There are many experiences you go through as a parent that put your parenting skills to the test more than others. In these cases, you must maintain your resolve and keep fighting through the experience, ignoring the temptation to question God. Karen Ehman is an author and a speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries. Karen talks to Jennifer Ford Berry about the challenges unique to the experience of parenthood. These are challenges that you will have to brace yourself to face at some point. But know that despite all the difficulties, you are not alone; He is on your side.
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Co-Parenting With God With Karen Ehman
I am privileged to have a legend on the show, Karen Ehman, as our guest. She is a New York Times bestselling author. She is a speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries, which we all know and love. She’s described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real. We know we love real moms here on the 29 Minute Mom. Her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others. She’s authored over thirteen books including Listen, Love, Repeat, Keep It Shut: What To Say, How To Say It, and When To Say Nothing At All and What Matters Most. Welcome to the show, Karen. We’re happy to have you.
Thanks so much for having me.
Tell us how you got started with Proverbs 31 Ministries. We’ve had other guests on the show from there. As somebody that has written books for a long time but wrote my first Christian book, I look at women like you that write these Bible studies and it’s absolutely amazing. Tell us how you got started with that.
I originally started out doing a newsletter back in the day before the internet. It wasn’t online. It was an actual newsletter that you fold up and mail out for stay-at-home moms. I would put a stamp on it. I was doing that back when my kids were younger in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Through that, I got a lot of people asking me to come and speak at their events. I did a lot of mom events back then and I happened to speak at a particular moms’ conference called Hearts At Home. One of the other speakers there was Lysa TerKeurst, who’s the President and Founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and I struck up a friendship and got to know each other. I started writing for the magazine that Proverbs put out back then once in a great while. Lysa kept begging me to come on the speaker team and I was happy doing my own thing. I’m not interested, but after a while, I went to She Speaks Writers and Speakers Conference, that in order to become a member of the speaker team, you have to go to.
I went more to get her off my back. I don’t want to join it because I had a warped view of what this was. I didn’t know if it was a speaker’s bureau or what it was. When I got there, I fell in love with everything at Proverbs. I realized that being on a speaker team wasn’t just a speaker’s bureau. It was a team of Christian girlfriends supporting each other, cheering each other on. When I left my speaking events, I could point the attendees to resources and products at Proverbs like our online devotions and our First 5 app that help read the Bible every day for five minutes. They had something to turn to when I was gone. I thought, “I do want to be a part of this.” I came on the speaker team many years ago. At that point, I was already in my fourth book. I was already writing. Since coming on with the speaker team, I’ve gotten a little bit more of a heartbeat for what women are struggling with and wondering about. It’s helped me to flush out what topics my books are about since I’ve become part of Proverbs. I turned in book fourteen. It’s been quite a ride, but I love every minute of it.
It’s always interesting to compare where you started to where you are now. It’s been a long time. When you mentioned that you have a heart for what women are dealing with, what is the new thing that you didn’t see years ago that maybe women are struggling with more than they were then?
It's always interesting to compare where you started to where you are in the present. Click To Tweet
I remember back in the day when I was younger, my mom was using that phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Back then, that meant mostly monetary. The Joneses might drive a nicer car than you do or have a bigger or newer house than you did and make more money. That was the whole concept of keeping up with the Joneses. Back then in my mom’s day or my grandmother’s day, you only saw the Joneses once or maybe twice a week. You saw them on Sunday morning at church when Mrs. Jones had on a nicer dress than you did or whatever. Maybe you were at the PTA meeting during the week and you saw them roll up in their new car. They weren’t parading in front of your eyes all the time. Fast forward to now, we have the Joneses marching before us 24 hours a day. It’s not because we’re sitting at the PTA or the church meeting all week long, it’s because we’re looking at our screen. We see on our tablets, computers, especially on our cell phones, the Joneses strut their stuff right in front of us all the time.
