Dr. James Dobson: Importance of Building A Family Legacy

Prominent Child Psychologist Dr. James Dobson Emphasizes Importance of Building a Family Legacy

Written by Kelli Gillespie

Having written more than 40 books and called by Time Magazine as “The nation’s most influential evangelical leader,” James Dobson, Ph.D., is a recognized authority on Christian parenting. For 14 years he served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, and served 17 years on staff at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. The leading psychologist went on to found Focus on the Family in 1977, which he led until 2003. In 2010, he founded Family Talk and his radio show broadcasts to over 300 stations nationwide. His original, seven part film series on the family, was seen by more than a third of the population – 80 million people at the time. His current film and book, Building A Family Legacy, is now available for a whole new generation. Risen sat down with Dobson to talk about everything from raising his own to kids to helping all kids grow up committed to Christ.

Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: Your insights on parenting previously changed a generation. Now a whole new generation of kids and parents will additionally be able to learn from your wisdom. Talk to me about the key elements of Building a Family Legacy?
Dr. James Dobson: I have been at this for 44 years. At the time I started, I was at USC School of Medicine and was doing research as a professor of pediatrics and I was enjoying what I was doing. But I saw the world changing and I saw families changing. I don’t want to sound like Father Time here, but I realized where the family was going and I really anticipated the problems the family is facing right now. So I did a scary thing and resigned from the coveted position and opened a little two-room office and began writing for parents because I really believe that is the most important thing on our agenda. I’ve been at it a long time, but it just becomes more important, and certainly more important to me, and my family. All the time things are changing and things are rapidly deteriorating for the family. And that’s why this new series and the book have been written and prepared.

Dr. James Dobson Portrait for Risen Magazine

Dr. James Dobson

Risen Magazine: What are the points in scripture that guide that process/journey?
Dr. James Dobson: Everything that I write, and everything that I have taught, through all these years, has come from scripture – that is the owner’s manual. If parents are not consulting that source, then they are depriving themselves of a tremendous amount of information. The very beginning of it all is the Gospel itself – to introduce your children to Christ, and that is not easy to do. A lot of parents are so busy and they are running so fast, they hardly know their kids, and the years go by so quickly. Many of them are growing up without a true understanding of what the Good News is all about. And that is really what I define as a legacy.
There are really two definitions of legacy that are currently believed in this culture. The first is an inheritance. People think of a legacy like an inheritance, it’s what you leave, it’s your will, it’s your estate, and it’s often related to financial matters. I have a different understanding of the word legacy. Let me put it this way, an inheritance is something you give to someone, and a legacy, as I define it, is what you build in someone – it is character, it is values, it is principles, it is scriptural understandings – that is the legacy you’ll want to leave. And while we are busy earning the money, working and trying to build a home, we cannot forget the task of teaching and training, and building the legacy of faith into your children.

Dr. James Dobson with his son Ryan

Dr. James Dobson with his son Ryan

Risen Magazine: With all the outside influences and temptations, how can parents help their kids to grow up with conviction and a heart that doesn’t stray from the Lord?
Dr. James Dobson: In the first place you have to acknowledge and understand the culture is not going to help you with that. Our culture is at war with parents. It’s contradicting what they say. Send your kids off to public schools and they will not only hear things from their fellow students, but frequently from those that teach them, things that we don’t believe as committed Christians. It is so important to recognize that we have to do that job ourselves. Yes, we send our kids to church and we want them to be in strong youth groups, but that is one day a week. Sometimes Sunday morning and maybe one other event during the week, but as a parent you are with your kids every day. The book of Deuteronomy, chapter six, makes it very clear that it is not enough to just pray little prayers – these are my interpretations of what I read there – it’s not enough to just say a bedtime prayer. What Moses was telling the children of Israel as they were getting ready to go into the Promised Land was that you must remember the most important thing to teach your kids is that God loves them, He cares about them, He created them, and that when you go for a walk you point out that the flowers and the trees, and the clouds and that everything there was His creation. And He knows how He wants us to live, and He wants us to love Him; you do that all day, every day in the most tactful way that you can. If you don’t get that done, when you die, and your children grow up not to know those things, and not love Christ, and not to enter into a relationship with Him, when they come to the end of their lives, you will never see them again. That’s what I believe and if it’s that important, then it ought to be intentional for us as parents as our children come through the years.

Everything that I have taught, through all these years, has come from scripture – that is the owner’s manual.

Risen Magazine: With your influence across the globe, your writings and teachings, you’ve helped so many families and also taken quite a bit of criticism from those opposing your views. When did you know this would be your calling and did you embrace it right away?
Dr. James Dobson: I have never looked back and I have never been particularly concerned about criticism. I might tell you that the popular conception of the criticism of me through the years has been greatly overstated. I really don’t take a lot of flak, I get a lot more love than I deserve. Besides that, it is in the Lord’s hands and if He wants me to do this, criticism really shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Risen Magazine: My parents raised me on several of your titles including Dare to Discipline and now that I am pregnant they assured me I need Bringing Up Boys…
Dr. James Dobson: You had very smart parents obviously [Laughter]. You just might have a strong-willed child and if you do, I have a book for you too.

Risen Magazine: I bet I will! When it came to parenting your own children what was one thing you knew you had to get right above all else, and what was one thing, maybe in hindsight, you would’ve handled differently?
Dr. James Dobson: Well my obligation was not just to talk a good game about the family. Shirley (his wife) and I felt so strongly about our obligation to live it, and teach it at home, that there would be consistency between what I was telling everybody else and what we were trying to live out. We did that in the early years by building relationships with our kids. If you don’t build a relationship, your kids don’t want to follow you unless you take the time to play with them and talk with them and in our case to ski with them, and travel with them, and to spend endless hours talking together. That was my primary objective even more than what I teach because I believe it so strongly.
Looking back, no one is a perfect parent – absolutely they do not exist. As I look back on our parenting there are things we could’ve and should’ve done better, but they both love the Lord. Our son, Ryan, has just written a book called, Wanting to Believe, because we did build a relationship and he works with me here at Family Talk and we just love working together. Our daughter is an evangelist. She’s not a minister, but she loves the Lord and will share it with anybody that wants to hear it. So we didn’t do everything right, but we got that right and I’m grateful to God for it.

Risen Magazine: Prayer is such a crucial component and even generationally we can see the impact of praying families. In your own life, how do you hear the Lord and know you are proceeding the way He wants you to?
Dr. James Dobson: You have to be sure that what you are praying about is scriptural and that you are trying to do what God asks you to do. I lean very heavily on providential circumstances. If I think it’s right to leave the university [USC] and start another ministry [Focus on the Family] that is just a strong impression, but I also watched very carefully to see what God was doing. I think one of our major authors said something like, “You find out where God is leading and you get behind it and try to do what God is asking you to do.” If you are wrong, you’ll know it. He will tell you. But usually God does not just split the sky and absolutely tell you everything He is doing and thinking. That works out in time. And if your heart is right, you will find out what it is He wants you to do.

Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2014



Screen Shot 2021-12-14 at 10.45.56 PM

Family Films, Australia and Comfort Zones: “Back to the Outback” Isla Fisher

Isla Fisher voices the snake, Maddie, in Back to the Outback about misunderstood Australian reptiles with hearts of gold —...

Roma Downey & Doug White: On A Wing And A Prayer

Interviewed for Risen Magazine Risen Magazine: Doug's story is so incredible. It's something where I know the outcome and I'm...

Quarantine Have You Missing Travel, Adventure and Friends? 8 Book Titles for Toddlers to Tweens

This Spring has been one unlike any other. With the world navigating a global pandemic, families are forced to stay...