Recently, I have read three books on parenting. One of them was good, one was not so good, and the third was a surprise. Let’s start with the good one.
Grace-Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel
Dr. Kimmel observes that many parents are motivated by fear rather than faith when it comes to raising their children. This fear manifests in both legalistic and permissive parenting styles that stifle potential and discourage healthy development. A better approach is to treat our kids the same way God treats us; with unconditional love, bucket loads of forgiveness, and steadfast acceptance.
Grace-based homes are not homes without sin or regrets. They are just homes where, no matter what, you can’t be written off. (p.225)
Grace-based parenting means raising our children in an environment where they are free to be different, vulnerable, candid, and to make mistakes. It means meeting their needs for security and significance by giving them love that is secure and hope that is unshakeable. While I disagree with Dr. Kimmel’s view that we should view our kids as sinners, I wholeheartedly agree with his view that “parents who embrace grace make their homes a safe place for average kids to develop into extraordinary people” (p.212).
Grace-Based Parenting is an ambitious book in that it seeks to cover the full sweep of child-rearing from the feeding schedules of infants to sending your kids off to college. But it’s not a how-to manual because grace isn’t reducible to rules. Your kids are not like my kids and what works for me, may not work for you. Grace is less about what you do than how you do it.
That said, this book has plenty of inspiring examples which I found helpful. One insight that stood out is how we can kill grace by trivializing issues which seem huge to our children. It may be that from our grown-up perspective the issue is small, but if our kid cares, we should care, for doesn’t our heavenly Father care for us? And aren’t all our issues tiny compared to him?
To be honest, I found the pacing in this book dragged at times, but that may reflect the nature of the subject. Parenting is a tricky business and writing about parenting is trickier still. If I was to identify one takeaway from this book, it would be this: Grace-based parenting will help you help your kids to learn what the love of God looks like. And that is a very good thing.
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
Several people have asked me for my views on this book, so let me say this: I love the title. In an increasingly competitive world, our kids need grace more than ever. Sadly, though, the title doesn’t match the message of the book which is this: Give them law. “Even though our children cannot and will not obey God’s law, we need to teach it to them again and again” (p.35).
Why do our kids need law? According to the authors of this book it is so that they will appreciate their need for grace. “Tell your children every day what God requires from them, and when they groan under the weight of it, give them this invitation: ‘Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good…’” (p.48). But why would I make my kids groan under the weight of anything?
There’s no grace in knocking a child down and then offering a hand-up. That’s as weird as getting your kids to write down God’s laws and covering their lists with little wooden crosses – which is an activity I read about in this book. “Joshua, Jordan, and Caleb are instructed to consider every one of the laws and rehearse how they have failed to obey” (p.49). These poor kids! I can’t help but think of Bart Simpson writing lines on the blackboard. “I’m a disobedient sinner. I’m a disobedient sinner.”
The grace of God is manifold and multifaceted and there are many ways to teach it to children. But surely one of the worst ways is to wrap it up in religious sermons on disobedience and law-breaking. Why not just give them grace, as the title says? Why not dazzle them with the love of Jesus, as suggested by the subtitle?
Preaching the law only makes sense if you assume your kids are hell-bred sinners. If that’s your starting point, then you have bigger problems than how to reveal grace. Here’s a far better message to tell your children: You are a gift from God and God gives good gifts!
Stop Stealing Dreams, by Seth Godin
This is a surprising book because it is not about parenting per se and the word grace appears nowhere in it, yet it provides such an inspiring vision of grace-based parenting that I had to mention it. Stop Stealing Dreams, which you can read for free here, is Seth Godin’s manifesto for improving the education system. Before you yawn and switch off, consider this line: “Our culture has a dreaming problem.” I agree! Much of our schooling system is designed to kill dreams and that’s a bad thing.
Dreams matter because they define the limits to which we rise. If we tell our kids they’re disobedient sinners, they’ll become disobedient sinners. But if we tell them “God had a dream and wrapped your body around it,” they’ll become people of significance.
Our job as parents is not to whack the sin out of our kids but to prophetically call forth the treasure God has placed within them. I have no idea what Seth Godin thinks about this, but as a father I was inspired by his book. Here’s another quote from the book:
Dreams are difficult to build and easy to destroy. By their nature, dreams are evanescent. They flicker long before they shine brightly. And when they’re flickering, it’s not particularly difficult for a parent or a teacher or a gang of peers to snuff them out. Creating dreams is more difficult. They’re often related to where we grow up, who our parents are, and whether or not the right person enters our life. (Emphasis added)
As a parent, how do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as a sin-manager or a dream-facilitator? I’m totally with Seth on this one. I refuse to reach for the easy tool of fear to coerce my children towards my current definition of good behavior. I’d rather ignite their God-given passion and then watch what happens.