Interview with Carol Kuykendal and Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy:
CBP: Carol, would you share with us your Christian testimony?
Carol: I did not grow up in a Christian family. My family knew God but not Jesus. We went to church sometimes like Easter, maybe Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas. I knew Jesus to be that little figure in the manger scene. I started to go to church on my own in high school because I felt a real longing in my heart; I just felt drawn to go to church on my own. So that began my journey. It was probably was when I was in a Bible study shortly after we got married that all the pieces of faith started to come together. I’ve often said that my faith journey is more like a sun rising than like a light being flipped on in a dark room; that it was a slow process of the light pushing the night out of my whole life.
CBP: You mentioned in your book that you probably enrolled in Bible study at first because of the childcare.
Carol: It’s amazing once you get in there that God has a plan within those kinds of things. It’s partly why MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is such an important ministry because mothers are in a season of their lives, and they just so need other mothers and encouragement and that kind of a sense of community that comes from coming together.
CBP: So what led you to write this book?
Carol: I’d say of writers – it’s often said that we have a theme living in our soul. And if there is such a theme in my soul, it’s one that you revisit in every season of life and it’s deepened by your application of God’s truth to your circumstances. This theme on family and the importance of family has lived in my soul ever since I was growing up. That is one legacy my parents passed on is that family matters. And everything I’ve done, has sort of funneled me to even this very place. And circumstances came together and yes, MOPS is an outreach to mothers of young children. And I know the hunger that mothers have for a book of encouragement, for the kind of vision that we need to have in order to grow the kinds of families that we want to be.
CBP: Speaking of family, you write about celebrating family.
Carol: I think that celebrating family is a very important part of being part of a family. It anchors the whole idea of family. Celebrations deepen our appreciation for whatever we are celebrating. A birthday celebrates a person and it deepens our appreciation for that person. Family should be celebrated. It’s part of the loyalty quality that I talk about. It’s celebrating who we are as a group of people come together in this God-given circle, and celebrating that we have come together with circle.
CBP: How important is it to have dreams for your family, and to envision what kind of a family you want your family to become?
Carol: I think it’s very important. Because it’s easy to just take our family for granted and kind of go along day by day just getting done what we need to in order to survive, and, certainly, when there are young children around that survival matters. But, we need a vision and our children need us to have a vision. They need us to have some dreams and goals; the goals that we’re aiming toward so that we can be intentional about coming back on track when we slip off the track. If we know that these are the qualities that we want to experience and express in our family. To have those words before us, help bring us back when we start getting off track.
CBP: What’s your message to parents who worry about the future and the influences of the “big, bad world” on their family?
Carol: I think that every generation has had a fear of the “big, bad world”. And my message would be to understand that our goal is to help our children grow up to cope in the world and that the best way to do that is to, little by little, give them a little more independence, a little more responsibility, a little more confidence in their ability to make strong choices. And we start this when children are young, but we encourage them to make good choices and walk alongside them while they’re making those choices. And I believe, personally, that that’s more healthy and beneficial to a child growing up than cocooning that child in a world where that child doesn’t learn to cope with what they’ll face in the world.
CBP: What about seizing a moment with your child.
Carol: Seizing that moment – it’s much better for a child to make a mistake while you’re walking alongside them and to take advantage of that as an opportunity to learn. That’s how we all learn. We learn to do it right by doing it wrong.
CBP: What should a family reflect to others?
Carol: Well, it was my hope that we would be more than a family that created this nice family portrait that we’d hang over the fireplace. I wanted our family to reflect to others the same kind of love and fun and loyalty. These qualities that we believe are important, are qualities that, as we pour them into our children, what they’re doing is getting a reservoir of memories upon which they can draw strength in order to pour those very same qualities into others’ lives. And certainly faith is the most precious and most eternal and enduring quality that a family can express and share together; the idea that we know the source of our hope, and if a child or a family knows the source of their hope, then they can be a shining light in a dark place to others.
CBP: What is the difference between fear-based teaching and something you describe in your book as teaching that encourages us to enter into our world in order to bring that light of hope to others.
Carol: It’s similar to the question of how we can best help our children learn to cope in our world. When it’s fear based, we give our children a fear because our own responses are telling them that we don’t think that they’re capable of coping. And we see all these things to be afraid of rather than to give the positive, empowering kind of encouragement that says, “Let’s talk this through, let’s look at what this situation is, how can we best cope with it?” So it’s not about being afraid of what’s there; it’s about learning to be empowered enough to do something about it.
CBP: You wrote about loving a baby, and how really helps one understand God’s sacrificial love.
