Archive | Parenting

Gospel-centered Timeouts

The gospel changes everything, my pastors often say. I wrestle daily with exactly what that means, especially how the gospel changes my parenting style. I’ve written before about the difference in discipline and punishment. Christians and non-Christians often use those two words interchangeably, but the Bible doesn’t, and that is the focal point for me of what is and what is not gospel-centered parenting. I cannot believe the gospel changes everything and then continue to punish my children (read the article to which I previously linked for a Biblical defense of that statement). However, I can and must disciple them. I proactively train them in righteousness and reactively guide them in how the gospel equips them to reconcile with the one to whom they have done wrong. Christ bore all their punishment (payment of sin) on the cross, and there is no condemnation for those who are in Him. I can’t believe the gospel is sufficient for my children and then heap shame and condemnation on them in punishment for their sins. Yet, I cannot disengage either. God has tasked me with the responsibility of training them.

These are all nice words on paper, but they mean little until I apply it practically in the mud pit of daily life. I’ve found Give Them Grace (and all of Elyse Fitzpatrick’s writings) helpful on this topic. [Although I will say that I have some push-back on the chapter from Give Them Grace on spanking. I’m working on an article on that topic, and Elyse has been gracious to interact with me on the issue. When I finally get my article written, I’ll post her response as well. I am looking forward to that edifying discussion. Here’s an older post on the subject.]

In my ongoing attempts to apply the gospel to the discipline of my children, I’ve found that a simple tweak to the Super Nanny style timeout better fits my doctrine than traditional timeouts. Please don’t feel constrained by my practical application, though if it’s helpful to you, that is great. The simple change I’ve made is that I no longer put my sons in timeout for a specific amount of time. In times past, if they didn’t obey me on a specific issue, my temptation was to punish them with a 5 or 10 minute (or longer) timeout, depending on their age and the severity of what they did. But that reminds me of a punitive jail sentence. “You took your brothers, toy? Verdict: guilty. Your sentence is to sit in that chair for 10 minutes.” But the gospel teaches that Christ took their guilty verdicts on the cross and bore the punishment for every last one of them. I struggle then with punishing them a second time. It makes Christ’s punishment seem irrelevant, and I sure don’t want to teach them that. Yet, as I said before, I have to disciple them through it! 

In light of that, time-outs have become a tool for getting my boys’ attention so we can DEAL with the problem. Many times (not always), the way this looks is that I put one or the other in time-out until they have calmed down and are ready to deal with the problem. I’ll sometimes say, “when your attitude has changed and you’re ready to talk to me respectfully (or repair with your brother, or clean up your mess, or whatever the issue is), you can come find me.” Sometimes, right then, they’ll say, “I’m ready,” though it’s obvious they aren’t. In that case, I repeat my instructions with some additions (when you are no longer angry, or when you have finished crying, or when your tone of voice has changed). Then when they come find me and I can tell they really do seem ready to address/fix the problem, then we start talking about it. I ask them, “What did you do?” Because if they don’t understand or admit what they did wrong, we won’t have an effective discussion about fixing the root issue (what a big problem this is among grownups too!). Once they admit the real problem, we can start addressing the solution. What does God say to do? Usually, we start with the greatest command and golden rule. True to how Jesus addresses the greatest command, most every other issue they have in life stems from its root. Next, how does the gospel equip us to deal with this problem? Well, it enables us to receive forgiveness from God, and God’s forgiveness equips us to then forgive the next person (Eph. 4:32). From there, what can do we do to repair the problem? That question often takes some thought, yet it is a crucial point of reconciliation. I enjoy watching my boys try to answer that question and love those moments when they sincerely face the problem and genuinely start caring about fixing it. Repairing and reconciliation are beautiful things to witness.

