Intentional Parenting: Establishing Boundaries, a Family Culture, and a Growth Mindset with guest Monica Swanson

About this Episode

Do you struggle to find the balance between setting boundaries and giving freedoms to your kids? Do you worry that your teens are unprepared to leave the nest? Are you concerned you’re spending more time raising your voice than connecting with your toddler? Monica Swanson, author of Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You and Raising Amazing: Bring Up Kids Who Love God, Like Their Family, and Do the Dishes Without Being Asked shares her wisdom, stories, and suggestions on this episode of the Brainy Moms podcast. Although Monica has raised four boys, these valuable insights—on everything from modeling integrity to allowing your kids to fail—can be applied to any family with children or teens. 

Join Dr. Amy and Sandy as we tackle some common parenting challenges and techniques to either prevent them or approach them from a growth mindset for both parent and child. 

About Monica Swanson

Monica Swanson and her husband, Dr. Dave Swanson, raise boys and tropical fruit on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. Monica’s background is in sports medicine but she has spent most of her life raising and homeschooling boys and sharing her wisdom and passing through her blog, her book, “Boy Mom; What Your Son Needs Most from You,” and through her Boy Mom Podcast. Monica’s next book, “Raising Amazing: Bringing Up Kids Who Love God, Like Their Family, and Do the Dishes Without Being Asked” came out in February 2023. Monica has one college graduate, one son in college, one son who is a professional surfer, and a 12-year-old keeping her humble at home.

Connect with Monica






The Monica Swanson Podcast:

“Boy Mom” (book):

“Raising Amazing” (book):

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms, brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Dr. Amy Moore, coming to you from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I am joined by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis, coming to us from across the country in Stanton, Virginia. Sandy and I are excited to welcome our guest today, Monica Swanson. Monica is an author, podcaster, and homeschooling mom. She and her husband, Dr. Dave Swanson, raised boys and tropical fruit on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii. Monica’s background is in sports medicine, but she spent most of her life raising and homeschooling her kids and sharing her wisdom and passion through her blog, her book, “Boy Mom,” her Boy Mom Podcast, and her new book, “Raising Amazing; Bringing Up Kids Who Love God, Like Their Family, and Do the Dishes Without Being Asked.” Welcome Monica.

Monica Swanson: Thank you. It’s so good to be here.

Sandy Zamalis: Hi Monica. Before we dive in, tell our listeners a little bit about your career path. What led you to start writing, blogging, and podcasting about raising kids, especially boys.

Monica Swanson: Yes, great question. I think I’m more surprised than anybody what I’m doing right now, this season of my life. Like you said in my bio, my background is sports medicine, but if I am honest, looking back, I certainly have always loved to write. I’ve loved to communicate back in my sports medicine, training, or when I was in college. Psychology was probably my favorite. I loved just learning about how we work as people, how our brains work, and just all the interesting aspects of that. And so, I just kind of was really focused mostly on raising my kids, on my family. I was teaching some fitness and doing some personal training on the side, but it was after my fourth son was born right after I turned 40, I just started to think about writing again. And so, I got on this blog train that a lot of people were doing back then and just thought, “You know, I’m gonna give this a shot.” And from my first few posts, I was hooked. I just love the opportunity to get thoughts and feelings and experiences on a computer and make it short and sweet and share it with the world and just see what happens. And that was going on 12 years ago and it just took some time. I mean, I was really committed from the beginning. I’m not sure what got into me, but I was one of those people that started blogging three to five times a week every week for years before about three and a half years into it, I had that first viral blog post and that was really related to raising teenage boys and kind of found my niche there, realized how many moms out there are looking for hope and encouragement and just kind of good news in this world of raising kids. And I loved communicating with these moms. I loved hearing from them and sharing the good news that so far for us, it was really going well. And so that kind of sent me down that lane of more parenting posts and just really communicating with moms all over the world through this wonderful, though sometimes overwhelming thing of the internet.

Dr. Amy Moore: Very cool. So, listeners, we’re gonna talk about raising girls too. So if you’re not just a boy mom, stay tuned, because we’re talking about parenting things in general today. But I’m a boy mom too. I have three boys. And so I really love the quote from your “Boy Mom” book that says, “Let’s keep pressing on to show our sons perfect examples of imperfect moms who won’t give up.” Talk to us about that statement and why that’s so important.

Monica Swanson: Yes. Well, again, as a blogger, I’ve just heard from so many moms over time. It’s clear that none of us are perfect. I’ve known that from the beginning. But I think so many moms do tend to beat themselves up to get overwhelmed, and sometimes that can lead to almost, I don’t wanna say giving up, but sometimes feeling that hopelessness that, you know what, I don’t have what it takes, and so I’m gonna just trust that they’re gonna get what they need from somebody else. And I just say, don’t believe that. Don’t go down that path. Continue to do your best. Keep showing up, keep communicating with those kids, keep loving them, keep disciplining them, keep setting the boundaries. They do need you and none of us are gonna get it perfect. So I think that just that heart of persevering in motherhood and trusting the process, that one day we will look back and see that all those little things really did matter.

Sandy Zamalis: So you mentioned, you know, having a blog post go viral. Well, one of them was “What a teenage boy needs most from his mom.” It reached nearly 2 million readers in just over a week. How cool is that? I’m sure that was overwhelming and that’s probably a topic for another day. But you talked about the importance of both boundaries and freedom and how those work together. Can you tell us more about that?

