"She's putting her life in God's hands," Sarah says of her daughter's stint on Dancing with the Stars

Credit: Janet Mayer/Splash News Online; Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Landov

She may have low scores and a chorus of critics wondering why she’s still in the competition, but Bristol Palin enters the Dancing with the Stars semi-finals Monday night with mom Sarah Palin fully behind her.

“I slept in her bed with her and we stayed up talking,” Sarah tells PEOPLE of a recent bedtime pep talk during a visit to Los Angeles, where Bristol is competing on DWTS. “We were both saying the criticism of her on the show, by some, is that she doesn’t come across as a performer, as an actress. And she’s like, ‘I’m not!’ And I’m like, ‘Why not dig really deep and prove the naysayers wrong?’ ”

Palin, whose own reality show debuted on TLC Sunday, says DWTS has been a blessing to Bristol, 20, after a tough couple years, during which she weathered teen pregnancy, her mom’s bruising vice presidential campaign alongside John McCain, single motherhood and a very public and painful breakup with former fiancé Levi Johnston.

“To have her now turn that into dancing, it’s a beautiful picture,” her mother says. “She’s a happy kid with a good attitude, good perspective, everything’s about thinking positively and exchanging beauty for ashes . . . She’s putting her life in God’s hands and it’s scriptural, too, where it says, ‘He will turn your mourning into dancing.’ ”