The discussion of discipline verses punishment has to address both negative punishment and positive reinforcement. Consequences and incentives. I don’t want my consequences to be punishment. But I don’t want to set my boys up for failure, which is what I do if I don’t address problem areas in which they tend to sin and disobey. I’ve found a simple tweak in how I communicate consequences to my children to be particularly helpful in practically applying my beliefs. We now talk about consequences as more about removing stumbling blocks than punishing behavior. For instance, I won’t take them to the playground if they can’t listen to my instructions and keep other kids safe. It’s not a punitive jail sentence. It’s removing a stumbling block for them until they’ve grown some on the issue. We have a particular problem with morning negativity when it’s time to get ready for school. One of my sons likes to play games in the morning and had a very negative attitude when it was time to stop for school. So we took time off from playing those games in the morning. I didn’t talk about it as punishment against him in retribution for his attitude. But I was clear that playing these games was causing him problems in the morning, so we were going to stop for a while because it set him up for having a bad day. After a few weeks of that, he asked if he could play them again, and we had a good discussion about it. He recognized that we had stopped because it caused him to have a bad morning when time to get ready for school. We discussed if he could now do it but have a good attitude when time to turn them off. And we talked about needing to stop playing them again if they became a problem for him that caused him to have a bad attitude. It’s just a minor change in how I communicated consequences to my son, yet I have much more peace about the consistency of this with what I’m trying to communicate to him about the gospel, grace, forgiveness, and repentance.

If this sounds like an easy system or method, don’t let the simplicity of a short blog post confuse the complexity of any given situation in real life. I’ve outlined my best case scenarios, targets I only rarely hit myself. And again, please don’t read this and feel constrained to discipline your children the way I do mine. But if this encourages you to think more deeply about how the specifics of your discipline techniques reflect the gospel to your kids (as it has for me), then that is a good thing.

Discipling an Aspie

I read an article recently that discussed ministering to those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“The name comes from a pediatrician in Vienna, Hans Asperger, who in the 1940’s discovered that certain children have a unique set of character traits.  He began to study them, and he noticed they had some of the following characteristics in common:

-they tend to have a low EQ, meaning they lack certain social skills
-they prefer to be alone
-they are very intelligent (“little professors” he called them)
-they see things in black and white, meaning they take things very literally
-they do not easily process information
-they miss subtleties, do not easily intuit
-they are very sensitive to sounds, textures
-they have an odd sense of humor—quirky fits here
-they do not easily read faces, tend to avoid eye contact
-they are not so sensitive to feelings—they do not easily empathize
-they can melt down if given too many tasks at once

I immediately thought of my son, who is distinctly different from his brother and most of his preschool and elementary school peers in how he processes information. My son is not on the most extreme end of the Asperger’s Spectrum, yet, he’s there. I read these attributes to my husband as well, and we laughed. It explains a lot in our family.

My husband is by far my best resource in parenting my little Aspie because my little guy is in many ways just a smaller version of my big guy. The big thing we’ve talked about is accepting simply that he processes things differently than many other kids. And different is not bad.

Different: unusual, not common, not in step with the norm

Bad: of poor or inferior quality; defective; deficient; inadequate or below standard; morally reprehensible

This has been a very important point for me to get. DIFFERENT is not the same as BAD. Unusual is not the same as defective or morally wrong. Because I have a very different personality than my son, I value the norm. If I walk into a room of people in a social situation, I try to assess what is already going on and join in or support it if I can. And that can be a good thing—maybe I’m being polite and empathetic. It can also be a bad thing—maybe I’m insecure and trying to please people. Maybe I am proud and want them to think well of me. When my son walks in a room and is oblivious of others, it’s not necessarily wrong, but it is very different from me.

Once I fortify myself against the “different is bad” mentality that others project onto me and that my own personality tempts me to believe, then I can deal with my son’s strengths and weaknesses at a healthy level. What are the strengths of his personality spiritually speaking? What are the weaknesses?

The strengths I have come to recognize easily enough. He isn’t easily pressured by his peers. I wouldn’t mind so much if he looked around his 1st grade classroom and tried to blend in a bit better. But I recognize that long term, this will serve him very well. He won’t be hogtied emotionally like I was by the way others look at him. His personality traits will protect him, at least somewhat, from the kind of negative peer pressure that debilitated me when I was in junior high and high school. If he thinks he should or should not do something, he won’t be easily persuaded by the opinion of others. That is an awesome gift, and I admire it greatly after having struggled with that myself.

