authentic & mindful {an interview with Dr. Barbara Sorrels}


In the past I’ve mentioned my friend Dr. Barbara Sorrels a few times. I can’t express how much insight and wisdom she has shared with my family over the last couple years as we’ve faced some hard things related to our youngest daughter’s story. Last fall, I attended a class she taught called “Parenting Kids From Hard Places”. The class was full of foster parents, adoptive parents and potential adoptive/foster parents.  She opened my eyes to so many things and gave me tools to help our family journey through difficult seasons.

One thing I love about Dr. Sorrels is that she tackles really hard and devastating issues kids face with hope and practical advice. I attended in hopes to help my youngest daughter through some tough stuff. I left each class re-evaluating how I parent all my kids. Dr. Sorrels is gentle and soft spoken – but full of passion and purpose when you get her talking about the development of children. I took a billion notes during her class.

She is helping Chris and I become better parents.  In fact just yesterday while dealing with some tough behaviors in one of our kids, Chris said, “I keep hearing Barbara’s words in my head.” I often feel the same way.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

I asked her if I could do a mini-interview with her on my blog. Just a couple questions related to parenting in general. I’m thankful she agreed.


I heard you once say that we need to be authentic parents, not perfect parents. And that kids may not listen well, but they mimic well. Can you expand on that?

In the heart of most parents is a genuine desire to parent well.  But in some circles, and certain churches, this desire often morphs into perfectionism.  When parents begin to compare their children, and their parenting skills, with others, it creates an unhealthy climate where people measure success through outward appearances.

Parenting becomes focused on sending children to the right schools, playing on the right sports leagues, taking all of the right lessons, or wearing the right clothes.  Children are pressured to be the biggest and best at everything they do as it is believed that their success or failure is somehow a reflection of the parent.

In any culture group, be it a church, a civic organization or a PTA, there often becomes a “right” way to parent which becomes the established norm.  This can put an enormous amount of pressure on both parents and children.  To pursue perfectionism is “spitting into the wind” because imperfect people will never be perfect parents.

But on the other hand, being an authentic parent is an attainable goal.  Authentic parents are aware of their own emotional wounds, and are on the journey of emotional and spiritual healing.  They aren’t constantly looking over their shoulder to see how they or their children stack up, but they live in a constant state of awareness of the individual needs of their kids.

They don’t have a pre-determined agenda for their children in terms of the child’s purpose, passions and abilities.  They recognize that their children ultimately belong to God and are put on this earth to accomplish His purposes.   Authentic parents are not afraid of being known by their children.  They aren’t afraid to admit when they are wrong, and are quick to repair the relationships with their children when they fail.  In fact, “ere and repair” is a way of life!

The primary way children learn is through imitation not through words.

One of the most common complaints of parents is, “My child just doesn’t listen to me.” Even under the best of circumstances, children can only process and remember a small portion of what we say.  When it comes to parenting, who we are speaks louder than what we say.  They are watching how we treat the clerk in the grocery store, how we react to the grouchy neighbor next door and how we respond to stressful situation.

I remember my daughter once saying to me, “I hate it when you are stressed because it makes me feel stressed.”  Her comment made me take a hard look at how I was handling the stress in my life.  We can’t expect our children to be what we are not.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

About a year ago, I listened to you share at a conference. One key point you made was that we can starve our children emotionally through preoccupation. Being preoccupied with jobs, technology, etc. You said you believe we are a nation in crisis when it comes to our kids. Will you explain this more?

In the work I do with teachers and child care providers I am often asked, “Why are children today so angry and out of control?”

There is an increasing number of children in classrooms around the country who display challenging behaviors, causing problems with learning and social relationships.  Parent participation in schools is at an all time low.  Churches struggle with recruitment of volunteers for children’s ministry.  Experts say the rate of secure attachment relationships in our country is at 40% and plummeting.  The evidence is all around us that children are emotionally starving.

The primary cause of emotional starvation is preoccupied parents.