It’s not that we might be envious of the monetary gains that they’ve made in their life or their nice stuff. It’s not always financial. We look at them and we see that maybe they seem to have a more romantic husband because that picture they posted on Instagram. They’re out at a fancy restaurant and she strategically placed her hand in the picture and it looks like she has an upgraded diamond ring for her tenth anniversary. My husband didn’t get me one of those. Maybe we see them celebrating their children who is a student of the month, and we’re dealing with our child who we got a phone call from the middle school because he pulled a prank that he thought was funny and so did his friends. The substitute teachers saw no humor in that but that’s ever happened to anybody. We see all these people parading in front of us on our screens and it seems like they have a better life. It seems like they have better kids. It seems like their husband is more romantic and we’re coming apart at the seam because we are comparing our reality to the perception that they’re giving off by what they post on social media.
It’s funny because with the evolvement of social media and reality TV, in a way, it’s positive because you can see other women that are struggling with the same things you’re struggling with. We can see inside people’s homes when their marriage is falling apart or their teenagers are giving them a run for their money. On the other hand, a lot of things are filtered out in your everyday life. Maybe you’re watching a reality TV show where you’re seeing all the low points, but your friends on Facebook and Instagram are only posting the high points. There’s a fine line and there’s a lot of talk about vulnerability and sharing the real raw stuff on social media so that we can help each other. That’s hard to do. How do you know when to share the low points and the difficult seasons and when to filter that out because it’s still private?
When other people are involved, you shouldn’t share it. I see many people sharing things on social media that when you fast forward ten years from now, what are their children going to think about what they said about them on social media? I had seen someone who was struggling with their teenager and had another all-out fight with them. They went off and put a lot of stuff on there about what their preteen was doing and the conflict that they were having. I thought, “I don’t know if this is good.” My number one rule is if there are other people involved, get their permission before you share about the real hard thing you’re going through with your seventeen-year-old daughter.
Maybe she doesn’t want you to share that with everybody or with your spouse or whoever else might be involved. We need to be sensitive that our problems don’t just involve us. Sometimes they involve other people and we need to be protective and sensitive to the fact that they might not want that out there. I’m all for sharing your struggles. I don’t think we should be trying to go on social media and paint everything is perfect and be plastic and not real. I want it to be real, but I don’t want to wallow so much in my realness that all it does is make it about me. I want it to be about God. I might be struggling with the fact that my father passed away. I’ve had a hard time because I was super close to him.
I might be upset and sad and grieving and having a bad day. It’s okay to share that, but I don’t want to make it all about me so that all of a sudden, I garner a bunch of sympathy or I make myself the star of the show. Not that I don’t want people to reach out to me if I’m hurting, I’m not saying that. I want there to always be a thread of hope. Even though I’m sad and I miss him, it drives me crazy that I can’t pick up the phone to call him. I know that we don’t grieve without hope that my father is with the Lord in heaven. I would see him again someday. I always want to bring it back to the Lord somehow in sharing my struggle. I don’t want to paint it as perfect. I don’t want to wallow too much in my realness with no hope. I want to share authentically from my life, but always point back to God and the Bible.
It’s interesting that you’re saying that. I was dealing with this same issue in my own life where I’m in a tough season and you struggle with wanting to share that and let people know that you’re in a dark season. It’s not all picture perfect in your life all the time. You don’t want to paint the picture in a way that takes Jesus out of the equation. When I was reading my devotional about instead of wallowing in the bad part, picture the light starting to shine up ahead where you’re going to see that God’s going to get you to that part where the light is shining. Without hope, that’s when we feel the worst.
You don’t want to go out there on social media and let people forget about that part. We always want to point to God, point people back to hope. For our own selves, even as Christians, we can forget sometimes to keep that at the forefront of our minds. It’s hard. As Christian leaders, it’s important to let people know that you’re going to have the good and the bad. Just because you believe and have faith doesn’t mean every day’s going to be happy. With Him, we can refocus our minds. I love that you said that. What about during those hard times and during the low seasons where maybe things aren’t going well in life, how do we experience contentment? Do you have any advice for that?
I can pass along some advice my mom gave me back when I was in middle school. My mom was an incredible single mom who raised my brother and I on a budget so tight it squeaked. She had to hold out a full-time job. She did an amazing job being the mom, the dad, the breadwinner. She always made us homemade cookies after school. She was incredible. I would sometimes look at her and wonder why she’s not more depressed because we didn’t have a nice house. We didn’t have a dad at home. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she always seems content. I remember one time coming home from junior high school, probably a sixth or seventh grader and I was upset.