Monica Swanson: Yes. I love this topic so much and you know, I am a big believer in the fact that kids need boundaries. I think sometimes parents are so eager to be their kid’s friend, to make sure their kids like them and they want their kids to keep talking to them, and they wanna keep in relationship, but sometimes they go about it by thinking that they can’t say no, that they can’t set boundaries. And so, I just really encourage parents to recognize that kids want deep down, even though they’re not gonna tell you, they do want boundaries. They feel most secure in their toddler years all the way through their teenage years. They don’t know what they’re doing. They, as you all know better than I do, their brains aren’t fully developed. They don’t feel confident that they know right from wrong. But if they have parents who do, if they have parents who say, this is absolutely okay, and this is absolutely not okay, that brings them a sense of security. And now that my oldest sons are 23 and 21 years old, they look back and tell me, I am so glad back—remember when I threw that fit? Because you didn’t let me hang out with those certain kids at that certain time. I am so glad you said no. And even in the moment, mom, I might have argued with you, but I felt secure. And so that has helped me. Now that I, my youngest is just 12, to continue to set boundaries. But I will say along with boundaries, we must give our kids freedoms. And here in Hawaii where we live, how we live, a lot of the freedoms we give our kids, we really encourage our kids to have freedoms physically to go out and spread their wings and challenge themselves by doing. You know, physical challenges to do hard things. Freedom isn’t always in the way of, “Oh, go ahead and do what you want. You don’t have to check in. You don’t need a curfew.” I’m talking about freedoms to grow up and to challenge themselves with difficult things, whether that’s a challenging task they take on. You know, working on cars, doing something physical, reading a tough book when they’re little, giving them a tough Lego set and letting them figure it out on their own. Sometimes, yes, that means giving them an opportunity to be away from you and make choices and sometimes make mistakes. But often for us, those freedoms look like surfing big waves, diving in the ocean, climbing a mountain, and just giving them the freedoms that a lot of moms tend to want it helicopter and wanna protect and want to make sure their kids never skin their knees don’t get hurt. I’m like, “No, give them all that, but then protect their heart, protect their mind.” We gotta make the right choices about boundaries and freedom.

Dr. Amy Moore: I love that. So speaking of helicoptering, you talk about the difference between being an intentional parent and being a helicopter or overprotective parent. Talk a little bit about that.

Monica Swanson: Certainly, yes, and I think this does get blurred sometimes because so many moms don’t want to be that helicopter parent. And I think what that is really control, trying to control outcomes. I think of the helicopter mom as being the mom that wants to protect her child from consequences. You know, say they don’t finish their school assignment, so Mom rescues them by helping them do it last minute. They continue to leave their lunch at home, so mom always runs it to school for them or doing the things that jump in and hover over them, making sure that they don’t experience the pain of consequences. And I’m all about intentional parenting, which is sometimes choosing those consequences, trying to allow consequences to do the teaching. But now being intentional about where you are setting boundaries and again, where you’re offering freedoms and sometimes kids aren’t comfortable yet with freedoms, but you gotta give ’em that nudge. You gotta encourage them to get out and try something new and be a little uncomfortable because we know that that’s where growth happens. And sometimes it takes a while for kids to get that on their own. So that’s our job, is to look at them and be intentional and help strategize. And every kid’s gonna be different. So you’re gonna look at one of your kids, they’re gonna be ready sooner than another, and that’s what parenting is about. And there’s really no hack, no shortcut for that. It’s about knowing your child, which takes time, which means we need to commit some time to them and then really clear our schedule enough to get to know our kids and know what they need the most.

Sandy Zamalis: On the flip side of that coin, what do you think the biggest detriment of helicopter parenting is?

Monica Swanson: Certainly it, I think it is just being unprepared for the real world and in both “Boy Mom” and in my upcoming book, “Raising Amazing,” I talk about just the concern so many experts. I’m sure this is a topic that has probably come up on this podcast before, but so many experts are saying that kids are going away to college or to the workplace, and they have never really experienced true consequences, true adversity. So often parents have just cushioned them, you know, help them with every step of the process of preparing for college or preparing for life and really doing the paperwork for them being so near to them that they’ve never had to figure it out on their own, and then they go away and they completely fail. They stress out, they have, you know, we already know what epidemic that anxiety is in our kids today, but especially for those who haven’t had to face hard things. So I’m all about give them the hard things while they’re in our home, while they’re in a safe place where if they do fall down, they’re in a safe place to get back up again. Because my two boys have crossed the ocean, gone to college, been on their own, and I’m thankful that they have faced some hard things, but that they’ve been prepared for it and they haven’t—they haven’t fallen down in a way that they can’t get back up. They know what to do when they’re challenged, and that’s because they built resilience while they were here in the home.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, I was just getting ready to say that—that in counseling we have to give kids and teens evidence that they can do hard things.

Monica Swanson: Yes. Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: And so that then they can attack the next hard thing, right? And it reduces the anxiety that they’re feeling about trying something new when they have this evidence, “Hey, I can do hard stuff. I’ve shown it already.”

Monica Swanson: Yes. Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.

Sandy Zamalis: In your new book, you say, “If you haven’t put thought into your family culture, you’ve created one by default.” What do you mean by that and why is it important?

