Did you know that your child can experience multiple emotions every single day? I’m sure that’s not a surprise for any mom. Your children may not always be able to communicate their feelings. So how can you help them better process their emotions now so they can handle them later in adulthood? Stay tuned to find out.
Download the 8 Core Emotions PDF!
Today I am joined by guest and friend, Lynley Mandrell. Lynley is married to Ben Mandrell, the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Before coming to Lifeway, Ben and Lynley were in church planters and in full-time ministry. Ben and Lynley have ventured into the world of podcasting as well, and cohost The Glass House Podcast, which shines a light on the challenges of leading in the local church.
A little history: My husband Josh and Lynley’s husband Ben, used to work together at a church. This was right after Josh and I graduated college, so Ben actually married us and gave my husband his first ministry job.
Let’s Dive into our interview with Lynley!
Mallory: Lynley, you shared with me recently that you and Ben have been going through a year long counseling journey, processing life in ministry, marriage and family stuff. So how would you say that has affected your kids and the way that you parent?
Lynley: Yes, Ben and I did not realize how unhealthy we were, when we made the career switch form church planters to Lifeway. So we’ve gone through an 18 month counseling journey, and the thing that has been so interesting for us, is the way our kids have responded to it. We would go home and share with them about it and they started asking questions each week about what we learned.
The reason we are sharing with our kids, is to prepare them for the collision of marriage. Because couple is going to come to a point of saying, “This is hard.” And we want our kids to know as they get older, at some point in their marriage they’re going to have a hard time. They may want to say, “I love you, but I don’t like you right now, and how do we work through this?”Now that our kids are old enough, we want to create a space that is safe and honest to talk about hard things and emotions. We want them to know when marriage or something else hard happens, we don’t quit, but we can get some help.
Mallory: I know this subject today, I told you before we started is really challenging to me personally, with my kids. And it probably is for you listening as well. But I think it’s so important so that we can be better moms, so that we’re prepared for that. So, Lynley, let’s talk about this handout that you shared with me. It’s about the eight core emotions. And you and Ben have been using this through your counseling journey and I’m guessing shared it with your kids. So can you explain to a mom that’s listening right now what those eight emotions are and how they could be healthy or unhealthy?
Lynley: Yes the 8 core emotions that our counselor has gone through with us are: anger, fear, hurt, loneliness, sadness, shame, guilt, and gladness. When we began learning about these, Ben looked at them and asked, “Why are seven of these bad emotions? (I was wondering the same thing!)
And the counselor told us that they were all emotions we feel, but they can either be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how you process them. We began to realize that for a long time we had been living in the impaired/unhealthy side of all of them. I’ll give some examples of that along the way today, and how we’ve had to learn how to get to the healthy parts of our emotions.
Mallory: The link to this 8 Core Emotions handout is at the bottom of this blog or can be found on our homepage. So Lynley, could you give us a few example stories, maybe a couple of situations with your own kids where they’re needing to deal with one of these eight emotions (healthy or unhealthy) that you’re talking about. How did you walk through that with them?
Lynley: Yes. The first story where Ben and I realized that we were not handling our kids’ emotions in a healthy way, was with our youngest son Jack, who has Celiac Disease. We were actually leaving counseling and passed by a Krispy Kreme, so we were going to stop and get some donuts for everybody to take home. And I said, “No, we can’t do that because then Jack will have to watch his siblings eat donuts, and he can’t have donuts.”
So Ben and I went back and forth on maybe we should get Jack ice cream or a different treat and get the other kids donuts. And I’m like, “It’s nine o’clock in the morning, we can’t take him ice cream.” (Not that it’s any worse than a donut, but you get the idea). So we began to realize that the unhealthy side of sadness is renegotiating, and we were renegotiating for Jack. We didn’t want him to want him to feel sad, so we were trying to fix it for him, but we can’t. Giving him ice cream this time would have only masked the sadness and a substitute would not always be available to him. We just needed to say, “Jack, this is sad and hard, but it’s part of your life.”
So from that moment we decided, “Okay, we’re going to get the other kids donuts because it’s not their story, that’s not their hardship.” When we came home with donuts, of course Jack’s shoulders drooped immediately and he teared up and said, “But I can’t have those!” And we said, “Jack, we know. We are so sorry.” And the healthy part of sadness is honoring loss. And so we just said, “Jack, this is hard and something you’ve been given to deal with in this life.” Of course we didn’t go into, ”There’s much worse things in life, Jack,” because that’s not helpful for anybody… We just said, “Do you want to talk about it?” He started crying and said, “Yeah, I miss good pizza and I miss donuts and I miss all these things.” And we just all cried it out together, and he felt so much better afterwards. We were able to say, “Jack, you’re going to have to understand that we can’t tiptoe around this. You’re going to have college roommates who are going to stuff their face with pizza and donuts and laugh at you, like, ‘Sorry, you can’t have it.’ So you just need to prepare for it.”