But his personality comes with weaknesses too. He often lacks empathy. And he can lock in so hard on a project that people become meaningless to him. I can’t just TELL him to be considerate, because it’s not intuitive for him. I have to model it and truly, proactively disciple him in it. I can’t just tell him the Golden Rule. I have to explain it in detail and then help him evaluate specific situations again and again in light of it.

The places we are focusing right now are the Greatest Command and the Golden Rule. People are more important than projects. That doesn’t mean that projects aren’t good or that he shouldn’t have opportunity to focus on his projects. We give him a lot of room there. But when the rubber meets the road, people are more important than projects. Our first priority is loving God. Our second is to love our neighbor as ourself. Which leads very nicely into the Golden Rule – how do YOU want to be treated, son? Ok. Then love your brother and treat him the way you want him to treat you.

I have learned so much in this journey with my son, yet I still can get very discouraged. It helps me to think how far we’ve already come – to think back on our miserable first year of preschool. I had experienced enough playdates with friends in the first 2 years of my son’s life to know he wasn’t exactly developmentally on target. But when we hit preschool, it was starkly obvious. There were 12 kids in the classroom—eleven 2-3 year olds remarkably similar in their ability to interact with peers and grown ups and one, my son, who was very, very different. The teachers helped me much that first year, patiently modeling for him again and again how to interact with other kids and grown ups, how to understand their expressions and repair with them when he had hurt them. And patiently modeling for ME how to redirect him and help him build the social skills that came normally for other kids but which he could not intuit for himself. They pointed me toward speech therapy, where a therapist modeled for me how to help him make eye contact and take turns in communication. In the five years since then, he and I have both come a long, long way.

It’s hard to water seeds and wait for fruit with our children, and it’s certainly hard when discipling a child with aspie tendencies. The exhortations in Scripture to persevere and endure are precious to me in this journey. Stay engaged. Repeat instruction as necessary. And never give up. Different is not bad, and it’s OK that I have to teach this son things that come naturally to many other kids.

1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

James 1 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Women Saved Through Childbearing?!

Last week I posted a short encouragement to moms of infants and toddlers. I average 200 or so visitors to the blog daily. I’ve had a few times on this blog that daily visitors have spiked over 1000. The Gospel Coalition has picked up a few of my posts. I posted a few articles on Desiring God, and hits to the blog spiked then too. But after the post for moms of infants and toddlers, no major source picked up the blog article. Even so, hits to my blog were at an all-time high. Over 450 (*now it’s 500) individuals shared the article on Facebook—most definitely an all-time high for this blog. I pondered all of this. No major evangelical outlets picked up this article. It didn’t stand out to them, and I respect that. Yet, for the moms in the trenches, it struck a major nerve.

Moms in the trenches—now there’s a demographic. You’re not the soccer moms. More the spit-up moms. The poop moms. The keep-them-from-swallowing-poison-today moms. Raising these little ones has exposed in us something raw and needy. Childbearing. Child rearing. It is not for the faint of heart.

A few years ago, I sat through a Mother’s Day sermon that made me cringe at the onset. The pastor announced his passage, and I wanted to walk out. It was 1 Timothy 2:15.

“Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.“

Come on, Pastor?! Don’t you know better than to go there?!! Paul sounds like such a sexist there. And, yet, on this particular Sunday, the message ended up being a real encouragement to me. I finally got the point of Paul’s words. I’m sure it helped that I was the mother of 2 young boys stuck in the trenches. As I listened to the pastor’s explanation in light of my own experiences as a young, naïve, but earnest mother, the Spirit made some things clear to me from this passage.

I grew up thinking the term “saved” referred simply to that one point in time in which I walked down the isle of my church, repented of my sins, and publicly professed belief in Christ. That was “getting saved”. Once I “got saved”, that term had served its purpose in my life, and I needed to focus on other Christian obligations. As an adult, I’ve come to understand the broader way the Scripture uses the term salvation. Salvation is a process that follows me from the day I first understand my need for Jesus Christ (or more accurately, from before time began) until I sit at the Marriage Feast in heaven as the Bride of Christ. Scripture uses the terms justification, sanctification, and glorification to define this process. I was saved (justification). I am being saved (sanctification). And I will be saved (glorification).

