What in the world is gentle, or grace-based parenting? Let me begin by saying, As a 54 year-old father of four, I’m still trying to learn, and this is an area that my wife and I desire to transform, as we grow in grace.
We are not parenting “experts,” nor have we ever claimed to be, even though I know some that think they are. We were indoctrinated into a system of child-rearing that we have come to see as damaging and debilitating. It produces short-term results, but at the long-term cost of what? That is still to be determined.
As we began to learn the meaning of the word grace, we have begun to see the freedom in Christ, and His grace toward rebels like us. The real question remains, if He extends such unmerited favor toward us, and directs us in Him, why did we decide we needed to beat the sin out of our children?
I wrote a Facebook post recently based on something I saw that bears repeating. The originator of this post is someone named Sarah Ockwell-Smith. I do not know her. She said this.
Compliant and obedient children seem great in childhood, but all of those years of obeying, not being allowed to ‘answer back’ to get their point across and eventually being too scared to confide in you, for fear of reprimand, does not make for an emotionally healthy adult.
Disagreements, debates, and healthy conflict may be harder on us as parents – but it makes for a much more positive future for our children.
The picture on this blog was posted by her as well, and I think it tells such a heartbreaking story. As a child, I was spanked more than a few times. I cannot declaratively say it hurt me in the long run, and this is not an article to condemn all use of the rod in discipline. My mom and dad were loving and careful parents. There were healthy boundaries in our home growing up. Healthy boundaries are reasonable, there is a clear difference between right and wrong, and obeying your parents, this is a good and godly thing to do. It is a command in the Ten Commandments and the New Testament.
Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).
We expect our children to obey and to honor us. The Ephesians passage continues that it is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you, and you may live long in the land, verse 2 through 3. No issues so far, we do not allow our children to run wild, we do our best to show them love, and to keep control over them, so they are not without boundaries. The more important focus of this article is the next verse.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
I’ve become convinced this is the key to appropriate parenting. I love the Proverbs, and I believe they are critical in gaining God’s wisdom. Grace-based parenting hinges on this verse. What I’ve often seen is that authoritarian based legalistic systems teach the rod with severity. They believe the will of a child must be broken, because they are guilty sinners in the eyes of a Holy God. Teaching them first to obey, must come with strictness and harshness. They wouldn’t say it must be harsh because they would recognize the verse says not to provoke to anger, but it has no other way to be interpreted by the child except harshness.
John Calvin has a well-balanced commentary on this verse:
Parents, in their turn, are exhorted not to irritate their children with immoderate harshness. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to throw off the yoke altogether. Accordingly, in Colossians he adds, ‘lest they be discouraged’ (Col 3:21).
When we as parents react in harshness, in anger, in frustration, when we are quick to pull out the rod, this carries the immediate effect of provocation. The outflow of discipline in our children is a provocation. Matthew Henry is my favorite Bible Commentator. He has offered balanced, orthodox commentary that has survived hundreds of years for a good reason.
His commentary is concise, but illustrates my desire:
Though God has given you power, you must not abuse that power, remembering that your children are, in a particular manner, pieces of yourselves, and therefore ought to be governed with great tenderness and love. Be not impatient with them, use no unreasonable severities and lay no rigid injunctions upon them. When you caution them, when you counsel them, when you reprove them, do it in such a manner as not to provoke them to wrath. In all such cases deal prudently and wisely with them, endeavouring to convince their judgments and to work upon their reason.
Calvin also affirms this treatment of children:
Kind and liberal treatment keeps children in reverence for their parents, and increases readiness and cheerfulness of their obedience, while a hard and unkind severtity rouses them to obstinancy, and destroys their dutifulness.
Calvin does offer a warning, that we are not too permissive, and this is the balance that must be fought for,
But on the other hand, lest there should be too much indulgence, as sometimes happens, he tightens the rein as it were, and adds, in the discipline and correction of the Lord. For God does not want parents to be so fond towards their children that they corrupt them by sparing them. Let their kindness be tempered, so as to keep them in the discipline of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray.
I believe there is an ugly downside to the demand for obedience that comes out of most fundamentalist type groups. The children become aware and trained that obedience is better than beatings. They become conformists and have no way of coping with what their little minds cannot reason through. Instead, we need to seek balance.
I found some deep conviction in a sermon by Pastor Don Green, and I post it here that you might see the high demands of the first-time obedience crowd. I realize as 1689, Reformed Baptist, this probably puts me at odds with many of them, but that is okay.
I hope to come to a balanced position on the topic, which yields excellent long-term results in our parenting, and yours as well. I don’t want our kids to be unruly, I don’t want to withhold discipline so they will “like” me, but I also want them to know how much we love them and desire the best way to parent them.