Keeping your Child’s Heart through the Teen Years–it starts when they are born!

Durnstein, Austria

Traveling is a sort of hobby with me and with our family. Starting out in missions so many years ago, and having our books in 6 languages, keeps us going internationally, and hopping from country to country.

However, when I have the privilege of choosing a place to travel that feels like home and suits my soul, I go back to Austria, a sort of second home to me. As I travel in many other countries and big cities, the evidence of American culture is all around me–I could almost be in any other American city–there are McDonald’s everywhere, Apple stores, Kentucky Friend Chicken signs, IPhone ads, Starbucks–the draw of the material culture of America has been so powerful that I see its effect everywhere I go.

Yet, when I go to Austria, though some of those marketing ploys are obvious in places, Austria is yet little changed by the Western materialism, as its historical culture and values is stronger than the values that would be imposed upon it. In other words, Austria, with the hearts carved on wood, the mountain chalets and piles of wood for the wood-burning stoves, coffee cafes,the flowers at the tables with pristine white table cloths, the strong Austrian coffee in dainty, real porcelain cups, the small glass of water and the quiet cafes where people talk for hours, the cobblestone streets–the predictable order and clean streets and good service–so many things never change, and the strength of such stability is a comfort and strong balm to my soul.  The culture has retained its strength.

(As an aside, Sarah and I had coffee out every afternoon we were in Austria and I only saw two people who had cell phones out or ipads or computers, during the whole time we were there–At every other cafe people talked, eyeball to eyeball and just shared one another’s company–it was not a gathering of machines, but personal friends sharing minds and hearts.There was a blatant lack of media present in the cafes–though, of course, all use their cell phones and computers elsewhere.)

How does this apply to Family culture? The culture of the world–the music, movies, moral values or lack thereof, sexual revolution calls out to our children every day. Teenagers must grow into adults and learn to own their lives and values and convictions in order to be strong healthy adults. And the cultural impact of cell phones, facebook and websites adds a magnetism to the cultural values of teens and young adults that would draw their hearts away from the spiritual and moral underpinnings of home and family and church.

What to do? First, we must recognize that the desire for teens to have friends is healthy and from God and it is normal and good for our children to want community. Teens  are on the pathway of growing into adults so that they can form their own families eventually, and find a living and live their own life story. So how do we retain their hearts throughout their lives?

We make our own family culture and traditions and community and home pleasure stronger, more powerful and more fun, and more satisfying, than that of the world culture that is calling out to them. Personal relationship must be cultivated through all the traditions–not dependency on time-filling media at the center, but focussed, deep relationships that say, “I love you. I know you. I validate you. I am listening to you and I care for your thoughts and dreams.”

That is the lesson I learned in Austria. Even as the Austrian culture has maintained most of its cultural values and strength against the onslaught of America’s influence, so our children can retain our family cultures if we make them stronger influences than the world.

Pleasure, deep love and close friendship is at the center of life.

Family culture is comprised of the rhythms of life kept throughout the weeks; (for us it is a daily tea, coffee or hot chocolate afternoon time, devotions in the morning, hot  candlelight dinner together each night,  piles of book baskets and magazines everywhere, loud, daily discussions on every topic, back scratches, homemade treats always awaiting them and their friends in our home, all kinds of friends greeted and intentionally welcomed, Sunday morning feast, Saturday night pizza and movie every week; me making hot breakfast and homemade bread and music every morning, candlelight on tables, read alouds together evenings, game nights, seasonal parties and treasure hunts and car and scavenger hunts for teens); the traditions we keep on holidays, (spoiling the children on birthdays–the morning cinnamon rolls, family affirming and pouring words of life and appreciation and prayers on birthdays, shepherd’s meal on Christmas, feast on Thanksgiving, monthly dinners in our home with close family friends, fireworks and lake gatherings on 4th of July, family day and hikes every year, every month no matter what dinners with our history group;  the activities we invest in in momentous occasions–(whole family support for recitals, speech tournaments, awards ceremonies, sports activities, rite of passage teen dinner, sending off graduation ceremony at 16 with the closest of family and friends, girl’s club, boy’s outings each week, working side by side in national conferences for 16 years as a family project).

Family culture is built from the time they are born into your home–the life that is crafted, takes years to perfect, but builds strong roots.

