Grace-Based Parenting Isn't a Fad (But It Isn't An Excuse, Either)

 I don’t often write parenting posts. The reason is threefold:  


We aren’t done parenting yet. While we have four adult children and one about to be so, we are also still raising a high schooler, a junior higher, and an intellectually disabled 10-year-old. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we don’t call the game at half time. The story isn’t over. 

That’s a lot of kids, but we’re even missing our oldest son and his wife in this one.

That’s a lot of kids, but we’re even missing our oldest son and his wife in this one.


Our best parenting moments have been entirely led by the Holy Spirit. I’m not kidding when I say the most helpful, loving, and life-transforming things to come out of my mouth have been uttered after I’ve cried out to God and told him I have no idea how to handle the present situation. Some of those are doozies, like when the loudest, most contentious yelling shakedown occurred above my head on the second floor. . . between two sisters. Even the older brothers had never had such an altercation, and there was no cupboard of experience into which I might peer and draw acquired wisdom.

I could tell you how to parent and what to do, but the better guide is the Holy Spirit in your life. I’d want you to take my ideas with that in mind.

Always keep your eye on the one with the biggest smile. Sisters, 2004

Always keep your eye on the one with the biggest smile. Sisters, 2004


Our family dynamics, marriage, home culture, and children are all different than yours. I can tell you where we have failed miserably and where we have had huge successes, but really only in relationship to the people in our home.  

If you can keep those three things in mind, then keep reading!

This is what 27 years of marriage looks like for us. Lots of hiccups, lots of love.

This is what 27 years of marriage looks like for us. Lots of hiccups, lots of love.

Prior to leaving legalism, we were a rules-based family. There was a lot of fun and monkeying around and kids splashing in the pool and people everywhere, but the bottom line was the bottom line: “Shape up or ship out.”

Then one sweltering June morning I tiptoed into the big master bedroom walk-in closet to check on the baby and discovered that my tiny beautiful boy had slipped into a life-altering coma. It’s a story I tell often, because it was the beginning of transformation. How could it not be?

As God began to gently nudge us out of our rules-based, religion-heavy, good behavior-driven stupor and toward a faith centered solely on what Christ had accomplished on our behalf, our relationships began to change, too. Our parenting changed.

There are nuances that have been the result of that change, nuances that are still refining themselves within each relationship and interpersonal interaction we have with each individual child. That could fill a book. But this is a lowly blog post and I want it to pack a punch in fewer illustrations and absolutely no chapters, so here we go:

Showing children grace does not cancel out showing them how to be decent human beings.

I want to like my kids. I want you to like my kids. Therefore, we still teach them to treat each other with kindness, be grateful for everything that’s been given to them, be others-centered and unselfish in their care of people, and to wipe the pee off the toilet seat.

We still discipline when there’s defiance. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We still take away technology when it begins to steal a child’s ability to focus on anything but a screen, assign appropriate chores, get irritated when dishes are dumped in the sink or snuck to a bedroom, and curtail privileges like hanging out with friends when attitudes are tossed our way or schoolwork is ignored.

But grace. Grace allows us the space to also communicate that doing everything perfectly—schoolwork, relationships, chores, obedience—does not make God love them any more than he already does. Grace is a gift, given and bestowed because he loves them so. Grace allows me, the sinful mother, to say, “Oh man. Look at how I blew up at you. I am so sorry. Can you forgive me? This is why I need Jesus. This is why you need Jesus.”

It’s a subtle shift in how we view sin, our children, and their savior, but it packs a critical punch. It allows a giant space for the gospel to swoop in and communicate that he isn’t angry, vengeful, or wrathful with the redeemed. He loves and showers grace over the hearts of his beloved people, including our children. We get a lot of do-overs because of Jesus.

Special needs or not, we all “strugol”.

Special needs or not, we all “strugol”.

The Bible is still the Word of God, whether or not we believe God’s commands are for our good.

