Do you ever wish you could sit down with a parent who is more experienced than you…
and ask the hard questions?
Take in their wisdom?
Learn from their mistakes?
Soak up their encouragement?
Charley’s Circus was born alongside the beginning of our family as we set out to document our journey of intentional parenthood.
Our heart is to raise beautiful little people with an awareness of their Creator, a deep confidence in how much they are loved, and limitless possibilities with what they can accomplish as world-changers.
But how do we even do those things? How do we give them what they need? Cultivate kind and generous hearts? Train them up as leaders dependent on their Heavenly Father? How do we face the current challenges of the world while raising these precious little souls?
At Charley’s Circus, we deeply value intentional parenting and look up to parents who have gone before us and have raised incredible kids. We believe that we can learn so much from experienced parents, especially those who love Jesus and value raising children in a Christ-centered home.
Thanks to a handful of absolutely amazing parents we look up to, we’re sharing with our readers – in a series of interviews – that sit-down heart-to-heart honest conversation that so many of us wish we could have. We’re bringing the wisdom, the heart, and the encouragement to you!
When we grow from children to adults and then have our own children, we may decide to do things similarly as our parents, or completely different. We have the freedom to do things our own way, but we also don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to grasp blindly in the dark. There are others – many, many others – who have gone before us and have wisdom to share. We can take or leave anything we choose. But hopefully we walk away with this most beautiful reminder – in this parenting journey, the small moments add up – and they matter.
For our first interview, allow me to introduce our first
World-Changing Parent: Dorie
Dorie has been married for 23 years to Sean, and has two children: Jake (20) and Hannah (15). Jake is profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant, and the journey for him to learn to listen and talk led to Dorie going back to school when he was 7 to work with families of children with hearing loss as a teacher of the deaf. Raising a child with a disability has had its challenges, but has also blessed their lives in more ways than they could have ever imagined. Jake is now a very successful college student, studying Chemical Engineering on a full-ride academic scholarship. Hannah is a vivacious teenager who is full of life and a never-ending source of entertainment through her passion for singing and acting. She is also a very successful student who lives for musical theater and leading worship at church. They are both great kids who love Jesus and serving others. Sean and Dorie currently live in Canada, where Sean is working and Dorie is pursuing her PhD.
1. What is your favorite thing about being a parent?
I am affectionate and nurturing by nature, so I have always loved that part of parenting. There is something so precious and fulfilling about pouring love and attention into children and seeing the positive impact. But at each stage, I think my favorite thing has been celebrating their successes and encouraging independence. Watching them realize they can do something on their own, and celebrating that success with them, feels like an affirmation that I’m doing my job well! I have also really enjoyed watching their unique personalities develop, and now that they are older, I genuinely enjoy the people they have become! I guess that’s not just one thing…
2. What was your favorite thing about being a parent when your children were really small?
I loved watching them learn something new every day! Also, it was humbling and beautiful to realize that God entrusted us with such precious lives. I remember being in awe of them almost as often as I felt overwhelmed with everything that being a new parent entails. There have only been a few other times in my life when I’ve felt God’s presence and experienced such urgent need of him, than in the early days of parenting.
3. What do you miss the most?
Honestly, I miss the physical affection of having young children. Physical touch is one of my love languages, so snuggling babies was so fulfilling to me!
4. How did/does your family strive to live in awareness of God’s presence?
When the kids were younger, we did family devotionals and we’ve always prayed together. I think the most important thing was in the day-to-day: we talk about and to God all the time, throughout our daily routines. We listen to worship music while cooking dinner, pray about little and big things, and talk about the things God is doing in our lives. My husband I ensure that the kids see us walking out our faith through things like reading the Bible, serving others, and praying for and with each other. I also think that being actively involved in a church family was super important throughout our kids’ lives.
5. There is so much junk out there that can be harmful to the hearts and minds of our kids. We often can’t even watch a sporting event on TV without a commercial popping up that is unsuitable for small children (& sometimes not even for our own hearts). What are your thoughts about protecting your children’s hearts from the evil of the world while simultaneously knowing we are also called to equip them to push back and fight against this darkness? What practical steps have you taken?
We have always been intentional about what we’ve allowed our kids to be exposed to, while also being transparent about why we’re making those choices. We model that in our own choices, and talk often about the harm of becoming desensitized to what popular culture deems acceptable. We also want to empower our kids to be in the world and not of it, so we’ve been careful not to shelter them so much that they’re never faced with tough choices. We have maintained open lines of communication to talk about tough choices, and talked through our own decisions in front of them, when appropriate. For example, when my book club chose a book that I didn’t want to read, I talked about that openly. Now that they are older, we ask questions and check in frequently to give them an opportunity to talk through things while also holding them accountable. We encourage them to read the Bible and pray to discover for themselves what God wants them to do in certain situations, while still mentoring and modeling this for them in our own actions.
