Books that Spark, Episode 1: Expectations and Grace: Learning to give grace to ourselves and our kids

Books that Spark Episode 1: Expectations

Today I’m excited to share the first episode of my new podcast, Books that Spark: A Podcast for Parents. Keep reading to find out about my giveaway.

What is Books that Spark all about?

We review books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions creating teachable moments that lead to meaningful conversations with our children. 

In this episode:

How do we balance seeking to do our best and seeing goals met with perfectionism and unrealistic expectations?
Experts often tell us that children rise to our high expectations. When does that go from being healthy motivation to pressure causing our children to be people-pleasers or to shut down and give up?  One of the keys is recognizing who our children truly are and who God intended them to be.

A full transcript is at the bottom of this post.

Books Discussed:

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live  by Emily P. Freeman

Other Links: 

https://www.terriehellardbrown.com/
Deuteronomy 11:18-21

Giveaway

To celebrate the launch of my new podcast, I have a giveaway for my listeners.

Enter the drawing by:

  1. Downloading the 12 mini lessons of the “Parental Guidance Requested Workshop” on the podcast page.
  2. Comment on this blog post or the podcast Episode 1 page that you downloaded them.

Two winners drawn on July 31, 2020

First prize:

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children
The Jesus Storybook Bible
The Storybook Bible Coloring Book

Second prize:

The Bedtime Devotions with Jesus Bible

Episode Transcript:

Hi, and welcome to Books that Spark. I’m Terrie Hellard-Brown, your host. I’m so glad you joined us today. This is my first episode of Books that Spark, and I have a treat for you. With this first podcast, I’ve also opened a 12 mini-lesson course called Parental Guidance Requested with parenting tips for getting the most out of your reading and discipleship time with your kids. If you download those 12 lessons and comment on this episode that you’ve got them, you will be entered into a drawing for some free resources. I’ll have two winners. First prize is Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Storybook Bible Coloring Book. Second prize is Bedtime Devotions with Jesus Bible. So, download the episodes today and comment before the end of July, 2020, and we’ll enter you in the drawing. The drawing will be held on July 31st, 2020.

So, what is Books that Spark all about? It began as an idea while I was at a speaker’s conference last year. I was talking about blogging and writing books, and I mentioned how I love talking about great picture books. One of the moms there begged me to create a list of the best picture books that I would recommend. Well, as I began to think and pray about that; the notion of starting a podcast kept coming to my mind. And pretty soon I couldn’t shake the idea. I would think about it all the time and started developing ideas for episodes and just got really excited about the possibilities. So here I am jumping in and giving this a try. I hope you enjoy it and feel that it’s beneficial to you and your family. I hope you discover some great books that maybe you hadn’t heard of before as we go through the episodes in this podcast.

Sometimes this will just be me sharing with you from my heart like today, and other times I’ll have guests. And I have a couple authors coming next month to share with you from their hearts and share with you about their books. So, it should be a good time and good information, and I hope you enjoy it. Sometimes I will just be sharing with you some very silly, funny books because there’s a lot of excellent ones out there that can make your family laugh and have a great time together.

If you go to my website and sign up for my mailing list, you’ll get notifications for this podcast as well as my blog. And when you do, you will be able to download for free a list of picture books and board books that I recommend to help build your child’s library. There are over a hundred books on that list that you can check out and find out about through the list. (You will also get to choose from three free print-on-demand phoneme books you can make for your kids).

So, if you sign up today, you can find the link in the show notes below. Then you can receive that for free. Today I want to talk about giving ourselves grace and our kids’ grace. We tend to be hard on ourselves as parents wanting to be perfect in all that we do, and we can fall into the trap of perfectionism. But I’ve found, as a recovering perfectionist, that in reality, perfectionism is me trying to be God in my own life because we know that the only one who is truly perfect as God and our attempts at it are not truly perfect; they’re perfectionism. And we can also be hard on our kids trying to encourage them to do their best, but instead putting expectations on them as well. So, we have to figure out what is the balance there.

I’m a visual person, and I will never forget the most effective sermon I ever saw on expectations. It was done by Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church. And the introductory message for a series on relationships opened with him discussing hopes, dreams, and desires that we go into relationships and situations with all our hopes and dreams and desires. And he had a box with several items representing those hopes, dreams, and desires of a couple, getting ready to be married. And he puts these items into another box with the label of expectations. His point is that what we may think of as our hopes, dreams and desires become expectations for the other person in the relationship. And that that can be a heavy weight on their shoulders. And so we have to be aware of that, understand that we can be doing that to our children and to ourselves as well. We set the bar high at a certain level, and rather than hopes, dreams and desires, it becomes expectations and perfectionism.