In order for a parent to truly nurture a child, the adult must be able to “hold” the child in mind and be attuned and aware of the emotional state and needs of the child.  Daily living can sometime consume our mental and emotional energies to the point that parents are unable to truly “see” their children.  Some parents are preoccupied for legitimate reasons.  Financial stresses, health conditions and family issues can sap adult attention and energy.  For others it is a matter of priorities.  Climbing the ladder of success at any cost, pursuing a materialistic lifestyle, and an obsession with technology are just some of the things that can consume adult attention and energy.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset

With the above question in mind, can you help us with some practical ideas on how to avoid starving our children in this way when we live in a very technology driven world.

The key to avoiding emotional starvation is mindfulness.  Take time each day to truly “see” your child.  Is your child happy or sad?  Fearful or angry?   What questions do they have?  What might they need help with?

The other key piece is play.  Our children need to know that we take delight in them.  The primary way we do this is through play.  Follow the lead of the child and do something together that your child truly enjoys.  It may be playing catch outside, making paper dolls, or baking cookies.  Once again, it’s about priorities. We are all busy people.  It’s about being purposeful in our decision making as a parent in terms of how we spend our time and our energy.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset

Good stuff, huh. She challenges me in so many areas, but I also appreciate the grace with which she does it. We are all in different seasons of life. Different demands screaming for our attention. Different challenges. Different schedules. I’m thankful that wherever I am today and whatever mistakes I make, there is hopefully a tomorrow. I’m thankful my kids don’t want a perfect mom, they just want me. Not much compares to the love of a child and I long to love mine well.



About Dr. Barbara Sorrels

Dr. Barbara is the author of “Ready or Not – Here Comes School: Preparing Your Child from Newborn to School-age”

Dr. Sorrels holds a doctorate in Early Childhood Education from Oklahoma State University, a master’s degree in Christian Education from Southwestern Seminary, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland. She served for over five years on the faculty of Oklahoma State University teaching in the Early Child Education program.

“I help parents and teachers understand what makes kids tick by understanding basic principles of child development. I’ve seen that scientific research actually bears out truths of scripture.”

She is married to Bob Sorrels, and they have two daughters and one granddaughter.

back to top share on facebook tweet this post pin site image email a friend
  • Dawn - Thanks for this! It really encouraged me!

  • heather - I look forward to your daily posts and have been following you for quite some time now, but i tend to lurk in the shadows 🙂

    my husband and i make it a practice not to parent like our parents or like other parents, we know our kids better than anyone i guess 🙂

    i struggle almost daily with the connection with my 15 year old she’s a tough one….today i needed to see what you posted….i haven’t been “seeing” her lately….i think a mom/daughter date is overdue

    thanks for this
    i appreciate you

  • Tammy - I am going to print this out and put it in my planner as a daily reminder.

  • Shay Hope - Thank you for sharing this wisdom

  • N. Naylor - The definition of wisdom is knowing and doing right. I pray that I can know and do this excellent information – “right” as it applies to my children and grandchildren. Thanks HUGELY for sharing.

  • Carrie - This was such a blessing to read this morning! I have felt weary in my parenting as medical and financial stresses have consumed my husband and I. We struggle with a very difficult fourth pregnancy and forget how to be intentional with the other three. This was so wonderful to hear. I Am blessed by Barbra’s words. You sure asked some great questions!

  • Christin - This is so wonderful! Thank you both for taking the time to do this interview!

  • Molly - Great post! I like how you said you went to the class to get help with your youngest but you found that it works for all your children. this is is so true. what is good for one is usually good for all. I am a teacher and i just sat in a professional development yesterday. our focus with how to help our students with the most severe behavior issues. but as i sat there i found so much that i could apply to my own parenting. parenting is constant growth!

  • Misty - Ashley, thank you for sharing this! My husband and I are beginning our family through adoption and Dr. Sorrels will be a great resource for us I’m sure.

  • Jocelyn - Wonderful words! I can see why she has been such a help to your family. Thank you for this!

  • Jenny B. - Thank you for this. I just wrote on my blog that I felt like a bad parent yesterday. I needed that reminder that today is a new day and I get to try again. Dr. Barbara sounds like a wonderful resource.

  • Kimberly - Ashley, thank you for this. I needed to read these words this morning.

  • Monica - Thank you Ashley for sharing such a great information. This is a new day , so I will change some stuff that I am doing wrong. I know who are my priorities, but seems that with the busy life I keep forgetting them. But I will change that! Thanks again!!! 😉

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - OH this quote – “they live in a constant state of awareness of the individual needs of their kids” I love this. I love that all three of mine have such different personalities. I will write it on my heart to remember that the each have different needs.