Another practical step we have taken is to ensure that our kids developed relationships with other Christian role models. We know that our influence isn’t the only important one in our kids’ lives, and sometimes they will listen to others’ perspectives more readily than our own. Of course, there are times when they don’t want to talk to us, so we have made sure that they are surrounded by other trusted people who can provide Christian counsel.
6. How did/do you make efforts to keep your marriage healthy and make your relationship a priority in the midst of raising young children? What practical steps did/do you take?
We have always made each other a priority. When our kids were small, we didn’t often have access to a babysitter, but we did plan date nights in after the kids were in bed. This was definitely not always easy, and some years it didn’t happen very often, but we always tried to come back to that. As our kids got older, regular date nights out became a priority.
7. The stereotypical worldly picture of siblings is often one of rivalry and even jealousy. How did/do you make efforts to raise your children to be friends, have each other’s backs, and exist alongside one another as if on the same team?
There were definitely challenging times when our kids didn’t like each other very much, but we always insisted that they treat each other with kindness and respect. We talked a lot about empathy, trying to help them see things from each other’s perspective. We did a lot of things together as a whole family, and made lots of memories together, and we talked about those special memories often. But we also did simple things, like eating dinner together almost every single night, during which we would have conversations at the table. I think that’s somewhat of a lost art, but we weren’t willing to compromise that time.
Another thing we always did was give each child individual attention, to minimize jealousy. We did regular “date nights” with the kids: I would plan a mother-daughter date while the boys went on a father-son date, and then we’d switch the next time to a mother-son and father-daughter date. These were not always elaborate events. Sometimes it was a simple as popcorn and a movie of their choosing at home, or baking together. The main thing was that it was one-on-one time with each of us. We did this approximately once a month. The reward has been that our kids now love to go on “sibling dates” together, without us!
8. How did/do you teach your kids about “tough topics” and encourage them to choose family values instead of following cultural norms?
I think we set this example in our parenting. Our kids learned early on that just because “everybody is doing it,” that doesn’t mean we will allow them to do it. We talk openly about they “why” of our choices. I think that has helped them to begin to develop their own barometer of what’s right and wrong. Our goal all along has been for them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, and understand why it’s the right thing, instead of just doing it because we said so, or not doing it to avoid punishment. We want to empower them to continue to make good choices as young adults.
9. How did/do you encourage open lines of communication when your kids were teenagers? What helped the health of your relationship during that time?
We started by opening the lines of communication when they were younger. We talk openly about what some might consider “embarrassing” topics, and ensure that they know that they can ask us anything. When needed, we ask pointed questions and expect honest answers, and we set that precedent very early on. Once we established that no topic is off the table, we’ve been able to share our values and why we believe what we do. We honor differences of opinion, but always point them back to metric of God’s word. But, most importantly, we make time for communication, and we give them our undivided attention during important discussions.
10. What are some of the greatest differences that you see in our culture today that affect the way that parents raise their children versus when your children were little?
I think social media adds social pressure and a comparison factor that I didn’t experience when my kids were young. I didn’t have to compete with Pinterest-perfect parties and I wasn’t constantly bombarded with others’ perfect-looking lives on Facebook and Instagram. While I think there are definitely positives that come from social media when used judiciously, there are a lot of challenges that come with people living their lives so publicly on social media. Fortunately, there are supportive, encouraging pages like this one to provide great ideas for family fun while showing an authentic family putting Jesus first in their lives.
11. What are some things (or just one thing!) you are really proud of as a parent? What do you feel like you have done well?
I actually really love who our kids have become. They make good decisions, love Jesus and actively pursue him, serve others, and are genuinely kind. Our son joined a Christian organization in his first semester at college, and when he couldn’t find a small group Bible study that fit his schedule, he and his friends started their own. He has developed his own personal relationship with Jesus while away at school (rather than just believing because he’s supposed to), and has really grown in his faith. Our daughter is a joyful, generous, accepting, and loving person who is determined to make a difference in the world, and in the past year has started leading worship at our church. While I can’t take credit for how they’re living out God’s plan for their lives, I do like to think that our parenting had something to do with the genuinely great humans they’ve become!
12. What are you looking forward to as your kids get older?
I’m actually already beginning to experience this, but I look forward to having an adult relationship with my kids. I genuinely enjoy their company. I look forward to seeing them reach for and achieve their dreams.
13. If you could tell your past self – in the midst of raising small children – something, what would it be?
I think I would tell myself that the small moments matter. Not in the sense that every little mistake matters, but that the cumulative effect of the little decisions, not just the big, pivotal moments, set the foundation for their childhood. It’s the overall impact that matters. Did they feel loved and secure? Did they witness us loving Jesus and each other well? When we made mistakes, did they learn from us how to make things right? All of these things stem from the small decisions we make every day: deciding to apologize instead of staying mad, deciding to sit down and read a book or play, deciding to give them our full attention when they needed to talk instead of continuing to do whatever was keeping us busy. Nobody can get it right all the time, but if we are intentional and try to make these small moments count, they add up.