The Orphan, the Millionaire and the Secret to Becoming a Great Parent

(This article is a part of our series on Inspiring Stories)

She lay in the hospital bed exhausted. She was 17 years old and had just given birth to a baby.

Normally, the delivery rooms of Mercy Hospital are filled with joy and celebration. On the day that Josh Shipp was born however, the tears streaming down his mother’s cheeks weren’t those of joy.

Josh_baby_picWhat had started out as an exciting prom night had turned into a sobering ordeal of teen-pregnancy, and lying there on that hospital bed, Josh’s mother had a critical decision to make.

She decided she wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of raising a baby.

And just like that, Josh became an Orphan.

At the tender age of a newborn infant, he entered the foster care system – one of the 115,000 children in America waiting for adoption.

Except, in Josh’s case, adoption never quite happened.

The Unruly Orphan

Josh spent the next 14 years of his life bouncing between many different foster homes.

His first move from “home” came at the tender age of 6 months. As he moved through his 2nd and 3rd foster homes, he learnt not to trust anyone. At the 4th foster home, he was abused. At the 5th foster home, he learnt he was a lost cause.

As the cycle of neglect, abuse, apathy and distrust repeated over and over, Josh started to play a deadly game.

He would carry with him a notebook to each home he went and entered in it the date he started at that home. He’d then do everything to get kicked out. And then, he’d enter the day of exit and the exact strategy that worked.

He’d finally figured out how not to get abandoned. He was finally the one in control.

josh-shipp-teenagerEven the good foster homes where parents cared about him couldn’t handle him. His defiance, rebelliousness and lack of trust were too difficult a challenge for them. Eventually, they’d give up. And Josh bounced on to his next home.

The emotional roller coaster of the constant transitions started taking a toll on Josh. At first, he turned to overeating. By the age of eight he weighed a whopping 175lbs.

As he got older, he turned to pills, alcohol and even became suicidal.

The Millionaire Influencer

Research shows that less than half of former foster youth are employed at 23, and only 6% finish college. As if that wasn’t bad enough, studies indicate that adopted teens are 3.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens.

Josh was certainly showing signs of being on the dark side of the statistics.

Nobody that met Josh in those early teen years would have wagered that he would amount to anything more than a criminal or a junkie someday, if he made it out alive at all, let alone become a millionaire mentor who would turn around the lives of thousands of teens.

Oh, how Josh would have surprised them!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There were still one perilous plunge left on Josh’s gut-wrenching roller coaster ride.

At age 14, Josh moved in with the Weidenmaier’s.

At first the Weidenmaier’s were like any other parents — they were imperfect and they didn’t have all the answers. Josh on the other hand was a seasoned, defiant, oppositional teenager.

He pushed them hard, like he did with all the other foster parents. They however, stayed patient.

He rebelled and acted out, like he did in all the other foster homes. They stayed consistent.

For almost two entire years, he shut them out. But unlike the other foster parents, they refused to kick him out.

And then, he hit rock bottom. He landed himself in jail.

The Weidenmaier’s bailed him out. But, not right away. They intentionally let him stay in jail overnight. To face the consequences of his choices. To see for himself where his life was headed. To realize that they would bail him out, but ultimately, he had to take responsibility for his own actions.

That was the turnaround point for Josh.

Slowly, and very awkwardly, he started to change. Since he couldn’t push the Weidenmaier’s away, he figured, he may as well join them. He decided to give becoming a “decent” person a shot. Years of counseling, mentoring, church and local community involvement followed.

By the age of 19, Josh started to emerge as a budding motivational speaker with the amazing talent to connect with other youth and influence them in ways that their own parents could only dream of.

A very different future from the one he had ever anticipated started to take shape. There was still a lot of work to do and lot of inner demons to tame. But the drive that fuelled his self-destruction before, now fuelled his transformation.

If his new parents wouldn’t give up on him no matter how much he pushed them, he wouldn’t give up on his dreams to influence other teens at risk. Bit by bit, he got better at public speaking.

If his new parents wouldn’t back down on discipline and tough love, he wouldn’t give in to his self-doubt and inner demons. Bit by bit, he learnt to leave his past behind.