  • Dawn - Thank you for highlighting the importance of parenting, first and foremost, with an awareness of our children and their needs. Dr. Sorells seems very insightful. Great post!

  • Sarah - You have no idea how timely this post was for me! Recently I had realized I needed some guidance with where my daughter was developmentally. But there are SO MANY resources/voices on this matter. I literally prayed yesterday that God would show me a good book/source on childhood development. And today I read this post…so cool. 🙂

  • Taylor - I’m not a parent yet myself, but I hope that when I am I can keep these words in mind because they do seem truly important. Beautiful.


  • Ashley - Thankfully, most of the experiences I have had with other parents are of a non-competitive, helpful nature. Of course, most of my friends are from church so maybe this is why….still great counsel to remember though.

  • laura - thank you for this post!

  • Ashley - see them. Such a simple concept but in such a fast paced busy life sometimes you have to stop and think. or at least I do. I can go through a day and wonder if I ever stopped and thought. I pray I don’t miss those cues that they give me. thank you for this.

  • Kara M - LOVE her! I am taking her class in February at Believer’s Church…SO EXCITED. I’ll never forget her saying “Fear takes us places God never meant for us to go!”

  • RaD - That was pretty awesome. It makes me think especially about the little boy who was sent to my office (I work at a school) today for the 3rd or 4th time in as many days. Are his parents distracted? Hmmm… probably.

    I know that I have my hang ups as well and have especially been trying to spend more time with the kids in things that interest them. My daughter especially likes me to play board games with her. Reading this confirms much of what I have been feeling lately.

    With that being said, I have a really off the wall question for you… Is that a picture of your feet along side your oldest son’s? If it is I know the feeling. My 11 year old’s feet have outgrown mine!

  • Carolyn Williams - REALLY good stuff! I started reading with my friend who is bringing home two daughters from Africa next week (!!!) in mind, but found so much for myself, also! I definitely struggle with the preoccupied stuff. Thanks for taking the time to interview her, and to share with us.

  • Cathy - Really really good stuff. No kids for us yet, but working with kids in church I always want to do the best I can. thank you for sharing this.

  • lauren - Thank you both so much for this. I read this twice today. I really am taking this to heart, as I have been struggling with getting frustrated with my toddler as he discovers his world (and destroys my house!). I have to remember he is a little sponge for my moods and demeanor. Ashley, you inspire me as a mother and a person every day.

  • Eva - Thank you so much for sharing this interview! Such a wealth of knowledge!

  • Jenni - I soo needed this today! I’m going to go look into her book. Thank you so much for posting!!

  • Liene - Love it!

  • Meghan from MNMS - This is such an encouraging thank you! What a blessing to have had this lady be able to speak into your lives. Authenticity is such a great way of describing that ability to be ‘real’ and role model Jesus grace and forgiveness to our kids when they mess up and when we do. I long to love my kids well too!

  • sarah - thank you for this! Preoccupied parenting is a trap I too often fall into and I need to be better!

  • erin - Oh my…this sentence–“We can’t expect our children to be what we are not”–just stopped me in my tracks. And I needed that. This post came at the perfect time for me. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Meg - I an guilty of being preoccupied and not prioritizing playing with my kiddos. Thank you for this reminder. I needed it.

  • Alice H - I struggle with showing them instead of just telling them. I want to be a more authentic mom. Thank you for this post.

  • Kyra - This post was a great reminder to make dates and play with our kids. I’m guilty of not playing what they want to play. So I made a date this afternoon to make Rainbow bracelets with my 9 year old. She is thrilled!

  • Paige - Oh, how I needed this post today! What a great interview. The comparison trap is a sure way for me to feel ineffective and not up to “par.” A recent decision to pull my boys from a church activity to use the time to spend at home just being “us” has left me wondering if it was the right decision. While doing the activity, it was brought to my attention that my boys weren’t wearing “church” clothes and an attempt by the teacher to tuck in their shirts left me overly sensitive and prickly. I know it wasn’t meant to hurt feelings, but clothing is just not something we spend a lot of time on in a house full of sword fights and ninjas. Besides that, how can I get to know my boys and introduce them to Jesus if the only time we see them is in the car? Even good things may need to take a backseat in our lives at the moment. We are in dire need of some margin. School and work are not things we can cut back on at the moment, so outside activities will need to be. Anything we can do together will be pushed to the front and anything done separately will be chosen very carefully and not with long time commitment. Thanks, Ashley for sharing. Your blog continues to encourage me to be the Mom God wants ME to be. The one He deliberately chose for my boys.