Monica Swanson: Yes. I had so much fun in that chapter because it was something different that I hadn’t written about before. So much of my books there’s some overlap. I mean, obviously my heart for parenting is throughout them, but like you mentioned earlier, my first book was called “Boy Mom.” My next book is “Raising Amazing” and so that’s for parents, both moms and dads of boys and girls. But that chapter was something new that I was really just focusing on this thing in our world right now. I mean, everybody’s talking about branding, right? Everybody, businesses, marketing, it’s all about your brand, your culture, your work culture, and I just realized that parents, families have a culture all their own. And it’s fun when you talk to people and you ask certain questions, you’re gonna get different answers across the board from family to family, and we are always creating a culture. We’re creating our own family brand, whether we realize it or not. And so we might as well be intentional about it. And so often we see kids hitting those teenage years and they’re starting to want to connect more with their peers. They’re, you know, starting to hang out outside the home more. And that’s to some extent totally normal and healthy. But I say if they have a family culture that they’ve been a part of creating, if they love what’s going on in the home, they’re gonna be more likely to come back, to bring their friends to your house. And so get intentional about your family culture. You don’t have to create a mission statement. That’s one of the things I suggest in there. But even talking to the kids, you know, grabbing a whiteboard some evening when you’re all home and saying, “Let’s talk about our family culture.” What are some of the things you think of when you think of the Swansons or whatever your name is? What are some things that stand out to you that really represent who we are? And I feel like kids are gonna just buy into just that branding of who you are as a family. They’re gonna wanna be a part of it if they have some input into it. And for us, it’s just been a really fun growth process. Even as my 12-year-old, he’s our first golfer, so everyone’s surfers in our family and now he’s brought golf into the family and it’s kind of fun that he knows he’s helped develop this culture that we’re all a part of. And I think it just bonds our family that much closer.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sandy and I are on top of each other today. We love it. We’re just so excited. Go ahead, Sandy.

Sandy Zamalis: Well, I was just asking, so is it like broad things that you, like if you’re writing on a whiteboard, is it like, you know, we are kind, we are adventurous.

Monica Swanson: Yeah. Those kinds of things. Yeah. Well, anything goes, and I think that’s what’s fun about it. And so often, you know, kids are gonna push back if you do anything like this, like, “Okay, let’s sit down and get out the whiteboard.” There’s gonna be some eyerolling. There’s gonna be some pushback. But really, once you get started and you start putting some things up, it can get as broad or specific as your family likes. And so, you know, for us it was things like, “We like to go to church together. We love to go on family hikes with the dog. We like to get together and make homemade pizza.” You know, specific things as well as broad things. We love music as a family. We love a lot of kinds of music and so once you start listing it, you find it gets more detailed as you go. And then it’s just kind of a sweet thing to reflect on as the family. And now that my boys are gone in college and we have the family, my family, text messaging. It’s fun to see the things that bounce back and forth and those are things that started, you know, back in the living room as they were growing up and they’re still there. So that’s pretty sweet.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, I was thinking that’s a great way to kind of, use it as a barometer by which to judge different actions and behaviors and decisions, right? Like to be able to say, you know, the, this is what our family values. And so, if you’re making a choice, is that consistent with the values that we as a family decided together? And I would think that would help weigh into those decisions.

Monica Swanson: Yes, for sure. In fact that’s part of the reason I encourage a family mission statement because it really does help the family then have something to filter choices through. You know, it’s a lot easier to return to something you’ve all agreed on or developed together and say, “Well, you know, you wanna do this with our summer vacation. Does that fit with our values?” Like we all decided we wanted to do something that included adventure or service. Like do we really need to go to Disneyland when maybe we could do a family mission trip? Or you know, kinda look at those things that you claim you value. Let’s walk our talk now and let’s see how we can live as a family into those values we’ve agreed on.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, it makes me think, so if your, if your family value is love God and love others, for example, and then your children are having a conflict with a friend or a classmate, and they come to you for advice, “What should I do? How should I respond? Should I not be friends with this person? Should I confront them? You can immediately then go back to, “Well, hey, our number one value is love God and love others. If you say this to your friend, is that consistent with that, right?”

Monica Swanson: Yes. One hundred percent. Exactly. I mean, “I wanna get a cell phone.” You know? Well, let’s look at our values. These are the things—it’s so much easier to have something in writing, something objective that you’ve all agreed on that you can, I don’t wanna say blame, but use that as the filter. Absolutely. You got that right.

Dr. Amy Moore: So you talk in your book about being a yes-loving mom, and I am a yes-loving mom. And so you talk about how, you know, your husband kind of balanced you with that. And that is the same way in my family too. But you do say that there are good things about saying no. Talk to us a little bit about what’s good about saying no.