I don’t remember if it was that I didn’t get invited to a summer party or what it was, but some middle school tragedy was happening in my life. I remember my mom sitting me down and giving me a piece of advice. At first, I thought it was kooky but I’ve come to live by all these years. She said, “Karen, whenever you think that your life is not going great, your circumstances got you down, you need to remember that there’s always somebody out there who has it worse off than you. Go find that person and make their day. Do something to make their day. In a strange way, it ends up making yours as well.” She always says, “Get your eyes off yourself, honey.”
She’s right because what we do, especially in social media, is we rivet our eyes on people who seem to have a better life than us, better relationships than us, better everything than us, then by comparison, we fall short. Instead, we need to look for those people who have it hard, who maybe are struggling financially or relationally or physically and do something to make their day. When you do that, it suddenly makes you grateful for what you have and your problems don’t seem so big anymore. You get the joy of helping to meet the need of another person, another creature made in the image of God. You get to be part of His plan of helping to make their life better. It does work.
That is such good advice, Karen. It brings tears to my eyes. It is powerful.
It can't be picture perfect in your life all the time. Click To Tweet
Do that as a family. Do not do it yourself but grab your husband’s hand if you have one or your kids’ hands and make it your family’s ministry. We’ve done things like when our kids were little like junior high and elementary school, we used to go to this women’s shelter for battered women. Every Wednesday night they had a Bible study and every night they had a meal. They had some things around this. It was an older big house that had been fixed up where the women resided. We would go as a family and my kids would help to serve the meal to the women. They would hand out breadsticks and put the salad on their plates and help to serve the meal with my husband I. When it was Bible study time, my kids got to help watch the children of the women who were in the Bible study.
I’ve got to go teach the Bible study and my husband got to do little projects around the house like changing the light bulb or maybe fix something that was broken. Our whole family found a ministry and we got our eyes off ourselves and we saw other human beings who had life way worse off than we did. Suddenly, not making the baseball team wasn’t as big as a deal. Not being able to wear the designer jeans that your friend could wear wasn’t as big of a deal because you met these people face-to-face and you serve them, who were fleeing for their lives from an abusive father or husband. It did something to snap your perspective and make it be the right one. Rather than, “Poor me,” you think, “I’m so blessed.”
There are domestic violence shelters like that all over the place. I used to teach at one down in Belmont, North Carolina. It was one of the biggest blessings of my life. It was before I had children. I would certainly love to take them back if we still live near there because it’s a great lesson to teach our kids. There are many other organizations that need the help that your entire family can go and serve. I love that idea. When we’re in a hard situation and we’re having a difficult time, a lot of times we get fear and anxiety because we’re not able to control the situation. We don’t know when the situation is going to end. Maybe we’re not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. How do we control our emotions when we cannot control the situation?
It helps me to try to ask myself some questions rather than, “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” Instead, I ask myself, “What does God want me to learn about him that I might never discover if he were to suddenly pluck me out of this situation? Is he trying to teach me patience, contentment, empathy? What is it that he’s trying to teach me?” Rather than seeing it as a situation that I need to get out from under, to see it as a tool to ask the Lord how is he helping me to be more like Jesus? What would I not learn if he were to suddenly point his hand toward heaven, snap his fingers and make it go away? What would I not learn about him? It’s funny because we would say if we were asked as Christians, “Do you want to be more Christ-like?” We would always say, “Of course, I want to be more like Jesus,” but when hard situations come along in our life that are exactly the sandpaper that God uses to smooth off our rough edges, we want out of the situation. If we can see it as, “This is God’s tool and he’s using it to refine me and make me more like Jesus and to teach me something about himself,” it helps us to stop wiggling so much and trying to get out of it. Rather than look for the way out, look for the lessons in the midst of it.