  • Tara - Love this! Thank you!

  • Leanne - Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for this interview, I think it is very timely in my life. I am currently reading Brene Brown’s – The Gift of Imperfection and the messages are so very similar.

    Thank you


  • shauna - Thank you Ashley
    This was lovely to read.
    I’ve been reading a lot lately about mindfulness.
    this has been a helper.
    Thank you again.

  • Katie - Thanks for this content- great stuff; needed to hear this.:)

  • Emily B - I love this! I remember Dr. Barbara Sorrels from OSU! I was an elementary education major and am an early childhood teacher in Tulsa. Love this interview and see/hear these issues very often-such important things to remember! Thank you for taking the time to interview Dr. Barabara and sharing with others.

  • Shelly Cunningham - Thank you so much for sharing this. It was beautiful. I love this: “We can’t expect our children to be what we are not.” So true.

  • elizabeth H - Ashley, this post is so dear to my heart! Fueling our children’s hearts & capturing our moments are ever on the forefront of my heart ~ this post is beautifully encouraging!!

  • Mina - Hi!
    I’m looking into buying a camera. Don’t know exactly which to buy but came across you blog & love your photos, every capture has a story. I like that in a photo. If you don’t mind me asking what camera do you use?

    Mostly will be use in everything, basic like you. Family & hobbies, nature, memories. 🙂

    Hope I’m not bothering you too much.

  • Ruth Ann Brase - Absolutely love your site. It is quite life-giving and a joy to go into.

    Just wondering what the name of your cursive script font is. I am in charge
    of hospitality for 100 women every Tuesday and do a overflow pass out that
    I print just for our group.

    I would appreciate if you could share but if not. Blessings. Ruth Ann

  • Lisa - Thank you so much for this post. The content she shared was incredible but I think the most helpful sentence was yours: “She opened my eyes to so many things and gave me tools to help our family journey through difficult seasons.” We are getting so close to traveling to China to bring our boy home and at times the anticipation of the rough spots and how we’ll all cope can overwhelm. This post gave me hope and reminded me that I’ll do just what you did: I’ll find the resources we need to help us through it. Good perspective for this mama! Thank you.

  • Katrina - Thanks Ashley! Just what I needed to read today. I get so stressed out when the kids don’t do what I say and I’m still repeating myself on simple things that should be a habit by now. I am starting to realize that they have ‘been taught’ now its up to them when they learn to do it on their own. My older kids are becoming teenagers and I need to shift my parenting focus from one of instruction and training (they have had plenty of this!)to a listening ear, a wise counselor and build a solid relationship with each of them.

  • Shawna Conway - Ashley – thank you so much for this post! I catch up on your blog in spare moments, and I always feel oddly comforted. This post was spot on for me. The past 15 months of pain has made me feel like the world’s worst parent. This quote rescued me: “Some parents are preoccupied for legitimate reasons. Financial stresses, health conditions and family issues can sap adult attention and energy.” I intentionally try to get cuddle time with my Pato each day, but it breaks my heart when he comes into the bedroom and asks “all better, Mommy?” Thank you for giving me an action plan from Dr. Sorrels that I can incorporate into my days. I miss getting to catch up with Chris at CG meetings and T4T, but it’s nice to see you are doing well and settling into the transition! Keep the posts coming (especially from Dr. Sorrels!!).

  • Lacey Meyers - Thank you so much for this… it spoke right to my heart and was exactly what I needed to hear. 🙂

  • Happenings - ALL most NATURAL - […] Advice for parents. […]

  • Authentic & Mindful | J. Rose Photography - […] parenting, I found it refreshing and would like to remember it. If you’re interested, go.. read it for […]

  • Holding People in Mind | Pilgrim Sandals - […] In an interview I read a while back, this quote from Dr. Barbara Sorrels intrigued me: […]