Interview by Melissa Caddell
David and Kelli Pritchard are the parents of eight children and through the years have brought over 24 other children into their home, mostly teens in crisis. They speak to thousands of parents and families every year about parenting, strengthening families and marriage. David is a Family Ministries Pastor at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, Washington. Kelli has degrees in social work and secondary education. They’re the authors of Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School (Regal, 2008) and Family Enrichment Specialists with Young Life youth ministry. The Pritchards live in Lakewood, where they enjoy their five grown children, three high school children and a middle schooler and are awaiting the birth of their first grandchild in June.
The Pritchards discovered from an early point in their parenting that they needed to be intentional about what they were teaching their children. “Keep the end in mind,” says Kelli. “Who do you want walking out the door at 18? What are you teaching toward?”
While growing their family and raising toddlers, they also began taking in troubled teens. “God kept bringing people into our life who we needed to step up and help. Taking in teens will help you begin with the end in mind,” David says. Seeing the problems that these teen kids were facing helped them see the need to be on-purpose with their children from a very young age.
What led you initially to bring teens into your home?
David: Kelli has a phrase, “Don’t miss the walk-in business.” Ever since we were first married we’ve tried to be aware of the people God puts directly in our path. The first teen was a cousin’s son who was struggling and needed a place to live. Another one was a friend’s niece who had run away and then walked right past us as we were having lunch at a restaurant. Then as our own kids became teens, they would tell us about a kid at school who was homeless or needed help. And we’d investigate the situation and see if we could help.
Teens and toddlers at the same time? How did you manage your days?
Kelli: Well, I definitely had to let some things go. My house didn’t look perfect and there were days that no one got a nap. That was hard for me because I have a very Type A personality. But I didn’t think of bringing teens into our lives as adding one more thing. As moms, we mother in our whole lives, in everything we do. I saw it as bringing people into what I was already doing.
How did you learn to let go of things?
Kelli: I realized I had some pride that was making it hard for me to be honest about the days I needed help. I loved mothering, but there was a tension in what I thought I could do and what I was actually capable of. I had to give myself permission to accept help and to take care of myself, like going to the gym when my sister offered to watch the baby. Our culture has such a supermom mentality that we have to be intentional about taking the help that’s offered. When your kids are little, even just letting someone watch the kids so you can go grocery shopping by yourself feels like therapy!
David: I tended to be the big picture thinker and could see that we were where God wanted us. Regardless of what our situation was, I trusted that God was in all of that. When things got overwhelming in the day-to-day details, I would assure Kelli that we were right where we were supposed to be. And then I would do the dishes.
Describe how you work to shape the lives of your children spiritually.
Kelli: It can feel incredibly overwhelming when we consider all the things that we teach our children — language, manners, eating, dressing, behavior and more! But everything is a teachable moment with young children. For example, we thank God for the things we see in nature, for seasons, for our food and toys. When the children have tension with each other, we talk about how God expects us to act. Life as we are living it becomes the laboratory for talking about spiritual things.
David: When the kids do something wrong, we correct their behavior, which is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to be aware of their heart and what needs to change in that situation. If they apologize and they don’t seem genuine, we have them go sit by themselves until they can do it sincerely. Then they ask the person they’ve wronged how they can make it right. No one really knows the condition of someone else’s heart, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit in them, but our role as parents is to discern if their heart is genuine in the situation.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 talks about teaching our children about God all the time, throughout our whole day. It can seem overwhelming when you read that verse. But on the other hand, it’s freeing because it’s not saying you have to teach six specific classes. It says to talk about God to our children for their entire lives.
What are the most important things kids should know about God when they start school?
David: When our kids start school, we read the Bible together every morning. We talk to them about the fact that they will be learning a lot of things and will have great teachers, but that the Bible is truth, the most important thing. We pray a prayer of blessing and protection over them before they leave home each morning.
Kelli: We teach them to be honoring of their teachers, to be kind to everyone and to obey those in authority over them. We tell them that this is how we show that Jesus is in our hearts. For our kindergarteners, we remind them that God is always with them and that Mommy and Daddy are always there for them, especially if they have anxiety about being sent off alone.
In these intense days of parenting young children, it’s hard to see that every day matters.
Kelli: It’s worth it. As your children become adults, you’ll be very glad for all that you’ve taught them. When our son was a quarterback at Stanford, he was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight after they beat USC in the largest upset in college football history. As I sat in the stands the day he threw the winning touchdown, all I could see was the little toddler who was so strong-willed! As a child, he whined, refused to obey and was pretty stubborn. But I knew he had to learn to control himself, and we worked hard to teach him that he could. I was never so glad that he had learned self-control as a toddler as that moment when he was suddenly in the media spotlight, featured on national TV!
Remember, there is no better mother than you for your child. You are the best teacher they have. You know them best and what they need to grow into the person God intended them to be. You can do it!
Melissa Caddell is a writer, speaker and former MOPS mom in the Denver area. She and her husband, Casey, are raising three girls in the ‘burbs. Visit her at: melissacaddell.com.