Denise Day Spencer

June 12, 2007

Intentional parenting–it’s no accident

Filed under: Home Front — denisedayspencer @ 6:54 pm

A short while back, Michael and I each wrote an essay on one aspect of parenting. While we’ve been far from perfect parents (just ask our kids!) we wanted to share a couple of things we think we did right.

If parenting is important to you, you’re probably always on the lookout for folks who are, for the most part anyway, getting it right. I’ve had my eye on a particular family for some time, and I finally asked Mrs. Karen DeCarlo to grant me an interview. She graciously shared an hour of her time and much down-to-earth wisdom.

Regular readers of this blog have met Dr. Anthony DeCarlo before. His wife, Karen, is business manager for their chiropractic practice. (Dr. DeCarlo says, “It’s really her business. I’m just the guy who works here.”) Be that as it may, Mrs. DeCarlo is happy to be able to work very part-time hours so that she can spend most of her time with their two daughters. Allie and Sarah are 13 and 12, respectively. While the DeCarlo family is, admittedly, just now on the brink of the sometimes-dreaded teenage years, I’ve found them to be successful so far, particularly in one area that Michael and I agree is vitally important: intentional parenting.

If you’re a parent now or hope to be someday, this is well worth a read. And at least one of her responses may surprise you.

DENISE: Do you think of parenting as one of your jobs, as something that you need to do intentionally?

KAREN: I don’t call it a job because it was a choice to be a parent, but we parent with intent. When I witness things that I don’t agree with outside my family, I think I intentionally say, “I’m going to do it differently.”

DENISE: When did that thinking start? Did you have some sort of wake-up call?

KAREN: I never really had a wake-up call. I just have very little tolerance for rotten behavior and rotten kids and disrespectful children.

I watched my sister parent a couple of years prior and I really liked her parenting. We’ve all learned to choose our words the best we can. Instead of being the “king parent,” if you choose your words carefully you still get what you want but the child feels like they’re doing it at their own will. That’s a good talent to have!

DENISE: Have there been other positive influences in your life?

KAREN: I did have a neighbor who had a son right in between my two daughters in age, and I guess I would have to believe boys probably are more difficult than girls. I don’t know if they’re given more leeway. But my neighbor had a little boy and she was a firm believer that he was going to be a well-behaved little boy. We always had the term “quick, concise, consistent” and he is a wonderful 12-year-old boy today. I had it easy, though. My girls are just good girls.

DENISE: What are examples of some of the kinds of values you try to instill in your children?

KAREN: I cannot stand any kind of bullying. You don’t want to be treated that way, so don’t treat others that way…I don’t want my kids to discriminate against other in any way. I hope they respect people.

I try to teach them to eat healthy. I always instill some kind of exercise–their choice. And up until just recently they really did have early bedtimes. When they were babies I could put them to bed at 6:30 for the night. My 6th-grader still had a 9:00 bedtime this past year. They need it.

We’ve talked to them about college since they were very young. They know they’re going. I’m not going to tell them where or what they have to study. Academics, we keep talking about it. You just have to.

I believe in tough love. I hate spoiled people. I’ve told my kids there will always be someone with more than you and there will always be someone with less than you–always. That’s just the way it’s going to be. We bought Sarah an iPod for Christmas. She lost it within a month. So the iPod she has now, she paid for. She has to learn the value of a dollar. She did have a phone. She lost it. She doesn’t beg anymore. She knows; she blew it, it’s gone. There are plenty of things she wants that she doesn’t have.

DENISE: How do you discipline?

KAREN: I’ve read that children are more comfortable with boundaries. They’re too young to make choices. We always knew we were going to parent and there would be boundaries. “You’re not the parent; we’re the parents.”

I never lock myself into a punishment; I just say, “You’ll have consequences.” So I don’t act out of anger and I don’t have to say, “You’re grounded for three years!” and then go back on it. I just say that there will be a consequence. I don’t say what it is, so they can’t say, “Well, is it worth it?” They also say never punish out of anger. So if I do get really angry, I say, “You are getting consequences” and then I can leave and come back to the situation. Even when they were younger I would say, “O.K. What do you think the consequences should be?” …I try to put them in charge of helping set their consequences. Then I can say, “It’s your choice.” If they say, “You did…” I can say, “No, YOU did.” Deliberate parenting? Yes.