Those are heavy weights to carry, and they will kill the joy in our relationships and in our life if we bow to them.

So how do we balance seeking to do our best, setting goals, and seeing those goals realized, with the temptation towards perfectionism and expectation, especially unrealistic expectations? We know that the experts often tell us that children rise to our high expectations, so we don’t want to give them low expectations. So, when does that go from being healthy motivation to pressure causing our children to be people-pleasers or to just shut down and give up? I really think it boils down to grace. Because of grace, we can try without fear of failing, because if we fail, grace is there. This is the way God treats us, and this is the way we need to treat ourselves and treat our children to give abundant grace, but to encourage our kids to try. When our children know that we will show them grace, when they try and fail, they can become more self-confident and willing to try new things and to step outside their comfort zones.

If we have a rigid “do or die” attitude, even if it is just toward ourselves, our children can pick up on that and become unwilling to try new things. And the second thing besides grace is truly knowing who our children are and what they are capable of. That’s so important because if we don’t understand who they are, we can fall into the comparison trap with either comparing them to their siblings or to a friend’s kids. Each child is so unique and so uniquely gifted. We need to look at the individual and see who God has created each person to be. When I was teaching school, I often thought we should develop an IEP Individual Education Plan for every student, not just those with special needs because every student has their own needs, their own strengths, and their own weaknesses. And as a teacher, we try very hard to meet each child’s needs. If we had time to sit down and figure out how best to meet the needs of each child, what an effective school that would be.

With our own kids, hopefully we do have the time to do that, to sit down and to pray over and to examine and think about who our kids are and what their individual needs are and what their individual strengths and weaknesses are. When we know who our child truly is, we can set realistic goals and take some of the unrealistic expectations and pressures off of them.

Sometimes the world puts ridiculous expectations on our children that we know they can never meet, and we need to be there to help them navigate that and to understand they have their own strengths. I was very blessed as a child in that my parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to. And I’m sure they were not right, because there were plenty of things I could not do no matter what, but I believed them and tried many things, even though I was horribly shy as a child. I grew very fast and I had very long legs and very long arms, and so I was a little bit clumsy for a while there. In fifth grade in PE class, the teacher said, “She tries harder than anybody in the class,” but I couldn’t do a cartwheel to save my life. I even taught my sister how to do cartwheels, but I could not do one ever, and I’ve never been able to. He [my teacher] would tell my mom, “She tries harder than anybody.” And that was me; I always tried because I thought, you know, if I put my mind to it and tried hard enough, eventually I’d be able to do it. But unfortunately, cartwheels were not in that list. But my parents did hold me to a very high standard and sometimes they did push too hard, but usually they only emphasized that I should always do my best, whatever that might be. And as long as I had tried my best, they assured me that they would be happy. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my children as well. And I hope they’ve grasped that. I think they have.

When we can teach our kids, as long as they’re doing their best, that’s all we want from them, then they can try things and not be the best but just do their best.

I want to share a book with you today that speaks to expectations and doing what we can do. It’s called Red, A Crayon Story by Michael Hall. Red is a crayon who is told by everyone that he is red. He’s labeled red, and he came from the factory with that label. He tries very hard to color red, but in reality, he’s not red; he’s blue.

And so, one crayon tries to show him how to draw strawberries. He tries to draw strawberries, but they’re blue. And they’re just like, “Oh dear.” And his teacher thinks he needs more practice, but he can’t draw red no matter how hard he tries because he isn’t really red. He’s blue. Everyone comments on Red. Everybody has something to say, and some think he’s lazy. Some say he needs to press harder. Others think he needs more time, and he’ll catch on. But, of course, he can’t. And then he has a new friend further on in the book. And this new friend says, can you make me a blue ocean for my boat? And he says, I can’t, I’m red. I’m not blue. But the friend encourages him to try. And he draws a great blue ocean and his friends tell him that he did a great job, and his mom is proud of him, and everybody’s cheering him on. He responds with thanking his friend and saying it was easy. When we’re doing what we’re created for, we find joy in what we’re doing, and we find it’s easy to do what we were meant to do.

I love that story because it shows that when we are living up to what God has called us to be and created us to be, the pressure and the burden of expectation isn’t there. But the joy of just being who we were created to be makes even the hardest things we do seem easy and joy-filled because that’s who we were created to be. So, I think this is a fantastic story and a great book to read with any child, but especially a child who’s on any kind of a spectrum or has any kind of a challenge in their learning. If they have any learning difficulties, this book can really encourage them.

