grace based parenting, mom and dad holding baby

Raising children in today's world is much like a puzzle.

You labor for years to put the right pieces of your children's lives together, but when they grow up, they often do not resemble what you thought you were creating.

Do You Have a Plan for Parenting?

In spite of the disappointments that come with the job, raising a child is the greatest thing you will ever do. Parenting is greater than any milestone you can hit in your career. Among other things, you have been handed a piece of history in advance—a love letter to a time you will not see—and you play the biggest role in how that history will ultimately be recorded.

That is why, regardless of the challenges, you need to have a plan for parenting that works.

How to Avoid Harmful Parenting Styles

If you feel like you're running blind through unfamiliar territory, you're not alone.

When you look at the way some parents raise their children and the way some experts advise them, it is no wonder that many parents feel they have lost their way.

When you look closely, you will notice that many approaches for parenting are missing God's grace as their central motivating factor. Before we get to grace based parenting, let's review the parenting styles you should avoid.

1. The Fearful ParentThis is when fear determines your strategy for parenting.

Oftentimes, parents who lead with fear are overprotective of their children. Biblically speaking, these parents live out of balance with the biblical concept of being in the world but not of the world. Instead, their motto is "be wary of everything."

What's the outcome? Fear-based parenting can create spiritually frail children. It can also create an environment for children who do not have passion for purpose, who are indifferent, fearful and even rebellious.

2. The Behavior Modifying ParentThis is a branch of fear-based parenting that assumes the proper environment, proper information, proper education and the absence of negative influences will increase the chances of a child turning out well.

This parenting style works from the assumptions that behavior shapes a child's heart, as if content can be transferred onto a child's heart much like information placed on a computer hard drive.

The behavior modeled by these families paints a beautiful picture of an ideal Christian home, but it is one-dimensional. These are homes where God rules in the head but that does not necessarily translate into God ruling the heart.

3. The Image Controlling ParentThis is a checklist method of parenting that is more or less legalism. This style of parenting assumes that people will know you are a good, Christian parent raising Christian children by keeping up with your image alone. For example:

  • Your church attendance

  • The way your children dress (or do not dress)

  • The way your children cut their hair (or do not cut their hair)

  • The words and expressions your children use (or do not use)

  • The schools your children attend (or do not attend)

  • The movies your children watch (or do not watch).

So what's the problem? For the most part, these are well-meaning parents trying to make good choices. However, they make choices for wrong reasons. Sometimes they have no biblical reason whatsoever.

Ultimately, children can tell when they are being parented by a checklist rather than by a mom and dad who are trusting in God to lead them.

4. The Dictator ParentThere is a vast difference between parents who keep their children under control and parents who control them. High control parenting happens when parents leverage the strength of their personality or position against the children's weaknesses in order to get them to meet the parent's selfish agenda.

This style is the worst of the four types of parenting styles. Controlling parents ultimately get frustrated with the results of their parenting. However, they are usually the last to realize.

The Good News

There is a method of parenting that makes it easier and enjoyable to put together the puzzle of parenting. It has the borders and boundaries that frame the picture. It filters out the pieces of the puzzle that do not belong, and it knows exactly what your children are supposed to look like when the assembly of the puzzle is complete.

This model for parenting can be summarized in one word: grace!

What Does Grace Based Parenting Look Like?

Grace-based parents spend their time entrusting themselves to Christ. Their children are the daily recipients of the grace these parents are enjoying from God. If you are watching them in action, these parents appear to be peaceful and in love with God. They are especially graceful when their children are hardest to love. Their advice to their children is a mixture of the two following ideas:

  • "You are a gift from God."

  • "You may struggle doing the right thing sometimes, but you are forgiven."

These parents feel they need to seek God more every day. One characteristic that stands out is how grateful they are for what they have and what they can do for their children.

Grace-based parents process their day-to-day life with a confidence that comes from knowing God loves them. One of the most important characteristics of grace-based families is they are not afraid. They are especially unafraid of the evil around them.

What Is a Grace Based Environment?

A grace-filled environment changes the way children view their parents and the choices their parents make on their behalf. It also gives their children a more attractive look at their parents' faith.

Parents who operate by grace instead of a checklist or conventional wisdom are easier for their children to trust. When your children's lives are falling apart, they are more inclined to turn to you.

Grace based parents have a keen awareness of their own likeliness toward sin. This makes the grace and forgiveness they received from Christ more appreciated. It stirs them to love others and accomplish good deeds. They are not driven by guilt or a need to do penance. They do not judge people who are struggling. They see themselves in these people and understand just how much of God's love they have received. They are more inclined to love these people and care for the needs in their lives.

God's Pattern of Grace

The primary word that defines how God deals with His children is "grace."

Grace does not exclude obedience, respect, boundaries or discipline—it champions them. But it determines the climate in which these important parts of parenting are carried out. Grace based parenting maintains a realistic attitude about the sinful nature with a compassionate desire to help children rise above it and flourish in the plan God has for them.

Parents who are giving grace to their children are not shocked when their children sin. They are not even caught off guard when their children make mistakes.

Grace understands that everyone sins, including children.

Dr. Tim Kimmel and his wife, Darcy, are the founders of Family MattersTM - committed to equipping families for every age and stage of life.