A lot of times when we’re in that situation, we can automatically think, “Why would you let this happen to me? Why do I have to go through this? When is this going to end? I’ve tried to do everything right and I’m still in this situation.” We don’t understand why we’re in it until years later, then we get it and we’ll be thankful for the lesson. In the midst of it, even though we’ve had these lessons taught to us over and over, it’s still hard to be in it. Nobody likes to be in a difficult situation. We want to always hit the easy button and we want instant gratification in our society. We’re used to that and God’s lessons are usually a lot longer. When things are going great, we tend to let our ego take over and think it’s because of us. When we’re having difficulties, we have to throw our hands in the air and rely more on him. That’s when we can learn the most about who he is.
It helps when we look back at situations in our past where we thought, “Get me out of here.” We look back and we can say, “I’m glad I went through that because it grew me and it caused me to be more like Christ.” Whenever we want to weasel our way out of our circumstances, it’s helpful to look back at the growth that has happened because of the hard times.
Can you think of an example in your life that you hated the moment that you’re in it and the season you were in, but looking back, you’re grateful for it?
It would be my pregnancies. I have hard pregnancies. I had what’s called hyperemesis, which is morning sickness all day long all throughout the pregnancy. I threw up every day, most of the day for eight months with my first child, for seven months with my second, and about almost six months with my third. There was nothing I could do. There was no medicine to take. I had to go to the hospital for IVs. There were many times that I was at my wit’s end. I would never have done that for any other reason other than for another human being who was residing inside of me. Seriously, if somebody said, “I’ll give you $1 million to be sick for eight months again like you were,” I would not do it.
I look back and it made me slow down. It made me lose my pride because I had to have friends watch my children. I had to have people clean my house because I couldn’t get up off the couch without feeling like the room was spinning and I was going to lose it at any minute. I had to swallow my pride and let other people serve me. That’s not how I roll. I love to help everyone else, but I don’t want to take any help. I didn’t want any charity. I don’t want anybody to help me financially. I don’t want anybody to help me physically because I think I can do it all. It’s a huge pride of mine. I look back and not only did that help me to not be so prideful, but it also gave me an empathy for women who I know now in my life who are struggling with a rough pregnancy, whether it’s from hyperemesis or something else and they’re bad because of another medical condition. It’s made me have empathy for them. I want to go grab their kids and their laundry, watch their kids for the day, do their laundry and bring it back to them so they can heal and lay still like they’re supposed to be done under doctor’s orders. That’s probably the biggest one that rises to the surface when I think about it.
How old are your kids now?
They are 28, 26 and 22.
As a mom of teenagers, what advice can you give moms like me that were in the teenage season? There are all sorts of moms reading this, but I feel like the teenage years put your parenting skills to the test. Do you have any advice for us that are in that season currently?
Of all the challenges you go through as a parent, teenagers put your parenting skills to the test. Click To Tweet
Especially when they’re making bad choices, which all of them are going to do to some extent, remember that their bad choice does not make you a bad mom. It’s their choice. You have taught them right from wrong. Now if they choose wrong, it’s not your fault. I’ve gone through things with all three of my kids and have walked through many storms with friends and their teenagers. I always said once my kids all got through their teen years, I was going to write a book and never did it. I was going to write a book called The Stupid Years, especially when it comes to boys. They make choices that I’m thinking, “What were you thinking?” The problem is they weren’t thinking. The frontal lobe of a human is not fully developed where decision-making can happen until they’re 25.
They’re not always thinking and their bad choice does not mean that you’re a bad mom. When they make a bad choice, you need to remember that at those times when you want them to leave because of what they’ve done, it’s when they need you the most. You have to separate that bad choice from your child’s heart. Realize that deep inside, they’re still a child that needs their mom. If all they see is you freaking out over their bad choice. That’s not going to be helpful. One time when one of my kids made a choice that got him in trouble with the school and could have gotten him in trouble with the law, I remember my friend saying, “This is very common.” She gave me the percentage. She was like, “79% of all underage kids try this at one point or whatever, so your kid is not abnormal. Everything good in them is still there. You can’t see it because of their bad choice.”