As he continued in his mission to save the teens, Josh found that learning to save their parents was an inevitable side-effect. His quest to help struggling teens, got intertwined with helping struggling parents. From a child whose first experience with the world was being let down by his parents, Josh evolved as the person to show parents how to be there for their kids – no matter how much the kids pushed back.

Fast forward to today…

Josh is now a highly sought after motivational speaker who has spoken live to more than 2 million teens and parents. He’s been featured on Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper Live, MTV, The New York Times and He’s been named a CNN Young Person Who Rocks and was listed on INC. Magazine’s 30 under 30 list. His work has been filmed into a documentary series that aired on A&E / Lifetime. And his online teen monitoring program A Year of Awesomeness helps thousands of teens world-wide clean up their act and learn necessary life skills, while at the same time being thoroughly entertained.

The Secret to Becoming a Great Parent

In 2009 Josh had his own son. In 2012, his daughter was born.

From a child abandoned by his parents at birth, to a life dedicated to bringing together troubled teens and their parents, to being a parent himself – Josh has come a full circle.

I asked Josh — “From all your struggles, from the way the Weidenmaier’s helped you turn around, from all the years working with the most troubled teens and their parents, from all the stories of despair and hope — what is the ONE thing you’ve learnt about becoming a great parent that you will apply to your own parenting?

Here’s what Josh had to say –

I’ve worked with at-risk teens from every imaginable circumstance. Rich, poor, two parent households, one parent households, urban, suburban, you name it. The ONE common thread with a teen careening out of control? No consequences. Which sends a message that they can do what they wish and life won’t respond. As adults, we know that isn’t how things work. But kids must be taught not told.

Let me illustrate it like this. Ever been in a roller coaster? You know how they put them bar down in your lap. What do you do when that bar first goes down? You push it, wiggle it, shove it. You test it. You don’t push it, hoping that it gives — leading to your inevitable death. You push it – hoping it HOLDS. The same is true with your kid. They aren’t pushing you – hoping you give in. They are pushing you – hoping (sometimes unknowingly) that you HOLD. A kid’s job is to push the boundaries (you did it too!) but as parents our job is the hold the boundaries.

As for being a “Great Parent”, I’ve learned the pursuit to be a “GREAT” parent is futile. But the pursuit to be a consistent parent is noble. If you give your kid consistent encouragement AND consistent consequences things will be just fine. Not always easy, but fine.

And therein lies the secret to becoming a great parent. It’s not about how “GREAT” you are at any given moment, it’s about how consistent you stay when your kids push you. It doesn’t matter what your specific parenting style or philosophy is – or for that matter, even if you have any. It doesn’t matter what your own upbringing was like. Or what inner demons you face. Or your current external circumstances. As long as you stay consistent in providing encouragement and consequences, you’ll make a fine parent!

This is What it Ultimately Boils Down to…

Josh’s biological mother and father were parents too… after all, they brought him into this world.

The folks in those first few foster homes were parents too… after all, they provided him food, shelter and clothing.

But it was Josh’s final set of foster parents, the Weidenmaier’s, who showed him how to live a good life, whose consistent support unlocked the potential within him and turned him from a lump of coal into the shimmering diamond we see today.

every_child_is_one_caring_adult_away_from_becoming_a_success_storyAs Josh often says, “EVERY child is ONE caring adult away from becoming a success story”

Conception, food, shelter and clothing – all of us have got that down pat.

But when it comes to teaching our kids to live a good life, unlocking their true potential and staying that unshakeable caring adult in their lives… you, me and Josh – we all have our work cut out for us.

When our kids get angry, rebellious or defiant — which they will at some point or the other — we can whine and gripe, worry and fret, feel overwhelmed and give up.

Or we can learn and adapt, grow and nurture, correct course and dig in our heels – even as they push back with all their might.

What’s it gonna be?

What you choose matters.

You matter!

josh_shipp_author_bioTo learn more about Josh, check out his site, connect with him on Facebook or Twitter, watch his humorous, motivational videos on Youtube or read his awesome books. And if you currently have teens, definitely check out Josh’s teen monitoring program A Year of Awesomeness — here’s one of the videos your kids will see inside the program that Josh was kind enough to share with us – AYOA Week #11: Tenacity.