Monica Swanson: Yes. Well, I guess I already mentioned just that security that it brings and again, just how much we don’t realize that kids do crave that actual boundary in front of them. And I think this happens at all ages. Just even my 23-year-old will just reach out just for advice on something. And I can tell sometimes he knows what’s right, but he just wants to hear Mom say it. So I think we all need, no. I mean, I know I do and sometimes I don’t want it in the moment, but this started when my kids were toddlers and I had some mentors that I watched, I observed. I tell a story in “Boy Mom,” about one of my friends, her son, her kids were playing and one of her children came over to her and said, “Oh, so-and-so wants to know if I can spend the night.” And the mom was like, “Oh, no, Johnson’s don’t do sleepovers.” And then the child was like, “Okay, mommy.” And just walked away. And I was, “That was so easy!” You would think you’d be like, “What? I want to!” And she’s like, “Oh no. He’s terrified of sleepovers. But he comes to me to ask and it’s just kind of our system. We just have a family rule that we don’t. Now there’s exceptions to the rule, but in general, I just say no, and it makes him feel so much more secure. But now he can kind of just blame me and go tell his friend.” And I was like, “Oh, that is so interesting.” So I kind of adopted that both in the sleepover area and in other things where it was just easier to have kind of family rules that we abide by and realizing that kids felt more secure when Mom and Dad could just say no and not waiver. It’s that thing when they— they have a tendency to wear us down, right? And my 12-year-old is really good at that right now. But if I can be firm and say, “I’ve said no for a reason. I love you. I care about you. I’m not gonna get it right all the time, but I am gonna stand on my no.” And I think that makes him feel more.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, I think you have an example in your book where a family had Friday nights designated as their movie night. And so when one of their kids comes and says, “Hey, can I watch a movie?” and it’s on Tuesday, all the dad or mom have to say is, “Is it Friday?”

Monica Swanson: Absolutely. I love that. That’s Justin Whitmel Earley, who is an author and a friend, and I just love how they do that. It just makes everything so objective and I really have tried to work on that in our home, because, especially with technology, especially with all the screens, if you have some objective rules set in place, then you’re not the bad guy and you can just, “Is it Friday?” If it’s not, then “No. No movie tonight.” Simplifies everything.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. I kind of wish that I had that tip a decade ago.

Sandy Zamalis: Monica, how often do you find that you need to change, you know, have another family conversation where you’re taking into account new interests and growth and maturity and those kinds of things?

Monica Swanson: Mmm. Good question. I think it varies by the season. I think that, you know, we’re down to just two kids in the house, which feels really quiet to me and, and one of them is an adult. My 18-year-old graduated from high school and he is a professional surfer and doing some college online. But I think that when everyone is home together, there’s a lot more conversations. I feel like we face some new things because they’re all growing up and becoming their own people, which is both exciting and a little scary for parents, I think. But yeah, I think, I think that in different seasons it feels like a lot of change. In other seasons we’re just kind of rolling along. So I think that that depends.

Sandy Zamalis: Yeah. Have you had one that has stayed the course since you started this process?

Monica Swanson: In in which way? What?

Sandy Zamalis: Like when you, when in your culture, in your, you know, your statement of your family is, there’s been a thread that has stayed the same throughout the years?

Yeah. I think that, there’s actually kind of, I think my husband helps set the tone. He’s a really grounded, wise person and I mean, faith has certainly been the foundation for our family from the beginning, and I love that because now that I do have a 23- and a 21-year-old, when they are home. It never fails that around the dinner table, somebody’s gonna bring up something they’ve read in the Bible or, or a recent podcast or a sermon. The whole family’s gonna get into a good talk about theology. And so that would probably be our theme that runs through the family the most. And then along with that, just character. That’s something I’ve written a lot about. And I have an online character training course, and I just think that true character grows out of the heart. It’s not the actions we do, but it’s something that really grows out of a heart. And so, I think that goes along with faith really well. But those are areas that we value as a family and we always return to and always seem to have conversations about, and it’s really special to me. Now looking back, I really encourage those younger parents, like, do the work now because the reward is out there. Sometimes it takes a long time, but I just love those family moments now where we can look back and know that we put a lot into this. This didn’t just happen by chance. There was some intentionality. Tons of grace. Yes, you know, we’ve been super blessed, but we’ve worked hard and it’s so rewarding to enjoy family time now that they’re all getting older.

Dr. Amy Moore: So you say that we should talk about everything with our kids. Can you highlight some of those everything? Oh, and explain kind of what you mean by that.

Monica Swanson: Wow. Yes. Well, goodness, since I started even working on the book, it’s like everything is becoming broader and broader. I mean, there’s a whole lot to talk about, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if we don’t talk about things, if we don’t pass on our values, our faith to our kids, the world, the culture out there is very happy to do it for us. And so I had a friend that used to say, “Talk about things before they’re things.” And my kids were young then and now. Perfect sense to me because I have a 12-year-old who I’m like, there’s some things we need to be talking about before he faces them somewhere else. And in my chapter in “Raising Amazing,” I use the example of setting tracks and, you know, last winter we took our kids on our first family snowboarding trip and just how it feels to get it to the top of that chairlift on a freshly fallen, snowy day and to make those first tracks. And in the same way our kids are likely to remember and continue down a path—the very first one that’s set for them. So if you, you know, when we think about sexuality, whatever they learn first isn’t necessarily gonna be what they stick with for a lifetime, but that’s gonna set those first tracks for how they see things, their worldview, their understanding, the lens they look through. So parents, we want to be the ones to set the first tracks for their sexuality. What we want them to understand about it, what in our family, what God’s word says about it. We wanna set the first tracks for their sexuality. We wanna set their first tracks for how they see the world, how they view other people. The way they love, the way they communicate. When parents set those first tracks, kids are a lot more likely to stay in those tracks. And then when they hear something else, they can bring it back to you and you can have conversations and you can help them sort through what is truth, what is not, how to respond. And so, yeah, I love, I love the idea of talking to kids about things, and sometimes it’s really uncomfortable. I’ve confessed that sometimes I’m faking, like I’m much more relaxed than I am. And in every family there’s a parent usually who’s more comfortable than the other. My husband’s a doctor, he’s a man, and yet I’m the one that usually brings up those sticky subjects just because I’m the talker. And then he’ll join in where he needs to. But I say don’t hold back. Don’t wait for your husband. Don’t wait for somebody. Just open it up, go there and once it’s out there, kids are more likely to come back to you and want to talk more about it later.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. We, we kind of laugh about it in our house, but it’s not funny that we kind of had this diffusion of responsibility over the sexuality talk. With our oldest because I said, “Hey, you’re the guy” to my husband, “so you need to have that talk.” Cause he’s a boy. I just assumed my husband would take care of it. And so six, seven years later I find out, nope, my husband never had the talk and I never followed up. Right? So where did my oldest son learn about sexuality? From his friends. From the culture. We just got lucky. Yeah. But, yeah, so don’t do that. Don’t do that.

