This Week on Soul Talks
Let’s face it: family relationships and parenting aren’t always easy! Bill and Kristi know firsthand what this is like in their 30 years of raising three kids. In this Soul Talk, they share from their personal experience and offer psychological and spiritual insight for how we can raise our children with a healthy faith in Jesus and healthy emotions.
Tune in to learn other ways we can help our children receive the nurture, encouragement and care they need to grow in empathy and love for Jesus. Or, you can read the transcript from this episode below.
Resources mentioned in this podcast
Raising Kids with Healthy Feelings and Faith Transcript
Bill & Kristi Gaultiere
Feelings, Faith, and Family… Under Stress
Now in this particular podcast, we want to talk about how we raise kids with healthy feelings and faith.
And there are some challenging situations that come up in families.
We love each other, so we get together, but sometimes some of our relationships in the family are difficult. Certainly, there’s more stress this time of year.
Well, when we’re stressed, it affects our relationships too.
When we’re stressed or maybe more irritable, maybe we get so focused on all that we have to do that we take each other for granted.
So I think that it’s especially a good time also to just be looking at relationships with them, families and growing in that intentionally.
We want to begin with the testimony from a pastor’s wife who came to our Soul Shepherding Institute retreat recently.
Postponing your feelings
So she says, I have become accustomed to postponing my feelings these last few years.
Does anybody relate to that? Postponing your feelings, especially in the work of caring for others and the work of leadership.
She says, My feelings have been clattering around in my head and my heart so loudly in the scorching heat of ministry in the pandemic. But at this retreat, I have sat in the shade to cool off and feel the breeze again.
Sometimes we just need to rest and be in a community that loves us and we don’t have to do any work.
So we can just learn and glean care for our souls and have healthy relationships and get a new perspective on our life and our ministry. So that’s what she’s talking about.
Then she closes and says, Thank you for giving legitimacy to how I feel, and for bringing calm to my jittery soul.
Yeah. A lot of us postpone our feelings because of the stress. And you know, our kids do that too. You know, they get busy or they’ve got stuff with their peers. Or maybe they’ve learned it from us.
Yeah. Or maybe they’re just intuitively trying to protect us from their feelings. They’re afraid that we couldn’t handle them.
And some personalities are more prone to sort of repress their emotions than others.
But so many of the mental health challenges and stress reactions, and conflicts that we have in our relationships, we also have those difficulties in our relationship with God.
They’re caused by this postponing of our feelings. Where we’re repressing our emotions or we’re intellectualizing, or we’re just distracting ourselves from what we’re feeling inside.
You know, we all want to feel happy and joyful and loving and peaceful.
So we probably don’t try to postpone those feelings, but as it relates to disappointment and discouragement or anxiety, anger, guilt, and shame, that kind of stuff we don’t want to feel.
And so we tend to push that down and that creates problems.
It does because if we’re not processing and we’re not aware, it’s going to affect the way that we relate to people.
The Importance of Being Authentic
One of the things that has been important in raising healthy kids in feelings and faith is being authentic. So if we are modeling our authentic faith in front of our children and they see it’s real, they see it’s working for us.
They see that it’s a good way of living and it helps us to be better. They’re gonna lean in more to want to learn from us. But if they see that it’s something that we’re just doing, it’s a behavior.
And it’s not integrous to us, kids know that. They notice that, especially if we’re trying to teach them things that we aren’t living, you know, they’re not going to be too interested in.
Yeah. So we’re talking about a theme that we talk about often in Soul Shepherding. In fact, it’s the branding of our Soul Shepherding Instagram account.
And if you’re not following us there, we’ve got over 25,000 people following Jesus with us there. And we’d love to have you in that community.
It’s all themed around following Jesus, with feelings and faith. This is a subject we often talk about on Soul Talks. And today we’re applying it to the family and to how we raise our kids.
And Kristi, most of what I have learned about healthy feelings is from you and your self-awareness. Your sensitivity, your emotional health, and your empathy. I’d just love for you to share with us how we raised our kids, how you did this, because we had two top values.
It was all about this for us as parents, of course, there are so many things that are important to do as parents. But we wanted to raise our kids with a love for Jesus and with empathy. And that was our guiding theme.
Emotional and Spiritual Modeling For Kids
Yeah. To have emotionally and spiritually healthy children was my goal, intentionally.
