Our job as parents is really to connect to the hearts of our children. We will never do it perfectly, but the target has to be the heart. How we connect with the heart of our children is highly influence by how we allow God to connect to our heart. So, it really does start with us. As parents, God has given us a powerful, unique, and vital influence on our kids. Never in your life will influence come easier than it does with your children. Use it wisely to reach their heart because the book of Proverbs tells us that our heart determines the course and the direction of our life.
I want to briefly discuss three types of parenting styles. Two of these may control behavior but will never truly reach the heart of a child. The third style is the way to the heart, which will ultimately impact the way they live their life. It’s the way of parenting I am trying to live by and strive for, but the truth is I can find myself vacillating between all three of these styles to some degree or another. But, the more I allow God to work on my heart, the more I find I’m able to connect with the heart of my children.
The first parenting style that will not reach the heart is the Fear-Based Style. Many times parents will use intimidation and fear as their starting point. This may raise compliant children, but not committed children. Fear-based parents are “do what I say not what I do” parents. Fear-based parents enforce the rules but never reinforce the child. Fear-based parents take steps to make sure kids obey but never take steps toward the heart. Fear-based parents make sure children are well behaved in public but will shout at those children in private. Fear-based parents will lecture their children but never talk to them. Fear-based parents focus on discipline but not discipleship. Fear-based parents may raise well-behaved, disciplined children, but they do it through shame and intimidation. Fear based parents never reach the heart of their children because they’re too busy breaking the heart of their children through fear, bullying, and control. As a parent, I need to remind myself daily that screaming or threatening will not turn the heart of my child. It just teaches my kids not to get caught. It teaches my kids to make sure dad doesn’t find out. So, fear-based parenting really just creates smarter sinners.
If this is our dominant way parenting it will teach our children to think of God as a harsh, cruel, demanding God who is to be feared instead of enjoyed. It will turn a relationship with God, not in to a trust relationship, but rather a fear-based relationship. Raising kids in this way will never get to their heart and will ultimately do more damage than good.
The second type of parenting style that will not reach the heart is the Performance-Based style. And, this style is very common in America. We are a very performance driven society. We judge winners by winning and losers by losing. We have a tendency to base our worth on the outcome. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishments, but if parents teach their kids to set out with all of their drive and ambition, but neglect the heart, those types of parents will raise kids with an inner character in no way ready to handle outward accomplishments. As adults, it’s vital that we do not allow our accomplishments to outrun our character. Unfortunately we do not have to look very far to see this happening. All of us can most likely name someone famous who had a long list of accomplishments, but began making decisions that wrecked their lives or the lives of others. Their accomplishments outran their character and they didn’t know how to handle success. They focused on what they wanted to do before they focused on who they wanted to be. This is the essence of Performance-Based parenting.
Standards are important. Children will often rise to the level of expectation and we should encourage our kids to do their best and give their best effort. But, it’s important to help them understand the “why” behind that effort. Effort is encouraged not to gain our approval, not in order to accomplish more, not so they can win and not lose, but rather because who you are will always show up in what you do. What type of person will I be even when the outcome may not go the way I’d like? What type of person will I be when no one is looking? Helping kids to understand the “why” begins the process of connecting with their heart.
And, that leads us to the last type of parenting style … the type that truly tries to get in touch with the heart … and that is parenting with grace. As we allow God’s grace to impact our hearts and allow His grace to be paraded in our life, we are then able to pour that out into our kids. Being a grace-based parent simply means treating your kids the way God treats you. (Kimmel)
God, in His grace, gives us the freedom to be ourselves. He doesn’t force us all in to one mold. He’s created us all differently … different gifts, different abilities, different personalities, different passions … and in His grace He has planned good things for us to do with our gifts and abilities and personalities and passions. The more I try to be like someone else, or the more I’m being forced into someone else’s mold, the less I’m going to see the wonderful opportunities that God has created just for me. So, help your children follow their natural bent. Encourage their interests. Take an interest in what interests them. Try not to force them in to your mold.
Now, I’m not saying that we can’t encourage our kids to do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. I think there is a time and place for that. But, kids need to know that they have the freedom to be themselves and that our home is a safe place for them to be who God has created them to be.
Secondly, God, in His grace, also allows us to be vulnerable with Him. He always invites us to come as we are. So, we want to create a home where our kids feel the freedom to be vulnerable as well and not feel the need to wear a mask. Our homes need to be a safe place for our kids to work through all the dangerous and fragile stuff of their life, and, as parents we need to be the ones that lead the way in that and make sure they’re feel safe in doing that. (Kimmel)
The relationships that have probably meant the most to us in our lives are the ones where we could be open and honest and we didn’t have to pretend … they were the relationships where people weren’t trying to “fix” us but were there to support us … they were the relationships where we were told it’s OK to not be OK. I don’t want you to stay here, but I’m not going to leave you alone here also. We’ll walk through this tunnel together and I’ll stay in here as long as it takes to get you to the other side. Those are the types of relationships that breathe life in to us and this is hopefully what we can strive to have with our children.
Finally, God, in His grace, gives us the freedom to make mistakes. When we see our kids struggling, the temptation is to rescue them … to protect them from the hurt of the mistake or the pain of the struggle. But, if we’re always bailing our kids out, they’ll never learn to work through struggles. They’ll never learn a sense of determination. They’ll never learn grit. They’ll never learn the principle of choice/consequence, but rather choice/bailout.
Sin has consequences and sometimes we face the consequences of our choices, but because of Jesus, we no longer face the condemnation of our choices. God’s grace covers our sin. So, instead of trying to be sure our kids never make mistakes, we need to help them learn how to tap into God’s power in the midst of the mistakes. (Kimmel)
So, in the home we can have clear boundaries and clear guidelines for behavior. If the choice is made to break those boundaries, then a consequence should follow. If we raise kids with the idea that we love them and they can have whatever they want … that will produced adults living with a sense of entitlement. Grace does not entitle us to whatever we want nor does it take away the consequences of our choices. Discipline, correction and boundaries are all forms of grace. (Tripp)
Hebrews 12:11 reveals how God uses these things in our lives to rescue us from ourselves: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Grace does not remove the consequences, but it does free us from the condemnation. Grace is not opposed to discipline; it just looks at discipline differently. The thought is now rescue instead of punishment. Discipline becomes a way to rescue children from themselves instead of punishing them for making us angry. When used in this way, it can eventually produce a harvest of righteousness and peace in their lives. As true conviction begins to operate in our children, as parents we can then bring the beautiful message of the forgiveness and empowerment of Jesus and the hope that here is help for people like us. (Tripp)
I’m daily reminded of the fact that I will never be a perfect parent. I have days when I tell my kids not to take a certain tone with me and then I realize I’m taking the same tone with them. I have days when I realize the attitude they are taking with me is the same attitude I have taken with someone else. I have days when the same selfishness that I’ve corrected in them is the same selfishness I displayed minutes earlier. I’ve lost patience and I’ve lost my temper. This is why I’m so grateful for God’s grace. It covers our imperfections and then propels us forward, enabling us to offer to our children exactly what has been offered to us.