The term saved encompasses our redemption from sin and reconciliation to God. The entire process is by God’s free grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It begins with justification—God opens my eyes to my need for Him, and I repent of my sin and place my faith in Jesus. God declares me righteous through Christ’s payment for sin on the cross, switching Christ’s perfection to my account and my sin to Christ’s account. But then I wake up the next morning, and I still struggle, quite consistently, with sin. This leads to sanctification—where slowly over time God roots out our sin and conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. It’s becoming in reality what God has already declared us to be in heaven—i. e. perfectly righteous. Glorification is the end—in heaven, God will present us to Jesus at the Marriage Feast in beauty and perfection. We will finally be in reality a Bride worthy of the Lamb.

But here I am now, a 40 something mother of 2 young boys, stuck right in the middle. I am justified—God has declared me righteous in heaven. I am reconciled to Him through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But I’m still a sinner. In the midst of that, I begin the process of bearing (the Greek here indicates bringing into existence, forming, becoming, developing) children. For me, this process began years ago when I was a single woman who thought I may never get married and have kids. God was sanctifying me back then through my fear of never bearing children. One older single friend gave testimony to me of the great spiritual struggle she had to say goodbye to the children she would never bear. God rooted out much fear and wrong thinking in her life through that struggle. During the mother’s day sermon in question, the pastor made the point that single and infertile women shouldn’t feel excluded from I Tim. 2:15, because God still uses the issue of childbearing in their lives for their sanctification. I have heard from many women who struggle because they are unable to bear children. They too give testimony that God has used the issue of childbearing to sanctify them much.

Once I did get married, we got pregnant easily, miscarried, and then had problems getting pregnant again. Again, well before I ever physically bore a child, God was using the bearing of children to reveal to me my fears and unbelief. Then finally I had my beautiful boys. They daily bring me great joy. And God uses them daily to reveal to me my great sin. Before I got married, I had no idea how selfish and self-oriented I was. In marriage, I began to see it a little bit. But now, I am bombarded 100 times a day with the need to die to myself. I had NO IDEA I was so alive to myself in the first place. I’m also becoming increasingly aware of how little I trust God. It’s one thing to trust Him with my own safety. Another thing to trust Him with my grown husband. But to trust Him with my vulnerable, little boys?! God once again is rooting out my wrong views of His character and replacing them with the truth of His trustworthiness from His Word.

So, yes, I am being saved—redeemed from sin and conformed to His image—through the bearing, development, and formation of these boys. I realize that for the rest of my life, I will be the mother of these 2 boys. And for the rest of my life, God will use them to test my faith and reveal my wrong thinking, lack of trust, pride, and selfishness. This is my marathon, which is why Paul warned of the need for perseverance in I Timothy 2. God will use them to root out sin, but then He’ll replace it with the righteousness of Christ as He conforms me to His image. To the praise of His glorious grace.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Give US Grace – parenting advice for moms of infants and toddlers

I’ve mentioned my mom’s group Bible study before. We are studying through Give Them Grace and enjoying the discussion very much. We have a number of mothers of very young kids with a few moms of older, school age kids. Give Them Grace has been such a convicting, encouraging study for me, mother of a kindergartner and 1st grader. My boys can express themselves and understand me. They are starting to process the gospel, and I praise God we are at that stage.

However, I’ve been trying to implement grace-based parenting ideas for several years. I wish someone had told me years ago that the person that most needed grace in those early years with infants and toddlers was MYSELF. The baby and toddler years are TOUGH. They are very different from the early school years, though they too have their struggles. The toddler years are crazy, and we need different expectations of our parenting in those early years.

