Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grace-based parenting questions

Following is an excerpt from a letter/response I exchanged with a new friend a while back:

<<<"Tedd Tripp's _Shepherding a Child's Heart_. Ever read it?"
Um... I bought it at a consignment sale last year for .50! Did I pay too much?? I haven't actually read it yet. Skimmed here and there. Some of what he says sounds like how my folks raised me, some doesn't. (Not that how I was raised is any kind of golden standard, just what I'm most familiar with.) I haven't read enough to form an opinion. In your opinion is it worth reading for the chicken while spitting bones, or is it all skin & bones??

"Tim Kimmel's _Grace-Based Parenting_ is very good."
Agreed. Borrowed it from a friend a year or so ago. Liked it. My only "gripe" with Kimmel was (at least that book) seemed to be geared more toward the parents of older kids/teens... while I'm in the infants and toddlers group. I agree with the lion's share of what Kimmel said, but how do I go about *applying* that kind of grace to my 2 year old??? Which is what I'm trying to ask when I say "How different do those two (you don't expect your children to obey you, you expect them to obey God) look when dealing with a 1-2 year old??" IOW, if it's NOT "first time, every time, with a happy face" then what IS it?

I tend to be a black & white, very concrete stick in the mud kind of thinker. LOL (I.e. I own Ezzo--bought him on recommendation from a friend at church. And Pearl--a gift. Shaking your head yet?? Note I only said I own them, not that they own me! ;-) ) I see the "ease of mom's life" that following their behaviour modification techniques could bring, but I also see the adversarial relationship that their "techniques" can foster/encourage between parent and child. The main thing that I'm *really* attracted to in their books is the "Do these three things & you'll have X result." ((Man, that sounds like indy-fundy speak doesn't it?!))

So maybe I'm not as far down this road toward understanding grace as I'd like to think I am. I can function with a list of rules & regs, and happen to be pretty darn good at flying under the radar. I *like* the law... at least insofar as I know what's expected of me. *rolls eyes* >>>

Somehow I think this is antithetical to grace, but are there any spelled out "this is hands-on _how_ you parent in grace" books out there??? I can give mental assent to the fact that we were raised (sincerely) wrongly, but my little OCD mind really likes a check-list. Harrumph!! It's like I can kinda see what's wrong (with me, with the system we grew up in, etc.), but I'm still not really "getting it." **sighs**

Dh and I have been discussing this topic (grace) off and on over the last few years...
Since '02 when (depending on your theology) I got saved (or "rededicated") and realized the theological framework that most accurately describes/accounts for my personal experience with the Gospel is a Reformed one...
Since our son was born in '05 and we started thinking (much more seriously) about raising another generation in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord"...
Since '06 when Gothard's definition of grace started showing up in sermons at our church (Grace: God's enabling power to do His will!?!?!??)...
Since dh resigned from an 11 year career in law enforcement...
Since.................... Yea. Since!!

We've decided that we need to sit down with our Bibles and study grace for ourselves. *grins* 'Cause if we don't "get it" for ourselves, we'll never be able to adequately teach/show it to our kids. So... yea.... "That topic" is on the table again. Grace. Beautiful thing, isn't it??


The Savage said...

Comments: (as they first appeared on Xanga)

Posted 9/27/2007 9:16 PM by Fieroshus
I cant offer any advice. i could write the " everything wrong" parenting book.

Posted 9/28/2007 4:02 PM by TrueFaced
i had to read shepherding a child's heart when i was in college. it was required reading for camp counselors one summer. i wasn't married and had no kids. i loved the book. it is all about the heart and less about behavioral changes.

Posted 9/30/2007 6:32 PM by LoroJoro
just now getting to your post -- I read Shepherding several years ago now, while working at BJ. Thought it was outstanding. I often tell people that (based on my recollection of what Tripp says), my education philosophy at NCS is basically Ted Tripp applied to education, with a good dose of Dutch Reformed theology thrown in. So unless he says stuff that I agreed with at the time but would disagree with now, I give Tripp two thumbs up. Discipline MUST be about Christ or it's just works salvation with Mom's face on it.

Can't speak for the other books you've mentioned. Since i don't have little kids or work with little kids (on purpose LOL), I can't give you any list.

I suspect that it is our human nature to crave that which is easy and prescribed, whereas grace is messy, painful, demanding of self-sacrifice, and sometimes downright confusing.

I also think we can borrow from Paul's comments in Galatians 3/4 & Romans 7 that the OT law was meant to show the "toddler version" of the People of God (the nation Israel) that they were sinners, completely incapable of saving themselves or keeping the entire Law.

It existed to 1) Keep them safe while they were learning spiritual wisdom; and 2) shove them toward Christ as the only savior.