Monica Swanson: And I think the topics that we used to need to bring up, you know, at 12, we now need to bring up at seven. Like there’s topics, you know, at an age-appropriate way, but sooner and sooner. Especially if they’re out in the world, if they’re out mixing it up with friends that whose parents you don’t know, who might have a different background, we gotta talk about things.

Sandy Zamalis: You have a whole list of things that we should be modeling and talking about, and one of them is money, which is fascinating to me. So what are your thoughts on that?

Monica Swanson: Oh goodness. Well, I also confessed that this is an area that I don’t think we were on top of. We were a little bit, just, again, similar to the sexuality topic, just hoping would happen naturally. They would figure it out. We never—and it’s just not our specialty. We’re not just big, it’s—my husband’s a doctor. Doctors are famous for not being great business people, and it’s just not an area that was on our mind. And so when my oldest was, you know, graduating from high school, we were realizing that this is an area we haven’t talked a lot about. So thankfully we found some good resources. We found him some good books. We’ve got a few friends who are just super great in the area of finance, and so we kind of jumped in a little late, but started that conversation. And now my oldest son is like, he loves the stock market. He studies and he’s a—he’s a number guy. Anyways, he was a data analytics major in college. But all that to say, I think that we do maybe—we assume that the schools are gonna teach it. Maybe we assume they’re gonna figure it out, but oh my goodness, if it’s true that, you know, money is one of the top reasons people at least blame getting divorced. So many issues in life really come down to money, money management, had choices with money. We must teach our kids, at least the very basic principles of money management, of avoiding debt. I mean, they go to college, they’re offered credit cards left and right. So I think those are some of the things that, before they leave the home, we should at least have some of those foundational principles covered and offer kids resources, point them in the right direct.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. So, I’m gonna be super vulnerable here and divulge something. My parents didn’t have the money conversation with me. They just didn’t, it was secretive, right? We didn’t discuss money. We didn’t discuss salaries. And so when I got to college, they had pre-approved credit card applications in the classrooms, which really makes it look like the college is endorsing this, right? So what do I do? I apply. Get my pre-approved credit card. I don’t have a job. How do you pay your credit card bill? Without a job. You don’t. Right. So, and I had gone to college at 16 anyway. I ruined my credit. Ruined my credit, right? That they gave, by the time I got the credit card, I had turned 17. At 17 and then spent eight years digging myself out of that hole. Right? So when I read that in your book about the importance of having the money conversation with your children, that is an example of why you need to have a money conversation.

Monica Swanson: Amen and amen. Yes. Thank you for sharing that. And I think it’s happening more now than ever before. And especially, you know, kids wanna go to college that they can’t afford, and so they’re taking out these college loans and sometimes that’s the right choice. But for us, we were just, we had have seen and known too many people that ended up spending a lifetime paying off a college loan that didn’t even necessarily prepare them for the job that they ended up getting. And so we just wanted to be really intentional and strategic about college choices. And so that was a big conversation. And I made the mistake when my son was like a sophomore in high school, taking him on this college tour where I brought him to all these fancy private Christian colleges in Southern California, and then all of a sudden I was like, “What have I done? We can’t afford any of these.” And so I had to sit down with my son and just be like, “Buddy, I don’t know why I started that, and I’m so sorry, but maybe community college is a better way to start. Like let’s, let’s really be wise about this.” And my favorite quote from that son, I’ve got a number of favorite quotes, was when we were walking along a college campus once, and he could just sense mom’s rising anxiety. He turned to me and he’s like, “Mom, can we just not make such a big deal about the college decision? He’s like, no matter where I go, I’m gonna get an education. I’m gonna find friends, I’ll find community, it’s gonna be okay.” And I was like, “Really? Like, thank you for taking that weight off my shoulders, you wise, young man.” Now, fortunately, both of those two ended up with college scholarships to one of their dream colleges, so that worked out. But we were very prepared and very okay with the idea if that didn’t happen, if doing something else and it would all work out. It always does.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sure. And but that’s a prime example of where it’s okay to say no. Right? Like, because there are so many alternatives. And because we wanna protect our children from a lifetime of debt. Right? That in those scenarios we can say, “Hey, this is not within reach. And so let’s look at what is.”

Monica Swanson: Yes, exactly. Mm-hmm. 

Dr. Amy Moore: And why. Like, this is why this is not a good financial choice. So another one of the things that you say we should influence or model is integrity. You share a Walmart story, could you tell us that?