I was at peace for the first few months with a newborn—I knew those first months would be dominated by feeding issues and trying to get my child on a schedule. But I didn’t realize that the survival mode I was in in those early months would actually go on for years. I thought I should be progressing faster than I was. Part of my problem was that I had a number of friends with similarly aged daughters who communicated much faster with their mom than my boys did with me. The other problem was that my little ones did not take in a new environment by observation, but by exploration. I’ve noticed some little ones who hang back and observe in new environments. But my boys walked in a room, noticed a door, and start opening it and shutting it to figure out the hinges. How does that outlet work? What’s a fire alarm? How does this thing I’ve never seen before taste? It was pure survival in our home for a good 4 years. Sure there was nurturing. There was training, correcting, and management. But the overarching theme of it all was simply SURVIVAL.

As a mom finally out of that stage, I recognize the symptoms in my sisters in Christ right in the middle of it. Stress in our marriages. Stress in our friendships. And so much stress just in our heads and hearts. In light of all that, I have a few points of advice I wish someone had shared with me.

1) Preach the gospel to yourself. You will not survive this stage without meditation on all God has said over you in Christ. Chances are your figure at this stage isn’t going to help your identity. Your homemaking skills aren’t going to help your identity. If you are relying on your external successes at this stage of life to give you meaning, you are sunk. But let this time, when you can not keep up a facade, reveal your true heart, and then turn to God in that desperation. He has a good plan for your life, and part of that good plan are these years of simple survival nurturing your young children.

2) READ YOUR BIBLE. I talked in my last post about this. God promises supernatural strength through His Word, and you KNOW right now you need supernatural strength. You may only have 5 minutes (even if you have more time, you likely don’t have the brain power to process more than that). The Psalms bring me so much comfort at stressful seasons of life, primarily because the majority of the Psalms were written during stressful seasons in the Psalmist’s life. His cries to God echo mine in the stress of life, and God’s answers to him always encourage me.

3) Don’t let women at other stages of life pressure you with expectations of what you can accomplish at this stage. When your children are little, forget color coordinated meals. It’s ok if there’s laundry in the basket or your bathroom needs cleaning. If you have a choice between doing dishes and taking a nap, use paper plates and take the nap. Rest helps so much with the stress of life at this stage. You will be better able to nurture your children and keep them safe if you’ve had a nap.

Eventually, you’ll emerge from this stage. Your children will start communicating with you. They will reach a point developmentally where you can start communicating the essence of gospel grace to them. But you’ll never communicate it to them until you first get it for yourself. And the early years with infants and toddlers, as we are stripped of our abilities to do for ourselves what we once easily did, are a prime time for us to understand God’s grace to us more deeply than we ever have before.

Hugs and Affirmation

I am reminded daily of the interconnected nature of my parenting and my theology. Last week, I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to discipline my younger son, who is not normally the challenging child in our family. He was having a hard week, acting out angrily and then throwing out emotionally charged language at me when disciplined – “I hate you.” “You don’t want to be my mommy.” “You don’t love me.” And even more disturbing – “I don’t like myself.” “I don’t want to be in this world.”

What in the world?! Where was he getting that stuff? The acting out was escalating, along with the emotional verbal aftermath. I brought this burden with me into our mom’s group Bible study last week. As we shared our burdens for our children, one mom told how she had been intentionally affirming and hugging her problem child multiple times a day and the difference that was making in her child’s attitude. I thought, could it really be that simple?! But I felt burdened afterwards that I should do the same with my son.

I knew that giving him extra hugs and affirmation at random times of the day wouldn’t change how I handled his outbursts. I wasn’t going to hug and affirm him if he hit his brother. But I was hoping that if I hugged him and affirmed him when he was behaving, then when the time came to discipline him when he sinned, he would receive it from me without going into his You-hate-me-and-I-hate-myself routine.

I have been giving him random hugs and affirmation—when I first see him in the morning, when I send him to school, when I pick him up from school, and when we are getting ready for bed. And something unexpected has happened. Hugs didn’t help when it came time to deal with serious behavior issues. Instead, the serious behavior issues simply DISAPPEARED. Though he hasn’t been a perfect kid, and we’ve had some issues through which to work, I can’t remember him hurting his brother or needing an extended time out ALL WEEK. Perhaps all that will change this afternoon, but for the week I’ve been trying this, I have had NO major discipline issues with him.