And one of the reasons I personally love this book is we have four children, and they all deal with expectations that people put on them. I mean, what child doesn’t, right? But three of my four are on the autism spectrum. And even my daughter who is not on the spectrum gets so discouraged if she feels she’s let someone down and hasn’t met their expectations. And so, we deal with this all the time. My other three, no matter how hard they try, they do not live up to the world’s expectations for them. They just never will. They aren’t geared that way. They aren’t created that way. And so, it’s hard as a parent to watch them struggle so hard to try to meet those expectations. In the midst of all that, I don’t know of a better way to help them understand and that they don’t have to live up to other people’s expectations than to read a book together and to open up a conversation with them about these kinds of topics.

And so, when we read with our kids, we can open up a conversation that might be hard to open up otherwise, and to help them see that not all expectations are from God and are God-given. As a parent, I put so much pressure on myself to try to help them succeed. At first, they were misdiagnosed, and I was doing all the wrong things for a child with autism. We lived overseas in Taiwan, and they were diagnosed with ADHD. I was homeschooling them using the tools we use with ADHD kids, and nothing was working. In fact, it all became extremely frustrating for all of us, as most days, my kids would just shut down. You see, when you’re using different teaching techniques, the techniques we often use with ADHD kids are the exact opposite of what you do with an autistic kid. And so, the techniques I was using were just causing anxiety in my kids, and, you know, I can laugh about it now, but it really was horrible. And I felt like a really terrible parent when I realized what was going on. When they were correctly diagnosed, I realized what I was doing wrong and changed. But by then, I just felt like a failure. I didn’t know enough to realize and recognize what I was seeing. I just knew what I was doing wasn’t working.

So as parents, we put a lot of expectations on ourselves to understand everything, to know everything, to be perfect, and to just parent perfectly. And we frankly will never do that, and sometimes we fail miserably. But in spite of all of that, I’m so thankful that my kids have thrived and that God has been so good to help them find their place and their gifting in this world. So, in this process, especially in this situation, when I was homeschooling, I had to give myself grace and I had to give my kids grace.

And I asked God for a whole lot of grace and wisdom, and my kids have done really well. Now they’re older and preparing for what God has for them in their lives. And it’s very exciting to see them succeed because now they are on the right track of doing what God has called them to do. If we can succeed in understanding that we try our best, we respect people, we respect God, and we try to be who he’s created us to be; then we can realize that we have succeeded because we are glorifying God with our lives.

I want to encourage you today to give yourself grace. There comes a time when we have to let go of the dream we had for our kids, the idea of perfection that we put on ourselves, and to realize God’s plan is still at work in our hearts and lives even when we have messed up. We must let go of those plans we had before our children were born and seeing them as who they really are.

With my oldest daughter, this was especially important and difficult, but it was a very vivid lesson in our lives because when she was little, she was outgoing and never met a stranger. She was bubbly and funny and silly and was afraid of nothing. Then when she was about four years old, one day, it was like a switch flipped, and she changed practically overnight into this fear-filled child with all kinds of sensory issues who didn’t trust anyone. She wouldn’t eat foods she had liked before, even just a week or two before; she wouldn’t eat them anymore. They would cause her to gag. she couldn’t wear socks and pants that she had been wearing before because the textures bothered her so much she couldn’t even think about anything but her socks or her waistband on her jeans.

And so, we had to change everything, and we didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know what to think. And like I said, she was misdiagnosed for many years before we really found out what was going on. Back when this happened, you didn’t have many cases of autism. It was really strange and very frightening for us. Letting go of who she had been for the past four years was important. It was really hard because we were still trying to understand and navigate this landscape that we were given and trying to help her cope with all these new feelings. It was just a real challenge, but it wouldn’t have been fair to her to keep holding her to who she wasn’t, but to learn to accept who she was. That’s what we had to do. There were many days that we just grieved for the daughter we had grown to love who was no longer there.

Now, even today, if she’s very relaxed and feeling really comfortable around people, we’ll see a glimpse of that silly girl again. And it’s just that her autism overshadows it most of the time. But we had to let go of who we thought she was going to be and accept who she is. What’s interesting about that is the more we’re able to do that, the more she has the freedom to let go of those anxious feelings and to try to be more who I believe God really wants her to be. So, we get to see that funny side of her a lot more these days, as she’s becoming more comfortable with who she is.

But we really have to do this with all of our kids. We can’t help it. As parents, often we will have a path in mind that we would like them to take. Or, even though we logically know they’re not perfect before they’re born, there’s still a part of all parents I think that really hope our children are perfect. Then, when they’re born, of course we know they’re not. We have to let go of those ideals and those ideas and accept who our children are. Otherwise, we wind up putting a heavy burden on them.