Monica Swanson: Oh, yes. The Walmart story was just the, you know, Walmart’s not my favorite place. It’s about my least favorite place to go, but here in Hawaii, we don’t have a lot of options and it’s closer than Target. In fact, back then, I don’t think we had a Target. So, I just have a memory of, of bringing all the kids to Walmart for whatever I needed. And, you know, schlepping and the baby and the car seat and all the different things. And when we got to the car, everyone loaded back up, strapped in. And then one of my sons, I look in the rearview mirror and he’s like holding up a pack of gum with a little mischievous smile on his face. And I just thought, he knows. He took that and didn’t pay for it. And he knows I haven’t left the parking lot and he has a conscience. And so in that moment, of course, I justified how much money I just. Walmart will never miss that pack of gum. Really like I just can’t even do this. But I also knew in that moment that if I drove away and he knew that, I knew that we hadn’t paid for it, I was setting an example. And so, goodness, one of the toughest parts of parenting is modeling. I mean, there is, there is no doubt our kids are gonna be, are more likely to become like us than, than what we tell them to do. They are modeling after us, even when we don’t know it. Even when they don’t know it. They are tucking little things away and they’re subconscious and uh, and so modeling is huge. Integrity is just making good choices even when it’s hard. And the good news is, I always say this is just really calling us up to be the people we want to be anyway, right? If we’re living the kind of life we hope our kids will live, it’s just helping us to become better people.There’s nothing wrong with that. So integrity’s tough for parents and kids.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. It reminded me as I read it. So I had taken my youngest when he was three to Target and we went into the optical shop so that I could just look at the frames. And I had tried on a bunch of different frames and anyway, we left, got all the way home. I put my keys in my purse and I see this red pair of frames in my purse. So I look over and I said, “Evan, did you put these in?” And he said, “Mommy, I thought you would look pretty in those.” He was three. And so I had that same moment. Go back. And so I did. I loaded him back in the car. We drove all the way back to Target. Now, they were not amused in the slightest. Like I thought it was the cutest thing ever that my 3-year-old was trying to do this for his mom. They were not amused, but luckily I was not arrested or anything, but exactly.

Monica Swanson: Good job, Mom.

Dr. Amy Moore: Well, but yes. So you just, you don’t know at what age they will bank that away. And so at three, he probably wouldn’t have noticed, but maybe he would, right? Plus it’s the right thing to do, so. Okay. So we need to take a break and let Sandy read a word from our sponsor, and when we come back, we’ll keep talking.

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Dr. Amy Moore: We’re back talking with author and podcaster Monica Swanson. So Monica, there are a couple other things that you talk about that we should be modeling for our kids that I wanna cover. And one is our emotional health and how we manage anger. Talk a little bit about that.

Monica Swanson: Yeah. Well, I would say in my early years when my first three sons were young, anger was my biggest struggle. And now that I’ve shared that, I’ve heard from so many moms who I, this is an issue with. And I think oftentimes we don’t even know we have an anger issue until we have children. They seem to bring that out in us, and it’s like, where did this come from? This doesn’t feel like me. But I think when we’re in that pressure cooker, when we aren’t getting out enough, maybe we’re just not in a season where we’re able to be as balanced as we would like to be, things can rise up and unfortunately our kids, they’re an easy target. I mean, they’re, they’re quick to forgive. Are always there. They’re, you know, kind of a safe place for us to unload and, and sadly, we often take advantage of that. And for me, there was just a real cycle of losing my temper, then feeling horrible, guilt and shame, asking for forgiveness. They would give me forgiveness and then I’d find myself doing it again. And I share a story in “Boy Mom,” where at one point when I asked for forgiveness, my oldest son just looked at me with the sweetest eyes and said, “Mom, I forgive you, but I don’t even know why you ask, ‘cause I know you’re gonna do it again.” And that broke my heart, that was like what I needed most in that moment and made me realize that this was a serious issue and that I did not want this to be who they remembered their mom to be. I didn’t want to raise kids being the angry mom, and so I got pretty radical. I was like—really sought out books, resources. I reached out to friends, asked for prayer, asked for any kind of accountability, and I took my anger issues really seriously, and I’m glad I did because I feel like I found a lot of help and it wasn’t in one thing, you know, it wasn’t like one book changed my life. It was a process, and most importantly, it was me being intentional, me realizing that this wasn’t the way I wanted to raise my kids. And so slowing down, taking care of myself, getting more breaks. My husband and I kind of laugh because he was in residency and we had three children. I mean, he was making like a McDonald’s employee salary. We were living in Hawaii, no family. And we took out loans partly to pay a babysitter so that we could have date nights and I could have breaks because I was gonna lose my marbles. And so we did what we had to do to get healthier, to have more balance, for me to ask my husband for more support when he was home, which wasn’t very often. And over time, I’ve been grateful that now that I have a 12-year-old, you know, I still have a spunky personality. I tend to get pretty passionate about things that I think he has way less memories of mom losing it than his older brothers did. And now when I’ve asked the older boys what they remember, fortunately, they don’t have too many memories of mom screaming at them. So I think I recovered. But oh, I just encourage any moms out there who struggle with their temper to take it seriously. Don’t just brush it off. Even if other moms say, “Oh, we all do it.” I say, this isn’t who you wanna be. You, you can do better. So get the help you need. Get counseling, uh, talk to somebody, find the resources, ask for prayer, because it, it’s something really worth working.

Dr. Amy Moore: And then it has a pay it forward impact, right? On either side of the coin, right? Like, I mean, if we don’t get help for our emotional health or our ability to manage anger or not manage anger, then we’re just showing our children that that’s how we handle stress and yes, and problems. Whereas if we do get help, then we’re modeling, “Hey, this is a healthy way to handle stress.”