A different friend told me, “You also need to remember that you’re seeing the beginning of their testimony. This is not the end. This is going to be part of their testimony someday of how God used this in their life to set them and keep them on the journey that he had them.” It made me think of all of the people I knew at the time who were my age, in their 40s and thinking of some of them who are so godly. When you think about what they did in their past, whether it was in high school or college or whatever, they had some wild stories. That’s part of their testimony and they’re wonderful Christians now, but it’s due in part to some of the things that they went through in their past. It’s helpful to try to separate your child’s bad choice and to remember that everything good in them is still there. It’s that time they goofed up. They’re not going to be perfect. Your kids are going to stop spinning the day that you do. You have to remember that they are tiny humans capable of great good, but they’re also capable of doing some stupid things sometimes.
I love that you said this is the beginning of their testimony because it’s true. A lot of times, when adults give testimony later in life, it has a lot to do with their teenage years and their young adult years and it adds to the power of their story. I hope that the women reading are grabbing hold of that. I know I am as a mom of teens. I’m getting ready to send my daughter to college and knowing that now I can’t control everything. She has to make decisions without us. I think that’s amazing. As parents, all we can do is plant the seed so that eventually they’ll turn back to that and let that faith grow inside of their heart. That’s good advice. We were talking about comparing to the Joneses. In a nutshell, what’s your best advice for the readers where on a daily basis they embrace the life you have, the season you’re in and not letting it be ruined by envy or the comparison game?
In addition to going and finding someone whose life is worse off than yours, I think about this time when I was coming home from my daughter’s house. She lives in North Carolina and I live in Michigan. I was flying home and as always, I put my little pull behind a black suitcase up in the compartment above my seat. When the plane landed, I went to retrieve it. I’m always trying to be careful because many of the suitcases look alike. A lot of people have black briefcases on wheels and it’s easy to grab the wrong one. When I went to grab it, I had to laugh because painted on the bottom of the suitcase next to mine that looked identical to mine, in white paint on this black suitcase somebody had written, “Not yours.” It was this businessman.
He said, “My suitcase never gets taken by mistake anymore.” I laughed at it. In a way, it pricked my heart because I was struggling with some feelings of envy at that time of somebody else that I thought had a life better than me and a family better than me and everything better than me. I felt like the Lord is going, “It’s not yours. Get your eyes back on what I have given you and be grateful for the things that you do have,” rather than wishing that you had somebody else’s seemingly perfect life. At the same time, my sister-in-law who was also one of my best friends passed away from breast cancer. I was given the honor of getting her Bible when she passed away. Her kids gave it to me and when I opened it up, she had all kinds of things like coupons and things shoved in her Bible. I found this piece of paper that said, “What if today you woke up with only the things you thanked God for yesterday? What would that look like?”
I thought rather than wishing I had all these other things, I need to thank God, “Thank you, Lord, that in the middle of the winter in Michigan, I have a warm house with heat. Thank you that I have enough food to eat. Thank you that I have a car that I can drive and money to put gas in the car. Thank you for the things I do have,” and it suddenly changes your perspective rather than looking longingly at someone else’s life and wishing that you had theirs. That’s not yours. That is not your business. Look back at what you have been given and be grateful. Gratefulness chases discontentment away and it settles our minds in God’s perfect peace.
You’re a very wise woman. I feel blessed that you came and shared some of your wisdom on our show. I know that women reading are going to be blessed because of it. Where can they find more about you and your Bible studies and things like that?
Everything is easy to find. My social media, my speaking events, my books, and Bible studies are on my website, KarenEhman.com.
Thank you so much, Karen, for being part of the show. We appreciate you.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Jennifer.
Thanks to everybody. We know every minute counts here at the 29 Minute Mom. Until next time, God bless.
- Listen, Love, Repeat
- Keep It Shut: What To Say, How To Say It, and When To Say Nothing At All
- What Matters Most
- Proverbs 31 Ministries
- First 5
About Karen Ehman
Karen Ehman is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and New York Times bestselling author. Described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real, her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others.
Karen writes for Proverbs 31 Ministries First 5 team. First 5 is an app designed to help you spend the first five minutes of every day reading the Bible and connecting with God, and also interacting with other believers in the app’s community if you so desire.
She has authored thirteen books including Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-centered Living in a Self-Centered World and the New York Times bestseller Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It and When to Say Nothing at All. She also just released a Bible study with LifeWay on the letter of Philippians called What Matters Most.
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* If you enjoyed this episode you may also enjoy Episode 39.