And so to work backward from imagining, well, what, at this age, do they have the capacity to learn and to understand. To know that a lot of that was going to come from modeling because, you know, they’re going to emulate us.
We saw that pretty early on how they do that, how powerful that modeling is.
And so we talked about our feelings in front of our kids. Now, we talked about our feelings in ways where we were sharing by taking responsibility for our emotions. We also showed them we had conflict.
We didn’t protect them simply from that conflict. We did it age-appropriately, but we were really intentional to show them how we made repairs.
Someone listening is thinking, well, wait a minute, I don’t want to dump my feelings on my kids or one of my parents did that to me or that doesn’t sound healthy.
That’s definitely true.
And there’s definitely going to be some feelings that you need to protect your kids from, for sure.
Peaks And Pits
But there are also times when it’s good. One of the ways we did this was at dinner. We would give everybody a turn to share their peak of the day, their high point of the day, and their low point, their pit of the day.
We did that too.
Of course, we would filter what we shared with that. Something that we thought was appropriate for them to be able to understand, but it just gave that acknowledgment that we’re all human. We all struggle.
We all have low times, hard times, things that happen to us and we all have good things, times when we experience God’s blessings and to be able to give thanks for the good and celebrate that, and acknowledge that sometimes that good was about somebody at the table, that it was even an opportunity to express affirmation.
And then sometimes that pit, the low point involved people at the table, and to be able to just speak the truth, even that I had a hard time in reaction to this.
This was a bummer for me.
This was, the hardest time in my day. It was trying to deal with my emotional response to something that maybe somebody said or did that day.
But I’m owning it. I’m talking about my emotions from a perspective using “I” statements that “I thought” and “I felt,” or “I wanted this”.
And I was disappointed because this didn’t happen. I was disappointed that it went a different way. It was hard for me.
And as we share that, and as we own that with emotional awareness, not talking about “you really disappointed me today.”
But maybe I would say something like “I was disappointed that I didn’t get time to go out and throw the ball with you, David, in the backyard today, I really wanted to do that.
And it was sad for me that I didn’t because the laundry had to be done, and because we needed our scout uniforms for tomorrow’s meetings, or I needed to make dinner because we needed to eat. So we could have the nutrition we needed for homework.”
You know, just to be able to talk about some of the realities but talk about it emotionally, too.
So you’re normalizing emotions and you’re giving words for emotions.
And since it’s a part of your conversation with the children, our conversation with each other, it’s helping them to learn the language of feelings and to not be embarrassed or be so private that they hold all that back.
To be able to express that facilitates bonding and relationship facilitates, receiving the nurture, the care, the encouragement that they need.
When Emotions Are In The Driver’s Seat
Yeah. I remember saying to our kids at times when I was hormonal and my emotions were kind of in the driver’s seat, going to them and just saying, “You know, I’m really sorry. I’m aware that my emotions are really heightened right now. I’m really struggling. And I’m really feeling it hormonally and physically in my body. And I just want you to know this isn’t about you and I’m sorry.”
What a relief that gives to that child.
Because these things come up so often for us, with our kids and for every parent it does. Because life, stuff happens.
We’ve got weights and responsibilities and stresses and there are conflicts.
We experience things.
And so our kids see that and they are feeling, even if they’re not super sensitive, they’re still going to be aware and have some effect of the mood, the disposition that the non-verbals, the bodily presentation of their parent.
And so if we don’t put words to what we feel, if we don’t do what you just did there to take ownership of that, then the kids will feel it they’ll be affected by it.
And they’ll personalize it.
They’ll think, oh, it’s about me, I’m doing something wrong.
And they’ll feel bad. Or they’ll get into one of these dysfunctional family roles that we’ve talked about previously.
Like, if they’re the clown, then they’ll be the clown to try to make everything light and funny because they want to lift your spirit.
Or if they’re the hero, they’ll go out and try to perform and do great things to draw the attention that way.
Or the peacemaker, they’ll rush in and try to be helpful and comfort and soothe.
So the kids are going to take responsibility for what their parents feel.
If we don’t acknowledge, this is what I’m feeling, this is my emotion. This is about me. It’s not your responsibility. You don’t need to worry about it.
That lets the air out of the balloon that helps them to relax. And then now it’s modeling this self-disclosure as well.