Sometimes they just choose a different path than what we would have chosen for them. Like my younger daughter, who is not on the spectrum. She’s called to missions, and she wants to live overseas. I mean, she grew up in Taiwan. So the first time she goes overseas, she doesn’t go to Taiwan, she goes to Myanmar. We had to really let go and let her do what she knew God was calling her to do, even though it terrified me a whole lot to see her go to a country that is really much less safe than Taiwan.

She has faced a lot of crazy situations as a result of that, but God was with her through them all. My mom taught me with all of my adventures that she always said she knew as long as I was in the center of God’s will, it was the safest place for me to be. Now, that didn’t mean something bad wasn’t going to happen, but she knew that’s where I needed to be. And so, I’ve tried to apply that to my kids’ lives as well, and especially to Annie’s as she goes and climbs mountains and falls off mountains and goes to scary countries.

Now, a second book, I want to share with you that deals with these kinds of issues as well for you. It’s not a picture book, it’s a book for adults. And if you have older children, I highly recommend letting them read it as well. It is by Emily P. Freeman, and it’s called A Million Little Ways. In this book, she talks about how, when we are doing what God has created us to do, that that becomes a work of art. These are the works that God planned for us before we were born it says in Ephesians 2:10. Perfectionism and comparison are not the answer to helping us find excellence, but rather seeking God’s calling and gifting allows us to do exactly what we were created for. In that, we create art that blesses those around us and glorifies God. And in the book, she talks about how she saw (she’d gives several examples) this one girl singing, and she was so moved by the girls singing. She just said, it wasn’t that she was the most beautiful singer she’d ever heard although her voice was beautiful. And it wasn’t that the song was so profound, although it was beautiful as well. It was recognizing that she was doing exactly what God had gifted her to do and called her to do. And therefore, when she did it, there was a divine power behind it because God was in it. And so, it glorified him, honored him because she was doing what she was created to do.

She uses the example of even if you’re a waitress waiting tables or a mailman delivering mail or whatever job or vocation or avocation you do, if these are activities that God has ordained for you to do, then you glorify him and you create art in doing them. I just love that whole notion. But the whole book is about finding who God has created you to be and to do those things, a million little ways of glorifying him in our daily walk with him.

As we close today, I ask you to think about some of the women in the Bible and how often they were so imperfect. But in spite of that, how God always was with them; he heard them, he saw them and he used their lives in spite of their weaknesses. We know that he meets us in our deepest needs, no matter what we’re going through or how difficult life gets and the uncertainties we have in raising our kids, God sees us and is always with us.

So, take just a moment and think about Hagar in Genesis. She’s in the wilderness, and she thinks she’s going to die, and she thinks her son Ishmael is going to die. She puts him under a bush away from her because she just can’t sit and watch her son die, but she has no water and doesn’t know what else to do. And God saw her pain and her fear. And he gave her hope and guidance and gave her water and told her to take her son and that he would be the father of a great nation.

And Sarah, we look at her, I don’t know about you, but I can relate to her trying to control everything and trying to solve problems herself. She basically winds up playing God in everybody’s life and messing things up. But when we look at her story, we see that God blessed her in spite of herself and used her life to fulfill his plan.

Naomi who knew more grief than most of us will ever know: God sustained her and restored her life.

Leah in Genesis 29:31: God loved her, even though her husband didn’t.

Hannah, who prayed for a child and who was ridiculed for not having children: God heard her prayer and blessed her.

Even Eve. Talk about making bad choices in your early life! She lost her home, but not her God. He forgave her. I know the Bible doesn’t tell us that exactly, but we know Adam and Eve taught their children to make offerings to God and to know him. And the last words recorded of Eve are her glorifying God for giving her another son.

Just like these women, God sees you when you feel lost and afraid. He blesses you, even when you’ve tried to take control and have made bad decisions. And He sustains you when you face unbearable grief and pain. And he loves you, even when it feels like no one else does. He hears you even in the noise and busy-ness of raising a family. He forgives you no matter what you’ve done. If we will allow him into our day and into our expectations, into our perfectionism, he can do amazing things beyond anything we could ask for or think of.

Thank you for joining us today. Join us next week when we’ll look at more books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and conversations in our lives. Remember to download the 12 lessons today and to comment below that you got those so you can enter our drawing. These lessons will be available for free through this month only. So, take advantage of that today, and we’ll have the drawing at the end of July. Have a blessed day.

PG - Parental Guidance Requested

Your Host:


Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, and discussion. For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

5 thoughts on “Books that Spark Episode 1: Expectations”

  1. Suzi Kneedler

    Thank you for encouraging words, Terrie. I’m grateful for examples of women in the Bible who were far from perfect, yet God used them in His perfect plan. Your work with children is obviously right in the middle of His plan for you!

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