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Grace in Parenting

Written by Stephen Buckley

By definition, we moms and dads are control freaks. We long to raise perfect kids, and, of course, we are persuaded that we can do that only by being perfect ourselves. 

But parenting is rigged for grace. There are no perfect parents, and there are no perfect children. We all fall short.

So, the list below isn’t meant to be self-flagellation. It is meant to offer a bit of guidance and encouragement. Maybe most important, these observations—offered by someone whose children are now in their twenties—are a reminder that Christ redeems our mistakes, no matter how grave. 

And isn’t that what grace is all about?

So, here goes:

  1. I am a perfectionist, and I let that govern my relationship with my kids. When we parent this way, we’re saying, “God, I don’t trust that you’re sovereign over my children’s lives—including their challenges and mistakes. So I have to make sure they do everything right.” Perfectionism also teaches children that God doesn’t accept them—except, of course, when they’re perfect. 

  1. When our son, David, was about 12, I started telling him, “I’m proud of you.” But I’d never said that before, so imagine his surprise when I finally did. “Why?” he asked. He thought I loved him only when he met my (very high) standards. He couldn’t imagine my approving of him just because he was my son. The lesson for me was as simple as it was stark: Children yearn to be loved unconditionally. And, as author Gary Chapman reminds us, no matter what their love language might be, they crave our affirmation (especially as teenagers).

  1. It took me way too long to appreciate the power of warmth (as you see from #2). By warmth, I mean those in-between moments that don’t mean much to us but mean the world to our kids—the relaxed arm around their shoulder, a wink from across the room, a text with a goofy joke, watching (and laughing at) silly movies, a simple “thank you.” High expectations tell our children that we love them. Warmth lets them know that we like them.

  1. It’s hard to listen. That’s especially true as our children become teenagers. But cultivating the habit of listening when they are still youngsters makes it easier for us as they move into those teen years. They’ll be grateful. (But they’re teenagers, so they’ll never tell you.)

  1. Criticism stings—and sticks. When we’re constantly critical of our children, those barbs bury themselves in their psyche. They remember for years. (Trust me on this.) We don’t have to be pushovers, but we should be intentional, specific, timely, and selective about offering criticism.

  1. Children want, and need, to be challenged spiritually. When our kids have grown up in a Christian home, they sometimes know more than we think they do—and so they’re often ready for deeper spiritual teaching than we may realize. 

  1. There’s a difference between intelligence and maturity. Some very bright children are not as emotionally developed as we expect them to be. Sometimes we find this annoying or frustrating. (At least I did.)  Be patient, especially with boys. They’ll come around.

Today, our children are young adults, and they are as gracious as they are honest. In recent years, we have had hard conversations about the ways my parenting style failed them. And yet they still gift me with their time, presence, and affection. I’m grateful for that. Their kindness is a tender reminder that in all things, God is sovereign and good, and full of grace. He—and only He—is the perfect Parent.

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