Carol: You know, when you think about it, a baby, first of all, if you carry your child, if you have your child by your own pregnancy and delivery, your baby starting from the very moment you know that you’re pregnant, you’re starting to build a life for that baby. You make sacrifices, you may give up your cup of coffee, you may give up certain things that you like to eat, and you’re starting to sacrifice yourself for this child. And then when the baby is born, he poops all over everything and spits up on you, and keeps you up at night, and the baby actually does nothing to earn your love, and yet, it’s in this very giving, sacrificially, to this baby that your love grows so much. It gave me the closest glimpse of what Jesus feels for us in the sacrifice that he made.
CBP: What’s your advice on accepting your mate?
Carol: There’s a saying that opposites attract until they get married. It’s a human nature kind of response that when we’re giddy in love, we just think everything is so wonderful, and then we start having an agenda to make this person more like ourselves. The more we can accept and allow our spouse to be who he was created to be, the more we really reveal our kind our love that can grow and deepen and appreciate the uniqueness that God gives us in each person. When it comes to parenting, two parents are going to parent totally differently, and instead of correcting each other on all those things, if we can stop and step back and appreciate the differences, a child needs these different kinds of love. So for a child to receive different kinds of love is a very good thing for the child.
CBP: You have three family rules.
Carol: My husband came up with them, it wasn’t like we spent one weekend with paper and pencil and fasting to come up with them. He said them one day to the children and it was like something that rooted and was passed on. It was very simple; be kind to others, tell the truth, and remember where you came from.
I’m particularly intrigued with the third one remember where you came from. On the surface it may be a little harder to understand but it’s really about the loyalty to the family that you have come from. In the family that you grew up in, if there was a communication about what matters most, remember that.
CBP: Tell us about having fun as a family?
Carol: Of the five qualities love, which is the first one, is the quality that meets our greatest need. It’s so foundational also – as soon as you’re born. Fun makes a family want to be together. There is a difference in the family who comes together out of obligation and a family who truly enjoys spending time together. It is about an attitude of lightening up and enjoying each other.
If you walked into somebody’s house and you check what’s taped to the refrigerator door, look at the family pictures that are around, listen to their phone answering machine message, these are little places where you can see that this family enjoys each other. An attitude of lightening up and having fun together which is what makes, especially as a family grows up, a family want to spend time together out of pure desire, not out of obligation.
CBP: Speaking of lightening up, you talk about a healthy attitude of learning to live with average, and how hard it is for people who have been growing up with that pressure for A’s. Not only in A’s in report cards.
Carol: I think so many of us do. We’ve got measuring sticks all around us. It’s the world. You get a raise at your job for performance review which is a measurement of one kind of success in our lives. Certainly as you’re growing up in school there are A’s for achievement. Certain personalities are driven by this more than others, but we strive for the recognition that we’ve done a good job. If we can step back just far enough to say what really is a good job and what is the price of a good job. There are so many things in life that are just C+; and C+ works. It’s easy to practice that once you get the hang of it and say, “I really don’t have to have absolutely everything in its place”.
CBP: Are we trying to achieve significance through our family?
Carol: So often our families and our children are our report cards. We allow that. So, yes, we see ourselves measured for what we produce and achieve through our families, and that’s such an unhealthy way to look at our families. We need to allow them to be, which allows us to be together without that kind of pressure on each other.
CBP: What about a mother’s need for growth?
Carol: If we weren’t growing we’d be dying. Growth is healthy and the best way for a mother to understand her influence in her family’s growth, is to look in that quality in her own life, and ask herself, “How am I growing apart from my children, how am I personally growing in this developmental season of my life?” Just because we’re grown up, we’re never done growing.
CBP: What about using crisis as an opportunity?
Carol: In crisis as opportunities, any time we make a mistake, whether it’s a real crisis or just a mistake, developing the habit of saying, “What did I learn from this?” Instead of saying, “I wish I had done something”, say, “Next time I will do whatever differently.”
CBP: You wrote about faith being like a light in our lives and how it lights our way in dark places.
Carol: It’s our faith and commitment that enables us to see and it’s like the light is shining in these darker places, and we can, almost like a flashlight, we can lead our children and we can lead others. The faith and the hope in our own lives becomes a light to others who need to follow that big journey.
CBP: In closing, what would you say mothers are longing for?
Carol: I think we’re longing for love-filled relationships. Relationships that are based on a commitment of working through hard times, to learning to love each other unconditionally -- and I say learning because that doesn’t come naturally and instinctively, it comes to us through working hard at it. So I would say to be accepted, to be in a relationship with people who reflect back to us what we care about.