confessions graphic FINALgrace

There must be at least 1,493,259 books out there about parenting. At least. Parents are some of the most afraid motivated people out there, and every author, writer, thinker, hack, researcher, social scientist, psychologist, psychiatrist, pastor, imam, monk, talk show host and you know, PARENT has some sort of a book about the topic that will definitely answer all of your parenting questions today! Now! Perfectly!

I’m a reader, I love the feel of pages in my hand, and sitting down with a book for hours on end just filing information away in my head. If it makes me cry, even better. When Little Boy was nearing his first birthday, I ordered 13 parenting books and started working my way through the stack. It was like going back to school – nerd alert! –  the fun of learning without any tests. My kind of school.

Every week for this month, I’m going to review a book that impacted me and has gone on to shape the way I think about our family and our children. I think the real challenge for us is not figuring out what to believe but what not to believe from the sea of opinions out there.

This week’s review is Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel.

We are people of faith, and a large portion of our parenting books are written by people from the same faith background as us.  Most of the books have had a few chapters or tools that I appreciate and use regularly with our children, but it’s rare that I found a Christian book I could recommend wholeheartedly. (Although I’m sure there are many, many more out there that I haven’t read, including Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas, which sounds amazing.)

“Grace Based Parenting” is one of the few Christian parenting books I would recommend as a whole, and even if you are not from this faith tradition, I would say the book still has some fantastic insights about the power grace can have in shaping a home.

The main reason I loved this book was because I steered clear of the typical “Do this don’t do this” methodology of parenting books. This is not a how to or a must do or a can do. Philosophy or teaching is more where I would put Kimmel’s words; it gives a broad structure or frame and doesn’t so much deal with the “what do I do if my toddler is having a tantrum?” types of issues.

Simply put, this book showed me what a home empowered and coloured by grace looks like, specifically in how I relate to my children.

As we assessed our parenting options, we wanted a style that took into account our children’s unique personalities, their fragile natures, the corrupted world that surrounded them, their personal bents, and the individual pilgrimages on which God would take them. We wanted our method to be powered by our confidence in God rather than our concerns about the messed-up world we were raising our children in.

– Dr. Ted Kimmel, “Grace Based Parenting” (p133)

He then goes on to say that one of the aims of the book is to help parents raise strong kids, not safe ones (p121).

I have many thoughts about the fear-based culture that exists in evangelical Christian homes, churches and parenting materials – a lot – and will probably do a bit more of that in the weeks to come. So I will keep my little piece about that today very short, and it’s this: it seems to me that the vast majority of Christian books’ point is “Here’s How You Can Keep Little Suzy and Little Johnny From Getting Drunk, Looking at Porn, Having Pre Marital Sex, Becoming Gay, Doing Drugs, Walking Away from the Church,” and because that’s a long title, they’ve chosen some friendlier ones instead.

As I have gone through book after book after book, I find myself thinking, There has to be so much more to being a parent than wanting to prevent your kids from doing things. If you feel the same way, may I suggest “Grace-Based Parenting” as a resource for you?

Kimmel provides a matrix for grace-based parenting in the book (p135) built around what he says are children’s three main needs and the four ways adults can meet those needs. The three main needs are (p25):

  1. A need for security
  2. A need for significance
  3. A need for strength

And that children need to have these needs met at home (and from God) through a secure love, a significant purpose and a strong hope.

The four freedoms that provide the space in which children can grow:

  1. The freedom to be different
  2. The freedom to be vulnerable
  3. The freedom to be candid
  4. The freedom to make mistakes

I don’t want to go much further into these things, just hopefully whet your appetite for the book itself. I’ll end though with another point from the book that I thought was one of its most outstanding points, one I will never forget. This is a long section from the chapter on “A Strong Hope,” but honestly the book is worth it for this section alone.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (NASB).

Parents assume this verse is saying that if we raise our children in a Christian home, take them to church and Sunday school, point out the pitfalls of the corrupted world around them, and maybe put them in a safe environment (Christian schools, home schools, Christian friends), then when they are older they are going to embrace the moral and spiritual presuppositions they were trained with in their youth. For good measure, parents must make sure their children memorize the Ten Commandments, attend a Christian summer camp, and that they are prayed with before they go to bed every night.

A surface application of this verse says they might be correct. The problem is that I can come up with plenty of examples of kids who were parented according to the parameters I just outlined, but they rejected the spiritual training of their youth when they got older. When parents see this happen, they wonder if God broke His promise to them. The answer, of course, is “No.” Several have written on what I’m about to explain, so there’s nothing clever or earth-shattering about my observations. What is more amazing to me is how so many people continue to misapply Proverbs 22:6.

The “train up a child” part has an interesting usage when you break down the Hebrew text. The expression “train up” is used in other Hebrew literature to describe a maneuver that ancient midwives used to cause newborns to being the sucking impulse. Right after birth, they would take the juice of crushed grapes or dates and put it on their index fingers and massage the baby’s gums and palate. Besides developing the sucking response, this also cleansed the newborn’s mouth of amniotic fluids.

When used in Proverbs 22, the writer is saying that we should use childhood as an opportunity to build a clean and healthy thirst for life that God has uniquely designed for that child. Now, you may be wondering how I got all of that out of the phrase “train up…” I didn’t. That’s what you get when you combine “train up a child…” with “in the way he should go.” Some translations say “train him up in his way,” which is actually a more literal rendering of the Hebrew dereck. One of the most accurate English synonyms for dereck would be the word bents. This is how the same word is translated in Psalm 11 referring to the bend of a bow.

If you were making a bow out of a tree limb, you’d first study the limb to figure out what its natural “bent” is. Then you’d string it. If you didn’t do this, when you pulled the bow back, it would snap because it was strung against its natural bent rather than with it. In the same way, we are to groom our children according to their natural bents. This means coming alongside them with a plan to help leverage their natural and unique gifts and skills into highly developed assets that they can lean on in the future.

“In the way they [plural] should go” also means that we should study them enough to know which natural bents they have that push them in the wrong direction. They might struggle with an inordinate amount of fear, shyness, stubbornness, argumentativeness, dependence, independence, sexual drive, or need to take dangerous risks. We can’t make these liabilities disappear, but we are to raise them in such a way that we account for them and give them tools to help process them properly.”

– Dr. Tim Kimmel, “Grace Based Parenting” (p111)

This post is Day 5 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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