Photo credit for featured image: RightNow Media & Tim Kimmel
In June/July, my husband and I began to read Tim Kimmel’s Grace-Based Parenting together.
The book covers key principles of parenting your children with grace, love, kindness, and above all: the heart of Christ; and it is divided into two main parts. The first part, deals a lot in theory and rationale. Kimmel spends the entire first half of the book setting up the context of what Grace-Based Parenting is, and the logic behind the philosophy. In that segment, he deals in a lot of anecdotal evidence of why this style of parenting should make sense, and shares the Biblical principles that ground his theories. After this, the second half of the book focuses on practically applying these concepts. Here, he shares not only anecdotes, but actual personal experiences with how he or his wife or those around him have dealt with their children in graceful, Christ-like ways. He also includes stories of times he and others may have fallen short – to provide a clear picture of the do’s and don’ts.
At the heart of the book, there are several key takeaways that we could see:
First: Grace-Based Parenting is:
- About getting to the heart of your child, and connecting them with God’s heart
- About loving your child as God loves us
- About aiming your child for Greatness by building character, granting freedoms, and providing for their inner needs
It’s a lot easier for our children to look forward to a hopeful future if they have the confidence that we are doing all we can, while they are in our care, to groom them for the future. – Tim Kimmel, Grace-Based Parenting
Second: Grace-Based Parenting is not:
- Based in fear: As Kimmel says in the book: “Those who think that the wisest way to groom a child for spiritual maturity is to isolate him from the evil, corrupted world system or airbrush his childhood environment so much that it exposes only him to the good and never teaches him how to process the bad (or the counterfeit) will set a child up for a life of mediocrity at best and spiritual annihilation at worst.” Instead, he encourages parents to confront the evil, corrupted world head on, and be honest with their children about the realities and brokenness they will face in life. The same way God does not shield us from every bad thing that comes our way, but tries instead to help us heal, learn, and/or make sense of it; we are encouraged not to helicopter and overprotect our children. In doing so, we rob them of truths of the world, and they become ill-equipped to go into this world as not only fully functional, confident, unafraid human beings; but positively contributing lights of Christ as well
- Legalistic/Riddled with too many rules. Throughout the book, Kimmel stresses often the importance of having an eternal perspective. In choosing how he parents his kids, he cites how he questions himself in those moments: Does this have spiritual implications? Or am I responding to this based on my own worldly views rather than an eternal perspective? One example he shares is of when his teenage son asked if he could bleach his hair peroxide blond. Kimmel felt a hesitation and had to ask himself if that hesitation was due to the way the world perceives such a physical trait as bleached hair (at the time, this was only just becoming mainstream in the early 2000s, and before then was commonly associated with rappers, gangsters, vandals, and even white supremacists). OR if there was a real spiritual implication to this. After some thinking, he came to the realization that he was applying a judgmental world view to something that had no eternal significance if the motivations were innocent. After discussing the implications (“do you understand what other people might say or think about you?”), and rationale (“why do you want to do this in the first place? Is it aesthetic and because it’s starting to get trendy? Or are you being pressured by your friends?”), he came to the conclusion that his son was a good kid, with pure intentions, and just an interest in expressing himself differently. He gave his blessing by saying “it’s fine with me, if it’s fine with Mom.” Incidentally, his wife saw no harm immediately, and gave a yes, and that summer their son dyed his hair peroxide blond along with many other teenagers (probably ones who enjoyed N*SYNC and JT’s ramen-hair-days), and had a blast expressing himself harmlessly. Later on in life, he revisits that time as a time when his cool dad didn’t judge him, and allowed him the freedom to be himself and explore his interests, whilst still making sure he felt loved. It’s moments such as these, when we are not too legalistic, that we also shine Christ’s unconditional love into our children’s lives.
- Overly emotional. As mentioned in the previous bullet points, Kimmel stresses often the importance of logic, introspection, and honesty in being a graceful parent. With that, it should go without saying that being overly emotional is a big no-no. Being overly emotional causes parents to say things they don’t mean, make an argument overly personal, attack a child in a way that could be below the belt, et al. This lacks key elements of grace and life-giving love that Christ modeled for us and should be avoided at all costs.
Third: The Fundamental Needs of a Child:
- For ease, Kimmel itemizes for parents key components in children’s lives that grace-based parenting must support and respond to. The first is your child’s needs, and the second (which I’ll write about shortly after) is your child’s freedoms.
- In terms of NEEDS of a child, these are actually quite simple:
- Security — Acceptance + Affiliation + Affection = Secure Love
- Significance — Affirmation + Attention + Admonition = Significant Purpose
- Strength — Abilities + Adventure + Accomplishments = Strong Hope
- Bonus: Love
Lastly: 4 Fundamental Freedoms for a Child:
- In terms of freedoms, a child should be free to:
- Be Candid — Children should feel free and safe to voice their joys and troubles to their parents. How else will you know what they’re up to, where they struggle, and how you can help? For them to feel this, you must provide for them an environment of Security and Significance by showing consistent acceptance, affirmation, and affection
- Be Different — Children should be celebrated for their uniqueness. Differences should not be seen as difficulties. Parents must leave their children with Hope and Strength that they are unique in their abilities and accomplishments, and are on their own adventure in this world
- Be Vulnerable — Similar to being candid, children shouldn’t have to wear a mask to hide their shame or embarrassment or failure or worries or questions
- Make Mistakes — Similar to being vulnerable and candid, children should not be so fenced in by legalism, and overprotection, that they miss out on making mistakes and learning from them. They should not be ashamed of failure, and they should instead learn to learn from it
- Kimmel encourages parents to provide an environment of Christ-like, unconditional love in which one is forgiving, open, humble and honest (admitting ones own mistakes as well; reserving judgment; and revealing God’s heart to our children). He prescribes a mixture of faith, integrity, humility, endurance, courage, and discipline to achieve this.
So all in all, what did we think of the book? It was a great read: inspiring, easy to get through, and useful. The first half felt a bit heavy on the theory, and I personally struggled with the lack of actionable insight, but the second half more than made up for the first in practicality.
10/10 would recommend to any parent, really, as the principles hold true even if you are not a Christian. However, for Christian parents I would say it’s a definite must.
You can get a copy of the book through Amazon (available also for Kindle), and you can access many other useful sermons and resources on YouTube (such as this FOCL sermon delivered by Kimmel, or even this short 4-minute synthesis of what Grace-Based Parenting is)