Two of the Most Important Parenting Ingredients
Parenting is Hard. And no, the capital “H” is not a typo. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that parenting stretches us beyond our limits, humbles us to our knees, and often empties us of any wisdom or knowledge we were so sure we came to parenting with.
I’ve devoured multiple parenting books and articles like a ravenous wolf. I’ve attended MOPS and similar programs, sitting on the edge of my seat as I wait for the next best parenting tip that will save me from the perplexity I frequently find myself in as a mother. My ears have perked up many times when I’ve sat in a sermon and the topic drifts to children or our role as a parent. And I’ve spent countless hours discussing the difficulties we face as parents with friends, taking furious mental notes in my head when they’ve shared helpful advice. And indeed, through all these resources I’ve been so incredibly thankful for the insightful wisdom that is far beyond what I could ever come up with on my own.
But many times, difficult parenting moments- whether it be our child’s rebellious choices or a problem they are facing- spring up quickly and it can be difficult to pensively navigate through all the wonderful steps and methods that we’ve learned. And in those moments God can remind us of a simple but clear anthem, an anthem that sings of two parenting ingredients that should be present in every parenting resource or advice we seek or approach we take. These two ingredients, arguably two of the most important in parenting are:
Truth (given by God) and Grace (God’s unmerited favor).
These ingredients come from Jesus Himself, in fact, Scripture tells us this is what He brought: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). When we are applying God’s truth and grace to our parenting situations, we are essentially giving them Jesus.
Our most important job as parents is not to make them the nicest child, the highest academically, the best athlete, the healthiest and most organic…and while some of those things might be an aspect of our child and could perhaps be gifts from God, they should not be the end of itself while raising our children. Placed in my daughter’s room is a wood sign with the words, “In the Morning When I Rise, Give Me Jesus”. These words are more a reminder for me than her…a reminder that my most important job as a parent is to lead my child(ren) to Jesus, which is done through both truth and grace.
Applying the rhythm of truth and grace may not always look perfect or come easy and it takes various forms (including many not mentioned here such as those unique to an adoptive or a special needs child). My child is at a conversational age and some examples of this rhythm have been:
-After disobedience, truth has been to verbally correct her, provide discipline/consequence, ask questions to help her draw out the root of her sin, and talk through God’s word. Grace has been to sympathize with her weakness, telling her that sometimes mommy struggles with the same thing but while we deserve far worse than Mommy’s discipline for our disobedience, we have a God who sent His son to forgive us. Grace is giving her a hug, telling her that I love her, and that I forgive her and so can God.
-When a little girl was being unkind to my daughter, truth was validating my daughter’s feelings, agreeing that what the little girl had done was wrong and sinful and that mommy would share what was going on with an adult. Grace was reminding my daughter that we all can be unkind and we all need a Savior to rescue us from our own meanness sometimes, and that even though this little girl didn’t deserve it- we would continue to be kind and loving, because Jesus does the same for us.
This rhythm of grace and truth, however, varies by parent, situation, and the emphasis on one more than the other can vary at different stages. I will never forget what one of my friend’s husband shared-a pastor- regarding the toddler years, “It’s hard because they often need so much law (truth) at that stage”. Rather than discouragement, I remember this bringing me a healing balm to my soul. His comment shed light on the looooooong days with my toddler that made me feel like I was saying the word “No” more times than I could count, and the discipline and consequences for the same issue over and over, all with the hope of teaching my toddler the foundational layers of right and wrong and the one command that is given to children in the entirety of Scripture:
“Children, obey your parents, for this is right”. Ephesians 6:1
And indeed, we can constantly lavish God’s grace on our children in the toddler years, even when our verbal communication of grace is limited because of their language skills. We pour out grace through our constant love and care despite their rebellion. We pray that God would help us not return their temper tantrums with our own adult tantrum through yelling or harsh words, but offer grace through steady, loving correction and discipline…(to name just a couple ways).
But the significance in teaching our child truth, particularly when they are young, is that without truth, they won’t understand grace.
Without learning the truth that their sin is wrong and falls short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), and that they actually deserve far worse for even one sin (James 2:10), our children will never understand the incredible love of God demonstrated in His grace. Learning the truth of the wretchedness of their sin will hopefully and eventually lead them to humble adoration for the grace that God poured out on the cross.
And over the years as our children develop and grow deeper in their understanding of truth, so can their understanding of grace. My old pastor once shared a story about his teenage daughter. She came home with a failed grade on a test because she hadn’t studied and prepared enough. Instead of a consequence, my pastor told his daughter how much he loved her, and instead of a punishment, he took her on a fun date, got ice cream, and enjoyed the evening. His purpose? To demonstrate that which she did not deserve, grace. While he told her that wouldn’t always be the response to a failed grade, because she had a foundational layer of truth (knowing what she did deserve), she could celebrate and be thankful for her Dad’s (and God’s) grace.
When we are bogged down with difficult parenting moments and struggling to retrieve helpful tips, allow the anthem of Grace and Truth, Truth and Grace to reside in your heart. And this anthem of grace and truth has been poured out by our heavenly Father upon us parents as well. The parenting truth is that we are significantly flawed and our brokenness will indeed be evident in our parenting. We will give more truth and not as much grace as we should at times, and we will give more grace than we should truth at other times. We will emotionally wound, sin against, and be a bad example for our children. But our own Father sent heaven down, Jesus Himself, to sing this beautiful anthem of grace and truth over our lives. He loves you and will work in your child’s life despite your mistakes.