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Stuck in Neutral: How to Climb Out of a Rut and Bring Your Family With You

He changes a wilderness into a pool of water, and a dry land into springs of water.” ~Psalm 107:35

Many athletes experience a slump in professional sports, but we see this phenomenon most clearly in baseball.  One year an MVP could be tearing the cover off the ball.  And then the very next season he’s whiffing at the plate—couldn’t hit a ball to save his life.  What happened between last year and this year?  He’s got himself in a slump, a rut, and it’s tough to get out.

I know many parents who have experienced this trend as well.  The family is running along smoothly when for no apparent reason you and the kids get stuck in a negative rut.  You know that you need to make some changes to get back on track, but it’s hard to climb out of a downslide.  Top that off with the fact that no one likes change.  Trying to bring along a stubborn teenager for the ride makes it harder still!  But let me say this—change is possible.  The rut you’re in can be overcome.  I’ve witnessed whole families get collected, pull together, and make lasting alterations to their lives.  But it doesn’t happen overnight.

Wave Goodbye to Instant Change

We like things to happen instantly, don’t we?  We’ve grown accustomed to commercials that promise, “Lose twenty pounds in two weeks!” or, “Make a million dollars tomorrow!” or even, “Instant Pain Relief!”  But we all know you can’t make a fortune overnight or lose those love handles over the weekend.  Instant change is not only unrealistic it’s downright impossible!

If there are areas in your family where you need to see a 180° change, realize that a U-turn like that takes time.  Too often we get burned out or discouraged because change isn’t happening fast enough.  We become frustrated when it still feels like we’re in a slump after just one week.  Permanent change to deeply-rooted issues is possible, but it takes perseverance and a willingness to be content with slow but steady growth.  When you set out to institute changes for your home, don’t set yourself up for failure.  Commit to the fact that real transformation will take time.

Wave Goodbye to Total Change

Most of us have a long-list of flaws and imperfections we’re looking to change in our family relationships.  When we roll up our sleeves and get to work, the temptation is to try to change everything on our list.  We’re ready to transform our cluttered, unruly, narcissistic teen into a clean, sparkling, well-adjusted adult in one fell swoop.  Plus, we vow to make homemade dinners every night, schedule family outings every month, and attend every single outside activity our kids are in.  Whew!  Feel tired yet?

Trying to tackle all the flaws and foibles in our families in one sitting is not only overwhelming, it’s unrealistic.  Instead, I recommend that parents make a list of the top ten things they’d like to see change at home.  Maybe you’d like to spend less time at work and more time with your kids.  Perhaps your teen needs to show more respect in the home.  Or maybe the biggest change you’d like to see is less TV and more conversation.  Write your ideas down, but don’t put more than ten items on the list.  This will help clarify the issues that are really important and the side concerns that you can deal with later.

I recently discovered that the literal translation of the word “righteousness” in Hebrew means, “to stay between the lines.”  Picture driving a car between the lanes on the freeway.  If we make sudden drastic changes to the right or the left, the car will swerve dangerously and threaten to roll.  Instead, we make little corrections on the wheel to stay between the lines.  The same thing applies when we attempt to bring our family back on track.  Large sweeping changes can disrupt or even harm our family.  But making consistent, gradual modifications will correct the deviation and bring about the progress you’re looking for.

Wave Goodbye to Passive Change

Many parents get caught up in wishful thinking that things will get better on their own.  But unless we’re actively pursuing progress in our home, change just isn’t going to happen.  If your family is in a slump, it’s time to get to work!

Once you’ve identified the top areas that need to change, the next step is to call a family meeting.  Set the date ahead of time so it gives your kids a chance to think about what they want to say when you gather.  Briefly explain that the meeting is for discussing changes that the whole family is going to make.  It’s evitable that your teen will ask, “What is this all about?”  But don’t give it away!  Evade their questions, and simply state that you’ll share what’s on your mind when you all get together.  If you answer right then and there, you’re bound to get involved in a lengthy discussion that is best saved for the meeting.

In the family meeting, state your case for what needs to change, making sure to always, always, always start with yourself.  It will be humbling, but it’s important you let your kids know that you realize you’re not perfect, and you want do your part in becoming a better parent.  Then state your case for the changes that need to be made and the boundaries that need to be set.  Listen carefully to what each person has to say and answer questions calmly, but stand firm on the things that matter.  Play the part of the family coach, and be active in your desire to see change come.

Finally, trust God to take your efforts and turn them into something bigger.  Nobody is perfect, and we all need to grow.  But when we’re in a slump, true change is impossible without the Lord.  As the Psalmist writes, only God can “change the wilderness into a pool of water.”  So apply these principles to your life, but don’t forget to let God change your heart and the heart of your kids and spouse.  He’s the One who can get us out of the slump and put us back on track.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.