Saturday, September 06, 2008

Book Review - September 6, 2008

I haven't done many reviews lately, but I did want to write my thoughts to a book I just finished called Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel.

I don't read many parenting books these days. It's not because I think I know it all, but because I'm pretty sure that most of the parenting "experts" don't know near as much as they think they do. The Christian community has developed a tendency toward thinking that good parents always turn out good kids. Do they? The evidence suggests otherwise. We all know families who are totally screwed up but have a kid who does really well. Then there's the other extreme where the parents seem to be doing a great job, but the kids rebel. What's going on here? What's going on is that children are their own individual people with wills who make their own choices. Perfect parenting can still turn out rebellious kids. After all, God is THE perfect parent, but some of His kids have been serious "problem children".

Well, after that pessimistic start, let me say that I do believe that parents can and should try our best to help our kids navigate childhood and adolescence and to become happy and productive adults. I just want to make clear that there are no formulas to follow to guarantee a great outcome.

But, Grace Based Parenting is the best parenting book that I think I've ever read. Dr. Kimmel starts with a discussion of some of the most common types of parenting models found among Christian families, including fear-based, image control, high control, life-support, and others. Then, he starts to tell us about a radical way to parent - living to know Jesus more and more and letting our children be the recipients of the grace we receive from God. One of the main characteristics of grace-based families is a lack of fear. We are leaning on God to help us make our decisions, not a book or formula. We can allow our children to be different without feeling threatened.

Kimmel tells us that our children need a secure love, a significant purpose, and a strong hope. Woven among these three needs of children are four freedoms: the freedom to be different, the freedom to be vulnerable, the freedom to be candid, and the freedom to make mistakes. This book fleshes out these three needs and four freedoms that our children need. It is filled with examples, but not strict checklists or to-do's. He reminds us that raising children is like a dance with many factors that alter our motions: the child's stage of development, the parents' stage in marriage, economics, individual issues, etc. There isn't always one way to do something - that's why reliance on God is so important.

While this book stresses grace, it is clear that there are definite needs in our families for structure and discipline. It is clear that we should not tolerate sin in our children, but we need to continue to deal with our children with grace. So, we need to respond to our children, not react. Discipline is required, but the child should not be condemned for sin. Children should reap the natural consequences for their behavior - to circumvent this is to not allow our children to mature. How we discipline is between us and God. Each family is unique so our methods of discipline will be different - and this is fine with God.

There are not checklists of how to be a perfect parent, but there are examples of both grace-based and non-grace-based parenting. Kimmel is very clear early on that loving our children with the grace of God will require that we put their needs first, but the cost is worth it. The book ends with encouragement for parents that no matter what our child does, God is still in control and loves them. My favorite quote is "If the only thing you get right as parents is His grae, everything else will be just fine."

One reason that I so enjoyed this book is because grace-based parenting is pretty much how Mr. Math Tutor and I have chosen to parent our children. We clearly are not "there" yet, but the philosophy really rings true: treat your children as God treats us. This leads to some interesting things in our home, but it seems to work. For example, Wild Man decided for a while when he was 4 or 5 years old that he didn't want to sleep in his bed but wanted to sleep on the floor. We decided that this wouldn't hurt him so we let him. He decides every once in a while now that he wants to sleep downstairs, but we don't allow that because it is disruptive to the rest of the family. Our kids have been allowed to choose their own clothes ever since they were able to dress themselves. At times, I requested that Mr. Math Tutor put signs on them announcing that they dressed themselves, but he told me that I needed to get over it! No, the clothes didn't always match, but that's OK. And, I had to give up my need for the kids to look "good" (notice whose need it was - mine, not my childrens'). Both kids have been known to play outside in shorts when it's 50 degrees out - they come back in for long pants pretty quickly. Those are just a few places where we try to allow the children to make as many of their own choices as possible, even though it may be a little trying on the parents.

If you have kids, I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you have been focused on behavior, this will help you to learn to focus on leading children with grace and becoming more heart-focused. And, if this is already your philosophy, you will enjoy reading how Dr. Kimmel fleshes things out and encourages you, along with giving some practical advice. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Lori - The Simple Life at Home said...

Can I just say that I love Tim Kimmel? He is actually the person who led me to the Lord during a high school retreat, way too many years ago.

The book sounds wonderful. While I'm not a believer in child-centered parenting, this sounds like a good balance. Treating our kids like God treats us - I love that phrase. It will stick with me. Thanks for sharing!