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  1. says

    This post struck a chord with me. I cannot imagine what would have happened if my parents gave up on me. I was a rebellious little person growing up. Consistency in consequences and encouragement are what helped become a responsible adult.

    I am currently volunteering at rainbow homes in Hyderabad, India – being a parent and a friend to troubled young girls. The only way I am able to make a difference in their lives is through compassion, patience, and consistency.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      That’s such a wonderful thing to do, Pratima!

      I wonder if by the time kids are teenagers, if the relationship with their own parents is eroded, maybe having the influence of a outsider is a better option. Once you establish the rapport and have their attention through compassion, patience and consistency, maybe they will be in a better frame of mind to connect back with their own parents?

      Keep up the good work — what you and Josh do is so sorely needed in our society (whether it is in India, the US or anywhere else). It’s a difficult but noble mission – good luck to you both!

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Isn’t it? I thoroughly enjoyed working with Josh to put this article together, and look forward to sharing a lot more wonderful inspiring stories from parents just like you!

  2. Rebecca says

    This post does not explain how Josh ended up moving from foster home to foster home and why he was not adopted when he was an infant. There are so many decent people wanting to adopt an infant (the supply of those wanting to adopt is far greater than infants awaiting adoption). I do not understand why he was not placed in a permanent adoptive home.

    The negative tone regarding his birth mother and her decision confuses me too and seems to imply that his life would have been better had his mother chosen to parent him. I know the point of the post was to encourage parents to stick with it but Josh’s situation leaves me with a lot of questions about our choices, the foster care system, adoption vs parenting vs abortion when a teen becomes a parent, parenting support, etc . . . Regardless, I’m glad that Josh has found his way and making such a huge difference in the world. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Rebecca, I am sorry, I don’t know much about how the adoption system works to answer some of your concerns. Here and here are some stats that do seem to indicate that there are a large number of kids waiting for adoption in the US each year.

      That aside, I am glad we agree that it is inspiring that Josh found his way and is making a difference in the world. I found the lesson for us regular parents in this was quite valuable — I hope you agree as well.

  3. says

    That definitely made me cry! Tears of sorrow and tears of joy. It is so heartbreaking to hear about the adoption system when there are so many people out there longing to be parents that they spend thousands and travel overseas. I don’t know much about the American system but it’s really sad. But I am glad things worked out in the end. Just a reminder that it’s never too late.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      After reading Rebecca’s comment above, I dug around a little for stats about adoption in the US. It looks like the average wait for adoption is 3 years, and for the past decade or so, 100K+ kids eligible for adoption were recorded as “waiting for adoption” each year! It’s quite sad.

      What struck me while working with Josh to put together his article was his extremely magnetic personality. I feel such a relief that he has chosen to put that to good use to inspire the youth. Imagine how devastating that same personality would have been had he chosen to go the opposite route!!! I’m glad like you said, that it has worked out the way it has, and he stands here today to positively steer not just the easier-to-influence kids, but their far-harder-to-influence parents as well!

  4. says

    Great post, Sumitha. Thank you so much for writing it!

    My husband and I have been trying to become better parents for years now. We knew nothing about parenting when we had our first child, and now, 5 years later and with another one added to our family, we feel we scraped the surface a little :). We learned, after making many mistakes, that consistency is key and that loving our children and showing them our love is the way to go. We read many books and blogs (including yours – that we find it gives us a lot of useful information) about parenting. One of the books we read was “The 5 love languages in children”. Such a a great book! We learned so much from it that I even wrote a review on my site. There are so many books out there and so much information that all we need is to be interested in finding, reading, and applying it.

    Thank you again for this great post.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Gosh, Alina, I know exactly what you mean about just scraping the surface after 5 years on the job (my daughter is just over 5 too)!!!

      And thanks for the book recommendation… looks fascinating. I’ll add it to my to-read list and see if I can grab a copy from the library.

      (For everyone else who might be reading this – Alina’s book review can be found here)

  5. says

    Thanks Josh and Sumitha.

    My daughter is not even a teenager yet but l can see her pushing our boundaries everyday just to see if we stick to our plans. Its not been easy, but we have stuck to our plan and its working good so far. Thank you again.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Good for you, Marcus. I feel the more strong-willed a child is, the more they push boundaries, and the more they need us to hold on to those limits. Hang in there!

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