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.
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):
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:
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.)
I guess you can call this “A Few Hours in the Life…” or “How We Eat Something Other Than Frozen Pizza.” (The recipe for a fabulous salad is part of the post…you just have to hunt for the pieces like a treasure because I have zero time to write it all out.)
I can’t remember when I realized I would have to cook something for yesterday’s lunch because there were no leftovers, but I had all the ingredients for a roasted butternut squash, fennel and spelt salad, and it seemed easy enough.
Baby went down for his nap in the crib upstairs, Little Boy was zooming around on his scooter. I started skinning and chopping up the half of a butternut that was in our fridge. Toward the end, I asked Little Boy to help me, and he came in and put the little pieces into the roasting tray, we sprinkled sea salt, pepper and olive oil and tossed it. I put the roasting pan into the oven (170C) and set the timer for 15 minutes.
Little Boy starts pushing the knobs on the oven, and I get down to his level, look him in the eye, and say Josiah, what are you doing? What is obedience? He looks everywhere except my eyes, eventually meets them and says, No. So I say, That’s right, kiddo, obedience is no touching, if you do it again, you get a time out.
Baby starts crying – I did not check when he went to sleep but it had not been long – and Little Boy does not look like he will co-operate with the whole running upstairs, running back downstairs routine, so I put him in his chair at the dining table, turn on the nursery rhymes on Starfall.
I run up to pick Baby up, start rocking him back to sleep until I realize he will not go back to sleep without a bit of nursing, so nurse we do. Eventually I hear the timer start to ring, baby is “asleep” so I put him down, run downstairs – notice that Baby started crying again – pull the pan of squash out and set it on the counter while Mary Had a Little Lamb plays in the background.
Keep trying to put Baby back to sleep. I put him down semi-asleep again, he starts fussing almost immediately, I run down anyway for five minutes.
I take one bulb of fennel* out of the veggie basket and decide not to use the second one, wash and start slicing into medium-thick wedges. I’m about to put it all back in the oven when I remember that there’s supposed to be a clove of garlic chopped into the mix.
Never leave out the garlic.
Back up the stairs I go to see if Baby will be soothed to sleep. At some point I give up and just take him down to the kitchen, plop him into the bouncy seat. My little extrovert. He’s full of cheeky grins and coos now and wants to have a little chat while I start chopping garlic into tiny pieces. I am thinking about the other bulb of fennel in the fridge. What will I use it for if not in this salad? Is this going to be one of those things that just gets thrown away after a week or two? I take it out, chop it up and put it into the roasting tin.
If you’re following, that’s the 15-minute roasted squash, two medium-sized fennel bulbs sliced, and a clove of garlic chopped. Top it all off with a toss and a bit more olive oil, and back in the oven it goes for 20 minutes. (Set the timer. It’s always a good idea.)
I measure out my spelt, which I don’t think is spelt but something I brought from Switzerland called Ebly – it looks like pearl barley. Maybe. Who knows. Some sort of puffed grain. Easy to cook and fun to chew, so I really don’t care any less. I have not had time to figure out what spelt is in Swedish. Or what spelt is in English.
Either way, it’s two cups of Ebly to three cups of salted water in a pot on the stove.
I go over to check in Little Boy who looks totally bored with Incy, Wincy Spider an happily wants to get down. We begin a little kitchen dance that involves him wanting to get into stuff and me trying to keep him happy because I know he’s hungry.
Want fruit! Want bread!
How about some butternut squash and fennel in a few minutes?
Butternut KWASH, he says.
Zero, zero, he says pointing at the timer, ring ring! Ring ring!
Nope, I reply, that’s an eight, see an eight can look like two zeros on top of each other, and I walk over to his blackboard and draw two zeros on top of each other that look like an eight.
Turn down the now-boiling Ebly so that it is only simmering.
We count down to zero while watching the timer. I am amazed that this can be fascinating to a two-year-old, but really, I’ve stopped asking questions.
The timer goes ring ring! and I pull out the roasting tray and toss everything again and scatter about 50 grams of whole walnuts on top, everything goes back in the oven for eight more minutes.
I check the Ebly, and it seems done, grab a colander, put it in the sink, check for the toddler before I start handling the boiling liquid and pour.
