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?

Parenting Teen Boys, Or How a Mom Can Actually Have a Relationship With Her Son, Conclusion

Teen Boy Conclusion.jpg

So now what? Now that we recognize that we've been nit-picking our sons to distraction, now that we realize what terrific micro-managers we are, what is the next step?

Now we stop nit-picking. We stop micro-managing. We start praying! We start trusting that the Holy Spirit is a far better teacher than we will ever be in the lives of our sons.

Do we still take the opportunity to speak into their lives? Absolutely yes. But we cannot be the only voice, and we need to make more deposits into their emotional "banks" than withdrawals.

I don’t like the color of his tennis shoes? I have to let it go.

I don’t like the project he chose to work on for his English class? I have to let it go.

I don’t like the music he’s currently listening to? If it’s not a moral issue, I have to let it go.

Choose your battles carefully and become an expert in tongue biting over the non-essentials. You will lose that son if you are constantly micro-managing him.

One day when our oldest son was about 14, I remember him yelling in frustration at me,  “I can never do anything right!” And he was absolutely correct. He couldn't do anything right because I was making every little thing a big deal — the clothes he wore, the music he chose, the food he would or wouldn't eat, the books he checked out from the library . . . In it all, he knew that I was never even giving him the benefit of the doubt. My heart sank.

Let the non-essentials go. It's time. Remember: Your role begins to change now from mom/parent/authoritarian to mom/cheerleader/Sister in Christ/number one fan.

Instead of looking for all the ways I can correct, all the things he’s doing wrong, all of my opinions that I feel he must know and absorb, I’m instead looking for ways to say, “Hey, that’s awesome! Good for you! You did a really good job there!”

Some of us have kids who dream outrageously. I had one of those, too. He used to tell me all about the penthouse he was going to purchase for himself after he made millions. He wanted to move to Manhattan and drive a Porsche and live the high life. Of course, as the older, wiser human in the conversation, my mental response was, "Uh-huh. Sure."

But listen to how this response to the outrageous dream might feel to a young man who's got one foot in childhood and one dipping a toe into manhood: “You are going to live in a penthouse and have a chauffeur? Great idea! Do that to the glory of God.” I could have said, “That’s the dumbest idea in the world. Do you know how expensive a penthouse is?”, but what’s the point? Life itself will teach him those things in time. Or maybe he'll actually own a penthouse in Manhattan. Either way, be his number one fan.

Life will teach him those things. Be his biggest fan.

Think of how being his cheerleader changes the trajectory for a kid growing up in your home. Instead of telling him, “I could have told you you were going to lose that soccer match. You didn’t get enough sleep, you didn’t work hard enough, and you were lazy all week”, say, “You know what, you got out there and it was hard and did you learn some things from that?”

And here’s that beautiful moment when we can be their humble Sister in Christ who says, “You know what, I’m still learning stuff in my life, too.”

If we are the final word, the one who makes the best choices for them, the one who knows how and what they should be doing, then we’ve just replaced the need for the Holy Spirit in their lives. We lose the opportunity to point them to Jesus when we set ourselves up in His place in their lives.

Finally, if I've learned anything as the mom of five sons, it's that I am a really lousy substitute for the power of God in the life of my sons. I'm a much better cheerleader than team owner. They don't need me to own the team anyway. They need to know that I believe in them, and that I am praying every day for God's glory to shine in their lives!

Did you know that Kendra speaks on the topic of Moms and Teen Boys at churches, retreats, and conferences? You can learn more about how to book her here.

Parenting Teen Boys, Or How a Mom Can Actually Have a Relationship With Her Son, Part 4

parenting teen boys 4.jpg

I'm going to get a little philosophical with you, and then I'm going to tell you a story. Here's the philosophy part:

3. Mom, It's time for your role to change.

If you haven't already changed how you are relating to your son, it's time for you to go from mom/parent/authoritarian to mom/cheerleader/sister in Christ/number one fan.

There is an alternative, of course. If a mom continues to hold her son under her thumb, a young man will either go toe-to-toe with her, or he will retreat into his shell and quietly ignore her. I've had both kinds of sons.

Our firstborn was extremely logical, and he intuitively found every single loophole. Incidentally, he's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult, and so there was a lot of extreme emotional and behavioral fluctuation thrown into the mix during his teen years. I tell you this so that those of you parenting young men with chemical imbalances can relate and take heart.

One day I woke up from the fog of emotionalism and told my husband Fletch that I would not argue with our son anymore. Instead, I would tell him, “Go take that up with Dad. I’m not going to argue with you anymore.” We have a healthy, supportive, teamwork marriage, so this works for us. Men have a built-in need for and natural respect thing that works in this scenario — as you well know, women don’t tend to operate this way.

Our growing sons crave receiving and showing respect, but they will crumble, flee, or retreat under a mother who is still operating as parent/authoritarian. 

That's an important thing to remember: Our growing sons crave receiving and showing respect, but they will crumble, flee, or retreat under a mother who is still operating as parent/authoritarian. 

But what if you don’t have a husband to turn a son to? Is there a trusted male in your life whom your son does respect? 

The story of Nate and Gramps

Our second son Nate was ready for college by the time he hit his junior year of high school. He applied to several schools, but his heart was set on one particular California Christian college, and when he was accepted, he pretty much packed his suitcase that afternoon.

There was only one problem: The school in question cost over $42,000 per year, and Nate did not qualify for scholarships. As we explained that our finances would not allow for us to pay for his education outright, and as he was majoring in education, we didn't feel the debt he would incur was wise. He stubbornly resisted all of our attempts to persuade him otherwise.

Finally, Fletch said to Nate, "Is there a man in your life whose wisdom regarding finances you respect?" Nate replied that, yes, he would be willing to talk to his grandfather, my dad. 

One summer evening, my dad drove the hour-and-a-half to our home and sat on the back porch with Nate. He patiently laid out the reality of what it would mean for Nate to take on that amount of school debt, and by the end of their conversation, Nate had made the decision not to go to the school he was dreaming of. 

In the end, he took a gap year and worked, saving a nice amount of money for himself. He met and began dating the girl who eventually became his wife. He applied to a different school that offered him financial incentive, and he absolutely loved his years on campus there. Looking back, he sees how God redirected him toward what was going to be a much, much better fit for him.

The point to this story, of course, is not that Nate's narrative turned out to be overwhelmingly positive. The point is that he didn't have the ears to hear what his dad and I were telling him, but he would listen to the man he respected the most on the topic of finances and life direction. Sometimes you have to bring in the big guns, and in the meantime, be humble enough to know when to back off and let God use someone else in the life of your son.

In the midst of it all, my role, my job, my relationship with Nate was as his mom, cheerleader, sister in Christ, and number one fan.

We’ll wrap this series up next time, so stay tuned. You’re a good mom!

Nate and Jayne's wedding, December 2016

Nate and Jayne's wedding, December 2016