It’s funny. The more I talk about grace, the more I’m met with the response, “But what about swinging the pendulum too far? I mean, God has rules.” Folks, we are obsessed with the rules.


So much so that I spent one whole chapter of Leaving Legalism addressing this very topic. Rules. Pendulums. The law/grace equation.

You’re right. There are rules. But let us never, never, never forget that those rules (commands, principles, imperatives) always, without exception, follow God’s outpouring of love and his communication of who he is and who we are because of who he is.

I’ve just finished reading through the first four books of the Bible this year, and I have been struck repeatedly by the fact that God, without fail, tells his people who he is and then tells them who they are because of who he is before he hands over the rules etched into giant stones. Their identity—who they are—is established before they get the list of how he wants them to move forward.

If God has found it necessary and consequential to remind us who he is and who we are because of it, then we must do the same. Do you want something to do? Do that. Remind yourself, over and over and over, of who God is and who you are because of it. Redeemed. Justified. Whole.

Out of the knowledge of who we are flows the desire to do what he tells us to do. If we reverse the order, we are precluding God’s Word. We are telling him we can keep his law all by ourselves. We can’t. You cannot.

We teach our kids first who they are in light of who God is, and then we tell them why our loving God gives us so much wisdom and some really helpful guidelines in Scripture. People can get all up-in-arms about displays of the 10 Commandments in public spaces, but I bet there isn’t a one who disagrees with “Don’t murder”, “Don’t lie”, or “Don’t steal your neighbor’s stuff”. God, in his infinite wisdom, tells us the rules because he knows what is best for humanity.

Imagine that.

This daughter teaches me what grace looks like.

This daughter teaches me what grace looks like.

Grace is a glorious, God-shaped gift. It lives eternally. It isn’t a popular parenting paradigm.

How you decide to dress your kids, feed your kids, talk to your kids, or steer your kids is entirely up to you. Fads abound. Parenting built on a foundation of the understanding of our salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone isn’t one of them.

You do you.

As you do you, remind yourself and your children that we have been given much grace, and in light of it, we want to follow Jesus Christ as closely as possible. We don’t get points for following. God doesn’t love us more because we spent lots of time focused on him today. We aren’t super saved or more cherished because of anything we do. We are all of those things because of what Jesus did.

Can you imagine growing up in a home like that?

Gum and a Ring and a Simple Truth for Greedy Hearts (Like Mine)

I turned 48 last week. At this point in our lives, we have 4 adult children: 3 who live independently and 1 in college who spends summers and school breaks at home. That leaves 4 kids at home full-time, and means an inconsistent showing of our kids at family meals and other special events, like my 48th birthday dinner.

For this little birthday celebration, we had 4 of our 8 kids present plus one French house guest. Lately, we've housed several French guests because God put them in our path years ago and the relationships continue to grow. 


This ring, though, is what I need to tell you about, because our Mighty Joe—the brain-damaged 10-year-old—wrapped it up in a piece of black construction paper adorned with his own artwork of a train done in white crayon, and presented it to me after dinner. 

After I dramatically declared my love for the tiny heart with the faux red ruby, Joe needed to let me know how he came by it as my birthday present. 

"Daddy gave me a quarter. I wanted to buy gum but then I saw the ring and bought that for you instead."

Be still my heart.

"If Daddy had given me two quarters, I could have bought you the ring and the gum."

Well, there it is. Honesty. Out of the mouths of babes and all that.

But I often treat God this way, knowing that he's given me a gift to give to someone else, only to turn and wish he'd given me something I obviously wanted from him instead, or in addition to. I'm happy to give to others, but most of the time I think I'd be happier if I got to keep something for myself, as well. I mean, if I'm being as honest as Mighty Joe was the night he gave me the ring with the tiny heart. 

And again, this is why I need Jesus. It's the theme of my life. I wish I could tell you my heart is purer than that, but the truth is, without the perfect heart of the Savior standing in my place, it's just about as valuable as a ring bought for a quarter out of the machine in the grocery store. 