HOT HOT!! Very hot!
Now, I tell him, I’m going to get a nice salad bowl out, and we’re going to make a nice salad.
But he’s hungry and wants to try the Ebly. Why not. So he sits down at the Red table! and starts eating a small plate of Ebly. He rejected it last week, so this is a success. I put the Ebly into a salad bowl that was a wedding present from Australia and watch the way the steam curls up toward the ceiling, with the still alive herbs and gorgeous October light in the background, and I think, I need to take photos of this. Because the herbs will probably be dead by afternoon.
The timer goes ring ring! again, and out comes the tray of roasted veggies, I mix it all up with the Ebly and toss it on the red table! and then remember that half a lemon gets squeezed over the whole lot. Miraculously there is half a lemon, cut and waiting in the fridge.
Little Boy squeezes the lemon because citrus has no chance when his hands are around.
We sit down and eat our lunch. This salad is fantastic, I think to myself, the textures are lovely – crunchy walnuts, soft fennel and squash, gummy Ebly. There’s supposed to be grated parmesan through the whole thing, but I’m not eating dairy at the moment.
There’s laughter and talking, Baby keeps smiling at Little Boy and trying to “talk” to him and to me. Little Boy eats all of his walnuts and starts to take mine off my plate.
How do you ask Mommy? I say.
Please Mommy ayyy I be cused! he says because it’s one of his little memorised phrases.
Not that one, I say, Please Mommy may I have a walnut. I don’t know what he says back to me, but I give him the walnut.
Butternut squash is let completely untouched – it was his favourite first food two years ago – and for two weeks now he has steadily refused it. I can’t be bothered arguing. There is enough salad for another meal for Husband and I (and snacks for me during the afternoon). Baby is happy, Little Boy is looking very ready for his nap.
I’ll call that a good morning. We’ll tackle the butternut squash again next week.
This recipe is from delicious. magazine, but I cannot find the recipe online. It was from the November 2011 edition, page 91, “Hugh Goes Veggie,” recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
*If you are breastfeeding and have supply issues, fennel is supposedly a simple way to increase milk supply. I was given fennel tea in large thermoses by the midwives in the hospital after both of my sons were born.
(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)
I was amazed the way I felt instantly like I would do anything for my son.
We were totally in love with her from the moment we laid eyes on her.
These are the typical words I heard from parents when they described the first moments with their first child. Earth shattering love, new feelings washing over them, and sitting in my hospital bed holding our wee firstborn son in my arms during the first hours of his life, I slowly realized I had no idea what these people were talking about.
I was not sitting on a cloud of love, I wasn’t surrounded by it, no lovey emotions were flooding me on the inside. I did not at all feel like giving up anything I hadn’t already given up for him. A small part of me was still confused as to how this wrinkled, pink piece of flesh was actually a permanent part of my life now even though I could sense that something big had taken place in my life.
Crazy joy filled me – I was ecstatic, bouncing off the walls kind of happy, which I blame on post-birth hormones and how proud I was of myself for giving birth with no pain relief. I was so “high,” I couldn’t sleep at all for most of the first day, content to just look at my son and jabber on and on to Husband about how I couldn’t believe how well the birth had been and how adorable our son was.
I was like an athlete who won a race, and the event I had trained for was done.
But love? The feelings? Not so much.
I remember sharing this part with a group of people who all looked shocked and uncomfortable after hearing the words, and it so baffled me because I felt and feel no guilt or shame about this, I accepted my emotions and moved on. I am so glad I did not judge myself in the beginning for not feeling much toward my son, I made the choice to simply enjoy him without making myself feel anything I didn’t.
Whatever you call your baby, his secret middle name is always the same – Needy. They only have needs, as my midwife liked to say. And in the beginning, Mommy is usually the one who meets most of the major needs. So day and night, I pulled him close and nursed him, I rocked him to sleep, woke up with him at night, changed nappies (and more nappies), washed his clothes, talked to him, read him books, sang to him.
It was physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausting work, and in the beginning, it is relentless work. It. Does. Not. Stop. Ever. Even in the moments of quiet, my brain would still be spinning, What does he need? When will the next wake up be? (And Little Boy was a fairly easy baby – no idea why – I never had to deal with prolonged crying, and he slept for decent stretches at night.)