Monica Swanson: Yes, and I think same goes for all area of self-care. When we tell our kids, “You know, mom needs to exercise.” I mean, just this morning before we recorded, I was like, “I need some exercise.” My son’s like, “No.” You know, I homeschool. So he would like me to be by his side all day long. No, he’s 12 and completely capable of doing most of his work on his own. And I’m like, “No, this is what I need so many days a week. I choose to do this. It’s good for my body, it’s good for my mind.” So I make it a priority. And so, I think for them to see that we make choices to get the rest we need to eat healthy, to do all the things that help us stay on top of self-care is really important. Modeling more than we realize to our kids, whether we have daughters or sons.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. And then the last one that I want you to talk about is modeling friendships.

Monica Swanson: Yeah. That goes right up there with self-care, for sure. Especially in the season I’m in because I am working from home and homeschooling and, and I certainly could be a workaholic. Like I love the work I do. I love to write, I love the podcast, and so it’s easy for me to kind of neglect the friendship thing. But oh my goodness, for anyone out there who does occasionally get together with a girlfriend, it is so important and so healthy. And so I think that modeling good friendships, seeking out people who fill your cup, who don’t drain you, who are healthy, who, you know, challenge you to be a better person. I think sometimes as moms we gravitate towards others who maybe can commiserate with us or make jokes about motherhood, but I say no, find people who value motherhood, who value family, and someone you can encourage and who can encourage you. And you know, for me, I’ve found a lot of those friends through my church community and through some of the sports my kids have done. But seeking out friends sometimes can be hard, especially if you live in a new area like I did when I first had kids. It took a few years to find friends here and living on an island. But it’s worth putting the time into and investing in those friendships. They need you, you need them. Make time for it. It’s really important.

Dr. Amy Moore: Talk to us a little bit about your character-building course.

Monica Swanson: Yeah, well, in a chapter of “Boy Mom,” I talk about character and again, my heart for character. And I shared a story in there, I just kind of mentioned it, of when my kids were young, we put a lot of focus on character. But then when they hit those tween and teenage years, it’s kind of a whole new ballgame, right? I mean, everything’s changing for them. Their hormones are changing, their friend groups are changing. They’re growing up. They’re trying to figure themselves out. And so one of my sons went through just a tricky stage where thankfully he wasn’t completely rebellious or doing anything awful, but he just had this critical attitude when he’d walk in the room, it was like a dark cloud kind of followed him. And I was frustrated. My husband and I were talking about like, what can we do? We’ve taught him everything. Like, where’s this gonna go? Like, you can’t help but forecast, right? And so, uh, somehow after a lot of prayer, I woke. Like on the first or second of a new year, and I just had this idea. I was already blogging and so I was reading other blogs, I had some TED Talks that I had kept track of and a couple podcasts I was listening to. And I thought maybe this son needs an influence outside of Mom and Dad. Maybe he needs to be inspired by somebody else. So I had this idea, and for lack of a better idea, I called it character training. And I said, “Listen, every day in addition to your, you know, Bible devotions, your schoolwork, we’re going to give you a 30-minute exercise a day and you’re gonna do character training. And here’s a list.” And I just jotted down stuff I knew of off the top of my head. It was not a great list. I said, every day I want you to spend 30 minutes either reading a chapter from one of these books, or listening or watching, or you know, here’s your variety to choose from, and here’s a brand-new journal I happen to have on hand. What I want you to do is write down the date, what you did that day, and at least one nugget, one thing that you learned from that. And this isn’t your own like journal that’s private. I’m gonna look at it ‘cause it’s, you know, I’m gonna check in. And of course, if anyone has more than one child, you could guess his first question was, “Well, are the brothers gonna do it too?” And I was like, “No, because you’re the one with the issue. And that’s not how we parent. We parent individually.” So this is what you’re gonna do. And the first day or two, you know, he begrudgingly did it and wrote down like one thing. But after a couple weeks—and I did have to keep on top of him to make sure he was doing it and know he wasn’t perfectly consistent—but after a few weeks, I looked at his journal and he had like full pages of notes, and then pretty soon I saw notecards above his desk with a Bible verse or a quote on it. And pretty soon he would walk in the living room and as we all kind of cringed, like, “Oh, what’s he gonna say this time?” You could tell he was thinking before he spoke. He was being less critical. He was thinking through these character qualities that he was learning from these people, and it truly, I believe, changed the trajectory of that son’s life and of our family. And that son ended up during his gap year—both of my older boys took a gap year between high school and college—he started the Truth for Youth Podcast. So he was encouraging younger people in their character and interviewing authors and youth pastors. And anyway, so that was super fun. Now he’s the RA of his dorm as an engineering major in college. Doing amazing. But all of that to say, I shared just the brief summary of that in my book and I got more emails after people read that than from any other chapter in the book. And so many parents were like, we want to do this character training with our son or daughter. Like, we really wanna do it. Can you give us that list? And, for one, that list was not magic, and that list was not great. It really worked because of so many other things we were already doing and because of the culture in our home and because of, you know, the faith element. And so I thought, you know, this would be a great way to package it. I’m gonna create a course where I can have modules really build that foundation. I can also bring in other experts. You know, I have a father of daughters. I have a mother of daughters, I have people talking about everything from anger and parenting to friendships, to the importance of character in the workplace from someone who did, you know, financial investments for multibillion dollar companies. And he talked about how character plays out in the workplace, what employees are looking for to hire. And so I just love diving deep into character. And then, of course, at the end of the course, offering a list. Not the original list, but a really good list where I did a lot of research and gathered some great TED Talks, YouTube channels, podcasts, books. And so if people want to do the character training exercise they can. So it’s been really fun to share that with the world and to hear back from people who, like me, just needed some tools. They just needed something to give their teenager outside of Mom and Dad’s voice. And it’s just been a a ton of fun and I’m growing it all the time, so once somebody’s in the course, anything I add to it, they’ll have access to for a lifetime. So it’s really been a blessing.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sounds amazing. What ages do you recommend it for?

