that week, I was telling this story to a male friend of mine at work. I said, “Can you imagine what a man my son felt like in front of his girlfriend?” He stopped me and he said, “No, he felt like a man in front of his father.” I hadn’t considered it that way.
It was as if, when my husband told my son, “Good job,” and he didn’t baby the bloody hands or any of that—he just said: “You did good. You helped save our family today,”—that he was passing on that blessing of that father’s nod to him.
Bob: I’m just wondering if there is a relationship between the critical parent—that we are talking about here—and the other one that you’ve got in your book—the micromanaging parent—because it does seem like there is some overlap. The micromanagers and the criticizers may—if they are not the same person, they come from the same genus and the same species; don’t you think?
Michelle: Well, you know, the micromanaging—a lot of the time—these are the parents who—they just want to be in control; do you know? A criticizing parent wants to control with our mouth. A micromanager—“I’m going to control with my mouth, my hands, the car, the house”—
Bob: Everything there is—yes.
Michelle: “I’m going to control everything.” What’s alluring about it is that— for the—
—for the first year or two—we can control. We begin to think,—
Michelle: —“Oh, I’m in charge”; but when we start raising our children through adolescence or even early elementary—elementary and adolescence—we begin to realize that we can’t. That’s when we usually insert more control. That’s the problem—we think, “Well, now, I need to be more in control,” and that usually leads to certain rebellion.
And what’s interesting about the micromanaging parent—the one who has to be in control—if you stop and think about it, the things that matter most to us in our lives are completely out of our control. Whether or not I am able to get pregnant, whether or not my children or my parents get divorced, whether or not the stock market will crash today or war will break out in my country, whether or not someone I love will get cancer and die, whether or not I will lose my job—
—I mean, we can go on and on—but the things that are most important in our life, we can’t control. Only God can.
What we do is—we create an illusion by micromanaging the smaller things to think that: “In the abundance of a lot of things, I am actually in control.” When, really, in the important and the big things, we are not.
Dennis: There is one last dysfunctional style of parenting—it’s the absentee parent.
Michelle: An absentee parent is someone who is just that—they are absent from the scene. Sometimes, this is because they are off working long hours to provide for their family—what they think their family really wants. But when you ask adult children: “Would you rather have had that new iPhone®?—or that new iPad®?—or toy?—or whatever?” or “Would you have rather had your dad around?” One hundred percent of the time, people will choose their dad. You know, it’s an illusion that our kids want all that stuff.
Sometimes, parents are absent because they are out pursuing, maybe, some younger years that they feel like they didn’t have; and they are partying.
They are off in inappropriate relationships. They are doing their own thing. Then, sometimes, parents are absent when they are physically in the house and their hours are there; but they are emotionally-absent. That’s a really painful thing for children too.
There are a lot of ways we can be absent. I think for this person—or for the person who is married to someone like this—we have to get on something that’s meaningful together. I encourage families to write a mission statement together: “What is something that we can pursue together—that we are going to agree to, as a family?” God put this person, this person, this person together in this family, at this time in history, for a mission. In that unique combination of those people, He wants to accomplish something—discover that, and to discern that, and then to write that together. We can hold each other accountable to it.
If somebody is spending too many hours off set, or if they are not engaging in the right kind of conversations or intimacy levels that they need to, this kind of keeps us back on track.
Dennis: You know, you would think, leading a marriage and family ministry—that someone, like me, would not suffer from being an absentee parent—but even the ministry can compete with your children as you’re raising them. There were situations where Barbara would kind of wave a white flag, going: “Time out. You need to stop. You need to listen. We’ve often wondered how far we can go; and we’ve found out: ‘This is too far. This is too fast. Slow down.’”
Dennis: And at that point, the absentee parent has to be teachable.
Dennis: The one who is doing the correcting has to do it in such a way that makes it probable and profitable—
Michelle: Yes; right.
Dennis: —for the other person to listen.
Michelle: And the mission statement was sort of good for us because we had this thing that we agreed and kind of all signed off on. So, we could call each other back. There were different seasons for my husband and I—both being in ministry. I think I did it poorly, at times—that’s the shouting/screaming, “You’re never here!” You know, “Blah, blah, blah,”—that never accomplishes anything.
Dennis: You did that?!
Michelle: Once—just one time. [Laughter] Don’t interview my husband. [Laughter] No, but then, there were the times, Dennis, that this was more appropriate: “I know your heart is to serve the Lord in our family, and the needs that you are meeting are so great. But I wonder, if this weekend, we could just spend some time together; and you could just really invest in our children and listen to them.”
I think that little word of affirmation—to affirm the heart, which is: “I want to serve the Lord,” or “You’re working so many hours at the office because you are providing for us.”
Dennis: There you go.
Michelle: “Thank you for doing that.”
Michelle: I wish I would have learned that earlier, but those were good words of wisdom.
Dennis: Yes; and you’ve got a lot of advice—
—not only here, on the radio, as we’ve talked—but much more in your book, Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family. I just want to say: “Thanks for joining us on FamilyLife Today. Hope you’ll keep up the work of challenging moms and dads of building a godly legacy for the next generation.”
Michelle: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
Bob: I think our listeners would find it interesting to just look at those six dysfunctional styles and just ask, “Are any of these true about me?”
Dennis: “Is it me, Lord?”
Bob: Yes, that’s right: “Could you mean me?” We’ve got copies of Michelle’s book, Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Look for Michelle’s book, Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.”
Order a copy of the book. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can order a copy of the book over the phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to start talking about prayer—what it is to have a life where prayer is an integral part. Paul Miller is going to join us. Hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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