Helping Kids Label Their Emotions
Yeah. And it’s also important too, that one of the things I did that was really intentional was to try to help them label their feelings.
So when I saw that they were having emotion, even as little children or toddlers, Jenny was angry, I would say, “Oh, you’re angry. Tell mommy about your anger. “
Or if she would act out in anger and frustration and hit one of her siblings to be able to say, “It’s okay that you’re angry, but it’s not okay for you to hit. Tell me, what are you feeling? What are you angry about?”
And trying to help her get in touch with what she felt and express it, rather than just acting out in a way that’s destructive, right?
Using your words rather than acting it out, talk it out. Don’t act it out. That’s a great principle.
It helped with that too.
Especially with Jenny, she really liked Beauty and the Beast.
And so it was easy for me to kind of use that. We don’t want to be like the beast, the beast is angry, you know, we want to be like Bell.
She’s kind, she’s loving.
Now, you feel angry. Like the beast. Tell me about that.
It’s okay to have the feeling, but can you talk, can you talk to me about it? Can we express in a way, can we color an angry picture?
Can we do an angry dance?
Can we do something to help you express the anger that won’t hurt somebody?
So she’s not only finding the words for her emotions, but she’s learning to take ownership or responsibility of that.
This is my emotion. It’s part of me. And I need to learn to deal with this in ways that are effective and will work for me in my life and be loving to other people.
So it’s a little by little process. This takes many years, right?
Parents Have Emotions Too
Yeah, it does. Lots of repetition. And then, you know, there were times when we lost our temper, right? We would be frustrated at them or something they did, and we would be angry with them.
So, when we did get angry with them and appropriately, we would apologize quickly. We would be quick to say, “I’m sorry, I got too angry. And yes, what you did was wrong, but it wasn’t okay for mommy to get so angry at you.”
Yeah, that was hard for me too. But I learned there was actually the easier way, as we always like to say about Jesus’ Easy Yoke.
It’s the easy way of doing hard things.
It’s hard to go back to a child when you’ve gotten too frustrated in a discipline situation and what you were disciplining that child over was legitimate and something they need to learn.
And yet if I got too frustrated, if I lost my temper to go back and say, “I’m sorry that I got angry and that wasn’t appropriate. Can you forgive me? How did that feel for you?”
That’s the all-important second step in repair when there’s been a conflict in a relationship.
It’s not only to say ‘I’m sorry’ but then also say, “tell me how that felt for you,” and to listen and try to draw your child out.
Sometimes they wouldn’t want to answer that, but over time they learned that they could.
That I was open to their feelings, their experience, what they need.
And maybe they’re angry at me.
So to be able to use their words again, to express that, and for me not to be defensive, not to counterattack with a judgment or, “Oh but you misbehaved here and you shouldn’t do that.”
I always put myself on the rule that if I’ve gotten too angry, even just an expression of frustration that was stressful or hurtful to the sensitive tender soul of a child, to set aside the discipline issue, because that problem behavior is going to come up again.
We’re getting lots of chances, so I’ll wait until the next time to discipline it.
And hopefully in a calmer, more gentle way.
Get In The Habit Of Taking Your Own Medicine
What I found was that by going back to apologize and offer empathy and sort of taking my medicine there, which was hard, hard to do at first.
But once I got into the habit of it, it became easier to do.
What I found is that really opened up the relationship and helped the kids to feel safe, and helped them to know that dad is going to be loving and empathetic, even in a difficult situation. Even if the first time he doesn’t get it right. And I’m frustrated with him, he’ll come back and make repair.
And so that opens the kids up to have whatever they feel and to bring that to their parent and say, “Well, I don’t like this. I don’t like that.”
Now that’s a challenge to deal with.
In some ways, it’s easier as a parent if we just sort of take control and give high structure and high rules and be real quick to say “No, you can’t do that, you can’t do this, and we’re not talking about it.”
And the kids will adapt. Kids are so adaptable.
They’ll just adapt and work around their parents’ misbehavior.
Whether it’s a parent getting angry or having a drinking problem or being busy all the time, or having a high conflict marriage where the kids are getting brought in the middle of, and there’s no repair or communication about it.
There are all sorts of things that are unhealthy.
Usually, it’s the unintentional parent. Parents love their kids. They don’t want to be unhealthy and unloving, but we all have these shortcomings and these weaknesses.
