Mark Perry on Having a Teen-Mom Daughter
Pastor Mark Perry’s daughter, Olivia, is an 18-year-old teen mom who, after partying hard, using drugs and drinking in high school, dramatically changed her life after the birth of her daughter. Mark and his wife Cheryl take a hands-on approach to parenting, but often rely on prayer, rather than discipline, for their daughters. Here he discusses his reaction to having a teen mom as a daughter and how it has changed his life.
Q: What was your first reaction when Olivia told you she was pregnant?
A: My first reaction when I found out Olivia was pregnant was to comfort and reassure her. We were at California Pizza Kitchen, and when I saw the text from a friend that said, "Are you going to keep the baby?" I asked her, "Olivia, are you pregnant?" Her head fell on the table and a puddle of tears quickly formed. She looked up and said, "I was going to tell you!" And I said, "Olivia, it's going to be OK. We'll get through this. I love you. God loves you. This isn't the end of your life. You still have a great future. We'll help you. You can do this." Inside, I was devastated, of course, but what came out of me at that moment was pure love—my love for my daughter, and God the Father's love mingled in.
Q: Were you worried about how your congregation would react?
A: I wasn't all that worried about how our congregation would react. We are a people immersed in the love of God. Our core value is His love, and at the center of that love is acceptance and forgiveness. There is a time for tough love, for sure, but not when a person already feels shame and humiliation and regret and panic. At that moment, people need pure, unconditional love, and I am so proud of Everyday Church, because that's what they gave to our family.
Q: Do you feel that this experience made you stronger as parent? As a pastor?
A: This experience has definitely made me stronger as a parent! I trust my gut more. I am able to see more clearly what's really important and to distinguish that from what is much less important. I know better now what to get really upset about and what to let go. And I've also become a better pastor. I think many pastors struggle with acceptance from people. I once had a friend who pastors a mega church confide in me, "I always feel like I'm one bad sermon away from losing a whole bunch of people." I just don't want to live like that. Walking through this has made me also more confident in who I am and what I walk in and carry. I have something very valuable to offer. Although I'm not perfect, I am a godly man who loves Jesus Christ and who preaches the Gospel. For those that can't (or won't) see that, I don't mind as much anymore. After watching people protest this show before ever seeing a single episode—supposedly Christian people, many fellow pastors—I realized all over again that those aren't the kind of people I want to worry about anyway.
Q: How has your relationship changed with Olivia since she had Eden?
A: Since Olivia has had Eden, my relationship with her has grown even closer. Olivia has watched how much I adore Eden, and of course, that makes her love and respect me even more. And I have watched a 17-year-old scared, confused, conflicted, pregnant girl become herself again—and then to excel even more into who she really is—a confident, secure, loving, wise 18-year-old young woman and single mother. Olivia loves Eden so much, and to be honest, I have never in my life seen a better teen mom than Olivia. She is absolutely amazing. So our respect for one another has really grown, and our communication is stronger. She is more direct and honest with me. And I am more aware of Olivia's feelings and needs.