It ended up all being a really healthy conversation that we had avoided having with him because it made us feel better to try and fix things for him or spare him from sadness.
Mallory: Yes that’s a great example!
Lynley: Another story that I had thought about when preparing, was when we moved to Denver to plant a church. Our house overlooked the elementary school playground, which we thought was really great. But the first week of school, Ava was in fifth grade, and we would stand out on our deck and kind of spy on the kids to see what was happening. Well, we noticed the entire first week, Ava was swinging by herself and nobody was swinging with her. And of course we feel so sad, because you want your kids to connect immediately and have a group of friends. Then she’d come home and here we are again renegotiating for our kids saying, “Ava, you’re going to make friends soon and they’re going to love you!” We hoped that was true, but that wasn’t how to address it. Sometimes there are just seasons of life where we all feel lonely, and that’s okay. She had to learn to deal with that emotion, and we needed to create a safe space for her to share how she was dealing with that.
In 10th grade, when we moved to Nashville, where we live now, and she had to go through that loneliness again. Even now, she’s preparing her for college now to another place where she doesn’t know anyone. Life has many transitions and times of loneliness, and it’s just so unhelpful to say, “Oh no, you’re okay. You’re going to make friends real fast.” That kind of thing….Instead just ask, ”Are you lonely?” or “I’m sorry, what do you feel right now?” Let them process and share. You can’t fix it for them. Those are just a couple examples.
Mallory: Yeah. Those are great examples, and they bring up so many moments and conversations that are flashing through my mind, where I know that I need to do a better job helping my kids process things that they’re feeling. And maybe you’re listening right now and you’re doing the same thing…
Lynley: Have you heard that Chuck Swindoll quote that says, “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.” Have you heard that before?
Mallory: I don’t think I have…
Lynley: Well I think that’s so interesting because even with parenting, our primary job other than teaching our kids about Jesus, is to teach our kids how to respond to things. How they can respond to different emotions.
Mallory: That’s so true. No, I haven’t ever heard that. So, when you were referring to Jack’s story about the donuts above, that that was trying to fix a problem for him. You and Ben realized that you couldn’t mask or renegotiate for Jack. I find that so interesting because I think we’re all guilty as parents of doing that. We try to intervene so our kids don’t have to feel sadness or whatever emotion it may be. How does realizing this, ultimately help our children in the long run?
Lynley: I think it’s our job as parents is to equip children to enter into a broken world, and we aren’t helping them by shielding them from hard emotions. If we’re trying to raise children to leave the nest at 18, which I’m now four months from that, it’s really, really hard if we wait until life starts hitting them as a teen or young adult. I think the ultimate thing is to start to identify when your kids at young ages begin to express emotions. Try to help them work through them by asking, “Why do you feel this way?” Or “What are you feeling?”
In the toddler tantrum phase, (those are so hard!) It’s impossible to talk to them in the moment, and that behavior needs to be disciplined. But once its over, instead of shaming them for it, get down on their level and ask them, “Are you sad? Are you lonely? Are you hurt? What are you feeling?” Sometimes they are too little for those questions, but 3 yrs.+ their answers might surprise you. Once they’re old enough to identify some things, you need to help them work through those emotions and how to better respond to them.
Mallory: I totally agree! Parents, myself included, are guilty so many times in an effort to protect their children from feeling all these emotions, we unknowingly prevent them from learning how to process emotions that really God gave to us to feel. God’s not scared of our emotions. So could you share with us why it’s so important as moms to help our kids understand and work through the emotions? How could you encourage a mom to start early?
Lynley: There is something called a Feelings Wheel I recommend. Our kids, three boys and a girl, are all teenagers. They can be really fun in some ways and then also very non-verbal when it comes to details and emotions. Teaching them early, before the teen years, to be verbal with us and other adults has been really helpful. And that’s essentially what we’re doing is trying to prevent them from getting into the situation that Ben and I got into, where we felt scared to share emotions with one another. Ben’s family grew in a home where you just shoved it all under the rug and didn’t talk about your emotions. So to avoid this happening with our kids and our marriage, Ben and I use this feelings wheel that has like 50 different things on it. At the end of most days, we have what we call a “family closer.” We’ll text the group chat and say, “Come down at 9:30, we’re having our closer.” Everyone has to pick a word from the wheel that describes their day. It’s just so good for communication. I’ll give you an example: Last night, our daughter found out that she did not get into a college that she was hoping to get into. So she chose the word “insignificant.” She said, “50,000 people applied to the school and 48,200 did not get in, and I’m one of those 48,000 who is insignificant and didn’t get in.” This is how she’s processing her disappointment, and we can better know how to pray for her and encourage her through that emotion, because she felt safe to share that with our family.