I’m still stunned at the simplicity of this fix. And I’m not naïve about the probability of similar issues in the future. But today, I am contemplating how affective hugs and affirmation have been at changing his behavior. THANK YOU, Mom friend at Bible study, for giving me a tangible way to parent my child the way God parents His.

And this IS how God parents us. It was a major observation I made when writing the Ephesians Bible study. Paul starts off Ephesians with a long, beautiful discourse on God’s lavish grace and unconditional love poured out on us before time began. He prays we would know the hope that comes with all God has declared over us in affirmation. And it’s only after that he discusses our sin and depravity. God’s affirmation of us gives us the safe place we need to face our sin and need head on. Throughout Ephesians, this truth is reinforced.

I don’t know why my son had such insecurities and needed my affirmation so much. But he did. And I do too. As I hug and affirm my son, I’m reminded of the beautiful things God has said over me, and I have confidence to face my sin and need head on, for nothing can separate me from the love of my Father in heaven.

Ephesians 1
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
 
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
 
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

The Myth of the Biblical Parenting Method (and free book give away)

There is a huge difference in Biblical parenting principles and Biblical parenting methods.

Method: a specific procedure, technique, or practical way of doing something.

Principle: a fundamental law or general truth from which others are derived and determined.

Methods are drawn from understanding and applying principles. In terms of Biblical parenting, I and my friends are longing for methods. We are longing for someone to tell us the tangible, practical techniques that will aid us in rearing our children in Christ and the Word. My mom’s group Bible study is looking for a PRACTICAL study on Biblical parenting. Readers of this blog ask me regularly for PRACTICAL techniques they can use with their kids. And I long for it myself – someone please hand me a grace-based, gospel-centered MANUAL of methods. Enough with the principles. Enough with inspiring me to parent my children the way God parents His in light of the gospel. I’ve got it. I understand the principles. Now tell me what to do when my 5 year old son decides to relieve himself on the back of my 13 year old dog at 6 am in the morning. What specific procedure, technique, or practical way of handling that fits with the fundamental truths of my Christian faith?!

As each day passes, I am becoming more and more convinced that there will never be THAT book. There will never be a practical manual of specific gospel-centered techniques for parenting our children. At least not one I can recommend to others. I’ve seen it tried a time or two, and it inevitably fails. I loved Shepherding a Childs Heart … until it got into specific techniques. It made great points on the Biblical principles at play, but it broke down when it got into methods, particularly on the topic of the rod. Then there is Ezzo’s Babywise and the Pearl’s To Train Up a Child – both heavy on method. Many would argue the Pearls’ in particular is horrible, abusive method contrary to the gospel, to which I heartily agree.

In contrast, I have read many great gospel-centered parenting books, but the really good ones seem to understand that a gospel-centered approach doesn’t lend itself well to specific, quantifiable methods. Examples are different than methods, by the way. A good author who understands the difference in the gospel and law guards themselves from breaking down the line between what worked for them (example) and what will work for you (method), between what they found helpful and what they project onto you that all good parents should do. Here are some books that I have found helpful with principles and overarching foundational Biblical truths.

Families Where Grace is in Place

Give Them Grace (Elyse Fitzpatrick does offer practical ideas and examples and even has a section at the end with specific words to use. Knowing the heart of man, this section runs the risk of becoming what most attempts at method have become in the Church – more law. Also, she distinguishes between believing and unbelieving children with her strategies. This will be problematic if you hold a covenant view of your children. Otherwise, this one gave me a lot to think about in terms of the Biblical difference in law and grace in my parenting and is the one we will likely use in our mom’s group Bible study this quarter.)