The point is, we have so much fun and life going on in our home and so many invisible threads from our hearts to our children’s, that the pull of home and the deep connections and friendships we share with our children is a stronger pull than that of the culture that would seek to draw them. Our family culture, values and commitment is much stronger and more satisfying to their souls than the lure of their culture. Our ties to each other are strong.

This kind of culture takes a lot of work, investment of time and emotional care, and creativity, and yet, it is a work of art for the mom who would bring life, beauty, love, grace-giving atmosphere into the warp and woof of the fiber of her home, so that every day brings life and gives life to the heart mind and soul. There are, of course, seasons when traditions fall by the wayside, as life happens and emergencies and exhaustion can, for a time, take our rhythms away. Yet, if the rhythms are established deeply, they are always there, just below the surface. I have had to cut back on public commitments and answering email and comments so often over the years, because I know that family culture cannot be dropped, ever, if I am to retain the souls of my children at home, with the Lord, close to our hearts. This is the work of heaven and home.

To ignore the pull and draw of the world, is to ignore the battle strategy of Satan. So we must outwit him and be stronger in our own battle plan. Each child is different and does not conform to the family culture without the foundation of love. Yet, if we are to hold hearts faithful, we must aim intentionally and work diligently and wisely to be used by the Holy Spirit to keep their hearts strong, protected and sure.


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  1. says

    Love your post Sally! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience:) It is so good to be reminded that a strong family culture does not come by accident….. If we desire that for our families it takes intentional planning and work. Let’s not be lazy as moms and make a great effort to build a home for our families. Thank you for your support and encouragement. This young mom appreciates you and all your writings. On a side note… My first momheart group is being hosted in my home tomorrow night! Woop Woop!

  2. Becky Brownridge says

    This is just so timely for me and particularly in our new home as we try to discern how we do life in our home and to the community. I have been laid low the last few days and these have been the thoughts going round my head. Thanks for yet again showing a way forward. Blessings xx

  3. Alicia says

    I have one son about to turn teen and another just entering the doorway. So thankful for this post! We have recently been fielding the constant requests to see friends and at times it becomes overwhelming. Thank you for the perspective and for the encouragement to not let the traditions and care in our own home go by the wayside. Blessings dear Sally!

  4. Eowyn says

    Absolutely loved this, Sally! While not yet the mom of teens, I am looking ahead to prepare for the future and this piece affirmed so many of my thoughts and plans for those years. Thank you so much for bringing your wisdom to this platform. It is such a blessing in my life!

  5. says

    Thank you. One thing I love about your writing is the word-pictures you give…the idea of the beautiful, old foundations of your beloved country being just like what we are doing as we invest in our children, so good!! Thank you for all your encouragement and I LOVE all your ideas here in this post!!

  6. says

    Beautiful! I’m entering the pre-teen years with my older daughter and so want to build a loving, close relationship but we’re struggling a bit right now. Lots of butting heads! Very encouraging post… thank you!

  7. says

    I needed this encouragement today Sally. Thank you for continuing to take the time to write and help so many of us stay on track with our families. What a blessing you are. Much love to you and your family today and everyday. The thing I love about the most is that it reminds me to think of you and pray for you everyday now.

  8. says

    Thank you soooooooo much for sharing your wisdom, Sally. Thank you for making it practical, for giving such concrete examples that I can follow and implement. My children and I have a close relationship, but you’ve given me a new vision of how it can become so much stronger. Thank you again!!

  9. says

    This was so beautiful! Thank you for giving practical, insightful ways to tie those invisible threads tight with our children. Awesome article!

  10. says

    Dear Sally- as always I am so inspired and encouraged. Although my little one is only 7 months I am thinking and planning hard for family traditions in the future. Travel will certainly be one (my husband is from Turkey) and it excites me to think how much her life will be enriched by the opportunity to see different places. We are hoping that each time we go to Turkey we will stop in a different European country on the way back, and after reading this lovely post Austria is at the top of my list! Thank you for being such a gentle voice of encouragement. :)

  11. says

    I love reading your lists of traditions and affirming family doings, Sally. This is such a wonderful post- so rich! And as an aside, I was just in Durnstein a few weeks ago!!! It was beautiful. My husband and I have been to Austria for music programs over the years and can’t wait to take our children.