Monica Swanson: Well, when I first created the course, it was for tweens and teenagers, parents of tweens and teens. So this is a course not for the kids, it’s for the parents. For parents, but there’s a lot in there that they will do with the kids. So once a parent goes through it, it’s really clear what to do with each, that, you know, there’s printables that you can go through with your kids, and really short modules, very, very doable in small chunks. But I added another module for the early years cause I had so many parents who were like, “My son is five but I wanna get started.” And I was like, “Wow. New overachiever. That’s wonderful.” No, it’s actually better the earlier you start. So I put together the early years module so people can really have some practical things to do in the early years. And then what I’ve heard back from people is really the principles across the board in that course are gonna be applicable to any age. So once a parent watches it, they can really start implementing things from a young age all the way through. So it’s really for parents of kids of all ages.

Dr. Amy Moore: And is it self-paced or it is posted?

Monica Swanson: Yes. So I only open the doors to the course three times a year. But once you’re in there, you can wait to start it. You can start it right away, and then, yeah, you can take your time and like I said, come back to it. I added a whole module a year ago on gratitude and entitlement and, because, you know, I’m listening to what people say is, is hardest for them. I added another short segment last spring on anxiety and helping parents when you realize that some of the character issues you see are actually stemming from anxiety. And so I have some experts interviewed in that helping sort through what to do when your child is anxious, how to help them with their character in those situations. So yeah, I keep adding to it over time. It’s kind of built up to become almost like a membership site, but it’s done like a course.

Dr. Amy Moore: And is that available on your regular website or is it on its own? How can, how can listeners find that?

Monica Swanson: Yes. Yes. So if you go to my website,, there’s a button right on the front page that says character course. And because it only is open for enrollment three times a year, you can leave your name and email address on a little form there, and as soon as I’m getting ready to launch it, I email everyone and say, “Doors will open next week,” or “There’s a sale,” or whatever’s going on. So yes, or if you wanna go straight to the course page and just read everything that’s in it and see which experts are in it, you can go to So that’s the homepage.

Dr. Amy Moore: Fantastic.

Sandy Zamalis: You have a podcast too, right?

Monica Swanson: I do, yes. So I’ve had the Boy Mom Podcast since my book launched in 2019. However, in the new year, so in 2023, the name will be changed because I knew that I’m gonna have—I’ve got lots of moms of girls who listen, as well as boy moms. And so many of my topics really are relevant to both. And with “Raising Amazing” being for moms and dads of boys and girls. This will now be called the Monica Swanson Podcast and still focused on the same topics, the same heart. I’m really encouraging families, most of all, but it does broaden my opportunity a little bit to talk about other things besides just boys.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. And so listeners, by the time you are hearing this episode, Monica’s podcast is now called The Monica Swanson podcast.

Monica Swanson: Yes. Yes. Thank you.

Dr. Amy Moore: And her book “Raising Amazing” is also out by the time that you all are hearing this as well.

Monica Swanson: Yeah. So exciting. Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: Is there anything you wanna leave our listeners with that you haven’t gotten to talk about today, Monica?

Monica Swanson: We’ve covered a lot. There’s always more, right? I most of all just wanna encourage families. I mean, it’s really my heart. I know that sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged and, you know, listen to someone like me and think other people have it all together and to just get down. But I just wanna encourage everyone out there to know that we all go through rough seasons. You know, you’re not gonna hear that from us all the time because we’re trying to encourage and give the good news. But none of us have a perfect life. None of us are perfect parents. And I just wanna encourage you, there’s always an opportunity to start fresh. I mean, I think it’s super important to humble yourself before your kids. Ask forgiveness to recognize where we’re making mistakes and make a turn. I course correct all the time. So just know that there’s always a chance to do some things different. And the best way to do that is, you know, first come to the Lord and ask him for forgiveness and for the courage to do things different and go to your kids. Tell ’em this is an area maybe I haven’t been on my game in and I’m sorry, but I’m just a human too. And you know what, that sets such a good example for them. They appreciate that they, they figure out that you’re human anyway, so you might as well just own it and then just tell them you really wanna grow. And grow together. And so I just wanna encourage everyone to keep pressing on, don’t give up, don’t grow weary because their rewards are great.

Dr. Amy Moore: So we are out of time. But we just wanna thank our guest today, Monica Swanson. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and encouragement for our listeners. Listeners, if you would like more information about Monica, her work, her books, and her course, her website is You can reach her on Facebook at @TheGromMom and on Instagram at MonicaSwanson. We’ll put all those links that she mentioned that I just mentioned, and her social media handles, in the show notes for you. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube. And you can find us on every social media channel @TheBrainyMoms. So look, until next time, we know that you’re busy moms. And we’re busy moms. So we’re out.

Sandy Zamalis: Have a great week.