If we’re not paying attention to our own self as a parent, then we’re not taking responsibility for that stuff, then the kids are just going to adapt and we can have a highly structured, high discipline home that makes it easier for us.
But the kids are just repressing their feelings.
They’re just walking around on eggshells.
Okay, what’s going to get mom or dad upset or angry. I don’t want to trigger that. So I’m going to be good. I’m going to be nice.
And then there’s a few that go the other way and say, “Heck with this.”
And they become a rebel and they are difficult all the time because they’re so upset about it.
Well, and to be fair, when I repress my emotions for a long time, then they do erupt and make a mess.
And so I think to provide a context where we can stay current and know that it’s safe.
And that we can ask to be listened to when we’re having a lot of emotion.
And that we can trust that we’re going to have somebody who’s going to tune in to what we’re feeling and try to help us name those emotions.
Someone who is going to reflect back to us with empathy what we’re feeling and extend God’s grace to us.
And that lets us know we’re loved even in the midst of messy emotions.
And that’s one of the things we tried to model.
And even at night, when we were talking about our peaks and pits, we tried to listen with empathy and really attuned to our kids and use words to try to reflect what we thought they might be feeling.
So they felt validated and heard and understood and valued in that.
And it’s one thing we have to really work on there is to be intentional, not to try to fix their emotions, not try to fix or prevent them from feeling the way they feel or not trying to manage that but to really listen.
There were some times in parenting where I will listen to our kids, complain or share, you know, upsetting things or even criticisms of me.
I’m remembering right now, a conversation with David when he was a sophomore in high school.
When Anger Drives Us
And he was really angry at me because I wouldn’t drive him to school high school in the morning and we wouldn’t buy him a car and give him a car.
And all of his friends either had rides to high school, or they were given a car to drive themselves. And we weren’t doing either.
We were expecting him to get himself there by walking or biking. It was a pleasant and not far walk. And we thought it was good for him physically and emotionally.
And, you know, just to have that time to reflect, to pray, to get his body moving and prepare for the day. And we want him to be responsible and independent.
Well, he didn’t appreciate that.
It turned out that he was hitching rides with friends, and I was feeling guilty about that because his friend’s moms were coming to our house and picking them up to give him a ride.
I’m thinking, man, they must just think I’m like this selfish, stubborn, and inconsiderate mother who worked the system.
Yeah. He worked the system. I was feeling embarrassed about it.
But listening to him share why he did that and how he felt about the fact that we wouldn’t do that.
I was hearing a lot of anger as I was listening, it was hard for me not to react.
I wanted to be defensive.
I wanted to tell him all our values and all the ways we were feeling it was good for him to have this boundary.
And yet I knew it wasn’t the time. I knew it was the time to hear him.
And to be able to say back to him, “Well, it sounds like you’re really resenting this decision we’ve made.”
And he was like, “Yeah, in fact, I’m bitter about it.”
And I remember hearing that thinking, oh wow.
Then I asked him, “Well, why?”
And you know, then he told me why.
Then I said, “Well, so you don’t agree with us on this value.”
And he’s like, “No, I don’t. And my friend’s parents are good godly Christian parents too, but they’re not raising their kids with this value.”
And so to be open, to hear how he really felt about it.
Thankfully God helped me not to be defensive, but I do remember really reflecting on what he said, thanking him for sharing.
And, you know, I began to pray about it. Later, we did decide, okay, we can trust David to have a car.
But we’ll ask him to drive his sisters to school. He’s still learning responsibility with it and all of that.
So, you know, God provided, and my parents handed us down a car for very inexpensive, just a couple thousand dollars that worked out well for that.
But it was a learning opportunity for me to really hear him, to understand what he was feeling, and not react offensively.
Now I came to you and processed my emotions of how I felt criticized.
I felt judged how it was hard to endure hearing how angry he was at us and how much he disagreed with the decision we’d made.
Yeah. I was reminded that the most important way I love my kids is to love you, Kristi, by listening to you and teaming with you to work things out.
That’s a really important principle in the family, that in the best scenario where two parents are together, and I know that some of you listening are single parents.
So you have to find a workaround a friend, and with the Lord in prayer, but it’s always helpful to have a partner that you can process with.
And that relationship can be such a blessing to the children when they see that mom and dad are together and love one another and get along.
And because that’s what they imprint off of.
