Advice from the former CEO of MOPS

Back in 2013 I interviewed former Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) CEO Elisa Morgan for Colorado Parent, in conjunction with the release of her book, The Beauty of Broken. There are few interviews I remember as vividly as this one. She was honest, and many of points she made have stuck with me, and have helped me in my own parenting journey. I’ve often wished she lived in my neighborhood and would mentor me through parenting challenges as my kids grow. That’s probably not going to happen, so instead I revisit the advice that she gave in this article from time to time. I hope it will help another parent, too, after all these years.

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Supporting and encouraging moms was Elisa Morgan’s business. Literally. 

As the CEO of Denver-based MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) for 20 years, Morgan’s career consisted of planning curriculum and resources for moms, delivering impacting speeches to parents and many other leadership responsibilities. With Morgan at the helm, MOPS grew from 350 to 4,000 groups, totaling 100,000 women, across the United States and in thirty countries. 

 All the while, Morgan’s own family experienced many private struggles that were anything but encouraging. Her teen daughter’s pregnancy followed by a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, and her son’s struggle with alcohol abuse and drug addiction were just a couple of the challenges that Morgan and her husband Evan faced. But from “broken” circumstances, Morgan writes about the beauty that can emerge, including spiritual growth, strengthened family bonds, forgiveness, thankfulness and increased self-awareness. “We forget that we all grow through hard times, and that our stories are formed through challenges,” Morgan says.

 Writing a book that reveals many personal details was not easy, but she believes it was an important story to tell, in order to “free today’s parents from feelings of shame and inadequacy about their life and for their children. I share my story to tell parents there is a way out, when things don’t go the way you think they will.”

 Though the book is not a how-to manual on child-rearing, Morgan’s life experiences have provided many opportunities to get real about raising kids today. Here are a few of her insights.

 Get Real About Your Reactions

Morgan remembers the day her daughter lost her retainer when she was 9 or 10 years old. “I was bending over the side of the school trash can to look for it. In that moment, I remember thinking this is the way (my daughter) will think I will respond to other things, and it helped me pull myself back together. When she told us she was pregnant as a teenager, I thought back to that retainer moment.” 

 It’s important to keep our reactions and responses to our kids’ choices in check, or we might have to face our own consequences later. “We can’t control our children’s choices,” Morgan says, “but we can control our responses to their choices. I try to remember the end result. The number one value is to keep the relationship open so you can continue to grow,” Morgan says.

 Get Real about Controlling Your Kids

When it comes to controlling the choices children make, Morgan says there are three components to consider: Heredity, which you can’t control; environment, which you can control to some extent; and free will, which you can’t control. “We can do our best to model discipline and certain values, but in the end, we have to relinquish control,” she says. 

 Influencing your kids, though, is possible, but doing so effectively is different depending on their ages. “With younger kids, consistency and clarity are important,” she says. “As they get older, consistency and clarity are still important, but also, honesty. Try to share your heart (with your kids) while maintaining appropriate boundaries.”

 Get Real about Parenting Forever

Morgan believes parents should commit to a “no matter what” kind of love. “When we parent, we parent for life. We tend to think that it is most important in those early years, but the reality is, it’s ongoing for the rest of your life--not in a co-dependent way, but we have to figure out how we are going to stay on with parenting for the rest of our lives.” 

 This is no easy task, and to help do this, Morgan thinks it is important to attend to your own needs: “Like they say on airplanes, secure your own oxygen mask before you secure someone else’s.” She suggests seeking out parenting classes that can provide support or information, counseling or faith-based book study groups, so that you are growing as a person.

 Get Real about “Perfect Families”

“It’s a myth that if you parent a certain way, your kids will turn out a certain way,” says Morgan. “We very much want to create an ideal, and when things skew off, even for a season, we feel like we’ve failed. We can begin to let go of this by humbly realizing that we are creatures in progress. I remember one day when I was losing my temper, I was thinking to myself, ‘Why do I always have to make dinner? Why do I have to be the one to drive everywhere? How did I get here?’ You become a mother, and sometimes there is this expectation that you are supposed to be mature. But you are modeling to your child a person who is growing—you are not modeling a perfect person.”

 And through imperfection, there are opportunities to teach your children how to handle trying times: “Ask yourself, ‘What am I training them to do? Am I training them to put on a plastic face and pretend to be perfect? Or am I showing them, this is how I handle it when I make a mistake?’ ”

 Knowing what she knows now, Morgan says if she could go back to her 20-something self, just starting the journey of parenting, she would say, “(Your children’s) choices in life don’t define who you are. And I would tell her to trust that I won’t be parenting alone. From my perspective, God would be there along with me.”