(laughing) I do believe in bribes!–ice creams, milk shakes, things like that.

I also hardly ever raise my voice, and I think that’s important. If someone yells at me, it’s very upsetting to me. If I do raise my voice, the girls know they’ve crossed the line with me. And they don’t yell. I just don’t like that. Choose your words.

As much as I can give them, I try not to be a controlling parent. If it’s the color of paint on their wall, I don’t care. Let it be their decision. If it’s what they wear, within reason, let it be their decision…I only want to parent the big stuff. “Choose your battles”–I say that all the time.

I’m never afraid to apologize to my children if I’ve done something wrong. If I’ve made a wrong decision, I’ll go back and say, “I’ve made a mistake.” That’s human, and I think that goes a long way.

DENISE: What about protecting your children from negative or dangerous influences?

KAREN: They may not be at the age where they want to hear me any more, but I always make sure I at least get a quick sentence out….I tell them everything I hear [about drugs, etc.] I try to make them aware of what’s out there…Sometimes we watch TV together and I can use something in the show to get a point across.

As to computer stuff, our home is a ranch-style, all one floor, so I’m aware of what they’re doing. They don’t have a phone in their room, they don’t have a TV. And the computer is in the room we walk through all the time.

I think they both feel they can tell me or ask me anything, and I’ll give them an honest answer. My younger one will come home with a lot of questions or information and as long as I don’t blow up or freak out, I think she’ll continue.

I like them doing soccer. I think it helps them stay healthy, and I think the kids who don’t have something to be involved in after school are the kids who can really get in trouble. They both do soccer…and they both do band….I said, “I want you to do some kind of sport, and I do love it that you’re doing band.”

When my kids are home, I’m home. Sometimes during the day, maybe no. But the doors are locked, the house is closed, nobody’s going out, nobody’s coming in.

DENISE: At ages 12 and 13 they’re not finished yet, but what positive results of your parenting style are you already seeing?

KAREN: They have their moments, but most people say they’re good kids. They’re both straight-A students. Typically I get good feedback on them from adults. But I know I’m coming into the hardest part.

DENISE: I know your schedules are quite hectic. How do you and Dr. DeCarlo work together to parent the girls?

KAREN: I’m definitely with them both way more than he is. I feel very fortunate; I love it. Sometimes if I have a particular concern about Allie, I’ll go to him. With Sarah I mainly voice things he needs to be aware about for her. It’s really odd because Sarah’s so much like me and I understand her ways and Allie is so much like her daddy and he understands her ways. I don’t really understand Allie; I don’t “get” her. And she doesn’t “get” me.

DENISE: So each of you try to purposely do more of the parenting with the child who’s most like you?

KAREN: Yes. But then Sarah will say, “Daddy’s never with me,” so we try to do more of that. I think some people would probably say it’s not good to have that division, but I think Allie respects him, understands him and he can communicate with her in a way that she can say, “O.K. Oh, yeah, I see.” And I can do it better with Sarah.

DENISE: What about family time?

KAREN: What we’ve found the four of us can do together isn’t a whole lot, but we’ll go to the track together. We like to exercise. We don’t do a whole lot as a family. A lot of time we’ll catch lunch, especially in the summer. I’ll come up with the girls and the four of us will go out to eat. Or I’ll come up to work and he’ll take the girls to lunch. Sometimes he’ll work on an outdoor project at home and he’ll have them help him. The four of us is not very often. We are going to go on a trip in July. To be honest, family dinners for me growing up were no fun, so I don’t feel I need to repeat that. I think forcing them is not a good idea. Going to lunch, that’s great. I think we probably do family lunches and not dinners.

DENISE: Anything else you’d like to say in conclusion?

KAREN: I love, love, love being a parent. So far, so good.



  1. […] Denise continues blogging about successful parenting. Go by and check out this excellent interview with one parent who has lots of common sense wisdom younger parents can lea…. […]

    Pingback by » Blog Archive » At Denise Spencer’s Blog….”Intentional Parenting.” — June 12, 2007 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  2. This is wonderful and inspiring and sounds very much like the style of parenting we have for our two boys (8 and 10)… but our life is, and will be, different than… well… most people with whom we associate. And I’m beginning to realize that this difference could prove challenging in coming years.