Based on my extremely limited "pseudo-parenting" experience in recent years, I think God uses the experience of parenting to teach US about Himself and what real Love & Grace are (as we have to continually die to self in order to love those selfish little humans).

It seems like young children need clearly defined boundaries (similar to God's applications of the moral law that we read in the OT civil/ceremonial law codes) in order to keep them safe from harm ("don't touch the stove") and to begin to teach them what real wisdom is.

But God makes it clear all thru the Scripture that He didn't want His people to stay spiritual toddlers. Jesus got reallllly angry at the Pharisees for refusing to "grow up" into an understanding of Grace.

At some point well before the child becomes a teenager, those house-law codes need to shift to emphasize the internal over the external AND to give kids increasing freedom to fail and "learn the hard way." I'm basing that on what God seems to be doing as He "parents" us.

Seems like everybody has a system or opinion about how to deal with toddlers. I have no clue since I don't deal with them. But from a theological viewpoint, I'd say the specific system details aren't nearly as important as the derived theological principles:

consistency in discipline (say what you mean, and do it when you say it),

grace that refuses to subscribe to a tit-for-tat mentality in discipline, as if every kid were the same or every situation is the same,

pointing children to Jesus as the only Savior (instead of inculcating a smug self-righteousness from being able to follow the rules),

an atmosphere of openness and honesty (even when that means you're going to hear a load of crap or bad attitude or whatever) instead of teaching kids to suppress what they really think so they can fool you into thinking they're obedient and happy ... when the thoughts are just lurking around down there anyway

a household that basks in an unconditional, all-encompassing love which is unshakable -- not the kind of love that withdraws its favor when a wrong is committed (which just teaches a kid that God loves you when you're good and doesn't love you when you do bad) ... but that disciplines out of that love for the sake of the child without withdrawing the favor... if that makes sense.

eh, that's long enough. why don't we just see each other and talk about it? lol or better yet, go ask Rivendell

Posted 5/5/2008 10:48 AM by katiekind
I agree with the commenters above although I think the Shepherding book is too impressed with spanking as a disciplinary tool and I would skip over those parts, especially where he's talking about spanking babies. I don't think parents should ever do that.

I think you already know the answer in your heart, since you have wisely disparaged the mental checklist or one-size-fits-all approach. I know they are incredibly appealing. I remember feeling the exact same way when my older children were toddlers. There's a certain amount of chaos and naughtiness that goes on at those young ages and you wish there was a silver bullet to make them always behave the way they do in their best moments.

I remember being pointed to "How to Really Love Your Child" (Ross Campbell) as a good book on discipline. Taking it home and reading it, I could not see anything helpful in it. I wanted a "But what do you do when..." set of directions. A collection of silver bullets.

Years later I was asked to speak to a church group on Loving Your Children, and I wondered how best to collect my thoughts on that so I reread that book. This time, since my children were grown up or nearly so, I saw the book in a new light. His book distilled the essense of good parenting, and in my opinion, the heart of Christian parenting. It's basically what I would say if someone asked for the most important things I could tell them about parenting.

First comes relationship. All your childrearing happens within the framework of your home's atmosphere and your relationship with your children and husband. So smile at your children when they toddle up to you, make eye contact with them, touch them gently on the shoulder while you're telling them to pick up the blocks. These things build a warm cooperative family environment.

Instead of thinking in terms of "that deserves a punishment," think about the behavior as a sign that the children need to be equipped and taught to make a better decision. If they are whining, show them a better tone of voice. If they are hitting, show them how to negotiate for what they want or take turns.

And then there are the times when the instruction just needs to be enforced calmly, without rancor. You walk in your authority. Say your child doesn't want to leave the nursery when it's time to go home from church. You tell her it's time to go and she acts like she didn't hear you. You did the whole 5 minute notice thing like a good parent and still she won't leave. Well then, you pick her up and leave. You don't need to threaten, you don't need to make a scene, you don't need to give her a mini-lecture. You just be a parent and do what needs to be done. (She's probably a little strung out from being in a small box of a room with 6 children for an hour and a half. Wouldn't you be?)

If the naughtiness is at a particularly high level, think about that behavior as a sign. What's it a sign of? Yes, yes, I know all about sin natures and such. But what's the behavior a sign of? We SIN because our bent is to answer a basic need the wrong way. That's always our tendency. So what's the behavior a wrong answer to? Is the child hungry? Is he tired? Is he over-stimulated? Is he feeling misunderstood or overlooked? Have you been dragging the kids from pillar to post on errands and they really need to get home and back into their own routine and their own environment?

