safer parenting

safer parentingone more post before we get back to planting trees!  my wise & inspiring blog friend sarah bessey is hosting a week-long parenting blog carnival centered around the practices of parenting.  i rarely write about parenting here for the sake of my dear children who wouldn’t be too keen on me sharing a lot of details about them on the world wide web.  facebook is enough for them. they are 20, 18, 15 1/2, and 12 (the last 2 are twins).  4 boys & 1 girl (she is the 18 year old).  one already in college and one going later this year.  they are awesome, and it is definitely a circus around here!   jose and i are so thankful for our babies.  they teach us more than we ever bargained for.  they make us tired.  they make us happy. they make us cry.  they make us laugh. they make us proud.  they humble us.  most of all, they are part of this wild & crazy journey we are on to learn what it means to love, to be loved.

sarah’s call is to have others share some of their practices of parenting.  after 20 years of this, we have many things we wish we hadn’t done & many things we wish we had & many things we’re glad we did, too.

yet, out of everything we read for years and years about being a good parent, the one thing that somehow got overlooked in all of those amazing books & magazines & videos was the importance of us, as parents, becoming safer, healthier, better people. and something i am more sure of than ever, this many years in to parenting, is that the safer, healthier, more secure & free person i become, the better off my kids are.  it’s my personal opinion that kids do not reap nearly as many benefits from years of their parents “going to church” & Bible studies every week as they do if their parents engage in support groups, safe-places-to-actually-really-share-honestly-groups, recovery groups, therapy, and other places & relationships where they can learn to become better human beings.

in these kinds of safe & healing places, we learn to become safer people.  safer people become safer parents.  and safer parents create more secure, free, healthy kids.

so this is my practice in parenting these days, trying becoming a safer parent.

these practices are modified from a list in my book, down we go: living into the wild ways of Jesus, (pages 124-125) in one of my favorite chapters called “welcoming pain.”  in the book, they are a challenge to consider how we can keep becoming safer people, safer communities and more accurately reflect Jesus in our relationships.  they are no easy task, and we will need God’s help with these!  we talk about this often in our faith community, the refuge, and how natural the “unsafe” parts are to many of us.

as a parent, they are even harder to resist (especially when parenting teenagers, ha ha).

here are the characteristics of each //

unsafe parents (yep, starting with the ones-i’m-trying-not-to-practice first):

  • tend to be judgmental and defensive.
  • control, control, control. 
  • are quick to offer advice but remain unwilling to receive input or feedback from the kids.
  • think we have all the answers and reflect certainty that their opinion or perspective is for sure the only way. 
  • blame the kids for our mistakes but refuse to take responsibility for any of our own.
  • often demand trust as implicit in the relationship without having to offer any work on our end to earn it.
  • remain closed to change but always want the kids to.
  • offer unsolicited advice, quick fixes, and trite responses. 
  • avoid conflict all together or create a lot of it to keep control in the relationship (aka make big deals out of little deals to stay engaged).
  • talk instead of listen.
  • project that somehow we “have it all together now” and rarely express our own struggles or weaknesses out of fear of losing power somehow.

yikes, some of those hurt, and it’s hard for me to admit how natural some of these are as my default, especially when i’m scared.

but there’s a better way, a way that is more reflective of Jesus than the pharisees.

safe parents try to:

  • offer love and acceptance freely, without strings attached.
  • notice when we’re being controlling and admit it instead of pretend it’s not there.
  • see beyond the surface to the good that’s within each child. 
  • are good listeners, willing to sit with painful stories & boring details instead of fixing or giving unsolicited advice or tuning out.
  • help kids feel comfortable being themselves, just who they are.
  • challenge kids to grow, stretch and practice in encouraging & hopeful ways that aren’t about pressure or performance.     
  • embrace paradox in our kids instead of defaulting to all bad or all good thinking.
  • receive help, input, and feedback from the kids instead of only giving it.
  • apologize when necessary and confront when necessary instead of hold silent grudges. 
  • engage in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it or relying on yelling. 
  • are honest and kind, willing to say the hard things in love.
  • help kids fan their individual passions into flame even if we don’t understand them.
  • listen well.
  • remain humble and connected to our own stories and pain and are willing to share our weaknesses and struggles with our children in an appropriate way.

oh, i really need these as a reminder

i want to keep practicing becoming a safer parent, a safer person.

and like all-things-relationship, it’s art, not science. actively processing through these lists with a parenting lens has been so helpful to me.  a reminder of what i am trying to practice.  what my kids need.  of what i desperately need God’s help with.

God, show us how to be safer parents, safer people.  we really want to be.

* * * * *

check out other links & posts & all kinds of lovely parenting practices here:

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy, I am printing this out and posting it on our fridge. Thank you for such a wonderful post–and something I want to be reminded of daily. =)

  • I love this kathy! Those apply so well to parenting and it’s so true. I can attest as a child who was at church every single time the doors were open it did very little to combat and “unsafe” parents. In recent years as my dad has begun healing it amazes me the difference in which he approaches his daughters (though we are all grown now).

