I admit it: I am a parenting book junkie. Parenting our two little girls is, to borrow a (now) tired old advertising slogan, “the toughest job we’ve ever loved.” I feel like I’ve read them all, and really, I’ve gleaned something useful out of every one I’ve read. Dare to Discipline? Check. I’ve got the idea of consistency down. Shepherding a Child’s Heart? Oh, yeah. This one helped further impress upon me the importance of obedience. How to Make Children Mind Without Losing Yours? Steady Eddie and I actually watched the video presentation of this one. I’ve even read lesser known volumes like Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids! (read my thoughts here) and A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother (read my thoughts here), both of which deal more closely with the heart issues of the parent than the behavior of the child.
To sum it up, we could almost write the book ourselves. I realize that is a dangerous thing to say when our children are only five and three, but I actually don’t mean to imply that we are perfect in our execution of this parenting job. In fact, most days I feel like a dismal failure at it, to tell the truth. What I mean is we have all the requisite knowledge. Every parent reading this knows that is the easy part. It’s the ability to think on one’s feet and make quick-but-important decisions that absolutely wears me out. I’m not a quick thinker.
However, what I don’t need is more knowledge, and that’s really precisely what Grace Based Parenting doesn’t provide. The basic premise behind this book is that children need three things: love, purpose, and hope. Kimmel profiles no fewer than seven types of parenting he says are rampant in the Christian community, including fear-based parenting, evangelical behavior-modification parenting, and high-control parenting. (I mention these three because these are the ones I tend to err towards, I think. Besides, these are the ones I see the most, too.) He spends this whole 230 page book illuminating a parenting style that attempts to keep an even keel between legalism and permissivism, and he reminds the reader over and over that parenting this way is simply parenting our children the way God parents us.
I read this book with pen in hand, underlining and asterisk-ing as I went. Of course, I want my parenting of my children to emulate the grace God gives me daily. I want this more than anything else in the world. This book captures the spirit of this type of parenting. I will share a few excerpts that drives home this point:
Grace’s attitude is “Go for it!” or “I love it!” Having said this, I know there are times when children need to be told that they can’t have the buffet or they need to keep their shoes on, but it shouldn’t be an arbitrary thing. It should be times when it’s the only workable option or makes godly sense. Otherwise, it makes no sense–especially if you are trying to treat your child the way God treats us. Kids inside homes where nonmoral issues are elevated to a level of big problems don’t get to experience the kind of acceptance that makes a heart feel securely loved. Instead they live with a barrage of nitpicking criticism, receiving put-d0wns because they are curious, anxious, helpless, carefree, or absent-minded. (61)
(I started with that one because it hit me right between the eyes. Ouch.)
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. You may be weird and quirky, but God loves you through His grace with all of your weirdness and quirkiness. You may feel extremely inadequate and fragile in key areas of your life, but God comes alongside you in those very areas of weakness and carries you through with His grace. You may be frustrated, hurt, and even angry with God, but HIs grace allows you to candidly, confidently, and boldly approach his “throne of grace.” His grace is there for you when you fail, when you fall, and when you make huge mistakes. (21)
One thing that I found curious about this book (probably because of my own sensitivity towards the subject, new homeschooling mom that I am) is that Kimmel almost seems to lean more toward the “don’t shelter your kids” camp, and he makes it a point to say that fairly often. I actually don’t have a problem with that; sheltering, as such, is not the reason we homeschool at all. However, it gave me a curious feeling to think that perhaps someone whom I consider to have this parenting gig figured out might think that homeschooling is a bad idea. (He never says this at all, mind you. In fact, he points out that education is another area in which God gives us grace. It’s just my super-sensitive, highly introspective mind at work again here.) I do get what he’s saying about it, though. In fact, I feel it all too keenly. Why should we completely shelter our children from “worldly influences” when the sin problem is internal, not external? Maybe the question is not “why should we,” but “how can we?” Kimmel says it more succinctly that I ever could:
Grace-based families realize that their children will struggle with sin. They consider it an honor to be used by God to show their children how to find true forgiveness in Christ. They are not intimidated by the dialogue that brings the discussion of sin into the light. In fact, they are grateful to be able to come alongside their children with an unconditional love during some of their toughest hours. (220)
I would rank this book just below Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (my thoughts here) as one of the best, most perspective changing books on parenting I’ve read. To borrow a phrase from LeVar Burton (HT Carrie 😉 ), “But don’t take my word for it,” check out Jennefer’s thoughts on this heart-changing book, as well.