  12. says

    First, thanks for sharing so many lovely pictures and memories of your own family. I love to see how others do it who have gone before me.

    Yes, so much starts when they are born! This is one reason why I have such great appreciation for a husband like mine who lives with such intentionality and foresight.

  13. Cynthia says

    Sally, I wonder if you could speak encouragement/advice to those of us who already have older children (perhaps even grown) and for whatever reasons haven’t done these things before, and thus are not seeing the same good fruit such as seen in your children? Perhaps we didn’t know about them, or chose another way, or were unable to for some other reason (health/spouse/etc.). For one, since we have less time now to spend with them as they are older, what things would be a priority to do at this point to influence them to having a heart for God? Secondly, how do we deal with the guilt we might be carrying over not making better choices earlier, or, if we had wanted to do some of these things but were unable to, the disappointment of not being able to do them earlier? Also, do you ever plan on coming to the Midwest area to speak??? TX is so-o far from me! Hugs, Cynthia

  14. Lisa says

    This is a life changing post. I plan reread this often as a reminder of my motherly mission. Thank you so much for your wisdom.

  15. says


    Thank you for this post. I believe every word. I am both encouraged and sad at the same time as I read it. My children are young– 7 and 5. We homeschool. I realize that one of the more important things is to have the hearts of my sons right now. When it comes to my 7 year old that is no problem– I have his heart and our relationship grows and continues to develop. When it comes to my 5 year old– I work at this relationship and pray for it continually. I do not have his heart and for some reason it has been strained. It is better than it used to be. When it comes to my 7 year old it was easy to win his heart, but with my 5 year old he really wants me to earn his heart. I am not giving up and I know that I will have his heart because I know the Lord wants me to have his heart and one day the Lord will have his heart too just like the Lord also has my 7 year olds heart. I just keep reminding myself that God has some awesome plan for the 2 very different personalities of my children and he has created me to be their mom.

  16. Chris Clark says

    I am taking this to heart. My baby is only 18 months old & our next is due this fall. I so want to give them a rich, happy, loving, God focused and just joyful childhood. Do you speak more in depth about this in any of your books? I love to read about what other families do and keep bits and pieces for our own life. After reading this post I remembered a devotion book my Mom read to me sometimes as a child called Little Visits with God. I looked it up and got a copy to use at dinner time for a simple family devotion. My daughter doesn’t grasp it yet of course but I want to build the habit now to be built on later. And finally my husband frequently teases me because of my desire to do “special” things like always make a certain kind of cookies for Christmas or have a birthday placemat or any number of little things. BUT I sent him this post and he gets it a bit more now. So thank you!

  17. says

    Very much love this post. As a mom to two teen girls, I read this with interest! I agree…. it isn’t by accident that we can have loving relationships… I blog about my experience raising teens… the joy we find!

  18. Renee Peebles says

    Thanks so much for this post. I have always enjoyed reading your books and hearing your insights into motherhood. When I read this my eyes filled with tears. While we have had seasons like this. I’m afraid NOT enough. Our family has struggled with lots of anger over the years especially when my oldest was a teenager. I have had lots of guilt over those years but God has forgiven and has healed those wounds. We have gone to him and talked to him about how sorry we are. God is restoring the years that we allowed the locusts to eat away at that relationship. My husband has not been the spiritual leader in our home. Even when I’ve backed up and laid that area down so he would pick it up. I have prayed for years over this it has been my deepest pain as a wife. He is just now beginning to pick up that mantle. I have homeschooled my girls for 13 years our oldest graduated from our homeschool and my middle child went to public school this past year. She is not the same child. I feel like I am to blame! My heart is broken and I have just been praying, loving her and accepting her where she is right now. I know God is ABLE to cover all the gaps we leave. He is enough! Still, my mother’s heart is broken. Is it too late to begin now? God is working in our home and in our hearts but it has been hard to carry the mantle that my husband was intended to carry as head of the home. Please pray for me. I love my Jesus, my husband and my kids any advice or where to begin would be so appreciated. Thanks so much. God bless.


  1. [...] Keeping your child’s heart through the teen years, it starts when they’re born at I take…  I love Sally Clarkson; her blog, her books, hearing her speak (which I’ve only been able to do online so far but I’d love to hear her in person!).  This blog post is about creating a family culture and that is something my husband and I are working hard to do.  [...]

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