Don’t tell my kids this, but when I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I skipped school one afternoon. We went to her house because both of her parents worked, so nobody was at home. We ate some snacks, and watched a movie.
I had to be back at dismissal time to pick up my younger brother, so we were only gone for a couple of hours. But things took a turn for the worse when the school principal called my friend’s house, and she answered the phone. (Not the smartest move when no one’s supposed to be home!!)
I remember a lot of things from that experience, but one of the most memorable is the way my dad handled it. I’m sure he was disappointed that I’d made a poor choice, but there was no shaming or hefty punishment. We talked about it, and he just seemed to believe that I wouldn’t make that same choice again. He was right.
Would he have been justified in taking away my access to the car or denying me some of my other freedoms? Of course. But in my eyes, he gave me grace.
Denny Kenaston, in the book The Pursuit of Godly Seed, takes a chapter to contrast the Old Testament covenant of the law with New Testament grace, and relates them to parenting.
Listed below are just a few of the points he makes as he explains the differences between parenting by law and parenting by grace.
“The spirit of law discourages; the spirit of grace encourages.”
We can be our children’s chief encouragers! Constantly critiquing them causes them to lose confidence, and can keep them from wanting to try new things. And while we definitely have to correct them at times, we can do it in a way that isn’t a personal attack.
I’ve learned that timing is another important key to correction. It’s like the old saying, “Don’t kick him when he’s down.” If he’s had a rough day, it’s okay to wait a little while before addressing a problem.
“The spirit of law is never good enough; the spirit of grace blesses each new step.”
If, like me, you have a bent toward perfectionism, this can be an easy trap to fall into. Your child can feel like they have a hard time meeting the “perfect” standard you’ve set for her. We certainly want our children to do their best, but they are, after all, kids.
This reminds me of another saying, “Praise progress, not perfection.” Find ways that they’re improving or just notice that they’re really trying to do better, and cheer them on.
“The spirit of law criticizes; the spirit of grace gives the benefit of the doubt.”
Assume the best. Look for the good in your child. I think of how awful it would be for me to live under a spirit of criticism, and I certainly don’t want that for my daughters.
“The spirit of law exposes sin and remembers it; the spirit of grace forgives and forgets.”
Try not to bring up the past in a bad way. “You never obey me. This is exactly what happened last week, and you still haven’t learned your lesson.” If you’ve dealt with the previous experience, move on, and don’t refer back to it.
After all, do I want my children to remember the times I’ve spectacularly failed as a mom? Do I want them to remind me of the time when I raised my voice or totally lost my patience? No. So let me give them the same consideration.
“The spirit of law is performance oriented; the spirit of grace is relationship oriented.”
Our love for our children shouldn’t be based on how they’re acting today. It’s not, “I love you (because you’re being good/obeying me/making me look like a good mom).” I want our girls to know that they are loved no matter what.
That means I’m taking the time to listen to them and take an interest in what they’re doing. As long as we have a relationship with our children, we can still have influence in their lives, even as they go through the teenage years and beyond.
So how can we, practically speaking, parent in grace today?
1. Say something encouraging to your child about a specific action he takes or a character trait he displays. (“Thank you for taking your plate to the sink without me asking you.” “I like how diligent you are to put your book bag away when you get home from school.”)
2. Don’t re-do any task they’ve already completed. Just leave it like it is, and thank her for doing it.
3. Assume your child had a good day at school, and don’t ask if he got into trouble.
4. If you need to discipline your child, don’t bring up any past bad behavior in the process.
5. Find one way to show your child how important she is to you. It could be as simple as an extended hug, reading an extra story at bedtime, baking together, or putting a note or special treat in their lunch box.
Rules and discipline are a necessary part of life. But let’s show our children that there’s also love, encouragement, and forgiveness for them in our homes. Just as Jesus has extended his “grace beyond measure” to me, a sinner, so may I live out that grace in all of my relationships.