Part 1 of an #Interview with Kristen Hatton, Author of Parenting Ahead
Part 1 of an Interview with Kristen Hatton, Author of Parenting Ahead
For many parents, the mere thought of the teenage years fills the heart with dread and fear, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years, Kristen Hatton helps parents of young children lay the groundwork so that having honest conversations, setting reasonable limits, and exploring issues of the heart become a part of the family culture, preparing both them and their children for the next stage.
Q: In your own words, introduce us to your new book, Parenting Ahead.
Parenting Ahead was written primarily for the parents of younger children (anywhere from toddlerhood to tweens), but parents who already have teenagers can also still benefit from the book. The premise is to encourage and equip parents toward proactive, intentional, Jesus-reliant, long-haul parenting. By painting a forward picture, I want to help parents see that what they do or don’t do in the early years matters. I’m not suggesting there are formulas to follow, because we can do everything “right” and our children can still struggle. The truth is, we won’t do everything right because we are imperfect sinners, but when we are living redemptively in our families, dealing honestly with one another about our sin can be a positive shaping influence.
Parenting Ahead lays a gospel foundation, showing what it looks like to live out the truths of the gospel with each other and how the gospel influences the way we think and what we do. I give many practical illustrations and integrate counseling research.
Q: What experiences inspired you to go back to school for your master’s in counseling so that you could work primarily with teenagers and parents?
As a pastor’s wife, I’ve unofficially done lay counseling for years—first in our ministry to college students and then with people both in our church, neighborhood, and school communities. But after my first couple of books for teens were published, when I began speaking more about body image, perfectionism, eating disorders, and parenting teens, I frequently had parents confide in me. Parents began writing to me in response to my blog posts. There was only so much I could do to help from afar, but it created in me a greater desire to really walk with people through hard situations. I knew I needed more equipping.
At the same time, two of my children needed counseling, and I felt limited in knowing whom I could entrust with my kids. There seemed to be a need for more counselors who integrated a biblical worldview into their counseling, at least where I lived at the time.
I was also seeing new empty nester friends struggle with their identity and how to use their time now that kids were away. That’s what finally led me to pull the trigger in getting started. My youngest was a high school freshman, and I realized if I started then, by the time he graduated I would already have my master's and be into this new career. So God used a culmination of things to bring me to this point.
Q: What are some of the biggest fears parents have about parenting teens?
What I often hear and worried about myself with teens were the choices they would make, the influence of their environment, and who their friends would be. We worry about our kids being left out, not performing well, making a team, and we are concerned for their safety. Will they hold fast to their faith? Did we do enough? Are we doing what we should as a parent? These are some of the questions swirling around in our minds. When they are little and under our feet, we feel somewhat in control, but when they start forming their own friends and plans, then start driving, we realize how little control we really do have. That can bring on a lot of anxiety.
In Parenting Ahead, I address such fears but come at it from what may be an unexpected angle. First, I spend chapter two laying out a theology of hope. This may not seem very parenting focused, but knowing why Jesus is our hope and how he sustains us is foundational for us as Christians, as parents, and as the primary spiritual leaders of our children. However, to move from hope feeling like an empty platitude to becoming our very lifeline, we must know the person of Jesus—his work and worth for us as Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. That knowledge becomes the anchor of hope to hang our hat on when fear wells up.
In Part Two of the book, I spend time addressing our parenting idols. An idol is anything apart from God that rules our hearts, and fear is often underneath the idols common to parents. In other words, we are ruled by the idol of control because of fear. Safety and people-pleasing can also become ruling idols driven by our fears. Ultimately, we aren’t in control, and our fears may transpire, yet what do we read throughout Scripture? The most repeated command in the Bible: “Do not fear.” But how is this possible? Only by God’s grace and influence in our lives.
Q: Can you give an example of why it is important for your children to learn that your word is your word at a young age so that you don’t run into bigger problems when they are teens? How does laying this foundation with boundaries help your child develop their own convictions?