And just to call out something that you’re illustrating here in any of these situations with parenting was always more important than the particular situation at hand, the problem, the discipline situation, the stress, the communication.
What was always more important was the actual relationship.
So the decision around what to do about David getting to school, whether to walk, bike ride, hitch rides from friends, that’s important.
But what you’re showing him around emotional honesty, empathy, agreeing to disagree, valuing his feelings, his opinions, and a process of collaborating to work this out is so, so good and so healthy for children.
And then let’s just make the tie back, because this is healthy feelings and faith.
So before we close here, Kristi, let’s talk about how does this relate to our faith in God? Our trusting the Lord.
Learning Our Feelings Helps Us Learn About God
It relates a lot.
And there were times in parenting where I found myself having to kind of take a time out with the kids and just push pause, and go and journal and pray because I just was flooded with emotion and I wasn’t going to be able to do any effective parenting.
To be able to do that it would sometimes mean putting on a video for them or something, you know, something so that they’d be safe.
So I could give some space to go and pray and get in touch with what I was feeling and journal it to the Lord and receive empathy from the Lord.
Sometimes I would reach out to you. I need prayer. I’m not doing very well. Can you listen and pray or listen and pray for me, but to remember that I wasn’t alone.
And to remember that Jesus was there with me, caring for me, helping me to turn to and rely on his power and his presence, and to set the boundary, to receive the love that I needed in order to be able to give it.
Because there were times that I was just spent, I didn’t have anything more to give.
So hopefully, you could be in a situation as a parent where you’re parenting out of the overflow, as you’re experiencing God’s love and God’s grace and God’s guidance in your life is strengthening you to be able to pour out to the children.
That’s where we want to be.
The other thing we’d want to say here is that as we help our children or our grandchildren, many of you listening are grandparents and that’s so fun that we get a second chance, right?
We’ve got two little grandkids, ages 1 and 3.
So we’re getting to go through that ourselves now.
Hard to believe. I didn’t expect to be a grandparent at this point.
I kind of thought that would be later, but we’re a few years into this now.
And in this opportunity with our children, as we listen to them, as we care for them, as we parent them, we’re mediating God’s presence.
Even if we’re not using the name of Jesus in a particular conversation, we are Christ’s ambassadors.
And what we do to facilitate nurturing empathy, bonding intimacy, opens up opportunities for them to experience that sort of closeness with God.
Absolutely. They’re learning about relating to themselves and others, including God, from their relationship with us.
Find words for what they’re experiencing in their life, the stresses and challenges and conflicts, and different emotions that can be part of their prayer life.
That can be part of their scripture meditation.
That can be part of their small group experience.
Their awareness of the needs of other people around them in their city and in the world that they’re on a mission to minister to. And so being aware of our feelings is so valuable for our faith.
A lot of times we get the idea that, oh, feelings are a problem with faith, because we think that faith is just about cognition and beliefs and and behaviors.
But faith is also about feelings in the heart and relationships.
Growing in our self-awareness facilitates growth in emotional intelligence, which facilitates effectiveness in all of our work and all of our relationships, and in all aspects of our faith.
Jesus Doesn’t Want Us To Hide Our Emotions
And Jesus really wants an intimate, ongoing, conversational relationship with us.
He doesn’t want us hiding or repressing our emotions from him.
He doesn’t want us thinking that we can’t be emotionally honest with him.
Because he loves us. He wants to be close to us and he wants to speak to us.
And one of the ways that God speaks to you and to me is through our feelings.
God speaks authoritatively through the inspired word of God, of course, and God speaks winsomely through nature, but how we hear God is not only by thinking.
God does speak to us through our thoughts, but God also speaks to us through feelings and impressions and sensations and experiences.
And so to be able to discern those things, it really helps to be self-aware.
When we’re not self-aware and we’re plugged up with our emotions, then it’s harder to hear God’s voice.
It’s harder to have discernment in God’s wisdom around the different decisions and things that we’re doing.
To feel joy in Jesus, we need to also be able to be honest, and able to feel the sadness over our sin, over difficulties in life, over loss and grief.
Yeah. We might try to push down or avoid those negative feelings that distress, which is natural, but we need to consciously work against that because if we repress the painful, unwanted emotions, then it blunts our whole emotional personality. Our soul gets dulled. Our heart gets removed.