I didn’t have the feelings of love, but almost every moment of my day I was doing the work of love, and the more I did the work of love, the more the feelings of love began to seep into me, a steady trickle gave way to a flowing stream that gave way to a tidal wave of emotion.
It wasn’t a specific moment, the moment when I knew I loved him and would do anything for him, but all I know is that it is a process that continues. It still has not stopped. With each season and stage of his life and all the challenges that come with it (and they are tougher today than two years ago), there is a fuller, richer, more complete love for him. Each challenging moment, every situation that demands all of my patience, kindness and understanding is the chisel on my heart that carves out a wider space for him in my life.
The work of love feeds the emotion of love. The harder the work, the stronger the love.
Friend, how are you feeling toward your baby, your children? Are you feeling guilty for a lack of a certain emotion? Please don’t. Keep doing your work, keep fighting to be present with your children, to wipe that nose one more time, to hold a tantruming child again, to work through another bedtime drama. Your emotions will follow.
*I do feel like it would be irresponsible of me to not add one caveat at the end of this – negative emotions toward our children (resentment, bitterness, even hatred) should be watched very, very carefully and thoughts about wanting to harm babies and children – however irrational we might think it is – should be a red flag for all of us. There is no shame in these emotions, friend, it’s part of post partum depression, perhaps part of a dysfunctional family cycle you experienced yourself or maybe it’s an issue you will have to work through. If you feel this way toward your babies or kids, please, please, please immediately pick up your phone and call your husband and a friend you trust, talk to them about it, get it out there, find someone who can look after your children for a few hours a week or even more regularly, and then find a good therapist whom you can talk to about it as well. Change is always possible when we engage with the process.
(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)
We have both been sick with evil colds and coughs for the past two days, and he sounds terrible. I go to him, flushed face, big tears rolling down his cheeks. I know he doesn’t want to wake up, but he must have felt so awful he couldn’t go back to sleep. We end up in the rocking chair, with his arms around my neck, head against my chest, neither of us are talking.
I used to rock him in this same, blue, uncomfortable chair two years ago. I was obstinate about napping – he would nap according to my plans, I would make him. So if he woke up too early according to my schedule or if he was having difficulty sleeping, I just sat there and rocked, sang, held his tiny frame close. Felt him relax, let go into sleep.
It’s costly, these moments. I had Things To Do this afternoon, and I am never ready for nap time to be over after an hour. Never. These are the daily little losses I faced when Little Boy was born and every day since, and each one came at a cost.
Our stories are unique, and in no way do I think mine is representative of most women. But whatever way a child arrives in our lives, no matter how desired, planned or hoped for a pregnancy or adoption may be, huge losses come with it. Children are costly, and I’m not referring to money. Time, energy, fun, freedom, relationships and so many other things that disappear or change.
This is the point where many of you are reading this and wondering, Yes of course there are losses, but don’t you gain something as well? So many older women have said this to me as I have lamented the losses in my own life these past two years, and of course I have gained many things – and will be writing about that in the days to come – but before you gain something, before something is added to your life, there has to be space for it, and this is one of the gifts of loss, it creates spaces.
Counting the cost has become a necessary practice for me as I mother, it is the way I honour my losses. It is my way of saying, This was important to you, it’s not part of your life anymore, that’s hard and it’s ok that it is hard. Counting the cost requires continued honesty with myself, a process of acknowledgement and release.
What does counting the cost look like? For me it is considering what is to come – I spend a lot of time thinking, and I leave space in my days for thinking time (hence my devotion to nap time), I journal and write a gratitude list, easily the best tool in helping me let go.
The costlier something is, the more value it has, and our closest relationships in some ways are the most costly; in paying the cost, we affirm its value. Every night I lose sleep, every snotty nose wiped, every outing I turn down because it will mess up bed time, are all losses, each one says, I value you, son, more than what I am losing right now.
As I sit in the blue chair with Little Boy slowly coming to terms with the fact that my afternoon as I planned it was over, I hold him, pray for him silently, rub his back, and I can feel the swell of compassion, empathy, gentleness and kindness coming over me, and it is good, this moment with my son as I pay my cost one by one.
What are your relationships costing you today? How are you counting the costs?
(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)