The fact that we are so much older and wiser than our children means we need to put our greater life experience to work on their behalf. If they could simply tell you, "Don't listen to me, I know I'm being irrational about this, I'm totally exhausted and not thinking straight" like a girlfriend would, things would be different. You have to piece that together from the information you can pick up. Of course if your girlfriend said that to you, you wouldn't "not listen to her." You'd calm her down, encourage her to get some sleep, administer chocolate, whatever. You'd "not listen to her" in terms of not reacting to the drama, but you'd continue to be her friend and try and help her. Same with your kids. They can't tell that they are overly hungry or overly tired. They're just striking out in their misery. We have to see that, and fasttrack the root solution--get their blood sugar back up, or get them down for the badly-needed nap, or get them home to their own environment. Do it gently and mercifully, not angrily and punitively. They're just kids.)

In other situations, the parental thing to do is set a boundary and then unemotionally enforce it. "I know you don't like your carseat, honey. Up you go. I know you hate it. Let's get that buckle fastened. Ok. Here's your juice." [Child is feeling uncooperative and inconsolable and bats it away.] "Oh--you don't want your juice? You can tell me with your words. I'll put it away." [Matter-of-factly put the juice cup away. You don't need to be pulled into the drama here. These are just feelings being handled immaturely. Toddlers are, by definition, immature. Now, as you get yourself settled in the car, change the subject, help your child not dwell on what's not negotiable.] "Who will we see at the store? Will we see Mr. Steven there?"

A squall about getting into a dreaded carseat doesn't need to be punished. They outgrow that kind of stuff. You just handle it. Think about all the stuff you hate to do...God doesn't punish us for hating to face that mountain of laundry. But by our ages, we have strategies for getting through it. Young children don't have strategies yet.

So there's some thoughts for you.

Posted 5/8/2008 8:57 PM by LoroJoro
Marvelously insightful. Still so true when they're 16 instead of 16 months. haha
I've been looking for a good way to express that concept for a while now. so thanks!

Posted 5/9/2008 6:11 PM by beehiveof8
Those informative years.. ACK!!! Trust me, I have been searching for a cut and dried parenting book with godly, scriptual advice. The only thing I have to realize that it is mostly by-the-seat-of-your-pants type parenting. Every day, every hour, sometimes every moment is a new situation. No book can contain all of them. Then you throw in the dimension of two children with two very different temperments and personalities and you quickly learn that what works with one doesn't work with another. Then when you think you have it all figured out they grow a bit, mature a bit, and you start all over again. The rules are continually changing.

Here are a couple things that I kept in mind for BD#1 and #2's ages.

At BD#2's age, consequence has to be immediate. You can't wait another five minutes to discipline her for disobedience. The same goes for rewards/praise. If she does something wonderful, pleasing, and/or brings a smile to your face, then let her know immediately. Consistancy counts, too.

At BD#1's age, you *can* wait a few minutes if you have to to apply a "consequence" but I don't reccomend it. Also, sometimes it may work to take a way a privilege. For example, if our youngest is being selfish about a toy with a sibling, I discipline her and take the book away until whatever time I deem appropriate.

Whatever technique you use, I believe there should be negative and positive reinforcement, and training and discipline needs to be consistent and peppered with love and fun. :) HTH! Luv you guys! Lisa

I figure if I keep bumping this post up..... I'll keep getting answers to think on & chew through. Keep 'em coming!

Jim said...


I think that Tedd Tripp might be as good as it gets.

Ezzo is obviously trash, and you know Gothard's folly.

Georgia said...

I love what katiekind said. So much wisdom there. I am really supposed to be taking a shower. My kids are going to be up any minute and I'm still going to be in my BVDs, but this is so timely for me!!! I need this! I honestly don't know anyway to parent except through the confines of Ezzo, et. al, and I am finding that isn't working for me. I have a child who just doesn't want to conform. The one of mine who does conform, is a Pharisee, and only obeys to keep from getting a spanking. Not exactly the intended outcome.

Personally, I am reluctant to buy or read another "parenting" book. I think that "checklist" mentality is where we get into so much trouble. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our interactions on a case-by-case basis, we are relying on someone else's version and we completely remove God from the scenario. I want what I do to draw my children closer to the Lord, not drive them away. I want my behavior to model the Lord's as much as it is possible. And along those lines, I am grateful and thankful that He chooses not to get out His "spanking spoon" every time I mess up. I want to exhibit that kind of thoughtful consideration to my children, so they can see God as the kind and loving Father who only has their best interests at heart. Not a guy looking to smite them for every misstep.

Oh, the Lord is teaching me so much. I know about His grace to me, but I never thought about how I can be used to extend that grace to my children. This is so timely for me!!