The Most Important Thing in Parenting

ChilddevAccording to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, parenting quality is a key factor in the development and education of our children.  Parenting quality was a stronger and more consistent predictor of children’s development than their early childcare experience, family income or public or private school selection. Children whose parents had been disengaged or emotionally unavailable in early assessments of their parenting style did the worst in preschool, and had higher numbers of emotional and behavioral problems.

Author and Preschool Director Mary Hartzell asserts that the secret to raising children who are academically successful and exhibit little to no emotional and behavioral issues has very little to do with specific strategies or wordplay like “I won’t let you” versus “Don’t hit.”  What matters most — and essentially makes or breaks parental success— is the way we perceive our children, our roles as parents and our overall attitude toward parenting, boundaries and discipline.

Because I’m a logical guy I have another 5-6 research studies that I can further cite to address this issue but I’ll spare you and get to the point.

What you do as a parent is not as important as How you do it.

Many popular parenting books and programs focus on environmental control, short term fixes, and psychological tricks and manipulation tactics instead of working on changing and raising children from the inside out by focusing on morals, character traits and building the kind of trusting, mutually respectful relationship, between parents and children, that makes parenting much simpler and more rewarding.

As I highlighted in my last post “How My Wife Shocks Other Moms”, children from a very young age can sense a parents authenticity, attentiveness and demeanor, therefore a parent could quite literally do and say all the right things but if their attitude and demeanor is not congruent, the child senses this and all these great efforts are futile.

Why Grace Works

Fear Based Parenting and High Control homes spend a lot of time focusing parenting efforts on “What” to do.  Areas such as epidimicacademic education, nutrition and sports are often placed on a higher priority than moral and character development and emotional education.  These homes also spend a lot of time creating a protective environment to try to keep kids safe from sin, bad things, the world, etc.  The outcome, which I have posted about numerous times in the past, is that these kids grow up being very smart, logical and compliant children but are often lacking in character traits, empathy skills and coping mechanisms for adversity.

I see these kids everyday and many of them come from middle and upper class homes not to mention strong Christian homes as well.  I think the issue is not the parents, because most of these kids have great parents, it's the focus and attitude of the parents.

This doesn’t mean that Grace-based homes don’t care about academics, sports or creating a healthy, protective home environment.  It just means that these are not the sovereign priority or focus in their parenting philosophy.

The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger. . Grace-based homes place moral development, character traits and strong faith as the top priority.  Grace-based homes aren’t trusting in the moral safety of their home or the environment they’ve created to empower their children to resist sin . . . They assume that sin is an ongoing dilemma that their children must constantly contend with and learn to overcome by themselves.  Simply, the Grace Based Home focuses on raising kids that have a strong moral compass, proven character traits and a strong faith that can help them thrive in any environment.

I must again stress that the balance between control and grace is a delicate one and obviously there is more control at certain ages (birth to Pre-K) but this control must gradually loosen as the child grows, effectively allowing the child to become more independent.

The real test of a parent and parenting philosophy is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race.  We're not interested in raising kids who will do well in an artificial protective environment that I've created.  We need to raise kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings because of their strong morals, character and faith.

Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ’s love in these desperate surroundings. The apostle Paul gave us as parents an excellent goal for our children to pursue: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may know on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Phil. 2:14-16)

Defining Grace and Attitude

Grace is ultimately the balance between extremes.  The extremes of over-protective legalism and liberal, permissive license.  Grace Based Homes also realize that Grace and Truth must be honed and practiced together in concert.  Grace is changing our parental attitude from one of fear and protection to one of faith and preparation.  It's creating a secure home and environment, giving our children purpose and independence while developing a strong hope and resiliency in our children.  Grace Based Homes allow and expect children to be Different, Vulnerable, Candid and to make Mistakes.  It's having the attitude that all these things are going to happen and we should not be shocked or scared when they do.

Why wife said a few days ago, "Grace Based Parenting is often that extra few seconds you take to breathe, pray and see how your children react.  Sometimes allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives."

teenprayCase in point, last Sunday my daughter and her friend said they were going to the Middle School Group during our church service.  A few minutes into the church service, I see my daughter and her friend wondering the sanctuary.  They would sit down, then go to a prayer station, then sit down again.  As a bystander watching, my initial thoughts were "What are they doing?" "They need to sit down or go to their youth service" "They are just screwing around"  However, I watched from a distance and did not say or do anything.  I'm sure other parents in my church noticed the girls an probably did not approve of their actions or my lack of reaction. However, during the key part of the sermon, I caught a glimpse of my daughters friend sitting and totally in tune with the message.  At the end of the service, she walked to the front to ask for prayer and ended up talking with a church elder to ask for repentance and guidance.  After the service, my daughters friend was a changed person and it was obvious that something that day had changed her heart and attitude.  For the first time ever, she talked openly with me about faith and other issues she is struggling with in her life.

If I would have followed my initial response as a parent, I would have gotten upset or frustrated, talked to the girls and they probably would have went to their youth service but, my daughters friend would have not had that experience that day.  On this day, grace allowed me to stop, step back and trust in the Holy Spirit to work in these girls lives.

A lot of other parents would have told the girls to sit down or go to their youth service, in fact some other parents did tell the girls just that.  As a parent, it takes courage and faith to go against the grain in front of other parents, friends and church elders but many times it's these little bits of grace that make all the difference.

You may not agree with me  and my parenting philosophy, but the fact is that Grace allowed this young girl struggling with faith, family and identity issues and a host of other teen issues to open up, accept Christ's help and begin a conversation towards healing and spiritual growth.  In my book, that's success.

*Research Notes