    I think a key thing I’ve learned from my story though is, redemption, redemption redemption. If I had to classify most of my growing up years in terms of my parents it was pretty bad. Screaming, yelling, drinking, threatening, spiritual abuse. The works. Yet me and my sisters all have amazing relationships now with our parents now. Of course there is still pain to work through, but as an encouragement to parents who’s kids are older when they begin focusing on healing…

    You bring your kids along for the ride!

    When a parent chooses to seek healing their life, it has a profound affect on the children, no matter what age. I try to focus on that when I feel like an utter failure as a parent, and do all those things on the “unsafe” parent list, that “safe” carry’s a heavy weight when it comes to balancing out the days of “unsafe” parenting.

    • thanks, jenn. that is awesome about your dad. i love redemption & change, it is such a beautiful thing. i am so thankful for my mom’s journey, too, because even though it was as an adult that i have reaped some of the benefits, it has been such a gift to me & to my kids, too. i always say “better 20 than 30, 30 than 40, 40 than 50, 50 than 60, 60 than 70…to do the work.” it’s never too late and hopefully we’re always changing & growing & healing & learning. i really agree with you, that it’s so important to remember we’re human. i jack things up all of the time but it does help to have a safer foundation to build from and helps with resiliency in the relationship.

  • I wish I would have had this list when my daughters were little. I would have been a much better dad.

    As I was praying through the checklist, I realized that these are all great things to work towards in all my close relationships.

    As with most guys, I struggle the most with wanting to be Mr. Fixit. When I was on the phone last night with a friend, I kept having to bite my tongue every time “Have you thought of …” or “Every time that happens to me I …” or “I think you should …” started coming out of my mouth. Instead I listened. I supported and acknowledged. I affirmed and confirmed. I ended with an apology that I wished I could do more that “just” pray. She responded, “You listened. That’s all I needed … for tonight. Tomorrow will be a different day.”

    My tendency is to stand and preach … when I should be sitting and sharing. It’s hard to hug a friend (or a child!) who is slumped on a bench bawling her eyes out in pain with her head in her hands when I am not seated, in love, beside her.

    • thanks, jim, i am so glad you are here. how old are your kids? just last night my daughter was sharing a story & i went to “fix it” mode and she was like “um, i just want you to say ‘i hear you'” she was so right! i eat humble pie all the time around here. i really like that sentence. “my tendency is to stand & preach…when i should be sitting & sharing.” so good.

      • My daughters are 27 and 28. My oldest shared a link to this post on FB and noted that she was glad she gets to read this now instead of 25 years from now. Thank you so much for your wisdom and insight.

  • This truly speaks to me, Kathy. I have such a dichotomy of safe vs unsafe and sadly it doesn’t look like this. It looks way to influenced by our culture. I need to chew on this.

    • thanks sarah, i haven’t had a chance to read a lot of the parenting posts but the ones i saw were really great. i think the word “safe” is a tough one because it has so many different definitions and meanings.

  • “it’s my personal opinion that kids do not reap nearly as many benefits from years of their parents “going to church” & Bible studies every week as they do if their parents engage in support groups, safe-places-to-actually-really-share-honestly-groups, recovery groups, therapy, and other places & relationships where they can learn to become better human beings.”

    Kathy, as someone who has been involved in therapy and a recovery program for four years, can I just say yes, Yes, YES! I love your lists. Thanks very much!

    • yeah! that’s awesome; it’s definitely life-changing, those safe places to discover important truths about ourselves, others, God.

  • @Jim Fisher

    “My tendency is to stand and preach … when I should be sitting and sharing.”

    That one just slapped me upside the head. thanks. ouch.

    • I get “dope slapped” way too often on that one. Ouch is right! I keep trying to remind myself that most of the time I just need to show up and shut up.

  • Oh there is not much more that I want in the world than to be a great mom; a safe mom. As a pre-parent ;), I try to soak up so much knowledge ahead of time.. It is also very important to me that I marry a man who wants to be a safe daddy to our tribe… So much that this post might come up in pre-marital, haha. Grateful to have the ability to learn my way out of generational unsafety. 🙂

    • love that sentence: “grateful to have the ability to learn my way out of generational unsafety.” soooo good. oh yeah, i’ll bring all our little tricks to premarital someday 🙂

  • Oh.My.Goodness. This is FABULOUS! These are words every single parent I know needs to read, absorb, live. Becoming safe people, first and foremost. Then using what we learn through that hard work of self-discovery to lean into parenting with openness, honesty, welcome, honesty. Love, love, love this. Thank you so much.

    • thanks diana, for stopping by and taking time to comment. yep, “becoming safe people, first and foremost.” from there, all of our relationships can be better. hard & important work to do but so worth it. thanks for reading.


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