So just helping you kids identify it, is a BIG win and improves your communication with them. So even if your kids are younger, but can read, maybe begin to start explaining what some of these words mean. Just think of every feelings adjective you can and it’s on the wheel. Ask them, ”What do you think that means? Or explain its meaning and ask, “When is the time where you would feel that way?” Starting somewhere is important, to create that safe space to communicate our feelings at home. But it’s a dangerous topic because in Christianity. Christians say, we should not be feeling bad emotions because we know the Lord, but that is not realistic. This world is full of sin and emotions.
Mallory: I’ll share the feelings wheel link at the bottom of this page and on the homepage well. I think it’s important that we all understand what the Bible says about emotions, and in James 1, it says we’re going to have to trials in this life. We’re going to face things, and so we’re going to have emotional responses to them. So can you think of any Scriptures that you and Ben have used as you’re processing this and going through this counseling journey?
Lynley: Yes, I think about how even Jesus was angry and overturned the tables in the Bible. And honestly, I kind of like that because the healthy side of anger is passion. He was really showing the perfect example of passion. But for our kids, the thing that we have held onto, is Colossians 1:17. It says, “He is before all things and by him, all things hold together.”
Ben and I have been so guilty of believing that we are holding our kids together. And we’re not holding our kids together. The Lord is holding them together. And honestly, we’re not even owners of our children, we’re the stewards. They’ve been given to us by God. So I think what we’ve had to stop doing is trying to fix our kids and helping them understand, “Hey, we are going to carry the weight of your behavior, but your spiritual condition, the Lord is carrying, and we’re just trying to guide you through it. But God is holding it together.”
Maybe my kids are closer to an age of making their own decisions than yours are, but in every stage we have to trust that God is ultimately the one that goes with them to school or wherever they go and holds them. Now, I have friends whose kids are in college and they’re making either good or bad decisions, different kids coming from the same family, choosing to live differently. At that point you have raised them well and its their choice, but the earlier you can share Jesus with them and help them learn to process their emotions, the better off they will be in the future.
Mallory: One final question: Lynley, if there’s a mom that’s listening right now, that knows she needs to do a better job with all the things that we’ve been talking about today, mostly helping her kids connect with their emotions and realizing she is not the one holding them together. She’s trying to shield them from feeling sadness or hurt or whatever the emotion may be, what advice would you give to her? Maybe just a practical way that she can get started from this point on to try to be more healthy about that?
Lynley: Yeah. At the risk of sounding really forward, she may want to see a counselor or therapist herself. Because it could be that if you have a hard time with sharing emotion or helping your kids express their emotions, that may be something that you don’t see about yourself or the home you grew up in sometimes. I think that’s the thing for me, is that there has been such a stigma about “counseling” in the past for Christians. I know it’s becoming less and less. But it’s been a great thing for our family! I think this is even funny as a pastor’s wife, Mallory you understand, the amount of people that come to you and Josh, I’m sure, to ask your advice. Well, you didn’t go to school for that. You’re not a therapist. It’s okay to get help sometimes from someone that did. I’m like, “I wouldn’t have my dentist put braces on my teeth. I’d go to an orthodontist.” So why do we go to our pastors only instead of therapists too? And so I would just say, just maybe pray through that. Ask yourself “Do I need help myself to be a better mom?” “Am I coming from a broken family system where we weren’t allowed to share feelings and I’m passing that on to my kids?”
Mallory: My brother-in-law was laughing when I told him we were talking about this topic because he is a Christian therapist and said, “I think this is a great topic because if they don’t process it, they don’t learn how, they can come see me in 20 years.”
Lynley: Yeah. You’re setting them up for business later on down the road. (joking, but seriously.) Ben and I have not cracked the code and figured this out, but we’re learning just like everybody else.
Mallory: Yeah. You’re working through it. I think that’s great. So as we close today, I thought that this Adrian Rogers quote would be appropriate:
”God gave us emotion for a reason. It’s what we do with the emotion that can either lead to a closer relationship with Christ or continued brokenness in our lives. Remember that only Jesus mastered his emotions perfectly, and this isn’t something that we can do. But because of Jesus, when we sin, we can repent and ask God to forgive us. He is faithful to forgive us every time. And he has given us the Holy Spirit to help us in each moment.”-Adrian Rogers
I thought that was a great quote for us today. It’s from Love Worth Finding Ministries new Bible study called: Mastering Your Emotions. It’s a great tool that you can pick up, and I actually have a coupon code for you today F31M10 for 10% off. Purchase here or go to the homepage.
Mallory: Lynley, thanks so much for joining me. Can you share the name of your podcast again and a way readers can follow you on social media?
Mallory: Thanks! To listen to this interview as a podcast Click here. Have a blessed day!
Download the 8 Core Emotions PDF!