If our children learn in their early years that if they keep whining or asking us long enough for something they will get their way, our word—our authority—will not hold much weight. If we always bend to the will of our child—maybe because it’s easier in the moment to get them to stop complaining or crying or because we don’t want them left out or mad us—our children get the message that they set the agenda and the household revolves around them. They begin to expect to get what they want, which can lead to major battles with very difficult relational conflict in the teen years if all of a sudden you try to put your foot down.
Now in laying this foundation of boundaries and establishing your authority, you do not want your child to view you as a heavy-handed drill sergeant. Boundaries do not mean there is never room for discussion. I don’t mean this in such an authoritative way that we dismiss our kids from ever voicing a contrary view to our own. Rather, we must teach them to see that God is our authority and his Word is true. Ultimately, as parents we are not only their authorities but shepherds, and we want to lead them to see who he is so they desire to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Q: What does a long-range, proactive approach to redemptive parenting look like?
It might be helpful if I explain the term redemptive parenting as a launching point. Redemption is a slave market term where a redemption was the price paid to set a slave free. It means to purchase out of bondage. Therefore, to be redemptive is to save someone from error or evil. This is why Jesus is called our Redeemer. His perfect life and substitutionary death were the redemptive actions necessary to purchase us out of slavery to sin and into life with him. His goodness to the guilty is how I explain grace. Taking this concept into the context of our homes and our relationships, I would say to live redemptively is living compelled by grace. When we give grace to one another, we reflect the heart of Jesus because we are not demanding someone pay for their sins. So, living redemptively is living out the reality of the gospel with one another through confession, repentance, forgiveness, and grace.
I liken a long-range, proactive approach to redemptive parenting to the life of a farmer. James 5:7–8 says, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it. You also be patient. Establish your hearts . . . ” A lot goes into producing crops. It is long, slow work of tending to the soil, watering, fertilizing, proactively working to get predators out, and waiting to see the results. Good, healthy crops don’t just happen. There are also things outside the farmer’s control—like the weather. But day in and day out, he goes to work, patiently tending and waiting. It’s no different with parenting. It takes intentional, ongoing work. Steadfastness and commitment, even without immediate results to show for it. But how did James say we are to endure? We are to establish our hearts by feasting on God’s Word and standing firm in his truth. For apart from his grace and truth, we will be easily overcome with discouragement, exhaustion, false beliefs, the ways of the world, peer pressure, and the temptation to take an easier path. We would lose sight of the day-in and day-out opportunities with our kids that are constantly before us.
Q: What suggestions do you have for truly listening to your kids when they try to communicate with you, without minimizing their feelings or leaping to platitudes? Do our kids always need us to be in “fix it” mode?
Our kids definitely don’t want us to always be in fix-it mode. Most of the time, they simply want to be listened to. I know this from my own daughter. She did not always experience me as safe to talk to because I didn’t know how to just enter into conversation with her without making her feel like I was shutting her down. She felt like she was a project on my to-do list or that she was incapable of success without my intervention.
Coming about it the hard way, I’ve learned to connect intentionally as opposed to being distracted by multitasking. Active listening and identifying as a fellow sinner are key. We also need to be willing to sit in sadness and not hurry hurt. By and large, we are uncomfortable with “negative” emotions, but when we throw out platitudes, we minimize and dismiss the feelings of our children, making them not want to open up with us.
Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years by Kristen Hatton Print ISBN: 978-1-64507-278-2 April 17, 2023 / Retail Price: $18.99 RELIGION / Christian Living / Parenting
Kristen Hatton, MA, is a counselor and author passionate about helping families. She is the author of Get Your Story Straight, Face Time, The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, and Parenting Ahead.
It was from Hatton’s experience parenting teens, speaking to parents, and counseling that she became passionate about encouraging and equipping parents, leading her to start the Redemptive Parenting Instagram account and podcast.
Hatton lives with her pastor-husband, Pete, in Dallas, Texas. Together they have three young adult children and a son-in-law. In her off time, she loves travel, fitness, the outdoors, reading, party planning, and gathering with friends.