Parenting is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt

Grace-Based Parenting

Instead of finding a Christian parenting book with gospel centered methods, I’ve had more success learning practical ideas from secular resources. Then I’m not tempted to adopt those methods as the righteous choice, as a spiritual law. When the resource is secular, I feel freedom to adopt methods for my family because they work in light of our Biblical parenting principles and no guilt at all when I discard a method that is not working for our family or does not fit our principles. There are a ton of resources on positive discipline, which is the secular buzzword in my experience that will give you the most ideas of methods that fit a truly Biblical, gospel centered paradigm for parenting.

In terms of Biblical principles, here are the big picture, overarching themes that I want to govern my parenting.

Parenting my children the way God parents His
In light of the gospel
That teaches there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus …
And equips us to do unto others with grace
Under the greatest command of loving God and loving others.

I know these principles, these truths, and I hold them dearly. My secular cooperative preschool is the place I have gotten the most helpful practical ideas that I could use in my family under these overarching principles. I listened to the parent educator and watched the teachers at work. So many of their methods fit right into my gospel-centered principles. It was positive, proactive discipline, not shame-based, reactive punishment. I chose the methods that worked for our family based on my convictions and my children’s personalities. And sometimes, the same things don’t work two days in a row. Methods have to be open handed things, while the Bible principles never change.

Here’s my final thought on this topic. We are never going to get a set of METHODS that works for the long haul. And be very wary of teachers or other parents who try to convince you they’ve found some. Principles work for the long haul. Methods do not. And parenting our children the way God parents His is much more about relationship than method. I don’t think God has methods and strategies for me. He has a relationship with me, and He interacts with me and disciplines me out of that relationship. Doing that with our kids as fallen parents requires wrestling with the principles in play, wrestling with our children’s personalities in light of the gospel, and wrestling with our Father in heaven. Don’t cop out and accept an easy answer. Stay engaged in this life long commitment called parenting and don’t get frustrated that it doesn’t come easy. As Paul Miller said in A Praying Life, I do my best parenting of all when I’m wrestling with God over the gospel for my children on my knees. I guess if there is any method I recommend, that’s it.

**I have a free copy of Give Them Grace to give away. Please just leave a comment and I will draw a name around midnight EST Monday evening. **

***The book has a new owner now. Thanks to all who commented!***

Protection or Inoculation?

I wrote on schooling our kids a few weeks ago, and the issue came up in the comments of exposing our kids to the ills of society often readily evident in public schools. It is an interesting conundrum. How do we protect our children from sin? Do we isolate them? Do we make sure their only friends are fellow believers who share our cultural convictions? How much TV should they watch? What books should they read?

I recently listened in on a conversation between two wise friends a few weeks ago that got me thinking about this issue. One brought up the scene in Proverbs in which the father instructs his son on avoiding the snare of temptation with the adulteress.

Proverbs 7
6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.

10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”

21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, 26 for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

One friend noted that the passage gives the impression that the father is proactively instructing his son. Maybe he walked his son down to the red light district and pointed out behavior to him from across the street. My other friend noted that, while growing up, his parents often had destitute people in their home for a season. He remembered watching a prostitute doing drugs in his home. And he noted the marked difference in his heart from learning of sin by witnessing firsthand the ugly consequences verses learning of sin via entertainment forms that usually sanitize it of its ugly consequences.

That conversation has provoked much thought for me. My children are going to be exposed to sin. Plus they are sinners themselves. I actually feel fairly equipped to navigate the sin within. I understand how the gospel equips us to face that head on. But now that I’ve gotten that biggie settled in my mind, I’m thinking anew about equipping them for the sin without. I have enough experience with cloistered Christianity to know that it is no savior from the sins of society. Yet I’m not naïve about the effects of unbridled exposure either.

This may be an unsatisfying post to some of you, because I do not yet have conclusions. Mainly, I’m thinking and praying through what it looks like to warn my children as the parent in Proverbs does. I’m praying through opportunities in our community for us as a family to minister to the broken and see the disastrous consequences of sin in people’s lives. I need to make sure that my children don’t first learn of sin from entertainment sources that hide its consequences. The first idea that comes to mind is serving at a soup kitchen with my children. I hope to find a long term ministry close to home where we can do that and more. I’ll keep you posted on this journey and would enjoy hearing feedback from those further along in this process than I.