    What do you do when your kids have less than 97% of their friends?
    What do you do when you MUST be a working mom, working dad, and you’re forced to trust strangers with your children more than you’d like?
    What do you do when God picks you up and drops you into situations where you don’t know if there’ll be hookers and dealers 3 blocks away? … perhaps even on the same streets your kids take to walk home from school?
    What do you do when you can’t afford/give time for soccer and band? (I made my kids choose one or the other… we don’t own a minivan.)

    In the spirit of things… shine on, you crazy diamonds. Your meme is right-on.

    In the reality of my life… Christian Parenting in lower middle class urban settings.. sucks poo.

    I need a book about
    — Parenting for Jesus on a Cement Yard (keep lots of band-aids on hand)
    — Living Christ’s Justice with the Pushers and your Progeny (teaching sex-ed and morals via bad examples)
    — Peaceful Parenting in the Urban Jungle (hippie peace church artists are your friends… when you avoid the hashish)

    It takes an Urban Village to Raise a Child?
    … maybe I’ll just write it in a few years. I’ll keep you posted.

    Comment by MrsQ — June 13, 2007 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  3. BTW – I mean no disrespect whatsoever to either Denise or Karen above. I earnestly appreciate everything written and sincerely agree with the theories behind the practice.

    My point is only to indicate that I struggle with how to raise my children, but cannot relate to the Soccer/Band-Mom who Stays at Home and has issues with cell phones and ipods. I know this world, I see it around me, but I cannot relate to it because it is not the world in which I live. But, that’s okay, ‘cause God is here, too. And, my kids are doin’ great, so I can’t complain. Truly, you don’t need money to have been blessed by God.

    And – I write this disclaimer because often times, when I point out that my life is different, people tend to think that I am criticising. I am not criticising. I’m merely stating that I am different.

    Peace Out,

    Comment by MrsQohelet — June 13, 2007 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  4. Good stuff! As the father of four grown daughters who are raising/have raised their children, I’m always looking for good parenting advice.

    One of the best over-all Christian child-rearing sites I’ve found is: .

    Worth a look.


    Comment by Dan Smith — June 13, 2007 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  5. […] Intentional parenting–it’s no accident A short while back, Michael and I each wrote an essay on one aspect of parenting. While we’ve been far from […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts « — June 13, 2007 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  6. Mrs. Q,

    Some thoughts from both Karen and Denise…

    Regarding finances, is there any chance you could move to an area that has more people like you? Then your children wouldn’t have 97% less then all of their friends. Could such an area be relatively safe for your kids?

    As to leaving your kids in the care of strangers, do the schools in your locale offer any kind of after-school care? Or people in your church who could help with child care?

    I know you must be worried sick about the possibility of hookers, dealers, etc. so nearby. I would be, too. But as long as you can keep them as safe as possible and use this situation to instill the right values, they can grow up with a kind of wisdom of the world that many Christian kids miss because they are so sheltered. You can use negative examples to teach positive choices, too. Maybe seeing how some of these people live can be used by you to encourage your kids to get an education and make something of themselves…as well as teaching them about the love of Christ for people just like this.

    Choosing one co-curricular over another because your time and transportation are limited? Well, that’s life. It’s O.K. for kids to learn early on that sometimes difficult choices must be made. Maybe they can try a sport one season and a fine art the next, until they see what kinds of things they like best.

    My best to you. And when you get that book written, let me know!

    Peace, Denise

    Comment by Denise — June 14, 2007 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks for sharing that! I love sharing wisdom from a parent to parent perspective. I’m saddened that in the Christian community encouragement for parents tends to run along the lines of recommending XYZ parenting guru and his or her book, class or website which promises perfect parenting for perfect children.

    What I’ve learned after raising three sons is that those books and classes promise far more than they can deliver. Candid individual parent to parent discussions have meant the most to me over the years. The parenting gurus don’t know anything more than the Mrs. deCarlos of the world, but leave one with mistaken impressions about the possibility of perfection. (Of course if there were a parenting method that could achieve moral perfection, then God could have just sent us a parenting method, instead of sending Jesus. ) So I love hearing from real parents what they find important in bringing up their children and how they met this or that challenge, or how their transformed, gospel-centered life as God’s children affects how they treat their children.

    Thank you for sharing the wisdom of your friend. I was really touched by her comments on treating her daughters as she would want to be treated–and how she blends that sensibility with parenting authority.

    Comment by Kathy — June 17, 2007 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

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