What made that ring valuable was the giver. What makes my own heart and your own heart so is the giver. And his gifts are always, always, always the best. 


Parents, Why Is It So Difficult to Give Grace to Ourselves?

I have spent nearly half of my life so far parenting, and for those of you who know that our last child will likely live with us indefinitely, it looks like that’s my trajectory for now until the end of my life.

I didn’t set out to do that. I’m not charitable enough to want to parent people forever and ever amen.

But as with so many areas of life, the path changes and morphs and improves and surprises us at every turn. While I love and adore all of my kids, I find certain stages to be exhausting and irritating. Bet you can guess which stages.

2002, five kids in. Lots and lots of grace needed. 

2002, five kids in. Lots and lots of grace needed. 

Yet, here I am, 24 years later, still raising and loving on and being exasperated daily by both the big and little people in my home. The brain-injured one in particular doesn’t seem to remember not to write on the furniture or pull the ears off his stuffed animals. He’s cracked my iPhone twice.

I’ve had to learn to give grace, both to our children and to myself because, well, I exasperate them, too. And for some weird reason, I tend to be able to come back around after my frustrated rants and apologize, asking for their forgiveness and pouring out the grace that the Holy Spirit offers to my puny Grinch-heart. Most of the time, that comes easily.

But for many of us parents who are trying to give it our all, the grace-giving toward our children comes almost too readily. The harder part? Giving grace to ourselves.

This is where the gospel enters back in to light up our spiritual cracks and crevices like a billion suns.

Let’s remind ourselves again and again of who God is, what He has done for us, and who we are because of Him. When we wake up each morning and inwardly groan, “Here we go again,” the Holy Spirit will gently remind us that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. When God looks at us, His redeemed, He sees the Redeemer — He sees Jesus in our place. That kind of love is magnetic and energizing. It motivates me to smile at my children, take deep breaths, pour myself a tumbler of hot tea, and tell them to get their behinds back into the kitchen to clean up the breakfast mess without feeling like I have somehow failed as a mother because they aren’t doing those things automatically.

Do you know what’s going to get us all through the next week of parenting? The next month or year? Grace.

The power of the Holy Spirit. The tenacious and unrelenting love of God for you, for your children, for your home. God’s grace and love motivate us to grow and change, and we can trust Him to sanctify us as we rest in the knowledge that He did it all on our behalf at Calvary.


So even on the days when I wish I could just lock my office door and immerse myself in my “other” career as a writer, I know deep within that God is going to bless this crazy thing called parenting, not because I am so very good at it but simply because it’s where He wants my energy to flow right now. He’s not impressed because I begrudgingly obey Him. He cares too deeply about my frailties and knows I need to be reminded that He is out for my good, that He wants to restore my sinful self back to Him, and that the redemption of the hearts of my children are His business.

I love God for His grace that allows me to settle into a homeschool with messy children and rest in the knowledge that He will, indeed, finish what He started here.

A God Who loves and supports and sustains and fortifies? That’s the God of grace, and grace is the word that describes gifts that are unearned. Like little Lego creations and pansies without stems and slobbery kisses — unearned, unmerited, undeserved.

I love God for His grace that allows me to settle into a homeschool with messy people and rest in the knowledge that He will, indeed, finish what He started here. He pours His grace out all over our home, year after year after year, whether or not I’m doing the best things for my kids academically or otherwise. He fills in the gaps, molds our lives, and directs our paths. He pours it out, all over, without reserve.


And then a curious thing happens: I am so filled up with grace and love that it just comes spilling out over my life and into the lives of those who dwell with me in this little old house. It washes over us all like a wave on the shore, lapping and bubbling over our toes, swooshing up to our kneecaps and finally overwhelming us and taking us under with its saturating power. With a love like that, I know I can finish what was started here 24 years ago. I can relax and rest in His poured-out love and then turn and pour it out by the oceanful!