Chapter 1: Why Well-Meaning Parenting Falls Short

Psst: I realize this isn’t exactly quiet time material, but it has been helpful in informing some spiritual thinking for me of late, so I’m posting it here instead of there

I’m taking a weekend class in October called “Gospel-Centered Parenting.” One of the books I’m to read is one I’ve had on the shelf for four years now and have never managed to find the time to read, Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. In an unprecedented move, I’m starting the book now and thought I’d post my observations from it here as I go. Tonight I prove to the world that I can take even a book on grace and turn it into a list of rules I’ve not kept, thereby proving even more completely my inadequacies in this fragile game of parenting.

Kimmel begins the chapter by giving brief descriptions of most of the major theories and practices of parenting, most of which can be summed up in one of the two extremes of  “authoritarian and authoritative” (thank you, Oklahoma State University and the many hours spent listening to and reading about child development theory ala Jean Piaget et al). He doesn’t use those words, though, he uses the words boundaries, as in, parents who themselves were raised with too-tight boundaries and parents who themselves were raised with none. Regarding this latter group on page 5, he says, “they assume that their obedience to a stricter and tighter standard will somehow help them raise safer and better children. It won’t. Since how children turn out is far more contingent on what is going on inside them than outside them, unnecessarily tight boundaries undermine the desire of the Holy Spirit, who is working to build a sense of moral resolve in their hearts.”

He takes both groups of these extremes and says they can be further labeled as one of these two ways: judgmental or legalistic, as all parenting styles are the result of a parent’s theology. Further explaining the consequences of this type of parenting, he says on page 18, “Their children may leave these homes feeling loved, but they will also feel something else. Kids with judgmental parents tend to leave home with a feeling of spiritual elitism. Kids with legalistic parents leave home feeling guilty. They often want nothing to do with the method their parents used to raise them, and they usually live their lives in stark contrast to the values they were raised with.”

What I wonder is what happens with we leave home feeling both elitist and guilty? Can you say, “In need of a therapist?”

Then Kimmel moves on to what he considers to be effective parenting, or “grace-based” parenting. On page 19 he says, “Grace-based parents spend their times entrusting themselves to Christ. They live to know God more. Their children are the daily recipients of the grace these parents are enjoying from the Lord. If you watch them in action, they appear to be peaceful and very much in love with God. They are especially graceful when their children are hardest to love. Their advice to their children would be a mixture of: ‘You are a gift from god; go make a difference,’ and ‘You may struggle doing the right thing sometimes, but you’re forgiven.’”

I love the way this sounds. I want to be this kind of parent. I’ve already blown it as this kind of parent and that makes me wonder if there is even any hope for me in this area. Kimmel says on page 20, “Grace-based parents have a keen awareness of their feet of clay. They understand their own propensity toward sin. This makes the grace and forgiveness they received from Christ much more appreciated… I’m urging you to raise your children the way God raises His. The primary word that defines how God deals with His children is grace. Grace does not exclude obedience, respect, boundaries, or discipline, but it does determine the climate in which these important parts of parenting are carried out.”

Here’s where I screw all of this up – I do understand my own propensity toward sin. I expect grace for myself all the time because I know I’m not able to meet the standard without it. For some reason I’m unable to extend that same mental courtesy to anyone else. I expect everyone to do better at this than I do and when they don’t, I have very little to offer them by way of second-chances. I’m wondering if this is how I think of God’s actions toward me. Maybe I don’t trust His love for me because I can’t understand how He could give me the multiple chances my sinful life requires. And if I can’t accept it from God for myself, how in the world can I extend it to anyone else? To my own children?

On page 21 Kimmel says, “His grace is there for you when you fail, when you fall, and when you make huge mistakes. This kind of grace makes all the difference in the world when it’s coming from God, through you, to your children. Children brought up in homes where they are free to be different, vulnerable, candid, and to make mistakes learn firsthand what the genuine love of God looks like.”

Do I allow this in my own kids? Do I allow it in my husband? Do I allow it in myself?

Also on page 21, Kimmel says, “God is a God of variety, and He deals with us accordingly.” I had to really stop and think about this for a second because all of the standard lines on “growing kids God’s way” talks about consistency and order. The pause for me came in that for the first time I had to reconcile the mystery of consistency and variety in the very nature of God. Yes, it is possible for Him to be both. Maybe now I’m beginning to understand how his children can all be so infuriatingly and beautifully different from each other and both still be perfectly within his will.

Kimmel says there are three fundamental, driving inner needs of every child, the need for security, significance, and strength. He says these needs were, “the logical conclusion of being made in God’s image.” He also said, “[Satan] is working even as you are reading this book to meet your child’s three driving inner needs in counterfeit ways…Every time you see him making a move on your children, he’s offering them a knockoff solution to one or a combination of these three inner needs.”

These needs aren’t food, shelter, and a Classical education. Security. Significance. Strength. When I instruct my children, when I discipline them, when I nudge them in the way they should go, am I doing it in a way that meets their needs in these areas? I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of that before. When I see balloons deflate behind their eyes after I pop them with a verbal tirade, I know I’m doing something wrong. Now I’m learning what that is.

Kimmel says, “If we’ve done our job adequately, our children should leave our homes with a love that is secure, a  purpose that is significant, and a hope that is strong…Grace is not so much what we do as parents, but how we do what we do.”

And there’s the rub, isn’t it? I can’t be given a checklist on how to raise my kids with grace. It’s an issue of the heart, both theirs and mine.

More to come…